Daniel Engber, writing for The New York Times (via The Tech Block):
“People wait for all sorts of things every day, sometimes more happily than others,” wrote the interface designer Bob Stahl in a 1986 article for Computerworld. “The problem is how the user feels about waiting.” At the time, machines were often slow and unreliable, and users didn’t always know when their programs crashed. A “progress bar” might mitigate frustration, Stahl suggested, by signaling that bits were flipping with a purpose somewhere deep inside the C.P.U.
It’s true. Even now, when computers are a bazillion times faster than they were 30 years ago, it’s calming to have a cue that the computer is working, the website is loading, or the iMessage is sending.
And, so long as we’re talking about progress bars, see also this classic xkcd comic.
Today, on episode 7 of The Weekly Briefly, I continue a topic from a Shawn Today episode last week regarding “writing the Internet you want to read”.
Brought to you by:
Thursday, March 6
Two things. For one, I love reviews like this one which are done after owning a product for quite a while. In this case, Thomas has been using the 2Unfold a year. I bought a Hard Graft Flat Pack almost two years ago and it is so nice and still in excellent condition.
And secondly, Thomas’s site is powered by the Ghost blogging platform. His is the first I’ve come across using it in the wild (though maybe I’m just not looking hard enough).
Speaking of the internet and Alan Adler, here is a Q&A interview he did on Slashdot just a couple months ago. (Via Marco, of course.)
Zachary Crockett wrote a profile of Alan Adler and his story of inventing the Aerobie Pro disc and the AeroPress:
This is the story of how Adler and Aerobie dispelled the notion of industry-specific limitations and found immense success in two disparate industries: toys and coffee.
And you’ve gotta love this line, when comparing the marketing tactics of the Aerobie Pro in the ’80s compared to how the word got out about the AeroPress in the early 2000s:
Whereas Alder had previously relied on traditional media and television to market his flying discs, the internet brought the AeroPress great success…
Now I think I’ll go brew an afternoon cup of coffee. (Thanks, Mitch!)
Wednesday, March 5
Om Malilk and Keila Fong compare the usage numbers of WhatsApp to other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. And the numbers are staggering — talk about making the case for mobile.
I enjoyed this Forbes article by Parmy Olson sharing some of the behind-the-scenes storyline to the Facebook-WhatsApp acquisition. I do all my messaging on iMessage, SMS, and Twitter (and Whisper during nerd conferences), so when I first read about the $19 billion deal it was with just about zero knowledge of what WhatsApp was and how big it was. Olson’s article gives a lot of context to the service.
Robert McGinley Myers:
What makes the iPad stand out from other tablet computers, and what makes it so much more appealing, is that it was designed with intimacy in mind. And I think we’re just on the cusp of discovering how that intimacy affords different kinds of behaviors, different kinds of creativity and productivity.
This is an excellent article by Rob. And, tangentially, he articulates why it is I ended up picking the iPad mini rather than the iPad Air after my 3 months of side-by-side comparative usage. In short, though the larger screen on the Air was technically better for most things — writing, reading comics, watching videos, surfing the World Wide Web, etc. — the smaller form factor of the iPad mini made that device more appealing to me.
There’s just something a little bit mind blowing about a personal computer that can fit into a purse or the side pocket of your winter jacket.
Tuesday, March 4
Good news for fans of The Hit List (via DF):
We have been big fans of The Hit List, Potion’s flagship app, for a while now. We’ve looked around, and we’ve never found a better designed app to handle personal task management than The Hit List, perfectly balanced between power and ease-of-use. We use it every day. And we wanted to keep improving it, but also bring to it a bigger marketing force and level of support than Andy was able to, so that it can reach a bigger audience.
A few weeks ago on Twitter I mentioned The Hit List and was blown away by the number of responses from so many folks that either (a) still use THL, or (b) wish they were using it but had to move on to something different because of it’s slow development cycle.
