Tuesday, January 27, 2004

fonts, fonts, delicious fonts.

If you know me, you know i have a soft spot for typefaces. Letterhead Fonts: Rare and Unique Typefaces for Artists really delivers the goods on display type -- the sort of stuff you'd use in signage, logo design, and other spot projects. I think their home page does a brilliant job of putting the fonts they sell into appealing, look-what-you-can-do contexts, such as sample signboards or product packaging designs. In fact, many of them remind me of the finished product you'd find in a Before & After tutorial. Neat.


Sunday, January 25, 2004

"Social networking Backlash." LinkedIn? You're next.

I've been reading The Kicker to get a properly cynical take on pop culture and all things New York. (Working there over the past couple of months has inevitably sparked new interest in this still best-and-brightest city in all the land.) Author Spiers' latest posting has me wondering if LinkedIn, which is really Friendster "Get Me A Job" Edition, is going to suffer by association. If Dick's take is to be trusted, it's got doom scrawled all over it.


Sunday, January 18, 2004

Nick Bradbury (creator of FeedDemon, TopStyle, HomeSite) Interview

I posted my own comments directly to this insightful since1968: Nick Bradbury Interview already, but I thought I'd link back to it directly as well. Nick's software has consistently been rattling around somewhere in my toolchest since about 1999, and even though I always find a reason to check out the latest-and-greatest from Macromedia, Adobe, and others, Nick's nuanced approach to designing and debugging web code at the source level remains unmatched.

If you're still using HomeSite, you should really checkout TopStyle. It's what HomeSite will never grow up to be since Nick has no association with it anymore; furthermore Macromedia seems to have done nothing substantive with it since acquiring it from Allaire.


Thursday, January 8, 2004

The Starbucks coffee console: conflict is built-in

I've bought enough coffee at Starbucks to know that they run just about every aspect of their operation at peak efficiency and with just about every customer satisfaction gauge needle in the green. It's an impressive outfit, and at least at the franchise level, they get precious few of the important answers wrong. However, one irksome interaction that intensifies from non-event to conscious, maddening annoyance is forced by the design of the cream-and-sugar console. They've got it consistently mis-organized, at least at every Starbucks here in Chicago (and I've been to dozens of them, for shame) -- especially the ones in the Loop that offer self-service coffee. Not one to talk out of school, at least not without pictures, I put my P800 to use a few mornings ago to illustrate the problem (and my suggested solution).

At the Lasalle/Lake location, patrons get their self-serve brew here:

They then shuffle somnambulently to the right to get their sugar/Equal/vanilla powder fix, plus half-and-half or milk.

HOWEVER, it's inevitably when they decide to cap their coffee that they realize the plastic Solo lids are back over where the insulated canisters are placed.

This leads to customers who'd thought they'd achieved sublime greatness instead having to tuck tail and go the back of the line just to get a damn lid, or cut someone off who's on his way from coffee to creamer. I've been on both the giving and receiving ends. it's a dog-eat-dog existence, I tell you.

Memo to Starbucks Chicago HQ: Stack the lids with the finisher ingredients. It's a time-and-motion study you won't have to pay for; customer satisfaction improvements guaranteed!

The other problem with the console: it's designed with room for two people, but its accessory arrangement means crossing arms and fumbling through someone else's personal space first thing in the morning. A special hell for pre-caffeine American white collar types, I can assure you. Why is this so? Simply because sugars are in the center and an uncertain distribution of whole, skim, and half-and-half caps either end. Whole milk not on your side? Of course not. It's cause the other bozo is using it. Gotta wait. Then when he's done, you bump knuckles reaching for the milk on his side while he dives into Sugar in the Raw. Agony! Not to be outfoxed, the elevator repair guy waiting behind both of you nincompoops tries to "lemme just sneak the skim from ya there" behind your left shoulder. No dice, as you expertly set a moving pick on that rookie gambit.

...Too much gamesmanship. Instead, if you want to allow both meticulous and casual users maximum exposure to coffee fixings, consider the two place station redesign below:


milk/cream centered in the middle, two of each (as it is now). Up to three people could get at it, conceivably. Plus, sugar/powder trays are specific to each station. No more rapped knuckles!

