Friday, September 30, 2005

iRant: User Interfaces

My wife and I went looking for a new mobile phone today and it brought to mind some long-standing complaints I have about a lot of user interface developers. For instance, why do I have to press and hold down a red button, the "off" button no less, to turn on a cell phone? On my car stereo, why do I have to press and hold in the "audio" button to change the clock? Speaking of clocks - I've set a lot of alarm clocks in my time and I'm a pretty quick study in those types of things, so how is it that the alarm clock in our guest room took me several minutes to figure out - a task I was assigned after both of our guests in that room were unable to set it? There's so many instances of bad user interfaces around that it just boggles the mind.

I helped teach a computer science class on user interfaces during my Master's degree at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and I loved it. We have a rich visual history that can, if we use it, supply us with a great deal of information without resorting to the written word. Red means stop, guys - or off - it certainly doesn't mean on - why can't I just hold down the green button on my cell phone to turn it on? At this stage in our evolution, many devices should be operable without resorting to instructions - we're pretty tech-savy apes at this point, so why is there so little effort to unify the symbol-ism that we've all internalized into the development of consistently understandable user interfaces? This is one reason why I love Apple products so much - I don't need to read the manual, it's intuitive b/c Apple UI designers study how users USE things, so what gives with so many other companies (VCR makers take note! :-) )?

I've brought up just a few instances of poor user interfaces, yet I come across new examples every week. Anybody out there want to share some of their worst UI experiences? It's just a comment away... :-)

PS: Woo hoo, got today's post in before midnight!
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9/30/2005 10:21:00 p.m.  

commandN: T-shirts at

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that we've finally got our commandN T-shirts up at Improve your wardrobe while supporting independent video content online - sounds like a deal to me! :-)
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9/30/2005 10:19:00 p.m.  

Thursday, September 29, 2005

inPrint: Macworld (Oct05) 5/5

I have categories to cover video/film and music, so I figure I owe it to that stalwart of old media, the printed word, to give it its own category. :-)

There are only two magazines that I subscribe to on an ongoing basis and one of them is Macworld (you'll just have to wait to find out what the other one is, but don't worry, it's PG-13 :-) ). Every month I read Macworld from cover to cover - even if the article doesn't interest me, there's something (maybe my deeply ingrained obsessive compulsiveness ;-) ) that makes me trudge through it. This month's Macworld, like most, is rife full of interesting stuff and here are some highlights...

Final Cut Studio review - the bulk of this month's reviews section focuses on the different elements of Final Cut Studio (Final Cut Pro 5, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro 4, Motion 2). Not only did this section make me want to go out and buy the whole Studio, it gave me a much better understanding of how the different elements of the Studio work together.

Tiger Secrets Declassified - while I'm sure I won't make use of all the "55 Hidden Features, Slick Tricks, and Smart Timesavers" (I think "Smart Timesavers" is a bit of a pun given their numerous references to Smart Folders, Groups, Mailboxes, etc.), I definitely found some of great use.
For one, I've really missed being able to highlight a group of files (say, for burning to a DVD) and hitting command-I (Get Info) to see their total combined size (this changed from Panther to Tiger). One solution in Tiger: drag those files into a Burn Folder (File->New Burn Folder - this does NOT move the files, it just creates aliases) and click on the burn button (before inserting your DVD-R/CD-R) - their combined size will be displayed.
There's also a lot of references in this article to using the Automator to do things such as combine PDFs - well worth a look!

Which Mac is Right for You - a buying guide to Macs. Although this is something that I don't really have the need for personally, it's a great resource for all those friends who have been asking you what type of Mac they should buy.

Whip Up a Widget - a how-to guide to building simple widgets. The example they use is a widget that counts down to an event in the future, but their explanation makes a great first step to learning how widgets work internally.

You can find much of the information from the magazine online at, so you don't even have to buy the magazine to check it out (although it's hard to beat such informative bite-sized reading for your bathroom library :-) ).

