Update On Life, The Universe, and Everything

As you can see by the big jump between post dates, I haven’t been tending to my personal site. Apologies for that. My blogging and social media efforts have been spread across many separate platforms and without a plan for keeping them all synchronized; not a strategy I would recommend.

Recently, however, I was pointed to a content curation platform called Scoop.it. (Thanks Anne-Marie!) This platform shifts the goal from authoring to curation; the task is not to write an article, but to share a link and (perhaps) add insight. The difference between writing a blog article and “scooping” with added commentary may not be obvious right away, but I can tell you that it is psychologically very different. I may even write an article describing the experience…

For now, though, I’ll invite you to view my UX-related topic on Scoop.it:

UX Wins, Fails, and WTFs

LG Support Super Happy Fun Time

Who doesn’t love an easter egg hunt?

Staring at the refurb LG television on my desk, I felt the need to check its customizability, or “hackability” for those wearing rollerblades.  Before any of that could happen, I wanted to find precise specifications and descriptors for the TV to help my search.  The logical place to start was the manufacturer’s support site…  Corporate product support sites are universally craptastic, but LG has a way of making theirs even more frustrating.

Model 22LG30 LCD TV

Example: the exact model number stamped on the back of my TV isn’t listed in the product search.  I have a 22LG30-UA.  When I visit LG’s Canada support page* and enter “22lg30-ua” I get no results at all from the quick menu or drop-down menu.  Hmm.  That’s not a good sign.  Clicking the Search button brings me to a results page that purports to show close matches to known products.  But there are none.  Zero matches for product, tutorials, or frequently asked questions.

*Strangely, I initially landed at the UK support site.  I can’t say that this was LG’s doing since I performed a Google search instead of entering the basic lg.com URL, but I didn’t realize I was at the wrong site for my region for a few minutes.  A “you appear to be in Canada, would you like to visit their site instead?” message would have been appreciated.

Playing the game, I try a less specific search term, “22lg30” (case isn’t important) and I get this from the quick menu:

22lg30search

Notice the total lack of “22LG30-UA” results.  This time, at least, I have some leads.

This is a clear UX failure; you’ve asked me for a model number, I gave it to you verbatim, you tell me there is no such product.  One of us is lying or misinformed.  I can appreciate that they have oodles and oodles of model numbers and that running a support site isn’t generating revenue, but somewhere in the corporate databases there must be a master list of model numbers that could be dumped to the support site.  Then, at least, a user would have the luxury of finding that his television really does exist.

So, I have two possible matches for my model, “22LG30DC” and “22LG30DC-UA“.  What do these mean?  What is the difference between a model that has “UA” and one that doesn’t?  Is there a default, generic result that I should try first?  There are many ways to help me, the frustrated user, complete his task, but I’m left to click through each link.

I clicked the results in order, looking through the first result, then back to look at the second.  The pages were exactly the same in any meaningful way and looked like this:

22lg30support

There was no information about region specifics (is this a UK model, a Canadian, a German?), no explanation of the “UA” suffix, no information about release year or years, no mention of product family or relation to other products.  There wasn’t even a picture of the TV!  All you get is a generic, slightly ghosted flat panel TV image, which is quite unhelpful when the user wants to know if it’s his television and, naturally, there is no caption or asterisk telling you that it isn’t a picture of your device.

The Help Library section, which one expects to have tips about the device, includes gems like:

  • Sharing Files & Folders – Windows Vista OS
  • Smart TV – Resetting of Netflix Premium Application
  • DLNA not supported on Macintosh Operating System

None of these is related to the product on the page.  Oh well.  Let’s check the manual and get all of the information we want:

22lg30manual

THANK YOU!  Not even a manual to peruse for the 22LG30DC-UA model.  The 22LG30DC model does list a manual, a PDF document (sigh) which appears to match my product.  PDFs are annoying in all sorts of ways, but at least I do, eventually, get the info.

My favourite part of this whole exercise?  Finding LG’s USA support site.  It has an exact listing for “22LG30-UA” with the correct product image (top of this post, source lg.com), a spec sheet with information not found in the manual, and different Help Library information that is also unrelated to the product.  Parfait.

Why is the support database balkanized into separate regions like this?  It makes a certain logical sense for each region to list only the models actively sold (and therefore supported) in that region, and it will probably have no negative effect on most users, but there are many realistic and recorded scenarios where users find themselves unable to get what they need.  From the outside, I can’t know the real reasons for the regionalized nature of LG’s support system.  I would not be surprised, however, to learn that no real usability analysis or user testing was performed, and that support was organized according to the structure of the companies involved rather than a genuine effort to provide a service to the customers.

The whole foundation of good user experience design is knowing your users, and anyone who has really tried to know their userbase has discovered a heterogeneous group of people with different expectations and different ways of solving their problems.  Accepting that reality, a good designer must account for these different expectations and methods, finding ways to accommodate and assist.  You can’t make every task the press of a single button, nor can you make every user act according to your plans, but you can offer suggestions (“You might also check our other regional support sites”), useful information (“The sections of the model number refer to this year, this family, this region, this revision, etc.”), and more agency (“Enter this, press that button” vs “If you know X or part of X, you can search for Y here.  You may also try these other methods, or follow our tutorial, etc. etc.”).  A little consideration can build a lot of customer satisfaction.

LG Support has other ways to frustrate the consumer (not releasing updated firmware via the support page is a frequent complaint), but that’s enough for today.

My next post introduces us to the hidden world of the TV’s Service Menu.

[Review] Space Shuttle: Final Countdown

Watching a show on eqhd about the Space Shuttle..  Shows the life of the Space Shuttle program from the design years of the late 60s and 70s to the retirement in 2011.

It’s made for a general viewing audience, so don’t expect any real insight or analysis.  It offers a simplistic overview of the shuttle program, but at least it’s pretty.  I liked that they included lots of interviews with actual astronauts and NASA staff.  I would rather have had them narrate the whole thing.

It’s worth a look, but I have a laundry list of quibbles:

  1. The clips of the Challenger break-up had explosion sound effects dubbed in.  I found that to be disrespectful, cheap, and totally unnecessary.  It’s as though the break up of the launch vehicle and death of seven astronauts wouldn’t be enough to hold someone’s attention.  This isn’t a World’s Greatest Disasters show, folks.
  2. The narration was tedious.  The voice was an edgy bass that had the cadence and inflection of a movie trailer narrator.  “In a world…”, that sort of thing.
  3. The suggestion that the possible loss of Columbia and astronauts Young and Crippen during STS-1 would be the greatest space tragedy in history…  so the loss of the three cosmonauts on the first Salyut mission was/would’ve been less tragic?

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.

Blah.