Industrial Design

The Department of Style - TiVo Series3

Bobi has a Samsung VCR/DVD player, now several years old. She likes to watch TV with the lights off. So we sometimes have trouble changing channels, on account of we're holding the remote backwards. Which is why the above blog entry caught my eye.
I like the new remote. It has more texture on it, so it is easier to find the buttons without looking[...] There is asymmetry in the textures, which solves the problem with the old remote where you can pick the thing up backwards and rewind instead of commercial skip.

Thoughtful design is so impressive.

Blogging Tools

I've been with Bobi in Kazakhstan since the first of the month. She's adopting a baby, and I'm here to help :) You can find the full story at The Den Hartog Stork.

Up to now I've been keeping my notes on paper, and it looks like a hopeless task to get them all posted. There's just too much stuff! Besides, Bobi has things well covered in her blog.

Instead I'll just start keeping notes online from today. Or rather, from tonight. It's about 4:30 am just now, and I'm awake because this receding cold has given me a dry cough.

We're both using Blogger. It's free and easy, and it lets you include images in your posts with some control over the layout. But, watching Bobi compose a post, it seems a lot of time can be lost trying to control the flow of text around inline images. The only reliable technique seems to be to insert a bunch of blank lines and to hope that your content pane remains at a fixed width.

The point is that page layout can be pretty distracting when you're using Blogger. This is one reason I'd rather be using something like iWeb. If I could have brought the Powerbook on this trip (or if I'd sprung for a MacBook with Parallels) this would be a non-issue; we'd be producing pages with the layout we wanted -- and with whole swaths of text rendered as copy-unfriendly PNG images :)

In general it's a pain for me to be Mac-less. Never mind controlling how images are arranged in a post, how do I crop my poorly composed images for display in a blog post? With the Mac it's Command-Control-Shift-4 (or something like that -- it's burned into muscle memory) and a sweep of the mouse. With Windows it's probably something similar, but my ignorance makes for a lot of frustration. (Or maybe I should start downloading little utilities for Windows, e.g. MWSnap? Anyone have any recommendations? Anyone?)

There's still a big opportunity for somebody to produce a cross-platform blogging tool which makes it easy to control page layout and which renders content as plain old HTML.

PBS | I, Cringely . January 19, 2006 - Hitler on Line One

PBS | I, Cringely . January 19, 2006 - Hitler on Line One

Fascinating stuff in this article, and – the current administration's behaviors aside – a sign that sometimes government shores up, rather than erodes, our civil rights.

For example, throughout WWII, all international communications originating in the U.S. (phone, cable, mail) were intercepted and monitored. Only in later years did the courts decide this was a violation of the 4th amendment.

Anyway, the question Cringely is trying to answer, is whether the Bush administration violated the law, and how serious any violations were.

I didn't know whether to be outraged or bored, and I feared that most Americans were in similar positions.


Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: Guy's Golden Touch

Describes the traits Guy associates with a great product:

  • Deep. ...As your demands get more sophisticated, you discover that you don’t need a different product.

  • Indulgent. ...not the least common denominator, cheapest solution in sight.

  • Complete. Documentation counts. Customer service counts. Tech support counts...a great total user experience...

  • Elegant. Things work the way you’d think they would.

  • Emotive. deep, indulgent, complete, and elegant that it compels you to tell other people about it.

Hm. So I've never worked on a great product, but some have been pretty good.

National Geographic's Genographic Project

How to Participate - The Genographic Project

Remember Spencer Wells and The Journey of Man? This is his follow-on project, funded by Nat Geo.

I guess they figured out a way to get different ethnic groups to participate. And they even found a way to get us to foot the bill. $100 is steep, but it's still kind of cool.
With a simple and painless cheek swab you can sample your own DNA.

To insure total anonymity you will be identified at all times only by your kit number.

If you'd like to contribute your own results to the project's global database you'll be asked to answer a dozen "phenotyping" questions that will help place your DNA in cultural context.

Samples will be analyzed for genetic "markers" found in mitochondrial DNA and on the Y chromosome. We will be performing ONE OF two tests for each public participant:

Males: Y-DNA test. This test allows you to identify your deep ancestral geographic origins on your direct paternal line.

Females: Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). This tests the mtDNA of females to identify the ancestral migratory origins of your direct maternal line.

LAMP vs. Java

This year I joined a team which is building web apps to teach cheminformatics. We do use a little Java because one of our vendors implemented its toolset in Java. (And those tools include 3D chemical structure depictors.)

We got started in the springtime, shortly before the appearance of TurboGears. But we're using a similar set of tools: PostgreSQL, Python, CherryPy and CherryTemplate, jsolait, and a fair bit of custom JavaScript. And HTML. And CSS 2.1. And R, at least for prototyping. And we're managing it all, to the extent that we're managing anything :), with subversion and Trac.

As the Businessweek article suggests, this set of tools works well. I don't see any reason to use any more Java than we absolutely must.