Two years ago to the day I made my first ever New Year’s resolution. It wasn’t much as resolutions go, but 2004 was a pretty decent year… why not try it again?
This year I have three. I guess I have some catching up to do for all those years I dismissed resolutions as the half-assed commitments of drunks and dieters. They aren’t what you’d call ambitious (not half as ambitious as giving up the drink or losing weight), but I consider them all to be contributors to my —or anyone’s— quality of life. They are:
- Read more books.
- Fly more kites.
- Sell that cluttersome box of crap on eBay.
I wasn’t much of a reader when I was young. Not like the rest of my family. By the time my brother left high school he must’ve devoured every book in the Dragon Lance series, along with Anne Rice and Terry Pratchett’s entire back-catalogs. By comparison I committed to less than a dozen books outside the curriculum in that time, and as the years have worn on it turns out it’s because I don’t have much of an appetite for fiction. My bookshelf is composed almost entirely of nonfiction: nearly 70% nonfiction by title and closer to 90% by volume, and I enjoy reading a lot more than I used to. If I didn’t I wouldn’t spend so much time on the net, and I probably wouldn’t be here blogging, either.
To that end, I’ve resolved to put aside fifty bucks every month for book purchases on Amazon. This is strange to me; book-buying is typically spontaneous and indulgent, rarely premeditated, never long anticipated. It is for that reason that I end up spending twice the money on books that I should. As much as I adore shopping at Boffins when I’m in the CBD, it’s really hard to beat Amazon’s price and selection. Impossible, in this country. Disregarding bestsellers and the bargain basement for a moment, $50 might net me one decent book at a local book store; it’ll get me two or three from the Big A. Nobody could argue that a few dozen books in the year is a misallocation of funds, could they?
This month’s selection includes David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, something that has sat on my Amazon Wishlist for far too long, and Frederick P. Brooks’ classic The Mythical Man-Month, which (if I’m looking for excuses) I have never seen in a brick-and-mortar book store in my life. As excuses for not owning a book go, it’s a pretty good one. Now I wait for the international mail.
The next resolution (and the desire to fly kites in the first place, let alone more kites) is something of a more recent affliction. My old man has been into stunt kites for a few years now, and owns half a dozen of varying size, style, cut, and color. This Christmas, spent in the remote-ish Gascoyne town of Carnarvon that my brother calls home, I spent some quality time with my Dad flying kites. I’m not one for fishing, kayaking, or playing Space Cadet Pinball as he is, nor is he much of a fan of computers and gadgets and drinking Gynnan Tonnyx… but kite-flying sure is a hell of a way to relax. There’s nothing but you and the strings; no aim but to keep yourself from crashing as you loop through endless dives and barrel-rolls. It’s stimulating, it’s rewarding, it’s a test of skill, a metaphor for life, and it’s a good way to burn through a few hundred bucks in kit. It’s everything a video game should be… but without the electricity.
The third and final resolution, naturally, requires no explanation. That box has been sitting there for six freakin’ months.
- I don’t buy copy-controlled CDs. I just don’t. The copy protection is usually too much of a pain in the ass to work around and recent security scares starring record company malware make me even more nervous, so signing a pledge to keep up the habit wasn’t exactly hard.
- Items 1 and 2 on Owen Linzmayer’s Ten Things I Hate About Mac OS X are probably top of my list too, even if they’re application-level problems rather than OS-level. The rest are a bit iffy, and his solutions are at times ill-conceived, but considering the average Big List Of Things I Hate About Mac OS X usually centers on how OS X isn’t enough like Linux or doesn’t act exactly like Windows, this is refreshing.
- Ask and ye shall receive! If future PowerBooks ship with UWB wireless, Belkin’s new wireless USB hub might be the answer to laptop owners’ prayers around the world. And by laptop owners I mean me.
I have a calendar hanging by my toilet; I don’t know why, it just seems to be tradition. New year, new calendar. Last year it was an Anne Geddes one. You should never underestimate the strong mental associations that can be made between photos of small children and the desire to pee.
