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March 31, 2018
by Rodney Gedda
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USB headset usability

Hot on the heels of my last post about USB key usability I have another one to share, this time about headsets.

Nate Graham’s usability series is going full steam ahead and we have a lot to look forward to in upcoming releases.

For now let’s focus USB headsets. I use a USB headset for Skype and Linphone calls and KDE has good support for this peripheral device. In fact, the KDE team was thinking well ahead of its time when years ago it provisioned for a number of use cases with audio devices. An audio stream can be directed to a type of audio device WHEN it was most appropriate (or, to meet a use case). For example, a “communication” use case can priorotise a headet over the computer’s loud speakers. Conversely, a system notification can be directed to use the computer’s speakers instead of a headset.

The Phonon AV framework abstracts the devices from the applications so audio or video can be added to any app, such as a file manager, without having to code it from scratch.

KDE multimedia (Phonon) system settings.

The only challenge for a polished end-user experience is third-party applications must take advantage of this flexibility, and KDE must respond accordingly. Take USB headsets. When you plug one in ,you get:

Plug in USB headset -> No device notification -> No backend change -> The user has to manually promote the headset to be the preferred device for audio playback

No notification when a USB headset is plugged in

Quick question: If one plugs in a USB headset is it not a reasonable assumption the person actually wants to use it?

So we have two possible scenarios to improve usability:

  1. Plug in a USB headset and the system sets that as the default (not unreasonable),
  2. Or, plug in the USB headset and the notification system ASKS the user to select that device as the default for audio playback and capture or not (most refined option). This is similar to how the notification system asks the user how to respond when a USB key is inserted.

At present the user is left to her or his own devices (yes pun) to manually select the headset for audio playback and “recording” (should this be changed to “input”?).

Once you set the default audio playback and recording device to the USB headset VoIP apps work fine.

February 28, 2018
by Rodney Gedda
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USB key usability

It’s been interesting following Nathaniel Graham’s blog about usability and productivity developments in KDE. It shows how much the devs really care about user experience, and how quickly things can be changed!

Here’s one for you Nate: what should Plasma and Dolphin do when a USB stick is inserted and removed from the computer?

Insert USB key

  1. The device notifier appears
  2. Sometimes there are options show, most of the time not
  3. Click on the device to reveal the options. Should they always show?
  4. Clicking on the taskbar icon raises the device notifier, but it’s now out of alignment compared to when it automatically pops up

Selecting the file manager

  1. Clicking on “Open with File Manager” launches Dolphin

Remove USB key

  1. You are left with an empty Dolphin window still inside a directory that no longer exists (not a polished option, IMHO)

UI options

  1. Always display the device options (the same amount of screen space is used anyway)
  2. Have the same alignment in the notifier, regardless of whether it was automatically shown or clicked from the taskbar
  3. When the stick is removed, return Dolphin to your home directory
  4. Or, if files were copied somewhere, return Dolphin to the destination directory
  5. Or, destroy the file manager window (Windows does this)

USB device shown when the taskbar icon is clicked

Device notifier options for this type of device

Shown without options (same amount of screen space as with options)

Dolphin displaying the contents of the USB key

The empty folder which no longer exists when the key is removed

January 31, 2018
by Rodney Gedda
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Education sell off amid house of cards

I came across this post by Matt Barrie the other day. The post is not new (Nov 2017) but it did seem timely given my review of investments in education in this country.

From his lengthy, thought-provoking article:

“Since taking power, the NSW Government has sold 384 Department of Education properties. That is despite leaked Department of Education documents that report NSW is facing an influx of 15,000 school students a year, and will require $10.8 billion in funding for 7,500 new classrooms and buildings over just 15 years.”

Perhaps the demolition of Gosford Primary School was just one in 384. Any citation?

Then again, perhaps pop-up schools are the way of the future…

December 31, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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All the best for 2018

As another year comes to a close I hope you are having a good holiday season.

The past few weeks have been quite hectic for us as we have been traveling and returned home just before xmas.

I have some exciting plans for 2018 and can’t wait to share the details.

Have a happy New Year!

November 29, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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PM’s Gosford tax building praise misses primary concerns

Now here’s a country with its priorities straight: demolish a 50-year-old primary school to build a corporate tax office we don’t need.

Well, that’s what I couldn’t help thinking when I heard radio reports today about Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to Gosford. He praised the new ATO development on the waterfront, adjacent to Central Coast Stadium. What didn’t get a mention was the fact that Gosford Primary School was bulldozed to make way for it. Yes, you read that correctly.

Perhaps I’m missing something really big here, but:

  • Taxes are as high as ever and any notion that we need to invest in more revenue raising facilities is preposterous on its face.
  • Even the ATO itself is crowing about raising billions by clamping down on foreign company tax avoidance. Most of this was achieved without new facilities.
  • There are no fewer than half a dozen dilapidated sites within the Gosford CBD which would have been better served as locations for the new office (starting with that hideous former Commonwealth Bank building smack bang in the centre of town).
  • The new building is located on the city fringe, which means the economic benefit of 600 people spending in town will be less than if it were in the CBD proper.
  • The claims of “600 more jobs” has not been verified as being net adds or relocated positions.
  • And the end of the day the new building appears to only take up about 20% of the entire site. With a little planning and better design the school could have been moved on the same site (loose change for the ATO).

