San Francisco, here you come

San Francisco. California’s jewel. America’s prettiest city. Cool fog and hot startups.

I last left San Francisco on September 10th, 2001. It was a good day for flying. I had gone there to speak. Normally when I present at a conference, I stick around, listening to the other speakers and chatting with attendees. But I saw little of that conference and even less of San Francisco, for accompanying me was she who is now my wife. Even from the heights of Coit Tower, I only had eyes for her.

On October 4–5, 2007, I return to the city by the bay for the fourth and final Event Apart conference of 2007. The schedule of presentations, published Monday, outlines a holistic approach to web design rarely seen on conference stages.

There are sessions on writing the user interface and developing effective content strategies (art direction for words, if you will). Sessions on designing and redesigning brands, adding ’zazz to tired layouts, and creating designs that scale to accommodate a thousand users or millions.

Someone who’s actually done it (and at a big company, yet) will share insights on promoting and nurturing standards adoption in the workplace. We’ll find out how CSS really works and what IE7 means to developers. And we’ll learn how to design and structure forms to maximize accessibility, improve semantics, and allow for more flexible styling.

The world’s foremost expert on the subject will tell us what’s wrong with online video captioning (a concern in our increasingly YouTubed world) and how to do it right. And from one of the founders of the usability movement, we’ll gain clues into how people follow the scent of information—and how that knowledge can help us connect users to the content and functions they seek:

…how the quality of links affects whether users click on them; how longer pages actually help users get where they are going faster; the three types of graphics; how users follow a scent; and four ways your design could be blocking their smell.

An Event Apart San Francisco presents one of our most striking speaker line-ups yet: movers from Google and PayPal, shakers from Apple and A List Apart, passionate leaders and experts, all. Plus two big parties, sponsored by Adobe and (mt) Media Temple, where you can network, job-hunt, swap horror stories and phone numbers, or just boogie the night away. Plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on both days, and a dandy bag of swag. All for $795 (reg. $895) during the earlybird savings period through September 7th.

Readers of zeldman.com can take an additional $50 off by using the discount code AEAZELD. Enter that code in the discount coupon area of the registration form to get all of AEA San Francisco for $745. Seating is limited and this opportunity won’t last forever. Don’t leave your seat in San Francisco. Tell your corporate overlord or generous uncle about An Event Apart San Francisco 2007 today.

[tags]aneventapart, aeasf07, design, webdesign, webstandards, conferences, seminars, sanfrancisco[/tags]

10 Things the Next iPhone Will Do

  1. Provide the option to download and save YouTube videos for 99 cents.
  2. Accept voice commands, read text aloud in any of six user-selectable voices, and provide optional verbal audio feedback on all actions.
  3. Improve built-in camera to 6 Megapixel and include a feature-limited version of Aperture.
  4. Facilitate borrowing from your local public library.
  5. Translate incoming or outgoing e-mail messages. Supported languages will initially include Spanish, Russian, two kinds of Chinese, and Australian.
  6. Vibrate when you approach someone with compatible musical tastes.
  7. For drivers: pay monthly E-Z Pass fees and beam E-Z Pass fare at toll kiosks.
  8. For mass transit riders: pay discounted monthly transit fee and beam per-ride fare at subway entrances and on boarding buses. Also good at Six Flags.
  9. Locate lost keys, pets, children, or anything else tagged with RFID.
  10. Copy and paste.

[tags]apple, iphone, RFID, cameras, 6 megapixel, australianforbeer[/tags]

For web developers and iPhone users

XRAY web developer’s suite
Fab, free bookmarklet for web designers and developers analyzes any element on a web page with a click. Must be used to be appreciated. Part of a forthcoming suite of free, cross-browser web development tools from Westciv. Suggested improvements and bug reports welcome. Currently works in Webkit (Safari) and Mozilla (Firefox, Camino, etc.) browsers; an IE version is coming. Don’t miss the “Acknowledgements, Thanks, and Inspiration” credits, which link to great JavaScript and visual resources.
How to Rip DVD Movies To Your iPod Using Free Software
Great, straightforward how-to by brilliant author/developer Mark Pilgrim walks you through the process of setting up HandBrake, a free, open source app, to rip DVDs to your iPod. Last updated in 2005, several versions of HandBrake (not to mention several generations of iPod) ago, so screen shots will not always match current versions. But the settings advice is still accurate, and even applies to the iPhone, with its giant wide screen.
Ripping even a short movie you own takes a long, long time. I tested Pilgrim’s advice on a flick our toddler loves, so my iPhone could double as a parental aid during family trips. It took over five hours to burn an 86 minute film, but the results were beautiful.
For more video conversion advice, see the 12 December 2005 Macworld Secrets column, Convert video for the iPod. Summary: Upgrade to QuickTime Pro and export for iPod. Works great and works fast. One’s iPhone now sports Charlie the Unicorn and will soon host short home movies shot on a point and shoot digital camera and formatted by that camera as AVIs.

