I’m planning on writing up a longer review of a number of online backup services, including Amazon’s powerful S3 service and the concomitant backup tools. But I’m glad that Panic’s new release of their FTP client Transmit supports file transfers to S3. Very cool stuff, though later than its competitors. In particular, I am going to try to get Transmit’s sync functionality to work with S3. This would provide the holy grail for Mac file storage: inexpensive, fast, and encrypted online backups.
It just so happens that my favorite coffee these days is Gorilla Coffee, a newish micro-roastery bean sent to us in Winnipeg by our Brooklyn friend J.F. It’s fully awesome—bold, tough, and fresh yet somehow gentle, just like Brooklyn itself. And it just so happens that they have the nicest website I’ve seen in many, many days—bold, tough, and fresh and yet, also, somehow gentle.
I bought the new Stars album the other day. It’s okay. It sounds like they learned, somewhere on the wide road between their home in Toronto and their fans in the States, that they need to take themselves seriously. I’ve met one of their managers but I’m sure it’s not her fault.
In the August 30, 2007, New Yorker, David Owen writes about humanity’s lack of contact with the heavens that have been with us since forever, before it all. “And civilization’s assuault on the stars has consequences far beyond its impact on astronomers. Excessive, poorly designed outdoor lighting wastes electricity, imperils human health and safety, disturbs natural habitats, and, increasingly, deprives many of us of a direct relationship with the nighttime sky, which throughout human history has been a powerful source of reflection, inspiration, discovery, and plain old jaw-dropping, wonder.”
Adam Gopnik, another of my favorite writers, in the same issue speaks of Philip K. Dick’s new relevance today, despite his death in the early 1980s. Gopnik writes about the central metaphor of Dick’s work: “The social arrangement of power is always that of a brute oligarchic minority forcing its will on a numbed population, with amusements the daily meal and brutality the implicity threat; for all that has changed technologically, that fatal pattern has never really altered.” And this: “The vision of an unending struggle between a humanity longing for a fuller love it always senses but can’t quite see, and a deranged cult of violence eternally presenting itself as necessary and real–this thought today does not seem exactly crazy.”
Today, Google <a href="announced that users of Google Earth could now see the stars above their location with the application’s latest version. This is perhaps the last way humans will see the heavens above.
There have been a number of online pieces lately about the differences between how Microsoft’s technology <a href="renders type on the screen versus how Apple’s does. I’m agnostic (because I see that both systems render nicely) albeit preferential towards Apple’s technique, but Bruno Fernandes explains it all quite nicely, with John Gruber and George Ou in the background. It’s a good piece.
A few months ago, when I was playing with a nice little Mac application called Notae, I started to set about trying to find the designer of the icon itself. It’s gorgeous. Spare, dark, simple, rounded, lovely. The application itself is okay but the developer hired one of the very best icon designers, Pixel Implosion’s Bobby Anderson, 19.
Taking a good look at some of the best of his work, I can more fully recognize the sheer beauty of contemporary icon design. These little images need to look good both small and large while also representing the inherent qualities of an application. They need to look “realistic” without having feeling photographic and “smooth” without being cheesily rendered with too much shading and fat gradients. (There only icon designer/illustrator that comes up to this level of skill is Jasper Hauser.)
Importantly, for many years, I’ve thought that illustration (whether via the medium of pixels, paper, or popcorn) will be the real refuge of great Web designers. A strong photograph, a nice new font, and a bright color can make for a pretty nice website these days. Almost anyone can do it. But illustration, the fine art of crafting something from scratch and melding various visual components together into a meaningful whole, is harder to come by, anywhere. And especially on the Web.
I saw a recent documentary in which the earth’s history was represented by a 24-hour clock. If the planet is at Midnight now, bacteria have filled the planet with oxygen since 8:00 this morning. The dinosaurs came on the scene around 9:30 pm. Humans entered about 30 seconds ago. By this scale, I figure we polluted the planet in the last 1/16 of a second.
I returned today from a trip back East, to both Philadelphia and New York. On my flight from Philly to Minneapolis, I got to sit with an U.S. Army medic and soldier who was just coming back, hours ago, from Baghdad. We had a three-hour long, rambling conversation about the United States, Iraq, the future of the war, and media coverage. I’m not as bleary-eyed as he was, but I did get up at 3:30 am. Here is what I learned:
A lot of soldiers in Iraq, despite 7 years under President Bush, blame President Clinton for having done very little in the 1990s to stem and unroot Al Quaeda. The USS Cole was a defining moment in this history – many soldiers feel he was diddling around while fundamentalists in Afghanistan were gaining strength and sway. I didn’t ask about the relationship between 9/11 and Iraq, but the implication from this one soldier was that neither would have happened had the United States taken out Al Aqaeda ten years ago.
My soldier friend also told me that “CNN is a joke” – and that every single news vehicle (from any country) doesn’t have the big or little story on Iraq. He said he read the New York Times online every day and that it didn’t even begin to scratch the stories in and around Baghdad. He did say, a number of times, that he felt the U.S. was doing a lot of good there, though I kind of felt he was saying this out of some sense of obligation to those still serving there.
