Monday, January 31, 2005

Scrolling using the new PowerBook G4’s trackpad

Though Apple still hasn't been able to solve the heat sink problem involved in cramming a G5 processor into a PowerBook, it has introduced a nifty innovation to the ubiquitous laptop trackpad: double-fingered dragging for scrolling. (This is the equivalent of the scroll-wheel on a mouse.) From Apple's site:

Scrolling/panning trackpadReady to Scroll

Scrolling through web pages or large documents on a trackpad can challenge even the most nimble fingers. That’s why every PowerBook G4 features a new trackpad with scrolling capability. Just drag two fingers over the trackpad to scroll vertically and horizontally or pan around any active window. Change this feature to suit your needs: Customize your trackpad settings or turn off scrolling completely via System Preferences.

(© 2005 Apple Computer, Inc.)

What's so great about this is that, without changing the hardware (presumably), Apple has opened up a whole new dimension for an existing input device. It's simple to use, and won't get in the way if you don't want to use it. Simple and brilliant. (The animated GIF ain't too shabby, either. Nice little bit of info design.)

Google: search TV shows via close captioning text

The latest thing from Google.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Interviewing as Service

Khoi Vinh has some solid tips for interviewees about how they should prep for an interview with his firm, Behavior. Vinh's suggestions essentially speak to interviewees giving their interviewers good service: look the part, do your homework, be prepared for the worst, and complete the exchange graciously.
     Incidentally, Vinh's award-winning blog, Subtraction, is a gorgeous study in grid-based design, as well-handled as any website I've seen. (Vinh details his process in another entry on his blog.) Monochrome, with strong, understated typrography, and he's designing with Fitts's Law in mind (the nav bar at top has plenty of nice, fat click targets, as mentioned in my first post). Exceptional.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Steve Jobs in 1996: Technology cannot solve the problem with education

Really interesting Wired interview of Steve Jobs back in 1996, prior to his reinstatement as CEO of Apple. He's very candid, and comes across as reflective -- a different side of Jobs than what you see during the Mac trade show keynotes.

Some interesting sound bites:
I used to think that technology could help education. I've probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I've had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology.
Lincoln did not have a Web site at the log cabin where his parents home-schooled him, and he turned out pretty interesting. Historical precedent shows that we can turn out amazing human beings without technology. Precedent also shows that we can turn out very uninteresting human beings with technology.
It's not as simple as you think when you're in your 20s - that technology's going to change the world. In some ways it will, in some ways it won't.

Smarter browsers

Browsers should be smarter -- allow you to write Post-its on web pages and remember them when you return. For instance, there are two similar products I'm considering purchasing that I've placed in my Shopping Cart. I'd like to write a memo to myself about what's different between the two, so that when I come back I won't have to scratch my head and waste the time to re-figure out the minor feature differences between the two.

Also, when I quit my browser (or worse, when it unexpectedly quits), why do I lose all the sites I was browsing? Why can't the browser remember which sites I was viewing and in which tabs, and pull them back up? If I'm in the middle of reading two articles and I accidentally quit my browser, there's no way for my browser to remember where I was let me pick up where I left off. How hard would that be? (This would also be useful for keeping my Ta-Da lists open all the time, regardless of whether I restart my browser.)

Less is Mo'

Just checked out Keb' Mo's album Keep it Simple from the library. I nominate the title track to be the anthem of interaction designers. A verse:

I called my doctor on the telephone
The lines were open, but there was nobody home
Press 1, press 2, press #, press 3
Why can't somebody just pick up the phone
And just talk to me

(© 2003 Kebnote Music)

Hansson to eBay: try honesty

David Heinemeier Hansson, the genius developer behind Basecamp and the Rails framework for Ruby, has a nice little post slamming eBay on not having the "balls" to be honest in their PR (unlike the Basecamp crew, whose announcement about their price hikes at the start of the year came off as sincere and warranted).

Writes Hansson, "eBay would do well by replacing the archetypical PR drone with something resembling a human being." Reminiscent of the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Noted without comment

Overheard at Borders Bookstore:
"Do you have Jesus calendars?"
"Yeah -- they should be next to the Mary-Kate and Ashley calendars." registration: free and required? Yipee!

The header on the registration page touts its required registration as if it's a feature:


Customer service over the phone hits a Wal

I call Wal-Mart to ask about a vacuum, and the woman who answers mumbles. She forwards my call to "domestics" (strange name, probably internal terminology?). The man who picks up in "domestics" greets me with: "Hello?" Hello? I ask if he can tell me about whether a specific vacuum is in stock, but before I get to tell him the name of the vacuum he says, "Hmm, hold on...." I'm on hold. I hear clicks. I'm disconnected.

Call back. Mumbling woman answers the phone.
"I just called about the vacuum...."
"Oh, did domestics pick up?"
"Yeah, but they hung up on me."
"Oh, let me try again."
"Well, domestics isn't picking up. They might be out to lunch. We're a little short-staffed." They might be out to lunch?

Ari Weinzweig, in his nifty little handbook "Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service", points out that being short-staffed falls squarely into the category of the business's problems, not the customer's.

I ask about getting inventory information from someone outside of "domestics" but I'm told that only managers have access to store-wide inventory. So where's the manager on duty? Out to lunch.

How does the episode conclude? Ms. Mumbles asks me if I can call her back. She should have taken my number and called me back when she's ready.

Of course, this is Wal-Mart. What can I expect? Better. Is it impossible to motivate a huge workforce like the front-lines at Wal-Mart? To have a culture of quality service, even at their price point? But money talks, especially at the Wal. Couldn't they do even better business if they did? How would such an influence affect communities surrounding these stores? Rather than resorting to publishing open letters and setting up a PR website to defend Wal-Mart's spotty reputation as an employer and corporate citizen, CEO H. Lee Scott, Jr. could let a positive culture of service speak for itself.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Horseshoes, hand grenades & Entourage 2004

Just upgraded from Microsoft Entourage X to Entourage 2004. (Entourage is the Mac counterpart of Outlook.) The most noticeable change to the interface is the three-column layout for email. The new layout is great because it's a better use of space, but perhaps more importantly, it affords an interaction improvement.

Whereas Entourage X displayed the email message list as a single, long line, 2004 shows the same info as a shorter, 2-line item. The number of clickable pixels remains the same, but instead of having to position my mouse in a target 12 pixels tall (which requires considerable hand-eye coordination), I can aim it at one 30 pixels tall. Fatter rectangles beat long, skinny ones. (Bruce Tognazzini has a nice overview of a related principle, Fitts's Law, and an excellent quiz that should be required reading for any interaction designer.)

Easier click targets allow me to focus on getting my work done instead of getting my mouse in the right target. I'll swallow hard and say it: Nice job, Microsoft. (Could it be that my potential really is your passion? Nah.)

Interesting to note: looks like 37Signals's excellent Basecamp took a slight step backwards on this issue. Prior to some January updates, on the Messages page within a project, you could click on a category by mousing over the name of the category or the space to the right of it. That is, you didn't need to mouse over the words themselves. Now you do. The benefit of the old way is, of course, bigger click areas, but also a consistent click area regardless of the length of the words. (The former implementation could have been improved by hinting at the bigger click area by adding faint rules between the links.) My guess for why they got rid of this: it stuck out like a sore thumb from how they usually handle lists of links. (Why they don't usually do this, I don't know.) Yes, I feel a little silly critiquing the gold-standard of web-application interfaces, but someone has to do it.