Geek Smithology

February 17, 2009

Microsoft just doesn’t get it.

Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 10:05 pm

You know, we like to put Microsoft down all the time. We all remember the hilarious “If Microsoft designed the iPod box” video[1], and those excellent points about how the Zune marketing discusses how many gigabytes it can hold, while the iPod lets you know how many songs it will hold. Hell, even I occasionally wonder what they are smoking. But, let’s face it, Microsoft really makes it too damn easy.

There are seven (that’s right, 7) different versions of Windows 7. Insert your own joke.

[1] Yes, I am perfectly aware that the parody originated within Microsoft. I chalk it up to frustrated designers and the old maxim “It’s funny because it’s true.”

February 10, 2008

No Wonder I Can’t Find a Wii!

Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 11:08 pm

According to this Gamasutra article, Nintendo sold 17 Wiis per second in 2007 during the few times they were in stock. That’s crazy talk – the only thing I can do that many times in one second is think of 17 better ways Colorado could’ve saved their money when they traded for Theo Fleury in ’98.

February 3, 2008

Blue Server of Death

Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 4:49 pm


Here is the OS X information display for a Windows(tm) server. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

October 25, 2006

Firefox 2 – it’s the little things

Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 9:57 pm

As most of my fellow hoi polloi out in geekland are aware, Firefox 2.0 has arrived (Go get it if you haven’t). While spell checking and a real interface for search engine management are appreciated, I’ve always been a fan of the little things…

Scant moments ago I was browsing the web with a plethora of tabs (as I am wont to do) and in a moment of passion decided to click a link that normally would open a new window, but that under the spell of the mighty InfernoDog merely opens a new tab[1]. After a quick scan to suck the marrow from yet another html bone, I right-clicked and drew an ‘L’ on my screen[2] and was returned to the tab from which I launched the link that opened the tab that I had just closed. Old school Firefox would’ve just dumped me to the closest tab in the same cruel way that an angry fisherman disposes of a rancid clam, leaving me to flail about my abundant tabbage desperately trying to regain my derailed train of thought.

I’ve spent some time writing about how the best software gets out of our way and lets us do something, and this is a fitting real world example. So bravo Firefox, for doing something that should have been part of the browser since I opened that cursed third tab back in Mozilla 1.0

[1] Something 2.0 does by default – how thoughtful.
[2] For those who haven’t discovered the repetitive stress injury reducing nirvana of mouse gesturing, this will close a tab

September 5, 2006

Unusable at any Speed

Filed under: Craft of Dev,Industry by Nathan @ 8:56 pm

Just a little while after I praised eBay for their outstanding search UI, I get the following message:

bad error message

Here I thought I was adding a message to my auction that would be sent as email. However, apparently some unfrozen caveman user hater at eBay would rather I spend a few unprofitable seconds as amateur copy editor, constricting myself to some strange circle of hell in which the content I am allowed to place onto the internet and into an email cannot contain text that is valid on the internet and in email. They did throw a nice cherry of insult on top of this delicious sundae of injury by placing the following friendly text in the edit window:

Note: The user you are contacting is registered on another eBay site and may speak a different language. Your message will be sent exactly as typed below.

Evidently, there is some dimension in which the grammatical laws of our everyday world do not apply, and exactly has some alternate meaning of which I am unaware. There are no excuses for not allowing HTML, quotes, or asterisks. Oh wait, there are a thousand and one exuses…starting with, oh, I don’t know…lazy developers who hate their users and think that telling me I need to strip HTML, quotes, and asterisks in an error message AFTER I’VE HIT SEND constitutes due dilligence in the interaction design department. So I’ll amend that to say there are no defensible excuses for not allowing HTML, quotes, or asterisks.

Remember, our applications are not there to be admired for how well they are implemented, but to get the f**k out of the way so users can DO SOMETHING INTERESTING! So the next time you’re developing a web form, don’t make the users think about how to enter their phone number or credit card information, make it obvious.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If your app isn’t helping your users kick ass, then chances are that they’ll want to kick yours.

August 16, 2006

Usability in Real Life

Filed under: Craft of Dev,Industry by Nathan @ 8:10 pm

It may bruise our raging developer egos, but here’s the thing: users don’t care how smart we are. They don’t care how sweet our technology is, and they don’t care how intuitive our application is. They do care about what they can accomplish.

Amazon does not have the coolest web store interface out there (not even close.) But I know that I can go from thinking hmmm, I want a copy of Agile Retrospectives to having it ordered in under two minutes. So I don’t go anywhere else.