Another issue he brought up was the status of soldiers. The overall care he recieved in Baghdad was excellent, he told me. Every evening, they would have 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream available for dessert. The hospitals were superb and the medical care was top notch, for soldiers. In his estimation (he worked in the main U.S. hospital in Baghdad), 99% of all U.S. and Iraqi injuries were from IEDs and suicide bombers. There was absolutely nothing the U.S. could do to stop these, he explained, and there is no end in sight for a decrease in insurgency attacks.
I asked about the draft. He agreed with me that the U.S. will, indeed, have to institute a draft pretty soon if recruits aren’t being gained. Even the $40,000 sign up fee, the educational benefits, and quick-start career opportunity of the Army are not convincing young Americans to serve their country.
Perhaps most interesting was his photographs. He had taken many dozens of photos and showed them to me and other passenger on his laptop. He did not shoot blood or gore but he did clearly show the damage that tanks and other armored vehicles have sustained from various IEDs and bombs: the 5-inch thick glass windows pierced by a bomb, the 4-inch thick gash in the side of a Humvee, the demolished vehicles in the middle of the desert that are already sand-covered and useless. But he also showed me photographs of some of the holiest Christian and Muslim shrines in the country – places he went to with obvious risk. These were thousands of years old; some were pockmarked with recent bullets and armament while others stood intact.
After we deplaned, I ran into him again in the terminal. He said that people, in the past 12 hours since he’s returned, have said to him, over and over again, “Thank you.” And then he shook my hand and said to me, “Peace be with you.”
On my Macintosh, I use Parallels to run a Windows machine for testing websites. It works well, except when I tried to test a site in AOL VR 9.0 (whatever that means) and AOL more-or-less permanently installed itself on my machine.
It’s incredible that a company would make it so completely difficult to remove a piece of software, in 2007! Sure, I know that, back in 1999, it was kind of cool to force software on users because they didn’t know any better and, anyway, AOL was kind of cool, and the Internet was cool, and we were all cool with being cool with each other. Today? It’s unacceptable. And totally not cool.
I know enough about Windows to have found a very ugly alias icon for uninstalling AOL deep within the Program Files folder. Having double-clicked on that little horror-show, I was taken to Windows’ own Add or Remove Programs screen and I had to temporarily rewire my brain. The screen showed an Uninstall AOL program that said “You can uninstall this program or remove it from your computer.” Did I really want to uninstall the uninstaller? Why wouldn’t I want to eat a shoe? I went ahead with it, in the off-hope it would work and part of AOL was removed. I restarted, tried it again, clicked on more components that I wanted deleted, and now AOL is gone.
But, lo and behold, it’s still freaking there! In my Program Files folder, there is another folder called “AOL” and guess what’s inside? A folder called “Installers.”
I’ve been using 37 signals’ Backpack [disclosure: affiliate link] application for a good year and a half or so, stumbling upon it after many, many hours looking at personal information managers that would (help me) keep on top of my many projects, occasional ideas, and special friends. After a lot of searching, I settled on a few different solutions to keep track of things, but the one I’m starting to like again is Backpack. A few weeks ago, 37 updated both the functionality and interface of the application, fulfilling many user requests such as drag-and-drop between pages and more Ajax-y goodness. More importantly, they added these little things called “dividers,” which are exactly what they sound like: lines that separate out different lists, notes, or writeboards, which are highly usable writing platforms that can be shared with other writers. Dividers, for me, are the killer application. They allow tremendous amounts of simplification, dividing and parsing different components of a page, and doing it without additional fanfare.
Moreover, I’ve learned to finally ditch the idea of contexts, which is the raison d’etre of many in the Getting Things Done community. I refuse to look at project lists more than once per day and if I have to do more work than that by contextualizing where a given job has to get done, I might as well be a secretary instead of a designer. (Does anyone really need to indicate that “Buy bread” is “@store” and not “@computer”?)
The most important breakthrough: individual tasks are useless to me. Whereas I used to list out all relevant and related tasks associated with a specific project, now I just list out the project. In other words, I went from a page of 15 projects and 6 to 12 tasks each to, well, 15 projects. My theory is that if I don’t know what task to do next, I shouldn’t be managing my own projects.
For instance, Client X (a nonprofit in New York) is redesigning a large and important website from the ground up. In traditional Getting Things Done tools, the project would look like this:
- User interface document 1
- User interface document 2
- User interface document 3
- Asset capture
- Design stage 1
- Design stage 2
- Design stage 3
- Design stage 4
- Finalize images
- Coding and development
- CSS tweaks
- Content integration
- QA 1
- Content modifications
- QA 2
Now, the project looks like this:
Needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway), this system is new to me but seems to work. It’s not unlike many other systems I’ve read about and liked but, to me, it’s clear and simple and easy to update. In fact, it’s the same system I use on paper on my desk but now it’s available to me anywhere. As always, your mileage may vary.
P.S. When Backpack was initially launched, I tried it out for a few days. It sucked. I hated it. It’s interface was confusing, limited, and lame. I can assure you that, if you have not seen it since its incipience, it’s worth a shot.