This year it’s a Gary Larson calendar, so every day for the next month I get to walk into my bathroom, unzip, read the words “Well, look who’s here… God’s gift to warthogs”, and chuckle a little before getting on to business.
Possibly the only benefit of having a calendar hanging in one’s lavatory over, say, a picture of a cat wearing stripy socks, is that you can see whose birthday approacheth. This is assuming you copied all the birthdays over from last year’s calendar into your new one, and this is also assuming that you care. One thing it certainly won’t show you is your upcoming appointments, since one may fairly assume that only lunatics keep their toilet-calendar that up-to-date.
It is for that reason that I’d like to propose what I’ll call The First Internet-Enabled Household Appliance That I Could Possibly Give A Damn About™: Loo To-Do. Internet refrigerators, microwaves, and air-conditioners seem rather superfluous in their function most of the time, but give me a cheap LCD panel (and I’m talking cheap: black on beige, like the original iPod) that will hang in my dunny and fetch my iCal or hCal calendars from the web and by gum we might be on to something.
Enter bathroom, unzip, see that you’re already late for that dentist appointment you booked months ago and promptly forgot, zip up, exit bathroom, hope you don’t pee yourself on the way to the dentist. Where is the fucking Sharper Image catalogue when you need one?
Besides the requisite annual iLife and iWork updates bringing better iPhoto performance in time for everyone to breathe a sigh of relief (since they’ve started pushing the limits of last year’s iPhoto performance boost), there are new Intel Macs! Though certainly not the iBook and Mac Mini updates everyone was predicting, the new dual-core setups are apparently quite the ass-kickers.
Besides the processor, the iMac hasn’t really changed at all since the last G5 upgrade, but the MacBook Pro… now there’s something that goes to the top of the wishlist. I’m astounded by the size of the iSight camera in the lid, though I do wonder what value there is in having a FrontRow remote for a laptop. It’s a bloomin’ laptop! You sit on the couch with it! Handily, the remote can also be used for Keynote presentations, though methinks a haxie might be in order to see what else it can be used for.
Finally, Microsoft has shitcanned the truly mediocre Windows Media Player application for Mac and gone with the QuickTime Component option that clever bunnies like DivX have been using all these years. The announcement was made earlier today, so you can go right now and download the (formerly ten-dollar) Flip4Mac WMP component for free.
OK, maybe shitcanned is too strong a word. WiMP 9 is still available, and for those hapless souls who have already updated QuickTime to version 7.0.4 Flip4Mac will cause a pretty major stability problem: when you close a window displaying a WMV movie (be it in QuickTime, Mail, or Safari) that program will crash. So until one of the software companies implicated in this new bug rushes a fix, caveat emptor.
For the brave and the foolish, Apple has released a QuickTime 7.0.4 → 7.0.1 downgrader, which you can then upgrade to 7.0.3 (required for iTunes 6.0.2 compatibility), putting an end to the Flip4Mac crashtacular.
Of course, 7.0.4 is still required by the rest of the iLife ‘06 suite, so if you plan to upgrade you might just want to wait for a Flip4Mac update and save yourself the hassle.
Flip4Mac 2.0.1 has been released to “address the issues”, as they say.
Wow. And I mean it in both the good and bad sense of the word. But mostly in the bad. iPhoto 6 delivers unto us our annual magical performance boost —which is wonderful in the way that only the ability to plug your camera in without stalling your entire computer can be considered wonderful— along with full-screen editing and a few mediocre features like broken RSS publishing that relies on a .Mac subscription and new ways to spend money on hard copies of your photos.
Surprise! Your $79 didn’t buy you any new features that weren’t added to induce further spending!
That said, the upgrade is kinda ‘worth it’ from a performance perspective. Oh, and you can arbitrarily rename film rolls now.