Anyway, there’s not much point in whining about it as politics and lunacy go hand-in-hand.

Note to every principal in this country – do whatever you can to heritage list your school to prevent it being razed for unnecessary revenue raising facilities!

October 31, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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Buyer beware: Virtualization technology

When is it a mistake to have a reasonable assumption about a technology? When it comes to desktop virtualization it seems you can’t be vigilant enough to avoid absurd anti-features.

So I need to upgrade my Acer notebook to a later model with comparable features to the one I have. If my main one gets fried then I will have a backup to continue working with minimal disruption.

The model with almost exactly the same hardware features for the price was the Aspire E15. It’s got everything I need and the main difference was the AMD CPU instead of an Intel. That’s where the two couldn’t be more apart.

Some 35 days after purchase I finally got around to setting up my virtual machines only to discover the system doesn’t support it. Okay, I’ll just boot into the BIOS and enable it from there. Of course, not only has virtualisation been DISABLED in the BIOS, but there is no way to ENABLE it! WTF?

So I head back to the store I bought it from and they can’t help me even though I purchased extended warranty. The additional warranty I purchased allows you to replace the item if it doesn’t satisfy a “reasonable assumption” within 30 days. Great.

This is not a reasonable assumption or a change of mind claim. It’s an expected feature that is unreasonable to have it not available to you in 2017.

So jump on the phone to Acer and after many conversations with the friendly technical support staff, we arrive at the conclusion that virtualisation is not supported on AMD notebooks. (Another WTF is why does AMD allow its OEMs to disable virtualisation technology? It’s simple fact that if you want virtualisation in an Acer you have to buy an Intel one. I thought they were trying to compete with Intel, not help it).

I think this is a strong case for more consumer protection. From my point of view:

  • It’s not clearly labelled Acer’s AMD notebooks have virtualization DISABLED in the BIOS and it cannot be enabled.
  • The technology has been around for about 15 years. It’s not something new or “premium”.
  • No option (e.g. BIOS upgrade) to enable it is offered. Incidentally, a family member’s six-year-old HP AMD all-in-one provides the option to enable virtualization in the BIOS. A sensible default indeed.
  • The Acer I have (Intel) supports the technology so I had no reason to think another (more recent) Acer model wouldn’t.

So why is this an anti-feature? Possibly because:

  • Without knowing for certain, it might cost more to disable virtualisation in the BIOS than leave it alone (or at least provide an option).
  • Now some of the staff in some of Acer’s retail channel know about this and won’t be able to recommend the product if the customer needs the feature.
  • A lot of phone support time was wasted.
  • Blogs like this tell buyers to beware.

It is a shame because I had great relationship with Acer for many years when I was a journo. I have two Acer notebooks (one useless) and an Acer 20-inch LED monitor so I’ve always had a positive experience with its products.

It remains to be seen whether I would buy anything Acer again. Incidents like this certainly don’t help brand loyalty. I’ll most likely sell this one and get another that doesn’t have the technology I need removed…

September 15, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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Another move for open mobile

The KDE project has announced a partnership with Purism to support Plasma mobile on its upcoming handset. More details here.

A vision for a Plasma phone

I’ve been coving alternative smartphone developments for a while, but unfortunately none have made the big time. In fact, in recent years we lost BlackBerryOS, Windows Phone and Ubuntu Touch. All the while Android and iOS have been powering ahead doing what they do best.

KDE partnering with Purism is a good first step. Now for some of the Android OEMs to do the same.

Oh for the day when we can choose our mobile OS the same way we can choose a desktop one.

August 31, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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WordPress image syncing

Great little app for synchronising local Adobe LightRoom images with your WordPress image library: https://meowapps.com/wplr-sync/

Now, if only there was one for the general file system (any directory), not just one app :).

Come to think of it, how about taking an open source file sync client and pointing it to your WordPress instance? That sounds pretty useful to me.

Any other options?

July 31, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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The value of certification

I’m doing some work on communicating the value of (technology) certification. Opinions vary on the value of certification and in many disciplines there is little in the way of coursework or recognised competency levels.

Someone can be certified and be highly competent or self-taught and highly competent, or the opposite in both cases. When I achieved my project management certification I definitely saw the value in the practical advice and training it offered. In contrast, a lot of what is taught in universities is highly theoretical.

The best assessment if competency probably lies somewhere in between education levels and practical experience. Even some global firms have loosened requirements around academic qualifications.

There’s no doubt certification programs bring many benefits to both staff and the organisation so it is in the employer’s interest to support them.

The challenge for individuals will be being seen through the sea of equally-qualified people. In the US the MBA is the most popular master’s degree and there are nearly half as many more than there were just over a decade ago.

If only it was as easy to demonstrate the value of practical experience as it is to flash a certification badge.

June 30, 2017
by Rodney Gedda
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ownCloud and Nextcloud

I’ve blogged about ownCloud a few times as it offers a free way to sync and share files among many other features.

A while back there was a revolt from ownCloud and Nextcloud was born. I won’t go into the politics of that, I just want to give Nextcloud a plug.

Fragmentation can be harmful if there is too much duplication of effort, but I think in this case more options for online file sharing and storage is a good thing.