Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad UI makes my kid cry

I was on a phone call last week when my 5-year-old son, Rowan (who is learning how to read), rushed into my home office. He was panicked and crying over a video game he had been playing--Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!, a downloadable game for the Nintendo DS.

As soon as I figured out he was crying over the game, I knew what happened--bad UI made my kid cry. When I first encountered the problem (detailed below), I thought it might be an issue, but I cautiously hoped for the best. Unfortunately, my optimism was defeated by poor user interface design (and a little bad luck).

The problem is evident on the screen below:

Do you see the problem?

Why did anyone think it was a good idea to put the "ERASE DATA" button on the same screen as the button used to start the game ("Main Game")? Even worse, "ERASE DATA" is right under the start button, in the same color, making it really easy for someone to press it by accident if they aren't paying close attention.

It probably would have been smarter to bury the "ERASE DATA" button in the options somewhere, one or two levels down. Keep in mind, this is a game that's suitable for little kids, even if they can't read yet. That said, I warned my son about the button, but he pushed it anyway by mistake. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

After he pushed the button, he knew he did something wrong, and was faced with this screen:

(You can't see it in the still image, but the red 'no/cancel' button flashes here.)

In a panic, Rowan wasn't sure which button to press. A red button got him in trouble to begin with, so he thought it was the wrong choice, and it probably didn't help that it was flashing at him ominously. He pushed the less threatening (and non-flashing) green button, and all was lost. Hours of gameplay, wasted. Total crying meltdown...

It might have been better if the 'no/cancel' button was bigger and pre-highlighted, and certainly not flashing red.

On that note, the oft-pressed "Main Game" button should not have been red. Having the most frequently pressed button be red might make players less likely to see red as a warning.

In my experience, Nintendo usually does a great job with usability and user experience. This time however, they dropped the ball. In any case, I helped my son complete all the levels we finished previously, so everything turned out okay, and he got a real life lesson on the consequences of bad design.

With all of that said, Minis March Again! is a great game. I think it's actually quite educational, with lots of problem solving (remember "Lemmings"?) and custom level building to stretch one's creativity. Just watch out for that "ERASE DATA" button, and you'll have lots of fun.

*Special thanks to my Opera-colleague Thomas Ford for suggesting today's blog title.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

serial experiments lain - new merchandise

Although the television series is more than 10 years old, serial experiments lain remains a cult classic anime (and the inspiration behind this blog, hence "lainspotting"). It has been awhile since we've seen new lain merchandise (see the Lain figure announced in 2006), but I was alerted to a new batch of cool lain goods that I'd love to get my hands on.

Aaron Schnuth, anime podcast pioneer and fellow lain fan, sent me an email with the relevant links to the goods sold on

Lain shirt

Lain shirt

1. Lain shirt - Close the world, Open the nExt. (shown above)

2. Lain shirt - Knights of the Eastern Calculus

3. Lain cup - DJ

4. Lain strap

In my opinion, these are a big deal for any serious collector of lain merchandise. Maybe you've seen lain shirts here and there at various conventions, but official/licensed shirts are rare.

I'm not sure why these are being sold all-of-a-sudden, but it might be related to the recent imminent release of serial experiments lain on Blu-ray in Japan.

Monday, September 06, 2010

lainspotting reborn : status and plans for the future

Is this blog dead, after so many months of not being updated? I wouldn't say so, but an explanation is certainly warranted.

This post notwithstanding, I haven't updated lainspotting since February. What have I been up to?

First off, some of you have found me on Twitter: (@Lawmune). While Twitter isn't so good for long musings, I've found it quite enjoyable as a way to:

1) share my immediate thoughts
2) promote useful content/ideas that deserve attention
3) be part of a larger conversation amongst my peers (in multiple areas of my life)

So, if it looks like I gave up blogging, it's only because I took up microblogging (as some people call it these days).

Secondly, even though it's not obvious, I've actually been paying attention to this blog. Blogs are nice as a way to constantly share new content, but I've always considered archiving old content to be a really important endeavor. That's why most of my old website (first built in 1998) is still around in its original, old-school condition. Why take it down? I come from the old-fashioned school of thought that says: if it was worthwhile to put up in the first place, don't take it down just because it's old (which would also break people's links). Thus, that old article I wrote on submission grappling (though I haven't done it in ages) is still alive and kicking (and generating feedback in the form of reader emails).

My blog, containing several articles that are still visited by people searching for obscure stuff (like the Seiko Frequency Watch) was facing technical obsolescence, so I needed to move it from the domain to a domain of its own (, where you are now). With the new domain, and new tools at my disposal, I do plan to blog more (for example, I plan to write more about the links I share on Twitter).

Finally, I've been working on several projects that haven't involved publishing on the Web, whether it's been for work (to pay the bills), print-related projects (trying to get my otaku studies work into a book or two), or simply tasks related to being a husband and the father of two kids. On that note, I've had the pleasure of helping my wife, Carol, with her own blog, In Pursuit of Pretty Things.

Launching in February 2010, In Pursuit of Pretty Things (IPoPT) is all about fashion, shopping, and all kinds of stuff I'm no expert on and would never write about. The blog is the product of two authors--my wife Carol and her friend Kathryn. I'm kind of a third, silent team member. I've been managing a lot of the backend details--doing some SEO, link building, analytics work, etc.--and contributing feedback, ideas, strategies, and concepts. Meanwhile, Carol and Kathryn do all of the content-related legwork and actual writing. So far, it's been a huge success and a lot of fun. It's the first real online project I've done with my wife, and I hope we can collaborate on more such projects in the future.

In the meantime, lainspotting clearly needs more of my attention. Online promises are cheap, so I won't offer them, but I do have some articles in the pipeline relating to topics as diverse as:

  • lessons learned from studying browser users/usability
  • the real meaning of otaku rooms
  • the current state of anime clubs
  • what it's like to read American comics versus manga
  • uncommon anime goods I've collected in the last few months
  • the difficulties of writing about otaku
  • a Wikipedia case study
  • the challenge of mobilizing fandom against censorship
  • rethinking conceptions of the Internet as a "frontier" when it comes to the future of intellectual property

Of course, the more feedback I get regarding the planned articles above, the more likely I am to actually publish them, so feel free to let me know (via blog comments or email) what you're interested in. I look forward to having some great discussions.