No Interest Magazines

I think that general-interest magazines may well be fated to fade away. General-interest anything is probably cursed. For the truth is that interest never was as general editors and publishers thought it was, back in the mass-media age. Old media just assumed we were interested in what they told us to be interested in. But we weren’t. We’re proving that with every new choice the internet enables.
Yet special-interest magazines — community magazines, to put it another way — have a brighter prospect — if they understand how to enable that community.

World Usability Day Posters

World Usability Day may have come and gone but the posters will last as a visual statement of what life might be like without it (it being usability). The examples are good but one only needs to look at almost any device today and see serious problems. I do think they work well.

The idea behind the 2006 campaign was to build an appreciation for usability by showing what life might be like without it. This was demonstated by visually removing or changing elements of everyday objects and consequently rendering them unusable.

More images from the posters after the jump.

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Businessweek ad placement

Great ad placement Businessweek! Thankfully I can still see the printer friendly page, which is mislabeled. It should be labeled reader friendly. I can understand the need to display ads – I display some adsense ads which cover my hosting costs – but must they be so reader hostile?
One thing that is missing from this screenshot is a fly over ad which covered even more of the viewable area. Do these tactics really work in the long run?
As appears in Firefox and safari.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

I arrived in Bangkok late a few nights ago via Taipei. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport arrivals section seems quite unfinished or is it supposed to look like this? If you like a dull modernist aesthetic, than you will love this airport, but for one of the warmest and friendliest cultures anywhere is it a fitting way to greet guests? So cold and uninviting. The departures section has some of the best bread I have tasted in an airport, certainly a world a way from the best bakeries south of Taipei. The cost of course has the usual airport mark-up but compared to what awaits you in cattle class it might just be worth it.
The structure is impressive but I somehow miss the old one – inefficiency and all. Why don’t they design airports with a sense of warmth? For the frequent flyer this airport must look just about the same as every other – lots of gray, glass, and stainless steel with the odd cultural artifact thrown in the aisles. Thai. culture is full of colour but you won’t see that at the airport.
It does stand in stark contrast to the newly renamed Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan (Taipei) Taiwan. I recently had to take a flight out of their new ‘D’ wing and it has the look of something thrown together with little thought or aspiration. With all the airport expansions in the region Taiwan just can’t compete or doesn’t really care to. It’s so amateur that there really isn’t anything to be critical about. But it does work – they get you in and out as quickly as possible. Which is likely the objective most people visiting Taiwan will have. It takes a some time to appreciate the good things here and certainly there is little help organizationally to make the experience any different.

Mobile Phone Audio – Lessons Learned from Games and the Web

Producing audio for mobile devices today is like doing game audio in the 80’s and Web audio in the 90’s. The similarities are striking – severe bandwidth constraints, cross-platform incompatibilities, arcane technical limitations, a plethora of file formats. What have we learned from these past experiences that might help the mobile audio industry in the future?
The Mobile Phone Audio group discussed questions such as: “If I knew then what I know now, what might I have done differently?” “What recommendations might we have for the mobile audio industry on how to make content providers’ lives easier and more profitable, based on similar experiences developing game/web audio systems?” “How can we help mobile audio producers avoid some of the pitfalls and problems game/web audio producers have faced in similar situations?”

Project Bar-B-Q, 2004, report, section 4

New Hobby

For years I have missed the quality bread of home. In Taiwan especially, with the exception of a few isolated bakeries, it’s pretty difficult to find a quality loaf of bread that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Actually it’s difficult to find quality bread at any price. Why it didn’t occur to me earlier to stop complaining and just take matters into my own hands is a mystery. This latest result may look ugly but it tastes fine.

A Taiwan Moment

I love these guys. It’s not enough that they have been working on the apartment across the alley for over a month – with their usual crap Taiwan contractor aplomb. Now they block the exit to my house with their little white truck. Think they would stick around to move their truck if a fire broke out?
Carpenters and woodworkers where I come from would be shocked at the methods employed here in construction (and the resultant quality). I hope this spells the end of the constant dust, toxic fumes, and machine gun nail gun sounds. Not likely.

