Chapman's Bits

Musings about technology, philosophy, research … and wine

Latest Posts

Micro-vineyard in Seattle

I have a small vineyard growing behind my house in Seattle. Seattle is certainly on the cool side for wine grapes, but my plot is on a west-facing slope, so it’s relatively sunny. And I planted mostly a cool-weather varietal, Regent.  Regent makes a rich, red wine.

Currently I have 14 producting Regent vines, 6 more planted; and 4 Dolcetto vines (which need a little more heat, so they’re experimental). They’re planted in two rows with high density (3×4 spacing). My hope is to get 7-10 gallons of fruit once they’re all mature.

The first crop last year was small — due to vine maturity and a late freeze — but the wine (just finishing MLF phase) is excellent: dense, fruity, dark. I did an extended maceration and a couple of weeks after fermentation was complete, it was acidic and tasted very much like blueberry wine. Since then, it’s settled down and has a strong Bordeaux character.

My favorite laptop bag

I got a laptop bag at work that was just perfect — padded laptop pocket, room for books, not too large, with lots of pockets and great design for pens, a note pad, business cards, MP3 player, even airline tickets. But it had been embossed for an event with a logo I didn’t like.

It took a while to find but I tracked down the exact bag and ordered another one without the logo: Ogio Jack Pack. If you’re looking for a stylish messenger-style laptop bag, it would be hard to do better. About $45, depending on the color.

Now fixing the Lenovo F1/Esc layout

Using CapsLk to mimic CTRL is going well. The frequency of my inadventent “FN-C, FN-V, FN-X” presses is down about 90%. (See previous post).

But a new annoyance has surfaced: I keep pressing F1 instead of Escape (which on Lenovo is by itself above the F1 key). It pulls up Help, which is esp. annoying in Office apps because it launches a new window.

Solution: I use Help very, very rarely, so I map F1 to be Escape. (And then I map F12 to be F1, since I have no idea at all what F12 does, and I occasionally do need F1.)

The program SharpKeysmakes this very easy: run it, add a new key map, write the change to the registry, and reboot. Only works for Windows (and works fine in Windows 7, which I’m using). It can also handle the CapsLk issue instead of the .REG file I posted earlier.

So now my Lenovo keyboard is mapped like this:
CapsLk –> Left CTRL
F1 –> Esc
F12 –> F1

I still wish I could swap FN and CTRL. It would save me at least 10 mistakes a day. Lenovo: please make your BIOS update available retroactively!

Improving the FN/CTRL keys on my Lenovo laptop

Got a new Lenovo X301 ultralight laptop that I absolutely love (thin, light, very quiet with the SSD drive) except for one horrible flaw: the FN key is where CTRL is on every other PC keyboard. Instead of CTRL-C and CTRL-V, I’m always hitting FN-C and FN-V, which are useless.

If it’s your only PC keyboard, you might get used to it. But if you switch back and forth with a desktop keyboard like I do, it will most likely be infuriating.

At some point soon, Lenovo will come out with a BIOS — on new machines only – that allow the keys to be swapped. Meanwhile, there are various workarounds ranging from removing the FN key to trying to glue FN and CTRL together. (Unlike every other key, the FN key cannot simply be remapped by itself because it does not generate a keyscan code.)

The solution I’ve adopted is to remap the (useless) CapsLock key to CTRL. This works across keyboards so it applies to both my laptop and my external desktop keyboard when docked. So now I can use CapsLk-C and CapsLk-V, which are pretty easy to learn and get accustomed to. Here’s discussion about the CapsLk issue.

If you’re using Windows, the easiest way to turn CapsLk into CTRL is to add a Registry key and then reboot:

1. Open Notepad and create a file called “RemapCapsLock.reg” (be sure to turn off the dedault *.txt file extension)
2. Put in these lines:

REGEDIT4
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
“Scancode Map”=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,02,00,00,00,1d,00,3a,00,00,00,00,00

3. Save it to Desktop. Double-click on it and say Yes to add to Registry. Then reboot and your CapsLk key will be remapped.

Lenovo: PLEASE make the BIOS update available for older machines!

David Coffaro great bargain wines

I haven’t written about wine yet on this blog, but it’s a big hobby of mine — both enjoying and also growing my own grapes for winemaking. One of my favorite wineries is a small, little-known winery in Sonoma County: David Coffaro winery. They make fabulous wines for people who love tasty, fruit-forward, big red wines. On top of that, Coffaro is a critic of high-priced wines. He prices his to make a “fair” return, no more. While many Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels are $40 or more, for instance, his are $28, or under $20 if purchased on futures.

In his New California Wine, Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator wrote that Coffaro “never makes a bad wine … I have friends who routinely order six or eight cases … they’re all lovely: intense, free of intrusive oakiness, and purely made.”