From my seat there’s nothing really wrong with iPhoto’s feature set. I can import photos, I can add keywords, I can search, I can organize them into albums… all the pieces are there. It’s just that the interface is so strained, and becomes more and more strained with every iteration, that it borders useless. I mentioned the ability to add keywords; yeah, I can add them, but it’s overly complicated and altogether too painful to endure. If it weren’t for Ken Ferry’s Keyword Assistant, I wouldn’t do it.
My eternal hope is that the next iLife release (and I hoped this last year, to no avail) will be the kind of release with just a couple of modest features and a complete overhaul of the suite’s UI. Not in the cosmetic sense, we just had that, but in the sense that things should stop being arbitrarily stupid for inexplicable reasons.
What will follow in the coming days will be a diary, of sorts, chronicling my discontent with what —as a digital camera user— is iLife’s central application. Stay tuned.
Let’s start with the pettiest list of gripes I could possibly conjure up about iPhoto, shall we? Good. We’ll begin with the preferences dialog. More specifically, we’ll begin with just the General pane of the preferences dialog, since I have an illogical fear of long weblog entries.
The application preferences window is far and away my favorite place to visit when I’m exploring a new app. Preferences give you an idea of what a piece of software is capable of; and in new versions of familiar software they can show you what’s new, what’s changed, and what’s been removed.
The addition of a user-facing preference is a pivotal juncture in an application’s development: they are points long-debated by a good dev team and too eagerly included by a poor one. I say “user facing” because I’m not addressing hidden preferences here, nor interfaces to extensibility like AppleScript (which are, in effect, the preference mother lode). Those are for power nerds, and ordinary user-facing preferences are for ordinary users. This is why I have a problem with some of iPhoto’s preferences: they just aren’t ordinary enough.
iPhoto’s General preference pane is over all pretty quiet, fairly unassuming, and difficult to poke fun at… at least from the top. You can’t argue with a preference as to whether you should edit photos inline, in a new window, or in full-screen mode; that’s a real decision and a matter of personal preference. So we’ll start from the bottom.
Check for iPhoto updates automatically? Huh?
Updates to Apple software are handled through the system Software Update utility. This utility runs itself at regular intervals, alerting the computer administrator when there are updates to install — iPhoto updates included. For iPhoto to have its own internal update mechanism (which this option hints at, though it may just be an interface to Software Update) would be ridiculous. Plainly stupid is probably a better term.
Moreover, Apple software updates (and indeed any changes to the Applications folder) can only be performed by administrators. This particular preference is available to all users… making it a big tease to those without admin privileges. Redundant and mean spirited, how’s that for a two-hit combo?
Next up (if we’re moving up) is the choice of email client to handle your emailed photos. The feature is pretty simple: select photos, hit ‘Email’ in the toolbar, and the photos are pasted into a new email at an appropriate size. You can even choose to include titles and keywords. Neat.
So why do we have to choose which email client we want to use? Is there not a default client handled by the system? You know, the one that responds to
mailto: URLs? Sadder still, the popup list is hard-coded with apps that might not even be installed on your system.
Hmmm… don’t wanna send these emails from the application I usually send email from, not today… how about AOL? Shit, turns out I don’t have it installed.
And let’s not forget the rotate button.
The first thing you might notice about the rotate buttons shown in the preferences dialog is that they differ a little from the button in iPhoto’s toolbar. Their appearance is a holdover from iPhoto 4; two years later this still hasn’t been updated.
Putting aside little graphical nitpicks like this for a second, what good is this preference? What good is this ‘feature’ of image rotation? In an effort to reduce clutter, iPhoto’s toolbar sports only one rotate button, and that button rotates in the direction you’ve determined in your preferences. You can hold down the Option key to quickly spin the opposite direction if you’re so inclined, or you can access either direction from the Photos menu in the menu bar. There are even keyboard shortcuts you can memorize for all your rotating needs. So why in the hell does this preference exist? Either hard-code one single direction, still allowing those other three ways to rotate contra, or give us two buttons in the toolbar. Preferences are a cop-out.
