Monthly Archives: February 2003

To the crazy ones

There has been some excellent critique of Apple’s UI experiments on Irate Scotsman, Daring Fireball, and NSLog. While moving some books last night I found the following, which you may recognize from Apple’s Think Different ad campaign. Reading it I couldn’t help but think of the posts above.

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.


The important thing here is that you want to be different and better, not just different. Lately, Apple has been better. The recent failures are so annoying because they got the hard things right (new design approaches to old problems) and the easy things wrong (UI widget consistency).

Al Hirschfeld

genie A follow-up to yesterday’s post. Many people contribute to a film, and not all of them are given direct screen credit. Last month, legendary illustrator Al Hirschfeld passed away. His lines graced the pages of books, magazines, and newspapers including the New York Times, and proved an influence to many future artists. Disney’s Eric Goldberg brought Hirschfeld-esque lines to Aladdin’s Genie and the “Rhapsody in Blue” sequence of Fantasia 2000.

Amid Amidi of Animation Blast writes:

“In honor of Al Hirschfeld’s passing last week, here’s a reprint of the full-page ad that Disney took out in VARIETY. The ad features a drawing of the Genie from ALADDIN. Lead animator Eric Goldberg had used Hirschfeld’s flowing calligraphic line style as inspiration for the character’s design.”

Thank you Disney. Despite massive layoffs, horrible cheapquels, and a general disregard for their past culture, it’s nice to know that someone there still gets it.

Andy Serkis, animators, and the Oscars

Slashdot points to a Salon article about Andy Serkis (voice and motion reference for Gollum in The Two Towers) missing an Oscar nomination:

“In the end, the answer is no, not because his talents are less significant than those of the supporting actor nominees, but because the work that he has done here is not equivalent. It would be a disservice to the other nominees to compete against the computer-enhanced Serkis, just as it would be a disservice to Gollum to be written off as an accomplishment of acting.”

The article is disappointing. While Andy Serkis did a great job, giving him sole credit for the performance would be forgetting all the animators who also brought that character to life. Much of the performance used motion-capture, but many of the most important scenes (such as the “split personality” scene that cuts back and forth between the two faces of Gollum) were entirely keyframed by animators, with just a glance at the actor’s performance for reference.

The real problem is that the Oscar categories need to be updated to include roles that don’t fall into the traditional actor/actress ones. The Annie Awards (for animated films and television) have long had a best voice actor category. The Oscars could embrace that category, and add others such as best lead animator or best character, to pay tribute to the whole team that brought a digital character to life.

Reading list

I’ve added a list of books I am reading or have recently read to the right column of this web site. Just a friendly reminder to stick your head over the walls of RSS-land every once in a while.


Of all the things I should be doing, staying up late hacking Konfabulator widgets is not one of them. I started building one to display select headlines from NetNewsWire. It wasn’t until this morning that I noticed there were already some RSS-related widgets available. Still, it could be a fun little hack. The platform Konfabulator is building is interesting, and the app is polished.

Konfabulator is from Perry Clarke and Arlo Rose, whose name you might recognize from Apple and the Kaleidoscope project.

Still, I have to wonder if Konfabulator as a shareware product will be successful. There would have to be a few really compelling widgets to justify the $25 price. See Joel’s Chicken and Egg problems.

Snow in Austin

It snowed when I was about 5 years old and when I was maybe 10, so I assumed it would snow every 5 years. When you’re young, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and see patterns that don’t exist. Of course it hasn’t snowed since then.

But after a few days of teasing weather reports forecasting snow and ice, I woke up at 4am and stepped out on the back deck to see snow covering the ground. I raised my hands and could feel it falling, lightly. For someone who has lived in central Texas their whole life, this is a big deal.

It all melted within a few hours, but not before I made a miniature snowman with my kids.

Inductive vs rich user interface design

Boxes and Arrows article by David Heller: “Ultimately, I don’t see a long term future for HTML as an application development solution.”

Meanwhile, there has been a steady integration of HTML interface behavior into traditional applications. Two years ago, Microsoft published a document titled “Inductive User Interface Guidelines” that made this case in a strong way. It was a result of lessons learned from years of building web applications.

The idea is simple. Despite the lack of mature interface components for web based apps, people understand hyperlinks. (Remember Steve from last month’s Macworld keynote: People only use what they understand.)

Of course it’s more than just hyperlinks — it’s about taking the tasks that you need to do right now out from their hidden places in the menu bar and displaying them in context. No more digging, and it’s text instead of obscure toolbar icons.

But I wonder if something else is going on here. In the studies that Microsoft cites, there is an increased success in solving tasks, but the long-term usability is not measured. I’m talking about the satisfaction that comes from using a well designed piece of software every day. The web style is easy to understand, but it is also heavy on the clicks (repetitive and modal).

Furthermore, the idea can easily be taken too far, and in doing so it jeopardize the consistency of the rest of the interface. Take the Visual Studio .NET installer, which I recently had the pleasure of using. (I’m sure this is true for other Microsoft product installers as well.) It uses HTML-like links for things that buttons are perfectly good for, such as “Continue” on the bottom of a wizard screen.

Jeffrey Veen on links:

“I’ve often referred to the links in Web pages as windows — little glimpses out to other destinations. And, as users scan a page while hunting for their next click, they use these windows to make their decisions. The more context you can offer them, I’ve often said, the more effective their browsing will be.”

Contrast this with David Heller’s article promising the end of HTML. As the Veen quote suggests, HTML can be effective and powerful when used properly. Throwing out accepted web interface conventions in favor of Flash front-ends would leave a mess of “fancy” but otherwise non-standard and unusable interfaces until new best practices could evolve. Likewise, merging HTML-like interfaces into traditional applications probably only makes sense for a minority of applications.

NASA loses shuttle

Oh no.

AP: NASA Loses Touch with Shuttle Columbia:

“NASA declared an emergency after losing communication with space shuttle Columbia as the ship soared over Texas several minutes before its expected landing time Saturday morning.”

CNN: Columbia shuttle breaks up over Texas:

“Police in Nacogdoches, Texas, reported ‘numerous pieces of debris’ both inside the city limits and in Nacogdoches County.”

Listening to NPR this morning: “Eerie quiet at Kennedy Space Center.”

I remember a few years ago, seeing the shuttle pass over Austin. We went outside, and it seemed half the neighborhood was also out in the streets, looking up. I wondered aloud if we’d be able to see anything. We squinted at the clouds, and other imagined dots in the sky. And then, the sky lit up — a huge streak across the sky as the shuttle passed. An amazing sight.