Posts from June, 2008

June 10th, 2008

Am I 3G Yet?

If you’re in the States, and you want an iPhone 3G, and you’re curious whether you’ll be paying 50% more per month for an unavailable service, here’s some help. Note that what AT&T says you’re getting and what you think you’re getting are not necessarily the same.

AT&T’s interactive map of cellular coverage. Tick the ‘Show 3G Coverage’ button to see whether the big blue smear of high-speed data covers your house, workplace, and coffeeshop.

Cities Supporting AT&T 3G/Mobile Broadband. This doesn’t necessarily agree with the map — for example, my city’s covered on the map, but not named on the list. Click on your nearest city and see what the map indicates.

As of this posting the site’s getting hammered.

June 8th, 2008

Ugh, the ringtone

This is my sole attempt at ringtone composition. The Sony Ericsson T616 phone had a little-known ringtone editor built in, where you could build a sequence out of a variety of musical snippets, each a couple seconds long.

On a long car ride a couple years ago, I attempted to make the most annoying ringtone possible. Here’s the original MIDI file, seventeen seconds long. Ugh! the ringtone

June 4th, 2008

Versions for versions of Subversion

A GUI console for version control: Versions.

The content and timelines of version control systems should be ripe pickings for a graphic metaphor, but I haven’t seen any good examples of it yet. Versions treats them primarily as hierarchical lists to be clicked through. I’ll have to test before deciding whether this works in practice, but it makes sense in the telling.

Requires XCode Tools for filemerge and diff display, so this might not be the thing for casual web developers. The beta is free, while version 1 is marked as payware with no price set yet.

June 3rd, 2008

Our long nightmare of floating help windows is finally over

Mac OS X Hints today published a simple one-liner to prevent Help Viewer windows from floating above everything else on the screen. Open a Terminal window and paste the following line:

defaults write NormalWindow -bool true

This undoes one of the worst design decisions Apple made in the latest version of OS X: To force the Help windows float over everything else on the screen. Reverting to the unloved default behavior is as simple as changing the ‘true‘ to ‘false‘ and executing the line again.

Floating windows are not inherently bad: Applications use ’em to contain tools or display things you may use in more than one window, so that, for example, your Photoshop brushes stay in the same place on your monitor no matter which image you’re editing. What makes the floating Help Viewer window bad is that it attempts to overlay everything in every app, ubiquitously. Unless you have screen real estate to burn, the Help Viewer actively prevents you from both doing a task and reading how.

Help Viewer doesn’t remember where you were and it doesn’t allow bookmarks. Closing the Help window means re-navigating to where you left off, a lot more work than simply putting it in the background and foregrounding it again a moment later. So thanks, Mac OS X Hints.

June 2nd, 2008

For the good of the American League

It ain’t over til it’s over… or is it? If political candidates should concede while they’re ahead, maybe sports teams ought to consider it as well.

June 2nd, 2008

553 words about 140 characters logo

Plurk is the latest buzz-grabber in the highly competitive revenueless industry of text-ish IM-ish Web 2.0 communication systems. Like Twitter, it’s used to post messages. Like Twitter, posts are limited to 140 characters. Unlike Twitter, Plurk’s trying too hard to give you things to do.

The beauty of Twitter is its minimalism: You post and you read posts. You could endlessly groom your friend and follow lists, marking favorites and directing messages to get the attention of people cooler than you, but only if that’s your thing. The Twitter experience is essentially unchanged whether Twitter’s accessed in a web browser, IM client, telephone or third-party application: You post and you read posts.

Plurk is Twitter maximalized, its social implications not only laid bare but automated and tallied on your behalf:

You post and read posts and collect posts and collect friends and form cliques and accumulate karma and fans. Karma is a product of your prolix and socializing skills: The more friends you have, the more you and your friends post, the higher your karma. By generating one innocuous post and connecting to two people, each of whom have posted twice, My profile shows 0.80 karma points and a prominent link about how to accumulate more. In Plurk, each post is a fractional drop in your karmic pool, affecting your ranking regardless of whether you’re blithering or entertaining, bad or good.

Posts on Plurk (I really haven’t got the nerve to say ‘Plurks’) are no better or worse than posts on Twitter. Topics orbit around banality: needing coffee, Twitter’s downtime, and the need for hookups of any variety. In Twitter, you can be a voyeur and learn how uninteresting everybody else is, which is comforting when your own posts amount to needing coffee, more uptime, and a hookup. In Plork, the dullness is commoditized, and roping more people in increases your karma. It’s a messaging service hybridized with strategy gaming and multi-level marketing. Those who type fastest and befriend quickest are profiled on the ironically titled ‘Interesting Plurkers’ page.

Posts are spread across a timeline, an added layer of presentation that’s awfully spiffy but prevents the rapid digestion of updates from my friends. Twitter puts things in a stack: I can get in, see if there’s anything important, and get out again. Twitter’s stickiness is specifically in its lack of tenacity. I keep going back because there’s no effort to make any visit last longer than I want it to. I get to keep up with a couple dozen acquaintances at a very low personal cost.

The timeline doesn’t make Plurk better than Twitter either — this is something possible with Twitter data for whomever feels sufficiently motivated. Twitter’s popularity and public API has fostered a rich ecology of third-party trackers, standalone applications, visualizers, and rankers. None of them are part of the Twitter UI, and don’t impose themselves upon you; you seek ’em out. Twitter can be used as something in service to another goal, while Plurk is firmly oriented around self-aggrandizement and popularity management. It could be used like Twitter, but that’s practically working against its design, whereas Twitter is content to sit there with a blank form and your latest messages in a pile. Twitter doesn’t have a decapitated dog as its mascot either.