Iskit Social Experiment

Eskit is an arabic word in the central region of Saudi Arabia dialect meaning “SHUT UP” in a really rude way.

I have created an anonymous posting site, where people could post what pisses them off anonymously. on the other hand, voting an reporting abusive entries is locked to registered users only.

I have created this site for the community. I want the community to decide how the site will be used and evolve it the way they see fit. I would like to ask anyone who finds a bug, or would like to see a feature or just wants to comment to please do it here. I would love to hear all your input, and I hope we could all make this a better online service that we could all enjoy.

Please click on the navigation button labeled “Eskit List” and try it out.

Windows Mobile and UI in .Net Compact Framework

I recently got assigned to design the UI of a finger friendly UI for windows mobile 6. I was first excited, because I get to work on UI and software usability, but then got really disappointed once I started designing it. The framework does not support image transparency.  You can’t create an image button with the default toolbox. You can’t create scroll bars big enough for a finger to drag and press. There is no finger friendly keyboard by default. I was also trying to find resources on how to develop a multi form application. This took me a while. Why would information like that be hidden?

I found some third party UI libraries which costs an arm and a leg to purchase. I am glad I am working in a big project where sacrificing an arm and a leg is not an issue.

I started working with the evaluation of Resco’s UI toolkit for windows mobile. So far it has been a much more delightful experience. Not saying much about the windows mobile experience. Thinking that the .net 3.5 framework is something that’s state of the art code, I expected at least transparency support in the .net 3.5 compact framework. Let hope that a new framework is introduced with the new 6.5 windows mobile before windows mobile 7.

Riyadh Geeks Meeting 11th May 2009

Yesterday on May 11th of 2009, the Riyadh geeks group, which I am a part of, got together for their first formal meeting. The event took place in the Computer Club, which is part of the Saudi Ministry of Education. The meeting was quite formal. Only Mashhoor Aldubayan (one of the few web usability experts in the Arabic region) and I were wearing jeans. There was a podium and a higher table that made the whole setting feels like a news conference. Even though I hate formal settings, I want to wait and see to truly make a judgment. Everyone who attended the meeting was male, which made me feel really bad for the geeky girls I know that are usually forced into the shadows.

The meeting started with a really formal introduction from the club’s representative, which I spaced out during. It was way too formal for my taste. Later, Mashhoor started his workshop focused on things a web designer should know about their visitors.

Mashhoor pointed out 5 points about site designers should be aware of :

The first being that visitors are surfers, and not readers, so don’t expect them to read.
Second, asking for information from the user that is not really needed could push the user away from the site. He demonstrated that by registration forms that ask for your country or shirt size, when all is needed is a username, password and a valid email.
Thirdly, he talked about marketing jargon. A site should summarize what it’s about upfront with simple and to the point wording. In contrast, some companies might clutter the first page with welcoming notes and company marketing introduction that might make it hard for a user to find the information needed.
The fourth point was about unrelated content in a site. He showed the GOSI’s site (Saudi equivalent to social security), where two different navigation bars existed. The first navigation bar contained a gift card link! Hurray government websites.
The last point was about design decisions that take in consideration the knowledge that the server had prior to visiting the site. For example, the logo of the site should be on the top, as well as the search bar. The logo should also link to the main page.

After Mashhoor’s talk, the PSD Group announced the release of their Arabic e-book, E-numbers. Get the soft copy now. PSD Group is a group of developers that are in school or graduated from school. They represented Saudi colleges multiple times in multiple events. My dear friend Ammar Al-rashed was the project manager for this e-book .

After a break, a representative from Bader بادر started talking about this incubator project that branched out of KACST (king Abdulaziz city of science and technology). Bader incubated ans supports start up projects that are innovative. They are looking for projects that were never done before, and won’t care much for imitator projects. They seem to want to focus on new media now, but they welcome any other projects. They would also like to see the project materialize first before they start the incubation process. There was a lot of formality in this talk, but it seemed interesting, we just have to wait and see. The representative also noted that Bader’s website is still under development, thats why I didn’t link to it.
I really liked the meeting despite the formal nature of it, I wish the formality could be toned down. I also would like to see some of the nerdy girls who probably need to be around these meetings more than we men do. I know that there is a lot of untapped talent in the women talent market, and I wish to see them be represented in such meetings. I thank again the organizers of this meeting (Mohammed Talal Badwi, Abdullah AlHaseenah) among others. Thanks to Mashhoor who shares my same interests in software usability. I hope to see them all again soon.

