Category Archives: Products

iPhone Day is Upon Us

I just got back from visiting a coworker waiting in line for the iPhone at the downtown Seattle mall AT&T store location. He’s been blogging his experience all day since 5AM, when he arrived first in line. He’s gotten Starbucks, lunch and the all-important Top Pot Doughnuts delivered to him in line, and somehow his laptop battery has been holding out too.

There were a lot of tired-looking folk in the line, and about 60 total in the line that stretched out of the mall. Apple sure does know how to handle a product launch. Here’s hoping the reviews and feedback remains positive on the new phone. Apple really does have something big started here. Who knows what might be next for future revisions of the phone, iPods or laptops if the multi-touch display and interface proves its worth.

Pet Peeve: E-mail is not Instantaneous

I just received a phone call from an external party that I’ve been working with on a project. It started off like this:

Him: “Hi Chase, do you have a couple minutes to chat?”
Me: “Yeah, sure.”
Him: “OK, excellent. I have a question for you. Here, I’m sending you an e-mail with a couple URLs in it… and… OK, I just sent it.”
Me: [clicking send/receive… clicking send/receive] “While I’m waiting, can you explain what the question is?”

It turns out the question was dead simple, and really didn’t require the supporting URLs to clarify. I answered his question, wrapped up the conversation, and hung up. 30 seconds later his e-mail finally appeared in my inbox.

Aside from my slight annoyance at starting a phone conversation with: “Do you have a couple minutes to chat?” (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have answered the phone), or the sending of the e-mail after the phone call is started… what really bugs me is the common misconception that e-mail is instantaneous. Sure, you can send me an e-mail and most of the time it’ll get delivered pretty quick, but “pretty quick” can range from 30 seconds to minutes, to hours (or to days if there are more serious server issues). Because people have become so used to the more common quick deliveries, they come to expect them and rely on them, and in turn they get frustrated when delivery is delayed. This write-up about e-mail from the University of California, is the first result for a search on “email is not instantaneous” and it covers many other realities of e-mail.

This is really a basic case of taking something for granted. We all do it in various ways, and it’s a particularly interesting issue when it comes to delivering products or services. If my product is only designed to realiably do a task in say, 10 minutes, but it regularly does it faster, then how do I address user complaints when it starts taking the full 10 minutes again? That’s a whole different can of worms about controlling user expectations and properly communicating what “normal” behavior should be. Now that e-mail has become so commonplace, and technology has brought it to near-instantaneous speeds, it would be entirely impractical/obnoxious for e-mail clients to start popping up a dialog box each time I send a message, saying: “This could take an hour or more to send.” Even worse, what if e-mail server technology automatically dialed itself down to the more reliable speeds (I know it could never work with the architechture of the internet). Should we design popular products to only perform as promised? No, that’s certainly not an answer either, and designers that purposefully “cripple” their products in these ways are annoying.

With e-mail, it’s clearly too late to manage expectations. The common misconception/expectataion of e-mail being instantaneous can be frustrating, and is a pet-peeve of mine. Keep in mind that things won’t always behave the way you’re used-to, and the last thing I want is to sit on the phone with you while refreshing my inbox.

Facebook Frenzy

The latest fury over the Facebook redesign and new features has quickly grown to ridiculous proportions. To catch up on the latest happenings, here’s the Techcrunch summary on the new features. And the follow-up about the outrage, with some clear explanations of the ridiculousness. Another good summary of the whole ordeal is available here. The Facebook CEO explains it just right when he wrote,

“The privacy rules haven’t been changed. None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes. Nothing you do is being broadcast; rather, it is being shared with people who care about what you do–your friends.”

I think most of the backlash is a result of the users just not understanding how or why the feature works the way it does. Friendster did this same exact thing via e-mail updates and “what’s new in your network” boxes on the site. There was little outcry there (probably because noone remembers/uses Friendster anymore), and Friendster even took it a step further and added the reverse-stalker feature a year ago. You can see a list of everyone who viewed your profile and when, whether they are in your immediate network or not. It was released, and turned on by default.

What really strikes me about the Facebook situation is the illusion of privacy that all these angry users are clinging to. You’re posting your semi-private information, to a semi-public site, where anyone in your semi-private network can view those details. Now your semi-private network can see those details and changes THAT YOU’RE PUBLISHING on the very same site, viewed in a slightly different way. Where did the confusion come from? How did users misunderstand the entire concept of the news feed? Did they just miss how easily-controllable all the details are? Are the ideas and technology (social networks, plus quick-reference news feed) just too new for them to wrap their heads around?

While browsing through all the anti-news feed groups that have sprung up in Facebook, I came across this gem of irony. A group was titled: Is it bad that I found the “against the news feed” group from the news feed?

