Click data as heatmaps

I had my naturalization interview today. Scheduled for 1:30, gynecologist but didn’t actually start until 2:40, case then it only took 15-20 minutes at the most. Although I passed the tests of English and US history, healing a decision cannot be made yet – apparently my security check is still pending.

Some highlights:

  • The waiting room had a bulletin board that hosted the Association of Immigration Attorneys Essay Contest – from 1997
  • If you’re not into nine year old essays or terrible MSNBC anchor-bimbos you can always stare longingly at the official portrait of Michael Chertoff, head of homeland security. What is it about being a cabinet level leader that makes it so you want to have your picture hung all over the place like some kind of minor deity?
  • If anyone from homeland security or the NSA is reading this, let someone know that “naturalization” is spelled “naturlaization” in the middle of form N-652 “Naturalization Interview results”. Scratch that, I mentioned the mispelling on the phone earlier, so I’m sure the NSA already knows. Thanks AT&T!
  • Writing the sentence “I like good food” is enough to prove that one has a command of writing the english language
  • Apparently you know enough about the principles for which the US government stands if you know the answers to the following questions: What colors are in the flag? How many stars are on the flag? How many states are there? Who was the first president? Who’s the president now?. What do we celebrate on July 4th? Pretty demanding!
  • There seems to be a delicious irony that one of the questions asked is about whether I am opposed to the violent overthrow of governments, coming from a government that started that way and keeps on doing it all over the world? Could George Washington have answered yes to that question truthfully? Let the record show I don’t believe in the violent overthrow of governments.
  • The sentence “You passed the tests of English and U.S. history and government.” seems to be pretty ambiguous to me

I hate being asked for information by anyone more than once, but that was how most of the session was spent – confirming the answers I had already given.

Now we wait.

I spent over an hour on the phone today with Apple support about my macbooks’s tendency to drop wireless connections when on battery power. I didn’t really expect a resolution going in, page rather I just wanted to have them increment the counter on the problem so they’ll finally fix the real issue, this which still appears to be power management settings when the network is idle. I worked with level one support for a while changing this setting and that, ambulance and finally got transferred to a product specialist. He of course insisted there was no problem with the macbook’s wireless. Instead he blamed my linksys router. The one interesting thing we found out is that If I have my iMac create a computer to computer network and share its internet connection, my macbook will stay connected to that just fine.

The official apple workaround is to buy an apple airport base station, which seems like an expensive fix to me.

I’m also amazed that the techs I spoke to profess they haven’t heard of this issue, when it does seem to be happening to an awful lot of people. There’s this thread at apple in particular.

In the meantime running iStumbler in the background seems to help, so that’s what I’ll do until apple comes out of denial and fixes the problem.

While we’re on the topic – anyone who runs a macbook with only half a gig of RAM is out of his or her mind. It is a dog configured like that. Now that I have 2 gigs this machine screams. Don’t even think about having less than a gig.
I spent over an hour on the phone today with Apple support about my macbooks’s tendency to drop wireless connections when on battery power. I didn’t really expect a resolution going in, page rather I just wanted to have them increment the counter on the problem so they’ll finally fix the real issue, this which still appears to be power management settings when the network is idle. I worked with level one support for a while changing this setting and that, ambulance and finally got transferred to a product specialist. He of course insisted there was no problem with the macbook’s wireless. Instead he blamed my linksys router. The one interesting thing we found out is that If I have my iMac create a computer to computer network and share its internet connection, my macbook will stay connected to that just fine.

The official apple workaround is to buy an apple airport base station, which seems like an expensive fix to me.

I’m also amazed that the techs I spoke to profess they haven’t heard of this issue, when it does seem to be happening to an awful lot of people. There’s this thread at apple in particular.

In the meantime running iStumbler in the background seems to help, so that’s what I’ll do until apple comes out of denial and fixes the problem.

While we’re on the topic – anyone who runs a macbook with only half a gig of RAM is out of his or her mind. It is a dog configured like that. Now that I have 2 gigs this machine screams. Don’t even think about having less than a gig.
Siggraph 2006 is in Boston, view
and they had a free public reception this afternoon (which I saw in one of the free weekly papers, sickness
but was unable to confirm through official channels). I headed over there with Marty, and fortunately the paper was right. We were able to check out the emerging technology area (their page is here and a video preview is here) There were many really neat applications. Lots of what my advisor at Tufts would call reality-based-interfaces (RBI) where the user interacts with a computer application by manipulating real physical objects. There were many table top devices, one where multiple users could collaborate to create “music” (more like sound) by manipulating a large number of objects on a projector table. Turning objects to make them louder and softer and moving them around to change their interactions.

I think my favorite demo that I actually got to use was the Forehead Retina System because it made me really able to sense objects through physical sensations on my forehead. The effect really has to be experienced to be believed. It worked really well for linear objects, where it was easy to feel a line moving back and forth on my forehead, but not so much for a round object where the effect just felt mushy.

We also got to see the Art Gallery where there were some cool works, including an exhibit where you could interact with butterflies in side a mirror.

