Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Unfinished Projects

I recently have been tackling a long backlog of unfinished projects (and starting a few new ones, of course). I've noticed a pattern in how I do projects that I suspect others have as well. You identify what you need (1-1/2" pvc pipe, a u-joint, two couplers, two elbows, and some pvc glue), measure a few things, and go to the hardware store. You come home and set the bag of parts down in the garage, next to...

...and here's the problem: you set it next to 7 other bags from the hardware store, each of which contains the exact ingredients (on a good day) to complete one project. But if you leave stuff in the bags, you'll never finish the projects. Seems obvious, but even if it's "just until tomorrow", there's something opaque and unnoticeable about bags from the hardware store. You just don't see them after a while, and you can't even remember sometimes if you actually bought the stuff or not. Once or twice I've come home with a *second* entire bag of the same stuff, months later, for the same project. I feel pretty foolish when I discover the original bag.

I've looked inside a bag from Home Depot, said, "aha! that's where those hinges and lag screws are..." then literally 15 minutes later, had to look for them all over again. "Which bag were they in? I forget where I saw them." It's amazing how good those flimsy plastic bags are at hiding things from you.

So I've learned to take things out of these bags as soon as I get home from the hardware store. Even if it means piling the stuff on the work bench. At least then it's in the way, and will get put away more quickly than a plastic bag sitting on the floor. Literally putting the ingredients away, even if the project will be completed tomorrow, is a good plan. File the 1-1/2" plumbing fixtures in your plastic box labeled, you got it, "1-1/2 inch plumbing". I say plastic box because I have come to believe it is the right way to store almost everything. You can see into the boxes. Nothing can hide from you. You can label them too, but you don't really need to: they're see-through! What a revolution in storage!

I'm a pretty organized guy, and I'm getting even better, since I'm focused on it. I'm setting up a new workshop and taking the time to organize it as efficiently and thoughtfully as I can. It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge. It's amazing how much time it takes to think through and implement storage systems and workshops....

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Recency Illusion

I subscribe to a bunch of magazines; one I especially like is New Scientist. There was an article in there that I read a couple of days ago describing what I have noticed but never named: the recency illusion.

When something that you have discovered recently you assume is new to everyone is an illusion. In the software world I used to call a variant of this the "most-recently-discovered bug syndrome", which was the tendency to assume that a bug you just discovered is the most important one of all. It's actually the other way around, with bugs: if it took you this long to discover it, it must be relatively obscure, right?

Perhaps like everyone, I am susceptible to the recency illusion. In fact, in a very circular sort of way, when I set out to blog about this, I thought I should dig up a reference to the New Scientist article to link to, assuming that this was a new term that nobody would be familiar with. Ha! I set out to determine how new the phrase "recency illusion" is, which led me on a labyrinthine journey through Google links. One search result suggests that Arnold Zwicky coined the term in 2005, though vexingly, clicking on the link in the search results reveals no such mention; the abstract seems to have been edited.

But this article in the Language Log blog is great. It describes the "Cupertino effect" which you will just have to read to understand. What a great journey through linguistics with my morning coffee!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Copy Protection punishes honest people

I worked at Adobe Systems first in 1985, before PageMaker 1.0 was available. In those days software was copy protected through various means, all of which were nefarious. Aldus used to drill holes in the floppy disks and the installer would look for the bad disk sector to correspond to it.

Copy II Mac was a free utility that defeated copy protection easily. If you wanted a free copy of PageMaker, or any other app, you could get one.

22 years later, the situation is different, but the outcome is the same. If you actually buy a legal copy of software, you are either inconvenienced or completely incapacitated at least once by the copy protection (now called "activation"). I have a legal copy of Adobe InDesign CS3, and my computer freaked out so I bought a new computer and transferred all my stuff to it. I launched InDesign and it told me I needed to reactivate the software, but wouldn't let me because my old (dead) computer was still on the list. Instead of a nice easy way to say "transfer one of these licenses to your new computer" maybe with a nice list of my activated computers, it just told me I couldn't do it, and needed to call the 800 number. I've called twice (it's 9:00pm on a Friday night), gotten no one on the phone, but I've entered well over ONE HUNDRED digits on my phone accompanied by many # keys to confirm that no, I can't activate this computer.

They give me 5 days to solve the problem, which is better than shutting me down. But they put the onus on ME, the paying customer, to do all the work of reading or typing in all these god-forsaken keys into the phone or the activation screen. They are punishing me, again, for being a paying customer. And if I don't get this resolved in the next 5 days, on my time, calling and entering numbers and waiting, then I can't use the software that I paid for. The frustration level is very high.

