Separation anxiety: An evening without an iPad

Today TechCrunch posted a really stupid article called Why Im Craigslisting My iPads. It isn’t timely (we saw many similar articles in April) and the author clearly had no idea what an iPad was when he bought it. Basically he was looking for a laptop replacement, and the iPad isn’t one, except in edge cases.

Anyway, after reading that piece, it seemed like a good time for another (mostly) pro-iPad post.

The other day Apple released a minor upgrade to the iPad’s OS. It was supposed to address wireless connectivity problems a few people were having, as well as some other minor fixes. Thursday night I decided to install the update.

Here’s the non-pro-iPad part of the post. My iPad can take *forever* to backup. Some google-research indicates that this is a semi-common problem for Windows 64-bit users and depends on what apps you have on your iPad. In my case I suspect it’s Wired’s app with its 800 megs of data. I’m not sure why this is but it might have to do with the number of files. My iPad backup directories take up about 1 gig of space but contain 18,000 files… no sub-directories. That’s 18,000 files in a single directory. That can’t be efficient.

Anyway, for whatever the reason it can take hours for me to backup the iPad. My solution has been just to not back it up. That sounds crazy but it isn’t. I don’t back it up but I do sync it (which takes just a few minutes). So I have all my apps and music and data synced to my computer. Backing up seems redundant to me. If my iPad crashes and gets wiped during a repair then yes, I’ll have to redo all my settings by hand, but then I can just sync all the apps, music, ebooks, data and everything else back over from the PC.

Except part of installing this new update was a mandatory backup first. Bleh. I started it at 7:30 pm and when I went to bed that night around midnight, it was still backing up. So Thursday night I couldn’t use my iPad.

And I was *lost* without it!! I really hadn’t realized how often I pick up my iPad in a typical evening until I didn’t have it available. Sure my books and stuff were on it so when I went to bed I couldn’t read, but even before then. When I’m playing on the Xbox or PS3 I have the iPad handy to check gamefaqs or just to look up random things that pop into my head, or to check in on twitter. When I’m sitting at the PC and waiting for something to complete, I flip on the iPad to poke at a game or something. When we’re in the kitchen cooking something new, the iPad is there with a recipe on it (though that wasn’t a problem Thursday evening).

The point is, the iPad has become a natural part of my lifestyle and one I use constantly. I use it first thing in the morning when I get up, and normally the last thing I do before going to sleep is read on it. I use it at lunchtime at the office. I use it during meetings at the office. I use it while preparing meals, while watching TV, while playing games. It is a constant companion and I find I carry it from room to room with me.

I wanted a tablet for a long, long time and now I finally have one and it really is everything I’d hoped it would be and more. And this isn’t Apple fanboyism… I bought an iPad because it was the first good tablet that hit the market. I’m still very excited about the possibility of a good Android tablet hitting the market, since I enjoy the more open environment of Android (which is why I have a Droid, not an iPhone…I had a choice when it came to phones).

That TechCrunch author missed the point when he bought an iPad as a laptop replacement. That’s not where the device shines. The iPad (or, presumably any tablet) as a computing device fits into the cracks and crevices of your life. As an entertainment device, it’s kind of its own thing. A super-sized iPod Touch? That’s not entirely inaccurate, but don’t downplay the super-sized. Would you rather watch a 13″ TV or a 52″ home theater? Bigger is better. I tried to read on my Droid Thursday night and while I could do it, the experience was significantly less pleasant than reading on the iPad. Of course you can get a Kindle or a Nook for reading, but then you lose out on all the other things the iPad can do.

I won’t be putting my iPad on Craigslist (at least not until after I get another tablet) and if mine was stolen or destroyed today I’d be at the store tomorrow trying to replace it. It’s as vital a part of my lifestyle now as my TV and PC are. Sure I could live without it, but I’d very much prefer not to have to.

[Edits for Meghan and Petter… *grumbles*]

Playing with fonts

Google announced a new Font API for the web today. I found the idea intriguing. The problem is, I’m so so SO not a designer. I shouldn’t be allowed within 100 yards of a font.

But the geek in me had to try it. Not every browser is supported, but if yours is, you’re looking at ‘Molengo’ for the body of posts, and ‘Vollkorn’ for the titles. When you load the page, your browser is loading the font off of Google’s api servers. On a slow connection you might see an annoying flash as the font loads in…sorry about that. There’s a more sophisticated way to use them but I’m just screwing around, so…

There’re 18 fonts available initially, and you can see the list here. And Google has a nice primer up on how to implement them; it’s dead easy.

Why I don’t like Like

Warning: This is very much a preliminary post, based on my current understanding of Facebook’s new “LIKE” buttons. But since the feature is live now, I feel like I need to warn people about the ‘potential’ issues sooner rather than later.