Jihad Ammar, Qaym and Closing the Gap Between Classical Media and New Media

March 16th 2009

I was at ‘s launch press release yesterday at (nokhbah café), as Jihad, the founder, tried to close the gap between the press media, and new media. Maybe I have been away from Saudi for a while, but it was exciting for me to witness this. I saw some bloggers and some geeks that I should be seeing more than I do. I also saw some familiar faces from the press. The Riyadh news paper and al-igtisadia (the economical) news paper was there too. Jihad launched his site, and then took questions. After those questions, Jihad asked from all the attendees to be in a very constructive discussion; how can new media and press media coexist and help develop one another.

The launch of Qaym was exciting in itself. It’s a web 2.0 adoption of restaurant voting and rating system that depends on the users as the main source of content. I am a stickler for user interfaces and usability, but Qaym impressed me. The graphics were simple enough, the rating system was smart, and most importantly, the registration was easy.  Qaym was able to find the #1 pass time in the Saudi community and really try to improve on the quality of it.

The theme of the site is blue and white, with a hint of a green. That simple design made the rendering of the page quick and smooth as well as eye pleasing.

The rating system was perfect. Vote Like, or don’t like is the perfect schema to approach this. Jihad mentioned first started with a star rating, which I think has a lot of flaws. A star rate mechanism would create a confusing choice to the user. What could be the difference between a 5 and a 4 star rating? All of those similar issues were avoided using a vote up, or a vote down system.

I consider registration to be the worst part of any online service, but Qaym’s was not that bad. 3 fields to fill is as simple as it gets to sign up. The content of the site is viewable by anyone without registration. It’s only necessary when a user would like to participate in the rating. I highly recommend trying out the service.

After the demo and the launch announcement, Jihad asked the question. How can new media reach the press media, and vice versa. A young TV correspondent showed his frustration that pitching ideas to media outlets could lead to intellectual theft. Al-dogaibly from Riyadh newspaper said “Don’t rush to be in the classical media”. “Get you projects and new media outlets to a mature level first”, he added. A member of a tech TV show on al-majd news paper wanted the new media providers and geeks with projects to come to them. “We have a lot of material to choose from always, we need you to help us choose by providing us with something news worthy”. A member of Saudi Geeks asked the classical media members to identify what material is needed for an appearance or a story covering a new media event or a project. The discussion was concluded when evening prayer started, and most people had to leave, including me.

I will be looking forward for more discussions on how classical media and new media can enrich one another and how can the quality of both be improved. Bravo Jihad.

Beginner experience with Silverlight 2.0 and WPF

My job as a testing software engineer doesn’t really require me to do much development on my own, and when I get back home, the last thing I want is look at a computer and develop, even though that’s changing, its going slow. I have been trying to take the job of working with web development to satisfy my interest in usability engineering.

I have found that most of the developers have been working with ASP and some Ajax. From what I heard, things could get very messy in ASP and Ajax, especially since my workplace doesn’t really care much for being multi-browser friendly. When I first tried to open one of there websites with firefox, the CSS (or lack of) freaked out the browser and displayed the whole site out of order. I tried fixing it as much as possible, but it was a huge headache. I have successfully done that, but that raised a concern for me. Is there a better way of developing web apps that would better suite our development team?

Since my department is a Microsoft Gold partner, I decided to see what they had to offer. I found Silverlight, and thought I would give it a shot. I had a version of expression Blend SP1, which enables the creation of Silverlight 2 web apps. I started tinkering with it, but I found that it lacked some of the key controls that asp had. After some searching, I found the Silverlight toolkit on codeplex [LINK]. I have used this toolkit to create a not too complicated web app, but soon found a huge bug that made it so that I had to scratch the whole project. The tree view provided reset the chosen item, every time a button was pressed inside another opposite grid. I have very annoyed, and disappointed. At the same time, I felt like it was for the best. I will be alienating people who have linux and moonlight (Silverlight implementation for mono), since moonlight only supports Silverlight 1. I also felt disappointed, because I really liked the development environment of Silverlight. The solution file created from Blend is a Visual Studio 9 (2008) solution. The ability to switch between visual studio and blend to write code behind and then design again is just amazing. The separation of XAML code for the interface and the C# code behind makes it ideal for teams that have a separation between designers and coders. Furthermore, I liked Silverlight because I didn’t have to worry about how the pages are going to get rendered on different browsers, since the Silverlight player is available for almost all browsers, on Windows and Mac.