The Mother of All Footers

For ages we have ignored the bottom or footer section of our screen designs. We bought into and never lost the notion that the only part of the screen that had any value was the first view and that anything below the fold was seldom read. For the most part that has been disproved but old habits die hard – just look at the footer section of this webblog as evidence.
In the last year or two I have seen a increasing number of sites using this part of the screen to in corporate all kinds of different data. But this example must certainly be the most “bottom heavy” or have the greatest density of data I have seen on any site to date. At approximately 950px in height it certainly is visually impressive. Outside of the obviously performance penalties, and this particular site tends to be on the slow side, I wonder what the positive or negatives of this kind of approach could be (this same wayfinding footer is on every page)? Looks like a good candidate for some testing.
Found at

PRINT’s regional design annual on DVD

I just found what I want for Christmas this year. Thank you Swissmiss.

PRINT’s Regional Design Annual is the only comprehensive profile of design in the United States. Now you can have immediate access to ten years’ worth of Regional Design Annual winners, online and on DVD. All of the 16,000+ winners—hand-picked by PRINT editors—are organized into easily searchable categories, including Identity/Stationery, Self-Promotion, Posters, Packaging, Ads, Editorial Design, Environmental Graphics, Photography, Illustration, Invitations/Announcements, Annual Reports and Outdoor Ads.

You can order it here.

Designing mobile user interfaces

User interface design is an important aspect of application development for any environment, but UI design for mobile applications can be especially tricky. The environmental constraints of mobile devices (such as limited memory and processing power) don’t just affect the functional aspects of mobile applications, but also the user interface. In a mobile device environment, more than any other platform, each layer of the application architecture must be carefully considered and prioritized to maximize the device’s physical capacity.
In this column you’ll see how the architectural perspective developed in previous columns can be applied to designing a highly usable mobile application user interface. I’ll start with the outer layer of the architectural view, with a careful evaluation of the physical limits and capacities inherent to mobile environments. Next, I’ll focus on the particular requirements of the user interface. And finally, you’ll see how these two layers of analysis, combined, impact the implementation of the application UI.

Architectural manifesto: Designing mobile user interfaces

McKnight Principles of Innovation

William L. McKnight’s (3M chairman of the board from 1949 to 1966):

“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.
“Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.
“Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”


The Smart Phone: A Ubiquitous Input Device

A paper by Rafael Ballagas, Jan Borchers Michael Rohs, and Jennifer G. Sheridan.

Mark Weiser envisioned ubiquitous computing as a world where computation and communication would be conveniently at hand and distributed throughout our everyday environment. [1] As mobile phones are rapidly becoming more powerful, this is beginning to become reality. Your mobile phone is the first truly pervasive computer. It helps you to both keep in touch with others and to manage everyday tasks. Consequently, it’s always with you. Technological trends result in ever more features packed into this small, convenient form factor. Smart phones can already see, hear, and sense their environment. But, as Weiser pointed out: “Prototype tabs, pads and boards are just the beginning of ubiquitous computing. The real power of the concept comes not from any one of these devices; it emerges from the interaction of all of them.” Therefore, we will show how modern mobile phones (Weiser’s tabs) can interact with their environment – especially large situated displays (Weiser’s boards).
The emerging capabilities of smart phones are fueling a rise in the use of mobile phones as input devices to the resources available in the environment such as situated displays, vending machines, and home appliances. The ubiquity of mobile phones gives them great potential to be the default physical interface for ubiquitous computing applications. This would provide the foundation for new interaction paradigms, similar to the way the mouse and keyboard on desktop systems enabled the WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointers) paradigm of the graphical user interface to emerge. However, before this potential is realized, we must find interaction techniques that are intuitive, efficient, and enjoyable for applications in the ubiquitous computing domain.
In this article, we survey the different interaction techniques that use mobile phones as input devices to ubiquitous computing environments, including two techniques that we have developed ourselves. We use the word “smart phone” to describe an en-hanced mobile phone. In our analysis, we blur the line between smart phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), such as the PalmPilot, because the feature sets continue to converge.

The Smart Phone: A Ubiquitous Input Device Paper (.pdf)

Black Elk Quote

I’ll start this month with this thought:
“Any man who is attached to things of this world is one who lives in ignorance and is being consumed by the snakes of his own passions.” – Black Elk

