Archive for April 23, 2013

Edge Animate

I always try to follow up a negative, ball-slicing rant with something positive. Both for my own mental health and those mysterious ghost readers of my blog (which I probably don’t have anyway).

Adobe is usually one of my favourite companies to take a crap on. Sure, they often deserve it. Being so big and bloaty and annoyingly necessary. This time though, they’ve really done it.

I’m talking about Edge Animate.

Stop the world, you’ve finally done something GOOD and USEFUL. I’m surprised I’m saying that. Just saw a talk this morning at FITC  from Sarah Hunt from Adobe. Quite frankly, i’m impressed.

Get this – what if you could have flash-like animations without flash? What if you could animate something pretty damn cool without having to hand code every transition? What if there was a visual tool that marries javascript and css to produce these lovely animations?

There is: Adobe’s Edge Animate.

If you are familiar with Flash or After Effects, this will be a breeze. Hell, its better than dealing with Flash and its annoying tweening system. Make your vector animations using their keyframe editor, handily making automatic keyframes and transitions (formerly known as tweens for the former flash heads) . Then, you get to spit them out as a bunch of css and js files. That simple.

About time. Though I feel bile rising in my throat in grudging, I have to say: “thank you, Adobe”.

Application Abominations

I thought quickly rant off a few things I notice during my workday that not only have decreased my productivity, but also release an involuntary torrent of harsh language involving some developer’s butt and a sharpened stake. With splinters.

I am referring of course to application developers (or developer teams) who, instead of thinking outside the box, fall through the bottom because they didn’t tape it properly. Ok that metaphor didn’t quite fly, but we can’t all be perfect. I’m sober tonight so my wit is a little dull.

Back to my point.

If you are making an application, be it desktop, web or mobile, I would encourage, nay BEG you to please recognize these agonizing mistakes to avoid me coming after you with aforementioned splintery stake

