Archive for ‘technology’ category

Ballad Lighter 2.0

Observered while watching a televised Duran Duran concert on high definition television: During the retro ballad “Save a Prayer”, instead of holding up the customary lighter, much of the crowd at Wembley Arena raised glowing mobile phones to the air to create the intimate atmosphere that is the “power ballad lighter thing”.

Does this mean that Duran Duran fans are now non-smokers? Or maybe Wembley doesn’t allow smoking. Or maybe everyone was bored and already talking on the phone when the song came on, and it was more convenient to lift that in that in the air, rather than dig out their lighter. And then again, this could mean that the average person is now more likely to have a mobile phone, than a lighter on them (while watching Duran Duran–an extremely scientific metric).

Whatever it means, Duran Duran is still touring–and people with mobile phones like it.

Feed Confusion

I’ve been thinking about feeds lately. Partly because of my recent reshuffling of the feeds here on this site, and equally due to Molly’s recent Where is Your Feed? post.

I merely offer an outsider’s perspective. I don’t study the specs on the 3,749 versions of RSS, nor the newer Atom format, but rather like many of you, I’m a user of these formats.

I realize the debate has been going on for years, with the hopes of creating a single unified standard. But as it stands now, many sites offer a bevvy of formats for the same information: RSS .92, RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, Atom, etc. Here at SimpleBits, I offer both RSS 2.0 and Atom. Movable Type and other publishing engines make it easy to auto-generate these flavors, but frankly I’d be much happier just offering one version and sticking to it. As simple as it is to create templates, it’s still easier to only have to deal with one.

XML/RSS/ATOMBut I’m wondering where this is all going? Will we forever continue to support multiple RSS formats as well as Atom? Is Atom succeding as a successor to RSS? Will this stop people from using the term “RSS” to describe an Atom feed? It’s all very confusing — and that’s coming from someone who actually understands some of this stuff. Orange XML buttons, RSS buttons, Feed buttons — there’s no one standard for naming it, not to mention what format it actually uses.

One could argue that it doesn’t matter — that the CMS does all the heavy lifting, and why should I care if I’m pumping out 20 different files with the same information in them? But that sounds awfully familiar. In the world of web design, we know that it doesn’t have to be that way — that a single lean, meaningful XHTML file can alleviate multi-version hell. We just need that single, lean, meaningful RSS/XMLfeed/Atom file as well. Maybe?

I know that plenty of smart folks are working hard on this stuff every day. I’m just noting the current state of XML feeds (I suppose the only safe name to call all this stuff) as seen by someone who isn’t an expert.

The Cheapening of Music

Not too long ago, a good friend of mine still working in the music business said something that struck me: “music’s been cheapened”. I agreed immediately, not knowing exactly why, but gave it some more thought. It relates to how technology will affect music — not how we listen to music, but how we digest it, buy it, perceive it.

Let me first say that I love the iPod, and the device has even allowed me to rediscover music that was previously boxed away in racks of old CDs. The technology is wonderful, making it so easy to carry around your entire record collection at all times. But is the art of recording an “album” — an LP — in danger? I guess that’s what I’m questioning here.

One of my favorite rituals has always been going to the record store and buying a CD or two. The physical act of purchasing something, taking it home, opening it up, lookng at the artwork, reading the lyrics, etc. Will that become something of the past? Probably. For years we’ve been hearing things like “yeah, but you’ll be able to print out your own artwork to go along with the digital downloads”. Somehow that just doesn’t sound as nice.

The album as an artform

album coversCreating an album — not just a collection of songs, but an entire “experience” has long been an artform in and of itself. It’s part of what got me interested in design early on: studying the packaging design and album artwork of bands and artists I worshipped. The collection and artwork combined with a group of songs recorded within the same time period always seemed like a time capsule of what the band was doing at that moment. But with the ability to buy a single song immediately via the web, will a shift materialize? Will we go back to the days of 7″ 45s, where the single ruled?

