February 01, 2008
Terrible UI o’ the day
Ah, Vegas: It’s like the whole town just coughs into your mouth. Everything about this place makes me feel dirty, strung-out, and used.
I mention it because just now I was impressed to find a Coke machine that featured a credit card swipe-strip for payment. Kind of convenient, I thought–though of course it means that the prices have been jacked out of the range of the small bills you’re likely to be carrying.
Speaking of price… It’s displayed only intermittently, when the words “Coca-Cola” aren’t crawling by. (I’m sure that text is very helpful to the people confused about the nature of this giant red machine that sells only Coca-Cola.) Terrible info presentation, but whatever, I’m thirsty.
Swipe, pause… card authorized, press soda button. Wait several seconds… nothing. Did it hear me? I press again. Wait… [rumble] Coke arrives. And then another. And then a third. Suddenly I’ve paid nearly eight bucks for 60oz. of sugar water–about 10x more than I actually wanted.
Genius! I’m serious, actually: by tossing out the most basic interface principle of providing prompt user feedback, these guys just tripled their income. How many times a day must this happen, and who’s going to spend time sweating these guys for $5? The house wins again.
PS–I know that in posting this little bit of whining I’m really unleashing the power of the blog, so to speak. Maybe the anti-consumer UI beatings that happen in Vegas should, in fact, stay in Vegas.
Random greatness: Slingbox & NetNewsWire
Even at my most,
random er, eclectic, I try to keep this blog focused on Adobe-related things (photography, illustration, scientific imaging, typography, and so on). I love great design wherever I find it, so in this case I thought it would be worth giving props to a couple of excellent non-’Dobe-related tools I’ve found recently. Read on if you’re interested.
• Slingbox is a little contraption that connects to your TV and converts the signal to streaming video. That enables you to watch live TV, recordings on a TiVo or other DVR, or even (apparently) Apple TV content via your computer, whether you’re in your house or on the road.
Why is that a good thing? In our case, instead of buying an additional TV to go upstairs for use while working out, my wife scored us a Slingbox AV. Now any of our laptops can get plopped onto a stand and used to control the TV. The streaming quality is good, to the point that a standard-def signal arguably looks better on my 17" laptop screen than on the 40" LCD TV. We’re glad not to have an additional TV (and cable box, and wiring, and remotes) clogging up the scene when they’re not needed.
The only downside is that what you stream is the same as what’s on your TV, meaning that two people can’t watch different shows on different devices. On the upside, I’ve confirmed that it’s possible to connect to the box from the road, then quietly pop up on-screen menus in front of one’s spouse’s episode of What Not to Wear. Well, at least I thought it was funny…
• NetNewsWire is a killer RSS feed reader for the Mac. I know, I know–what rock have I been living under, right? And yet RSS reading remains a niche behavior, so it’s worth evangelizing tools that make it a pleasure.
I’ve been subsisting on RSS reading in Safari for the last couple of years, and I can’t believe how much better NetNewsWire makes things. Listing all the feeds & being able to browse them without leaving the app is solid, but God is in the details, and developer Brent Simmons really sweats the small stuff. The app is chock full of handy little shortcuts for popping links open in Safari, shooting links via email, and more. It’s also fastidious about respecting behaviors that have become second nature in Safari (putting focus on search, popping new tabs, and so on).
I won’t claim the app saves me time, as my saved cycles get rolled into more browsing, but it’s certainly far more efficient than my previous methods. So, get ready for even more tangential ephemera (oh boy).
PS–See Adobe evangelist Terry White’s detailed Slingbox review if you’re hungry for more insights into that system.