A recent weekend was filled with T-ball, two playdates and a sleepover. A conversation about the emergence of casual gaming on mobile devices took place while climbing over big rocks at the breakwater. Late night coding of a drag-and-drop interface to control remote data sets fit in after Bionicles, a new rhyming game, and bedtime.

Choosing between family time and professional interests is not a women’s issue, yet these choices are more often intensely difficult for women than for men. I just read “Do Women Lack Ambition?” by Anna Fels (via danah at misbehaving.net):

Women now experience the most powerful social and institutional discrimination during their twenties and early thirties, after they have left the educational system and started pursuing their ambitions. At the age when women most frequently marry and have children, they must decide whether to try to hold on to their own ambitions or downsize or abandon them. Often, a young woman must make this decision at the moment when she is just learning to be a parent, with all its attendant fears, pleasures, insecurities, and around-the-clock work.

Although it is not stated as such, the focus of the article is on ambitions to succeed professionally in fields traditionally reserved for men. More women than men have ambitions to raise the next generation and to create that special relationship with a child that can lead to a healthy happy grown-up. One could argue the clear biological basis for this imbalance. After all, men are ill-equipped for the bearing of children. However, I know many men who value relationships and family and struggle against common expectations and sexism that limits the role of a man in our society.

“Downsizing” professional ambition to be a parent is a different ambition, not a lack of ambition.

Yeah, but so is anything worth doing.

Humans are so finicky — they want everything done for them, but still have all the control. What’s up with that? We’re all waiting for that semantic network to lead us into internet nirvana. With a WSDL description for enough SOAP web services and we can write software that will do anything you want, but … um… you want it to be useful without a 3 day training session or your very own geek to assist you? uh…

I enjoyed Eric Burke’s rant (via Evan Williams) and a few more points from HMK. I think it’s true that a good GUI just looks so easy that some folks don’t value it. It’s like a movie soundtrack. To most folks when it’s good, the movie just seems like a better movie, and when it’s bad, the plot drags and the characters seem to lack depth.

Here’s a few more points from my list:

* Good GUI involves interaction design. You can’t draw a picture or a flow chart of it. To know if it’s going to work you have to prototype it or even fully implement some of it.

* GUI seems more subjective than it is. Unlike a crash or some part of a program that gives an incorrect result, a usability bug can be hard to classify. I’ve known many folks who would say that if it’s just pixels on the screen, the bug is cosmetic, and therefore unimportant. A good UI engineer will classify it as simply “broken.” If the pixels are in wrong place, the end user loses confidence and the UI stops working.

* Human interfaces require soft edges. Whether graphical or not, any thing that interacts with humans must be tolerant of mistakes. Unlike machine-to-machine interaction which can be programmed to stay within safe boundaries, humans cannot be expected to do so. There can’t be an edge condition which causes you to fall of a virtual cliff. Interfaces which are not resilient to unexpected user behavior often fail to be useful.