Video Mute

Today's WTF struck me while sitting in a presentation. The presenter mashed some buttons on a remote and a fine line of text was projected on a black screen. This text told how to undo the Video Mute.

I'd never really thought much about it, but why in the world do we call it video mute. If a mute button turns off the sound, then shouldn't a blind button turn off the video?

Is it somehow more politically correct to be mute than blind?


Vista UI Guidelines

Microsoft has posted their UI guidelines for Vista. I like what I see. The guidelines make sense, mostly. Hopefully developers will pay attention. Here are a few that I liked from the two sites.

  • Don't spend time rebuilding standard UI components; use that time instead to innovate in meaningful ways based on your core competencies and understanding of your customer needs. I hope this is aimed at the Media Player team. What is up with them moving the entire menu structure over to the right and having window frames that can pop up when you hover in the area. The whole thing makes my head hurt.

  • Use positive commit buttons that are specific responses to the main instruction instead of generic labels (such as "OK"). This seems new. I thought they always wanted us to use a standard "ok". I like the new recommendation.

  • Consider cleaning up your dialog by using a More Options "expando" button, so advanced or rarely used options remain hidden by default. I'm conflicted on this one. I like the hiding of options. Hiding complexity allows the owner to manage the expectations themselves. However, the self-slimming menus in XP bug me sometimes. Too often I find myself searching for items in the menus and I have to keep hammering that expand icon. It works great most of the time though. It will be interesting to see this in settings UI. It will be a lot like "More options" or "Advanced options", but quicker to access, and possibly less confusing because you won't leave the current options, you'll just be shown more.

  • Don't use Congratulations pages at the end of the wizard that serve no purpose to users. I'm all for this. Should I count the number of current Microsoft wizards that do use congratulations pages? I own a few wizards at work. They do have congratulations pages, but they have valuable info about the process you just completed as well, so I feel a little better about it.

  • Use Explorer-hosted, navigation-based user interfaces, provide a Back button This is interesting. Take a look at configuring account settings in Outlook. You can pop 3 windows by the time you get to a setting you want. This gets a little confusing. I think folks understand the back button now after years of use in web navigation. I agree that the back concept could work in application configuration. It's almost like a wizard, with previous and next, but more Web 2.0 (yes, that's a joke).

  • Support "Instant search" wherever possible to show instant results while the user is typing. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, please do this. Do you know how often I pray to the UI gods that Windows File Explorer magically sprout an instant search box in the top right so I can do live filters like I can in iTunes and iPhoto? I usually know something about the file I'm trying to find in a folder. Help me help myself and put in instant search!

  • Use the Windows Vista "tone" to inspire confidence by communicating to users on a personal level by being accurate, encouraging, insightful, objective, and user focused. Don't use a distracting, condescending (for example, "Just do this..."), or arrogant tone. This one is just funny. File not found, jerk.

  • Avoid repetition! Review each window and eliminate duplicate words and statements. No comment, just a link.

  • Perception is reality, and if your customers don't experience quality in your product throughout, they may conclude there is lack of quality everywhere. The geeks don't like to hear this one. They like to pretend the rest of the world is a bunch of geeks too. They think it shouldn't matter that you shower, or wear clean clothes. It's the quality of the work that counts. Well, it is the quality of the work, but if you look like crap, maybe they've already made some assumptions about quality. I'm not saying it's good to make assumptions. I'm saying that people do. Just like you don't have to wear designer clothes to look good, you don't have to hire a designer to make your app look good. Line up your text. Use some consistent spacing. Use clean graphics.

  • Don't restart progress. A progress bar loses its value if it restarts (perhaps because a step in the operation completes) because users have no way of knowing when the entire operation will complete. Here's hoping the Vista installer works different than past Windows installers. I seem to remember a non-stop restarting of menu bars during those file copies.

  • Present choices and settings in terms of user goals, not technology. I preach this one at work and get the "you're a moron" look more often than not. I believe in it strongly though and have converted a few folks. I wish more developers would consider their apps all the way to how the user will use it, not just to the point where they've exposed everything to the user to use if they can.

  • Wizards aren't "dumbed-down" UI. Many of them are, but they don't have to be.

  • Don't use "wizard" in wizard names. Good recommendation. I think I'm guilty of this.

While we're on the topic of UI, I'd like to offer up observations on a couple of brain dead ones.

Office now opens separate task bar entries for each open file. This allows for nice alt-tab switching. Too bad you can't have more than one up at once so I can look at things side by side with my dual-monitor setup. Too bad the apps won't remember screen position per document. Dual-monitors aren't all that new, but you can tell that most app designers don't keep them in mind during their design.

