Tag Archives: Technology

Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria.

Wha?

There has always been somewhat of a dichotomy in the world of web professionals between design & development.

Designers do their thing making pretty pictures, drinking cocktails at lunch, having social cliques, and little romances within the group. They frolic away in the meadows of Photoshop and Dreamweaver Design View, paying little attention to the nuances of the mechanical underpinnings of their creations. Or so I hear…

Meanwhile, the code monkeys toil away in the dark, unseen from the public eye, in caverns and closets and in back alleys where you dare not travel. Typically found unshaven in the wild, they hack away in text editors such as TextMate and Vim, write their code from scratch, and make jokes about algorithms in C in an Erkel-esque voice from behind Coke-bottle glasses. (Mexican Coke bottles, since apparently north of the border we’ve lost our flair for nostalgia and authenticity and now mostly distribute the plastic bottles which are unfit for ocular correction.)

I’ve had this debate at least six or seven times in my career, in some form or other, about this separation of church and state. Oil and water. Dogs and cats.

Stephanie Sullivan recently wrote this:

The root of my story and my point is — it’s the rare individual that has all the strengths needed for one web site. It’s the team that matters. Should everyone have a basic understanding of the other member’s jobs? How they work? What they can accomplish. Oh yes. Absolutely. Should they be able to do them? That’s just ludicrous. Absolutely not. Surround yourself with people more brilliant than yourself. Always learn. Work hard. You, and those around you, will be enormously successful.

Now granted, she’s posting this in response to the guys at 37signals, who by definition are an opinionated group making opinionated software. That’s why their stuff is so great – they set some constraints and they live by ’em. I’m not sure which posts she was referring to, but this could be one of ’em. And this is true. Designers who have strong developer kung fu are better designers for it. And developers who understand the issues of design are correspondingly empowered.

But I tend to agree with Stephanie. The reality of it is that there are a wide variety of personality types out there, and that translates into varying abilities and motivations for crossing over into the design or development realms one way or another. As a musician, I myself come from a deeply creative side (with some early code hacking expertise in the Atari days,) but have come around to being mostly a developer at this point in my career. I draw heavily on my design background when working today. But I certainly would want to get a good, web-experienced designer on my project. And I think that’s where the core of the debate has led to: Web designers who understand The Code create designs that make better sense within the constraints of the digital medium, and understand what the user interface objects are that the web-surfing masses are familiar with. Conversely, pencil-necked code monkeys understanding design principles won’t shackle their creations with masses of cruft and flotsam just because it worked 9 years ago and why not copy/paste that in?

There are so many faceted roles now applied to the web production line. We are all part designer, part coder, part marketing stooge, part librarian. There is no escaping that. But if the Industrial Revolution has taught us anything, it is that things will continue to specialize in the name of efficiency and progress. Multitasking sucks. For some of us (moi,) it sucks more than for others. It takes time for the brain to switch gears between the too-sexy-for-my-shirt design aesthete and the l33t h4x0r. Throw having to be a project manager, writer, or manager into the mix and you get all kinds of crazy flying around.

My take on it all is: Embrace what you are good at. Do what your passion dictates. Challenge yourself frequently, but never lose sight of your foundation. If your foundation migrates, then great! But always be aware of yourself and live in The Now™. If you do what you love, you are more likely to get good at it, more likely to stick with it for the long term, and good things will tend rise up around you.

An iPhone Story

Last Sunday I purchased an iPhone. This was not my plan, but a couple of things came up to prompt this move. This thing is incredible for the most part, but with only one complaint:

The Purchase

First of all, my expectation was that I’d wait until a second generation release came about. I was quite content with my old Sony Ericsson semaphoring to the bimmer’s Bluetooth interface connection, and the old 3G iPod was the hurdy gurdy churning away at the iPod interface in the glove compartment. And these were good times. It all worked just fine – contacts loaded to the dash, control both from the steering wheel, phone call comes in and the iPod pauses until my conversation completes.

Until last week, when the phone died.