So without further ado.

We used to see Share on Facebook buttons on various sites. These were pretty straightforward. You’d click them and it’d stick a link on your Facebook “Wall” so your friends could see that you liked that link and potentially follow it.

Now we have the Facebook Like button. On the surface, it does the same thing. But behind the scenes it’s doing more. It sends not only the link to your wall, but certain meta data that the content producer has tagged the page with. You can, of course, view the source of the page and see what this meta data is, but many people won’t think to do that.

Let me give an example of why this could be problematic. Say you love Guild Wars, but you always play it alone or with one particular friend. You don’t think of it as an MMO, and you don’t like MMOs. In fact you hate WOW and EQ2 and LOTRO and all the other MMOs. They just aren’t your thing.

But Guild Wars you love, so you’re on a page about Guild Wars and you click the LIKE button.

But the site owner considers Guild Wars an MMO, and there’s meta data tagging this page as ‘MMO’ so when you click that LIKE button, you’re telling Facebook that you like Guild Wars and that you like MMOs. That data goes into your account.

The next week you go over to Steam to see what good deals there are. Steam queries Facebook and sees that, according to the data stored with your account, you like MMOs. So it shows you all the great sales on MMOs, and doesn’t show you the sales on single player RPGs, which is exactly what you’re in the mood to buy.

Facebook has misrepresented you. Or rather, you’ve misrepresented yourself because you don’t agree with the meta data on a site you clicked a LIKE button on.

Clearly this example is pretty trivial. But there are other situations where it could matter more. Worse, meta data could be set up to be deliberately misleading. There’s the potential for some pretty ugly shenanigans going on behind the scenes. Think of a political candidate’s page that’s been tampered with so that it has meta data saying you like the opposing party.

If this Like business takes off and lots of sites start polling your Facebook data, this could become a problem.

So I urge you, until we learn more about this system, to avoid using any “Like” buttons you encounter. Maybe Facebook has checks in place to prevent bad things from happening, but maybe not. And it still isn’t clear to me who can, and can’t, query the data associated with your account.

BTW, I put a LIKE button on Dragonchasers last night to see how it worked. I just want to be clear that I put no meta-data behind it, and I thank the folks who helped me test it.

And one last time, this is my understanding of the system as of right now. I could have some or all of this wrong. But just in case I’m right, I wanted to get people thinking about these issues.

I wrote more generally about Facebook’s new features at ITWorld this morning. You might find that post interesting as well.

Pondering changing UI paradigms; is the Wii the first step into the future?

Yesterday I was working on an ITWorld post about Netflix Streaming on the Wii. In describing the navigation of your queue I said “You can click on the arrows on each end of the nav bar…”

That sentence didn’t register until this morning when I was proofreading. Click on the arrows. Clicking, on a video game system. That’s new. Now granted, there’ve been torturous control systems in console games before where you’d move a cursor via analog stick and then press a controller button to ‘click’ on an on-screen button, but the experience has always been pretty awful. And plenty of Wii games (my favorite Wii games, in fact) use a point and click interface. But doing a non-gaming task on the Wii really made me aware that I was doing something different.

On a computer, of course, we click constantly; the entire modern computer interface is built around moving a cursor and clicking mouse buttons. But the Wii is the first console that’s successfully brought that metaphor onto game systems. Presumably Playstation Move will do this as well. But not Natal (see below).

And then there’s the iPad, which takes its UI from smartphones. On the iPad there’s no concept of a cursor. You can still ‘click’ things but the feeling is different from doing so with the mouse where you see the cursor. You can’t roll-over interface items to get helper pop-up texts or anything along those lines [no, I haven’t used an iPad, I’m extrapolating from using smartphones]. On the Android platform, at least, there’s even a change in outcome depending on how long you click. There’s clicking and then there’s “long press” that will generate different results from the same icon/link/on-screen item.

And then there’s multitouch, of course. The pinch to zoom function still feels awkward to me, but it feels like just the start of what’s possible. I have one app on the Android that does interesting things via tap-patterns. For example, if you tap-press (ie, a double tap where you ‘hold’ the second tap) you can then slide your finger left and right to zoom in and out. Really the possibilities are endless, though we’ll need some standards to evolve in order to be efficient (awkward though pinch to zoom is, it’s become a defacto standard that everyone understands).

I’m guessing the Natal experience will be closer to the iPad than to a PC. With the whole “body as controller” I can’t imagine MS putting a cursor on-screen, though maybe they will. (In some cases they may have to.) I think the strength of Natal will be more in ‘gesture controls’ rather than on-screen buttons to be pressed.

