The Top of America – One World Trade Center

As someone who has lived in downtown NYC (Tribeca) for a number of years, the completion of One World Trade has been a long time coming. I’ve watched it rise from a hole in the ground to towering 1,776 feet above Manhattan with a spire featuring 288 50-watt LED modules that produce 288,000 lumens of light, enabling it to be visible up to 50 miles on a clear night.

But like most New Yorkers, I haven’t been in it let alone to the top to take in the view.

Using technology from Portland startup GigaPan, Time photographers took this rather amazing photo from the very top of the tower’s spire. Click through to the interactive version and you can zoom and pan around the city in beautiful high resolution.

Read more over on Time.

Panda – A Beautiful Design Aggregator

So this is awesome…


The must have app for designers. Comfortably browse Designer News, Dribbble, Behance, Hacker News and others all in one place. Never miss anything, again.

You can use it as either a web app or install the Chrome extension, but be warned, if you install the extension it takes over your new browser tab and you are guaranteed to get sucked into some amazing design content every time you ⌘-T.

HipChat vs Slack

UPDATE: See this post for details on the 3.0 release of HipChat.

UPDATE: See HipChat vs Slack – Part 2 for a feature and pricing comparison between the two products.

I’ve recently started playing around with Slack at work (we’re big HipChat users at the moment) and so far I’m pretty impressed. Tons of integrations, beautiful UI, available on lots of platforms, etc. I really like their idea of using channels for conversations rather than rooms.

My only complaint thus far is the readability of the conversation threads. In the default message theme, there’s a lot of noise around each message in the conversation: icon, name, time sent. And it’s all grouped right around the thing that’s actually important – the message. You can switch to “compact” theme but it’s still pretty noisy IMHO.

HipChat, which also features a ton of integrations as well as native support for a few additional platforms including Windows and Linux, does a very nice job of moving all of that same information (minus the icon as HipChat doesn’t use icons) out of the way. Names on the left, conversation down the center, and times on the right.

This allows you to quickly scan the conversation in whole, and then pick out the pieces that you need to know more about (i.e. who said something when). Also notice that Slack uses a black, bold font for the names in combination with a black regular weight font for the message. HipChat, on the other hand, only uses black for the conversation itself. Everything else is lighter colors. Again, this gets your eye to focus on the most important information first – the conversation.

I look forward to seeing what Slack does in future releases to address these small, but pesky UX issues.

Hacking YouTube with YouTube Center

I’ve had a couple of people ask me lately how to save videos from YouTube. A couple years back you could simply look in the Safari activity window and option+click the FLV file to save it locally. Not any more.

Luckily there’s YouTube Center. So what is it?

YouTube Center is a userscript designed to expand the functionality of YouTube. It includes the ability to download the video you’re watching, auto selecting your preferred video quality and much more.

You can see all the features here. Once installed in your browser of choice, simply head over to YouTube and you’ll see the YouTube Center settings panel along with extra options below each video.

Sleepy Thunderbolt Display

Ran into another Mavericks upgrade issue today – my Thunderbolt display would no longer wake up (MacBook Pro connected, cover closed, keyboard & mouse attached to the monitor).

Quick fix is to reset the System Management Controller (SMC):

Attempting to Present with PowerPoint

Much has been written about Microsoft’s feature bloat in Office and the Ribbon navigation but I had to chuckle yesterday when I watched a few presenters at Orrick’s Reverse Demo Day figure out how to open and run a PowerPoint.

Now these obviously weren’t everyday Windows / Office users but that shouldn’t mean it takes more than 2 seconds to figure out how to run a presentation. Unfortunately when PowerPoint opened up they were faced with this disaster:

More buttons than anyone should have to comprehend at once. Ever.

After a bit of hunting around most folks realized that the desired button was in the Slide Show tab. But even then it wasn’t totally clear as the visual cues are minimal at best:

When someone is up in front of a crowd, talking to fill space, and trying to hunt down a button, you’d think the application would make it as obvious as possible. Maybe like this…

OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Chrome and Java

UPDATE: As of version 39, Chrome is now 64-bit! You can now simply download the latest version of Java and install. No more having to re-enable older versions of Java.

