Swimming with the Razorfishes

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Yet another software release from Apple. Hot on the heels of 10.3.2, iTunes 4.2 and QuickTime 6.5 were released.

SAN ANTONIO - A railroad worker was struck and killed by a locomotive he was operating by remote control.

"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius." -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Apple has released a Java 3D updater for MacOS X 10.3.1 or later.

Psycho-pharmacology for Dummies.

Fort Sadam. Is there any higher use for Photoshop?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Zoinks. Apple already released 10.3.2. That was fast.

A small life is talking about an interesting article in The New Scientist. As part of a series on happiness, the article asks "why is music pleasurable?"

I think about this sometimes, too. Is it pattern recognition, is it something else? I certainly don't know, but I do know my visceral reaction to music. When I hear good music, I feel it. I'm compelled to close my eyes, and experience my physical reaction to the music.

I often wonder how that compares to other people's reaction.

So you read, do you?

Once a month, some friends and I get together to talk about a book. I don't know how it started; I've been doing it for two or three years now. Maybe it is because we work a block away from the Algonquin, and wanted to invoke the spirits of the round table. Maybe it is because we are a bunch of geeks.

Regardless of the root cause, we're on for another year. And because we are a little more obsessive-compulsive than the norm, we pick the year's list of books all at once. Last year's theme was something like "wow, I really should have read this in college." This year's theme is something like "hips and boobs required." I'm sure one of my co-conspirators will come up with a better tag line. And I'm sure I just offended someone.

Yup, twelve months of grrl writers and witty, snarky discussion peppered with self-deprecating humor. And you are welcome to join us, if you are in the New York area. Really.

This is my spoon.

The American Family Association is running a poll regarding the legal status of same-sex marriage. The AFA takes a position somewhat farther to the right than my own, so I was concerned that people like me would be underrepresented.

Out of concern for the AFA, not wanting their poll to be inaccurate, I weighed in.

If you'd like to help out the American Family Association, you might want to take the poll, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

When did Bruce Schneier start writing for Salon? That may get me to subscribe.

"I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

Every time I hear that I laugh.

This is my fork.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm not going back to work for a couple of weeks. Knowing that every time I do this without having some traveling planned, I sink deep into lethargy and get sick, I thought I'd give myself a schedule.

Priority number one this week is christmas shopping, but that won't fill up the whole day. I need some kind of project to occupy my mind. Because we've been doing a little interviewing at work, I'm thinking about stuff surrounding candidate evaluation.

The big idea: a technical interview quiz application.

Earth-shattering, I know. Also things like this already exist, but this is an exercise. So this week I'll be putting together something we can use at work to administer the multiple choice and long-answer quizzes given to candidates.

Finally, the schedule:

  1. Monday
    • Christmas shopping
    • Clean bedroom
    • Use cases and logical model for quiz app
  2. Tuesday
    • Christmas shopping
    • Clean bathroom
    • Schema design and tool selection for quiz app
  3. Wednesday
    • Christmas shopping
    • Clean kitchen
    • Schema implementation, DA layer, and UI mock-ups for quiz app
  4. Thursday
    • Christmas shopping
    • Clean living room
    • Buy backdrops for still lifes
    • Delegate layer for quiz app
  5. Friday
    • Christmas shopping
    • Buy wrapping paper
    • Front end for quiz app

Exciting week, I know. Hopefully I'll be done with the shopping business by Friday so I can enjoy some holiday stuff. I have some interesting ideas for the quiz app. I'll talk more about that later in the day when I post use cases and an initial design.

Great fun.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

rentzsch.com: Love, Hate and Objective-C.

He touches on one of my favorite freaky things about Objective-C:

if( self = [super init] ) {

// initialization code here


return self;

How can I assign something to self? How can I change my own pointer?

That freaks me out, too.

I find the study of software user interface fascinating. Not so much in the area of efficiency, guidance, or discoverability; I'm fascinated by what developers identify as "good" UI. With few exceptions, developers fall into some variation of this fallacy:

Good UI is UI that I like.

The whole idea of good UI is to provide a good experience for someone else, to make someone else more efficient, to reduce the user's level of anxiety. But developers turn this into a self-centered reversal of common sense, assuming that they know what works as well as any user of their software.

If these assumptions had a basis in cognitive psychology, color theory, or extensive testing, I'd more willingly entertain them. But very often, good or bad boils down to "I like the way that looks." Good and bad UI gets boiled down to a static impression of color and widget spacing. The dynamic aspect of the software is largely neglected, in favor of solutions like UI skins or themes.

Why am I thinking about this? Some weeks ago, Sun released a video of Project Looking Glass, a technology demonstration exploring what might be done with three-dimensional, hardware accelerated interfaces. It is very clearly a technology demonstration, intended to demonstrate possibilities, to get people thinking about different interface metaphors, ones where elements are directly manipulated in a way that more closely resembles the physics of real-life.

But the reaction generated by Sun's research project has included more than its share of this kind of stuff:

"My answer? Well, judging by the provided screenshot, it would take a lot longer to find what I’m looking for in my music collection since I would be scanning through hundreds or thousands of literal images of CDs instead of performing a lightning-fast type-ahead text search in iTunes!" [via SciFi HiFi]

Setting aside the fact that Project Looking Glass is not intended to ship, but to generate ideas, Buzz is missing something. Yes, the type-ahead live searching in iTunes is excellent for finding a specific song or album, but it is not well suited to browsing. A music collection is just that: a collection. Part of the enjoyment of having 30 Gig of music on my laptop is in picking the album. Almost invariably, I browse through lots and lots of albums. Sun's demonstration suggests a somewhat different way of browsing through a CD collection. Buzz assumes it is better to zero in, like a missile, on a specific CD. [This isn't a specific criticism of Buzz Andersen. He is a smart dude who has written some greatstuff. His 'blog just got me thinking.]

The iTunes type-ahead feature is good for searching, but totally inappropriate for browsing.

This is the kind of distinction that becomes absolutely obvious during real user testing, but might be entirely missed if left up the the anecdotal experience of a handful of developers. In fact, some developers have noticed this problem, trying to solve it with clutter. But clutter is still a two-dimensional, largely static tool. Would it be more effective in three dimensions?

Take-away message: user interface isn't about what I like; it is about what works.

Manna, or How the Machines Took Over.

Great cartoon.

"So, anti-gunners are vampires.  And gun owners are God fearing, patriotic salt-of-the-earth types.  And criminals and terrorists, who are NOT God fearing, patriotic, salt-of-the earth types, would NEVER dare come to a gun show to buy weapons, as they would would stick out..."

[via World 'O Crap]

"We Got Him"