A Random Pattern

Archive for the 'Apple' Category

MDA Semi-finals: The time-restricted voter’s guide

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

last updated 2006-10-12, 16:50 EST

Digg it

If you’re not already familiar with MDA (My Dream App), read my previous post first (American Idol for your (Mac) computer).

Quick Summary:
Here is my two-sentence summary of each application, in reverse alphabetical order. Note that the ideas generally have a lot more to them than I indicate here (skip to the next section if you want the current status of each project), and this summary is the “Cliff Notes” version for those not already familiar with the application ideas.

Whistler: Whistle to your computer, and hear your music converted to piano. Tap on your desk, and Whistler converts it to drums.

Portal: Keep your application settings, and important files, synchronized between two or more Macs. One example would be your browser bookmarks and settings.

iGTD: Use the “Getting Things Done” method on your Mac. Even if you’ve never heard of GTD, iGTD aims to be an easy-to-use version with simple tutorials to get you started.

Hijack: Keep all your favorite forums in one easy place. It’s like an RSS Reader (news-reader) for forums.

Ground Control: Imagine a more powerful useful Dock, combined with Dashboard. With a glance you can see how many new emails you have, or check your calendar without launching the full iCal application.

Desktop Wars: A war rages on your desktop, while you work or play. When you have a few minutes, watch your desktop to see how the battle goes.

Cookbook: Store, find, schedule, and use recipes easily. Order ingredients online, or just print a weekly shopping list.

Blossom: A plant grows (or dies) on your desktop. How well it does depends on how hard you work, encouraging you to stay on task instead of online or playing games.

Atmosphere: Your desktop becomes a window, showing you the current weather outside. Instead of a little icon, you see rain falling on your desktop if that’s what’s happening outside.

Judging Criteria:
A) Innovation and Creativity of the Idea
B) Use of OS X and Leopard
C) Feasibility of Development
D) Mass-Market Appeal

Current Status:
Whistler: The contestant seemed to really get in gear over the last week or two. New mockups, an icon, then a website have helped fuel a resurgence of interest and forum activity around Whistler. One spark for the renewed interest was a technical conversation on the forums (not for the faint of heart) about the mechanics of making Whistler work. That conversation sparked this web post by Rageous. In the last round of voting Whistler sat low, however that was quite possibly due to Digging by other apps near Whistler’s level. (UPDATE: The fan base for Whistler seems to be vocal and growing.)

: Another contestant that appeared to get motivated after a low showing a few rounds ago, Portal quickly developed from a monolithic mockup, to some widget add-ons, finally taking the form of a widget as the main interface. Portal also gained a website. Although Portal always had brilliant eye-candy ideas which will make for a great Mac app, the interface and usability has seen a lot of attention recently. This is now one of the more active contestants, and he interacts not only with his own app idea, but other ideas as well. The last round of voting had Portal in the top three, quite a move for this Dream App. (UPDATE: Portal has added a few more mockups in the forums.  UPDATE 2: Portal has an improved website, including the new “Pro Mode” mockup.)

: Over the last few weeks, iGTD has received plenty of questions in the forums but no answers. The contestant is dealing with life issues, and has only been able to do a little in the way of mockups or defining iGTD’s function. Still, iGTD did decently in the last few rounds of voting, and there is certainly a group that wants to see this type of app come to fruition. One fan has even offered up some better mockups as a starting point (and the contestant has asked for help). That the Omni team has announced a GTD app does make winning a bigger challenge for iGTD, especially without the attention of the contestant.

: This app has been a front-runner for most of the competition. Still, the contestant isn’t sitting on his heels, and just released a second video mockup. Strangely, Hijack still doesn’t have a website. However, the first video garnered praise from MDA creator Phillip Ryu for raising the stakes. The contestant has remained quite active, but is holding back on one answering one of the more popular questions (how to post using Hijack) until the final round of voting. (UPDATE: Continued discussion on smart keywords and folders is happening here.)

Ground Control
: Another very active contestant, with one of the bigger ideas in the competition. Ground Control has gained several mockups and an entire website. The latest, though, is an actual demo (hacked together using Javascript, but enough to get the idea across) and some sample skins. I can’t directly link to either, but you’ll see the big green buttons at the top, with the links shortly after. The last round brought some controversy, both because contestants had to use digg to stay in, and because of the title used to digg Ground Control. (UPDATE: Ground Control was the first with a website, not Cookbook. UPDATE 2: Ground Control made good use of the voting delay by unveiling the collaboration with Portal and Cookbook.  Russell also listed possible modules again.)

Desktop Wars
: DW, as it’s called in the forums, continues to endure much controversy. For awhile, a fan going by Pixel Sage was the only one doing anything with the DW idea. During voting days the contestant shows up, only to disappear again as soon as voting is over. Because of the controversy, the idea still hasn’t made it much past the original idea. However, before Pixel Sage gave up on DW, he did make some great-looking art, mockups, and concept pieces. The contestant showed up again this voting round, rehashing again what DW will be without bringing much new to the table. Still, DW has been popular every voting round. (UPDATE: Pixel Sage sparked one more controversy before ditching DW, with a suggestion that the contestant was throwing in the towel.)

