MacBook Power Adapter Design Problems

I’m sure there are people who have criticized the power adapter for the MacBook, but this time it happened in my life. I’ve had problems with the MacBook power adapter before. It sometimes lost connections. But I never thought to criticize it. I was just thinking maybe the power outlets have some problems. The CGT512 course did change the thinking habits of many of us. I start to be more aware of things around, and start to have interesting and constructive conversations with people around about various design issues. Before the critiques, I’d like to say that I really like the MagSafe magnetic head connector on the power adapter. Apple did put a lot of thoughts into this. Another thing I like about the power adapter (including the iPhone/iPad power adapters) is that, unlike typical US electric plugs (for the two-prong type, one is smaller and the other one is bigger), the Apple power adapter has two equal sized prongs, so I can use this power adapter in China too, without any kind of conversion. But… here comes the critiques:

1. It takes too much space on the power outlets. 

Our CGT512 Usability Report 3 team had a meeting on a Thursday. We had the meeting in a lab, and many of us need power outlets. But the other team members have to move two other power plugs to make room for my adapter. The “huge” square takes too much space, and cannot rotate directions.

2.The wire connecting to the huge square is too thin, and would eventually be broken.

Besides taking too much space, one team member Nick criticized the thin wire. He said it would eventually be broken. And then I started to notice that part was actually getting yellow and looked aged. Then, about 5 days later, it is really broken, and stopped charging.

Then I started a conversation with a colleague who also use a MacBook, and we found other design issues with the power adapter.

3. The square is too huge and heavy, and the two short plug prongs cannot hold the weight, so it sometimes get skewed and loose, and lost the connections.

4. The adapter has a long extension wire, without the extension wire, it is short. If you forget the extension wire, sometimes you cannot reach the power outlet.

5. In order to use the extension wire. You need to take off the small cap with the two prongs and connect the extension wire, and then the small cap will get lost easily.

I think it’s interesting to be aware of these design issues in life and start interesting conversations with people around. But don’t become too much of a design-issue-picky-nerd 🙂 This is the reality, there is always room to improve!

Interesting Post on How to Be an Creative Web Designer

Here is an interesting post on how to become creative web designers by eating properly. When I first saw the title, I thought this post is just simply talking about creativity, but it’s actually about food, and how you should eat properly to be more creative. Since I love food, and love bright colors so much, I love this post. Admittedly, this applies to everybody, but it provides some interesting examples of web design, and purposefully reminds web designers to eat properly.

1stWebDesigner: 10 Best Kept Secrets to Become More Creative by Boosting your Brainpower 

Under this post, there are also related readings to remind web designers  to keep healthy sleeping habits and keep fit. These are reminders to the phenomenon that many freelance web designers and developers are living in not very healthy life styles because they have to stay up late to code, and sit in front of the computers for long time. So, let’s be healthy, happy, and user-centered web designers!

Whitepaper on Designing Great Visualizations

This whitepaper might be of interests to some of you–Whitepaper on Designing Great Visualization. It briefly discusses the history and evolution of visual representations since the cave drawings era. It discusses the human perceptions, trust issues in interface, and how to use visuals to tell stories that are more than the data. This paper is written by a prestigious data visualization researcher Jock D. Mackinlay at the Tableau software (a data visualization software).

Reading Reflection: Usability Testing

We read two chapters on usability testing this week. The UX book refers usability testing as rigorous evaluation, while activities such as experts inspection and heuristic evaluation as rapid evaluation. Is the one called rigorous actually more rigorous or effective? This makes me think about Apple again. Sometimes, the experts’ experiences combined with their understanding of the users’ goals, and with proper marketing strategies can serve longer way in the product’s life. Understandably, the word “rigorous” here is in terms of the overall scientific procedures of the methods, yet throughout the text, it actually emphasizes a lot of the difference between the UX evaluation, and formal scientific research (esp. quantitative research). For example, (1) Quantitative UX data collection and analysis “is emphasized less than it used to be in previous usability engineering books because of less focus in practice on quantitative user performance measures and more emphasis on evaluation to reveal UX problems to be fixed.” (p.504) (2) When talking about participants recruiting, the term “sample” is not appropriate, “because what we are doing has nothing to do with the implied statistical relationships and constraints.” (p.511) (3) The authors spend a lot of text discussing the proper number of participants, saying it ultimately depends on the specific cases, and the UX researchers’ experience and intuitions. In a word, UX evaluation is very practical activities focusing on fixing the real problems.

Other things I wish to remember for preparing the UX evaluation: 

1. It is very important to set the goal, and define the scope of the evaluation. “Do not let short-term savings undercut your larger investment in evaluation and in the whole process lifecycle.” (p.504) Choosing the evaluation methods and techniques should be goal-driven.

