Measuring Scooter

To illustrate a bug in Apple’s Preview 3.0 concerning the display of image dimensions, I will use the Man of the Hour, I. Lewis “Five Indictments” Libby:

Scooter Libby

As you can see in the Document Info window, the dimensions are 200 x 297.

Now I crop the image a bit and save the changes to disk…

Libby image cropped

The image dimensions don’t update until the image is reopened.

Libby image with proper dimensions

How cropping the image increased the file size is a mystery to me.

Waterfall's iVideo

In my continuing search for a movie organizer, I took a look at Waterfall Software’s iVideo 3.

Comments based on version 3.0.1.

Cool Stuff

  1. Clean default interface — not too many buttons and good functional grouping.
  2. Visually attractive yet unobtrusive playback controls.
  3. Bonjour sharing! Given the similarity to the feature in iTunes, I imagine this feature could be quite popular in college dorms.

First Launch

  1. Since iVideo can track movie files that are moved, it might be better to transparently use aliases by default while giving advanced users the option of moving or copying movie files through the Library preference pane. How the movie files are referenced by iVideo is an implementation detail that many users are not likely to be interested in changing. As long as their movies play, they don’t care.
  2. Ask the user if they would like iVideo to search for and import movies it discovers. Starting at ~/Movies/ would probably be reasonable. Populating the Library with the user’s movies would immerse them in the application right away rather than first having to either discover the movie scanning feature on their own or manually add their movies.
  3. Use [Cancel] …space… [Go Back] [Continue] button ordering to allow users to revisit earlier screens.
  4. If you keep the movie file storage/reference method selector on the 2nd screen: “Move the original movie files as needed” – be explicit.
  5. While the application is unregistered, it would be nice if the drive scanner allowed the user to choose which 10 of the located movies to add to their library.

General Suggestions

  1. Consider dropping the pinstripes for the unified look found in Mail and NetNewsWire 2.0. This apparently requires more custom coding, but it does make for a more visually pleasant interface. The mockup I did for MovieGallery illustrates how this could work for iVideo.
  2. Placing the view switching controls in the header of the main pane would mean one less button on the toolbar and a more logical placement. This would also make room to expose the sorting options via a pop-up menu in the Thumbnail and Gallery views. The List view has columns which obviate the need for such a menu.
  3. The Keywords pane should be obvious; a split design would work. The “i” button should not do three different things!
  4. For ratings below 5 stars in Gallery view, the empty star spots should be filled with bullets to keep the alignment stable. The stars sliding to the left to accommodate a bullet when selected is a bit irritating.
  5. If a single movie and a folder containing several movies are dropped on the Dock icon, they should all be imported.
  6. As with the Movie menu, the contextual menu for movies in playback mode should include the “Set Preview to Current Frame” command at the bottom.
  7. When adding a movie to a playlist via drag-and-drop, the Add cursor should be displayed.
  8. Include the number of selected movies in the status line at the bottom of the window.

Menu Organization

The menu items are generally well labeled, but the organization needs work. I created an Interface Builder nib of my suggested menu structure which is much easier to understand than the textual descriptions that follow.

File (Playlist)

  1. Consider moving the movie-specific commands to the Movie menu and re-titling the File menu Playlist.
  2. Group related commands; playlist creation and movie additions.
  3. According to decades of Macintosh convention and the Human Interface Guidelines, the File menu should always contain a Close command. This is wrong. The Close command belongs where you (and OmniWeb 5) have it: with the other window manipulation commands in the Window menu. In the File menu, the noun-verb relationship is wrong; the command applies to windows, not files. Rant over.

View

  1. Provide keyboard shortcuts for the view modes; T for Thumbnails, G for Gallery, L for List. Command-L is currently assigned to the Loop command, but that could be changed to Shift-Command-L. I would think the view switching commands would be more frequently used than the Loop command, so the benefits outweigh the disruption of the change.
  2. The Toggle Information item should be dynamically titled; “Show Information” when the pane is hidden, “Hide Information” when it is shown.
  3. In the Arrange Movies sub-menu, make Randomly an item separate from the ordered arrangement methods.
  4. The Set Preview to Picture (or Frame) command affects how user’s see the window’s content, so it can go in the View menu.