To summarize:

1) Arrange lids with creamer station, not dispensers. People put a lid on finished coffee. Heck, leave some lids with the dispensers so the "I take it black" crowd can totally save face.

2) Redesign the station to accomodate two patrons from a single central pedestal. No more whole milk horror stories.


Checkride Horror Stories

The final step in getting your pilot's license is the dreaded checkride: fly with an unforgiving examiner, demonstrate competence in several representative flight maneuvers, and simulate an emergency, among other tasks. Well, what happens if an actual emergency arises during the checkride? Shouldn't the student get a crack at actually managing it? Apparently not:

"On December 7, 2003, at 1600 Pacific standard time, a Cessna 172N, N739SU, lost engine power and collided with the ground while executing a forced landing 8 miles west of Snelling, California. The American School of Aviation was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The student pilot and a designated examiner were not injured, and the airplane was substantially damaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed. The instructional flight originated at Castle Airport, Atwater, California, at 1545.

The student pilot reported to the Safety Board investigator that about 10 minutes into his private pilot check flight, at 3,000 feet, the engine made a loud noise and smoke entered the cockpit. The smoke seemed to originate from the engine. The engine lost power and was not responding to throttle adjustments. The designated examiner took the airplane's controls and selected a green field into which to perform a forced landing. During the landing touchdown the nose wheel caught the ground, and the airplane nosed over on to its back. The aircrew safely egressed the airplane.

Source: Planenews Aviation News Portal

You might say, "Shobe, your life's at stake, put the damn thing in a professional's hands, you greenhorn." I'd reply, "why would you ever fly with me unless I can handle the same emergency myself?" It's not like the Cessna I'm flying on my own is Do Overs-equipped.


Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Reasonable 'decluttering' advice from Wild On...Usabilty's own host, Jakob Nielsen

For all of you who (somewhat rightly) argue Nielsen complains about technology but never suggests improvements: his Ten Steps for Cleaning Up Information Pollution offers some guidance you probably shouldn't ignore, no matter where you are in the digital workplace. I for one believe his best advice in this piece is evergreen: "write short" and "don't use Reply to All." These are tips that I so wish people would remember the next time they're buried in their own inbox, wondering how things got that way. Just stopping to ask "does this person really need to see my reply?" probably would cut email clutter by a third or half if practiced across any sizeable organization. Being as brief as possible in the actual reply would be a godsend as well.

You know what? It would be kind of cool to have some sort of incentive for email efficiency that could be tracked by server-wide scoring system. The hard part would be reconciling a specific employees' email frequency/message length with measured business results or productivity. But I bet that somewhere in the fuzzy math is a score generator that would be at minimum fun-to-know, at maximum directly rewarding to those who write x% smarter than their peers.


Monday, January 5, 2004

Useful hard drive "dead pool" prediction utility

Panterasoft's freeware HDD Health looks to be one of those just-the-thing utilities for getting yourself a bit of advance warning about impending trouble. According to its online help, HDD Health does its darndest to predict a probable drive failure date based a broad cross-section of S.M.A.R.T.-enabled drive parameters and their current values. Don't know from S.M.A.R.T.? It's probably on every hard drive your late model computer posesses, but you probably don't have a utility to mine the data this diagnostic system is collecting. Unless you snap to it and snag HDD Health today, that is.

Sure looks worth a try. Ad-aware says it's not given me any new spyware, so that's something. I'm gonna run it for a week on my 3 years-ancient Thinkpad and see what sort of predictions it cooks up. If I fail to blog a results follow-up, well, it's quite possible The Date is this weekend.

Friday, January 2, 2004

i'll be checking the wheel well a little more closely on <em>my</em> next pre-flight, that's for sure...

Slate's semi-matter-of-fact analysis, Do Jet Stowaways Ever Survive? - The dangers of traveling beneath business class, highlighted by recent headlines documenting same, just boggles the mind. There are a lot of things desperate people will try for a shot at freedom, but this just seems like can't-miss suicide. Shockingly, Slate claims a 1-in-5 historical survival rate from FAA research. (Since those records go back to 1947, I'm thinking most of the lucky bastards were hitching on low, slow prop planes.) I guess those are better odds than you'll get in a barrel over Niagara Falls. But still!