Wordpress is pretty impressive. To import my old blog, all I had to do was cut and paste the entries into the Wordpress editor. The clipboard carried enough formatting information over, and the editor was smart enough, that the entries came out looking pretty much the same as they did before.It also lets me tweak the timestamp on the post so that they appear as being posted when they were originally written. So far this has been a very trouble-free experience. It was only about a 45 minute investment to download and install the software, and migrate all of my old blog entries. Only quirk I’ve noticed so far is that to get flash widgets embedded into a post, I have to use the raw HTML editor instead of the rich text editor.
So as a followup to the previous item, I created an iMix from my computer at home, and published it in the iTunes store. It's called "Songs for coding," and contains some songs representative of the type of music I listen to when writing code.
On the positive side of this experience, at least Apple gives me a few ways of sharing the iMix once it has been created. This is one of them. Unfortunately it looks like you need a Flash player to view it. Anyway, here it is.
I listen to my music at work. Typically this means I have my iPod connected to my work laptop via a USB cable, and I use iTunes to listen to the music on it. For listening to my own music, this works great.
I also connect to other shared music libraries for variety, and listen to the music of other people on the network. It is this use case that I find less than ideal in many situations.
For example, if I am listening to someone's library and I like a song or an artist, there's no way for me to bookmark this to remember it later. About the only thing I can do is go into my iTunes account and add it to my shopping cart. I don't want to buy it while I'm on my work computer, because I keep all my purchased music organized at home, and iTunes doesn't let you redownload the file to a different computer.
This is a huge WTF. The purchased music already contains DRM that limits which computers the songs can be played on. Why do they force me to manually move files around? You can't even copy stuff off of an iPod onto your computer, even if it's your song that you paid for, and the computer you want to copy it to is licensed to play your songs in your iTunes account.
Next, I wanted to show a co-worker some of my songs, because it turns out we have similar taste in music. I can't share the iPod, of course, because iTunes prevents you from doing that, too. I thought, "well, I'll take some of the songs and make a playlist out of them, then publish that as an iMix, and he can listen to the 30-second previews of the songs at least." But iTunes interfered again, saying "Ah ah ah... you can't do that, you can only publish a playlist as an iMix if it's a local playlist in your iTunes library. But you can't copy your songs off the iPod to createa local library. In other words, the only way your co-worker is going to hear these songs is if you tell him the song names one by one and he uses the iTunes store to search for them."
This is another WTF. You'd think Apple would want people to be exposed to more music, and to give them an easy way to remember to buy it later.. but in both cases, they seem overly concerned with preventing anyone but you from hearing your DRM-controlled music. I think Microsoft gets it a little better in this case. From what I hear, the Zune lets you listen to someone else's song up to three times before you have to buy it. They definitely understand that while musical taste is personal, there are definitely benefits to being able to share songs with people, even on a temporary basis.
So come on, Apple. Let my share my iPod on the network. Let my publish the playlists on my iPod as iMixes. Even if you limit people to listening to the 30-second preview of the song, it would be a better experience than what exists now.
The Apple iPhone is really cool. I just have one point I'm hoping Apple will have thought of before the phone is released to the public.
The phone needs to be usable as an entertainment device without having the phone portion enabled. Or rather, the phone portion needs to be able to be disabled explicitly. The reason? Airplanes.
I think it'd be really cool if you could bring your iPhone on the plane, and watch TV shows or movies on it during the flight, or listen to your music, without having it violate the federal regulations against having a cell phone turned on during the flight.
If they give you an option to turn the phone portion off (including the antennae or whatever that the FCC is worried about) while still using the rest of the device, then they'd have an all-new selling point for the phone. I imagine it would even generate additional business from nearby passengers who see someone watching a TV show and wonder what device it is.
Every now and then, I get frustrated with the lack of useful technology that should already exist, but doesn't. Or, if it exists, it is horribly expensive and limited in its flexibility.As an example, take your average KVM switch. These typically allow you to use a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse with multiple computers. However, the computer peripherals industry seems bent on churning out hundreds of varieties of these devices that all fail to be truly useful in one or more ways.
Also, what's the deal with putting all these "internet buttons" all over newer keyboards and never selling a keyboard that includes KVM switch control buttons? If there's one thing a button would be useful for, is preventing me from having to type "scroll-lock scroll-lock 2 k" to switch my keyboard to computer number two.
A perfect KVM switch would be expandable - you buy more pieces that connect an additional computer, and hook it on to the rest. Each of these could have its own set of connectors and supported protocols, so that you can control newer and older systems with the same switch.
