Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When All Else Fails, Remember to Try Firmware Upgrade

I recently ordered a Jabra BT8010 wireless stereo bluetooth headset. I found my previous wireless headset, a Plantronics Voyager, to be slightly flaky in regard to establishing and maintaining its bluetooth connection. This one, however, has been terrible. The funny thing is, the music connection worked flawlessly, it was the phone connection that was hard to establish.

I got so frustrated, I put it in the drawer a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, I thought more about it today, and it occurred to me that I should consider a firmware upgrade. So I did the upgrade, and tried the phone again. Based on about 30 minutes worth of data, and holding my breath, but it seems to have cured the problem.

So that is a good reminder--when experiencing problems with electronics, don't forget to try the firmware upgrade. In fact, it is probably a good idea to try it sooner rather than later--you don't have to wait till all else fails!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nokia xPress 5610--Failing on the Fundamentals

My new cell phone, a Nokia xPress 5610, looks pretty cool, since it is so small and slim.

Unfortunately, all the effort seems to have gone into cramming all the expected features of a contemporary phone, into this tiny package. What seems completely lost is useability as a phone! (Unless perhaps all Nokias work like this--this is my first Nokia in years--in which case it is solely the fault of bad design, and not attributable only to the super-small form factor).

The general theme is waaaay too many button presses to do anything. The best example is mute--a crucial feature in a cell phone. Should be 1 easy click to mute/un-mute, and it should be obvious, at a glance, whether the phone is muted. Not here--to activate mute you have to: 1) invoke the menu; 2) navigate to the Mute option; 3) click Mute.

There are many other examples. Another thing that should be very, very easy is putting the phone on vibrate. In my prior phones, you could do this by just holding the volume switch down. On the Nokia, it requires: 1) access the menu (or, if you set it up, the shortcut); 2) click the menu option for "profiles"; 3) that brings you to a choice of profiles, you have to navigate to the one you want; 4) click the one you want; 5) here is the worst part--after you click it, you have to select "activate".

The whole thing is bad, but even half-way software competent design would eliminate step #5--activate is what you access 99% of the time, so it is what you get when you do a full "click" on the profile. IF you want to do something else (that would be the obscure actions of Customize or Timed), well, that is what the soft buttons are for!

The phone is billed as a "music" phone, but it really doesn't do anything special in that regard, either. As far as I can tell, slapping 3 buttons--fast forward, pause, rewind--on the outside makes it a music phone. The only one of those that is particularly useful is the pause button, which could as easily just be replaced by the center click. And that seemingly uses up all available space for external buttons, so the other stuff that is usually activated by them--camera, voice recorder--is all buried within the standard menu. UPDATE: In fact, the buttons are more of a bug, because they are easily activated a la "butt calls"--an unforgivably, there is no option to lock the handset during music mode. That is just plain stupid.

This phone is like an uncomfortable, unreliable car that you buy just for its looks. I would not recommend it or pick it again (I knew I hadn't done enough research, but took a chance). It violates the basic commandment of design--above all else, do the essentials well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama Appointees

Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced "fresh faces" to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.
Interesting point--my italics. Because the "fresh faces" concept doesn't seem to work so well, but then again, neither does the status quo.

Design Before Writing Requirements?

Not a bad article, I agree with a lot of it, this was the best part:
By nature domain understanding does not lead to specification. Understanding suggests design. A very important part of design is limits. When design is allowed to bubble up from understanding it’s easy to put the limit of the design into places that are logical for the domain. In contrast to design, requirement definition is limitless. The requirements gathering process typically goes on until someone says “I think we’ve got enough now”. That arbitrary stopping point becomes a design limit and hobbles further system development.
The solution is to write the requirements after the design is created so that the scope will be defined.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New Google Background

The Gmail sign-on page now has the sign-on dialog screen displayed translucently, with a pretty photo of a mountain scene in the background. It looks cool, but seems to me to go against the Google spirit of minimalist, sleek, clean, uncluttered, fast-loading pages. First impression--no value delivered.

Gadgets and Functions a Cell Phone Can Replace

These articles discuss the various gadgets that cell phones have replaced. I was thinking about that the other day. In fact, I was making a list of the things my next cell phone has to do.

Miscellaneous observations:

Better software is the way to accelerate this. Until the advent of the iPhone and Google Android, you get whatever is pre-installed. And that is usually very mediocre--the cell phone makers definitely have the checklist mentality for features: it just has to be adequate to get checked off as being present, there is no concept whatsoever of striving for excellence in design, a la Apple.

Key features I am looking for:
1. eReader platform. I think cell phones will kill off eReaders before they ever get going. A big-screen cell phone will be adequate for incidental reading. If you want more than that, why buy an eReader when you could have a Netbook, for the same or less money.
2. GPS. I may be hoping for too much--I'm not paying $10/month forever to have a cell phone GPS.
3. Good note-taking.
4. This is a far-off dream: universal remote control.