10 Application UI design mistakes:

  1. Stealing focus – This is when some annoying little app thinks its okay to switch to the foreground to tell me something inane like “hey, I finally opened that document!” or “oh guess what? there’s an update”. No, I am afraid you aren’t the most important thing in the world to me, ever. Do not, I repeat DO NOT attempt to steal my focus. Half the time i’m typing something or doing something with precision that you utterly ruin by being a turd. You are like the cat that jumps on the keyboard, except not remotely cute or loveable. I can assure you, whatever I’m doing is more important to me than whatever you want, I hid you in the background for a reason.
  2. Updating every two days – You know who you are Flash Player. There’s a special hell, just for you. There is only one reason that an application should require frequent updating – if its an insecure piece of shit. In which case, why on earth would I use you? If this is not the case, why do I care what you are updating? why not collect all your feature enhancements and bug fixes into one big whopping update no more than quarterly? I am sure I am one amongst millions who, when they open a program, intent to USE it straight away rather than deal with updating. Half the time, updates break functionality anyway.
  3. Phoning home constantly – Though this has been taken to extremes lately with the massive Sim City shitstorm, you really would be surprised how every bloody program seems to just love phoning home.  Some do it to check for update, once every thirty seconds. Some do it to confirm their license every ten seconds. Some are doing God knows what and there’s no way of telling what sort of information it’s beaming back to God knows where to be used in “whatever way we feel like it” according to the license agreement. Here’s what I did: I installed a program called Little Snitch (not sure if there’s a windows counterpart, don’t really care either). What it does is act as a reverse firewall (technically, just a firewall but don’t spoil the analogy) allowing you to monitor and selectively block outgoing connections. Why does a friggin text editor have to phone home every five minutes? Block. Try installing it yourself and see just how many of your programs are attempting to send all sorts of crap over the internet. STOP IT. You are wasting my bandwidth, slowing my computer down, and hocking my private data. Fuck you.
  4. In-app purchases – though sometimes these are appropriate, say, game expansion packs, most of the time its just a way to try and syphon more money out of my wallet. They look so shiny and nice in the app store sure, looking like the proverbial Venusian vision of beauty coming out of the water, sunlight glinting off her perfect skin… I digress. It is being used too much these days to deliver crippled crapware for a price, then asking for more money just to get to its advertised functionality. Mobile app stores are rife with the stuff. Like the classic bait and switch, I am denied my buxom beauty and am delivered a toothless hairy hag and told I have to pay more to see the naughty bits. If I have to pay for a piece of software, and I find I will have to pay more for the bits I need, I will pass you by for the scum you are.
  5. Subscription based software – This is becoming more common, especially at professional grade levels (i’m looking at you again Adobe) and sheathed in the shiny, wooly package of being a “Cloud” application. Oooh! they used a buzzword! Basically, instead of buying something, and owning it in perpetuity, you get to pay for it every month or they will take it away from you. Probably when you need it most on a deadline. There is another name for this, its called a protection racket. Planned obsolescence wasn’t good enough for some, now they want to make a new standard of raping their customers on a monthly basis. I will not buy into this business model ever. Microsoft has tried to do it for years (and trying again with Office), so that should tell you how honourable that is.
  6. Non-standard UI elements – Some developers are so proud of their skills that they believe they are somehow better than the 30-odd years of proven experience OS vendors have in user interface design. Sure, if you are making an immersive game, go nuts! its your playground. Otherwise, I want to see a standard window, with close boxes I can find and using the system toolbox which is proven to work, rather than your glitchy and wholly unnecessary window and dialog manager you cooked up on peyote. Some even do evil things like switch the expected locations of “OK” and “Cancel” buttons to disastrous results. Seriously, Apple nailed UI, you cannot do better. Stick to making your app work.
  7. Inconsistent UI elements – Some companies release a suite of applications, and they decided, in their bureaucratic wisdom, to have a completely different development team making each app in the suite with zero communication between them. For programs designed to work in concert with one another, the user will frequently have several of them open at once and switch between them. You would therefore expect everything to be the same – the toolbars, windows, key commands, even the general logic around how the whole program works. Unfortunately, for anyone who has used the Creative Suite, we soon realize that this is far from true. If you are going to make a suite of apps, make them play together nicely. If you have the same function in your five apps, put them in the same damn menu, with the same key command. Hell, share the code and reduce the bloat while you are at it.
  8. Bloatware – Oh God, this has to be one of the worst. I have a relatively new machine: a year old MBP. I love her, she sings to me. She is also blindingly fast, so long as the programs I run aren’t coded by psychotic monkeys who, as expected from any caged animal, make nothing but a giant pile of shit that I have to clean off the walls. There is absolutely NO reason why any single application should take more than ten seconds to launch. There is also no reason (unless I’m doing motion graphics or video editing) that it has to hog two gigabytes of my memory. Nor should the installed size be any larger than 10GB. Like a narcissistic fat hog, it devours my system resorouces while other, far more important applications, go hungry and halt for lack of cpu time. Yes, you can skip installing the clip art, trust me I will not use it. There is only one reason that bloatware exists at all – crappy developers and their equally crappy managers who decide to skip cleaning and optimizing their code in favour of delivering a bunch of new features no one wants or would ever need.  Developers – make your apps lean and mean, not fat and gluttonous. As a bonus, they will work better and your user base won’t want to flay you alive.
  9. Rockin the single proc – Seriously, this is 2013. Why in the blue fuck are you slow as hell AND using only one processor? I have eight of them for a reason. Why should I have to wait for you to do a simple processing task because it never occurred to you to use more than one CPU? Shithead. In line with the points above – there is NO execuse why your app can’t run a crapton faster.
  10. Installing needless/annoying/damaging startup items/kernel extensions – This is a big beef of mine. Unless you are a hardware device driver, or if you have a real reason to be running all the time (almost never the case) DO NOT be a dick and assume I want bits of you loading at startup. Especially not bits named generically that take me a week to find like the dead mouse stinking up the apartment. 99.99% of applications do not need anything that loads at startup and most definitely do not require a (potentially destabilizing) kernel extension. Your updating yourself and phoning home (see above) are NOT valid reasons for doing this. If I want you to do anything, i will open you myself. Otherwise, stay the fuck out of my way.

There are more, but here we are at ten already. This means I am probably as bored as you are with the sound of my own voice. I’m sure many of you, my anonymous and silent readers, are nodding your heads and hrumphing your agreement at our shared experiences. Is there something you can do? Actually several.  Try these:

Don’t buy into it – Refuse to buy (as much as you can get away with) software that are guilty of the above. Why open yourself for financial fleecing only to install something that pisses you off? Better yet, look for leaner apps that can accomplish the same tasks. Never buy into it just because “everyone else did”.

Limit the damage – Watch for installer options and uncheck anything stupid/annoying/unnecessary. If not presented with an option, check installer logs or go hunting for bits you don’t want in there and remove them. Nine times out of ten, the app will still work fine and be much less annoying.

Trim the fat – In concert with the above, routinely check your login items, startup items, and kernel extensions folders (system and user level) for insidious vermin and remove them for a smooth computing experience.