Another problem with dual-monitors is dialog boxes that are centered in the window, not popped near the action that popped them. In other words, when click File>New, apps will pop a "Are you sure" dialog half way across my screen, usually
in the middle of the bezel gap of the two monitors. Centering dialogs in the app window used to work when screens were small and we only used one. There needs to be an option to pop dialogs in the upper left portion of an app window. That's near the menu items that usually trigger dialogs.

Many of the Slashdot comments on this subject revolved around Apple already using these recommendations. I'd have to agree in many cases, but they don't come clean all the time. I only need to mention one example, Finder.

What UI atrocities have you seen?


Bit, Meet Brick

Buying content digitally is great...sometimes. As I've said before, I have some rules for buying content digitally vs. physically.

  1. If I can't buy it physically

  2. If I'm massively impatient and need it NOW

  3. If I'm exploring and don't know if it's worth $10 or $20 for the full album or film

I definitely won't buy albums digitially if I can get them physically. This applies even when I have to wait for Amazon to ship it, or burn gas to hit Best Buy across town.

Recent developments make me want to break my rules. Many albums are now available in the iTunes store before they are released. Sometimes they haven't released in the US. Sometimes, they haven't released physically, period. Examples of this include Hybrid's latest album, and DJ Shadow's album, which just came out this week physically, but has been available digitally for a while.

The thing is, why do I have to choose? I like holding a CD in my hands. I like looking at the album art. I like to smell the printing chemicals. No, really, I do.

The bits and bricks need to get together. I should be able to buy an album, at a premium, in the iTunes store. I'd get the immediate downloads and I'd get a physical copy, complete with the art and smells, shipped to my house. The bits guys get a cut, the bricks guys get a cut.

But Apple doesn't make any money with the iTunes store, you cry. Well, maybe they don't make much, but I'm sure they'd like even a tiny cut of a fraction of the physical albums sold. I think they should partner up with someone like Amazon (did he just call Amazon a brick?) and sell digital and physical. Everything will continue to function like it does today. Your iPod still gets loaded instantly, but then the CD will show up a few days later for use in the car, archival, your collection, or even just as an uncompressed version of the content.

Even better, this would allow me to buy the albums I want as soon as they are available digitally, but not feel guilty that I don't have the physical copy as well. It would just ship when it did get released.

If you want another reason why Apple should do this, we'll return to the new DJ Shadow album. Shadow is quite possibly my favorite artist, but I stayed away from buying it early on the iTunes store because I wanted the album experience and I wasn't going to pay for the album twice. I'll save that cash for the import singles :) What's worse is that buying the album at Best Buy gave me two free digital downloads, yay! Too bad the digital downloads are PC only and use Windows Media with DRM. I'm not 100% Mac, so I was able to download them, burn them to CD and then rip them back in to iTunes, but that just sucks, and what about those folks that don't know you can do such a thing. If they are iPod users, they are robbed of those tracks. Even worse, I think those tracks are 2 of the best of the whole album, but that's another post.

Now it goes the other way. If you bought the album from the iTunes store, you are stuck with iTunes or an iPod, but you probably don't care if you are buying the album from the iTunes store. The only format choice I made in Best Buy was CD. The .wma shackles were tossed in with the bonus that Best Buy gives its customers. Way to treat your customers Best Buy. Thanks for buying that CD here. Let me give you a gift you can't use!

Best Buy could do this too. Join up with Napster or Rhapsody. Do your thing. Add value rather than compete with each other. It's all choice. If you don't want the physical disc, you can still buy for $9.99. If you want the CD too, maybe it costs $14.99.

The same concept holds with DVD, TV shows, and books. Paying again for a digital copy is old and tired. The company that gives the consumer value in the formats they want to use will win.


Laws of Simplicity

Simplicity is complexity well explained.
That's a statement I came up with back in 2000. I believe that was the start of my simplicity kick. I had recently graduated from college and found that I had way too much crap. Something needed to be done. I had to make a change or I'd be a pack rat forever.

I still have a lot of stuff, but now I have less :) The thing about stuff is that it isn't just physical stuff. You can end up with too much emotional stuff. Too much virtual stuff. Too much stuff.

Recently I heard about a book called The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It backed up many of the ideas I have formed around simplicity and offered up some fresh ones.

The book is worth a read for both professional and personal reasons. From programmers to politicians, I think any profession can learn a thing or two from this book.

