Merrild coffee machine joins our research group

Merrild coffee machine

We recently got a new member of our research group, a Merrild coffee machine. The Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University consists of several different research units, and luckily one of the other units passed on their used coffee machine which still can be considered hyper-modern in comparison to our former one.

Easy access to coffee is an essential part of the infrastructure at any academic institution. Our department is no different. One of my most appreciated benefits as a Ph.D. Fellow is the included unmetered amount of coffee. This benefit has changed what was once as a college student a significant expense in my finances into a remarkable less significant cost.

The coffee machine and coffee drinking serve a number of purposes besides getting coffee. Firstly, it’s simply a part of the daily schedule, like turning on the computer. It’s a ritual that cannot easily (or should not?) be changed. Secondly, the environment around the coffee machine and the act of drinking coffee is a catalyst for socializing with colleges. Pitching some research ideas, discussing the stack of student reports, or simply a bit of small talk. Thirdly getting coffee is an easy activity for procrastinating other more complex tasks. Whether or not the “fact” that I will be more efficient and creative after picking up coffee is true it is not something I currently plan on challenging (but probably should).

Welcome to the newest member of the Information Systems research group, our new (used) Merrild coffee machine.

First encounter with a laser cutter

Laser cutting 1During a recent course in interaction design research at Aalborg University Department of Architecture Design and Media Technology, I had my first encounter with a laser cutter. Here I was introduced to some of the many possibilities offered by this relatively simple technology. In essence, a laser cutter is a high-power laser burning or melting the material like a saw. A strength of this technique is the variety of different types of materials that can be used such as wood, cardboard, plastic, acrylic, and fabric. Another strength is the precision of the cutting making it possible to get clean and sharp edges. Laser cutters are still not at a price level making it possible for most people to get one at home, but several universities and workshops make them available to students and the public.

In simple terms, a laser cutter almost works like an ordinary printer – model something in a modelling program and send it to the laser cutter.

Laser cutting 2During this introduction, I used the modelling program Skatechup Make by Sketchup. Sketchup Make is the light version of Sketchup Pro and is available as freeware for non-commercial use and a great way to learn and experimenting with modelling programs and creating sketches for laser cutting. It turned out to be relatively easy and fast to learn the basic concepts of Sketchup Make. After a couple of hours of introduction to both laser cutting and Sketchup, I was able to make different simple shapes and to prepare them for laser cutting.

Laser cutting 3While I was only able to make some simple shapes during my first trial, it’s easy to get hooked and see a potential. With a bit of creativity, it is possible to make 2D models into 3D models by creating 2D parts and afterwards assemble the parts into something 3D. While I didn’t get so far during my first encounter, it is to easy to see why laser cutting is a cheap, fast, and easy tool for rapid prototyping of physical devices. Laser cutting is a very compelling and attractive technique, so I hope to get the chance to play further with this technology and even use it for one of my projects.

Understanding usability problem lists is challenging

In an ongoing study about creating GUI redesigns based on the results of a usability evaluation I asked the participants if they had problems understanding the usability problem list. 44 participants, a mix of informatics and information technology students following a design course, participated. Their assignment was to create redesign suggestions for a web shop selling merchandise and tickets. The company developing the web shop had conducted a think-aloud usability evaluation resulting in a simple usability problem list listing 36 usability problems. Each problem was described with the location, a short description, and severity of the problem. The table below shows how the participants answered.

 Were there any usability problems you could not interpret? (n=44)
 Disagree strongly  18%  41%
 Disagree  16%
 Slightly disagree  7%
 Neutral  16%  16%
 Slightly agree  27%  43%
 Agree  7%
 Agree strongly  9%

As can be seen, 43% found that at least one usability problem was difficult to interpret. While this aspect is not the focus of the study, it is still an interesting finding that a relatively large amount of the participants had troubles understanding all the usability problems of a relatively short list of problems. I suspect that the 16% choosing ‘neutral’ probably believed they understood all problems with some uncertainty if this actually was the case. Unfortunately, I have no quantitative data about the number of problems difficult to interpret, but I do have some qualitative data. Especially one particular problem was mentioned among the participants. Not surprisingly this was a semi-complex problem and one of the more important ones to investigate further. I’m sure people receiving and using usability problem lists can recognize similar problems. Another challenge faced by the participants was recreating problems. Some problems are only happening under certain conditions, recreating the same conditions based on a problem description is not straightforward. Despite the missing of details, this non-scientific presentation, and the number of participants, these numbers adds to earlier findings and research in the communication of usability problems.

