Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I'm getting a headache

It's been a very slow day without any caffeine whatsoever. About all I've been able to accomplish is posting some more photos to my photoblog. I really need some tea or something...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Distractions for the masses

Jeebus! I have been so swamped with work I haven't had time to post anything at all in forever. But here's a bunch of funny videos and websites I've been collecting for the past week...

Japanese TV
This is freakin' awesome. If you're familiar with MTV's Jackass (hi Ynnej and Mr. Attitude!), for the first couple minutes of this TV clip, you may think this is just a Japanese version of the dress-up-as-an-old-man-and-freak-people-out gag. But there's a twist.

"Romance of the Jedi"
Star Wars as homoerotic love story.

"This Place Sucks"
Superfriends meets "Office Space."

"The Donald Rumsfeld Week in Review"
Evidence that he's starting to crack.

Arnold's Neighborhood
If Sesame Street were in Sacramento, it would be brought to you by the letters GOP.

What would it be like if you released 10,000 superballs at the top of a hill in San Francisco?

Speaking of colorful
I have no idea what the hell this is, but I spent the last 25 minutes playing with it. Somebody at work described at as "Tellitubbies on acid."

And there will undoubtedly be more, based on this news item:

"...Viacom-owned Comedy Central will launch a broadband video channel on November 1. The channel will feature short, original-content videos produced specifically for the site, as well as clips from shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. And there goes the workday..."

Filed under: humor, Flash, videos, distractions

Monday, October 24, 2005

Test post directly from Flock

Flock is a new browser. It features, among other things, an in-browser blog posting interface. It automatically connected to my Blogger account and posted this entry (assuming it works) to my blog without me having to go to Blogger first. More about Flock later...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Apple's Oct 12 product announcements deconstructed

Edit: TUAW reports that you can burn videos purchased from the iTMS straight from the Finder.

Edit: TUAW thinks the jump from 5 to 6 for iTunes is a slapdown to JHymn, the software that strips Apple's FairPlay DRM from files purchased through iTMS.

They may seem trivial on the surface, but when you dig a little deeper into today's product announcements from Apple, you see there's a little more to the story than "just another iPod," and "five TV shows are now available for download through iTunes Music Store." "Only five?" "Yeah." "Um, okay." "Yeah..."

Revamped iMac G5s
There are a lot of significant hardware upgrades (faster video chips, standard SuperDrive, etc.) under the hood of the new iMacs, but the main thing Steve Jobs touted in his presentation today [Quicktime] was the new built-in iSight. While somewhat disingenuously positioning the videoconferencing capabilities as "new," (c'mon Steve, they're great, but iChat AV's been around since Tiger shipped last year), he demoed the built-in iSight and it's new partner mini-app Photo Booth. But the iSight and iChat videoconferencing are old news. PhotoBooth may be the only item we can call purely new.

Photo Booth
Most of the technology in this little app is standard in plenty of other programs, but now it's all in one place and integrated with using the iSight. Photo Booth allows you to take photos of yourself with the webcam, and includes a bunch of standard effects you can do to the images, like sepia and x-ray, plus some cool ones like an Andy Warhol effect and a bunch of face-warping manipulations that can make you look sorta like the Grinch or a Klingon.

But for my money the coolest thing PhotoBooth does is a function of both the hardware and software working together to solve a common problem with webcams, but with a typically brilliant Apple solution. Webcam photos are almost always poorly lit. The Apple engineers thought about building in a flash, but solved it this way instead: PhotoBooth flashes the computer's entire LCD screen white, making the screen the flash. Genius, I say.

Note: It's unclear whether this effect works with CRT monitors or not; we'll have to wait and see.

The other new thing on the iMac is a standard remote control, but a typically Apple simple one. Looks like a Shuffle, actually. Why a remote? Read on...

Front Row
This new app clearly shows Apple's forward focus on removing the barriers between users and the various media they use. After the introduction of the Mac mini, there was talk that the little box was a perfect home entertainment computer, from which you could serve your iTunes library, your videos and movies, and more. That's probably what Apple's product teams have been thinking all along, and Front Row is obviously another step in that direction.

It's sort of like Dashboard. Elegantly simple, Front Row offers the user instant access to all their entertainment media types, whether it's podcasts, audio books, short movies, long movies, home movies, photos, music, and on and on. Note that I specifically said entertainment media types, because we're not talking PDFs and DOCs here, folks, there's no mention of those in Front Row.

However, Front Row is clearly a v.1 product. For starters, it's a little strange that the top-level of Front Row's interface has just four categories: Music, Videos, DVD, and Photos. This forces podcasts and audio books, for example, into the Music category, which is just plain awkward. Books are not music.