Enough said.

Digital Photos With a Broken CCD

I picked up my old pocket-sized Canon Powershot S230 the other day to take along with me, but when I turned it on I noticed it wasn’t exactly producing the photos it used to. I fiddled with the battery, memory card and various settings for a few minutes without any luck. The playback mode worked fine, but it appeard the CCD, which generates the live LCD preview as well as the photos, was on the fritz. I took a few shots and kinda liked the trippy, purple-hued results. Here’s my broken CCD photoset on Flickr.

The camera also still records the video signal generated from the sensor, so I can shoot my own purple static interference pattern footage. Here’s a sample video feed (2mb, Quicktime). I believe I was panning the skyline in the shot. Can’t you tell?

I’ve had the trusty camera for 4 years and I’ve brought it along with me on many trips, and late-night stumbles around town. It’s been dropped and banged and always continued to work great up until now. On closer inspection, I noticed the left side of the camera body was missing nearly all of it’s screws to hold it together. The metal housing is a bit loose and can shift around. This may be one of the many things that contributed to it’s demise.

At some point I’m sure I’ll get another little portable camera to replace it, but for now I’ve got an interesting new toy. You shall no longer be called Digital Elph. I name you… Purple Haze

Yoplait: Good Yogurt, Bad Container Design

Yoplait Yogurt ContainerAt work we have a number of snacks stocked in the kitchen and occasionally we have yogurt in the fridge. The other day I was eating from one of the Yoplait Yogurt cups and started scraping at the bottom to get the remainder of the yogurt. Some coworkers started giving me grief for the annoying scraping sounds and I defended myself saying how it’s really the design of the container that’s preventing me from getting what I want.

The tapered design of these yogurt containers has always bothered me, and there are a number of other factors adding to the already poor design…

  1. The bottom of the container is convex, making the yogurt-remains even less spoon-friendly.
  2. The container opening has a lip that doubles back inside the container, making the already small opening even smaller.
  3. Said lid also catches unnecessary amounts of yogurt under it’s edge, requiring flexible spoon techniques for getting it out (or sometimes licking).
  4. The container kills animals.

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A Week with Bloglines

Bloglines I’ve now been using Bloglines almost exclusively for over a week, for my weblog checking and reading. For ages now I’ve been using this static bookmark page as my homepage and I’ve still been hitting the various sites directly to check for updates and read new posts. My original plan for the page (as the name suggests) was to pull feeds for the sites and have it be a single-stop, quick-glance page where I could see what’s new. Continual problems with feeds and scripts gave me more errors than I wanted, and sent me off on trouble-shooting goose chases. I eventually stripped the page down to a link page and quite enjoyed visiting each site on it’s own. The setup still wasn’t ideal, and I found myself missing occasional updates.

After a number of recommendations, I decided to give Bloglines a try. At first I was half-assed about it and would only occasionally check things through Bloglines. To give it a real effort, I converted my default homepages over to the Bloglines page, and decided to use it exclusively for a week. It’s been pretty nice. I like the simple left-pane interface, to browse through your sites, and read updates on the right. I never got used to viewing updates for a whole group at a time (multiple sites’ feeds listed all together), so I still viewed updates site by site. With everything in the same window, and the numbers of new updates listed next to each site link, I found it incredibly quick to browse and catch up on the latest happenings.

As I’ve written before, I think there’s something to be said for visiting the actual site, rather than viewing someone’s content through a third party window. I’ve been stubborn about it, and it was with some reluctance I finally tried Bloglines. During the week, I still found myself visiting some of the original sites just in case I missed something. It just didn’t feel right when I wasn’t reading it on the original site. Then there are some sites out there that don’t give you full access to feeds, so I still had to visit on my own. Or there are the sites that break out their link and post feeds separately, so I was checking two feeds in Bloglines for a single site.

I’m not sure whether I like the feed reader experience better than my old-fashioned habits, but after a week I did get used to things. It certainly is easier to add and organize sites in the Bloglines list, rather than a lousy hand-edited HTML file. I might continue this way for a while. Does anyone prefer a site other than Bloglines? The Safari RSS option was also mentioned, but I’m on a PC much of the day. Or maybe something like Sage for Firefox could do the trick. Firefox live bookmarks are neat, but don’t provide a good at-a-glance overview. What are your preferred methods for reading the web?