The true criminals have a much easier time of it: they just go get an illegal key off the internet somewhere and away they go.

For a while there, maybe a good decade, everybody had done away with copy protection because it was well known that it punished the wrong people. It's come back, and it's as bad as ever. I guess there's a new generation of people now who really do believe they can prevent software piracy, and all they have to do is get the customers to enter 30-digit numbers. They're wrong, as were their forebears. I don't know if I can wait for the next cycle of anti-copy-protected software to come along.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

GMail security (or lack thereof)

I have a GMail account. I don't use it. I don't like Google's policies about keeping/filtering email. But I have a GMail account. Maybe one day I'll use it. They sort of force you to have one to do a lot of things, such as blogging on Blogger, which this blog is. Sigh.

Anyway, today I logged in to my GMail account, out of curiosity to see if I had any mail. I have a WHOLE LOT of spam, which is what prompts this blog post. 738 messages, as you can see in the screen shot to the left.

I have not given out my GMail account to anyone. I never send mail from that account. I use it only to log into Blogger, to save maps in Google maps, etc. So really the only entity that has my GMail address is Google. Evidently, they have been hacked/compromised or else they're selling my email address to the spammers directly. How else would this email address wind up on spam lists?! I tried searching for it (my address, and no, I'm not posting it here for spambots to harvest). There is no way I can think of for a spambot to have gotten this email address except through Google itself.

Kind of scary. Now I'm really not going to use my GMail account.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sky divers die in plane crash

It strikes me as extremely ironic that the plane crash today was 10 members of a skydiving company, all of whom apparently were in the plane when it hit the ground. You'd think they'd jump out, with parachutes, wouldn't you?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

iMovie 08 doesn't cut it

I'm the guy who created the version version of Apple's iMovie back in 1998 so my thoughts about the new iMovie might be biased. On the other hand, I know a lot about software and movie editing.

Apple tossed out iMovie this year and rewrote it from scratch. They got it wrong. The new iMovie... well, it sucks. I still have friends on the iMovie team (for a little while longer, at least), but I don't care. I'm going to blast it anyway, as the piece of useless eye-candy junk that it is.

I have a lot of specific reasons as to why that is the case. It's not just the missing features, or the fact that it can't even open an existing iMovie project, which is Cardinal Sin #1 in any advanced version of a project- or document-based software product.

I did a brief test run with the new iMovie, which I will heretofore call "iTube", because it shouldn't really be called iMovie. I put it through some quick paces, found an inordinate number of bugs, and gave up. But I remained silent, because I had a feeling that I was just being negative since they had just thrown my baby out with the bath water.

But today my daughter, who is 11, and who has a brand new iMac, asked for help with iMovie, since she knew I had created it. I saw that she was in fact using "iTube", and she was confused. She had shot some DV footage with a friend and wanted to edit it. I watched. As user experiences go, it was an unmitigated disaster. Georgia, a competent 6th grader, and her friend, a high school sophomore, could not do anything useful with the program. They had trouble importing the footage, because the "Automatic" mode simply didn't work. An uplug/replug of the camer and switch to Manual mode fixed the import. But that was just the beginning of the issues. There were an incredible number of individual clips, or "Events", since the girls were trigger happy in turning the camera on and off. They couldn't figure out what they were supposed to do, what they were looking at, or even how to "play the movie", which is of course the first thing you want to do after you import footage.

The first thing I noticed is that you simply can't "scrub" through a movie any more. The clips are arranged with carriage returns every so many clips, instead of in a linear fashion, so you simply cannot drag the cursor through the entire movie, because there's no way to navigate through one of the carriage returns (going from the far right end of one line of clips to the left of the next line of clips). The "Skimming" feature goes from novel but useless to annoying in about 5 minutes. It is activated simply by mousing over footage, so as you move the mouse around the program, the screen is constantly moving around on you, moving your point of reference in the movie, and pissing you off. There's simply no way to navigate through the footage!

I have heard the argument as to why the new "iTube" was necessary. Editing movies is too hard. Nobody does it. It needed to be simplified (again). This is all true. But it's not the editor itself that was or is the problem. It's because video is a time-based medium; therefore it takes TIME to edit it. There's no way around that.

Consider this... You've shot 1 hour of video footage on your camera. You come home and decide you want to make something out of it to show your friends or family. It takes 1 hour to import the footage into your computer. It takes another hour to watch it through once. If you stop, start, and enjoy it at all, it'll take you more than 1 hour. If you do NO EDITING at all, and decide to burn it straight to a DVD, or upload it to uTube, it will take you another hour in production time. You're THREE HOURS into the project and you haven't done a single edit. It's my contention that, if you're going to invest hours in just getting the footage from one place to another, and you don't edit it, you're missing the fun part. To scrub through video footage, play snippets, cut out the bad parts, pull it together into something presentable, is fun. Yes, it's time consuming, but it's fun, and rewarding.