What made me think about Silverlight and not adobe AIR is the C# code behind. Most of the developers in my organization are C# developers; I didn’t want to take them away from their environment. Plus, I have heard that with AIR, there is no separation between design and code. Correct me if I am wrong.

I later experimented with third party controllers, like Telerik’s RAD controllers, which are beautiful and easy to use [LINK]. I might use these controls in the future. I also experimented with WPF, where I recreated the same Silverlight interface in WPF. WPF is a superset of Silverlight, so it was naturally more powerful, since it uses the same XAML code for design. 3D through managed Direct3D could be used and complex animation can be achieved, and well as the usage of imbedded WinForms components. WPF could also be used in a browser, but to use its full features, enabling some security privileges to the server machine has to be granted. XBAP (XAML Browser App) is what WPF in a browser is called. XBAP is not designed to be massively available as a Web App, since it requires Windows, manual installation of .Net 3.5 SP1 on the local machine, and have Internet explorer 7. I think by the time I write this, a Firefox plug-in might have been developed. For local Application, I highly recommend ditching WinForms and going for WPF from now on.

So, I went back to a basic ASP and Ajax design, but this time, I made sure the design works on all browsers (including IE8).  I am looking forward to working more with ASP and Ajax, even though I would rather work with PHP and Ajax. I hate Microsoft for having such amazing development tools.

Harm Reduction

It’s been almost a year since I came back. I am filled with new ideas and open eyes. It’s not a secret to anyone that this world does contain harmful thoughts, actions. People tend to cling to a higher moral standard trying to minimize that harm, was it through religion or another form of idealism.

During last month or 2 I have ignited a series of blog entries. I have thrown the idea of minimizing the damage when the youth try to break the law in Saudi and date. Not that I encourage such acts, but if the youth are going to take the risk of “dating” they should at least be safe and protect themselves as much as possible, and I am not talking about the harm from the authorities. This, I heard, has caused some mixed responses. I can guess some were supportive of the idea of leaving behind their ideal and harm reduction; the others probably would like to keep up with the ideal, and choose to risk those who choose otherwise to the most extreme of punishments.

When tackling “harm reduction”, 2 older experiences and issues should be mentioned. The first would be the distribution of clean needles for use with hereon in the Netherlands; Also, the free distribution of condoms at health center in some states in the USA. Both of these “problems” has caused controversies that are still in the air. The reason why clean needles are distributed in the Netherlands is because transmission of disease through unclean needles has increased. Hereon in still illegal, but people are using it regardless of law. So to decrease the transmission of disease, clean needles are distributed. I am sure a lot of conservative Netherlanders are very upset about such actions. The same is happening in the United States as well as some other countries. Condoms are distributed to stop the transmission of disease in college campuses as well as other areas. That is what I call “Harm Reduction”

“Opponents of the plan charge that condom distribution will encourage increased teenage sex. That does not seem to be the case in parts of the world like the Scandinavian countries where sex education and birth control are more readily available. And studies in the United States repeatedly demonstrate that our kids are already “doing it” at younger and younger ages without protection.” – Alan Singer. [4]

I have commented to a blog entry by America Bedu [1], where I suggested a dating guide for Saudi women as a harm reduction method. That suggestion has caused American Bedu as well as other bloggers too, Hning and Clouddragon are just a few, to comment on the original post on their blogs [2] [3]. I have read some of these blogs, and I thought that it really didn’t reflect the idea I was trying to communicate as well as I hoped. I wanted to educate the public on hard reduction and bring the concept mentioned above to our society.