Block the bullshit – kill processes that don’t need to be running, block their outgoing connections, turn off update checking, data collection, home phoning, caching – the lot. Apps are there to do what YOU want them to, and much like children, should not be left unattended. Preference panes can be a wealth of user definable options that you can disable to make your life less annoying. If the options aren’t there, check the preference files, you will probably find some “TRUE”s you can change to “FALSE”s.

Write the developer – Though it will probably fall on deaf ears since their customer support was outsourced to India, who in turn outsourced it to the United States, it still is valuable to cast your vote, especially when you gave them thousands of dollars.

Anyway, now I can relax with a drink, cheers!

f4player

There are times where we don’t want a lot of useless features and especially don’t want annoying restrictions. Sometimes, all we want to do is stick a bloody video into a webpage and play it. Not mess with youtube or license-rape and certainly not shell out for something that (if we weren’t so lazy) we could make in flash.

Enter f4player by Goker Cebeci.  Its simple, its lightweight (like 10kb light!), it gets the job done. Best feature is it’s free and open source. No painful installations, configurations or bullshit. It just works.

Get f4player

Of course, documentation is … sparse, but it can be figured out very easily, simply upload the player swf, the skin swf, your video  and an optional thumbnail jpeg. Paste some embed code and set your flashvars as desired. Bang. Your video is up and playing. It is just that simple.

Source is included so you can, if you are feeling tinkery, mess with it in every conceivable way and even make your own skins.

Of course, be a good open-source citizen and chuck the guy some bucks for his hard work, and of course honour the GPL3 license.

Keiths makes two hoppy new brews!

I had occasion (let’s call it almost daily) to visit my local LCBO boutique to purchase some imbibables. Being Saturday, they had the sample cart out. Normally, I would pass it by as they proffer some new syrupy girl-drink guaranteed to give me a hangover before dinner. This time, they caught my attention – with hops.

It is becoming quite popular for craft brewers in Ontario (and elsewhere I presume) to add this magical ingredient called “hops” to their lagers. For anyone who knows anything about beer (and no, consuming a case of Bud does not count), hops are one of the few ingredients allowed by the Reinheitsgebot (German beer purity law) and an essential ingredient in what we call beer, which would otherwise me malty-alcy water.

Apparently, Alexander Keith’s, a Canadian brewery much loved (even though owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) and celebrated throughout our nation (Canada, for the Americans) has decided to take the plunge and introduce MORE hops into their golden nectar.

I rarely buy Keith’s for the simple fact that it is a “plain vanilla” lager, though certainly much better than Budwieser. My personal tastes tend to gravitate towards the sharp hoppy bitterness of Bavarian Pilsners as a result. It takes a damn good brew to keep me from the import aisle…

The setting was perfect. On the table were two new varieties of Alexander Keith’s IPA with added hops, two DIFFERENT kinds of hops no less. Also present were two jars of the actual hop plants in question to compare aromas and illustrate the difference. I applaud Keith’s for actually assuming I’m not a senseless alcoholic (though certainly will not deny being one).

Keiths two new hoppy new brews!

Keiths two new hoppy new brews!

I was informed by the presenter that these were dry-hopped. For those not up on brew-speak, this means the hops were added after the boil and during fermentation, providing maximum aroma (read: flavour) though not contributing to the bitterness of the brew. So, with those who can’t stand the over-hopped micro-brews that leave a wincing bitter finish, this is an ideal brew to capture that hops aroma without the burnt-tongue and “blech” reflex.

The two varieties of hopped lagers on offer are “Cascade” and “Hallertaller” with printed information on the can as to how they should taste. After sampling each in turn between sniffs of the dried plant samples, I can say I was sold and purchased a number of each.

After a hearty dinner and consuming a few cans of each, I have to say I enjoy this innovation in Keiths recipe and certainly hope they will make it widely available for my perpetual consumption. Though I feel it is a bit of a cop-out to add the flavour in afterwards, I found the result smooth and flavourful. So much so that I purchased a few more cans the next day.

To those who haven’t tried it – give it a go. If nothing else, it can be written up as an educational experience as to how the mighty hop makes beer BEER. To me, it is hope that we can transcend the oceans of plain lager to something the general public can choose between, according to their mood and personal preferences. Plain vanilla lager watch out! Your days are numbered.

Available at the LCBO for $2.55 per 473mL can (seriously can’t bump it up to a 1/2 litre like the rest of the metric world?). Here’s Cascade and Hallertauer.