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Embedded Muse 60 Copyright 2001 TGG January 29, 2001


You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. For commercial use contact info@ganssle.com.

EDITOR: Jack Ganssle, jack@ganssle.com

CONTENTS:
- Bad Designs
- Upcoming Embedded Seminar
- Thought for the Week
- About The Embedded Muse


Bad Designs


This weekend my son finished his science fair project, firing a toy rocket-powered car a number of times to collect distance traveled versus specific-impulse data.

My mission was to take photos, using a new digital video camera. Video was useless to Graham, but the camera also takes still pictures stored to a memory stick. We figured we’d download the pictures to the PC and print them out.

Amidst great clouds of smoke, squealing delighted kids (some over 40!), and a car that seemed determined to chase down spectators no matter where they stood, Graham collected data while I snapped off pictures.

Later, to my shock and horror I discovered that the pictures didn’t “take”. Despite a viewscreen indication that said “capturing” every time I pressed the button, the memory stick was empty. Digging deeper we found that in fact the pictures were recorded, but on video tape as 10 second pseudo-still shots. Happily we were able to retrieve them, though only via a painful process of using video capture software that sucks data through a Firewire port.

The camera has 39 buttons. 39! I had had one of the many mode controls set incorrectly. You’d think something as simple as taking a still picture would be intuitively obvious.

Perhaps one of the next biggest challenges we embedded folks face is making our creations more user-friendly. Do you know how to program your cell phone? How do you override the TV’s automatically-selected set of channels?

Check out http://www.baddesigns.com, a site dedicated to designs with major usability issues. Though not inherently embedded, the lessons shown do apply to the products we build. It’s usually just as easy to build a user-proof system as one that creates confusion… though such design requires a lot more thought. What can go wrong? Can X and Y get mixed up?

The web site is full of interesting, funny, and thought-provoking real-life products with problems. Well worth a visit.

I also highly recommend the book “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman (ISBN: 0385267746). As the author says “This book is intended to be a call to arms, to sensitize everyday people to the foibles of the design of technology, whether it be a doorknob or a computer. If you have problems with technology it is not your fault. A secondary purpose was to teach the designers of these high-technology foibles. My goal was to impart some basic principles of a human-centered design.”


Embedded Seminars in Boston and Irvine


I’ll present the seminar "The Best Ideas for Developing Better Firmware Faster” in Boston on March 5 and Irvine on March 9.

The focus is uniquely on embedded systems. I'll talk about ways to link the hardware and software, to identify and stamp out bugs, to manage risk, and to meet impossible deadlines. If you’re interested reserve early as these seminars fill completely.

For more information check out http://www.ganssle.com or email info@ganssle.com.

A lot of folks have asked me to bring this seminar to their company. Email me at jack@ganssle.com if you’re interested.


Thought for the Week


What’s a “Seagull Manager”? That’s the person who flies in, makes a lot of noise, poops over everything and then leaves.