iStock Photo’s Slow Customer Service

I have been using iStock quite frequently lately and I am quite pleased with the cost vs. quality that their catalogue provides. It’s not only a good source of stock but it’s a great place to find talent who are usually willing to take undemanding bits of work within my limited budgets. It’s a real boon to independent publishers as a way to supplement custom art. All in all the experience of using this part of the service has been fine with the added bonus of a strong user community.
But iStock begins to fail miserably when you actually have to interact with a real person who works with the company.
I sent by email a support request to their support address over a month ago without so much as an acknowledgment. A few days later thinking that perhaps that my mail got ‘lost’ I used their support form on their site. Luckily I got an automated reply but 30 days later I have yet to get my question answered by a human. And I must say it was a pertinent question not covered in their FAQ or contained within their forums. Snail mail would be faster than this. Actually, I ended giving up on using the service that I had the question about entirely.
Seeing as their is a dearth of Asian stock in their catalogue I thought it would be an interesting challenge to join the community as a contributor. Part of the strength of their catalogue comes from a seemingly vigorous human approvals process for each and every image submitted to the site. I submitted 3 images as they request in order for my application to be approved (you also have to pass a minor exam as well). 2 weeks later I heard back that one of my photos had ‘artifacts’ and such was rejected while another was rejected with no reason given. I submitted 2 new images for the application. It’s been over 2 weeks since. Obviously as valuable as this process is they need help.
iStock is a very successful company, largely as a result of their great user community, and despite the pitfalls I have mentioned I still use parts of the service. Their approvals process is painfully slow, which precludes using their interesting BuyRequest service for anything but the most untimely projects, and they never seem to answer support questions. As long as you don’t interact with people that work there than you will be fine. But is this any way to run a company?
[edit: November 4] I have since been contacted by both a volunteer and an official iStock customer service rep. – I am quite impressed with how they have handled my public comments. It would seem that my support question was responded to, the one with which was submitted by the contact form, and somehow it either never arrived at my inbox or got labeled as spam.
So it was all a mix-up and I think the way they handled it was superb.

The Problem with Telecommuting

This past Monday I had problems with my wireless network which prevented me from having access to the internet. I thought at the time it was a problem with my isp, as I had thought many times before, but playing with the settings created a voila moment, miraculously allowing network access.
Yesterday for some inexplicable reason I could not access a site that I use to run a web app.. In fact half of the sites I use, all on the same server, are unreachable – the other half are fine. All of these use the same block of IP addresses. I can’t continue with the work I was doing 5 minutes before the outage.
Is this the 21st century equivalent of my car won’t start?
Our increasing dependence on complex magical systems like the internet for our livelyhood makes me wonder what would happen if there were extended outages or increased unreliability at just the worst possible moment. I can’t get to work and there is no ‘internet bus’ to take me there.

Shift Mobile Art Competition

The aim of the competition is to discover fresh creators and support them, Shift provides a platform to show works using a mobilephone as a medium
The works will functioned as a mobile phone clock, and the submissions are available in 2 forms; analog and digital. Selected works will be broadly distributed within Japan. Deadline: December 20.
More Info.

Anniversary past

It was eight years ago, August 23rd 1998, when I first arrived in Taiwan. I forgot this auspicious date this past August, perhaps in an attempt to keep the length of my internment as vague as possible. Everyone always asks how long I have been here and being unsure if being apart of this long term foreigner click is good or bad, I never really give a definite answer. Time is a blur anyway – it still seems like yesterday when I was playing on shag carpet with my then ballerina friend to the tune of “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. Didn’t I just meet Sheryl on the streets of Antigonish, her holding a stack of books, me trying to look cool but failing (as always)? I still remember the smells of Taipei, the heat, it wasn’t the smell of sewer, the dominant fragrance of Hsinchu, but of eucalyptus (perhaps). It was pungount and nice and new. Memories of events are always stronger than the events themselves.
I swear that on August 23rd, 2008 I will fly out of CKS airport, or whatever name they will call by then, for the last time.

Issue 8: The Loop as a Temporal Form

Looks like some good reading for a few idle moments this weekend. Nice early 90’s web aesthetic!

As a form, the loop contradicts the linear structure we typically associate with time. The common-sense formulation understands time as a progression forward from moment to moment to moment, with a clear division of past, present and future. Yet many theories contradict this apparent truism. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for example, organize time into chronos and aeon. Greg Hainge, a contributor to this issue, writes that the latter continually and simultaneously divides the event into the already-there and the not-yet here, while failing to settle on either. This describes a loop folding back on itself, while not returning to its place of origin. Elsewhere, Jacques Derrida uses this failure of origins to structure a system of ethics grounded in an attempt to elude the eternal return of the same. While Deleuze, Guattari and Derrida insist on this failure in their use of the loop as a temporal form, Sigmund Freud understands time in terms of telos and its failure. In other words, absent a forward progression through, for example, mourning, the individual is doomed to circle back repeatedly to the lost object. Both formulations of the loop, one that either returns or does not return to its origins, are at work in this issue’s articles.

Issue 8: The Loop as a Temporal Form.