Here a few papers discussing usability problem reporting:

  • Hornbæk, K., & Frøkjær, E. (2005, April). Comparing usability problems and redesign proposals as input to practical systems development. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 391-400). ACM. 10.1145/1054972.1055027
  • Høegh, R.T., Nielsen, C.M., Overgaard, M., Pedersen, M.B., and Stage, J. The Impact of Usability Reports and User Test Observations on Developers’ Understanding of Usability Data: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 21, 2 (2006), 173–196. 10.1207/s15327590ijhc2102_4
  • Molich, R., Jeffries, R., and Dumas, J.S. Making usability recommendations useful and usable. Journal of Usability Studies 2, 4 (2007), 162–179. PDF
  • Nørgaard, M., & Hornbæk, K. (2008). Working together to improve usability: challenges and best practices. University of Copenhagen Dept. of Computer Science Technical Report no. 08/03. PDF
  • Nørgaard, M. and Hornbæk, K. Exploring the Value of Usability Feedback Formats. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 25, 1 (2009), 49–74. 10.1080/10447310802546708
  • Redish, J. G., Bias, R. G., Bailey, R., Molich, R., Dumas, J., & Spool, J. M. (2002, April). Usability in practice: formative usability evaluations-evolution and revolution. In CHI’02 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 885-890). ACM. 10.1145/506443.506647

Norwegian 2015 review

Norwegian Logo

Since 2012 I have frequently been flying Norwegian (Norwegian Air Shuttle) (IATA: DY) in Scandinavia. This is my 2015 review. My trips with Norwegian went significantly down in 2015 as my travel patterns and destinations changed. Last year I only had seven flight with Norwegian.

Flights and service

Norwegian provides an absolute basic product (while not as basic as Ryanair) and often have very competitive prices. Norwegian’s fleet consists of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Boeing 737-800 planes. The Dreamliners are used for long haul routes and the Boeing 737-800’s for short haul routes. I have only been flying the Boeing 737-800 planes. Cabins and seats are clean, and the Boeing 737-800’s are generally pleasant. No onboard service is offered on short flights in Scandinavia (with a few exceptions) but is more normal on intra-European flights. The overheads are spacious and will fit most “standard” carry-on luggage (size: 55 x 40 x 23, weight: low fare: 10kg, and flex and premiumflex 15 kg). As good as everything besides the ticket itself is associated with a fee. Information about baggage and other fees are listed at Norwegian’s website “Travelling with us“. While Norwegian has quite strict policies, they are generally not being unreasonable when it comes to enforcement.

The staff, including ground, cabin and customer service, are generally offering a professional and friendly service, but I have occasionally been in contact with some less helpful ground staff. In 2015 my flights had no or less significant delay. Sometimes this was not well informed, for example, SMS’s with information about delays have at times been more delayed than the flights.

Wifi and in-flight entertainment

Norwegian offers free WiFi on most routes. The stability of the connection is unfortunately often questionable. The in-flight entertainment system is based on the WiFi and “bring your own device” such as a laptop, tablet or mobile phone, and offers video-on-demand, live TV news, and some magazines. I have yet to try out the entertainment system in full due to short flights (30 – 60 minutes) and prices.

Norwegian Reward

In 2015, Norwegian made some significant changes to their loyalty program called ‘Norwegian Reward’. I have in my earlier reviews critiqued Norwegian Reward as being close to completely useless, but the recent changes have made it more attractive for frequent flyers. The essence of Norwegian Reward is the option to earn ‘CashPoints’ (2% CashPoints on low fare tickets and 10% CashPoints on flex fare tickets). Changes have been made both to how CashPoints can be earned and used. Besides flying it’s now also possible to earn CashPoint through car rentals and hotel bookings. CashPoints can are useable for full or partial payment of flight tickets, and now also be used for extra baggage, seat reservation, cancellation, and insurance booking changes. On top, with enough flights (12-18 flights within a 12-month consecutive period), it’s possible to earn different benefits. After 12 flights it’s possible to pick between +2% CashPoint boost, free seat reservation, or free fast track (at selected airports). After 18 flights it’s possible to get free extra baggage (20 KG). Note that all rewards can be used unlimited and that it takes 12 or 18 flights for each reward. For example, after 12 flights you can chose free seat reservation. You then need additional 12 or 18 flights to select an extra reward. More details about the loyalty program are available at the Norwegian Reward website.