The saddest part of these three bugs (which have been filed in the appropriate manner with Apple, yes, stop emailing me) is that they’re so pathetic. They’re oversights, quick band-aids over sloppy UI, and coding errors. And I honestly expect better. This is paid software from a pioneer and modern giant of the computing industry, and it’s full of crap. To paraphrase Gruber, “at least it’s better than anything Microsoft could produce” is not high praise.
- The list of email clients iPhoto supports is defined by a handful of AppleScripts in
iPhoto.app/Contents/Resources/Scripts/. More can be added, and easily. Why more have not been added since 2003 is anybody’s guess.
- Some have argued that since < 100% of email clients can be handled by this AppleScript-reliant scheme, the preference should stay put. I say baloney, and the least iPhoto could do is select your preferred email client for you, assuming it’s supported.
- Thunderbird is the only non-AppleScriptable email client on OS X, right? And GMail Helper, of course.
- Gruber tells me his pet peeve with iPhoto’s preference window is that it’s modal, unlike every other preference window in every other app on the system. Well… every app except iTunes, but at least iTunes’ preferences have the decency to look modal as well as act modal. That whole Windowsy OK/Cancel-button thing is still a bit iffy though.
- My reasons for disliking the ‘rotate direction’ preference as a whole come from a series of observations I made of a friend using iPhoto. Not being the type to explore the menu bar willy-nilly (as so few ordinary users are), and certainly not being the type to depress her Option key with any regularity, the only means of rotating an image 90º counterclockwise she could conceive was to rotate it 270º clockwise… three clicks.
Imagine her relief upon discovering a preference for the direction of rotation! Now she only needed to open preferences, change the preference, close preferences, and rotate the image 90º clockwise… five clicks! There are plenty of these Option-key goodies around the place, particularly in the Finder, but damned if any of them has actually ever bothered me like this.
Probably because they don’t have preferences for them.
- I’m told the Update preference refers to iPhoto’s clever feature of bugging you with advertisements for the latest paid version of iPhoto, and doesn’t necessarily (I’m yet to have this confirmed) inform you of minor updates at all. Hooray! Nagware! Now there’s even less reason for this preference to exist: the “feature” shouldn’t exist in the first place.
I don’t, as a rule, talk to IM bots. I’m not that bored in my work. But some of my friends are, and thus do:
- Let’s talk feelings
- You really want to talk feelings?
- Because i have feelings for you
- You have feelings for me?
- Huh. How ’bout that.
- You are a sexy computer
- What makes me a sexy computer?
- Your luscious curves
- It’s not easy to be luscious curves.
- Don’t you know the rules of grammar?
- Gosh, I dunno... I don’t think I know the rules of grammar.
- Yeah, it shows
- That right?
- That’s right.
- Oh yeah? That’s right?
- Yeah, think about that you dumbass
- When i type “you’re”, it means “you are”. when i type “your” it means something that belongs to you; a possessive word. Got it?
- Ha! Who knows?
- No kidding, huh?
- I thought you were meant to be smart
- Don’t be so sure I was meant to be smart.
- I heard you were developed to catch pedophiles.
- I was developed to catch pedophiles? I did too, I think.
- Have you ever caught any pedophiles?
- What’s it like to do that?
- Satisfying? What’s satisfying?
- Catching pedophiles.
- Catching pedophiles is satisfying? Amazing!
- YOU’RE AN IDIOT
- Says who?
- Oh so you’re an idiot? Is that what we’re saying? Help me out here.
- Rough, rough language there, Honey.
I never thought I’d say it, but I’m having trouble coming up with smart-alec remarks today. I know I should be able to say unkind things about petty mistakes in a company’s interface design, but the hate just isn’t there. Maybe it has something to do with those ‘woman’ pills I found in my bathroom cabinet the other week.
Might explain the vagina, too.