The whole premise of "iTube" seems to be that you should short-cut the editing down to simply arranging clips and maybe throwing in some music, because, as the story goes, it was too hard to do that before. Well, after almost 10 years of people loving iMovie and making some pretty amazing movies with it, I have to disagree that it was too hard to use, and that was what was making people not edit their video footage.

Back to my critique of "iTube".

There's no timeline view, which on the surface seems like a "power user" feature. It is. But since video is time-based, if you're even a little bit interested in editing it, you start understanding the timeline and using it. If you're adding music or sound, it's critical to be able to operate in a linear time-based view. There's no way around it, I don't think. Just removing the feature isn't a way around it.

The idea of an "Event Library" is a pro feature. It doesn't map to the way families and amateurs create and reuse video. A clip/event library presumes that you have a lot of beautifully-shot, well-lit clips that can be rearranged to tell a story, or to compel people to vote for you in the Oscars. If you have a 3rd Birthday Party on one DV tape and a Trip to Yosemite on another, are you really going to love all that footage being in a Library so you can re-use it to make your masterpiece of cinema. No, you're not.

The "iTube" interface is very cluttered. There are a whole bunch of rectangles with unclear purpose, a lot of thumbnails and pieces of video everywhere you look, but no clear sense of what is your "movie" and what is not. Gone is the simplicity of One Big Window showing your movie, and a simple list of clips that comprise that movie. How is this new interface "simpler" or "easier to use" or "better"? There isn't a single thing to recommend it, and it violates all sorts of basic principles of Human Interface Design.

There is a tool bar in the center of the window (now there's innovation!) with commands that loosely map to menu commands, as all toolbars do, but you can't customize the toolbar, which has been a toolbar staple for about 15 years now. Nor can you figure out what any of the icons mean without the tool tips. Icons were supposed to be superior to text menus, but in this case I'd rather just use the menus. The first icon in the list, one that you instinctively mouse over to see what this new app is all about, says, "Add Selection to Project". The next one says, "Mark Selection as Favorite". Ummmm, okay, whatever. What selection? What project?

My favorite icon/button is a double-arrow that looks like a recycling icon that says "Swap Events and Projects". This lets you customize that one aspect of the interface, oddly, since no other aspect is customizable. It also suggests that Apple is not confident that the Events and Projects rectangles are in the right place. Why would you make it so easy to swap them? Why would you use a very prominent button in the user interface for something which you should probably never do, and at best will do once in the lifetime of owning the program? It's a fricking preference, not a major button in the interface.

The whole thing is incredibly poorly thought-out, hard to use, annoying, and, at the end of the day, not really a movie editor at all.

This app should have been called iTube 0.8, not iMovie '08. It's certainly a 0.8 app, not a 1.0 app, and it's certainly not iMovie.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tesla Motors spotting

Today I spotted a prototype Tesla car up on Skyline Blvd. I had rushed over to talk to whoever it was, but it was clear that an interview was in progress so I didn't interrupt. The car looks very cool when you're next to it; a little smaller than I had imagined, but cool.

The best part was when the truck/trailer that was hauling the car up to Skyline stopped to refuel. Something very ironic about a Tesla vehicle stopped at a gas pump.

I asked the guy if I could buy what he had in his trailer, but he said it was an "unsaleable" prototype. Too bad.

I am a huge fan of Tesla Motors and can't wait for them to succeed!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Brilliant Civics

Saw this sign last night in Redwood City. It's more jarring to look at than the average yard sale sign, so I'm not sure they're making forward progress here.

"Redwood City Sign Ordinance 3.114 (This sign is exempt)"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

iPhone schmyPhone

Everybody seems to think that since I worked at Apple I'm a big fan of every product they've ever made. Wrong. Though I can see why one would think that, since a lot of Apple customers are in fact zealots.

For the record, I'm a big fan of the XServe and almost everything that Bertrand Serlet and his team come up with. The OS is fantastic.

But I don't like the iPhone. I shouldn't say that. I just don't happen to want one. It's fine and everything, and I'm sure it's better than a lot of sucky phones out there. I also don't happen to want a Blackberry, and there's a lot of overlap between what an iPhone will do for you and what a Blackberry will do for you. Or do to you, depending on how you look at it.

The reason I don't want an iPhone is the same reason that I carry a Buck pocket knife instead of a Swiss Army knife. I hardly ever need a can opener or a saw or a teeny pair of scissors, and all they do is make the knife harder to use.