Conclusion

All in all, Norwegian continues to provide a stable product at a decent price. As I keep pointing out in my yearly Norwegian reviews, it’s absolutely essential to recognize and remember that Norwegian is a low fare airline. Knowing what to expect and set expectations accordingly will make things easier, for example, to remember that no perks are provided, and basically anything such as baggage, drinks, etc. is associated with a fee. Especially the customer service cannot match legacy airlines and service is generally not flexible. According to other reviews, a common complaint is how Norwegian deals with long delays and cancellations. It’s very positive that Norwegian has upgraded they loyalty program Norwegian Reward, and now provide different benefits besides the option to earn credit for future flights. While my travel patterns have changed, I’m also in 2016 expecting to book a few Norwegian flights.

Feel free to post your own experiences with Norwegian.

More Norwegian reviews can are available at Skytrax.

Review about Norwegians US-EU routes can be found at Yelp.

Lufthansa lounge Hannover review

Lufthansa lounge HAJ entranceThe Lufthansa Business and Senator lounge in Hannover (HAJ) is located in terminal A.  This is a typical Lufthansa lounge and have you ever visited other Lufthansa lounges you will more or less know what to expect. I went to the Senator lounge that is not particular large, but there was plenty of space during my visit. My guess is it could be crowded at times. The lounge is divided into a few different sections including a table/dining area and an area with resting chair. The interior is in a good condition and the lounge looks relative newly remodelled.

Lufthansa lounge HAJ foodGenerally I am very pleased with the Senators lounges, mainly because some sort of warm food is always available, and they have a decent selection of drinks including soft drinks, coffee, tea, wine, and a selection of German beer. Especially in comparison to other Star Alliance lounges in Europe and the US the food options are better. My only appeal is that they more or less serve the same food in all the lounges and some variation could be nice.

In conclusion the Lufthansa Senator lounge in Hannover is decent. The place was not crowded during my visit, the lounge is a in a good condition, and the food options are good. Great place for a break before a flight.

Asiana lounge Seoul Gimpo review

Asiana Lounge GMP EntranceWhen flying out of Seoul through Gimpo Airport (GMP) a Saturday morning I decided to checkout the Asiana Star Alliance Lounge. The lounge is located at 3F before security. It has an average size considering the size of the airport, but space was not an issue as I was the only guest that Saturday morning. I suspect the lounge will be more crowded during weekdays. The décor of the lounge is very classic and known from many many lounges all over the world. Personally I’m not a big fan of this style, especially when a lounge like this one is crowded. The lounge mostly consists of resting chairs, but it also has a small business area (not very private), and tables along the windows. The snack bar is very basic with a selection of snacks, and common beverages. The snacks were quite good and the selection as can be expected. A selection of magazines is offered, and the lounge offers free Wi-Fi, and free local calls. The staff was polite and made a good impression.

In conclusion the Asiana lounge at the Gimpo Airport is an average Star Alliance lounge. Don’t expect anything special, but the snacks were decent and it was a fine lounge for a short break before the flight, but not the place to spend many hours.

A few pictures from the lounge:

SAS lounge Helsinki review

SAS Lounge HEL EntranceThe SAS lounge in Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL) is located in terminal 1 and is a SAS lounge only (no SAS Gold lounge). Access details to SAS lounges can be found here. The lounge is relative small and kept in a nice ‘Scandinavian’ design. While small I find the lounge very comfortable. It’s basically one big room containing everything, but space has never been a problem during my visits. The lounge has a table/dining area and a small business area with computers. Free Wi-Fi access is provided and works well. The lounge has a high level of cleanness and the bathrooms are clean and private. The staff is in friendly and helpful.

Light food is served during all opening hours. For example, during morning hours typically Scandinavian breakfast in the form of bread, cheese, ham, jam and pastries is served. Besides the breakfast options the food offerings will not be able to make up for a full meal. The food served can more be categorized as snacks. The basic selection of beverages is provided including: juice, coffee, tea, water, common soft drinks, and a small selection of beers, and wine.

In conclusion the SAS lounge in Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is a decent member of the Star Alliance lounge family, but in no way spectacular and quite average. The food and drink options are rather limited. This is mainly a lounge for shorter breaks, but I find the lounge cozy and nice for a bit of work or relaxation before a flight.