2. We should try to engage as many as people in the whole team in at least some evaluation. It is not only the UX team’s job to do the evaluation, other members of the project should be involved as much as possible. This can begets ownership, and is necessary for the UX evaluation results to be taken seriously and solve the problems.

3. When preparing the tasks for the evaluation, we need to allow time for the users to do free exploration, and we can also ask the users to define tasks.

Things I wish to remember for running the evaluation session: 

1. There are roughly four types of data: quantitative UX data (observed data and subjective data obtained mainly using questionnaires) , qualitative UX data (mainly, critical incidents collection), emotional impact data, and phenomenological data (how the products integrate into the users’ lifestyle, mainly collected using variations of diary-based methods).

2. The UX book mentions the HUMAINE project on emotional impact research. I went ahead and checked the report, and would like to share here: The HUMAINE project website. The HUMAINE report on taxonomy of affective system usability testing.


MyPurdue “Look Up Classes” Usability Inspection

The web interface of myPurdue has lots of problems, but the one bothers me the most is the course navigation, since I use it quite often to look for courses. When I log in to myPurdue, and click the “Academic” tab, and then click the “Look Up Classes” at the navigation bar on the left, the interface of Pic. 1 shows up. The issue on this page is that the “Reset” button is completely useless, since I can just switch among different terms using the drop-down menu or choose “none” to reset, though I don’t think anybody looking for courses would choose “none”. This is okay, since I do not use it, it doesn’t bother me much.


Then I choose the term, and click “Submit”. Pic. 2 is what shows next. The two buttons at the bottom are confusing, since we usually see “Search” and “Advanced Search” elsewhere on the web, rather than “Course Search” and “Advanced Search”. Based on the instruction on top, “Course Search” is to search by subject, while “Advanced Search” is to search by section. Here, the order of concepts is that each “subject” contains a series of “sections”, while each “section” contains many individual courses. When you click “Course Search”, it goes to the sections under the subject you choose. When you click “Advanced Search”, it would go to the list of individual courses after your specification. So “subject” means “major” here, which is really confusing for me. I thought subject means an individual course!  Put all these aside, the subject list on this page actually only applies to “Course Search”, not to “Advanced Search”. The two buttons on the bottom are a bit far away from the subject list window, so my laptop screen usually cannot display all them at once. So I would only see the subject list window at the beginning, then I would start to choose the subject. The list of subjects is kind of long. After I spend a long time scrolling down and choose the subject, and then realize I can click “Advanced Search”. After I click “Advanced Search”, a new interface shows up, my choice of subject is gone, it asks me to choose from the subjects again! Maybe myPurdue should move the two buttons to the top of the subject list window and also make other accommodations to make all such buttons consistent.

Pic. 2

If I click “Course Search” button, it will take me to a series of sections shown in Pic. 3. Here, I don’t have a button to go back and start a new search like the one in Pic. 4. I have to choose a section to view, unless I go back to the Academic tab.

Pic. 3

Pic. 4

Pic. 5 is what it shows when I go to “Advanced Search”. The instructor list here is really really long, and I never have the patience to use it. If I have a specific professor name I would like to search for, the system should just let me input the name to search. For now, I’d rather go to the entire course list, and use Ctrl+F or Command+F (on Mac) to search for the professor’s name in the broswer, which is much faster than this humongous name list.

Pic. 5

Future Interface for Researchers: NUI+BCI

I’m a researcher. I read and write all the time. When I write, I need to cite what I’ve read, in order to identify the holes in what others have written and provide support for my own argument.

I read various publications: academic papers, books, reports, magazines, blogs, etc. I read from various media: either printed or electronic formats from my own laptop, or my old PC, or university lab computers, or my iPhone, or maybe iPad or Kindle etc. I read in various places and position: at the dining table while eating breakfast, at my study desk at home, in the office, in the library, in a cafe, sitting on the floor on my Yoga mat, or lying in bed.

I try to be organized of my reading, so that I can remember to cite them later while writing. I make folders and piles. I highlight interesting and important sentences while reading. I take notes. I use citation management tools. All these and a good memory have made my life in graduate school a tiny little bit easier, but I still find it is very difficult to keep track of what I’ve read and remember to cite them later if I am short on time and have an intense writing task and urgent deadline. While acknowledged that how to manage and organize reading and writing is a very very important skill to learn in graduate school, I still wish there would be some innovative methods to ease this process.