: Cookbook has been neck-and-neck at the top of voting rounds with Hijack. This contestant was one of the earliest with some really gorgeous mockups. I believe it was also the first website(UPDATE: See the Ground Control entry above). Since Cookbook was well-developed early on with strong mockups, the app seems to have enjoyed a comfortable following, but also has been quieter the last round or two. Still, new mockups have shown up for the Amazon integration / shopping cart feature, as well as searching (an often-brought-up topic in Cookbook’s forums). The Full Screen mockups also saw some more refinement.

: Several new mockups and idea refinement have taken place over the last few weeks with Blossom, culminating in a new logo and even a video recently. The feedback has been mostly positive, though several have requested a different plant (for example, more cartoonish). Blossom joined in the controversy last round with a digg to stay out of the bottom results. Blossom did it right, with a nice write-up, telling the users how to vote, and even making easy voting links to Digg, Reddit, AND Netscape. Now that’s being thorough. We’ll see how that impacts this round, as contestants may find it necessary to market and sell their ideas to get votes. (UPDATE: Blossom’s new website is announced in typical, and tasteful, style by Dan.  A poll is even included!)

: One of the most aggressive and straightfoward contestants, Atmosphere is a simple idea meant to look good. With some good support for mockups, Atmosphere last week encouraged the trend of exploring settings panel / configuration options. Several fans helped, arriving at some really gorgeous (and some just plain practical) preference pane options. (Edited) Atmosphere kicked off controversy last round, using a well-timed digg to stay in the competition. (UPDATE: The contestant hasn’t been in the forum for four days, though fans have been keeping the preference panel discussion alive without him.  UPDATE 2: The contestant reappeared to assure us that he was, in fact, still alive and following along.  He blogged two versions of settings panels created by fans, and hinted at information on forecasting soon to come.  So he “forecasted” forecasting for Atmosphere.  ;)  )
Whew! That was a lot of work! Come back soon for my personal favorites, as well as some “Top 6″ lists where I’ll rank contestants and ideas based on things like Most Effort, Prettiest, Most Functional, Most Friendly, and whatever else comes to mind. Suggestions are encouraged. See you in the Forums.

UPDATE: Voting has been delayed for the semifinals, and is rumored to be starting sometime.  :D  Make sure to check the main page at MDA frequently!
Digg it

Travelling and Travailing

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

Posting has been light the last week, after a last-minute trip up to Virginia.  I’ll still have a full schedule for probably the rest of the month, so don’t expect daily posts.  I do plan to schedule a few good reads over the next week, though.

Subscribe (big orange button on the right, or by email) if you haven’t already, and you’ll be automagically notified when I do write something new!
Quick notes from my week:

Most exciting news: Apple’s big Showtime announcements hold great potential for the future, as well as some fun for now.

Most active community: My Dream App, where I’ve been hanging out the last two weeks while they unveiled the 24 finalists.  It’s been fun, and the American Idol-esque voting segment over the next several weeks ought to be even more fun!  I’m hoping to put up another post on this tomorrow.

On the home front:  Last week we started the balcony railing, the piece necessary to complete our loft (well, besides re-carpeting).  With the kitchen now (almost) completely functional, it’s time to finish up lots of little trim areas, as well as putting in the appliance garages.  Pictures will appear in a week or so, unless I convince Sara to put something up.

Movies and Music – Apple rocks again

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

I’ll cover this all in more detail later, but Apple today announced several refinements to their iPod line, a new iTunes version, and some extremely interesting movie stuff.  As always, Michael Gartenberg has an excellent analysis from the market/investor point of viewMacDailyNews keeps it flowing with lots of links to the coverage as it happens (though I HATE their popup ads!  Gahh!!)

But really, you just need to see the broadcast, or update your copy of iTunes to iTunes 7, to fully appreciate the changes that will keep Apple on top of the game for awhile to come.  Zune, you just got doomed.  ;)

And yeah, who is laughing at those iPod flea jokes now?  Apple, yeah baby!

iChat in the next OS X: fun ideas

Friday, August 25th, 2006

I’ve been thinking about one of the fun little extras Steve Jobs showed off at WWDC not too long ago: The ability to replace backgrounds in iChat video chats. Here are some ideas that I’m sure someone will play around with as soon as Leopard is available:

  • Wear a t-shirt that matches the background. Presto, there’s a hole in your stomach! (Don’t know if this will work, depends on how they implemented the algorithm.
  • Take a screenshot with your head in the picture. Does your head now disappear?
  • Create a fake background with yourself, then “walk in” on yourself while chatting with someone else.

Remember, folks, you heard it here first. ;) Here’s the site that gave me the idea, with a rundown on Leopard:

… In addition, a sophisticated chroma key algorithm was added so that a user can do a snapshot of the background he is chatting in front of, and it will remove the background and key in a background image or video of the user’s choice. For corporate presentations, podcasts or just plain having fun, this is a great feature. …

Update:  Links to WWDC, the Leopard sneek peek iChat page, and a picture from Apple showing the new backdrop effect:iChat Video window

Corporate and Social Responsibility

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Courtesy of MacDailyNews, I was glad to see this report from Apple on their factory investigation. This is an example of a company taking something seriously, and this is the type of thing I’m really glad Apple takes seriously.