I won't spoil the book for you, but I did pull a few keepers that I'd like to share with you. When you are done reading these, head over to the accompanying website [lawsofsimplicity.com] for more good stuff.

  • Reduce - The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction

  • Failure - Some things can never be made simple

  • Away - More appears like less by simply moving it far, far away

  • Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful

  • Simplicity is about the unexpected pleasure derived from what is likely to be insignificant and would otherwise go unnoticed

  • Anything that can make the medicine of complexity go down easier is a form of simplicity, even when it is an act of deceit

  • Hiding complexity allows the owner to manage the expectations himself

  • Consumers will only be drawn to the smaller, less functional product if they perceive it to be more valuable than a bigger version of the product with more features

  • Savings in time feel like simplicity

  • Giving up the option of choice, and letting a machine choose for you, is a radical approach to shrinking the time we might spend otherwise...

  • ..because technology will only continue to grow in complexity, there is a clear economic benefit to adopting a strategy of simplicity that will help set your product apart.

  • Complexity implies the feeling of being lost; simplicity implies the feeling of being found

  • There's always a return on failure when you try to simplify - which is to learn from your mistakes


Closing the Gap

I thought the day would never come. Gapless playback on iPods has arrived. Please give me a minute to compose myself. There, I've dried my tears of joy. The world is a better place. No longer will my groove be harshed by a momentary slap of silence. My number one gripe has been erased. Thank you Apple.

BTW, you may have to prod iTunes a bit to get it to update your iPod. I'm running 7 and plugged in/out my 5G a few times, but was never prompted to upgrade from 1.1.2 to 1.2. I then selected Check for Updates... and it immediately popped up telling me that I it could upgrade my iPod. I did not need to reload my music. It just works.

I fully expect the haters to now shift their attention to the iPods lack of Ogg Vorbis support.

Blogger Beta Migration

If you are like me, you had some trouble finding the magic link that leads you to the Blogger Beta migration. I love that I can consolidate my Blogger account in to my Google account, but you already knew that.

So, here's the magic Blogger Beta migration link. I'm liking the beta so far, but I wish they'd give me an easy way to increase the content area of the posts. Fixed width columns are evil!


Praise for Keynote

Recently, I had a need to present some slides at a conference. I immediately began coming up with reasons why I couldn't take my Dell from work, and had to take my MacBook.

I certainly didn't want to take two computers, but my work assigned Dell is a steaming pile. The battery falls out if you hold it at the wrong angle. It has no integrated Wi-Fi and the PC Card adapter rarely works. The power supply is gigantic, heavy, and about 10 feet beyond what I typically need. It has no Bluetooth. The whole experience of using it is crap. Can you tell I didn't want to take it?

While working on my presentations, I worked a bit from home. I found that Keynote has fantastic support for PowerPoint files. Everything just worked. The bullets were right. The transistions were right. Saving back out to PowerPoint was perfect. It was a joy. The problem was, my 30 day trial was running out at a pace that would leave me without Keynote on the day I needed to present, or so I thought. iWork is not software that I have a frequent need for. I use Office daily at work, but I don't use Macs at work (usually), so I have little need for iWork.

Knowing that Keynote was set to expire, I tried OpenOffice and the NeoOffice variant. You know, I love what they are doing, and I really want it to continue, but Impress, the presentation tool, didn't work that well with the PowerPoint presentation. First, it runs sloooooww. You can see it in the slide transitions (which I hate, but were highly suggested by the folks running the conference). Second, it randomly changed bullets to different shapes throughout my presentation and I couldn't for the life of me get them to change. I was not happy. I was going to have to leave my MacBook at home.

A few days before the trip, Keynote expired. Wait, what's this. Rather than the mess that an Office trial leaves behind, I find that Keynote is telling me it will still work, it just won't save or print.

Yeah, right! I think. Surely it will disable presentation mode, or stick trial in the output, or just quit after 20 minutes or something. I decided to practice my presentation in Keynote and see where it would shut off, but it never did. It just worked. Everything worked, except for saving and printing, just like it told me. Even the magnificent presenter mode still worked.

Life was good. I could take my MacBook. My presentations were ready to rock, so I wasn't real worried about the no-save limitation. I figured if worse came to worse, I could edit in NeoOffice, screwed up bullets and all, and still present with Keynote.

Luckily I didn't need to do that. The presentations went great, and part of the success goes to Keynote. The presenter mode is amazing. I love having a ticking clock of my time. I love seeing the next slide. It makes for slick segues. It makes you a better presenter.

