Assistant program?

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at
Sun Aug 21 20:45:48 CDT 2005

Hash: SHA1

On 21 Aug, 2005, at 2:50 PM, John Richard Moser wrote:
> ...
> Matthew Paul Thomas wrote:
>> On 20 Aug, 2005, at 12:55 AM, John Richard Moser wrote:
> ...
>>>> The basic idea is to give applications an interface to a daemon to
>>>> have it supply assistive support to new users; primary function of
>>>> course is to deliver security concerns.
>> I don't understand the "of course" part. The help system in the Grand
>> Theft Auto games is an excellent example of the kind of just-in-time
>> help you are talking about, but its prompts aren't "security concerns"
>> (at least, not in the sense of computer security).
> Ideally your apps are easy to use anyway;

Usability is not a single axis, and after a certain point, making 
something more learnable for beginners makes it less efficient for 
experts. Very little software ever reaches that point (which is 
probably why many usability people handwave over the conflict), but 
that's why even with optimally usable software you'll still need a help 
function. Just-in-time proactive advice would work better than passive 
help, and that's true for all kinds of help, not just security. ('Using 
a table works better than lining up text with spaces. To make a table, 
choose "Table" from the "Insert" menu.')

> the user is still going to blatantly ignore the "New updates are 
> available" bubble because he doesn't care,

Using a bubble for that would be poor design, because the easiest path 
would be to ignore it. A better design would be to immediately present 
the list of updates in an a dialog (hence, no close button), so that 
the easiest path is to bonk the "Install Updates" button.

> he's still going to ignore the "SUID binaries being installed" warning 
> in Autopackage (if autopackage ever implements such a warning),

I've helped redesign Autopackage alerts to be more understandable, but 
I can't redesign those that don't exist yet. :-)

> he's still going to rabidly download and install whatever regardless 
> of the dangers, and thus his system will quickly become a riddled hell 
> of spyware and viruses.

Similarly, providing lots of text saying "Please don't" would be poor 
design. It would have about as much effect as the Boulder Pledge has 
had on spam.

> ...
> In the end I recognized that no matter how much PaX or SELinux I throw
> at something, until I start getting in the end user's way, he's still
> going to be able to break his system by installing viruses and spyware
> and other setuid trojan crap without remorse.  I realized that a few
> simple concepts need to be explained; but "dumping" that on the user
> would result in blatant ignorance.  To that end, I came up with simply
> inlining the information just-in-time to pass the user critical,
> need-to-know data.

Which, again, is an excellent idea, and not just for security.

> ...
>>>> A better assistant would give multiple classes and levels of
>>>> information, allowing the user to essentially set the verbosity of 
>>>> the assistant in a fine-grained manner.
>> I disagree. The usual answer to "How much help do you want?" would be
>> "How am I supposed to know, I haven't tried doing anything yet".
> And the usual answer to "it looks like you're writing a letter, would
> you like help?" would be "NO FUCKING GO AWAY."  Not always, but often.

Yes, that's an example of what I'm talking about: Clippy give you no 
information on which to base your decision, so it was a useless 

> ...
>> Saying "Please read this introduction carefully" will not protect you
>> from the relentless human intolerance for text that is Getting In 
>> Their Way. Fortunately, that whole intro is unnecessary.
> Fail.  Introduction to the assistant is critical; although it could be
> shorter, I hope.  Luke Swartz' paper, "Why People Hate the Paperclip,"
> confirms this assumption.
> ...

An introduction to what? You're trying to introduce a "thing" that's 
presenting the assistance. If the assistance has zero interface outside 
itself -- for example, if it consists of sentences in translucent 
bubbles in the corner of the screen -- such an introduction is 
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- -- 
Matthew Thomas
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