I’ve been playing with the Flash zooming interface demo that is a part of Jef Raskin’s Humane Interface concept. As noted in the demo itself, it is limited and does not reflect the full capabilities of today’s rendering engines. With that said, it is still easy to see the potential of such a design.

The space is easily navigable and items can be grouped in certain locations. This is a more truly “spatial” UI than that advocated by John Siracusa. A “spatial” metaphor doesn’t really make sense when items can disappear. Sure, a window or desktop can have items arranged spatially, but the value of that spatial representation is greatly decreased as soon as the window is closed or the desktop covered.

My questions about the implementation of the zooming interface:

How is a given object’s zoom level determined?

Does the user have control over an object’s zoom level? Can it be set relative to nearby objects or a global scale?

How would things such as playing media be handled in such a UI? How would I create a playlist of audio files?

I know – just buy the book. Not seeing anything more detailed on the website, I imagine the book delves into specifics.

Batting .666 or so

My homey Brian is now a happy Firebird user. I showed him the handy Google search field and added the tab button to his toolbar. Why this isn’t in there by default is somewhat perplexing given how tabbed browsing is touted as one of the big reasons to switch from the mangler of web pages known as Internet Explorer. Hiding the feature away in the menus doesn’t make sense. Surely they can afford the space for the “New Tab” button?

While visiting his girlfriend, Brian installed Firebird on her laptop, but she isn’t using it because she says it is slower than IE. Hmm. I wonder if she was referring to starting up or actual page rendering. Because it is so deeply integrated in the system, IE spawns new browser windows very quickly, but I don’t think it is faster at page rendering.

I also installed Firebird on my father’s Windows laptop. He is glad to be rid of the pop-ups his co-workers are still dealing with.

I continue to be amazed with computer users coping skills – I go nuts if I use a browser that doesn’t have pop-up control built-in. Yes, I know about the free Google Toolbar. It is very nice of Google to fix Microsoft’s software for them.

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.”


??????????????” ??” ?

Becomes “No.”

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

Shady character

I think David Caruso signed on for “CSI: Miami” simply because he can wear sunglasses in every episode. If the show were “CSI: Seattle”, he wouldn’t have even considered it.

Free when free

I play more freely when I know I’m not getting paid for a gig. I figure that since we aren’t being paid in return for a specific thing, I can play however the hell I want. Sadly, as many musicians know, the gigs that often pay the best (weddings, banquets) are those that restrict you to playing in the background. You can’t open up and stretch out. As much as I like getting $$, there is something to be said for having the chance to play with abandon.

GNOME Storage

A recent Slashdot headline described a new filesystem/UI concept by Seth Nickell, GNOME Storage. Having looked at the screenshots and read the PDF describing the reasoning behind the project, I am very hopeful that such a system will be embraced by the GNOME community and other operating systems (ahem, OS X).

As more and more information moves online, particularly media, organizing and locating this information becomes almost linearly more difficult. Many users forget where they save and what they name their files. Most people can remember what was in a file they are looking for – this is most applicable to text documents. For either audio or video, most people can remember at least a few facts about a given item: an actor’s name, the year it came out, who the bass player was, a lyric or snippet of dialogue, etc. This information is meta-data. This would make a system like Storage useful.

The problem: how does the meta-data get there? At some point along the road, someone somewhere has to input this information.

For certain types of media it could be input once into a world-accessible database such as FreeDB.org or IMDB.com. While most people realize the utility of this information, they do not want to have to enter it manually. This puts the burden of meta-data input/creation on the content providers. This is fair and logical, as the customer/consumer is (in a law-abiding world) providing money in exchange for a product. This data is also useful to content providers, so there is no reason not to expect them to add it.

For the content of individuals, meta-data entry is a bit more problematic. How do you get a person to add valuable contextual information to a document, every time they create one? Ideally, the information that would be added to this individually generated content could be automatically drawn from data stores on their computer. Access by programs to this information should be tightly controlled BY THE USER, preventing spyware from transmitting your social security number to some shady character.

In a perfect world, I should be able to use a Storage like interface to instantly display all image files sent to me by Joe Smith in December of last year. The system would use the catalog of meta-data to locate all images that were attached to emails from joe@smith.com dated December 1 to December 31, 2002.

Red light on?

Should the 1.0 version (or later) of iChat AV include the ability to record voice and video chats? There are privacy issues, but at least by using a built-in solution, they could be accommodated. Apple could simply allow users to specify if a particular buddy could always, with authorization per instance, or never record their exchanges. Being able to apply different settings to voice and video would be nice.

As far as I know, there is a law requiring that parties be notified when telephone conversations are recorded – would this apply to VoIP?