[tags]web development, bookmarklets, developer tools, rip, DVDs, iPod, iPhone, Apple[/tags]

What Apple copied from Microsoft

hCard couldn’t do it. Basecamp couldn’t do it. Web apps from Google and Yahoo that integrate seamlessly with Apple’s iCal, Address Book, and Mail couldn’t do it. My iPhone has done it.

My iPhone has made me stop using calendar, contact, and e-mail applications I’ve used day and night for over a decade, and switch to the free—and in some ways less capable—applications that come bundled with Macintosh OS X.

Changing years of work habits is not easy. Migrating data, in some cases by hand, takes time I don’t have to spare. Yet I’m making these changes of my own will, and happily.

In short, Apple has finally copied something from Microsoft. Or, if you prefer, Apple has learned the marketing psychology lesson that Microsoft got first. For many consumers, convenience is of greater value than choice. A platform built of parts that work together seamlessly beats a self-curated collection of apps that don’t.

That syncing feeling

Microsoft knows this, Adobe knows it, and Apple had learned it by the time they launched the iTunes/iPod cartel. The iPhone creates a similar value proposition for OS X’s bundled communication, contact, and calendar apps.

Maybe all Windows users won’t switch to Macs, but many Mac users will dump Entourage, Eudora, and the like once they sync an iPhone to their computers. What “free” wasn’t enough to achieve, “seamless” just might be. If I can change work habits, anyone can.

Victory is suite

As part of a sexy, seamless software/hardware package, Apple Mail triumphs over more sophisticated e-mail applications for much the same reason Word beat WordPerfect and Adobe Illustrator trumped Macromedia Freehand. (True: Adobe bought Macromedia and chose to discontinue Freehand. But they’re burying Freehand due to lack of resources, not because they fear it.) Word is part of the must-have suite for business professionals, and Illustrator is part of the must-have suite for creative and visual professionals, and you can’t beat the suite. That is what Apple has learned.

What no one can teach Apple is how to make user experience beautifully intuitive and elegant, lending a spirit of fun to even the most mundane task, such as getting contact phone numbers into a phone. With Address Book and an iPhone, it’s not only automatic, it’s a near-physical pleasure.

Nobody does user experience as well as Apple, and nobody but Apple in the consumer market combines beautiful software with drool-inducing hardware. Except during the cloning years, when Apple lay in the abyss, Apple has always combined hardware and software. It killed them during the 1990s OS wars, but it worked like nobody’s business for the iPod and a similar synergy is driving the iPhone.

That I could be persuaded to spend money on an iPhone is unremarkable. After all, the phone shows websites and I’m a web designer; it’s tax-deductible research. What is remarkable to anyone who knows me is that I’m willing to abandon long-used tools and shortcuts to capture these new synergies. This suggests a longer and deeper market for the iPhone than just the gadget-obsessed and early adopters with sufficient disposable income. It’s even possible that, with continued use, the beauty and utility of the iPhone will help sell Macintosh computers to PC users.

It helps that the interface is beautiful as well as intuitive, and that many of the alternatives are neither.

An interface only a mother could love

Discontinued Eudora, the program I’ve abandoned in favor of Mail, is the crone of e-mail, with an interface only a mother could love. Now Up-To-Date and Contact are overly complicated, underly beautiful, and have long showed their age. None of these programs closely follows Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). Never mind that the Aqua HIG is incoherent, that many of Apple’s own programs violate or ignore it, and that it neglects to offer modern UI designs and controls, prompting independent developers to create a new set of Human Interface Guidelines to supplement Apple’s. The point is, even in the Classic OS days of mandatory HIG compliance, the three programs I’ve mentioned did not work as Macintosh programs were supposed to. They were cross-platform and proud of it, and a Mac user had to meet them halfway. Nevertheless, they did things other programs couldn’t do, and I used them for that reason.

I continued to use them as time and change and market share conspired against them. I worked like a farmer who refuses to accept that his field has gone fallow.