When my friend said that he believed music has been cheapened, he was referring to the fact that music is now everywhere. It’s in your cellphone, on the web, on your microwave, TV, toys, etc. It’s even a marketing tool. It’s become easier to get, but will that affect the music itself?

The web site “album”?

What has become crucial is the band’s web site — the depot for news, info, photos, music, videos, etc. It’s possible that the web site will become even more important as digital distribution gains even more steam. Perhaps an “album” will really be a web site devoted to a group of songs released at the same time. Each “album” will stand on it’s own like an archived article.

I don’t have any answers, of course. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. The Compact Disc is the end of the line as far as a physical medium for music — but even as technology progresses, I hope there continues to be a way of relaying the special qualities that only a packaged album can deliver.

Apparently, Mouse Pads are Soo 2004

While checking out at the Apple store recently, I had an interesting conversation:

Me
Do you have any mouse pads?
Apple Guy
Uh, what?
Me
Mouse pads. Do you carry them?
Apple Guy
Mouse pads? *chuckles arrogantly* No, we’ve never carried anything like that.

Oh. But I’m from the camp that thinks they’re a necessity — even when using an optical mouse. Having it slide across the desk without any sort of traction just doesn’t cut it. Not to mention the woodgrain on the desk occassionally throws off the tracking.

So I head over to Office Depot — an office supply superstore. They have mouse pads. But all of them have patterns and designs on them. American flags, Grand Canyon panoramas, Faux water droplets, etc. I can forsee these patterns being a problem for optical tracking. So I leave the store empty handed.

I realize I could order a zillion of them online somewhere with no patterns, perfect for optical mice. But I’m merely documenting an observation, that the value of the mouse pad is just overlooked by so many. And I’m shocked that Apple doesn’t try to capitalize on selling the coolest mouse pad ever created. Someone needs to tap this untapped market that’s been poorly tapped thus far.

I remember buying my first Mac (a Classic II) and it came with a free Apple mouse pad. It was a great one, with a slipperly plastic surface. I wish I still had it, but it’s gone. Where to, I can’t say. perhaps it’s now part of something larger.

PC Mini?

Is there a PC equivalent to the Mac Mini? I’m looking for a cheap PC to run Windows strictly for testing designs. It doesn’t need to be fast, it just needs to be inexpensive, with the smallest footprint possible.

I’ve been using Virtual PC for the Mac for a long time now. It’s convenient and works fine, but it’s dreadfully slow — not to mention the version I have isn’t compatible on newer, dual processor G5s (where I’m sure it’d run faster). So, my other option is: set up a bare bones Windows machine for testing without spending a ton of money and taking up a lot of desk space. Share with us your secrets.

Typecast

Typing was a required course in high school. I hated the class at the time, but boy, am I glad it was required. Typing properly is certainly helpful as far as workflow is concerned. If I hadn’t learned how to type, would I have learned later — or would I be hunting and pecking?

The reason I bring this up, is because I recently witnessed someone hunting and pecking with unbelievable speed. Just using their two index fingers with rapid and forceful precision. I was amazed, and this person was probably typing as fast as I do (using all ten fingers). The noise was incredible — a machine gun ferocity. I don’t recall the delete key being used at all. Impressive.

I would think that capitalization and special characters would be significantly slower using the hunt and peck method, but after witnessing the amazing index finger typist, it seems that it’s possible to keep up with the best of them.

I’m curious, do you type from the home row — or do you hunt and peck?

When Can We Hide From IE5/Win?