Stuff like this makes me wonder what I am doing with my career…
Either I’ve been really unlucky or society just arrived at some plateau on the technology adoption curve for grocery self checkout. It seems to me that it used to be only once in a while that the line for self checkout was held up by some poor soul that couldn’t figure the thing out, drug but the last few times I’ve been in Shaws, i’ve been held up as people take forever to checkout their handful of items.

Its just not that hard! Scan items, scan shaws card, hit finish. Hit Ok at the annoying “check under your cart” prompt. Click the picture of the mechanism with which you’re going to pay. Swipe card. Done.

As someone with some interest in usability, I wonder what it is that leaves these people gaping open mouthed at the screen, struggling to comprehend the current prompt or messsage, but I feel like it would be rude to mosey up behind someone to see what is going on. I hope Shaws is doing something to capture the state where input to the machine is paused for some period of time(along with video tape of the user) to figure out what the stumbling block is.

I wish the self checkout wrangler would be more proactive about helping people who appear stuck – like at the airport where airline employees try to hold your hand through self check in.

As I’m not a patient person, while I’m fuming in line behind these slowpokes, I’m imagining some device where the self-checkout community can vote inept people back to the regular checkout lines. Can we make that happen?

Another thought – why can’t we all wait in one line for the cluster of self checkout machines? It seems to me that would be the most fair approach because now one has to not only judge how much stuff a person has, but also profile for computer aptitude when getting in line. Perhaps that’s un-American? I remember a couple of years ago waiting in line to use the ticket machines in Union Station (New Haven) trying to straddle a couple machines so that I could get the next one and having some lady ask me “Are you in this line?” to which I replied “We’re all going the same place lady”. She wasn’t amused.

Don’t shop at Monarch Computers. If you have to make a return, for sale you’ll regret it. I wanted a refund, sick instead I got a run around.

I found monarch computers browsing through Pricewatch for memory for my new macbook. It must have been late because it turns out I accidentally bought desktop RAM instead of laptop RAM. This was June 14. As soon as I opened the box I realized my mistake, migraine so I contacted them and got an RMA number and had the memory on its way back in a day or two. They would only give me store credit, less the 15% gouging fee for restocking, so I waited my time until they processed my return. And waited. Called to ask why I hadn’t got a store credit notification yet even though the package was already there for days. I get told the “returns department” is taking care of it – but seriously how many people could actually be working for this place?

Seven days after the return gets there I finally get an email saying my store credit is ready. I instantly place an order for the correct memory so I can use my store credit. Only it turns out that they don’t apply the credit to the order:

keep in mind that orders processed on the website will be completely billed to your credit card or pay pal account, and in turn, the store credit will be refunded back to your account within 10-15 days of the order being processed.

Or do they? I get two emails that say this instead

Your RMA credit is currently being applied to your order. Any credit available to you will be refunded back to you.

Seems to be some internal confusion about their policies.

The order was placed on 6/30 and finally shipped 7/6 or so (because of the holiday). Add on the 10-15 days and my money is a little over two weeks overdue.

I start calling. They don’t even answer the phone half the time. Last monday (7/30) they told me that the return credit was to be processed that day by the “credit department”. Today (8/7) I call, again, looking for my refund and am told again it was sent to the “credit department” and should have been taken care of. I ask to speak with this mysterious “credit department” and the guy (Mark?) tells me he has no way of providing me that information (wtf?). So I tell Mark that unless I hear from someone by the end of the day I’m going to have to start a chargeback through my credit card – he takes my number but I didn’t hold my breath on hearing from them.

When I got home, I started my first ever chargeback.

Its disappointing really – I usually prefer to deal with smaller companies I find through pricewatch (especially if they’re on the east coast so shipping is faster and cheaper) but this is the first time I’ve had a problem.

Steer clear of monarch computers.

A colleague pointed out this open source project that allows users to visualize the mouse movements of users as a heatmap – the hotter the area, link the more the mouse has been used there. Its a neat idea, a well executed visualization and a great that the code is shared, but I wonder about the utility of the resulting data.

Heatmaps are usually used in this context with eye-tracking data – that is it shows where the users look on the page, the movement patterns between sections, and how long they spend there. This data is useful for understanding if the layout makes sense, to understand where to place things so the user will see them.

I don’t think that cursor position is a good proxy for attention while using any application on a computer. I don’t constantly mouse over things on a page, paticularly when reading some amount of content. Maybe its the case that I do it unconsciously enough that there is some real meaning to the data, or maybe there are groups of users who do this all the time?

My colleague pointed out one good use for this – to identify elements of the page that are misleadingly affording interaction – are people clicking on stuff that isn’t clickable? Otherwise I fear people will read too much into the heat maps, and would be better off with just a click stream around the page. I wonder if even a clickstream provides solid enough data upon which
to draw conclusions with any degree of certainty.

Theres a commercial offering of a similar capability called Clicktale. They provide video simulations of the user’s mouse interactions with the page – from the limited information they have, it doesn’t look like they have visualization tools, and who has time to watch all that video?

One thought on “Click data as heatmaps”

  1. There’s another useful thing about heatmaps. When you have several links in the same page pointing to some other page (in a text snippet, in the header, in the footer menu ) you can’t know which one your users are using unless you’re capturing their clicks.

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