My next gripe is with car audio products. It is still difficult to find a car that will let you listen to CDs, satellite radio, and your iPod or other portable music device. You're faced with the choice of planning well ahead and trying to buy a car that supports all of your music sources, or replacing the factory sound system later with an aftermarket unit that has the features you need.
Each car manufacturer has their own way of wiring stereos, so that you need to purchase a specific wiring harness to attach a stereo head unit to the car's power and speaker systems. Conveniences such as steering wheel controls are not guaranteed to work with an aftermarket system. There are several competing CD changer protocols.
How much simpler would it be if instead of RCA connectors, speaker connectors, and a wiring harness with 30 color coded wires, the back of a stereo simply had a standardized power connector and about 20 USB ports. Audio devices would all connect to the stereo via this interface, regardless of what they are. Want to have 8 different CD changers mounted at various points in your car? No problem, just snake the cables and plug them in. Want to control your iPod from your steering wheel controls? Easy, just plug the iPod cradle in. Want satellite radio? Simple, just mount the receiver somewhere in your car and run a cable up to the stereo and plug it in.
For that matter, once bluetooth and other wireless protocols become more prevalent, there should be no reason you can't add support for them to one of these stereos. Plug in the wireless receiver/transmitter along with your other devices, and the stereo doesn't need to know the difference. Add a mic somewhere in the dashboard and you can record voice notes to your iPod or talk on your wireless phone without needing additional hardware gadgetry.
Update: Apparently at least one automaker is starting to think like this, too. According to this article, Volkswagen will offer a USB connection option on several of its models next year.
While some appliances and devices have grown easier to use over the years, some have gone the opposite direction and become more confusing. It is not, it seems, through any lack of trying on the part of the manufacturers, however. It seems that some manufacturers have simply become detached from their customer base, or their research departments are inept.
For example, look at the controls on a car stereo. It used to be simple to tweak the equalizer settings. There would be a knob for the bass, a knob for the treble, a knob for balance, and maybe a knob for fading front to rear. Now, you have the exact same functionality, but you access it through a menu. You press the "Audio" button repeatedly until you get to the setting you want, then hit up or down to change it.
The problem I see with changes like this is that they don't add anything for the end user. They might be trying to save room by not having so many knobs, or they might be using some sort of digital EQ which is more difficult to set if you control it with analog knobs. They are essentially passing a design/manufacturing problem on to the user. With the old-school knob system, it might look "low tech" but it does exactly what it's supposed to do. You can see at a glance what the current setting is, and you can change it quickly.
For another example, look at the printer attached to the average computer. Older printers had a variety of buttons that were labeled for the function they accomplished. Newer printers have only a couple of buttons, but they are labeled with a cryptic symbol or not at all, leaving you to either punch them in various combinations until you get what you want, or go find the user's manual to look up something like canceling a print job, which should be a simple, intuitive operation.
|The HP LaserJet 2100 series printer is an example of a printer with an over-simplified interface. Two buttons, one of which is labeled with a triangle within a circle, one blank, are the only means of controlling this printer. It also has three LEDs on the top to indicate status. One of these is next to the blank button, one is next to a symbol that looks like a horseshoe, and one is next to a recognizable symbol: an exclamation point with a triangle around it.It is not obvious from looking at this panel that pressing the blank button gives you a printer information page, or that pressing both buttons together gives you a detailed information and status printout.||HP LaserJet 2100 control panel. Source: John VanDyk's web log.|
If I had to redesign this printer's controls, I would simply show the functions you can do, and the statuses that can be reported, and not rely on user's manuals to interpret the meanings of various combinations of status lights or buttons. There would be one button with a red circle with a line through it, and the text label "Cancel" next to it. There would be a small button with the text label "Print Status Report" next to it. There would be a small button with the text label "Print Printer Information" next to it. For most printing purposes that is all that is needed.
For the status indicators, I would put a few LEDs on the control panel. One would be labeled "Power", one would be labeled "Printing", and one would be labeled "Paper Jam". The power switch would be on the control panel, not on the side or the back.
The paper tray in modern printers never seems to hold enough paper. Unless you get a office-duty larger (and more expensive) laser printer, the paper tray almost never holds a full ream. Printing paper is sold in reams. I think all printers should have paper trays that hold slightly more than a ream. The paper status light should be next to the paper tray. It should light yellow when the paper is low, and red when it is out. If the paper tray held slightly more than a ream, it would be easy to just open a new ream of paper and load it whenever the light gets yellow. As it stands now, people often load part of a ream and have to leave the rest sitting next to the printer until it is needed.