It had been dying a slow but natural death. To be honest, the only thing that was wrong with it was that the battery was able to hold less and less of a charge. The thing on my last business trip would last for maybe one phone conversation after a charge, and certainly wouldn’t make it through a couple of hours away from its power leash. But finally it ceased to work while connected to the charger. It couldn’t even hold enough juice to muster up a single phone call connected to power. Clearly it was time for a change.

And then the urgency occurred when a loved one wound up in the hospital, and my phone wasn’t working to receive the calls for assistance. What timing. Friday night in a hospital I had become all too familiar with recently, to the point where you know half the staff by name. Ugh. I need to do something about this quick.

I had two choices: Get a replacement battery for my Sony Ericsson for around $20 to hold me over until a 2G iPhone appeared, or jump on the technology bandwagon early and get an iPhone for upwards of $700 including tax and AppleCare. Naturally I went for the irrational choice and got the iPhone.

I owned the 1st gen Treo 180 when that first came out, and I loved it despite all its flaws. It was a PDA and a phone, and it was highly functional. But somehow the Treo line got confused and didn’t go quite where I was hoping it would, Palm support for Mac was off and on, and the rumors of an Apple phone began. My next phone would be a cheap-ass one with Bluetooth just to hold me over a cycle until something decent appeared. So with the iPhone finally coming out and the glowing reviews, I was placing myself in line for one of these babies.

The Initial Experience

If I may gush…

The purchase took minutes, the unboxing and activation was effortless, and I didn’t find the keyboard too difficult to operate even with my fat, round thumbs and long guitar-player fingernails. The initial sync was a bit lengthy over the USB connection for about 6 GB of data I had ready to go, and I had to rerun it a couple of times to get my contacts list right and to get the software updated on the unit. But once running, it just worked like a hot knife through warm butter.

Every application on this thing works extremely well, and well together. Syncing with my Mac, browsing through contacts, dialing numbers, watching vids from iPod or YouTube, email, calendar, and the rest of it – all very nice. The browser picks up phone numbers and converts them to hyperlinks to dial. Nice. I am sure that this is the finest mobile device created to date – very elegant.

The Browser

I’m going to get this out of the way. At the risk of being unpopular, I really am not a huge fan of the Safari web browser on the iPhone. Here’s why: I can’t resize fonts beyond tilting the screen – unless the page itself has font resizing baked in to the controls – a rarity. Zooming in on the content is inadequate, because I wind up scrolling horizontally as well as veritcally. The default page width for the iPhone is too wide and makes font scales too small as a result.

Now that I’ve had the iPhone for a couple of days, I want the handheld media type even more. This is an effing handheld device – support the handheld media type and prod developers to use it for your world domination goals instead of having to get people to fork their code. Web page layouts are too big by default for this size screen, and the web developer is confronted with the choice of either writing a version of their website just for the iPhone, or they have to install some greasemonkey-style hack. And I’m seeing plenty of websites offering iPhone-optimized versions of their sites so don’t tell me you’re doing this to offer the big giant World Wide Web in all its splendor. Boo. This would be so much better with an option to load the handheld css as an option somewhere. So much. Heck, even on a per-site basis as a preference in the bookmark or something.

What Safari on iPhone does, it does well – zoom in, hyperlinked phone numbers, and highly usable for a PDA web browser. Give me font resizing and the option to load the handheld stylesheet associated with the given web page and I’ll be happy. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a Flash plugin.

The Money Shot

OK this part I’m about to tell you was entirely unexpected. I went in to the Apple Store with no expectation that this thing would want to have anything to do with my BMW’s iPod and/or Bluetooth interfaces. It was created in 1995. This is emerging 1st generation technology two years later – snowball’s chance in hell of working with my car I thought.

I thought wrong.

This thing is sick. I tried plugging it in to the iPod interface and it just worked. OK cool – I can listen to tunes on this thing in my car if I need to. But surely this won’t pair up with my bimmer, right? No – it works effing perfectly. I pair it up, it connects just fine, it syncs my contacts, and I can place and receive calls in my car. iPhone gets charged up in the meantime – bonus points.