So why didn't I just buy iWork? Well, spending $79 on software that I'd probably only use for work gives me pause. Getting work to pay for software that would only be used on my personal equipment is also a tough sell. That said, I think Keynote, and Apple, treated me pretty well here. They could have just shut down after the iWork trial was up, but they didn't. They allowed me to get value from their software. They allowed reasonable evaluation terms. I think that deserves some payback. I will buy iWork, but I'm going to wait until the '07 release, just to get a little more for my buck.

Keynote, thank you.

Finally, a related story. During my presentation, one of the folks from the audience commented that he noticed I was using "an Apple" and wanted to be sure that I'd provide the slides "in a format the rest of us can use". I politely informed him that I was, in fact, showing a PowerPoint presentation, so there would be no worries about reading the presentation. Apple's marketing department has some work to do. These were highly skilled techinical professionals, and many of them didn't know that the days of Mac<->PC compatibility wars began fading long ago. I imagine I would have blown the guy's mind had I been presenting from an XP partition thanks to Boot Camp.


Toronto Too

The photocast should be updated, but I'll add some color commentary for a few here.

Coca-cola is Coca-cola everywhere. Pepsi is Pepsi everywhere. Mountain Dew is... well, it's Dew. I was in Vancouver Canada last year and the dew was an energy drink and had some other name than this. Dew Fuel? Ok, I guess that works as a name. It boggles the mind the money spent on the Mountain Dew brand in the US. Then, you just go north a short bit and they throw that all away for some similar brand? I know at least 2 Dew drinkers that read this blog, so I had to include this.

Huge record shop. Chambers and rooms everywhere. Cash registers? You had to have a map to find them. I did pick up a CD. Sasha's Instant Live CD. I'd planned to let this one go buy, but when presented with a somewhat rare CD, I had to buy it.

I love finding all the little holes that you can see the CN Tower through.

An interesting building on the University of Toronto campus.

There were a few of these in the sidewalk. I didn't find any that said goose.

I looked, but I couldn't find the point of this sign.



Big Apple announcements coming today. The only thing I'll say for sure we'll see is movies. Even the iTMS is telling me that it is showtime.
I left the Blackalicious in the screen cap to make Jason smile.



I'm currently enjoying a business trip in Toronto, Canada. I just arrived, but it is quite nice thus far. I have my computer along, so I absolutely must post pictures. It's some sort of blogger's law.

If you like any of that, you can follow along more closely with the photocast.

As an aside, it is hilarious to see over a dozen iTunes libraries shared on the hotel network at the moment. I haven't tried any to see if they are passworded or not, but still. Jane, Lee, Chad, your libraries are leaking.


DVD 2 Desktop

I finally got a chance to watch the DVD portion of BT's This Binary Universe. First of all, stunningly beautiful. The music, the visual art, the emotion. Amazing stuff. As I'm watching, I'm counting the dozens of frames that I'd love to be my desktop wallpaper. I think to myself, I need to capture some of those. thisbinaryuniverse.com does offer a few frames for download, but I wanted to get some ones beyond those.

Now, I've played this game before and I know that Apple won't let you do a screen capture when the DVD player is running, sort of. I first played around with Automator. You can set the desktop picture in there, and I figured a one click dvd 2 desktop would be slick. Well, I collected 3 strikes and quit. You can't cap with the DVD player running - strike 1. You can cap a different way (more on that in a sec) and then set the background, but the desktop display won't change unless the file name changes - strike 2. I tried automating it to something else and then back to the original file name, which is now a different file than the one being shown, but it appears to ignore that as it thinks it already knows what that file is - strike 3. I considered a unique name on the cap file, but I'll need to learn Applescript to help me there. I don't have that tool in my toolbox just yet.

I'm all out of motivation for this problem for now, so you are going to get the more manual, but working solution. This assumes you are running 10.4.x because you want PNG screenshots.

  1. Find the DVD frame you want and pause playback. Hit option-command c to hide the mini-controller if it is up.

  2. Switch to a terminal window and type sleep 10; screencapture ~/Pictures/dvd2desktop.png. This will give you
    10 seconds to do the next step before capturing the screen to a file in your Pictures folder. I love how the screencapture program ignores the fact that the DVD player is running. I'm hoping the developer just forgot to add that feature.

  3. Switch back to the DVD player and hit command-0 to enter full screen mode. Listen for the screen shot noise. Snap! Yay.

  4. Now go in to the Desktop and Screen Saver prefrence panel and choose your DVD frame. Done!

This is the part where you go recreate this with your favorite DVD material.