there are 12 posts from August 2005

August 31, 2005

play that funky music, white boy

New Orleans is under water, gas is headed to $4 a gallon, Iraq’s a fucking mess and our fearless leader is strumming guitars with country stars.

August 29, 2005

scanning shoppers

The Container Store looks like they’re doing something interesting in their Manhattan store:  GoShop! Scan & Deliver.

You just shop, scan and go! You don’t have to push a shopping cart around, you’ll enjoy faster checkout and you don’t have to haul your purchases home.  It will all be delivered to you anywhere in Manhattan – the same day if you’d like – for just $15.

Potential upside:  lighter psychological burden of lugging things around the store could lead to higher average tickets (I scan it, it’s mine); home delivery means high cost real estate could be better used for merchandising, and shift delivery-bound inventory to lower cost warehouse space.  Potential downside:  customer education and real time tech support.  Trap to avoid:  merchandising in the scanner itself; the customer’s already in a rich retail environment, don’t annoy them with “you may also be interested in…” messages and make them read the screen more than they have to.

August 27, 2005

heat, mann, miami

Via Matt Jonesdelicious feed, a great analysis by K-Punk of Michael Mann’s Heat, ten years on.

This is a post-Fordist organized crime movie, in which the scores are undertaken by crews, not Families, in an LA of polished chrome and interchangable designer kitchens, of featureless freeways and late-night diners, a no-place that is very far from being a utopia. All the local colour, the cuisine aromas, the cultural idiolects which the obvious comparison pieces, the Coppola and Scorsese gangster flicks of the seventies*, depended upon, have been leeched out, painted over, re-fitted and re-modelled. You could be anywhere … It is a world without landmarks. Ours: a branded Sprawl, where markable territory has been replaced by endlessly repeating vistas of replicating franchises. The ghosts of Old Europe that stalked Scorsese and Coppola’s streets have been exorcised, buried with the ancient beefs, bad blood and burning vendettas somewhere beneath the multinational coffee shops.

OK, maybe a bit overblown (a movie can be post-Fordist?), but still.  Heat is a recent classic, much better than Mann’s more recent ode to L.A., the Cruise-infected Collateral.  Given his comparisons to Scorsese and Coppola flicks, I’m surprised Mr. Punk missed the fact that Heat was the first movie where DeNiro and Pacino actually had a scene together.  (They were both in The Godfather: Part II, of course, but Puzo’s novel lacked the necessary time travel element to enable shared screentime.)  The Heat diner scene between oh-so-similar cop and robber is one of the highlights of the movie (enhanced, of course, by the inside baseball feeling of it all); the other is the ferocious 25 minute bank robbery / gun battle, which Just. Won’t.  Stop.

And speaking of gun battles, according to IMDB Mann’s currently filming a theatrical Miami Vice, with Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, and Colin Farrell as Crockett.  Hot damn, I love America.

August 26, 2005

voip will drive laptop innovation

I’ve been using Skype fairly regularly for the past few months, and now also Talk (dot google dot com).  But one of the more annoying things about VoIP apps like these isn’t the software user experience – they’ve got the basics (discovery, call initiation, volume control, etc.) nailed.  What’s frustrating is the hardware.  Who actually enjoys using one of the typical stereo headsets with boom mics, massively-long cords and two plugs? 

I know I can’t be the first to predict this, of course, but as these apps become more and more widely used, I think we’ll see some interesting innovations in hardware design, especially in laptops…

  • Better bluetooth integration.  Have you ever tried pairing a Bluetooth headset with a PC?  I have, and despite lots of discussion that claims it’s possible, I’ve found it to be an incredibly difficult thing to make work.  Microsoft needs to improve the BT stack in Windows to make this a no brainer:  enable the app to transparently discover the headset, pair it with the OS, and re-pair whenever it’s in range.  It’s a simple problem statement:  when the “phone” rings, there’s no time to fumble about with buttons and pairing dialogs.
  • Better audio hardware in the machine. Laptop speakers are definitely getting better, even in ultralights.  Microphones still have a ways to go, but I think even some simple improvements could help.  For one, make sure the mic is clearly labeled (so the user knows where it is), is of the directional variety, and is positioned facing the user, so that keyboard tapping doesn’t drown out conversation.  For extra credit, how about a retractable mic, or, for privacy’s sake, a fully retractable ear-bud with mic?
  • Auxiliary display laptops.  The Windows Vista team has been pimping their support for auxiliary displays on the outside of the clamshell.  The video demos I’ve seen show off using that as a media player or a mini-Outlook viewer; it could also be used as a presence status indicator / manager, and a way to manage inbound VoIP calls. 

I think all of these things need to be in addition to all the other great software and hardware innovation that’s happening in this space.  Google’s got to be doing something interesting with Android; Skype’s already admitted to having a WiFi phone in the labs; and on the “blocking and tackling” end of the spectrum, just how long until consumer desktop monitors have handsets built in, or ship an optional USB handset as a must-have accessory?

There’s plenty of room for improvement in the overall “person to machine” interface when it comes to VoIP, especially along the axes of convenience and ease-of-use.

August 25, 2005

no ski jumping this weekend

What a drag.  I was looking forward to all the local news coverage of the aforementioned ski jump on the Fillmore Street hill this weekend, but alas – it’s been postponed.  And pity Johnny Moseley, he’ll need to find another way to celebrate his 30th.

August 24, 2005

geek talk

Not that we need even more proof that Talk (dot google dot com) is built by geeks (in a good way, dammit), I came across this little feature.  Type something like this…

hello, that’s a *very* big world you have there.

…and it’s rendered like this…

hello, that’s a very big world you have there.