PS: Subscribing for a year's worth of issues costs less than several issues bought at the newstand, so don't be afraid to invest. ;-)
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9/29/2005 03:29:00 p.m.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

eyeCandy: Robots (2005) 4/5

Having worked in the computer animation industry for a while, I've gotten in the habit of seeing almost all of the animated movies that come out. But since I've moved to Halifax, I haven't had the Mainframe or EA crew to go out in gaggles on opening night, so I waited for Robots' DVD release yesterday before seeing it.

Although not as strong as Blue Sky's first outing, Ice Age, Robots looks great and has a good heart/message (and even a couple of chuckles). Apparently the idea for doing a movie about robots came long before the story for Robots, and you can sort of tell - the movie feels like a collection of cool scenes more than a continuous story. Oh, and I'd love to see a new animated "kids" flick that avoided gastronomical jokes entirely, which is not the case here :-) . That said, Robots is enjoyable enough for adults and I'm sure kids would like it. There's been great efforts made to present a very compelling, original robot world, and the voice acting is well done too (Ewan McGregor sans accent, Robin Williams being zany, Mel Brooks, etc.).

PS: Part of the reason I nudged this up to 4/5 is that I'm pretty sure I could have loved this just for the scenery if I had gone to see the Imax release ;-) .
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9/28/2005 03:11:00 p.m.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

MacOnMacs: Chatting on the Mac (IRC/VOIP/etc.)

Someone recently posted a comment asking for advice on an IRC program for Mac OS X. So I figured, being a responsible and responsive blogger now, I should take that as the lead for my next Mac-related post. :-) I'm going to talk about a few related programs that are free to download and how/why I use them:

iChat - this comes with the Mac OS and is worth trying out. My disappointments with iChat have been more in the realm of failed attempts to realize multipe-person video chats (in conjuction with an iSite or other web/video cam) as promised, not with text or even voice chatting. I am told that this is likely an ISP issue, but it's still disappointing. You can talk to other iChat users or those on AOL or Jabber Instant Messenger services.

MSN Messenger - I use this, and I imagine that many people use this, simply because it is what most people use (which isn't very Mac-like of us, is it :-) ). The service seems to go down a lot for me and reconnecting involves too many clicks as far as I'm concerned. However, it's free and it's likely what you'll reach the most people on.

Skype - I think Skype deserves a shout out here too. Although most people think of Skype more as dedicated VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), it also has very functional text chatting as well. Plus, it has the best potential cross-platform coverage of any of these programs. I've had no issues doing multiple-voice chats, and it even has it's own widget. Check it out - you may be surprised how easy it is to avoid paying for those long distance phone calls!

All of the above can also deal with direct file transfers (i.e. drag and drop of files through your chat window) with varying degrees of ease/reliabiliity.

BTW, I've been doing much more voice chatting online recently (for work, but also to talk with my folks, etc.), so I'll post on how to set this up within the next few weeks, including the hardware and software that you'll need.
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9/27/2005 12:24:00 p.m.  

Monday, September 26, 2005

commandN: Sweet 16th Episode!

Thought I should post a reminder to check out my weekly vidcast, commandN, co-hosted by my sister Amber MacArthur and Mike Lazazzera from Call for Help. My segment is on the Teleport software for Mac, a sort of virtual KVM switch that let's you share a keyboard and a mouse between numerous Macs in your network. A new episode of commandN is available for download every Monday at!
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9/26/2005 04:40:00 p.m.  

eyeCandy: Cinderella Man (2005) 5/5

Wow, I just watched Cinderella Man (2005) with Russell Crowe and loved it. Director Ron Howard has dished out another poignant tale with this story of a depression-era boxer who miraculously got a second chance and became an inspiration for the downtrodden of the time. I really can't find fault with this movie - the flow was bang on, the story was riveting, the fights were great, and, being based on a true story, there wasn't too much Hollywood over-dramatization nonsense (a big plus and why I'm getting to prefer documentaries over many movies these days). On a more personal note, this was filmed mostly in Toronto and the landlord of a friend of mine was the onset carpenter/builder. Unfortunately, that didn't get me any closer to a peek at the action OR Renee Zellweger (although that girl needs to eat a little more - she looks way better with a few more pounds on her) ;-) . Check it out!
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9/26/2005 10:24:00 a.m.  

