Apple’s Blind Side

I recently bought my dad a new 20″ iMac and today I set it up for him. This has been a long time coming, going back at least three years that he has suffered under viruses and adware on Windows systems that would grind his computer to a halt. Up until now, he’s been replacing each system every 9-12 months with another $500 generic PC, but since each one used the same version of windows, the cycle would repeat.

His iMac is probably the sixth or seventh mac I’ve set up out of a box and the experience is great as always. I loaded the programs he used on his PC (almost everything was browser-based, and on firefox, so not too big of a change) and functional replacements were tossed into the dock (TextEdit instead of Notepad.exe, etc).

There was one big sticking point though. He is in his 60s and runs large fonts in Windows (which is easy to change) in order to see everything easily. I saw his PC boot up and figured no prob, we’ll just mimic it in Leopard since Apple has consistently been a forerunner in the Accessibility options.

And here’s where things get surprising.

This is the System Preferences window:

So I tried out the Accessibility pane since that seemed the obvious place:

This preference pane looks fantastic — large fonts, high contrast — perfect for what I need, but looking under the “Seeing” options, I don’t see anything except optional key modifiers to temporarily zoom the interface. Nothing about fonts, nothing about zooming without requiring some panning when zoomed in. I just want the entire OS to look like that pane, but I’m not seeing the option.

I go back to the all preferences and think “Appearance” must be it then. On a Windows box that’s where you see fonts show up so I bet it is there. Let’s look:

hmm. Nothing about fonts. I try the OS X help and there are no results for “large fonts”. I can’t believe there isn’t a simple option, so I google around. Any combination of “large fonts” and “os x” and “visibility” and “leopard” ends with thousands of links to articles about the utility FontBook. After a couple hours, I only came away with the suggestion that I set the fonts large in every single app my father might use, and if I wanted the Apple menubar along the top any more legible, there is some sort of plist xml hack to bump things up in Finder, using an obscure program.

Did I miss something obvious somewhere? I asked several longtime mac using friends where one would change the entire system to 24 or 36pt fonts by default and everyone initially thought like I did, that it must be in the Accessibility preferences, but none of my friends could find it either.

This is one of the few times I have to say Windows has it right (and has had right for many years) — it is extremely easy to find a way to bump the entire OS to larger more legible fonts with just a couple clicks, but I’m not seeing it anywhere on a Mac running Leopard.

Did I miss something obvious?

An iPhone lesson I wish I hadn’t learned today

If you leave your iPhone on vibrate 90% of the time like I do and you use the iPhone as an alarm clock when you travel, remember to turn off vibrate before you go to sleep, because the sound that wakes you up won’t be Marimba, it’ll be Airport Shuttle Guy Banging On Your Door, which is a much less pleasant tone.

1st gen iPhone battery life issues: it’s the apps?

I’ve had my original iPhone for over a year now, and I’ve had a pretty stable use pattern. I charge the phone often (every time I’m in a car (daily) and every other night attached to my computer) and rarely see the battery dip below maximum. For usage, I typcially use it for about 15 minutes of internet stuff in the morning, I’ll use it for about 10 minutes or so around lunch, and I’ll often go out for 60-90 minutes of daily exercise time using it as a music player. I probably make an average of only 3-5 calls on it a week, so it’s mostly an internet device to me, acting in place of a laptop whenever I’m outside of my house.

In the week since the launch of the 2.0 OS, I’ve loaded my iPhone up with about a dozen apps, but mostly I’ve just tested them out or played with them for five minutes and haven’t launched them a second time. The one app I surprisingly use (surprising because I’m not normally into games and not into cards/gambling at all) is the Texas Hold ’em game. I’ve probably played it an hour a day since I got the iPhone 2.0 OS.

What I’ve noticed so far is that if I play a few hands in the game, then hit the sleep button at the top to throw the phone in my pocket or put it on a table to be ignored, when I come back my battery will be down to a half or less. It happened the other night when I played the game before bed. I woke up to a nearly dead iPhone on my nightstand.

It’s weird because I’ve never “exited” or “quit” iPhone’s native apps before and I’ve never had battery life issues. I often just hit the sleep button when I’m reading email or in the camera app, and the battery will be fine hours later. Yesterday I noticed I played some poker, hit the sleep button, went away for one hour, and my battery was half drained.

I know it’s a pain that Apple screens all the apps and I bet 3G and GPS are power drains on the new iPhone, but I have a feeling even the well-vetted apps are causing a lot of power consumption that wasn’t happening in the past.

I’ll concede this is just a hunch and I may be wrong, but after a year of a constantly full battery under mild use, the only changes I’ve made in the past week were using one new app, and my battery is now getting drained much faster.

By listening to this you acknowledge you are: Brian Davidson

I’ve been getting some annoying robot phonecalls recently on a daily basis. They always give me menu options to hear more, but never an option to tell them they got the wrong number (or some guy put down the wrong number). The robot leaves messages with half of their recorded message so when I was deleting a slew of them today I noticed one sounded very different from the rest, so I took a quick recording of it.

There’s something almost melodic in how the robot says the name and the message is pretty amusing in the way it reads like the worst EULA ever and that part of it sounds like the Miranda Rights being read to you.