And why are DVDs and Videos separate categories? I suppose it's because one's playing off your hard drive and one's playing off your DVD, but this distinction is hardware-specific, not media specific. They should really have nixed the DVD category and instead included an Audio category, where audio books and podcasts could be found. DVDs should just come up under the Videos category when a disc is inserted. I suppose there's an argument to be made that your DVD could contain photos instead of a movie, but shouldn't Front Row be smart enough to check the filetypes on the inserted disc and then place it in the appropriate category on the fly?

Anyway, Front Row is (presently) available only on the new iMacs, presumably because they're the only ones that ship with the new remote control. And there's no word yet on whether/when this is going to be available on other Macs, nor whether it'll be a free update to Tiger users.

Update Dec 9, 2005: According to this article by Andrew Escobar, Front Row can now be downloaded and installed on any Mac running OS X 10.4.3 (or later), with iLife '05 (for iPhoto support), and iTunes 6.0.1 (or later).

Video iPod
Steve Jobs touted great reviews of the Nano during his announcement today [Quicktime], with nary a mention (not surprisingly) of the problems reported by some users with highly scratched screens. But this didn't prevent Apple from introducing the long-rumored video iPod.

But the early take from many of my office-mates on the new iPod has been lackluster at best. I'm not sure what people expected it to do...was it supposed to beam 3D video into your brain? It's an iPod. With video.

It's not going to be that stellar, people. The size of the screen and the nature of video file sizes is going to prevent any lightspeed jumps for a while. The video feature is really going to be best for plugging the iPod into a TV or computer to show the vids on a larger screen. It's about portability of the videos, not having a great user experience watching tiny movies on a tiny screen.

The new iPod features: TV out, MPEG4, a very bright color screen, a slightly wider screen, a slimmer form-factor (reportedly 12?31% thinner than the older 20GB iPod), and 30GB and 60GB versions.

Related note: The black-and-red U2 limited edition iPod has apparently gone away, now that the new video iPod is available in black as well (although without the red scrollwheel).

iTunes 6
Last but not least, in a PR move worthy of the one Netscape did when it jumped from 4.x to 6, iTunes has gone from version 5, which was only unveiled a few weeks ago, to version 6. Unfortunately, there seem to be few changes. I admittedly haven't updated yet (I'll be holding out a few weeks in light of the problems with 5.0), but the only significant new feature I can discern is the addition of a few TV shows to the iTunes Music Store (iTMS), which is not really a change to the iTunes app itself.

The other changes are also only in iTMS, not the standalone app:

1) "Gifting" (buying iTunes and sending them to someone else). Don't even get me started on whether turning the word "gift" into a verb is a good idea or not.
2) Customer reviews.
A beta feature called Just for you, which is simply personalized recommendations based on your purchasing habits.

The new video content added is rather paltry, if you ask me: 2,000 music videos, 6 Pixar shorts, and 5 Disney/ABC TV shows: "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," and three others of little consequence.

Of course, the savvy among us know that the delivery of Quicktime video was already available in iTMS 5, so this is no big lead forward. There have been numerous music videos available for download for months.

There are also some downsides to the new video offerings:

1) The resolution is only 320x240. Sure, this makes for smaller files and faster downloads, and it is the native resolution for the new video iPod, but it's hardly great quality for playing fullscreen on your computer.

2) Videos are encoded using the Apple's FairPlay DRM, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case there is a limitation on videos that's different from the music you purchase on iTMS: burning videos to a CD or DVD is not allowed at all. So how do you back them up or transfer them to a new machine when you upgrade your computer? Lame.

FYI, download time for a 320x240 one-hour episode (okay, 45� minutes) will purportedly take broadband users about the same amount of time as downloading five full albums. So you'd better have a reliable connection.

Related product note: With the announcement of the new iMacs, the eMac has apparently disappeared from the online Apple Store, and it's unclear whether they will be available in future. As a side note, this would therefore mark the first time that Apple is offering no products with a CRT monitor.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Papercasting is all the rage

Well, okay, maybe not.

In a somewhat anachronistic effort, Sean Gallagher has started a plog papercast (a.k.a. paper log, a.k.a. padcast), which he bills as "dead trees delivered digitally."

By means of a pad, notebook, typewriter, scanner, and traditional weblog software, Gallagher posts his musings just like any other blogger, except not.

Complete with outbound links, comments, trackbacks, and even RSS feeds, all on paper, mind you, Gallagher's idea is one truly for the books.

And some of the scribbling are even quite entertaining. My favorite entry so far, other than the description of how a visiting cat is courting his wife, is the flowchart of his typical day posted on March 9. Although the entry describing dealings with his ex is insightful as well.

Some people haven't gotten the joke, but to me that's just further evidence that humans should probably eat their young.