When Basecamp sent work schedules to my iCal, I manually copied the dates into Now Up-To-Date. When my own web pages spat out standard contact information via hCard, I siphoned the data into Address Book, and then manually copied it into Now Contact, line by line. (Since the fields between programs didn’t match, I could not automate the process via scripting. Now Software made a free mini-application that used to port data between Now Contact and Address Book, but it never worked all that well, and it stopped working altogether in Tiger.)

Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, but everyone knows they do the opposite, and I was so deep into my rut I thought of it as a groove.

The incredible lightness of e-mailing

Change begets change. For years, in Eudora, I kept every e-mail message I received. I kept them all in tidy, named folders and wrote filter rules to automatically sort messages as they were received. Every client, every employee, every friend, every project had its own folder and its own set of filters. I spent at least an hour a day simply managing my e-mail, which is different from reading or responding to it. When the number of open folders became overwhelming, I dragged messages into a new folder called “urgent” or “deal with this” (and then failed to deal with them).

And now? So far, in Mail, I’m answering messages as they come in, and deleting all but the most salient. A client letter outlining technical requirements, I’ll keep. A bunch of messages asking whether we should meet at 9:00 or 10:00, I delete. I feel ten pounds lighter already. I’d like to thank God and the Academy.

[tags]Apple, Address Book, iCal, iPhone, Mail.app, design, interface design, UI design, software design, uidesign, Adobe, Microsoft, integration, suites, hardware[/tags]

That Busted GIF Feeling

That busted GIF feeling.

Has this happened to you? You’re using the iLike social music discovery network and things are humming along nicely. Then one day, because of a brief iLike.com server hiccup, the iLike Sidebar for iTunes is unable to download and refresh your friends’ photos. Instead of your music pals’ smiling faces, you see the classic “busted GIF” icon that web browsers use to denote “image file not found.”

Here is a screenshot of the iLike Sidebar with missing images.

Here is a screenshot, a few days later, with all friend images missing.

It’s what my iLike sidebar has looked like for the past two weeks. It may be what it will look like forever. Has anyone else encountered this problem? Anybody found a solution? Nothing I’ve tried works.

  • Refreshing the sidebar by clicking the semi-circular “refresh” icon to the right of the label, “Recently played by your friends,” does not solve the problem.
  • Hiding and re-showing the sidebar does not solve the problem.
  • Waiting days, or even weeks, for the problem to correct itself does not solve the problem. The problem never corrects itself.
  • Downloading a fresh copy of the iLike Sidebar and reinstalling does not solve the problem.

iLike’s FAQ does not address the problem. When you encounter a problem iLike’s FAQ does not address, you are supposed to contact iLike. I contacted iLike last week. I’ve also written to Dick Cheney. I haven’t heard back from either one. I’m more likely to hear from Cheney. Cheney doesn’t have a Facebook application and he isn’t adding 300,000 users a day.

Like every other recent website, iLike identifies itself as a beta. When you identify yourself as a beta, and you’re adding 300,000 users a day, it’s to be expected that your technology may be imperfect, and it’s also understandable that you may not have time to respond to every user who contacts you about a problem. Hell, I’m not a beta (and I’m not adding 300,000 users a day) and I can’t respond to everyone who contacts me. I get it.

In the scheme of things, a broken feature in a free web app is no big deal. I still like iLike. But if anyone knows how to squash this bug, I’d like it even better.

[tags]iLike, sidebar, bug[/tags]

iTunes, iLike, and iWish

At long last, the new iTunes upgrade lets you replace DRM versions of music you bought at the iTunes store with new, higher-quality, non-DRM-protected versions. Everyone must be as happy as I was; the whole world apparently bought non-DRM-protected versions of its music today. How else to explain the inability of Apple’s server to deliver the purchased music?

I’ve got 45 files stuck in a download queue that blazes along at about 16 bytes per second, yes, I said bytes, before timing out and locking up. (Screen shots: 1, 2.) The first 50 files or so downloaded at normal speed; then everything ground to a halt, and it’s been that way for hours.

I don’t mind waiting for Apple to sort its network problems. I just wish iTunes would quit nudging me to sign in and download files that are just plumb stuck.

I like iLike

Speaking of music and bandwidth problems, in less than two weeks of use I have become addicted to iLike™. This clever web app uses iTunes APIs to keep track of the music you are playing and “watch” the music your friends are playing via a sidebar that installs itself in iTunes.

Think of it as part Truman Show, part personal radio station. Nobody will know you’re dissecting a moose, but everyone knows you’re listening to Barry Manilow. Insidiously and almost overnight, the app changes the way you listen to music. It might even change the music you listen to. (You might stop listening to Barry.)

