Nintendo’s Wii U in Paper Prototype Form

Prototyping is an indispensable tool for design.  You have an idea of what you want your product to do, who the user will be, and what the product might look like, but you need feedback.  Feedback from users, designers, and other stakeholders, will tell you if you’re on the right track.  Hand a user a prototype and ask him to perform a task; you’ll quickly learn how many of your assumptions were right.

The key to an effective and efficient design process is to prototype earlier and often; the earlier you produce and test prototypes, the easier it will be to implement changes in design, and, ultimately, you will get a better product.

Gamasutra has an article about prototyping an app for Nintendo’s Wii U.  The developer wanted to see the interface in the real world and be able to touch the device, putting himself into the user’s shoes.

His solution involved bits of cardboard and glue.

This kind of paper prototyping is fast, cheap, and very powerful.  Within minutes you have something you can put in your user’s hands (or just in front of him) that can be manipulated, modified, or torn up without much grief.

Hail Columbia!

Image of Shuttle Columbia launchI must confess that I’m a space nerd.  It’s an affliction I’ve had since I was four or five years old.  Rockets, satellites, astronauts, cosmonauts, freeze-dried ice cream, the works.

When I was a kid, my Dad traveled to the USA quite frequently on business.  It just so happened that some of his trips were to Texas.  To a nerdy space kid like me, the word “Texas” equated to “Houston, Texas” which equated to “Johnson Space Center“, NASA‘s Mission Control.  I don’t recall if my Dad came up with the idea or if I nagged him mercilessly, but either way my Dad, my Mom, and I made two trips to JSC.

It was heavenly.  We toured the buildings, ate authentic NASA cafeteria food, spotted astronauts, took stereotypical tourist shots (Dad peering into the nozzle of a giant Saturn engine), and felt like a part of the whole operation.  We even picked up some NASA patches from a gift shop and my Mom sewed them onto a pale blue jacket of mine.  It looked like (to my mind) a real astronaut jacket for going around the town and impressing people.  I wore it everywhere.

As I got older, I gradually discovered the realities of the Shuttle program and the ugly nature of political compromise.  It was like going to Disney Land as a kid, then realizing as a teenager that the guy in the Mickey costume lived in a bachelor apartment on a steady diet of mac and cheese.  The romantic view was gone.

So, on to the point of this post.  I am the King of reminiscence.  I love to watch old documentaries and movies that remind me of how I used to feel.

Well, today I happened to be flipping through the TV channels and saw “Hail Columbia!”, a documentary about the launch of the first Space Shuttle, Columbia, in 1981.  The film was released in 1982, so it is full of the feelings of hope and possibility that pervaded at the time.  Watching it gives you the feeling that something great is happening and that we’ll all be living on space station in a decade.

I highly recommend that everyone watch it, nasaphiles and normal humans alike.  It’s in IMAX, but it also shows up on HD channels from time to time, and is available on DVD from Amazon.

Czech it out.


Cliff’s Notes for Password Vulnerability

This article at Ars is a great introduction to the current state of password strength/vulnerability.

The gist is that password reuse is steadily increasing, brute force and hash attack costs are plummeting, and password composition is pretty much as bad as it always was.  No big surprise at any of those trends, probably because those trends have held for the past 20 years at least, but it’s still disconcerting.

The article gives examples of several attack methods, including the trusty old dictionary attack (and not just Webster’s).

What I found really interesting was the focus on pattern analysis as a tool for reducing search space.  The idea is that you can use some piece of information about a site’s user population or about the site itself to predict patterns in user-generated passwords.  A site that requires one uppercase, one number, and one special character will have a different password pattern distribution than a site that requires a minimum 10 letters with no common words.  Using this kind of a priori information isn’t the cool part, though…

In an attack on a large set of user generated passwords, there will always be a large percentage that will fall to easy patterns and simple dictionaries.  The cool part comes from using analysis of these broken passwords to inform your attack on the ones that didn’t break.  Say, for example, 10% of a password population was broken through an easy attack.  Just because that 10% was easily cracked, it doesn’t mean that they are wholly dissimilar to the 90% that weren’t cracked.  Both populations may have similar common patterns and only differ in length or size of their character set.  If we assume that the patterns used in the easy set also describe the uncracked set, we can focus attack resources on those patterns.

Imagine playing a game of Battleship where the board is very large and you can use as many ships as you want.  Play against a large number of opponents.  You win some, you lose some.  Look at the games you won.  You can see patterns emerge in people’s tactics, how close together they place their ships, whether to clump them in groups or line them end to end, etc.  The game board may be very large, but you have reasonable limits on your time to play… maybe you only want to spend 10 minutes playing any one game, but you want to win as many games as possible.  If you know that the most popular pattern used by your opponents is to line their ships end to end in a long line, you will try to find a ship, then continue attacking in a line until you sink all the ships.  If this attack is generally successful in 10 minute games, you may suppose that it will work even if you extend the play to 1 hour.  The pattern may have been in use in the games you lost  — perhaps there were simply too many ships to have sunk them all in 10 minutes.  By finding the common pattern(s) in the short games, you’ve increased the chances of winning longer games without having to play many, many long games to discover the pattern.

Your computational resources are finite, just like the amount of time you have to spend playing games of Battleship.  If you want to get rich hustling the underground Battleship circuit (hey, it could be a real thing), you want to win as many games as you can in a set amount of time.  If you want to be a 5up3r h4ck3r, you want to crack as many passwords as you can with a set amount of computational resources.

Okay, the analogy isn’t perfect, but you get the idea.



How Cable TV worms its way into your house

While chewing through my daily RSS feast, I found a video describing how Time Warner Cable’s TV network operates.  It’s a brief rundown of how satellite feeds are received, decoded, encoded, then pumped out through fiber and copper to the consumer’s home.  No deeply technical explanations, but it gives you the broad strokes and a look at their NOC.

Lots of delicious video of their hardware.  Yes, hardware can be delicious.

Source:  Time Warner Cable

TV’s Miles O’Brien: Real Person!

Miles O'Brien headshot from PBS

A real person.

You may know Miles from segments on CNN or PBS – he’s the go-to Science Guy (other than Bill Nye) for stories about rocket launches and other fun stuff.  Having only been exposed to his talking head role, I never envisioned that he was a “real person”… you know, able to drop pop culture references, use naughty language, etc.

Well, check this out:

Miles O’Brien.  Science guy.  Using the word “douchebag”, referencing Spın̈al Tap, discussing a show about meth cooks.

Excelsior to you, sir!

Video source:  boingboingPhoto source:  PBS