Here it is, enjoy:
[audio:|titles=Brian Davidson|artists=Brian Davidson]

Anyone that wants to download it and put some beats or throw it into a mix is welcome to this direct link to the file.

Bizjam Seattle

I’m going to be speaking at Bizjam Seattle this Wednesday afternoon about my high road approach to blogging (eschewing SEO snake oil and not being an annoying person on every social network). Judging by the titles, I suspect half the talks will be preaching the opposite of what I’m planning to say, so it’ll either be a breath of fresh air in a sea of insanity for attendees, or it’ll go over like a lead balloon. Either way, it should be fun.

Here are my slides:

update: I gave the talk and it went over well. I added my notes for every slide to Slideshare. Click the “view” link above, then click on the “Comments on Slide 1” tab below the slides to see my notes. It should look like this when you click on it. Then, use the arrows to go from slide to slide and you can read my notes for what I talked about on each slide (since the slides themselves have very little info on them).

Previous/Next and Back/Next pagination links considered harmful

One last UI nitpick I’ve been meaning to write down for ages, and it goes like this:

  1. You’re viewing recent photos/posts on a website and you want to read more, so you click the button at the bottom to give you a few more older entries
  2. You view those photos/posts then scroll down to get more
  3. Your choices are labeled “Previous” and “Next” or “Back” and “Next”
  4. Which do you choose? Why?

The problem as I see it is mostly a vocabulary one in the English language used to describe date-ordered output. Since I’m viewing recent content and I’m wanting to request older stuff, I tend to think of “Previous” and “Back” as representing the idea of “Older”. But most often the Back or Previous refers to the previous page you were on, which had Newer photos/post that you already viewed, so the “Next” option is used to fetch older entries. See how that’s cognitively backwards?

I saw this just hit me on flickr mobile (screenshot of page 2 of my photostream is shown below) and I’ve seen it on countless other blogs and web applications. I get tripped up on this several times a week.

flickr mobile

My proposed solution

Never use the phrases Previous/Next or Back/Next that cause confusion in the first place for date-based output in your web application. Instead, explicitly make your labels for pagination say Older and Newer to make it abundantly clear to users. Here are some screenshots from MetaFilter, where I use it exclusively (and I always make Older point to the left, and Newer point to the right, which I’d say is optional but pick a consistent direction for both and stick with it throughout your webapp).

June cycling/diet update

Cycling is going really well since the weather is nice. I rode 398 miles (just shy of my target 400-500 per month this summer) in June and I did quite a bit of hill climbing work, with over 20,000 feet climbed for the month (the month previous was about half that).

Diet-wise, I sort of hit a wall, recording the same weight at the previous two or three months. I exercised my ass off in June but I also ate like a horse so I’m spending the first week of July really watching what I eat and cutting out a few more things that are probably keeping my weight steady.

This is broken too: Threadless shopping cart logins

Threadless is my favorite place to buy t-shirts, period (this includes any offline stores). I’ve bought dozens and dozens of them and I even subscribed to the shirt of the month club for a year, but every time I make the mistake of throwing a few shirts in my virtual cart and then remembering to login afterwards, I lose all my previous selections. I buy shirts there every couple months and in between each visit I often forget about this bug in the long lost hopes someone fixes it. When I got hit with it for the millionth time tonight, I took a few quick screen captures to demonstrate the problem.

Here is video of the shopping cart failure

The first 30 second bit is me adding a shirt to my cart, continuing to shop, then logging in and trying to check out, but my cart turns up empty. Not good.

The second shorter bit is after I add a shirt to my cart, go to check out, then remember I should login to grab my saved address/credit card/etc info, but as you can see it clears out the cart. Oftentimes I lose 15 minutes of shopping time picking out just the right shirts in my size because the cart clears out every time upon login. Then I have to try and remember all the designs I liked and put them back in the cart (often I just quit and shop the next time they send me a ‘new releases’ email)

Threadless, I love you guys to death but I’ve encountered this bug for about two years and would love love love it if you fixed it with some cookie/session storage of shirt selections so I don’t lose my cart upon login

(why login? if you don’t login, it basically creates a new threadless account with your exact same details and there was a time I was subscribed to their mailing list three times under different “accounts”).

update: by the power of greyskull, this has been fixed!

My cousin’s wedding hack

Putting rings on, originally uploaded by mathowie.

My cousin Tony and his girlfriend got married this past weekend and as a young couple in Southern California, they’ve been saving for years for their first house. On the occasion of their marriage, they didn’t want to fill a non-existent house with blenders and trinkets but didn’t want to flatly refuse gifts since weddings tend to be a place where people like to help out new couples by giving them gifts, but I think they felt weird asking for money towards a new home purchase.

So they came up with a pretty cool idea. He’s an artist and she’s a writer, and together they collected a bunch of paintings, ceramics, photos, and drawings and put them up for silent auction for several hours before and after the ceremony. Everything I liked had bids into the hundreds of dollars and all told, I bet they raised a couple grand in the process of letting family buy some pretty cool works of art.

I hope my other artist friends and family do this in the future, because I thought it was a pretty cool idea.