I had this idea while I was doing my PhD readiness assessment earlier this semester, in which I had to read and write a lot in two weeks. At some moments, I was so exhausted. I had piles of printed papers, books, notebooks, and laptops (with even more papers and notes inside) lying around my room on the desk, on the floor, and on the bed. When I read, I saw many interesting quotes that I might cite later, but I didn’t have the time to jot all them down, because I might only cite a small portion of them, jotting all of them down would take too much time out of my precious two weeks. But later, when I really wanted to cite one of them, it actually took some time to find it, or I just simply couldn’t remember and gave up. I wish at that time, I could have the ability to just crab the important sentences out of the papers or the computer screen along with the descriptors where they came from using a simple hand gesture (the key point here is that, no matter what kind of media or formats I am reading, I have to be able to crab them using a simple hand gesture), and throw them on the surface of the wall or a big canvas somewhere. Then I could arrange and select them just by eyeing them or thinking about them, because I was too tired lying in bed and couldn’t stand up and touch the wall. (I may also settle with waving hands and kicking legs if eyeing and thinking are still too difficult to implement for now:) Then maybe I could think about how I would write the argument, and the computer can just write it down for me.

I think the key here is how to integrate all different forms of media, how to integrate the physical world, our body and brain, and the digital world. How to smooth the connections and communications among all them. We can pretty much manage one device or one type of task very well, but when there are so many different forms of stuff, we get dis-organized and lost. I think we are actually close to realizing this integration, there are cool things done by the natural user interface (NUI) and brain computer interface (BCI) communities. The MIT media lab is among the famous ones. I do believe the future of HCI lies in the combination of NUI and BCI to solve this integration problem.

One side thought here is that context does matter a lot for design. I had this idea when I was working at home. So I wanted to be able to wave and kick and be able to write while lying in bed. But later I moved my “battle field” to the office on campus, then my urge to wave and kick stopped since it would be inappropriate in the office. So I am essentially developing a persona of a researcher based on myself and think about the context and need of this persona.

RAA3: Analyzing #insomnia on Twitter

Jamison-Powell, S., Linehan, C., Daley, L., Garbett, A., & Lawson, S. (2012). “I can’t get no sleep”: Discussing #insomnia on Twitter. Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1501–1510). Retrieved from
Purpose of the Research: 
(1) To explore the role of social media in the discussion of mental health issues, and with particular reference to insomnia and sleep disorders: whether individuals are disclosing their insomnia related information online, if so, what they are disclosing.
(2) To provide analytical results to those in the interaction design community interested in integrating online social media systems in health interventions.
A mixed-method approach is used to analyze 18,901 tweets using hashtag #insomnia. First, an automatic content analysis is used to confirm “whether individuals are disclosing their insomnia related information online”. Second, a qualitative thematic analysis is performed to answer the question “what individuals are disclosing about their insomnia”.
(1) Content analysis using a software named Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) . Simply put, this software contains a pre-defined English dictionary which includes categories of negative words and positive words, as well as word roots related to health, time, anger, anxiety, sadness, etc. The software performs frequency counting and statistical analysis of the input text based on this dictionary. In order to compare these #insomnia tweets with the general posts on Twitter, 17,532 random general non-specific tweets on Twitter were used as a control group. LIWC is used to compare the #insomnia tweets and the non-specific tweets, and produces table 1 below.
(2) Inductive thematic analysis. The authors acknowledge that the LIWC software analysis results maybe inaccurate because of the subjectivity and ambiguity of  informal human language, as well as the large amount of abbreviations used in tweets due to the character limit. So they perform inductive thematic analysis. A sample of 749 is taken from every 25th tweet of the original 18,901 tweets. One researcher first read the 749 tweets for several times, and comes up with 49 categories, and gives the results to two other researchers. The three of them discuss and decide on 45 categories. Then they take another sample of 514 tweets from every 35th tweet of the original 18,901 tweets, and code the 514 tweets into the 45 categories independently.  Inter-rater reliability is also examined.  All the researchers finally refine the categories into a hierarchy in figure 1.
Main Findings: 
(1) Results in table 1 below confirms that individuals do disclose insomnia related information online.
(2) Inductive thematic analysis categorize the content of #insomnia tweets into two major categories: describing the insomnia experience and coping with insomnia.
The authors claim that this paper, in a generic sense, contributes to a growing body of literature regarding online self-disclosure. Based on the analysis results, they come up with a brief design requirement for a social network structure allowing insomnia therapy to be delivered in an online group. “The structure would be a useful format for users to exchange support and practical information. To allow users to exercise catharsis,  a space could be provided to disclose symptoms and frustrations together with an area where the users can “communicate with” insomnia. To comply with the principles of sleep hygiene, a digital barrier should be in place in any interactive platform, this would reduce the amount of access a user has to an online support network at times when they should be refraining from stimulating environments. However, rather than simply restrict all access a “life-line” should be kept open, providing information on good sleep hygiene and progressive muscle relaxation exercises to aid sleep. “
This paper relates to what we learned in CGT512 how to analysis qualitative data and thus produce design requirements.
This paper also relates to my research interests in social media analytics for instrumenting the social and emotional aspects of college students’ life. It provides information on useful software and methods.