What I want is a phone that does *not* surf the web and does *not* process text messages or email messages or anything else, but is a *great phone*. Sorry, but the iPhone doesn't even come close to being a great phone. It's too big, it's not ergonomic for holding on your shoulder while you talk, and the shiny screen gets all greasy when you hold it up to your ear (lots of other phones share tehse problems, of course, which is why Steve Jobs proclaimed that people "hate their phones". True. But the reason we hate them is that they suck at being phones, not because they suck at being web browsers. You solved the wrong problem, Steve, though all the Gadget Phreaks in the world will need to have one, and the Crackberry people will lust after them, and all that.

For my part, I carry a 17" laptop for web/email and it beats the pants off a tiny screen. And I carry a Buck folding knife, which is a beautiful single-purpose machine, and anybody who knows me will tell you that it comes in handy all the time, and it's always in readiness in my pocket because it's small and does only one thing. And I'm still waiting for a great phone. In the meantime the Samsung flip phone I carry isn't bad.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

California Light Bulb Legislation

A legislator named Lloyd Levine wants to outlaw incandescent bulbs in California. I am very much opposed to this. Not because I'm against energy efficiency, but because I'm Pro Choice. I want to be able to choose any light bulb I want. This is America, not a totalitarian regime.

I'm against this also because I don't like fluorescent light. It's from the "cold" end of the spectrum, and I like "warm" light. Is that okay? I guess not.

Saving energy is a good idea. It is conceivable even that there should be legislation related to total energy use, or an economic approach, like taxing gasoline: higher rates for usage above a certain baseline. Then I, as a consumer, can perhaps choose a gas dryer instead of an electric dryer, to save electricity. But to tell me I'm allowed to have an electric dryer and an electric water heater and electric baseboard heat, but I'm not allowed to use incandescent light bulbs, is patently ridiculous.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

eBay: gone to the dogs?

I'm a big eBay fan. I've bought some large items (cars, trucks) and lots of small stuff on eBay. I've sold things on eBay. I love it.

Yet I think it's going to the dogs. It's dog slow, the interface hasn't changed in years, and the feedback mechanism, which was once innovative and world-changing, is many years old and has been gamed so badly as to be almost counter-useful. You can't rely on it, you can't give anyone negative feedback without retaliation, and the whole thing just seems not to work any more.

The last half dozen or so transactions I've done on eBay have all gone sour in one way or the other. They're all people gaming the system, misrepresenting things, shilling, you name it. It used to feel like an honest marketplace where real people bought and sold things. It feels now like a bazaar with sheisters and "merchants" trying to think of new ways of ripping me off. Some of them successfully. Subtly, but successfully.

I'm sad, because I love perusing the listings and wishing I could buy an old Dodge flatbed or three tractors from a guy in Saskatchewan. I just don't trust it any more. It's not the people on it I don't trust, though that's part of it. It's the site itself that I no longer trust. And that's a shame.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Apple's own Paparazzi

I have long been mildly disgusted by the "rumor sites" that feed on Apple's product launch plans. At times I have been on both sides of it—an engineering manager for iPhoto and iMovie, and as a Mac owner and consumer.

The tone that sites like ThinkSecret take is kind of a smug pride in getting illicit information from snitches at the company or its suppliers, and "predicting" the product plans.  Even followup reviews always contain language like, "as predicted", or "as we previously stated in ", blah blah blah.

My first reaction is usually: "so what?" But worse than that, such rumor-mongering actually damages the company and its product launches—the company that these sites purport to love so much. Let Apple launch their products, and leave them alone. Having been inside Apple, I can tell you that the levels of secrecy and the paranoia about these "paparazzi" leaking product plans significantly hinders and slows the processes of producing great products. And just look at how they bait people into divulging secrets. Shameful, I say.

I am prompted to write this in part by reading about recent pleas by the British royalty to the paparazzi to leave alone Kate Middleton, the 25-year-old girlfriend of Prince William. In the aftermath of Princess Diana's fiery death while being chased by the paparazzi on motorcycles, the hyenas are apparently backing off, at least briefly. But they'll be back as soon as you please, driven, according to them, by the public's desire to see such photos. Bollocks, I say. If they're published, sure, people will look at them. But no one has ever written a letter to the editor requesting more such photos.

What is it with people, that need to pry into the private affairs of others, and take pride in it? Shame on you, Nick de Plume or whatever your real name is, and Ryan Katz, and I hope you get additional spam from these mailto links. You're not to be congratulated on predicting the form factor of the iPhone, or whatever you take pride in, any more than SolarPix is to be congratulated on getting a photo of Kate Middleton retrieving her morning paper from the front steps. Grow up and get a real job, all of you.