Thursday, December 04, 2008

Google Reader Redesign Misses Something

Google is asking for feedback on the redesign of its "Reader" RSS aggregator.

Here's some: It's still too hard to assign feeds to folders -- the names of the folders get truncated in the Feed Settings menu. See image at left.

The menu should expand to accommodate the names, with a much larger maximum width.

This is still my single biggest design issue with Reader.

I'm also curious to see if they fix the technical issues, like misreporting old feed items as new, and very slow updates for some feeds (i.e. Google's servers don't fetch the feed often enough).

UPDATE: Same thing with the folder list in the left sidebar, see below. And there's no way to make this wider:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Macs suck at fonts now?

Just spent an hour trying get my damned Mac to install a font. The system is smart enough to identify both the PostScript and TrueType files as fonts in the Finder -- and it even loads a preview! But try to "Add Font" in the system's Font Book application and you get a SILENT failure.

No dialog. No diagnostic message. And no font added.

UPDATE: I'm not the only one with this problem. A known bug. No response from Apple. 

UPDATE2: Just add the files to ~/Library/Fonts. Works fine that way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mac OS X Fails Me Every Damned Night

Right now I'm watching Bill Clinton's DNC speech for about the fifth time, because OS X has yet again crashed. This time, in the midst of a video capture.

You think you know your operating system? Trying using it for 12 blog posts a night. With video capture and editing and encoding and uploading. Heavy picture downloading, cropping and scaling. Heavy RSS skimming across hundreds of feeds. Heavy Web surfing. Streaming in lots of video. Heavy email use. Constant IM. Ten different things going on at once in the name of speed on a busy news night.

You'll discover how weak your tools really are, even when they're the best the world has to offer. Not just the OS but your Web services (Google), third-party software (ecto, Photoshop, Visual Hub, SnapzPro) and Apple sofware (iMovie, Preview, Safari, iChat).

  They will break your heart and, worse, waste your time night after night. It doesn't matter if it's a brand new multicore machine with the RAM maxed out. It doesn't matter if it's built on a Unix core that's supposed to have protected memory and preemptive multitasking. OS X WILL have a hard crash on you sooner or later. In my case, it happens once or twice every night. 

Every crash sets me back a half hour or so. That's time out of my life and it adds up.

Hard things are hard to do. Fair enough. I didn't build a better system. But I hope Apple realizes how fragile its system is at publishing, 21st century style.

Saturday, August 16, 2008 ruined as professional tool

A note on the new version 2 of We actually use it extensively at work as a professional tool, to share links with one another (and thus to suggest or assign posts and various other things). However v2 dropped timestamps on all bookmarks -- only dates are provided. This has made it about half as useful. And there's not even an option to turn timestamps back on!

Lesson: If your design assumes people will use your app as a kind of casual toy, you will probably foreclose serious, hard-core use.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drawing A Circle In Photoshop Elements: PhD Required

Even with these directions, I couldn't make it work. And Barbara Brundage/Dave Pogue/Tim O'Reilly's "Missing Manual" isn't helping either. What a waste of money this program has been.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

iPod weak for podcast listening

Hey iTunes: If I'm halfway through an hourlong podcast, please don't delete it off my iPod because you think I'm done with it. If you're going to monitor what I listen to, at least do it right. Right click/mark as new + resync is getting really old.

One day, Apple will learn to make a reliable MP3 player

My iPod freezes multiple times per week. (Most recently, five minutes ago, as I tried to rest after a night of paperwork.)

I use it strictly to play music.

Some day, Apple will learn to make one of these portable music thingamajigs that doesn't crash. They just need some more time to iron out the kinks. They've only had seven years so far.

The attached image is a Google search showing how common this problem is. The second hit is from 2004, The third hit is an Apple doc on the topic, linked to a movie they made on the topic.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

iTunes sucks at importing burned CDs

I've been cleaning out my physical home office inbox, and importing to my Mac a bunch of mix CDs given to me by other people. Every time, iTunes asks if I'm sure I want to import a CD that's not in CDDB or whatever it's called these days (Gracenote?). Uh, yes.

When I click "Yes," that would be a good time for iTunes to ask me to name the album. Instead, it doesn't, it just starts importing the CD, so I end up with a bunch of tracks named "Track 01" "Track 02" etc. and with blank album names. So I can't tell apart one imported CD from another and the tracks become lost, one mix CD indistinguishable from another.