After upgrading to Mavericks I noticed that Java was no longer present on my system. Java-based applications such as PyCharm would no longer run and browser-based applets would display a plugin missing error in both Safari and Chrome. To get up and running again, two installs needed to happen.

First was the runtime. You can download Java for OS X 2013-005 directly or the OS will automatically download and install it if you launch a Java-based application such as PyCharm.

Once installed, $ java -version returns 1.6.0_65:

The second step was to install Java 7 from Oracle. Unfortunately this version of Java is only compatible with 64-bit browsers such as Safari. To use Chrome (still 32-bit), you must then disable Java 7 and re-enable the Apple-provided Java SE 6 web plug-in by following these simple steps.

A Tale of Two Upgrades – OS X 10.9 vs Windows 8.1

Yesterday marked the release of Mavericks, aka OS X 10.9, so I figured I might as well upgrade both the MacBook and my Windows 8 VM and see how the process goes with the two different platforms. First up, OS X.

The install was beyond easy – opened up the app store, clicked the install button, watched it download like any other app, and clicked install once the download was finished. About 40 minutes later I was running 10.9.

Along the way there was plenty of feedback including how long the download was going to take, progress bars during the installation with estimated completion times, etc. At no point was I wondering what was going on or how long until it was going to be finished. The upgrade even let me know that there was an incompatible application, just one, that couldn’t be used with Mavericks and that it had moved it to a folder for me.

Now onto Windows 8.1. All I can say for this upgrade is at least Microsoft figured out how to avoid mailing me an installation DVD. I should have Googled before I started as there are heaps of articles, posts and what not regarding the frustration filled upgrade process.

Things started off badly from the very beginning as the update did not even appear in the Windows Store. A little searching revealed the following gem:

Although the Windows 8.1 update is downloaded and installed from the Store, your PC needs another update, KB 2871389, before Windows 8.1 becomes available to you in the Store.

Of course, update before upgrading. This is Windows. Should have known.

Once I had the upgrade appearing in the store, I proceeded to click the install button. Some spinning balls animated around the screen and then poof, I’m back to the main Windows Store page. No progress bar, no indication anything is happening, nada. Some more Googling revealed that I’m not the only one to not see anything and that the upgrade is in fact downloading. Okay great, I’ll just wait.

After about 30 minutes (the store said it was about 3GB) a new screen appeared telling me I have to reinstall my applications once the upgrade is complete. That sounded a bit ridiculous but a quick search verified it:

You can download the update for free from the Windows Store. You’ll be able to keep your personal files, but you’ll need to reinstall your apps. Make sure you have any original installation media that might be required for apps that were not installed from the Windows Store.

This is a VM with minimal applications so not the end of the world, but if this was my main machine…

After clicking ok that screen disappeared and again I was back on the Windows Store homepage. Now what the hell is going on? I let it sit for another 10 minutes or so and then I was finally prompted to restart to install 8.1.

After rebooting the installer did it’s thing for a while, took me through a few setup screens (pick a color was the first one… is that really necessary?), and I was finally running 8.1. As warned my applications were gone so they were right on that one… or wrong, if you stop and think about it. At least my experience went better than this.

A few hours and a few GBs later I’ve got two upgraded OS’s that both look and function extremely similarly to their predecessors (kudos to Apple for pushing me a desktop alert to this page). I’m very curious to see what response Microsoft has for Apple’s $0 price point for 10.9.

While this may sound like a Microsoft bashing, that wasn’t the intention. I really hope they can continue to compete with their software. They’ve got thousands of talented engineers making some of the most widely used, and profitable, software products in the world, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to.

But with all that talent and money, they still can’t figure out how to polish up their user experience. Simple things like progress bars on downloads and prompts for missing updates (i.e. show an 8.1 tile in the store that tells the user to update their computer) would go a long ways to ease consumer frustration.