T-Mobile and the Samsung E-715 have a bit of a way to go when it comes to ease of use, intuitive interfaces, and feature usability. Here's a small list of things that I simply can't believe a modern pair of companies would fail to fix:
My previous phone, one of the ancient Motorola Star-tacs, had a much more intuitive menuing system, especially when it came to voice mail. Combined with Sprint's voice mail service, it was exceptionally easy to use. If a voice mail arrives, it lights the voice mail icon on the screen. If you call and check the voice messages, the icon disappears. The menu in the voice mail system includes all of the options you might like to use, including saving, erasing, re-listening, and replying to a voice message.
Despite all this, however, the new phone and service are pretty good. I can get service in my office, which never properly worked with Sprint. The phone has exceptional battery life (even compared to the Star-tac), and has a bunch of other useful features that work quite well. I think Samsung and T-Mobile, and perhaps the other providers and vendors, are concentrating a bit too hard on the cameras and games and fancy ringtones at the expense of plain, simple usability and its intended purpose as a phone.
The more I listen to radio stations, the more I begin to consider adding something like XM or Sirius satellite radio to my car. You can only go so far with a CD changer, and it's nice to hear new music, but it's irritating to hear egomaniac disk jockeys who like to talk all over the beginning and end of songs. In San Diego, you can typically escape this by listening to FM 94.9, but they can only handle so much of the demand for good, interruption-free music. I could go into a whole rant about people who call in and request top 40 songs that are already on the playlist rotation, but I won't. Honestly, the song is played several times a day already and they feel the need to call in and request it. Good going, you zombie, now we get to hear it 4 times today instead of 3. Ok, that was a mini-rant.
As I was listening to these radio stations, I began to think that it should be easier to add something like XM or Sirius satellite radio to any car. As it stands, you have to have a stereo that is capable of accepting input from an auxiliary source, and that source can't already be in use for another device.
For most people, this means that if you've hooked up a CD changer to your car, you can't also add a satellite radio module. (There are products that allow you to broadcast the output of the satellite radio module to your car's FM tuner, but why anyone would take a high quality digital source like a CD or satellite radio and rebroadcast it through FM is beyond me).
There seems to be an effort going on to create a standard auto multimedia interface, and I'm all for it. The Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration looks promising, but I have to wonder why no one has made this easier until now. This technologoy has been around for a while. Why make proprietary interconnects and protocols such that you artificially limit the number of devices a car stereo can interact with and control? Why can't we have digital devices connected through a common bus like USB or firewire? Want more devices? Just add a hub.
I suppose it is a sort of chicken and egg problem, similar to bluetooth support. No one wants to take on the expense of adding bluetooth to their products because no one else is doing it, and so it wouldn't have anything to talk to. Honestly though, it can't be that hard. I should be able to get into my car and have the car stereo become a speakerphone for my bluetooth cell phone. No more of these built-in cell phones in luxury cars that require a seperate phone number and service plan. Every car should be able to have a cell phone that operates through its stereo system, using open standards such as bluetooth.
Back to the car audio topic, I'd like to see a similar level of support for interchangeable devices there as well. If I want to have a car stereo that plays CDs, DVD-Audio, MP3s off a hard drive unit, XM or Sirius satellite radio, or any number of other audio sources, I should be able to do it. As it stands, you cannot achieve this without rigging up some sort of custom audio source selection and control system by hand.
Lately I have been writing a lot of technical documentation, and have begun to realize that Microsoft Word is not a great tool for my needs. When I'm writing documentation, I don't need WYSIWYG capabilities, just a simple formatting language that does what it should. I suppose I don't use Word often enough to know the ins and outs of how to use all of its features, but it seems that a good portion of my time is spent dealing with trying to get the document into the right format, or to get an inserted Visio diagram to inline itself with the text instead of floating above it, and so on.For this reason, I have begun writing all of my drafts using a Wiki. If you don't know what a Wiki is, here is an example. The particular Wiki I use is MoinMoin, a very full-featured Wiki written in Python by Jürgen Hermann. The advantage of using Wiki is that it provides a simple formatting language that is easy to inline with the text you're writing without hampering the readability of the text source. I see this as an advantage over WYSIWYG editors in certain respects, such as the fact that you don't have any "invisible" formatting going on. Everything is in plain sight. The problem with WYSIWYG is that, while you get what you see, it is often difficult to determine how, precisely, to achieve a desired change in what you see.