Another site I spend a lot of time on (I’m an online shopping junkie – where’s the support group?) is eBay, and when an innocent search turned up no results, I was pleasantly surprised by the ensuing screen, which I present here:

What tickled me pink (manly pink, of course)? Well…

    • The results of the search are highlighted
      Rather than a generic try other search terms, it illustrates (with a nice strikethrough effect) permutations of my search terms
      It lets me access any of these alternative searches with a single click
      It asks me if I want an email when there are results for my search
  • No ads. No push your browser’s back button and try again. No maybe you want this instead. I was trying to find something, and eBay is doing its darnedest to help me find it. The result? Stickiness. Ergo today’s moral:

    Users want to get things done. The software that gets out of the way and helps them get it done wins.

    July 8, 2006

    Cool (As in Miles Davis) Geeks

    Filed under: Industry,Sound by Nathan @ 5:18 am

    Just caught this post over at Chris Pirillo’s blog with this video of a geek jam session @ gnomedex — a servicible rendition of All Blues. I have only one thing to say to snobby jazz musicians that want to cut it down – the code review is tomorrow 😉

    Anyway, as a bit of an artist myself, it’s cool to see another side of geekery

    April 20, 2006

    SOA – Who cares?

    Filed under: Craft of Dev,Industry by Nathan @ 9:14 pm

    …’SOA’ might have meant something once but now it’s just vendor bullshit.

    So relates Tim Bray in a recent blog post, and I say “hear, hear!” Whether an open SOAP layer over a JMS queue or a RESTful HTTP GET from one Perl CGI script to another, anyone that’s been in the trenches for a few years has done SOA.

    Yet, the architecture astronauts have struck again, claiming that every system and process can be reduced to a series of “services.” But this abstraction is so high (and leaky) that businesses are lead to believe that unless they spend thousands of dollars on middleware and employ a team of EAI surgeons, they are doomed. I admit that these solutions can be appropriate, but I also smell charlatans with hammers seeing a lot of nails. Eventually ESBs and MOM will go the way of the RDBMS, making the transition from proprietary goldmine for experts to commodity for the masses. Even now there are open source alternatives (like Mule) emerging.

    So what’s the point? We, as an industry, need to stop pushing architectures to proselytize on behalf of vendors, and start producing solutions based on what our clients actually need. And when the next “paradigm shifting” tool arrives, we don’t hold it high as the new aegis under which we play upon FUD to fill industry coffers.

    Rather, we relegate the gewgaw to the toolbox — where it belongs.

    September 14, 2005

    Microsoft is good at some things…

    Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 12:47 am

    I know that in certain circles it’s de riguer to hate Microsoft. (Or Micro$oft, or Microshit, or whatever the 1337 Gates-haters are calling it today.) But in certain areas, they are obviously kicking serious ass – not only in terms of raw dollars, but the products themselves. I like Visio (yeah, I know MSFT bought Visio, but Google bought keyhole, so whatever.) And as much as I’d like to switch to Open Office, I just can’t stand to use it. And you know what else? I’ve even found that WinXP can be a tolerable Java development environment (provided you install a good bash shell and related utilities, like Cygwin) although I will never, ever prefer it to linux.

    What’s the point of this? Just that Microsoft has unveiled some screenshots from the next version of Office, called Office 12. I think it looks amazing and I’m actually excited about it — far more excited than I am about Vista[1]. It sounds like they’ve actually listened to what some people don’t like, and from a usability/sexiness standpoint, it looks mighty fine.

    If Open Office wants to get a share of any kind of mainstream pie, this is the standard to which they must rise. It doesn’t take precision instruments to measure just how huge the gap is at present.

    [1] How many freaking versions does a product need, anyway? Apparently seven…

    July 23, 2005

    A Bourne Chuckle Due East

    Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 10:22 pm

    Middle East that is (yeah, the title is weird but I was attempting to be artistic – think about it!) Anyway, came across a different look at the war on terror over @ Sun Ray blog and thought it was pretty funny.

    For hardcore Unix nerds only, although I’m sure linux folks will like it, even if it’s just Bourne, not Bourne Again.

    July 22, 2005

    Longhorn to become Vista

    Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 10:08 pm

    [man walks into a software store, Bruce McCulloch is behind the counter playing his “Doors Fan” clerk]

    Clerk: You know that new Depeche Mode album? It sucks.
    Clerk: You know that new Happy Mondays album? I don’t know if there is one, but if there is? It sucks.
    Clerk: You know the new name for windows? It sucks.

    “Clear, confident, connected.” So goes the tagline for the next version of Windows, now officially called (wait for it…) Vista!!! It’s not April, so I guess it’s serious; as Shatner and Rollins might say, I can’t get behind that.

    While I’m sure it’s meant to inspire, I can’t get the image of some rusty old Vista Cruiser wagon out of my head. You know the kind — rusted and bloated, needs a screwdriver crammed into the carb to start, and doesn’t even come with WinFS. Kinda like, well, this:

    1968 Vista Cruiser
    The new windows?

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