I think something that would increase useability would be a Launchy-style interface, to get a them quickly. Although maybe with the real-estate of a large-screen phone, you could have everything you use frequently on the desktop.

Note taking has got to get much better; I think the design goal would be that jotting a very short reminder note should not take more than 2x as long as on paper, including time to access the app. Also need good integration with voice notes. That would include develop a user-based voice to text profile that is persistent (doesn't have to be started anew with a new handset). Google would have a big advantage here, with its huge database from Goog 411.

A spin-off article I saw listed the gadgets that would not be replaced by cellphones, along with the reasoning, related to functional issues. Two of them listed were: 1) Calculator 2) Alarm Clock. Interestingly, one of my children uses her phone exclusively for each of these functions, even though she has recourse to the traditional, purpose-built alternatives.

So I think there are two main factors holding back wider usage of cell phones for some auxiliary functions, such as these. One is age, and the habits that accumulate with age. As Steve Jobs famously said, death will take care of that problem. The other is the design factor alluded to above.

I believe with thoughtful design, a modern cell phone can be made to work very well for almost any given function. For the design challenge of the snooze button on the alarm, for instance, the phone could automatically go into an "any key snooze" mode, similar to the any key answer feature. As a bonus, software applications running on a modern phone--which is very much a full-functioning hand-held cmputer--probably can offer features that don't exist on the old technology (such as switching between standard infix notation, and HP-style reverse Polish postfix notation for a calculator).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Neatness Counts at Kyocera and at Others in the 5S Club

I worked at Otis Elevator when 5S was religion. I am probably a hypocrite and short-sighted, but while I see its benefits in the factory, as an office worker, I say yuck, this seems like a joke that I am going to be more productive because I always put my stapler back in the same place.

Although the example of handling printer output does resonate with me. That is always a big problem. A simple, minimalist solution would be to have bins for each day. At the end of the day, the designated person puts all remaining output into the bin for that day. When the new week rolls around, anything still in the Monday bin gets tossed.

I note that the key difference is that example refers to a highly-shared area, not the personal space of a knowledge-worker.

Stupid Stuff: When Was that Picture Taken?

When looking at photo files in Windows File Manager, there are a slew of additional attributes (columns) that you can add, if you want to. Why in the world would M$ not have made "Date Picture Taken" (not the same as file Created date) one of those defaults??

SharePoint should work more like Google Docs

One big problem with SharePoint is that the permissions have to be provided at a macro level, in advance, by the SharePoint admin. In cross-functional projects at large companies, this makes it inconvenient to use SharePoint for the ad-hoc workgroups that often get pulled together in big companies. So what happens?--business as usual, i.e., passing around email versions, getting mixed up as to what is current, and generally clogging the Exchange server with large attachments.

Google docs works so much better. You create a document, and then invite people to collaborate. You can set rules that allow or disallow your invitees from inviting others.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Free Software

This article talks about the uptick in for-profit business using free software, instead of the entrenched, default option of MS-Office. I'm all for anything that breaks the M$ tax. I must say, though, that the way Excel is often used as a convenient, ad-hoc data-exchange format is going to be hard to replace with Google spreadsheets.

Online Advertising

Dave Winer says online advertising is soon to be dead (whatever dead means). I generally wish Google well, but I have long believed that oneline advertising is over-rated.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One Fell Swoop

A curious phrase. Nice explanation here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Thomas Friedman:
The blame for this travesty not only belongs to the auto executives, but must be shared equally with the entire Michigan delegation in the House and Senate, virtually all of whom, year after year, voted however the Detroit automakers and unions instructed them to vote. That shielded General Motors, Ford and Chrysler from environmental concerns, mileage concerns and the full impact of global competition that could have forced Detroit to adapt long ago.... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.
Normally I am against "white-knight thinking", but I have to say, Robert X. Cringely's suggestion is intriguing:
Somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn't need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he'd like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I'd bet it wouldn't take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google Flu-Tracking

Wow, clever:
Google Uses Searches to Track Flu's Spread

Google is tracking the ebb and flow of Web queries like "flu symptoms" or "muscle aches" in an effort to identify outbreaks.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How Phonebooks treat SIM cards

I really don't understand. Having replaced a couple of phones under warranty, the SIM card is really the core of "your" phone, much more than the rest of the handset. So why the heck is the default to store contacts on the phone, not on the SIM card? You can move them, but as far as I can tell, only one at a time. Makes zero sense to me.

Postscript: this thread gives some clues. It seems that you need the contacts on the handset to have pictures or ringtones associated with the contact. Okay, that is presumably a hardware constraint, but it still strikes me as exposing WAAAYY too much implementation to the user. Why not just duplicate the contact in both places, if the user chooses to associate a ringtone to it? Why make them have to think about this stuff?