I personally never got into The Hit List — I was a devout Things user back when THL was at its peak, and I later moved to OmniFocus — but I know a lot of people that were (and apparently still are).
In fact, the very first Sweet Mac Setup interview I ever did here was with Mark Jardine, and he was using The Hit List at the time:
I manage my life and projects with this app. Omnifocus was too much, Things was not enough. The Hit List is the perfect balance of power, simplicity, and beauty. It doesn’t have an iPhone companion yet, but it’s so good I don’t mind waiting for it.
I have been with Media Temple for years and have always been extremely happy with their service. I started with (mt) when I had to move this site to a Grid Server back in 2007 shortly after a link from Daring Fireball crashed shawnblanc.net for like two days.
A few years later, the traffic here outgrew the Grid Server’s monthly GPU allotment and so I moved to a DV Virtual Private server. I also set The Sweet Setup on its own VPS machine and have been very pleased with the performance of the new Managed (dv) servers I’m on. We did almost 200,000 pageviews in our first 24 hours and the site didn’t even blink.
And that’s why I pay for the DV servers — not because I want a dedicated server environment, but because I need servers with more horsepower than the (gs) can handle.
I have considered moving my sites to WP Engine, but I would need one of their custom Premium plans, which means pricing would have been over $250/month — more than double what I’m currently paying for my two dedicated virtual servers on Media Temple.
Last week I spoke with Rick over at Flywheel, and they don’t even cater to guys like me who have a few WP sites and just need good fast managed hosting.
Well, now there is this brand new WordPress Premium Hosting service from Media Temple. And it’s just 29 bucks a month. It’s for folks who want to run a WordPress site or three, and who don’t want to fuss with updates, caching, backups, maintenance, troubleshooting, etc. That pretty much describes me exactly.
I spoke with Media Temple’s customer support earlier today. The Managed WordPress hosting service uses SSD servers, offers unlimited traffic (most manage hosting serves charge by pageviews), and should be able to easily handle the modicum of traffic my sites are doing.
Federic Lardinois, writing for TechCrunch about the new service, says:
Dante Baker, Media Temple’s product manager for this project, tells me that the managed WordPress hosting will offer a one-click setup for developers and designers who don’t want to have to deal with setting up servers and dealing with performance and scaling issues. Just like similar services, it will offer automated updates and one-click backups.
I’ll probably move The Sweet Setup over to the new service and see how things do for a month or two. If I move all three of my sites — TSS, shawnblanc.net, and Tools & Toys — it would save me $85/month in hosting costs. Not to mention the peace of mind of having WordPress-specific managed hosting.
Fun and clever new project from Patrick Rhone and Bethany Gladhill:
Tweet Small Change is $140.00 micro-grants given to compelling arts projects that are pitched via tweets.
Tweet Small Change just launched today, and they are accepting submissions. You submit your grant request via Twitter. You can read more about it on Patrick’s site.
Monday, March 3
We believe there’s so much more that your portable wireless speaker should do for you. That’s why we made the AXX 200.
The AXX 200 is a Bluetooth wireless speaker + Sound Blaster audio processor. This means a portable wireless speaker with power for real-time audio enhancement.
Intelligence. That’s what the AXX 200 brings to the table.
- Make a call. Listen to music. AXX 200 intelligently adjusts the audio settings for you.
- The Sound Blaster Central App for your iOS or Android device places the control in your hands.
- Built-in quad array microphone — that’s FOUR microphones in a single wireless speaker for 360° of clear, unmatched audio pickup for voice calls and recording.
- A wireless speaker that automatically cancels out noise during voice calls. For real.
It’s for work, it’s for play.
It can be everything you need it to be.
The AXX 200 is now on sale for a limited time at Creative.com and Amazon.com.
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My thanks to Creative Labs for sponsoring the site this week.
Just a note to all the current members, if there is a certain box in particular that you’d like to win over another, please fill out this form.
