Thursday, December 29, 2011

Office 2010

Besides the overall confusion of having all the commands scrambled up and re-arranged, seems like there are many specific, little things to dislike:

The whole ribbon context thing may--may--make it simpler for a new user to absorb. It amounts to applying the old computer science dictum--there is no problem that can't be solved by adding a layer of indirection. The problem is that it also inserts a layer of navigation for many common operations. Things that used to be just a click away require first moving to the right ribbon, before being able to access the function. One example: switching windows in MS-Word.

What is really bad--many keyboard commands don't work, or at least don't work from all contexts (though some do). For instance in Outlook, I was accustomed to Alt-O to get to today. Very useful, very frequently used. No longer works (at least not the way I expect it to).

Went and returned to default a lot of things that I had set--sort order, group by. It's been so long since I upgraded Office, I can't remember if all versions have done this with upgrades, or just this one..

As far as I can tell, there is no option to make updates to a meeting, save but not send. Yes, I understand the logic behind prompting you to send after making updates, but there ARE use cases for updating, saving and not immediately sending. As far as I can tell, that is now impossible!

Then there is the "To-Do" bar, which might be okay in the Calendar pane, but I really don't need in my email window. So the good news is you can minimize it--the bad news is--it doesn't minimize all the way (or down to a vertical bar a few pixels wide)--it still takes up significant space, and the first few events are displayed horizontally. I think the M$ UX people were high when they designed this one.

Things I like:

  • Finally, >9 recently-used files (this one is so overdue it almost seems like M$ doesn't actually deserve any credit here)
  • Outlook--meeting updates that don't require a response and re-set all response-tracking

Tax Burdens Tilt Coastal, and System’s Fairness Is Debated -

Definitely interesting to think about, but definitely politically unviable and undesirable--imagine the gamesmanship it would drive in congress, if taxation could be adjusted for cost-of-living. West Virginia, in the Robert Byrd era, probably would have been rated up there with NYC as a super-high-cost area!.

Disruptions: The 3-D Printing Free-for-All -

Fascinating if a bit overoptimistic. I didn't see even a single example of anything significantly useful and novel made. Still, anything that might help with repairability, especially of plastic, would be welcome.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Idea: Amazon Late-Present Promissory Notes

As a gift buyer, when I can't come across with a present in time, for one reason or another, I typically resort to printing out a picture of it and wrapping that up, with a promise of near-future delivery. That gave me an idea for an e-tailer  feature. Provide a one-page, printer-friendly "promissory note", describing the product that has been ordered, and maybe sprinkling in some humor about why it may be late (It our fault! We ran out! But we are rushing one to you now!), as the best possible proxy for the actual gift item. For good measure, include the tracking bar code. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm pretty sure Ed Morrissey and I are not the only people who are sick and tired of the outsize influence Iowa and New Hampshire exert on the presidential nominating process. It's wrong, malign, sick and evil, in so many ways. To name some:

  1. Influence way out of proportion to population.
  2. Not playing nice--Iowa and New Hampshire, always wanna be first, and act like spoiled children if anything threatens their cherished status.
  3. Distortions due to scrambling to be first have pretty much already ruined the system, and caused us to endure high-cost, two-year election cycles (not all the fault of IA and NH, but they have not helped).
  4. Annoying comments by residents about how they "like their politics retail". 
This need to be PUNISHED. So let's hit them where it hurts. How about if all of us residents of the other 48 states agree to a boycott. Namely, let's agree, that we will absolutely, positively not vote, in our state primaries, for a candidate who won either NH or IA?

It seems like the easiest, best way to deal a mortal blow to the out-of-control influence these two states have over the whole nominating process. 

(Note that this applies to both parties.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fails Safe Is Such A Great Engineering Concept

[When] a properly designed system fails safe, you can't blow it up remotely by cycling it on and off. 
Fail-safe design has more mundane applications, too. Electronic controls, for example (one of my pet peeves), should fail, wherever possible, leaving the appliance usable in a simple, default mode (which surprisingly often may be just fine).

Auctions Are Passe

This article pretty much expresses my own sentiments regarding online auctions. For any kind of commodity item, they just don't make sense. I do not believe I have ever successfully bought anything in an online auction.

India Eye Care Center Finds Middle Way To Capitalism

"Pursuing efficiency the way Goldman Sachs pursues profits." Love it.

Latest Case for Smartphone Hard Buttons

I recently bought a Logitech Revue (Google TV). It's okay, not a bad buy for the fire-sale price of $100, definitely not worth the original $300 asking price. One interesting thing is that it supports a remote control app for  your Android device. It's pretty good. But anyway, it brings to mind another use for having a configurable hard button, or two, on phones.

The biggest downside to using phone as remote is having the screen go off and so having to go through the lockscreen to get to your remote. I think my first-cut at perfect implementation would be:

  • When you first use Google TV Remote on your device, it activates the hotkey.
  • Hotkey brings up remote immediately, bypassing lockscreen.
  • Hotkey remains active so long as the phone's location remains the same.

I know hard keys are not in favor (flagship Galaxy Nexus being the first smartphone with zero hard keys, not even a home key), but still...

Best way to fight terrorism: refuse to become terrorized

Next Feature for MS-Word: Idiom-Checking

It isn't until you start paying attention that you realize just how prevalent idioms are in ordinary professional writing. There are innumerable sports metaphors and analogies, of course. The one that inspired me to write this post was "motherhood and apple pie".
Anyway, I think a really useful, fairly easy and obvious feature for MS-Word would be an idiom-checker. It would cut two ways. First, it would call attention to one's perhaps unthinking use of idioms that are well-known to native speakers, but not to ESLers. Second, it would offer convenient, in-line flagging and translation of said idioms, for the benefit of said ESLers.
(using "said" in this way is a bit idiomatic, isn't it? That would be a harder one for the idiom checker...)

I actually think this could be done really well. In many ways, it seems easier than a grammar-checker. I can see how it could leverage, on an opt-in basis, multiple wiki-style references (somewhat like Urban Dictionary).

For bonus points, maybe eventually--just as grammar-checkers tell you the reading level of your writing--the idiom checker could grade it in different ways. Idiom density, idiom topicality (based on a graph of the age of the citations of the idioms in an internet crawl), and obviously the sky is the limit, depending on how good the tagging is (e.g., "North American English", "all native English", "sports", etc).

This would also make a great open source project. Both for the code--hopefully a plug-in that any text editor could adopt (e.g. Fargo), and for the source content (wiki-style, like Urban Dictionary).

Google should promulgate secure email

PKI, the whole deal. Good way to draw non-Gmail-users into the fold, too. Way overdue for someone to make this happen.

One of the Most Novel Smartphone Apps: White Noise

Relax and Sleep: Not really white noise, but many different sounds to drown out any background noise.

App Idea: NFC for coat-check-style receipts

Bump your phone against the NFC reader, get an instant receipt...that would be kind of convenient.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Problem-Solving in Large Organizations

Instead of starting with Policy and working forward to what needs to be done, start with what is sane and pragmatic, and work backwards to figure out how it can be achieved in compliance to Policy.