With iLike, you can preview your friends’ music, recommend tracks to others, find free music by little-known bands that matches the music you’re listening to, and lots more. It’s a great little application. But the developers need more servers. The app often crawls. At times it’s too underpowered and overtaxed to find your friends’ music, or to record the music you just listened to. Sometimes it even goes offline, and then what do you have? Just you, listening to music. Which suddenly seems not to be enough.

[tags]itunes, ilike, web apps, bandwidth[/tags]

The heartbreak of technology

It is an internet connectivity trifecta:

  1. The phone company configured your DSL line wrong.
  2. The new DSL modem supplied by your ISP was a dud.
  3. Your brand-new Airport Extreme wireless router does not work. It’s under warranty, but to get it replaced, you must endure another hour-long session with Apple technical support. You’d rather chew off your own leg. (Update.)

It’s really a fourfecta. The phone company fixed the DSL line, but didn’t tell the ISP. They didn’t even tell their own service technician. Dude showed up to fix a line that wasn’t broken. You wonder what the guys in his Anger Management class had to say about it.

Two and half weeks into the void, a light bulb moment: Maybe it’s the modem. ISP sends new modem, you get your speed bump.

But only when you plug directly into the modem. For your new Airport Extreme wireless router cannot find an IP address even when you enter it manually. Indeed, this remarkably attractive piece of technology cannot be configured in any meaningful way. It cannot even restart without hurting itself.

You read that the new Airport Extreme works great. Alas, there was one lemon in the production line. You got the lemon. Trifecta.

Two faces

You tell PC users you bought an Airport Extreme because it was time for a new router, and Apple computers work best with Apple routers. Besides, Apple has that whole 802.11n thing going. That 802.11n is just so much better than the outdated spec they’re using. They just wouldn’t understand.

You tell Mac users you bought an Airport Extreme to replace a perfectly good third-party router, because OS X 10.4.x is semi-incompatible with third-party routers. All too frequently, one of your OS X 10.4.x Macs becomes unable to find a wireless signal sent by your ancient Linksys router.

You didn’t have to buy the Airport Extreme router. You could fix the compatibility issue by adjusting a setting on the old router. To do so, go to Fresh Kills, dig your old G4 tower out of the landfill, boot into Virtual PC, and log into the old router.

Can’t find the old G4 tower in the landfill? Buy an Airport Extreme. Apple makes it. Their stuff just works.

Support

The Lithium Woman in Apple Technical Support was unable to suggest anything beyond restarting the hardware and sticking a pin in the Reset hole—things you tried many times before breaking down and calling Apple. Why this tech support call took an hour is a mystery. Why it is called “support” is a more profound one.

At the start of the call, you said all you needed was help accessing the Manual Configuration panel to type in the WAN I.P. address, because for some reason the Manual Configuration Panel would not load. But the Lithium Woman made you plug stuff in and unplug stuff and turn stuff on and off for an hour. It was the stuff you’d already done, and you explained that, but that’s how tech support works, so you did it.

At the end of the hour, having sufficiently atoned for your sins, you again asked for help accessing the Manual Configuration Panel, as you needed to type in the WAN I.P. address, and the Manual Configuration Panel just wouldn’t load.

The Lithium Woman said you shouldn’t have to type in an I.P. address.

Impasse.

After a while, feeling bad for her, you offered her a face-saving way of ending the call without having helped you.

You figured, once your new DSL network was set up, your Airport Extreme router would just work.

But let us pause

Most readers stopped after the first paragraph. A few hardy souls made it all the way here. Thanks for sharing the journey.

Die-hards will want to suggest solutions. For them, a few details.

Automatic setup and manual configuration both end in “please try again” error messages.

The router freezes and crashes without ever connecting, suggesting that the problem is software based. We’ve wiped Airport Utility off the hard drive with App Zapper, removed preferences, reinstalled from disk, and run Software Update to download and install the latest version. That kind of reinstall usually does the trick. Not this time.

Resetting the device with a straightened paper clip is the only thing that briefly lets you access Manual Setup. You enter the IP Address, Subnet Mask, Gateway (Router), and DNS Servers. You verify the data. The device restarts itself. You bite your nails. The software congratulates you. You open a browser. You are not online. And you can no longer access or change settings. Unless you restart the device with a straightened paper clip.

Nothing works. You are the proud owner of a piece of modern art. The object is beautiful, but it has no heart. There is no network, no nothing. George and Martha. Sad, sad.

Enable caching to upload files

You’re an Apple Safari browser user. After upgrading to OS X 10.4.8, you are unable to upload files to 37signals’s Basecamp via that application’s easy, web-based uploading tools. Or you are unable to upload your logo to Boxes & Arrows’s events listing. Or you are stymied in your efforts to upload your photos to JPG Mag.