More reviews are available at Yelp.

Below you will find a few pictures from the lounge:

Submitted review to AfriCHI 2016

Submitted a review of a full paper to AfriCHI 2016. AfriCHI is a new HCI conference presenting itself as:

AfriCHI’s mission is to be a pan-African conference that brings together researchers, academics, practitioners, industry professionals and students who are African, are based in Africa or undertake or collaborate on HCI and Interaction Design projects about Africa. The conference showcases contributions on practical, technical, methodological, empirical and theoretical aspects on all topics related to HCI and Interaction Design from as many African countries as possible.

It’s always interesting when new HCI conferences are popping up! AfriCHI 2016 will take place 21-25 November 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. This year’s theme is: “Kujenga madaraja, Kubomoa vizuizi” or “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers”

A PhD student’s review of “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success”

writingyourjournalarticlein12weeks

Academic writing is a process full of pain, struggling, frustration, and you name it… but academic writing is also satisfying, engaging, and meaningful to name a few of the many positive aspects. Especially the feeling of getting a paper accepted for publication is a very enjoying and satisfying moment. “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success” by Wendy Laura Belcher is a basic and accessible introduction to academic writing aimed at newcomers to the art of writing.

Academic writing is a tough discipline requiring practice and practice means writing. The book advocates that practice does not necessarily equals doing as much writing as possible, but rather writing on a frequent basis. Frequent writing, as in writing on a daily basis, is an essential take-away.This hands-on book not only gives an introduction to what academic writing is but also specific advice and suggestions about how to structure and actually implement good writing habits. The foundation and part of the framing of the book are to guide the reader towards revising an unpublished paper into something publishable.

The book takes the reader through the entire process from getting started such as dealing with writing obstacles, to structure a paper, writing academically, and finally submitting and handling rejections and revisions (and rejections is a steadfast companion in academic writing). The book is full of different forms that can be used to make specific plans and notes to support the writing progress. If you like me do not like to make notes in books several of the forms can be downloaded from the author’s website. This book is not a silver bullet guarantying high-quality publications, but provides an interesting hands-on approach filled with anecdotes about systematical structure a writing process, things to consider, and steps to take. Research questions, choice of method and arguments are still up to the author. The “Twelve Weeks” part of the title should not be taken too literally. This is mainly how the general composition of the book is framed.

A topic that is explicit and implicit brought up several times is that tasks need to be finished. In all academic disciplines, authors are struggling with finishing different aspects of writing a paper such as finding the appropriate related literature, reading enough material, documenting the findings, etc. The books stresses that things need an end point and provides advice about how to end different tasks. Besides providing advice about the “perfect” writing process she also recognizes that it’s impossible to do everything perfect. The book contains several tips and tricks for speeding up some tasks, what to keep the focus on and what to skip or pay less attention to.

It’s clear that the main intended audience is newcomers that mainly have been writing college reports and authors just started in the publishing game. The book is also slightly aimed at US-based authors as several pieces of advice are specifically focusing on this group. However, this is only a detail and authors all around the globe will benefit. That being said the book is also highly relevant for more experienced authors as a reference book. The described processes are intended for the humanities and social sciences, but I also found it relevant to my field, Human-Computer Interaction, broadly speaking a cross-disciplinary field between natural science and social science.

For authors already established in the world of academic writing, this book might be somewhat disappointing at first sight as it does not touch much upon improving writing habits or effectiveness etc. of experienced writers. However, it both touches academic writing on a general basic level (e.g. how to structure a paper) and on a more detailed level (e.g. different approaches to to opening a paper) that might be useful for experienced writers. For authors like me, that can be categorized as being in an intermediate state several parts and steps are well known, but I surely did learn new things and repetition should never be underestimated. For example, the book includes a list of writing obstacles and how to fight or consider them. All authors have by guarantee been dealing with several of these obstacles, and chances are that most are at least still dealing with some. Also, the suggestions about good academic writing in English were useful to me. Especially since English is not my native language.

I wished I had been introduced to this book years ago. I can recommend this book to authors starting to write academic papers and students working on larger projects such as a master thesis etc. This is an excellent introduction going through all essentials of writing and publishing and will be an excellent read in your writing breaks. This lightness of the book also makes it a read that will not be seen as yet an obstacle towards the writing process. This book should be provided to all Ph.D. students day one along with receiving the office key, access card etc.