This thing just rocks. I am very impressed with the elegance of this innovative and highly usable design. Well done! Just fix Safari for me and we’ll be good.

Gadgetry In Motion

AirPortTV

Apple’s iTV project is exactly what I have been hoping they would do – create a media link from my network to my television. Bring it on. But waiting until Q1 2007 is such a tease, although I can see if the reason were to bring in a higher bandwidth specification for wireless.

I have to wonder about the long stretch between now and launch though, and the motivation behind announcing so early. Are they concerned a competitor will release a similar box beforehand? Probably. I mean, that’s why Microsoft does vaporware announcements – to create that purchase anxiety so people will wait for their offering before buying something that already works and is available in the marketplace.

Poo

Zune, Microsoft’s attempt to piggyback on some of the iPod shine, really looks like something I stepped in last week. The thing is an obvious iPod knock-off – looking like a cheap plastic piece of crapware that I would probably find in a flea market or mounted in cardboard and plastic in the Safeway toy aisle. I actually resisted commenting on this for a while, but when I saw the brown, I had no choice. Sorry.

The announcement of the Zune certainly has generated it’s share of poopy journalism, too. What really cracks me up is how people think that the wireless DRM-protected music sharing feature is going to force Apple to somehow react. As John Gruber points out:

If the Zune were already shipping, and people were buying it, and this feature proved to be popular, then, yes, Apple would need to do something about it. Or even if the Zune had just now shipped, and we could actually see this feature and determine that it was actually pretty cool, then, maybe, Apple would need to do something about it. But the Zune is vaporware.

Not only does the Zune look like a floating steamer, but in typical Microsoft fashion, it is all just pie in the sky now and months away from actually seeing the light of day. Every competitor to the iPod has crashed and burned so far, and it doesn’t look like Zune is promising to be much different. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see a competitor, but no-one seems to have been able to step up to the plate yet.

Wee

Nintendo’s Wii looks pretty damn sweet. And looking at the comparatively steep price points for Sony and Microsoft’s bloated systems, combined with some cool new features, I suspect it will compete just fine in the game console marketplace. With plenty of interesting games (including Zelda, Mario, and Sonic themes), an innovative (if somewhat odd) game controller solution, and it’s low price point, it should do well. I myself lean towards the Wii, simply because it’s cheap, the kids are pretty young, and no-one does that much gaming in our house anyway. (That would have been my job before, but life is busy these days…)

iPod’s Educational Angle

Wired News: Duke Gives IPods to Freshmen

This is such a cool idea for distributing multimedia curriculum:

Students also will be able to use the devices to download course content, recorded lectures, foreign language lessons, audio books and music from a special Duke website modeled after iTunes. The school will supply voice recorders for some classes, enabling students to record notes while working in the field.

Imagine the implications – one could retreive supplimental course info at any time, from a centralized Intranet website, or possibly via kiosks, and have instant access to all their downloaded material at any time. Giving this technology to each students allows curriculum developers to really get creative and go after new directions in creating educational material.

The kiosk idea gets even more interesting now that I think about it. Imagine having a kiosk at an art museum or where visitors could just download an audio tour. Or how about a symphony hall, where visitors might be able to hear a pre-concert lecture and recorded versions of the music selections long after they’ve enjoyed the live performance. Of course, such a kiosk would somehow have to figure out how to just download a few specific files without trying to sync the whole damn iPod, but that seems like it would be a simple software issue. Alternately, downloads from a website would do the trick, but then you lose the physical presence effect of having a kiosk within the perimiter of a building.

Language learning comes in particularly handy with an iPod. I have imported all 32 of my Pimseleur Mandarin level 1 & 2 CDs into mine, and can review any lesson I want to work on at any time. I have 16 more CDs to add when level 3 arrives.

I think what Duke is doing here is outstanding, and I am betting that many more will follow. I wish that I had this kind of technology when I was in college. Heck, all I had was a Mac SE and access to a bunch of Quadras in our computer lab back at NEC. I mean, that was cool and all at the time, but iPods as a means of enhancing curriculum at a music conservatory is a no-brainer. It has to happen eventually…