Hey Baby, nice Lensbaby

I ordered myself a Lensbaby (2.0 version), last week, as well as the macro attachments. It arrived just the other day, and yesterday I ventured out to give it a try with some mixed results…

Ladybug 4 Flower Abstract

A few good shots out of about 80 total. I had most fun playing with the macro attachment, but even normal scenes give good results. The principle is simple: you’ve got a flexible lens mount, so as you bend it and compress it, you’re changing the focal length and therefore adjusting the plane of focus as well as the “sweet spot.” It took me a while to get the hang of focusing, especially on the shaky macro shots and moving subjects (pesky insects!). Want a different aperture (thus expanding or contracting your area of focus), just pop out a disc and put a new one in.

Even though the lens is about as manual as you can get, my Canon continued light-metering in Aperture Priority (Av) mode, and adjusted the shutter speed accordingly. This is pretty nice, since it takes one extra piece of guesswork out of the process. Of course I still found myself making plenty of adjustments.

I’ll keep playing and continue to post the successes in my lensbaby set on Flickr.

The Egg McToaster

The Egg McToaster This past weekend I decided to liven up my kitchen a bit with the Back to Basics TEM500 Egg & Muffin 2-Slice Toaster and Egg Poacher. I think “Egg McToaster” is a little easier to say. The contraption is pretty neat. The toaster itself is straightforward, but the egg compartment is where things get more complex. There are a few plastic pieces, and the cooking “pan” that all fit over the heating element at the bottom. All of the cooking is done by steam, so you pour a bit of water into the heating area and your soon-to-be-cooked food sits above. There’s even an area to put bacon or sausage so that they’re warmed too (pre-cooked meats only). You can do any of the cooking functions independently of each other, which is nice. Just want an egg? No problem. There’s even a plastic cooking tray with large circular holes, where you can put eggs still in the shell, so you can cook them hardboiled. I’ve tried one breakfast sandwich so far and a batch of two hardboiled eggs. Everything came out just right.

So far I only have a few minor complaints. The multiple plastic pieces and lid make for some extra cleaning work, but not too bad. I was also a little surprised at how long the egg cooking took, but in the end it was about the same as firing up the stove, heating a pan, or boiling water. The fact that you can just put an egg or two in the contraption and push a button definitely beats those alternatives (c’mon, we’re all lazy in the morning). Lastly I was a bit confused at first by the measuring cup they give you. The only measurements on the side refer to the # of eggs, style of cooking (poached or hardboiled), and consistency. It makes for a bunch of arbitrary (but well labeled lines), with no actual measuring values. The chart in the book lists ounces too, and it took me a minute to realize I didn’t need a 6oz line on the cup, I just needed the “2 eggs, hardboiled, hard” line.

All-in-all it seems like a great kitchen gadget, and I look forward to many more breakfast sandwiches, eggs benedict, and hardboiled eggs.

The Myth of the Digital Divide and a $100 Laptop Holy Grail

MIT's $100 Laptop Recently the MIT Media Lab initiative, headed by Nicholas Negroponte, to develop a $100 laptop for distribution to schools and children in developing nations has been getting a lot of press. See articles at BBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and a Wired interview with Negroponte.

This $100 laptop initiative and similar projects before it, are based on the large assumption that there is a “digital divide” and that this divide needs to be closed by the UN, and those of us in first-world nations.

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Xbox 360 Impressions

I’ve had a chance to see and play a bit with the 360 that Andy brought home the other day, and here are a few of my initial thoughts…

  • The dashboard (OS) is great and gives you just about everything you could want out of a media center. Interface is a little less than intuitive at times, and the “friend is online” alerts appear over everything. Very annoying, but there’s probably an option to change that somewhere.
  • Backwards compatibility is a little rocky. Some texture artifacting here and there, and really bad mic sound in Halo 2. But connectivity to other players on regular Xbox Live worked just the same.
  • Games look great. Crisp, high-res, high polygon counts, yadda, yadda… But in Project Gotham Racing 3, the developers took too much advantage of the higher resolution and made some of the menu and UI text so small, it’s almost impossible to read on a normal TV. Wake-up, not everyone’s going to be playing on HD.
  • Gameplay? Well, that all depends on the game, so… same as any other console. Aside from more glitz, glamour, bells and whistles, the launch titles are more of the same.
  • Little things go a long way… Wireless controllers out of the box, power buttons on the controller, and standard USB ports to plug any device into the 360.
  • It’s loud. When the fan comes on, it sounds like it’s ready for lift-off.

Fun to have one around, but I don’t think I need my own just yet.

Product Review – Shure E2c Earphones

Shure E2C I’ve been asked a half-dozen times in the past month how I like these earphones, and I always say how much I love them. The Shure E2C earphones are probably one of the best purchases I’ve made in the past year. I’ve ended up convincing two co-workers to get a pair and they both love them as well. So, this might be more of a product plug than a review, but I’ve told so many people these things, I might as well write it down.

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