(Here are details about what’s in the Seven Boxes of Awesomeness.)
Later today I’ll be using a random number generator to pick the seven winners of this year’s membership drive. Once the winners are drawn, I’ll check the spreadsheet first and try and assign each winner their first-choice pick if possible. You do not have to fill out the form to win, only to request a particular prize.
Friday, February 28
Just a reminder to all you good looking people that this year’s Fourth Annual Membership Drive and Giveaway ends on Sunday.
I could not be writing here full-time without the generous support of the members, and it means the world to me that readers are directly supporting the work I do here.
If the value you get from this website is worth $4/month to you, then I hope you’ll consider signing up to become a member. As a member you’ll get access to my daily podcast, Shawn Today, and you’ll be directly contributing to the work I do here on a daily basis.
Moreover, signing up for a membership now means you’ll be entered to win one of the Seven Boxes of Awesomeness. And all current members are, of course, eligible to win as well.
Sign up here. Then, tell your friends to sign up, tell your mom to sign up, and enjoy your weekend.
Update on March 3, 2014: The membership drive has come to an end. Thanks so much to all who signed up over the past two weeks, and to all the longstanding members who have supported this site for the past several years. For those who are not signed up as members, you can, of course, sign up at any time. And when you do you get instant access to the members-only podcast, Shawn Today, as well as access to the reruns page which features every show ever recorded (currently 485 episodes and counting).
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I talk about the past 3 years of writing shawnblanc.net as my full-time gig and the lessons, goals, good parts, bad parts of it.
Related to those several billion messages, what I like about iMessage is also a little bit what I don’t like about it: that I can use it on all my devices. It’s great to have a chat in the messages app on my Mac and then leave to go on an errand without having to say “BRB” or “TTYL”. But, it’s a bit annoying when an incoming message causes all my devices to beep.
While iOS and OS X are much smarter at this than they used to be — if I’m mostly using my Mac to talk to someone on iMessage, then an incoming message notification won’t ping on my iPhone right away — but it’s still not perfect. If my Mac’s messages app is in the “background” and I don’t bring it to the front as soon as a message arrives, then a few seconds later the message notification pings on my iPhone and iPad.
It’s not just iMessages either — it’s also reminders and calendar notifications. As I said in my calendar-centric interview with Lex, when an event reminder goes off at my desk, it’s like a fire alarm.
But this is a hard problem to solve, no doubt. Short of reading my mind and being acutely aware of which device has my attention at that moment, what should the logic be? How can my iOS and OS X devices know where my attention and focus is? Maybe they can’t. And, just throwing this out there, but maybe some sort of Apple wearable device could help.
Third on the list? Kansas City’s very own Okie Joe’s — home of the best pulled pork sandwich you’ll ever have.
Thursday, February 27
Yesterday I was playing Threes, and I realized that something was different in the game — it now shows a + symbol when the next incoming tile is going to be greater than a 3 tile. So I went to my Notification Center to see if the app had been recently updated and to read the release notes for what was new.
Lo and behold, at the bottom of the release notes for version 1.0.3 was a request asking users to please rate the app. Upon reading this, I realized I had not yet rated Threes on the App store, despite the fact that it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long time. So I opened it in the App Store and left it a 5-star rating.
Meanwhile, the guys at Supertop, makers of the popular Castro podcast app, have been trying the same thing:
Over the last few releases of Castro, we’ve also been experimenting with this approach. As well as being more polite than prompting with an alert view in the app, we’ve seen that this dramatically increases the number of reviews we get when an update comes out.
They had no request for ratings in the release notes of their 1.0.4 update, then added a request for 1.0.5, removed it in 1.0.6, and then put it back in for 1.0.7. The results are pretty incredible and telling.
This isn’t necessarily to say that these guys are getting more ratings than if they were using an in-app popup dialog, but for some developers that’s not something they want to do (and as a user, I appreciate that choice very much). But, clearly it’s worth it to put some energy into the release notes and to also put a polite request at the bottom, reminding and asking users to please rate the app.