The workaround, by the way, is to select all the tracks on the CD (don't wait for them to be imported, this works with an import in progress), select File/Get Info, say "Yes" to the scary confirmation dialog, then enter the name of the mix into the album field and hit "OK." Now you'll be able to pull up the mix CD just by typing the name into the iTunes search field while browsing your music library. If you feel like naming the tracks, you can do that later, whenever.

Amazon's feedback loop sucks

Speaking of the ways in which Amazon sucks, I have probably spent upwards of $2,000 on that site so far this year. I wanted to send them feedback (a few months ago) about the ridiculous amount of packaging they use, which not only fells trees but takes up wayyy too much space on trucks and planes thus contributing to global warming.

Same thing tonight, I wanted to bitch about the product "In Stock" lie.

They really don't want to hear feedback from customers. Nothing you can find on the site, no form, no email address, nothing.

Amazon's crappy checkout design

No, the checkout would be the wrong place to tell me your partner store is entirely out of stock of what I ordered, Amazon. Thanks for wasting my time.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Your grocery-store data, shared

Get-rich tip: Be the first grocery store to provide a digital purchase history to customers, for use in household planning.

This would actually convince me to use a frequent-shopper card and provide accurate information for it. Every time I made a purchase, a record (in some open standard format) would be emailed to an address of my choosing. In this fashion, I could build a household food database.

A sufficiently sophisticated grocery chain could even make the purchase history available via Web app, though the email option should still be there so other tools could be used.

An ambitious customer could even use a handheld scanner at home on items as they are thrown away. This would allow you to have an accurate, available-from-anywhere database of what is in your fridge and/or pantry. A scanner would also allow you to scan in purchases from other retailers (i.e. wine from your local wine shop, cheese from the cheese shop, etc).

And of course you could enter data in manually. With the right interface, this wouldn't be such a pain. With one click, for example, you could record the repurchasing of anything you've ever bought before.

If a bar-code scanner were built into an iPhone or Blackberry, one could quickly check whether a particular item is already in the cupboard at home, or even find out if one is being charged a reasonable price.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Photoshop Elements: Truly Awful

Oh God, I finally got Photoshop Elements installed and now (right this second, actually, I'm in the middle of a shift) I'm trying to use it. Oh please kill me. 

Thank god I spent $1000 on this 30-inch monitor so Adobe could fill the screen with its atrocious interface. That's right: There's no way to keep Photoshop from hogging the entire screen! Even if you have a big monitor. 

Of course Adobe doesn't tell you this when you buy the product. One of the Amazon reviews mentioned it, but I read another review elsewhere that implied this setting could be changed. Ars Technica: "the default behavior of the editing workspace is a 'maximized' view..." Uh, no, not the DEFAULT behavior. The only behavior! And the only way I know is this more honest online review.

There's also nothing in the sparse Photoshop documentation, and Barbara Brundage's "Missing Manuals" book is useless on this topic, I guess she couldn't fit in a discussion of the 2560-pixel-wide elephant in the room while gushing about how "cool" this program is.

Not that I'm bitter!

(Disclaimer: I'm bitter.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Photoshop Elements 6 Support Sucks

I need an image editor for work to do basic things like selectively blurring text in documents and putting a couple of images side-by-side. Not rocket science, but every week it seems like there's more I need to do.

Many people encouraged me to simply pirate Adobe Photoshop. I don't believe in doing that sort of thing, and I've heard good things about Adobe Photoshop Elements, which costs about $80, so I bought it. Out of my own pocket, since I'm a contractor.

Today I went to install it. Here, in full, are the directions, provided by Adobe:

"Close any Adobe applications open on your computer. Insert the installation disc into your DVD drive and follow the on-screen instructions."

Well, guess what? When you insert the DVD, NOTHING HAPPENS.

OK, so I open the Readme file. This contains NO INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO INSTALL THE SOFTWARE. There is a section called "INSTALLING" but -- whoops! -- it never actually explains how to, uh, do the install. It just lists system requirements, some things you're not allowed to do and some things that might go wrong.

Normally, I would just drag the App on the DVD to the Applications folder on my hard drive. But 1. there's a bunch of different folders and icons and 2. Adobe Elements is known to not use this Mac convention.

