“Accessible Message Only”

And pedestrian UX confusion

This is a photo of a device on a telephone pole. It reads "Accessible Message Only" and has a button on it.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find that the meaning of the phrase “ᴀᴄᴄᴇssɪʙʟᴇ ᴍᴇssᴀɢᴇ ᴏɴʟʏ” in this context is, for lack of a better word, inaccessible. Well, not fully inaccessible. I was able to access some information by looking it up. What it means is that you don’t need to press the button to safely cross. Instead, the button is simply to provide a sonic alert — which makes me wonder why there’s a button in the first place. And if there is to be a button, why have it point across the street like other crossing signals, instead of displaying a symbol that means, you know, “press this to hear something”?

This device must be fairly new. The reason I say so is that at the moment a Google search (with quotation marks) for the phrase “ᴀᴄᴄᴇssɪʙʟᴇ ᴍᴇssᴀɢᴇ ᴏɴʟʏ” yields a mere 10 results — 11 as of when I post this to my disquiet.com website — and only 6 of which even apply. (The others include one that relates to wireless routers, another two about the programming language C++, and one to a photo on Reddit that happens to show one of these buttons but is actually about something else entirely — something quite funny — which means that Google’s algorithmic robots read and indexed the text shown within the photo).

Of those meager search results, one that lends some useful context for the phrase is a master-plan document from the Montgomery County Planning Department in Maryland, which is citing San Francisco as an example of the device’s utility. It reads:

Precedent(s): In San Francisco, APS at locations where there is always a pedestrian signal read “Accessible Message Only” so people know they do not need to press to safely cross.

APS stands for “Accessible Pedestrian Signals.” I learned that and a lot of other things during this deep dive — which is what should happen if you look, and listen, closely — none of which convinced me this crossing signal is well-designed. Sounds are an essential part of public safety. Sounds are often all the more effective in coordination with other senses (here: touch and sight). This signal, however, is not an example of effective sensory coordination.

And speaking of looking closely: if you do so, you may notice some Braille on the sign.

This is a close-up of the sign showed at the top of the page. The close-up displays the Braille that wasn't entirely self-evident in the larger photo.

I couldn’t sort out the meaning of the Braille with any of the character charts I found online, so I asked around (which is to say I posted a request on Twitter, Mastodon, and Facebook), and the super-helpful @buttcliff on Twitter pitched in, big time. I learned that this isn’t just Braille, but “contracted Grade 2 Braille,” which is like Braille shorthand. (Using contracted Grade 2 Braille can, for example, make Braille books a lot thinner.) Those first two visible dots confused me because I didn’t even see them on any Braille charts online, and now I understand that they mean that everything following them is a word. In this case, the Braille reads: “C A L I,” then a contraction for “FOR,” then “N,” and then something obscured by apparent damage to the sign, presumably “I A” — which makes sense, because I was standing at an intersection on California Street here in San Francisco when I took the photo.

Braille isn’t inherently a part of sound studies. However, much as sound studies can do a lot to inform UX design, so too can the closely related lived experiences of the hearing impaired. It’s a problem if a safety sign is confusing. It’s a problem if a button intended to make a sound looks like a standard button required to provide physical access to a public space. It’s a problem if a sign (seemingly a new one, at that) designed to assist the visually impaired is so susceptible to damage that it can obscure one of the ways it is intended to communicate to that constituency.

I’m guessing that someone dependent on Braille could make sense of this without the “I A,” but it says something that I started sorting out what this sign meant because it’s confusing, and it turned out it had an additional level of illegibility I wasn’t even initially aware of. Now that’s a sign.

SOUND RESEARCH LOG: The Sound Design of Typing

“The Qwerkwriter has a very unique sound signature, due to its chrome accent as well as the mechanical switch, and the way the key caps are constructed.” That’s the pitch at the start of this video of a three-pound, tablet-friendly keyboard that combines Bluetooth connectivity with an old-school mechanism. It is unlikely anyone who worked in or near a corporate typing pool in the pre-computer, post-war era misses the cacophony, but for personal use the gadget no doubt has its charms. From the tech spec: “Cherry MX Blue switches (a modern switch that emulates the typewriter clicky feel).”

Hosted at vimeo.com and the kickstarter.com campaign, which passed its goal of $90,000 by almost 50 percent. More at qwerkytoys.com. Found via Richard Kadrey.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.

SOUND RESEARCH LOG: Always On: Rainforests, Sleep Disorders, More

Nick Shchetko at blogs.wsj.com/digits surveys recent app developments related to “always on” microphones.

There’s Rainforest, a chainsaw-detection tool halfway through its Kickstarter campaign.

He also lists examples that “assess the quality of sleep, explain why a baby is crying, tell you when you’re stressed, identify mental disorder, track gunshots and even help to crowd-monitor endangered cicada species.”

And then there’s BodyBeat, prototype pictured above:

A crude prototype of BodyBeat, revealed in mid-June, uses an external custom-made microphone to track body sounds, such as breath or cough, with the ambitious aim to detect illnesses or record food consumption.

The microphone is placed on the neck with a 3D-printed neckpiece, which is plugged into a small audio processing device that is wirelessly connected to a smartphone. BodyBeat authors plan to redesign the system for better usability in commercial applications.

It may sound far-fetched. But there could be plenty of market opportunities for systems like BodyBeat. Breathing sounds are indicative of lung conditions, and data on what users consume ”“ say, how often do they drink or eat certain products ”“ can provide important data for diet tracking apps.

There are certainly limitations to sound-detection technology. The quality of embedded microphones remains a concern, for one. “The problem is you can’t create a robust app because everyone is using different microphones,”said Alexander Adams, who helped develop BodyBeat.

Found thanks to Alexis Madrigal’s http://ift.tt/1lPwWYp.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.

SOUND RESEARCH LOG: What Will Be the Hamburger of Voice Search?

Even though it’s over two and a half years since Apple introduced Siri and almost 50 years since Douglas Rain provided the voice for Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re very much at the beginning of voice control. There are few if any norms or standards for voice commands activated by users, especially in contrast with the increasing uniformity of web design, where common elements are pervasive, such as endless scroll, small-print footers, and the three-lined “hamburger” button that signifies the presence of a menu. The norms in voice search will be accumulated in the coming years, not just thanks to decisions made by the big players, but by small initiatives, like the Tabs Board controller, a Chrome extension covered yesterday by addictivetips.com:

Voice search integration arrived in Chrome quite a while ago and it is an excellent watered down basic version of Google Now. One of the many differences between Google Now and Voice Search on Chrome is that Google Now can launch apps installed on your device while Voice Search is simply what its name implies it is with no support for any other browser function. Tabs Board is a Chrome extension that helps you switch between tabs open in a window. It also lets you search for tabs by a voice command which is what sets it apart from other tab management extensions. Both the voice search and the tab switching overlay can be opened with a keyboard shortcut that a user can customize. You can search for tabs with either a voice command or you can search and select them using the mouse. The extension lists open tabs in an overlay at the bottom of Chrome.

As with most voice commands, the product assumes that your microphone is always one. Get Tab Boards at the chrome.google.com.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.