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Roundup, May 2020

When the Sum of Two UX Improvements Becomes a Huge Problem

On their own, each “solution” makes sense. Together, they lead to unintended consequences:

Turns out the combination of 1) Showing only one product if possible (and pointing it out very clearly, causing me to lower my guard), 2) Not showing out of stock items, and 3) The correct part for my car being out of stock causes 1) several days of extra waiting time, 2) extra work as I had to reassemble the car without fixing it and disassemble it again 5 days later to finally fix the problem, and 3) extra hassle as I have to return the parts I first ordered.

The Blanding: All Sites Looking The Same

The interesting part to me is not the “blanding” but the positive accessibility elements that result. Accessibility is a great exploration of error states that I want to write more about. Creative solutions are interesting, but come at a cognitive navigational cost that easily excludes people:

As for what can be made of this creeping conformity, on one hand, adhering to trends is totally normal in other realms of design, like fashion or architecture. And if designs are becoming more similar because they are using the same libraries, that means they are likely becoming more accessible to the visually impaired, since popular libraries are  generally better at conforming to accessibility standards  than individual developers. They are also more user-friendly, since new visitors will not have to spend as much time learning how to navigate the site’s pages. These are good things.

On the other hand, the internet is a shared cultural artifact, and its distributed, decentralized nature is what makes it unique. As home pages and fully customizable platforms like NeoPets and MySpace fade into memory, web design may lose much of its power as a form of creative expression. The Mozilla Foundation  has argued  that consolidation is bad for the “health” of the internet, and the aesthetics of the web could be seen as one element of its well-being.

A Few Thoughts on “Smart” Assistants

Also Siri not being able to figure out which London

“Noise Neccessary” For Artificial Brains

The scientists ran computer simulations of a spiking neural network to find out what happened. They found that although it could learn to identify the data it was trained to look for, when such training went uninterrupted long enough, its neurons began to continuously fire no matter what signals they received.

Watkins recalled that “almost in desperation,” they tried having the simulation essentially undergo deep sleep. They exposed it to cycles of oscillating noise, roughly corresponding to the slow brain waves seen in deep sleep, which restored the simulation to stability. The researchers suggest this simulation of slow-wave sleep may help “prevent neurons from hallucinating the features they’re looking for in random noise,” Watkins said.

These findings may help explain why all known biological neural systems capable of learning from their environment, from fruit flies to humans, undergo slow-wave sleep. Everyone needs slow-wave sleep, Kenyon said. “Even aquatic mammals – whales, dolphins and so on – require periods of slow-wave sleep, despite the obvious evolutionary pressure to find some alternative. Instead, dolphins and whales sleep with half their brain at a time.”

Better numerical linear algebra algorithms has improved the performance of some problems by around 43,000,000x

A few things from Dan Hon’s ever thoughtful newsletter:

Saw (can’t remember via where) this piece on how getting better at numerical linear algebra algorithms has improved the performance of some problems by around 43,000,000x compared to 43,000x due to Moore’s Law (the one about doubling transistor density – not performance! – every 18 months) . This reads like a fantastic claim so I immediately had to go and find the source, which is this:

The Report to the President and Congress on Designing A Digital Future: Federally Funded Research and Developing in Networking and Information Technology by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, December 2010. It’s a PDF, and you want page 71, and even then, it’s not quite as well sourced as I’d like.


You say: software is eating the world; I say: this is what happens when software eats the world, every 2019 and 2020 Volvo car sold in the United States has been recalled due to a fault with its emergency braking system. Imagine if consumer electronics devices were recalled in a similar way. What would it take for recall legislation to be passed? Haha, trick question! Over 100,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19 and I don’t see anything changing any time soon.

Default Browser?

Kate McNamara on Twitter: “I think my BBQ just offered to be my default browser?…”


by Roman
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