10 best free DNS providers

Domain name system (DNS) (also sometimes referred to as domain name service or domain name servers) is an essential part of not only what makes the World Wide Web work, but most parts of the Internet. In essence, DNS is used to translate hostnames into actual IP addresses, routing mail to the right servers, etc. As fast and reliable DNS is quite essential I have here compiled a list of 10 free DNS providers that have proved to offer stable, fast and interesting DNS free of charge. Most the following providers will be able to compete with DNS provided by hosting providers and paid services. Actually, some of the providers listed below are among the most popular DNS providers also offering a limited free plan of their paid plans. You can get more information about the performance of most major DNS providers at DNSPerf.

Please post comments with your experiences with free DNS providers, corrections, and questions.

The following list is in no particular order as it ‘s hard to rank the free DNS providers from best to worst because they provide different types of DNS service. For example, Hurricane Electric (HE.net) provides a stable, fast, and no limits service, but have a simple interface with limited features making it bothersome if you manage several domains and need to make frequent updates. Other free DNS providers offer more features but have different types of limitations, so the best provider depends on your specific needs.

Hurricane Electric (HE.net)

Hurricane Electric is a top class free DNS provider that both can be used for hobby and production domains. They are limited to 50 domains. They provide both primary and secondary DNS.

DNSPref Hurricane Electric (HE.net) performance chart

CloudFlare

The well-known proxy and CDN provider CloudFlare is also offering free DNS on a solid anycast network. On special feature is CloudFlares IPv6 Gateway included in the free plan. In case your server only can be accessed through IPv6 CloudFlare provides a gateway and makes your server accessible through IPv4 as well. This does have some limitations in relation to actually having a dedicated static IPv4, but for serving web pages, etc. this will fit common needs. Besides regular DNS service, it’s also possible to add a line of additional services such as proxy, caching of some static files, DNSSEC, and SSL. They offer service for unlimited domains.

DNSPref CloudFlare performance chart

DNS4.pro

DNS4.pro is offering an easy to setup and use DNS solution. They are limited to 10 domains.

DNSPref DNS4.pro performance chart

FreeDNS (Afraid)

Well established and known for providing a high-quality DNS product. They offer unlimited domains. A nice feature is that if you use FreeDNS for primary DNS, they allow users to add additional external secondary name severs. Part of the idea behind FreeDNS is to allow people with no domain to create a free subdomain of domains using primary DNS from FreeDNS (it is possible to pay a fee to avoid this). While the idea of sharing is a good and useful it will also be a major concern for many domain owners as they partly lose control of how their domain is used and exposed. This is the main reason why I not personally use FreeDNS for primary DNS for any of my domains.

DNSPref FreeDNS (Afraid) performance chart

NS1

NS1 is one of the major DNS players and is used by some of the largest Internet companies. They are limited to a single domain. Notice that the free plan is called “free trial”, but seems to be an unlimited trial as long as the number of records and query limitation are not passed.

DNSPref NS1 performance chart

ClouDNS

A professional DNS provider offering a free limited plan of the paid plans. They are limited to three domains.

DNSPref ClouDNS performance chart

1984

1984 Hosting Company provides free primary and secondary DNS. Besides normal DNS records they also support web redirects. As indicated by the name they focus on protection of freedom and civil rights.

GeoScaling

GeoScaling is a relatively new DNS provider. What makes them interesting is that they are offering what they call smart subdomains. Whenever a user is requesting a smart subdomain, it’s possible to get a different kind of information, for example, the country of the user so the request can be redirected to the nearest server of the country. They offer up to 1 million DNS requests per month.

System-NS

System-NS is a relative new DNS provider offering free DNS. While still upcoming they have shown to be serious and could be an interesting alternative to other free DNS providers with more limitations. They offer unlimited domains.

DNSPref System-NS performance chart

Namecheap

Namecheap is best known as a popular domain registrar. What is less known is that they also offer free DNS for domains registered at any registrar and not just at Namecheap. They offer unlimited domains.

DNSPref Namecheap performance chart

Rage4

No longer offering free DNS. While the free plan is very limited Rage4 is highly recommended if your needs fits with the limitations. They run a very stable and fast anycast network and are highly reliable. They are limited to a single domain.