Category Archives: Academics

New Page – Online Papers


Over the last 5 years or so I’ve written a lot of technical documentation, reports, etc in the fields of Computer Science and Information Technology. I decided to share with you some of the work I’ve done in the past in the hopes of passing on or sharing some knowledge to help with a problem you’re having, or to better understand a concept you just can’t seem to grasp.

I’ve created a new page on my website which you can see to the right of the title navigation called “Online Papers” which is where you can access all this material.

I can understand how frustrating it is to find help on a particular subject you’re interested in and I hope if that subject you interested in is in fact an interest of mine then you’ll be able to find great help right here!

I wrote many documents on this page quite a while ago. Some may still be relevant, some may not but those that may not may still be interesting to those who like a little history lesson.

Thanks
Justin

Exams are over! How do you celebrate?


Yay! My university exams are finally over. I cannot believe it, there was a time there where it felt as if they would never finish. Although I have finished, I recently got a new job in Melbourne that I start tomorrow so no breaks for me, off to work I go. But it’s not all that bad, I’ll be working for a month then I’ll get my christmas break from work for about two weeks or so.

So I’ve got a few end of year parties coming up for uni, but I found myself wondering…If I didn’t have to goto work right now, what would I be doing for end of year celebrations? How would I be celebrating? Mmm…

  • Party all day and all night
  • Stay at home
  • Sit by the calendar and wait for the new semester!

However you celebrate it, let us know in the comments section. I would be interested on any huge parties happening in your area and what other students get up to this time of year.

Usability: The Heuristic Evaluation


Any web developers, programmers, engineers, anybody who has some experience in working on the design phase of the user interface of a website or software application im sure will be fairly familiar with the concepts of a usability study, more specifically a heuristic evaluation.

I am in my final year of my Computer Science degree and have conducted many tests and usability studies and evaluations of many software products (including my own) and websites for my own purposes or for assessments at uni.

usability.jpgJakob Nielson developed a set of guidelines or principles in which to follow when assessing the usability of an interface, regardless of platform, physical appearance, etc. “They are called “heuristics” because they are more in the nature of rules of thumb than specific usability guidelines” (J. Nielson).

Not many people will be familiar at all with Jakob Nielson unless you’re a computer science major or IT professional in some manner, but he is a big part of the usability community developing many techniques and writing many documents on effective testing and studying of how people use interfaces both electronic and non-electronic mediums.

Below is a list of Nielson’s 10 Heuristic evaluators and their definitions:

Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
Match between system and the real world
The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
User control and freedom
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
Recognition rather than recall
Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
Flexibility and efficiency of use
Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
Aesthetic and minimalist design
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Source: Heuristics for User Interface Design – Jakob Nielson (useit.com)

Evaluating the design of user interfaces is a very important step in the overall design phase of any software product and in larger development studios and companies this isn’t so much of a problem becuase of their very professional way of doing things, but many single bodied programmers/developers or smaller independant houses may very well benefit from incorporating as much time into the actual usability of their product as the functionality itself.

These ten heuristics have helped me evaluate my own software and make it as good as it can be. If you yourself aren’t a professional programmer or still a student such as I am but haven’t taken user interface design as a subject (I did, loved it) then have a quick read through and check out useit.com which is Jakob Neilson’s website. Lots of good information on there.

5 ways to get through exam week


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Every university in the country, and in fact every university on the planet has some kind of final examination schedule. Here in Australia the end of semester finals are usually a month long, but this period differ's between institutions. Being a university student myself (Bachelor of Science in Computer Science) I am totally aware of the dreaded feeling of final exams, and the 'all-nighter hangovers' that go with them.

Are you in the middle of your exams right now and just can't shake those examination blues? Here are a few useful tips I've used myself to get me through the long nights, evil mornings and 24-hr group study sessions.

1. Socialize – Believe it or not, locking yourself away in a dark room for days on end studying is a sure fire way to burn yourself out too quickly and in my case, study sessions that last that long cause me to start forgetting other useful information. Spend time studying, but spend an equal time with your friends.

2. Exercise – Exercise helps me to relieve stress, especially with huge stress build-up's the night before a big exam. I go running three times a week anyway so exercise is a big part of me, but just remember to exercise your body as well as your brain.

3. Track your eating habits – Everybody's heard that coffee' and coca-cola are great for keeping you awake during an all nighter, but there's so much more to it. During my first year of tertiary studies (freshmen year for all my north american friends) I honestly ate like crap during exams and study periods. Pizza, Beer, Coke all seem like great things to be consuming to keep your energy levels up, but I find they just make you crash and burn after a few hours.

Keep a balanced diet a few weeks leading up to exams and sure, go for the coke and coffee' late at nights, but i also find eating a second meal at around 2am helps too.

4. Have frequent breaks – I NEVER study for any longer than 1-2hrs at any given time. Sure i'll spend all day studying sometimes, but your brain needs rest, and I'll bet your hands do too after all that writing. Study for an hr or two, then walk away and maybe get some of the 1st and 2nd points into you. Let your brain absorb all the information you just took in, then come back to it in an hour's time or so. trust me it helps me remember stuff much longer than just that night and makes you feel so much better.

5. Celebration – After all your exams are finished, a very important part to never forget is to make sure you catch up on all the fun you lost. Go out clubbing, Goto Uni parties (they're the best after huge exams) and drink yourself stupid if your that way inclined. The point is, go get out, have fun, HEAPS OF FUN! Next semester is still a while away right?

I wouldn't say I stick to these points to the dime all the time, but alot of these points really help me out alot during exam time, hopefully they can help you out a little too!