The conditions still seem a little shocking, but keep in mind for my American readers that life in different countries can be radically different than it is here.

I also read a reply from some director of human and trade union rights, but as far as I can tell it sounded like sour grapes, not responsible criticism. The person quoted is director of “human and trade union rights”, so I suspect that his viewpoint is slanted. Of course, though unions here have in some ways become what they sought to replace, perhaps they do have a useful role to play in other countries. I don’t know. Read the article and form your own opinion (again courtesy of MacDailyNews).

Update:  As usual, Ars provides a well-written editorial on the subject.

Firefox display issues on a Mac

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Fellow (Firefox) geeks, I need your help. I’m in way over my head here.

Although I’ve been blogging about Ubuntu, and am quite happy learning and using it, we also recently got a Mac Mini. My wife would be fine using it, except for one critical thing: one website doesn’t display pictures on Firefox on the Mac.

Tonight, I got around to digging into it more, and also used some tools that I know very little about. :D The site (and an example page) is www.babycenter.com boards. First I ran the Javascript Console, and discovered the site throws a ton of errors. The errors seemed to be similar and similar in number on both the Mac and Windows. I didn’t look too much into these, as I wouldn’t know what to do next anyways.

So I opened the DOM Inspector and inspected a specific item I knew was failing on the Mac. I looked at the first picture of our kitchen that my wife had posted, and happened to discover that “Moz-binding” was “none” on the Mac Firefox, but had the proper image address on Windows. If anyone can tell me where to go from here, or what this means, I’d appreciate it as I would like this to work.

I did discover that the same page works ‘properly’ in Safari, as well as in Ubuntu Firefox. So who do I feed this back to? Is there a fix possible? And what, exactly, did I find out (or not find out)? :)

UPDATE:  My wife says that the page displays fine on my Mac login, just not on hers.  I first installed Firefox on my account, so maybe that has something to do with it?  I don’t really know too much about how the Mac user accounts work as far as sharing applications.  Can anyone shed any light on this?

Dapper Expectations?

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Mark Shuttleworth, benevolent sponsor and launcher of Ubuntu, posted an email discussing what went wrong with communication / setting of expectations for what the latest Ubuntu release would deliver. He also points out the very good “problem” of Ubuntu being compared to Windows.

Among other linux-y items, Jorge has this response:

I think that it’s difficult to gauge exactly what users expect. Pre-warty’s users (like me) were usually experienced Linux users who enjoyed being lazy and having things Just Work(tm). By the time Dapper rolled around, if it wasn’t doing your laundry, then it’s game over. I’m sure those of us that advocate Ubuntu regularly run into this all the time …

I think people on the web just get their expectations set too high regardless – some high profile blogger makes a small, unsubstantiated statement with no real concrete communication, and next thing you know the whole blogosphere undergoes a severe case of speaker feedback, until one of the speakers blows.  The next round of feedback starts, since the blogosphere is recursive in nature, and …

Anyways, back to my topic.   Oh, yeah, Ubuntu and Dapper Drake.  Well, I think Mark’s right about “polished” not being a good word to use.  For example I, as a new user to Ubuntu (and Linux), just assumed that of course there was a graphical installer.  It didn’t cross my mind that there wouldn’t be, and I certainly didn’t know it was the first time one had been included!

I’m a fairly technical person, so it’s not an issue for me.  But I’m really interested in seeing (at least one) mainstream challenger to Windows, with significant market share (preferably two or more).   So when I hear that Dapper Drake is “LTS” (Long Term Support) and “polished”, I’m thinking Windows and Mac (and hoping as good or better in all areas).  Some might laugh to see Windows and polished in the same sentence, as I am.  But you have to remember that the world sees computers as Windows.  Linux is better in myriad ways, as is Mac OS X.  And each is good for specific purposes.  But unless Ubuntu has immediate, short-term benefits over Windows, you are going to be hard-pressed to get Windows users to switch.  (I’ve got a screenshot I’ll put up later illustrating how an old-school linux user’s worldview differs from your average citizen, and why it has been hard for linux to take over the desktop market.)

This, by the way, is the reason that the first thing I did on Ubuntu was check out the games, looking for Spider in particular.  That’s because that’s what my mother-in-law does on the computer – plays Spider.  If she can do that as well or better on Ubuntu, fine.  If not, go away.

One last comment, since I brought up Apple and inflated expectations earlier.  I was quite pleased with WWDC, and I suspect anyone who was displeased wasn’t really grounded in this universe before the keynote.  The indications were all over the place from most respectable bloggers on what to expect (linked post is from after the keynote, but reflects my thoughts).  I’m happy, because it sounds like Apple will again deliver things I actually need (eeeaasy backup) and want (spaces).  They seem to be pretty good at doing that.