Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Squid-A-Day launched!

So the folks over at ScientificBlogging decided to have themselves a little contest. A contest that is absolutely irresistible to yours truly. You see, US News & World Report did a 3-year survey-based study on the nation's best science graduate programs. Scientific Blogging reported the results, then said,

Now we know what universities to attend in order to receive a
phenomenal education in science. But it's one thing to know a lot about
science, and another thing entirely to be able to apply it and
communicate it effectively. And communicating science is what we at
ScientificBlogging are all about.

So to highlight these outstanding universities, ScientificBlogging has
decided to sponsor a little friendly competition between them. Today we announce our first ever "University Writing Competiton."
We invite graduate students that are currently enrolled at any of these
Top 10 Universities (actually, eleven) to participate. The official
rules are below, but the big idea is that we are inviting graduate
students to write about science - on any scientific topic of their
choosing. It is our hope to discover those exceptional students that
not only know their science, but can also effectively communicate it to
the scientific community - as well as to the general public.
The grand prize? A three-month paid writing internship. Hello! I'm in! Now, if only I could decide what to write about . . .

Just kidding. Of course I'm going to write about squid. But which squid? And what tentacular squidly aspect of squid? These are the questions that must be answered, in superb, nay, flawless prose, by me, before October 15th. And that answer must be posted on my Scientific Blogging account. Which I have just created for this purpose.

But I can't create a new blog and then post only one entry in it, ever, just to enter the contest. That feels a little cheap. I also can't create another blog like the Cephalopodiatrist, full of deep, rich, and way-too-long-for-sensible-blogging entries. So I thought: let's do something different. Something short and snappy that won't take too much time away from the Cephalopodiatrist, and OH RIGHT ALSO MY THESIS. Something that will serve a greater goal, namely, gathering fodder for the brilliant essay that I will eventually craft as my contest submission.

And thus, Squid A Day was born. I haven't decided if it should have dashes in the name or not. Opinions, anyone?

The idea was simple: Find something about squid in the news every day, and blog it, either correcting the science, or--in the unexpected instance where everything in the news article is actually correct--congratulating it. The execution was fairly simple, too--once I figured out ScientificBlogging's awful user interface.

Hi, ScientificBlogging. Do you notice how I am whining about this here on my personal blog instead of on my/your blog? You're welcome!

I'm pretty sure I am not dumb, nor technically incompetent (my advisor's snide comments notwithstanding) and yet I could not for the life of me figure out how to start posting on my new SB blog.

By the time I scrolled down to the part of their FAQ which announces, "Article creation is quite easy. Go to My Account and click Write Blog," I was already seriously annoyed. It is not "quite easy" it is "quite circuitous and counter-intuitive." I understand that UI is difficult--it should be intuitive, but everyone's intuitions are slightly, or drastically, different. So intuitive isn't always possible. But how about just "simple"?

You see, this is what happens when you sign up for an account on SB. First you find and click on the "register now" option, that's fairly straightforward--although admittedly I didn't find it on my own, I had it pointed out to me by the rules of the contest. Now you're at a page where you can provide some information about yourself, then you click "create new account." Then you get an e-mail. You follow the link in the e-mail, and it takes you to a login page. At this page you can edit more stuff: change your password, add books to recommend, and so forth. You make some edits, and click "save". Now you're still at the same page, it's just added a little note indicating that your changes have been saved. But nowhere does it have any place to actually write a post.

I stared at this page bleakly for a while, then went and did some actual work, then went back to staring at it bleakly. Finally  I noticed a little link in the corner leading to "my account". Hunh, I thought, am I not already at "my account"? But I clicked it. This took me to my "account dashboard"! This page boasts a "my friends" section and also a "corkboard" (The heck is a corkboard?) as well as a menu called "my tools."

(Was it Microsoft that started prefixing first person possessives to make everything look more friendly? Maybe that worked once, but now it is just aggravating. And ambiguous. Are you suggesting that the tools actually belong to me, the user, or are you emphasizing that you, the website, are generously allowing me to use your tools? Either way it's patronizing and a waste of space.)

Anyway, "write blog" is one of these tools, so now I'm in business! Hooray! And, SB, don't take it personally. No one can do UI properly. Not even my own school, which apparently offers the number one science graduate program in the entire NATION, can make reasonable UIs.

Check out the screenshot below. This is how I enroll in classes. Isn't it great that the exact same set of links is at the top AND bottom of the page, just to give you more stuff to look at? Also, note the instructions suggest that you "select the term and click Change." Anyone see an option to select a term? Or a button labeled "Change"? Nope, I don't either! Another fun fact: it's impossible to "proceed to step 2 of 3" as such. All you can do is keep clicking through those pale green buttons, and eventually, if you look to the upper right at the retro sci-fi "1-2-3", you will notice that the 2, instead of the 1, has become highlighted. It's like a bread crumb, indicating you're on the right track!



  1. I kept trying to read your squid-a-day article, but I found some of the rest of the scientific blogging site a little distracting.

  2. A blight, indeed! Perhaps I will bring this problem to the attention of Hank, the fellow who runs Scientific Blogging. He is remarkably responsive to criticism . . . as evidenced by the site's very recently updated UI!
    Then again, I probably shouldn't make myself into any more of a whiny nuisance than I already have been.


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