Juli Clover at MacRumors:
Over a 24-hour period beginning yesterday, approximately 293 new iOS games have been released into the App Store. 95 of those games are either Flappy Bird clones or heavily inspired by the original Flappy Bird title, according to data gathered by The Guardian.
Imitation is the greatest form of flappery.
Wednesday, February 26
Jeff Mueller is kickstarting (through App.net’s Backer service) an iOS app, Plink, that will upload images and generate reference links for them. Something that is trivial on a Mac, but actually still quite cumbersome on iOS. I’m in as a backer.
Where the camera industry is zigging, photographer Dennis Manarchy is zagging. Manarchy designed and built the largest film camera in the world. This ginormous format camera is 35 feet long, 8 feet wide, 12 feet tall, and it uses 6-foot film negatives.
Manarchy’s incredible goal is to take the camera all around the United States and document portraits of people from all different cultures. Followed by a traveling exhibition where he’ll display 24-foot prints of the portraits, printed at detail never before seen at that scale.
Be sure to see the video they made, giving more explanation into the history and vision behind this project. I would love to visit the Butterflies & Buffalo exhibit if it ever comes near Kansas City.
The Origami Workstation (my review) is what I use for using a bluetooth keyboard with my iPad. However, because the side bezel of the iPad Air and the iPad mini are so thin, the bottom part of the screen is difficult to tap when the iPad is set into the Origami.
A cheap “fix” that someone showed me on Twitter is to put a carpenter’s pencil underneath the iPad.
Update: Check out Tyler Hellard’s even better solution that uses the Smart Cover.
Tuesday, February 25
Toby Harriman, Michael Shainblum, and Marc Donahue rented a helicopter to cruise around above San Francisco and take photos of the city during Golden hour. They took some incredibly gorgeous shots, especially of the bridge.
Though it’ll make your palms sweaty, watch their behind-the-scenes time laps video in full-screen mode with HD turned on.
The aforelinked guide to Threes strategy was via this stellar review of Threes by John Teti (this one’s via DF):
Here I’ve made two sixes, and I’m about to slide them together for a 12. The sixes gaze into each other’s eyes in anticipation of their mathematical destiny. This is one of the earliest glimmers of personality in the numerical cast of Threes. Later, the tiles will grumble, sigh, and playfully heckle you as you consider the board. The bigger numbers have bolder, more fully formed personas than the little ones. The tutorial is charming because it holds the promise of more whimsy; the game is charming because it delivers on that promise.
While your Mac is downloading and installing 10.9.2, why not read up on your Threes strategy? This is one of the best Threes guides I’ve read (whereby I just accidentally admitted I’ve read more than one guide to playing Threes). I’m pretty convinced that the corner strategy is the key to high scoring. What’s new to me here is the way the new tiles are dealt onto the board:
It seems that the game makes a “stack” of twelve cards containing four 1s, four 2s, and four 3s. It then gives you a card selected from that stack at random. When the stack has run out, a new stack of twelve is created and you begin again. This means that in any 12 card sequence you will always see four of each color of card.
The update is live in the Mac App Store, and it’d be smart to update your Mac as soon as you can since it patches the recently discovered SSL bug.
Writing for Macworld, my almost twinsie — I mean, Lex Friedman — asked a few smart folks what they use to manage their calendars and what tips or advice they had to share about calendar management.
Great piece by Steven Aquino for The Sweet Setup:
There is a misconception about accessibility on iOS, which is that the accessibility options are only for users who have special needs. But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. At its core, accessibility is about access — hence, iOS’s accessibility options are tools with which users, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, are better able to access their devices. This concept is not one that’s limited to only disabled users. By looking at accessibility in a more holistic context, one can easily see how accessibility software can prove beneficial to everyone, not just the assumed demographic.