The fault lies not with Basecamp or Boxes & Arrows or JPG. Nor is it strictly because you’re using an Intel Mac. Camino, Firefox, and Opera still let you upload images over http. The problem is Safari. But not every Intel-Mac-wielding Safari user suffers from it. Many continue to upload files after upgrading to 10.4.8. They glance pityingly at you out their passenger windows as they speed past.

What is the problem? You’re a web designer. As a web designer, you’ve used a third-party product like Safari Enhancer to disable caching in your browser.

If you don’t disable caching in your browser, then Safari becomes kind of useless to you as a web development tool, because Safari hangs onto files like a junkyard dog clomps onto a postman’s thigh. Safari will hold onto outdated CSS, outdated text, outdated images. You’ll quit and restart. You’ll check your SFTP settings repeatedly, wondering why you keep uploading updated content to your web project, but Safari keeps showing you outdated content.

Safari shows outdated content for hours after other browsers (even browsers with caching enabled) have recognized that something changed. Safari does this because it makes browsing faster for ordinary users who are not web designers. It works. Unfortunately, what makes Safari fast and fun for ordinary users makes it a pain for web designers—unless they disable caching.

Before 10.4.8, you could disable caching in Safari and still upload files over http. After 10.4.8, you can’t. It’s not a feature, it’s a bug. Until Apple fixes it, you can leave caching disabled in Safari and use Firefox, Camino, or Opera as your default browser—or re-enable caching, and add an hour of Stupid Time to your web development and testing process.

[tags]web design, apple, mac, os x, safari, browsers, web development[/tags]

Monday breakfast links

Berners-Lee: reinventing HTML

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and founder of the W3C, announces reforms:

It is really important to have real developers on the ground involved with the development of HTML. It is also really important to have browser makers intimately involved and committed. And also all the other stakeholders….

Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn’t work.

9 to 5 = average
To be great in design takes passion and work.
Sending XHTML as text/html Considered Harmful to Feelings
I love this.
Web Directions North
Our Australian friends set up camp in Vancouver, for what looks like a great two-day conference on standards-based design and development (Vancouver Canada, February 6-8 2007). Speakers include Kelly Goto (Gotomobile), Andy Clarke (malarkey), Adrian Holovaty (Chicago Crime, Washington Post), Douglas Bowman (Google Visual Design Lead), Dan Cederholm (SimpleBits), Joe Clark (joeclark.org), Dave Shea (CSS Zen Garden), Cameron Moll (Authentic Boredom), Molly Holzschlag (Molly.com), Veerle Pieters (Veerle’s Blog, Duoh!), Kaitlin Sherwood (Google Maps US Census mashup), Tantek Çelik (Technorati).
Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance
By Andrew Kirkpatrick, Richard Rutter, Christian Heilmann, Jim Thatcher, Cynthia Waddell, et al. Don’t let the unsexy title fool you. Vast and practically all-encompassing, this newly updated classic belongs on every web designer’s shelf. (Better still, open it and read.)
I Cannot Possibly Buy Girl Scout Cookies From Your Daughter at This Time
By Charlie Nadler in McSweeney’s.
Gemini Girl
New women’s blog elegantly designed by Ray McKenzie.
eMusic: 33 Folkways LPs
Thirty-three important Folkways Recordings for download. Louis Bonfa, Mighty Sparrow, Woodie Guthrie, Henry Cowell and more.
On having layout – the concept of hasLayout in IE/Win
Technical but reasonably easy to follow discussion of why Internet Explorer’s rendering of your design may suck differ from your expectations
“Apple’s Backup App is Shit”
God bless SuperDuper.

[tags]W3C, webdirections, accessibility, haslayout, browsers, mcsweeney’s, folkways[/tags]

Black box

Installed Mac OS X 10.4.8 on my Intel MacBook. Result: a big black box surrounds my cursor, rendering said Mac semi-useless. Screen shots: 1, 2, 3, 4. Uninstalling Keyspan and trashing com.apple.universalaccess.plist (remedies that worked for some Macintouch users) did not fix the problem. Thanks, Steve!

Anyone know a solution? Delete all preferences? Uninstall all Adobe software? Remove tonsils with pliers?

Update: The pleasant site red-sweater.com explains the problem and solution, as does an Apple technote. Many thanks to those who commented or wrote in soon after I posted my query. Eric Peacock’s comment also nicely summarizes what the black box is about.