Movie

  1. Group related commands; playback settings at the top and movie file actions at the bottom.
  2. Use Command-Delete rather than simply Delete to lower the likelihood of accidentally moving a movie to the Trash. Adding the modifier key would probably make it safe to remove the “Are you sure you want to empty the Trash?” dialog. By using a two-key keyboard command, you can reasonably assume that movies were intentionally moved to the Trash. Undo and Redo should also be supported for the Move to Trash command.
  3. The Move to Trash command should display the keyboard shortcut symbols.
  4. Add an Export Movies command with Command-E as the shortcut. This removes the currently modal Export command found in the File menu.
  5. If technically possible, playback speed and playback direction should be separated.
  6. Again, if possible, allow Option to modify the Open With command to Always Open With. Some movies may play more smoothly in applications other than the default player. Having to manually select an alternate player every time is tedious.
  7. Change the Loop shortcut to Shift-Command-L to make Command-L available as a shortcut for List view.
  8. Place the Move to Trash command here rather than in the File (or Playlist, as I suggest) as it applies only to movies; playlists cannot be moved to the Trash.

Preferences

  1. It’s not specifically recommended by the HIG, but enabling Escape to close the Preferences window (used in Mail and QuickTime Player, among others) would be handy.
  2. Assign Command-[ and Command-] to move through the panes. This improves keyboard accessibility (implemented in iTunes).

Playback

  • A Remember Playback Position preference would be useful. This would allow users to return to the last displayed frame between viewings. Along with this preference, you could set the thumbnail to the last displayed frame.

Sharing

  • “Look for shared movies” – you might as well use the same wording as iTunes and iPhoto.

Waterfall is a good Weather Report song. Just thought I’d tell you.

MovieGallery

I’m still looking for a good movie management application. MovieGallery, from Sweden’s Bitfield AB, provides most of the features I want; ratings, playlists (manual and smart), and different ways to view my collection (as thumbnails or a list), etc. The biggest functionality gap I see is the lack of support for movie formats not supported by QuickTime. Adding support for Real, DivX, and Windows Media Video is probably more difficult than QuickTime, but it really is a must if the application is to be a comprehensive movie manager.

Comments and suggestions based on MovieGallery version 1.3.2.

Continue reading MovieGallery

Fahrenheit 9/11

Not as heavy-handed as Bowling For Columbine, and rather funny in places. I recommend it — because I hate America.

Metadata Hootenanny

This application could be described as “iTunes for Video,” something that doesn’t quite come across in the actual name. I would love to see the features of this application, Cellulo, and Chronopath’s Library combined to form one application where I could catalog and access video. To my knowledge, no one has really created a video analog to iTunes.

Suggestions

Many of these are features which iTunes implements that would also work well in Hootenany. Apple obviously has more resources to throw at iTunes than the developer of Metadata Hootenany does, so I don’t expect every single one to appear. I choose to err on the side of optimism.

  1. Per-playlist column display and sizing.
  2. A column display selector more like the Finder and iTunes. The drop-down menu prevents multiple selections, a useful feature when creating playlists in which you know exactly what information you want displayed.
  3. Star ratings.
  4. Alternating colored rows in the Info editor view.
  5. Automatically size the column widths to display the full titles of all of the Category items.
  6. Some keyboard navigation of the Info window fields would be useful. Up/down arrows and tabbing through fields come to mind. Command-left/right as keyboard shortcuts to the Previous/Next buttons would also be nice.
  7. The +/- buttons would be better positioned on the same vertical level as the view mode switching widget. This would allow the Source pane to be completely collapsed without the buttons vanishing. The – button should be disabled when the pane is closed to prevent users from accidentally deleting a playlist.
  8. The Shuffle button could be moved down to the right of the +/- buttons.
  9. Double-clicking on the Source pane resize handle should toggle is between collapsed and the last user-specified size.
  10. As in iTunes, the volume/playback controls and status display don’t really need titles.