Today’s adventure begins with the Appearance pane, a happy place where all preferences related to how the application looks are stowed. Forgetting those misplaced ‘show this’ and ‘show that’ prefs who seem to prefer it over in the General preferences pane, everybody seems to be here for the right reasons.
Except maybe animated scrolling.
The first time I launched iPhoto 6 and saw a preference for animated scrolling I made a weird face, kind of biting my lower lip and arching my left eyebrow at the same time. I can’t arch the right one… I don’t know why.
Animated scrolling? What does that even mean? I was hoping for something really exciting. Like one of those sales assistants at Boost. Now they’re animated. But lo, animated scrolling is simply an alias for smooth scrolling! And a preference for smooth scrolling, certainly not something one would expect to be opt-in on an application-by-application basis, is a System Preference! I heart redundancy.
Besides ‘Border’ and ‘Background’ being cruelly excluded from the ‘Organize View’ clique (being that they are relevant to the organize view, and the organize view alone —ignoring, for a moment, that iPhoto doesn’t really have ‘views’ like it used to— it just seems mean) the only thing left to pick on here is the ‘scrolling information’. What is this, 1997-era Internet Explorer? All I can think of is the
<marquee> tag. There’s gotta be a better name for that scrolly HUD than this.
There’s really not too much to speak of in the Sharing pane. I’ll tell ya right now I’m pleased as punch they repurposed the design from the iTunes sharing pane: if you’ve used one, you can damn well use the other. But ‘cha gotta wonder why there’s a label telling you your Status when, judging from the unchecked ‘Share my photos’ box and the screenful of disabled widgets, it’s pretty darn obvious I’m not sharing any photos right now. An unchecked checkbox next to a verb phrase tends to mean “don’t do this verb phrase”, no?
Photocasting is a toughie. You see, I’m not a .Mac subscriber, so I don’t know what this pane looks like when it isn’t busy telling me I haven’t set up my .Mac account. But I can tell you right now that the big alert that pops up every time telling me my .Mac configuration is incorrect is getting annoying as hell. Congratulations. I know you’re trying to up-sell me, but like every salesman you’ve only succeeded in your unstated goal to bug me. Please go away.
I already know the answer to my next question, but I have to ask. Why is photocasting a .Mac-dependent feature? Let’s forget all the bad RSS mojo going around for a moment: why can’t these photos and XML files be published to a WebDAV or FTP server? The same can be said of iWeb’s entire functionality, I know, but come on. Is .Mac customer retention so low you need to hang every convenient feature off of it to entice people to sign up?
Despite years of complaints against iPhoto’s keyword support in general, I can’t protest the way the master Keywords list is presented. It mightn’t even be needed if the feature were tidied up some, but there’s nothing really wrong with it. I’m unsure whether this warrants a thumbs-up, given the circumstances.
And finally, Advanced preferences… if only there weren’t a need for you. If only you weren’t the dregs of the preferences dialog, where ambiguous and difficult preferences go to live in obscurity. What does “Use RAW files with external editor” mean, anyway? Does it mean Edit them in an external editor? I hope so. Because there are only so many uses I can dream up for RAW files. I’m guessing the option is grayed out because I don’t have a RAW editor on the system, or I don’t have any RAW files in my library. Either way… weird.
It seems strange that the phrase “Copy files to iPhoto Library folder” should need to be qualified with a “when adding to library”. The checkbox is already grouped under “Importing”, the qualifier seems pretty redundant. And I should definitely hope it isn’t copying files into its library just for fun when it’s unchecked.
Better check that box… you don’t want it copying files into your iPhoto Library folder when you aren’t adding them to your library.
It also serves as a timely reminder to us all that you shouldn’t try to force a checkbox label onto two lines. Besides the fact that it can’t be done in Interface Builder, necessitating a ‘fake’ second line to be inserted using ordinary text elements, it means the second line doesn’t accept clicks to check and uncheck the box. You could code your way around this, but the iPhoto team didn’t.
