Groceries in 6 seconds

I took this video at the train station. I doubt anyone has used this virtual grocery shelf to purchase anything. The Advertisement Media Manager is probably kicking himself/herself now, or probably hasn’t even realized it yet.

Poor poor job.

Addendum: If it wasn’t already clear from the title, the video and the accompanying text, I’m bagging the poor execution of the virtual store because the rotating billboard requires that you scan the grid of products, find a desired item aim your phone at its corresponding barcode and *snap* within a 6 second time window before getting interrupted by a movie poster and a phone advertisement.

Make Commodity Beautiful

I’ve noticed something perculiar in the way I’ve begun to use email ever since I switched to Fastmail in my recent mini IT infrastructure shakeup. Previously, I was quite content with Thunderbird hitting up an IMAP account off a cheap web hosting account, and didn’t think much about it.

The big switch came about when I was spending far more time on a work machine than my trusty Thinkpad. I wasn’t comfortable setting up a desktop email client at work, the web email interfaces on my hosting account was downright horrendous, and I wasn’t about to rely on the big G’s ad-funded service for my primary email needs.

So I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a Fastmail account. I’d used Fastmail way back when generous was 16mb’s of email storage, and fast was building your web interface with no images – just straight-up HTML. This was a second coming of sorts.

Every since I’ve started using Fastmail, I’ve even begun to prefer it over firing up Thunderbird on my desktop. Upon further reflection, I’ve been able to narrow it down to one reason – the interface.

The Fastmail web interface is not particularly exciting to look at. I’d say it’s even a little spartan compared to most post-web 2.0 outfits. But where it really sings is the way the whole interface is designed with the power user in mind. The clincher for me was the VIM-like key bindings. I could quickly navigate through my email, report spam, mark, delete and file emails all from my keyboard – no mouse required.

~snips nerdy gush-fest~

The point I’m trying to get at, is that email has largely become a commodified service. Although, I had the the pick of any desktop app, and a choice of 4 different webmail interfaces, I decided instead to paid good money for Fastmail’s web interface.

The more I look, the more I see commodities being bolstered and somewhat “resold” with a coat of thoughtfully applied interface. Programmers all over the world swear by GitHub. Mac OS X coats a BSD Mach kernel with a gratituous gobs of lickability. And, more recently, Sparrow and Fluent are in the market to repackage what is essentially a 26 year old protocol.

If you’re looking for a startup idea, pick a commodity software and make it beautiful. It is a significant, fixable unmet need that is just waiting pay out.

Open source software is particularly suited for this for two reasons. Firstly, you have full access to the source code, and secondly, they usually have a lot of room for improvement as far as UX goes.

Show this article some love on Hacker News.

Myki and tacking on pronouns

Talk about poor brand message. Off the cuff, here are just two of the many ways this could go wrong.

Myki – It’s your key
If you didn’t quite get what my means, we’re referring to you,  get it?

Myki – It’s your key
I know I said it’s Myki, but it actually really is yours.

On the topic of tacking pronouns to the front of your core brand, doing so makes it very awkward for someone to refer to it in a sentence. One would invariably have to either squelch the pronoun (and diluting your precious brand) or risk sounding like he or she has bad english.

Consider the following:

“My Myki is usually in my wallet , but I can’t seem to find it today. Can I borrow your Myki for the time being?”

“Have you been to the thefreshgrocer in Bendigo? They have very friendly staff”

“Can you believe it? He left such a lame comment on my thefacebook wall” (which, thankfully, isn’t the case)

Here’s not to say that it should never be done. In fact products like newspapers do it very well by way of frequent exposure and being an everyday product. Still their escape isn’t completely unscathed.

“Did you get your tickets to the The Age journalism conference?”

So rule of thumb – consider all the varied and wondrous ways you’d like people to talk about your brand – and try not to make it too awkward to do so. Or, as Mr. Timberlake’s character would say “It’s not cool”.

Remembering PalmJournal

Back in my high school years, I used to tap out my entries on a Palm IIIx in an app called PalmJournal.

Thinking back, here were the things that made it the ideal journaling platform.

  1. Its form-factor. The small screen and “small device” experience was ideal for a rather private activity.
  2. It only did one thing. The interface was sparse and utilitarian. There were no pop-up notifications, medals to earn, no internet connectivity or even color. It simply left me alone to process my thoughts.
  3. It was tangible. The fact that PalmJournal lived on my Palm IIIx meant that it had a certain material tangibility about it – i.e. I could lock the device in a drawer, and I’d know that it is safe. No messing around with passwords, encryption, to-the-cloud-crap.

Amidst the deluge of supersmart devices currently flooding the market, there is definitely still room for single-purpose devices that are far better suited to specific activities than multi-purpose devices could ever be.

Long live PalmJournal.

Why the Natural Wireless Mouse didn’t do it for me

When I bought the Microsoft Ergonomic Desktop 7000, the reasoning was that my work involved substantial use of a keyboard, so it would be a good idea to invest in an ergonomic one – wireless would be nice too. One year in, I can safely say that they keyboard was a worthwhile investment; but this post isn’t about the keyboard – it’s about the mouse that came with it.

The Natural Wireless Laser Mouse came as part of the Desktop bundle. Being a sucker for trying out new things, I gave myself a period of time to “break in” to the slightly foreign posture that your arm assumes when using one such mouse.

These pictures doesn’t really do justice to how weird it feels using such a contraption. If you can imagine gripping an upright soda can tightly and sliding it around on the table, that’s how it feels like.

The upright-ier posture did take the strain off my wrist as advertised. Rather than twisting my palm downwards to reach for a flat mouse – the mouse came to me.

After many months of attempting to get used to the mouse though, I still found it frustrating/slow to use but couldn’t understand why – until now.

Firstly, this mouse is heavy. The wireless mouse weighs in at more than twice that of a standard issue Dell mouse (179g vs 71g), making it very tiring to push around all day. The heft comes mainly from the twin double-A batteries that power it.

Secondly, the ergonomic posture of the mouse actually immobilizes your wrist and forces you to operate it by moving your arms. You may not have notice this before, but chances are, you actually flick your mouse around using your fingers and wrist rather than your arm. This gives you more control when you’re performing fine movements like editing graphics or selecting a phrase of letters.

Finally, because of its “natural” organic shape, it’s hard to tell which way is “up”. The very first Apple USB Mouse suffered from a similar problem.

After a year, I given up learning to use this and swapped back to the unergonomic standard-issue Dell mouse. The keyboard is great though.