The Return of the King

Warning: spoilage ahead.

There is one scene that ought to be completely removed: after Sam and Frodo are rescued from the volcanic outcropping by the gigantic eagles, Frodo is shown recovering in bed, stub bandaged and on his way to good health. At this point, the cheesiest and most predictable scene of the movie begins. Gandalf enters – Elijah Wood puts on the “golly gee, can it be?” look and Gandalf lets out a hearty laugh. Then comes Gimli – ho ho ho! I’m a jolly dwarf! Ho ho ho! The sappy parade continues until the three other hobbits are jumping on the bed and Aragorn and Legolas are standing at the foot of the bed with million watt grins on their faces.

This very short scene didn’t ruin the movie, but it was a disappointment given how good the rest was. If there had been previous moments of corniness (both Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers have a few), I wouldn’t have been surprised or as annoyed by it.

Still an easily recommendable film worth paying even the exorbitant prices theaters charge these days.

Everyone needs an agent!

Imagine an intelligent software agent that can analyze your music library, using song ratings and volume (# of songs/albums, not dB) to determine your musical tastes (genres, artists, composers). Your agent could then monitor when favorite artists will be performing in your area (pulling ZIP information from your address book), or when a favorite composer’s work will be performed by a local ensemble, optionally checking for conflicts using your calendar.

After confirming that you are indeed interested in attending an event, the agent would then create a tentative calendar event with details like online ticketing address, location (which could link to driving directions/maps, optionally transferred to your car via a wireless connection), and the names of anyone you have invited to this event.

Eventually, an intelligent entertainment agent could notify you of movies, plays, and gallery/museum showings as well as musical events. The needed movie data could be gathered from several sources:

  • Personal Video Recorders: Tivo, MythTV, ReplayTV, etc.
  • Netflix queues
  • Rental records from major renters: Blockbuster, Hollywood Video.
  • Intelligent DVD players (currently [as far as I know] a figment of my imagination): connect to IMDB, allow you to store ratings.

The best source would be that which allows for the most meta-data; probably P/DVRs, which can store information downloaded from online guides such as the IMDB and/or manually input. Aside from Netflix, I don’t know if there are APIs for accessing rental store records.

The agent would analyze actors, directors, genre, year, view count, and personal ratings to determine your cinematic tastes (or lack thereof :-). If you have highly rated all of Cameron Crowe’s films and seen them several times, the agent would know that you may be interested in his upcoming film.

Theater performances and visual arts exhibitions are more difficult – where do you enter your “ratings” for these events? Weblogs are one potential repository for this sort of information – write an entry about a play or exhibit you saw and assign it an out-of-five star rating. Categorization and keywords could also serve as organizational metrics to be used by your personal entertainment agent.

Current problems:
  • City guide sites (AOL Digital City, Citysearch) provide event information, but I don’t think they have open APIs for non-browser user agents. Also, personally bookmarked pages could serve as sites for your agent to check – this would require the below…
  • Scheduling information for events is generally not available in a standardized format. I believe the iCal standard (possibly the reformulation in XML) could serve as such.

I imagine this fits under the rubric of the “Semantic Web,” in which intelligent software uses networked data sources and personal information to perform tasks for you.

Lost In Translation

Good setting, pacing, and casting.

The only scene in the movie that I found lacking was the filming of the television commercial. The Japanese director would give about a minute worth of direction, which the translator would relay to Bill Murray as such simple things as “Look from the right.” This is the stereotypical portrayal of foreign languages – a foreign character will give an extended monologue full of inflection that is then translated into English (sometimes in sub-titles) as “Yes.”

This:

??????????????” ??” ?

Becomes “No.”

(The string of odd characters was a line of Japanese glyphs, but either MT or MySQL doesn’t like Unicode. Phooey.)