I go looking through the manual for a phone number to call. There is none. IM? None. Email address? None. AT LEAST A WEB URL?? NO!!

OK Adobe, you don't think it's worth it to support me at $80. Why would I ever spend $800 with you? Oh right, because you're the only game in town. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Want to buy single magazines through iTunes or Amazon

I stopped my Fortune subscription several weeks ago due to time constraints, but I'd love to buy just the issue with Steve Jobs on the cover (see Gruber and FSJ for details). Fortune's publisher Time Inc. should make buying a magazine as easy as buying a song on iTunes. Better yet, actually sell magazines through iTunes since I already have an account there. Or Amazon.

And yes I'm talking about a physical paper magazine, not a stupid PDF or whatever. Mail it to my house, bill my credit card. This would be much preferable to trying to hunt the specific issue down in stores or signing up for an unneeded subscription that clutters my house, adds a little stress to my life and hurts the environment.

Over the course of a year I may very well end up spending as much as or more than I would have on a subscription. I'm fine with that.

As I've said before, the print media business will recover only once publications start paying attention the basics, like how they are sold and distributed.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Improved ecto support for Blogger

Picture 3.pngThough all indications are that Blogger's API still sucks because it does not allow image uploading, the blogging application I use, ecto, has worked around this by uploading my images to Flickr automatically when I drag them into my posts. This is not ideal, since it pollutes my Flickr feed with random images for my blog, but it's better than no images.

I'm going to stick with Blogger for this blog because I don't have the energy to move it and ecto in version 3 is now much more smooth about working around Blogger's image limitations. It also now supports tagging in Blogger.

If/when Tumblr supports apps like ecto, I will move the blog off Blogger.

(UPDATE: Another way Blogger sucks with ecto and other third-party tools: If you have Blogger set to "convert linebreaks" in the standard online Blogger posting form, that setting will *also* apply to posts from ecto, even though they are sent in HTML via the API. When you change this setting to work properly with ecto, it makes all your prior posts screwy. Dumb dumb dumb. If your blog is short, just republish all your old posts via ecto and you are golden.)

How to get rich with OPML in three easy steps

opml-icon-64x64.pngI continue to be fascinated by OPML thanks to my new job, where I deal with OPML files a lot. Late last night I couldn't stop thinking about OPML-related products. I am now convinced this format will revolutionize search and social media.

Here is how I would beat Google (at search) and get rich using OPML, had I the time:

  1. Build an RSS reader that supports "live" OPML subscriptions using OPML URLs, as discussed here, with the ability to pull in arbitrary sections of the outline. It should similarly support "live" OPML export.

  2. Figure out who people's friends are and where their friends' OPML files live. We care about these files even if they are not being viewed in the reader in any way. One way to find these files by allowing people to specify their friends ala social networking. If their friend uses your reader, you already have an OPML file for the person.

  3. Build a search engine off of this reader that is personalized for each user. It searches all your feeds, of course, but it also searches your imported OPML feeds, then your non-imported friend OMPL feeds, then the cosmos of sites/URLs closely related to all these feeds, then the Internet at large.

The key idea here is to augment Google's PageRank with something I'll call FeedRank.

PageRank ranks pages based on the number of links to each page. FeedRank ranks pages based on how close they are to your feed reader.

FeedRank gives heaviest priority to your feeds, next-highest to feeds of others (OPML) you subscribe to (live OPML folders), then the feeds of others who are like you (OPML of your friends). Only then does it look at links on the Internet.

FeedRank is more resistant to tampering than PageRank, because while PageRank ranks baded on links culled from the entire Web, including tons of sites placed there with the intention of gaming PageRank, FeedRank would contain the crucial added information of who you personally have chosen to trust OPML is key to the concept because it it allows you to increase the number of feeds in your cosmos by an order of magnitude thus providing fuel for FeedRanking. Note that while you'll want to read some of the OPML feeds (ala Dave Winer's Reading Lists idea, which I call "live OPML folders"), others will just be in your account for purposes of building your personal search engine.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Apple lies about AirPort

Here is where Apple lies, blatantly and repeatedly, about the Airport Extreme and how it can share your external hard drive. "Turn your external USB hard drive into a drive you can share with all the users on your network."

