October, 2007

Oct 07

data detectors in leopard

I’m really happy that something called “Data Detectors” has shown up in mail.app (at least) in Leopard. This is something that ATG (Apple Technology Group — the research labs) had prototyped maybe 10 years ago when I was there. The idea is that we tend to get certain types of semi-structured data in e-mails: suggested meeting times, contact info, things like that. Here’s an example from my in box yesterday:

Now when I hover over “Monday November 5th at 2:00pm”, I get a clickable menu with 2 items: “Create New iCal Event…” and “Show Date in iCal”. Selecting the first gives me this menu, mostly filled in with all the right information (note that it even picked up San Francisco as a location later in the sentence – amazing! – even though it didn’t understand enough about the context to get it right):

For my money, this is just one of the coolest things ever. Works for contact information, too — tends to work well on the contact blocks at the bottom of peoples’ e-mails. (Although I think I’d like contacts to be somewhat more automatic — I’d like to just have a big always updating database of all the contact info in all my mail all the time, synced to my iPhone — so while I think the data detector tech is really neat here, I think the usage context is a bit different.)

Oct 07

slam, by Nick Hornby

I seem to be super-bloggy today — probably just procrastinating, which is particularly dumb this week, since it’s a short week in the office.

Anyway, I read this book pretty much in one sitting (or, really, over the course of one day), which is unusual for me lately. I’ve liked Hornby since High Fidelity, and again with About a Boy, although his more recent work hasn’t captured me as much. One of the things he’s very very good at is writing with a distinctive, clear point of view, and Slam does a great job with that. It’s written from the viewpoint of an 18 year old boy who deals with a challenging few years from 16 to 18. Wonders whether you’re doomed to repeat the same patterns as your family, how to grow up, etc. I really enjoyed it, and think Hornby’s done a fine job.

I’ll contrast it with The Gum Thief, Douglas Coupland’s new novel, which I’m mired in the middle of. POV is Coupland’s great strength, too, and in his new book, it’s exceptional as usual — but it’s just a little depressing & slow, and so has taken me a couple of weeks to get through the first hundred pages. (FWIW, if you haven’t read Coupland’s Hey, Nostradamus, you should — very underappreciated book by him.)

Oct 07

oh, and if you’re using Firefox 3 builds…

…to look at this blog, apologies. something weird going on with something in my wordpress css and how firefox 3 wants to display fonts. as a result, my fonts here for firefox 3 users have been, um… suckified. working on addressing, but maybe not until next week. fwiw, checking out this blog on an iphone now looks decidedly better. 🙂

[anyone know what’s going on?]

Oct 07

first thoughts on leopard

so far so good. i put one of the last developer releases onto my macbook pro last thursday and have been happily using the new os x release since then. i had meant to do a clean install, but accidentally did an install over the top of tiger, and it works like a champ, honestly.

performance seems really good — most things are snappier than with 10.4 (i think). lots of little upgrades that make things better — smarter finder windows, better wireless UI, stuff like that.

the visual redesigns are driving me a little bit crazy — in particular all the stuff where they’re showing off new effects. the sort-of-but-not-really-translucent menu bar is driving me a little bit crazy, but the translucent menus everywhere are the most annoying thing in the whole system — i just don’t understand why anyone thinks that’s a good idea. they’re not super-translucent, but enough so that the stuff behind them really impacts legibility of menu choices. it’s a bummer.

the new dock is mostly just silly. shadows & reflections everywhere. shiny effects, but mostly distracting, honestly.

calendar has been pretty completely reworked, and it’s a much more refined look now. i’m finding it not quite as readable as it used to be because there’s no active calendar notion anymore (where the appointments would be dark color backgrounds with bold white text) but just the active item. but on the whole, better.

mail has gotten a lot better, i think. more refined visually, although still with the icky lozenge buttons. you can drag top level folders around in the sidebar now, which is much better. there’s an activity display that tells you what’s happening on the network now (very helpful). i like the RSS subscription capability — i’ve subscribed to a small number of feeds that i treat more like my e-mail workflow, and it’s working great, although html display doesn’t seem to be working. for me, the jury is out on To Dos and Notes. we’ll see. data detectors are neat (they give context menus on things like phone numbers & addresses, but are a little subtle for me — i keep forgetting they’re there.

i’m unsure about time machine yet. backed up over the weekend, but don’t have enough incrementals to know whether i like the user interface or not yet. (early best guess: i think they’ve done an admirable job in making backup easy to understand, but their tools are miserable for actually finding something you’ve lost.)

coverflow is visually stunning, and basically useless. not just in itunes, but everywhere, in my opinion.

i’ll have more thoughts before too long. but for now, seems like a good upgrade — doesn’t yet feel like a completely new OS. feels decidedly incremental, although i think that will start to change as new applications get released from 3rd party developers using things like Core Animation.

i also think, fwiw, that the user interface on the Mac is both good and starting to get a little bit confused. toolbars are incredibly inconsistent, even from one Apple application to another, let alone 3rd parties. i think it’s going to get a lot more jumbled for a while, as developers start to throw in HUDs and animations for everything, and as we start to get more and more direct manipulation with rich media types. (in the coverflow view of the new finder, for example, you can flip through the pages of PDFs, play movies, etc.) i have a feeling there’s going to be a large amount of experimentation with new styles of interaction now. i think, also, that it’s going to be influenced more & more by flingable interactions like on the iPhone.

anyway, so far so good.

Oct 07

little dragon

just a quickie for this morning — my son SPL (trying not to use his name in public blogs anymore) is just over 2, and he’s getting more and more verbal all the time, and lately has really started singing songs from his various school activities a lot. the past couple of mornings have been really funny — about 2 minutes after we get up, he starts singing his Mandarin songs (he goes to a Mandarin music class once a week). so at 6:30 in the morning, when it’s literally still dark outside, he’s doing parachute time in chinese. it’s awesome. my favorite one is some sort of marching song, where he marches around and says “Yi Er. Yi Er.” (“1 2 1 2”) — he could do it for hours.

not sure how my life got to a point where my son marches around the living room in the morning darkness singing in Chinese, but it’s a pretty funny way to start the day…