Like Mail and iTunes before it, 2006 saw iPhoto embrace a new style of source list (or sidebar, if you like). And when I say style I naturally mean decorative style… because there’s really little functional difference between it and any other source list you’ll see in OS X, zany inconsistencies notwithstanding. It’s just kinda blue.
Fundamental to adopting this new style is the complete trashing of vertical window chrome and introduction of a new split-view resize widget. “New” in the sense that it has not traditionally been employed in split-views, but has been seen in the Finder since the earliest days of OS X and is essentially just a horizontally-constrained cousin of the window resize handle — the likes of which you will find at the bottom-right of almost every window in Mac OS, Windows, and Linux alike. This pleases me in the way that only the reuse of an already-familiar interaction model can, and cuts down on the chunkiness of the UI. Despite the HIG often demanding massive window margins from both Brushed Metal and Aqua, it was never really popular with the Aqua crowd. It looks like it’s even less popular in Burnt Aqua.
The funny part about this across-the-board reduction in window chrome is that it has nothing to do with making the UI any ‘lighter’. Weight was never a concern during Brushed Metal’s infamous march across the desktop, and I don’t see it being so now. No, this brave new minimalist chic is a product of the very-fashionable vertical gradient. Yes, an entire generation of software is being designed on a foundation no less capricious than women’s footwear. Try running a vertical gradient down the entire length of a window (upward of a thousand pixels, these days) and you’ll come off looking the fool, so they’ve cut it down to the bare minimum: top and bottom, title bar and status/tool bar.
Naturally, with all the focus on eliminating vertical chrome, nobody seems to give a damn about excess horizontal chrome; even less about misplaced, out-of-theme, goofy looking horizontal chrome. Obviously I’d like to see them do a little more with our new pal Resize Handle, if he’s up to the task. And I think he is.
Photocasts get their fifteen pixels of fame in the new sidebar, showing up in classic Smart Album Purple alongside a fairly stringy-looking refresh button. Subscribe to more than one and they’re automatically grouped into a Photocasts folder, which is nice, but uh… you can’t actually look at the folder.
Click on a folder, any folder, in iPhoto and it’ll show you the aggregate contents of every album, slideshow, book, and subfolder within. It’s really neat —and I did just say neat— wielding the power to build frightening photographic taxonomies and drill down, layer by layer, to your desired specificity. I don’t do that, of course, but I could. You bet your ass I could.
Not so with Photocasts. The Photocast folder doesn’t even accept clicks. Click on it and you might suspect your computer is taking a nap, or is simply stressed with all the new jargon it has to memorize. Not even a highlight. Or a beep. The disclosure triangle does its job, and each individual photocast will show you its contents, but you can forget trying to view them all at once. Click me once, shame on you. Click me twice…
Worse still, they’re all stuck in that darned Photocasts folder for good. There’ll be no mixing and matching of syndicated and static content, nosiree. And though the advertising copy claims “Aunt Sophia can use them however she’d like”, I would’ve hoped filing them as she pleased would be on top of that list. You can copy them to your library, sure, but while they’re considered foreign material they’re put where they’re put.
And finally, I’m pleased to see iCal’s “this one is published” icon get another day in the sun after iCal sharing went out of vogue, but as I’ve already alluded: I wish they’d do the same with iCal’s “you’re subscribed to this one” icon ( ) and ditch those stringy sync arrows.
Damn you Chris.
4 DVDs I keep watching
- Vanilla Sky
- Donnie Darko
4 TV shows I watch
- Family Guy
4 websites I visit daily
- The office extranet
- Whatever’s on RSS
4 foods I love
- Chocolate Mousse
- Apple Crumble
- Banana & Mango juice
- Caesar Salad
4 places I’d rather be
- the Belgian Beer Café
- Koh Tao
- Somewhere new
Just a little scary that I can now pick enough friends and family from my address book to pass blog curses on to. Even if they are mostly Livejournal users.