Then when you try and actually hook your hard drive up to the $180 router and you get an error message, you find out it doesn't support external drives for the latest versions of Windows like XP, 2000 and Vista (those using NTFS, the modern standard for Windows hard drives). NOWHERE did Apple disclose this, not online and not in the damn manual for the product.

An honest marketing pitch would read, "Turn your external USB hard drive into a drive you can share with all the users on your network by reformatting it and destroying all the data."

Oh and of course they've already obsoleted this product.

Oh and also? This "easy to use" brand new router didn't work with the software that shipped with my brand new Mac. I had to install a second AirPort Utility beyond the one already on the hard drive.

And no I'm not going to format the drive, it contains all the data from my old computer, and from at least two online accounts.

(PS Not even the tech specs of Airport Extreme divulge that NTFS is not supported.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blogger sucks with ecto, so I'm leaving Blogger

I'm going to have to move this site off Blogger, I use ecto, which rocks, and Blogger (run by Google) doesn't allow uploading of images from ecto or anything else using its third-party API.

Jesus Google, easy images is the single biggest reason to use a third-party app in the first place. Why did you bother even building the API??

Anyway, not a big deal. Blogging is just the single most important medium for human communication in the future. Not anything Google needs to be competitive at. Or, like, build a platform for.

(I am about 2X faster, at least, in ecto than through a Web interface, including Blogger's.)

Google Reader's OPML support sucks, here's how to fix it

At my new gig I deal a lot with OPML files, and Google Reader blows at this, here's how to fix (Chris Wetherell, it's not enough that you lent me sound equipment for my wedding, now I expect you to do custom software work for me too ;->):

  • Allow me to view an OPML file on the Web live, as a folder, in Reader. I have an OPML list I have to reimport every couple weeks and it's annoying, I have to delete the old feeds associated with the prior version of the OPML file and then save the file to my hard drive then import the new feed then tag the imported feeds. The person sending me the file should just be able to update it on his Web server and the changes propagate instantly to Reader.

  • Tag or otherwise group imported OMPL instead of just dumping into my account with no way to see what's newly imported. This is so basic.

  • Allow me to export just a folder as OPML, not everything under the sun. And sharing on the Google Reader network is no substitute for this feature, my buddies/coworkers are not all on Reader.

  • Likewise, allow me to import just one (or N) sections of a particular OPML file.

  • Allow me to export a particular folder as OPML url, not just as a file.

OPML is one of those things that seems like an esoteric feature until you really, really need it and then you need it bad, working properly and smoothly, full featured.

The blogs I read when time is precious

I have been working very long days and had no time to read for pleasure for two or three weeks. Here are the blogs I read when I had bout an hour to spare, basically my absolute favorite blogs:

  • Joel On Software
  • Steve Yegge
  • Daring Fireball
  • Philip Greenspun
  • Paul Graham
  • Scripting News
  • Signal Vs. Noise
I am such a massive nerd.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm blogging for Gawker

Read about it on my other personal blog, Covers.

But ignore the part about less blogging; I actually have a ton of stuff lined up for the Hack, and now that I'm using ecto my posting here will probably become more frequent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How MacBook Air sucks

Though I still think MacBook Air will rule all notebooks, Paul Boutin today raises the smartest argument against its success: it can't get online via cellular networks, as the iPhone can.

Pretty lame for an ultra-mobile product with "Air" in the name and with an easy market in iPhone owners. At the very least, Apple should enable MacBook Air to use an iPhone net connection via bluetooth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MacBook Air will rule all notebooks

The MacBook Air unveiled by Apple today is generating plenty of geek skepticism, but I predict the following:
  • It will become Apple's best-selling notebook by the end of the 2008 holiday season and will rank as one of the top 5 selling notebooks in the U.S.
  • A disproportionate share of sales will be to women.
  • A disproportionate share of sales will be to iPhone owners.
  • MacBook Air will replace the original MacBook within 18 months and, eventually, a larger version will replace the MacBook Pro 15.
  • By the end of 2010, the MacBook Air will be the best-selling notebook in the country. (It may have been renamed just "MacBook" at that point.)
Yes, it costs about $700 more than a regular MacBook, and is less functional since it lacks an optical drive. And a swappable battery, and an Ethernet port, and probably some other things most people don't care about.

This will not matter. People will pay. And then the price will come down, and more people will pay. And so forth.

It's not about the specs, which are good enough, it's about fashion, design and aesthetics.