If you’re visiting Sonoma, they do a great tasting including both released wines and often a barrel tasting. If not, check out the online ordering and give them a chance. I recommend to pick 4 different blends or Zins, a great investment of about $100. My personal favorites are the Zinfandels, Block 4 field blend, and Escuro, a dark, rich, blend. David Coffaro Winery home page. Cheers! (And no, I have no connection to them, am just a fan, and tired of too much overpriced wine!)

Parental filter: Goodbye SafeEyes on Mac … no more crashing, I hope

I’ve been using SafeEyes at home for 3+ years on our Mac PowerBook. SafeEyes provides very good parental filtering and is one of the few clients available for OS X, but … the whole time it has been plagued with periodic crashes. In the middle of doing something, it just quits and nothing on the Internet works until the system is rebooted. After trying upgrades, uninstall/reinstall, the whole works, I give up.

I’ve switched for now to OpenDNS, a free DNS-based solution. What is DNS? It’s the Internet service that turns friendly names like “nytimes.com” into a 32 (or 128) bit numeric address. What OpenDNS does — if you enable the parental controls — is intercept those requests when they are for sites you’re blocking. It can do this with no client software needed. Just point your network setup to their servers, create a free account and configure your settings, and you’re good to go.

Unless your kids have administrator privileges to change your network settings (in which case you would need something very root, like SafeEyes, to stop them), this should work pretty well. So far it looks great. And did I mention that it’s free? You can choose whether to protect just one computer (as I did) by changing its settings, or point your router to it to protect everything on your network all at once. And dynamic IP/DHCP addresses are no problem: it has a light client app for OSX and Windows that will update your IP address automatically. Just be sure to set it to run automatically (read the “readme” file).

You might ask: why not use OSX parental controls? Because I don’t use Safari, and it doesn’t work with Firefox. I wanted something that is as light as possible on the client, as up to date as possible, and works for everything.

Assessing persona prevalence empirically

I just obtained permission to post our latest paper on Personas. We argued previously that the personas method should not be considered to be scientific, and that a complete persona almost certainly describes few people or no one at all. In the new paper, we present a complete formal model, and evaluate the prevalence of “persona-like descriptions” with both analytical methods and empirical data. Full paper on persona prevalence.

There are two key implications here: (1) if you want to claim that a persona describes real people, you need strong multivariate evidence. (2) Without such evidence, we provide a formula you can use that will give a better estimate than simply assuming something. We show how this formula has a better than chance agreement with 60000 randomly generated persona-like descriptions in real data with up to 10000 respondents.

None of this says that personas are not inspiring or useful. It just says that they cannot be assumed to have verifiable information content, unless that is demonstrated empirically. As for alternatives to answer key design and business questions using empirical data, check out our paper on quantitative methods for product definition.

Personas

One of my papers from 2 years ago is still causing discussion: “The Personas’ New Clothes: Methodological and Practical Arguments against a Popular Method” by me and Russ Milham. Email from researchers I didn’t know led me to look up citations, and the article appears to be commonly cited when people present criticism of the personas method. Google search. The paper itself is here.

There are a few misunderstandings of our position out there. Our basic argument is simple. Persona authors often make two claims: (1) personas present real information about users; and (2) using personas leads to better products. In a nutshell, we argue that neither claim has been supported by empirical evidence; rather, the claims for personas’ utility are based on anecdotes, generally from their own authors or other interested parties (such as consultants selling them).

This does not mean that personas are bad, but they cannot be taken at face value. As researchers, we suggest that persona authors should either provide better evidence (and we suggest how) or make weaker claims.

Some persona users don’t make claims about their personas’ usefulness or correspondence to reality; they simply say that personas might be helpful for inspiration for some people or teams. We take no issue with that, as long as they don’t forget those caveats and reify the persona. Unfortunately it is probably very difficult for people to read a persona and not think that it describes a user group.

We’ve recently published empirical work on (quasi-)persona prevalence using several large datasets, demonstrating that once a description has more than a few attributes it describes few if any actual people. I’ll put that paper up as soon as I get reprint permission. (If you have access to HFES archives, it is “Quantitative Evaluation of Personas as Information”, Christopher N. Chapman, Edwin Love, Russell P. Milham, Paul ElRif, James L. Alford, from HFES conference 2008, New York.)

What should one do instead of personas? I advocate stronger empirical methods that have more demonstrable validity.

New papers on user research

Just uploaded 2 new papers on user research. First is work on a multi-factorial product interest scale, designed to be easily administered in survey format and applicable to consumer products. See the abstract on my “papers” page, or get the file directly: wip337-chapman.pdf

Second is an overview of quantitative methods that are helpful in early evaluation of product needs and strategy. The abstract is on my “papers” page, or the complete file is chapman-love-alford-quantitative-early-phase-ur-reprint.pdf

I’ll be uploading more papers soon.