Along the theme of common sense reminders, I enjoyed reading when windows are not enough about how automating repetitive tasks is a key part of staying productive (and sane) when using computers. I like the “three strikes, you’re out” guideline for automation: when you find yourself doing something for the third time, write a script.

Towards the end Gojko Adzic talks about regular expressions, which every programmer should know and I don’t know well enough myself. Alexander Stigsen (via Ron Jeffries has posted a nice webcast and cheat sheet if you’re looking to brush up on you regex skills.

“Bullets don’t kill learning, but improper use of bullets kills learning.” –Richard Mayer

I enjoyed reading The Cognitive Load of PowerPoint, an interview by Cliff Atkinson with Richard Mayer.

Richard Mayer relates several principles from his book Multimedia Learning which are applicable to PowerPoint, as well as any type of presentation. While these seem obvious, I often find it helpful and interesting to have good sense boiled down to some basic principles presented in a handy list (is that the signaling principle?).

* multimedia principle, in which people learn better from words and pictures than from words alone;
* coherence principle, in which people learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included;
* contiguity principle, in which people learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented at the same time or next to each other on the screen;
* modality principle, in which people learn better from animation with spoken text than animation with printed text;
*signaling principle, in which people learn better when the material is organized with clear outlines and headings;
*personalization principle, in which people learn better from conversational style than formal style.

Once I year I step out of the fast-paced, web 2.0 space and spend a week in western New York on the Niagra River. We fly into Buffalo late at night and usually there’s an order of pizza and wings waiting for us when we arrive. It’s still early California-time, so we keep everyone up even later drinking beers on the back deck.

On this trip, the flight out of SF was delayed and we had to run to catch the flight out of Atlanta. We made it, but our bags didn’t. Our suitcases were scheduled on a morning flight and we were told to expect them at the house around 1pm yesterday — no problem, we usually wake up around then. No luck. Around 3pm, we dig up the info: there’s a web site to access. I ask if I can borrow the computer. “You know how to bring up Yahoo?” Sure, I nod. Then I wander into the spare bedroom. Noticing that Yahoo is the default home page, I type in As the page loads, I think to myself that the internet has really made the transformation from brochure to front-desk. This change we’ve been talking about since the late 90’s has arrived. The fundamental usefulness of the web has shifted from informational gathering resource to communication channel.

A half-second later the page loads, and I find my way to the “delayed baggage” section. My file reference number has been helpfully highlighted by the delta air guy the night before. The web site reports knowledge of all three bags. Status? Our bags have been located and are scheduled on a flight. Sigh. A flight to where? When is it due to arrive? This website has transformed itself in my mind from the fulfillment of a promise to a pathetic waste of time. When I dial the phone number list ed on the page, I hear an automated voice. Oh dear. There’s a moment of fear when I see the network in my mind’s eye. What if convergence has finally happened? What if the computer I am speaking to now only has access to the exact same unhelpful information on the web site. As I crawl through the tunnel of spoken words, I recognize the familiar, detailed, useless status information. When I finally speak to an “operator,” I fear same may be true of the human. Luckily, that human has access to a computer with more information. (I can tell they are looking at a computer screen, just by the tone of their voice.)

Why is it that when we talk about all that is great about technology we usually talk about what could be possible? Too often what we find in our daily lives in using technology is sub-par. This holy grail of convergence will only work if the information and services behind it are meaningful.