Maybe it was the tiramisu talking, but Doug, Ethan and I were having a conversation recently, where we half-joked about hiding styles from IE5/Win. Extreme? Too early? It’s a question I’ve been pondering a bit, and Ethan’s been thinking about it even more, with his decision to hide his site’s CSS from IE5/Mac.

bar graphMy curiosity lies in browser stats. Naturally, here at SimpleBits, I’m told that 2% of all traffic comes here by way of IE5/Win. Surely, a percentage low enough to begin thinking about hiding styles — but the readers here, are highly skewed. What I’m more interested in, is getting a rough estimate on the perecentage of IE5 users across the web in general. What is IE5/Win’s percentage on high-traffic, mainstream sites these days? The number can only be going down.

Thanks to Paul Maiorana, my colleague over at Fast Company, I can tell you that roughly 4% of their users visit FastCompany.com using IE5/Win. The audience for FC is skewed as well, and so my hope is that you’ll do a little investigating of your own, and perhaps we can pull together a non-scientific poll on the state if IE5. Feel free to leave numbers in the comments.

I can remember early on in my experimentation with CSS, thinking it was risky and crazy to hide styles from Netscape 4 — that was years ago, and the amount of users at that time was roughly 2% as well. At what point can we say it’s been long enough for the next browser in line?

IE5/Win’s support of CSS2 is far from perfect, yet it is possible to get things looking close to other standards-aware browsers. But that consistency doesn’t happen without added time, frustration and necessary hacks and workarounds. Up until now, I haven’t thought twice about not trying to get things looking the same in IE5/Win. But can you imagine being Box Model Hack free? Can you imagine just not having to worry about the poor support for CSS that adds a significant amount of time to the development process?

You could also imagine sending IE5/Win a basic set of CSS rules that does everything but layout — much in the way that Doug was suggesting a basic stylesheet that all devices (including handhelds) could render that’s devoid of anything too complicated. IE5/Win is capable of complex CSS — but it comes at a price that we’re all well aware of.

So when will it be time? For me here at this site, it could very well be tomorrow, or next month. 2% is a comfortable number. And that 2% will be always be able to read and use the site without any loss in functionality. We’re never talking about cutting people out, rather we’re talking about moving forward — and perhaps taking as many people along as we can. Lots of questions. Lots to think about.

Transmitting

A few months ago, I wrote about my search for the perfect FTP client — and how I didn’t think it existed yet on OS X. I still don’t. But I’ve recently purchased Transmit from the fine folks at Panic Software and have been giving it a spin.

Transmit iconIt’s fast, responsive and has some nice configurable toolbar options (shortcuts, previewing files, etc.). I still think that the one feature it’s missing (and I’ve emailed a feature request to the company) is a “column view” for navigating server directories, much like that found in the OS X Finder. It’s become such a natural way to view hierarchy for me, and with that feature, Panic would be the best FTP client in the history of FTP clients. For now, it seems to be the best FTP client in the history of FTP clients currently available for OS X.

My main complaint with RBrowser, which I had been using exclusively for a long time, was it’s sluggishness — and inability to transfer large, deep directories without freezing. Transmit wins on the performance meter — hands down.

Also, the icon. It’s one of the better OS X icons I’ve seen. Why? It’s fat and chunky (easy to click) and looks cool when it’s bouncing up and down (if you like that sort of thing happening in your Dock).

BBBetter

For me, BBEdit is one of those applications that I just have too much time invested in. What it does is rather simple, and there are dozens of similar apps out there that accomplish the same thing. But having used BBEdit for so long, exclusively — it’s like an old baseball cap that fits just perfectly after years of wear. It’s just comfortable.
Documents drawer screen shotThat said, I finally upgraded to version 8.0 and have found the single feature that made it worth the purchase: the Documents Drawer. Instead of having multiple windows (one for each file) scattered all over the desktop, they’re now contained in a single window. Toggling between or closing each file is handled in the new drawer that sticks off the side. This is good.
Now, I know what most of you are saying — this feature is in every other text editor out there. And it probably is. Nothing ground-breaking being introduced here. But if you’re a BBEdit user, there is reason for celebration.
I’m sure there are many other new features to be discovered, but this one makes it worth the upgrade alone.