The Zen of Watch Maintenance

sinn265 versus sna139

On the left, an aspirational watch, the Sinn265 mechanical with special materials, special mechanical movement and special, ridiculous price. On the right, the Seiko sna139 for the less that 8% of the price…if I could put one together from parts!

If you program and do interfaces, you might like watches. It is a distillation of function and interface and taste. It’s technology as your personal signature and of course, the Very First Wearable.

It might just be a reminder that not everything has to be ‘smart’ but no so smart looking.

You don’t need one any more, but you may want one because of it represents – a self contained universe of design thinking and craftsmanship that solves a problem that has been solved many times before, but in its own unique way.

Since it is a personal signature, when you find one you want, you want it. And when it is no longer available, you have to start thinking, ‘how badly do I want to make this happen?’ The answer may depend on whether you want to pick up a pair of Tweezers.

Here is an album was my first experience some time ago in making a watch I wanted from a few different pieces

365 Days of Earthquakes in Canada

365 Days of Earthquakes in Canada Interactive

365 Days of Earthquakes in Canada Interactive

Living in Ottawa, I’ve only felt one at magnitude 5, but it got me thinking that we aren’t entirely stable.

This was a little personal project in using some OSS tools: Data sets from Natural Resources Canada data portal which contains GeoJSON Data embedded in custom data; OpenLayers3 (which is a rewrite of OpenLayers and not backwards compatible) . Try it out here, and grab the source on my Github. Comments and feedback and pull requests welcome.

If you are moving to OpenLayers3, the documentation is autogenerated, but the constructors aren’t really described all that well. The changes were enough to warrant a demo site and a workshop site that cover a lot of cookbook tasks. Find out more about Quakes in Canada at the NRCan quake center. If you want to do something with the datasets at Open Data, you can submit them to their App catalogue here

Where is Rosetta Interactive


Rosetta and Philae are working hard at comet 67P and how they got there makes for some good interactive content.

ESA teamed up with the visualization lab at TECField for this one and chose webGL for the interface. TEC used the ThreeJS javascript library for visualization. Data was loadied into the interface using two csv coordinate files – one for the paths and another for the timestamped milestones on the journey. All 3D model data was stored as OBJ files and texture mapped with png images. Audio uses ogg.

Elegant simple clean interfaces work best when exploring new content that stands on its own. The dash and interface are a DOM overlay on the webgl allowing for simpler responsive layout changes for window size. The milestones really pull the interactive together and it would be interesting to have them denoted as points on the scrubber timeline or allow sequential navigation between them (i.e. [next milestone: encounter with asteroid Stein 3D] )

With exportable and maintainable csv files, data compression is not optimized but export from content creators is kept simple. The app is kept up to date on a daily basis and no web backend is really needed for DB entry. It will be interesting to see if how it is kept up to date while the imagery from Philae on the surface starts coming in. It is likely there is a custom CSV editor to ensure that no errors are made and that orbital data can be imported from other engineering tools.

Any mission can use an interface like this. The spacecraft and target models could be changed up and of the CSV data on paths and milestones.

Social Media:
The big social media aspects for ESA are webcast links, first images, and animated GIFs and simulations of approach and landing. Interactive content showing a timeline has to justify itself in comparison social media and outreach tools which are dense and event-based. They attract a different set of users who want to share in exploration actions not simply the results of the exploration. To bridge the two, embedding of Twtter feed tool, YouTube videos in the milestones section would make this a gateway interface to social media. In the other direction, a ‘goto’ function and embedding capability would make this a tool that could be quickly reference on social media channels (i.e. share this viewpoint and 3 days of orbit time)


Publication List Update

In the course of getting a job done, we all end up doing a bit of research. Here are some of the projects I’ve contributed to, from artificial intelligence to aircraft design, tissue simulation, human-machine interfaces and Lego Mindstorms! Feel free to check it out. Wherever possible, I’ve added the presentation versions, which are a bit more visual and a lot less text!

UX Science – measurement gets the answer

The simplification of user interfaces has been proceeding quickly now that the last vestiges of skewmorphism are gone. Like any new technology, the first iterations of the interface must be familiar to the users. Early cars looked like carriages, early lightbulbs behaved like gaslight, early televisions looked like radios, and the first home computers worked like typerwriters (and still do!).

But any design trend ultimately overshoots the mark, in this case iconography has possibly become oversimlified, and buttons without outlines or contrast fill are being used because retina-class displays support the fine line widths.

Curt Arledge addresses one basic question in this user interface direction: does an outline or contrast button have more usability. Check out his results here

In summary, what seems to matter are two things. First, the users’ familiarity with the icon type: i.e. the common language all interfaces share to a great degree in the iconography alphabet. Second, that user testing is still required, since differences appear in counter-intuitive places, and some design decisions affect usability less than expected.

Book Review: Information Graphics published by Taschen


Taschen, 145,366 pages (approximately)

This is physically the largest book I own, and I managed to get it home from LA in my carry on baggage somehow. Probably the most thoughtful part of this book is the initial mini book that is slightly inset in the first 96 pages; It is a historical view of information graphics, from their origin through the 20th century.

Taschen book: oil rigThe book is an example of its subject, being information and graphics. It is inspirational, in that it can be opened randomly for a new hint into visualizing numbers and making meaningful emphasis out of large data sets. But it can also be used systematically to identify the type of data that must be presented and solutions for its presentation: the sections are divided into graphics which best show data based on Location, Time, Hierarchy, and Category.

Of course, this is a book, and so animated, or interactive infographics can’t be easily shown, however I’ve found that if you can’t get your meaning across in a static infographic, at least as a storyboard or infographic, you are not going to benefit a user by making them play with your interactive interface.


There is a reason that the pioneer and voyager space probes have infographics written on them, as their first means of communication with any alien intelligence that may find them, and this is certainly a universal language which it is worth being literate in. As with any language, it is harder to create simplicity that it first seems, and this book is a great support to lean up against in the first few minutes of planning your next bar chart or 9 dimensional genetic map of Canadian immigration patterns. Continue reading