Yep – that’s limited wiki markup, in your chat client!  It would be great if that feature were implemented like text filtering plugins are in MT; you could build custom markup for chat sessions to enable  formatting, keyword shortcuts, URL builders, etc.  Or, of course, a filter that automatically translates everything into pig latin for conducting not-terribly-secure conversations.

August 19, 2005

ski jumping riot

The Bay Area’s all a-twitter with news that the steepest couple of blocks on the Fillmore Street hill in Pacific Heights will be turned into a ski jump later this month so that Icer can hawk their line of gear, MTV can shoot a half hour special, and has-been Olympic star Johnny Moseley can celebrate his 30th birthday.  Neighborhood residents are flipping out (pun fully intended); especially the couple that’s scheduled to wed that Saturday in the neighborhood.

The best bit in the Chronicle story, though, was this – the ski jump thing’s been done before, about 70 years ago in Berkeley, and it led to a very Berkeley outcome…

In February 1934, the Auburn Ski Club of Truckee put 43,000 cubic feet of snow  –  four times the amount headed for Fillmore Street  –  on six Southern Pacific boxcars and shipped it to the steep slopes of Hearst Avenue, just north of the UC Berkeley campus, for a ski jump demonstration. About 45,000 people, including thousands on Tightwad Hill, gathered to watch the novelty.

But in true Berkeley fashion, the event ended in a riot. College students, many of whom had never seen snow before, stormed the barricades and launched an enormous snowball fight, disrupting the event before it could finish.

Here’s to history repeating itself, with thousands of Pac Heights residents, led by the bride and groom, storming the slopes and pummeling Moseley and the Icer crew with snowballs.  Now that I’d pay to see.

August 19, 2005

i love new features

So the TypePad team added a bunch of great features this week – support for podcasting, syndicating feeds on your blog sidebar, the ability to drop a “notes” (aka “arbitrary HTML”) TypeList on to your blog, and a few other things.  (You can read all about it on Everything TypePad.)  Most of the features are the result of a one-day “scratchathon” that Ben wrote about in a post titled “The Joy of Hacking.”  For me, what was great to see is how that itch-scratching day was made possible (and easier!) by what the TypePad team’s been doing on their non-itch-scratching days – developing and extending the application framework, working to improve performance and scalability, and honing our ability to take code and turn it into a released product (doing UI fit and finish, testing, translation, documentation, etc.).

While I’m talking about TypePad, I’ll pimp a feature that’s been pimping my blog lately…  At the beginning of July we made some pretty big changes to the HTML and CSS structure of the blogs that are published by TypePad.  Those changes enabled us to introduce a slew of new weblog themes, and one really fantastic feature for a tweaker like me:  custom CSS.  The new “oldstyle” look that is sporting is actually an out-of-the-box TypePad theme that’s had its style extended with a bunch of CSS that’s saved along with my design preferences.  On it’s own, it’s a relatively small feature – work a textarea into the app, save user input to to the database, and publish it inside the blog’s CSS.  As a user there’s huge benefit – I can radically change the look and feel of my blog without having to convert to “advanced templates” and invest the time in learning the TypePad / Movable Type template language.[1]  But the majority of that benefit isn’t derived from the screen in the app we added to accept that data, it’s derived from the hard work and thought that the team put into revamping the structure of the published blog.[2]

There are similar stories behind each of the features we introduced this week on TypePad.  (Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with each of them.)  Suffice to say, I love new features…especially ones that are the fruit of the fantastic work the team’s doing behind the scenes.

[1] I already know most of those tags by heart, but still.

[2] And here’s the kicker…  The work that we did on TypePad has been adopted by the Movable Type team.  Version 3.2 will ship with a new default set of templates that will enable MT users to adopt the blog themes that were developed for TypePad.  And that work will also find its way into LiveJournal as well, which will make it easy for designers to create themes and styles for the more than 10 million blogs that run on Six Apart products.

August 17, 2005

your pal

I know I must stop this nostalgicizing (I’m absolutely sure that’s a word, dagummit), but many thanks to Sir Owen Thomas for the pointer to suckcom, the syndicated account on LJ that’s retreading, nine years later.  If suckcom were your pal friend, you’d be having serendipitous moments like this one:  seeing that nine years ago Stewart Brand was the netmogul card, and then reading that The Well’s up for sale!

August 16, 2005

what's ten years, tin?

Holy moly, it’s August.  Which means it’s been ten years of irregular online publishing.

August 11, 2005

do something boring

Now for Dashboard, an Oblique Strategies widget, featuring the aphorisms from the micro-famous card deck by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.  OK, design geeks:  the clock is ticking.  Just how long will it take for someone to convert Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth into an attractively beveled and opaque widget?  On second thought, forget Bruce Mau, how about a tastefully animated bright red slideshow of Chairman Mao’s quotations?  One of those oughta get the creative juices flowing when you hit a dry patch. (Via the 43Folders mailing list.)

August 02, 2005

the situation well in hand

Forget the product itself, the best thing about Mighty Mouse is the passive aggressive way Apple’s marketing department has capitulated to the contextually clicking world…

Alas the fate of the one-button mouse in today’s multibutton world. Who has time for intuitive, elegant design when there is so much clicking to do?

But hey, they make up for the attitude with deliciously extraneous features!  After all, the only thing better than a multibutton mouse is a multibutton mouse with sound effects!

Mighty Mouse even sounds as good as it feels. The audio feedback built into Mighty Mouse provides an aural sensation that responds to your movements. When you scroll or click, Mighty Mouse produces subtle sound effects based on your actions.

As the old song goes, “Mr. Trouble never hangs around / when he hears this mighty sound / Here I come to save the day!”