Edit: I started this post several months ago but never finished it. Since I first visited it, Gallagher has A) changed "plog" to "padcast" to "papercast," and B) apparently moved the backend to WordPress, which has messed up the navigation a little, possibly giving visitors the impression that there are no posts on the monthly archive pages. You just have to click the title to view the entry.

Filed under: blogging, media, distractions, humor

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Buy your whole house at Ikea. No, literally, your whole house.

With BoKlok (I have no idea how to pronounce it), Ikea has entered the market for affordable modern prefab housing, something that Dwell magazine has been covering the resurgence of over the past couple years.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New design for the photoblog

I've been working on a new skin for the Pixelpost-based photoblog I installed last month. It's an iterative process, design, so this screenshot reflects the 8th variation on the theme. One of the major things I'm doing is making the size of the photo a little smaller, so nobody should have to scroll to click the Next or Previous buttons.

I think it's finally done, so I've moved on to the coding part. Since I'm A) doing it all with the cleanest web-standards-based xHTML/CSS I can muster, and B) plugging it in with the PHP from Pixelpost, it's going to be a bit of a slow process. So don't be surprised if the new design doesn't show up for a while. Currently I'm just a couple hours into the semantic markup, so it still looks like this:

"Hexor the Wicked, will you be my prom date?"

How many clich�s can you pack into one movie commercial? Modernhumorist brings us Hexor the Wicked, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford in Commander in Heat [mp3].

Filed under: humor, entertainment, radio

DRM is designed to break campatibility

ZDNet's David Berlind wrote a lengthy article last week complaining that his $20,000 of audiophile equipment can't play the 99� songs he downloads because his system is undermined by Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology embedded in the audio formats.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)'s John Gilmour promptly responded to point out that DRM is designed to break compatability. Gone are the days when you could pop a cassette into the stereo to record that cool new song off the radio, and pass it on to your friend the next day at school (okay, I'm showing my age here with this example, I know).

"It's really simple," wrote Gilmour. "DRM is *designed* to break compatibility. The whole point of DRM is *restrictions*. The point of all previous audio formats was compatability. CDs play on any CD player. Cassettes play or record on any cassette player. Neither one cares what you do with the audio that comes out. By contrast, DRM is designed to prevent the audio from coming out in any way that the oligopoly objects to..."

Ignore my somewhat dated example above and bear with me. DRM is a way to take back control from the consumer. A completely understandable objective from the corporations' standpoint. But if you're a consumer of music, video, books on CD, et al (and who isn't?), you are on the other side. Let me state it bluntly: It's us against Them�.

As Gilmour points out, it's up to consumers to revolt to turn back the tide. The EFF is a great place to start.

Filed under: activism, tech, media, music, movies

Monday, October 03, 2005

Stewie Live

When I see these sorts of interactive applications on the web, I always wonder if I just have a really short attention span or if everyone else also gets bored after 25 seconds of telling Stewie to dance and poo and fart. And then I wonder how much the company spent on an interactive agency to make this application, and my mind boggles. [Flash]

Filed under: animation, distractions, entertainment, Flash, humor

Remember to re-register to vote if you've moved

Election day is less than a month away, which means (in California anyway) that you've got about ten more days to re-register if you've moved recently (hello Velma, Jason, Phu, Andi, Jake, Jenny, Aaron, Nyte, Holly, and Chris!). Unless of course you want vote in a place you no longer live in (me? been there, done that... no fun — too much driving involved).

For those in CA, you can use this online form from the Secretary of State's office for a few more days before you'll be forced to go hunting down PDFs online to print and mail in. Fortunately, you can also use the form to apply for an absentee voter form. In fact, you can check a box for "permanent absentee voter," and they'll mail you a form before every election. Good deal.

Filed under: politics, activism

Jon Stewart on politics as marketing

"Ultimately, people would respond a lot better to being treated like adults ... if politics wasn't treated like marketing. Every few years Hollywood produces a film, whether it is Warren Beatty's 'Bulworth' or Chris Rock's 'Head Of State,' in which a presidential candidate goes off-message, tells it like it is, and the voters respond warmly. The last time we saw anyone try this was Howard Dean and he was dismissed for his lack of polish. But who said that? The polishers."

The UK's Guardian has a good article on Jon Stewart.

Filed under: humor, politics, media

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Joke of the Day

George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld are flying on Air Force One.

The President looks at the Vice President, chuckles and says, "You know, I could throw a $1,000 bill out the window right now and make somebody very happy."

The Vice President shrugs and says, "Well, I could throw ten $100 bills out the window and make ten people very happy."

Not to be out done, the Secretary of Defense says, "Of course, I could throw one-hundred $10 bills out the window and make a hundred people very happy."

The pilot rolls his eyes and says to his co-pilot, "Such big-shots back there... hell, I could throw all of them out the window and make 56 million people very happy."

Filed under: distractions, humor