Saturday, September 24, 2005

earCandy: Jamiroquai - Dynamite (2005) 4/5

I've been listening to Jamiroquai's new album, Dynamite, for the past few days and I'm pretty happy about it. Their last album, A Funk Odessy, was a little too synth to me personally, but I think this album is a bit of a return for them. A little more eclectic, wiith some wonderful throwback tunes, like the ablum-ender "Time Won't Wait", this album feels more organic than the last album, with more musicality and content placed above production values. Other prize tunes are the Parliament-influenced "Star Child" and the more laid-back "Talulah". A happy return for one of the consistently best bands of the past decade. Check it out!
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9/24/2005 09:53:00 p.m.  

Friday, September 23, 2005

MacOnMacs: Apps no Mac-head should be without

I've had a lot of friends purchase Macs recently, and so I've gone through the process of "bring your Mac over and I'll download the apps you really want from the start" with them. Having done this several times, I thought it'd make a good blog post (and would save me some time by just pointing them here ;-) ). Search for these using or - these are two great sites that all Mac people should know about for finding software (bookmark them!)...

MPlayer - this is my default video player for everything except VCDs and DVDs. I've yet to find something it won't play (unlike QuickTime, which can't seem to deal with DivX stuff very well, among other things). Easy controls, good funcionality, and free. PS: If you're double clicking on a video file and it's coming up as unplayable in QuickTime, just drag and drop it onto this open app.

VLC - this is my video player for VCDs and anything that MPlayer has trouble with (which ain't much!). Don't like the controls, but the functioality is certainly there.

Acquisition - the best non-BitTorrent P2P for the Mac, as far as I'm concerned. Great integration with the OS/other apps (espcially iTunes), a wide variety of networks, and constant/ongoing development/improvements. There's a nag warning that comes up but that's a small price to pay for such a well-developed program (and frankly, this is worth buying).

Cyberduck - my choice for a free FTP app with good functionality and a simple interface.

AbiWord - this isn't needed for everyone, but if you want to work with WordPerfect/.wpd files (yes, some people still use WordPerfect :-) ) then this is a great, free way to do so on a Mac. Spread the word!

OmniGraffle - okay, it's not free (though there is a limited functionality version to try) and it's not something everyone will use, but this Visio-replacement is one of my fav Mac programs of all time. Good for anything from org charts to web wireframes to laying out your garden or mapping out your home theatre connections! If you've ever needed something like Visio for the Mac then this is it. Do a search for free templates online (there's lots!).

I'll be going over some more great Mac apps in the future (and a lot of non-Mac things too :-) ), but the above is a great starter list for switchers and other Mac newbies. Have fun!
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9/23/2005 09:29:00 a.m.  

Thursday, September 22, 2005

My first blog...

Well I've done it at last - I've created a blog! With all the mail I've gotten from my work co-hosting the commandN vidcast, I'm finally convinced that there is some point in me putting my thoughts up online. I plan on (but don't hold me to this! :-) ) posting every day, so let me tell you some of what to expect...

- Mac stuff (I'm a total Mac-head despite making sure to be inclusive of our less fortunate Windows and Linux cousins on commandN. Stay tuned for some tips on must-have apps, living the Mac life, and other riveting topics! :-) )

- Music stuff (Music is my greatest passion. I've led many bands, currently Solcola, and written a lot of music, but I love finding new music too. I'll keep you up to date with what's going on with Solcola, as well as what I'm listening to.)

- Film/Video stuff (commandN isn't the only video production I've been involved with. From classes at Vancouver Film School to doing computer animation at Mainframe Entertainment, creators of Reboot, I have a long-standing interest in movies, television, and other video work. So I'll let you know what I'm watching, what I'm making, and what I think of it all.)

- General Rantings (I'm sure I'll have a lot to say on other subjects as well, so I guess I should have a catch-all category. ;-) )

I'm just figuring my way around Blogger, so I'll get some pics and other stuff up soon too. Looking forward to blogging with ya!
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9/22/2005 03:27:00 p.m.