I don’t have a real point to this post, I’m just pondering… as game consoles become more generalized devices, they’re borrowing from other devices and/or evolving their UI. At the same time the iPad (and the Android tablets that are soon to come) are establishing a completely different paradigm.

So what does the future look like? Will the “mouse & pointer” combo become some quaint idea of yesteryear? Probably not. Touch interfaces are wonderful for devices that you hold in your lap or that lay flat on a low table, but as soon as you have a vertical service it’s been shown that fatigue sets in pretty quickly with touch interfaces. Any time you have to manipulate a device above heart level it becomes an issue over time. For a fast transaction like using an ATM machine you’d never notice this, but in an hour long touch-gaming session where you have to hold your arms up to manipulate the game, you’d definitely feel it. Lowering the screen, of course, leads to neck strain and back problems.

It’s an exciting time and I feel like computing/gaming/human-machine interfacing is poised on the cusp of a major upheaval; one which will lead to improvements in the way we manipulate these devices that we’re so enamored with.

XFire vs Games for Windows Live….. FIGHT!

A couple nights ago I finally fired up Fallout 3 (PC version) for the first time. It incorporates Games for Windows Live (henceforth GFWL) and this was the first game I’ve played that does. I do have an XBox Live Gold account (gamertag: Jaded) and so wanted to move that profile into GFWL.

But it wouldn’t work. When I tried to sign in, I got to the ‘importing profile’ step and got an error saying something about my not being in a location supported by GFWL. Which sounded pretty odd…like somehow a spoofed IP was being sent? Anyway I’m not going to ponder the geeky details; point is, it didn’t work.

I downloaded the GFWL stand-alone client (which is barely a client…talk about no-frills), and that did connect, no problems. Between that working, and my XBox 360 never having any problems, I pretty much ruled out issues with my router. Some googling led me to the advice to shut down XFire and try again. Which I did, then fired up Fallout 3 and GFWL worked like a charm. I imported my profile, saw friends online and all that.

But I *like* running XFire, so I kept looking for a solution. I wasn’t the only one having the problem, but it certainly wasn’t ubiquitous. I should add that I bought Fallout 3 off of Steam, so I had that running as well.

To make a long boring story slightly less long, I did solve the problem eventually, or perhaps it solved itself. Last night I disabled the “Video Capture” feature of XFire and booted Fallout 3, and it connected with no problems. Huh. Well I was in the mood to play, not tinker, so I accepted it and spent an hour talking to the denizens of Fallout 3.

A few possibilities need to be checked.

First, it might be that the (experimental) XFire video capture feature was stepping on some aspect of GFWL, and disabling it fixed the problem. Honestly that seems unlikely since it was the *first* feature of XFire I disabled, and everyone knows its always the *last* thing you try that fixes the problem. 🙂

Second, it might be that GFWL was just borked the first night I was trying to import my profile and I was just unlucky.

Third, it might be that XFire steps on GFWL’s ability to import the profile, but not to connect once it has been imported (which seems like a 1 time task that had to happen). This is, in my opinion, the mostly likely explanation.

I may (or may not) experiment some more in order to determine what was going on, but there were enough people frustrated by the XFire vs GFWL issue (mostly players of Fallout 3 or Dawn of War 2) that I figured there’d be some value in my sharing what little I know so far. If you can’t get GFWL to connect that first time, try turning off everything you can possibly turn off, particularly XFire and any kind of virtual network stuff (which seemed to be a problem for a lot of other people) just to see if you can get online long enough to import your profile. After that, you might have better luck running the game with your usual assortment of 3rd party apps running.

Watch “Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight”

This isn’t new, but someone in the TwitterStream shared it the other day and I just got around to watching it.

It’s a fascinating talk by Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor about the two sides of our brain, how they see the world, and what that means to us. Her revelations came during the process of having a stroke. Talk about lemonades from lemons.

Anyway, I just wanted to do my part to spread the word on this interesting and powerful talk. Get a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable, as the video runs about 20 minutes.

Rather than embed, I’m going to link to the video so you can get all the additional information contained in links off the page that holds the original embed.

Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

XBox Inauguration

So today I *finally* got around to watching President Obama’s Inauguration Address…on XBox Live. (My company isn’t employee focused enough to have let us watch the proceedings live. And then one thing led to another and here it is almost a week later before I had a chance to watch.)

This isn’t a political blog and really, I’m not a very political person, so I’m just going to set aside the content of the address (ok, I’ll slip in that I thought it was well written and quite inspiring), but just stop and think about this for a moment. I’m watching a historic event on my gaming console. That kinda blows my mind.

And in my RSS reader, snuggled between MMO blogs and tech blogs, is my Whitehouse.gov feed. The Whitehouse has a blog. How cool is that?