Even though I think that complete avoidance of dating in the Saudi society in its current form should be avoided, I also think that the current methods of encouraging that are failing. Teens and young adults, and maybe grownups are not convinced. It’s evident when observing the current youth culture. This is also evident with a little spying on people’s public profiles on Facebook. Young adults are doing it anyways. I have also heard a lot of stories of rape, blackmail, and sexual and emotional abuse going on, especially to young women. The majority of these stories are not even told, because of the harsh cultural perspective on such actions. Because of such culture, even the police, or religious police, keep those a secret, because they think it’s for the girl’s own protection. Women are left psychologically scared for life, because they can’t communicate. A solution you ask? Well this is where my idea comes in. I would first of all reform the methods, that are obviously failing, of encouraging “not falling” into the unsafe “dating” that is going on. Furthermore, I would like to empower individuals who choose to commit by offering a modern, reasonable, safer alternative life choice. In addition to that, I would like to do harm reduction through optional education. We have to address how to get people to stay away from such unsafe, or how my American friends would say “Sketch”, environment and situations.

Obviously Saudi has become part of the new world order. A considerable amount of young has chosen to comply with the “higher” level, not necessarily in morals, culture that is imposed on members of the world community. The culture that encourages people to eat McDonald’s, Drink Starbucks, watch Hollywood, wear jeans and Nike, and date. Well I won’t go into a debate on why this is bad, even though I do fall for it every full moon, but I would have to say that the clash of these 2 cultures is very apparent. Following that “universal, Hollywood” culture is very discouraged in Saudi Arabia, since it conflicts with a lot of the strict morals of the culture, as well as some ideals of Islam, which is the law of the land here. I am not talking about the consumerism, but talking about the morality of it. Casual dating, sleeping around, or fooling around (even with safe sex followed), drinking and drug use, acceptance of homosexuality, and the freedom of women exploiting themselves. For a lot of people, following this globalized culture is not a choice; people follow it for a lot of reasons. The issue here is now why people follow it, or if it’s a good culture or bad, but that they are following it. People are only educated on how to reject it in Saudi Arabia, but not educated on how to work with it around. It will not just magically disappear, and the problems and conflicts it will bring will only grow.

So, an update to the education system to not just focus on completely rejecting the “higher” culture, but to work with it, is a must. That is to guarantee survival of our local culture, cherished by most. The harsh education method of “just say NO” is old, crumbling, and covered with dust. I can’t make undocumented claims that drug use has increased between the young recently, but I have noticed more people using hashish in my surroundings. To me, that’s another indication that “just say NO” education is failing. The concept of NO has to be backed up by hard evidence from trusted sources. I know a lot of people personally who do drugs just to prove that it’s not as harmful as it’s portrayed in education systems. The young just doesn’t like to be lied to, so tell them the truth, but I guess telling the truth is not always easy, since it always conflicts with someone else’s business.

Crises are planned for in software engineering, and should also be planned for in social engineering and the construction of societies. So, what if “free will” kicks in, and a person chooses to ignore the education system’s recommendation? Optional education outlets should be available, through private sectors if needed, to educate more on how to minimize the damage of integration between the local and the global cultures. A more educated, truth based education, biased, and scientific, hard evidence based approach. This I recommend covers all taboo topics from drug abuse, violence, sexuality, security and policy. A place for people should be provided for them to go to for help if things go wrong, so that more social and physical harm could be avoided. For example, if a girl gets raped, blackmailed, I think it’s impossible for her to go to a government agency, like the police, or the religious police, or even family. This place might already exist, but more care and education to the people of its existence and services should be widely published and available.

The blog entries I was told to ignite only scratches the surface. They also come from a very deep emotion, but if not studied well enough, and could cause some misunderstanding and violent backlashes from an already strict society. This is not an ideology war we are trying to wage; I just want everyone to be safe and alive at the end.

I still hear some people mention that “She was asking for it” whenever a rape issue or story pops. It’s sad how a person can still think that another person would want to scar and hurt themselves for life. How just because a person can’t control themselves (because of weakness) that he has the right to take someone else’s freedom. Its madness when you think about it logically. Yeah the culture and the morality of the land prohibit scandalous behavior; that is not an excuse to devastate a person’s soul through violence and rape. It never is.