My real fear however, is that the issues actually run much deeper. At it’s core, Windows is now a weird hybrid of an OS. Part tablet interface, part traditional desktop. It’s like they built it for a world where all desktops were touchscreens. Unfortunately that world doesn’t appear to be materializing (perhaps why Steven Sinofsky is no longer working there). And they’re now left rationalizing this Frankenstein OS with weird arguments like this:

Shaw asks rhetorically, what’s harder: clicking on a button in Windows that switches between a tablet and desktop mode, or closing a laptop, then picking up a tablet, turning it on for certain apps, then closing the tablet and putting it away and grabbing a desktop for a desktop activities? In Microsoft’s opinion, having it all in once device makes more sense than owning two devices.

I’m pretty sure no one has actually wanted to use tablet apps on a desktop using a mouse. Ever.

And I think Microsoft knows it. They’re simply unwilling to admit that after nearly destroying Windows with Vista, and the subsequent resurrection with Windows 7, they’ve completely blown it again with 8. Luckily they’ve got the time and market share to course correct once again. I just hope they come to their senses sooner rather than later.

My guess is we’ll see Windows 9 return to a traditional desktop OS with a touch version for phones and tablets. I’d even encourage Microsoft to change the name since the Windows metaphor just isn’t appropriate any longer. Just call it Tile or something simple like that (not Windows Tile or Windows Tile RT, just Tile for peat’s sake).

Those changes along with continued simplification of their software (more on this in another post) may be just what Microsoft needs to feel innovative and competitive again.

The Joys of iOS7

Now that I’ve had a few days with iOS 7 and have gotten over the ‘new’ factor, it’s time to start complaining.

First off – battery life. It’s bad. Really bad. I’ve turned off virtually everything on my iPhone 5 and it still drains like crazy. I seem to recall iOS 5 and 6 doing the same thing at their release so let’s hope 7.1 has some improvements.

Two – if you’ve got your phone plugged into your computer, iTunes will sometimes simply not stay closed. In previous versions of iOS you could close iTunes and leave your phone plugged in without issue. Now iTunes often reopens about 5 seconds after it’s been closed. Perhaps there’s a setting somewhere for this but I’ve yet to find it. This doesn’t appear to be consistent either. Sometimes things are fine, other times iTunes has a mind of its own.

Onto number three… they’ve changed quite a few gestures in various bundled applications. Now for the most part this wasn’t a big deal, but thinking about the non-technical folks out there (Hi Mom!), this has got to be extremely frustrating. Swipe left to right to bring up the delete button for a mail message, nope, now you need to swipe right to left. Double press the home button and hold down an icon to close it completely, nope, be sure to swipe up over the screen preview to get rid of it. Perhaps a smart thing would have been to show a small tutorial, could have been a single image overlaying the interface really, that indicates what gestures have changed when the app is first opened. Just a thought…

And finally number four – the app UIs just aren’t consistent. Perhaps I’m being picky but couldn’t they just pick something and stick with it? Let’s look at a couple apps…

The above three apps (Phone, App Store, Apple Store) all have blue icons along the bottom with labels. Some buttons such as the ones in the phone UI all have a visible hit area defined by either a stroke or solid shape. Others, such as Categories in the App Store, do not.

Now look at music…

This time we’ve switched colors but have retained the ‘floating’ nav button. How about Safari, Maps, and Mail?

Back to blue but now we’ve lost the labels below the icons. Plus there are more floating buttons in Mail. How about Calendar and Clock?

Now we’ve switched to red, with and without icons… and the number of floating buttons has increased. Maybe it’s just me but Calendar looks extra sloppy IMHO.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like what they’ve done with the interface. It’s a huge improvement over what we had in previous versions.

And I like the cleaned up, lightweight interface. But a little more consistency would be welcome. And a stroke around some of those floating text buttons perhaps?

UPDATE: Forget my UI pickiness, these guys have me beat by a long shot…