fox@fury
Taking integration too far: Shared Search in OS X
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
The common clipboard is arguably one of the most important concepts to give rise to the non-modal computer (that can run several applications at once). Copy in one app, paste in another. It's great, and it's essential.

Oddly, it looks like Apple's trying to replicate this design pattern in the 'search' widget that has become common in the iApps (iTunes, Mail, Safari, etc.).

Experiment: Open Safari, navigate to a page, and use command-f to find a phrase in that page. Now switch to OS X's Mail program and enter a phrase into Mail's 'search' box, then go back to your Safari window and hit command-g ("Find Again"). Amazingly, Safari thinks that you don't actually want to 'find again' but you want to find an instance of the word you just 'searched' for in Mail!

I can see the designer's argument for why this could be a good idea: The most recently entered item into a lexical-specification widget must be the mote that the user is concentrating on at that moment, so naturally we're helping them if we assume that they want to find that same phrase in a web page.

There are two problems with this, in my opinion, neither of which are devastating alone, but combine badly.

First: It acts as if 'search' and 'find' are the same thing when they're not. To 'search' on the web, in a list of emails, or in an iTunes playlist actually means to filter based on a substring match. 'Find' on the other hand means to bring to the forefront the specific substring in the context of the data source currently being looked at, be it an individual email, word document, or web page.

Within the context of a specific application, bridging these together doesn't present a problem. It's usually a two-stage approach: First you search for relevant items, then you find within each item for the relevant data. Google uses this approach with the automatic highlighting of search criteria when displaying cached copies of pages returned from a search. Safari does it too, taking the text entered into the 'google search' field and placing it into the 'find' dialog, whether it's visible or not (and, perhaps arrogantly, whether you had previously been 'finding' for something else).

Within an application, soft-integrating search and find (or perhaps more appropriately, "filter and highlight") can be helpful, though it can still create unexpected results.

The second problem is the fact that different applications usually represent different cognitive tasks in the user's mind, so a search for one criteria in one application is irrelevant to the finding task in another application. Even worse, it can be a direct inhibitor, for example a few minutes ago when I was 'finding' IP numbers listed in a web page, then manually looking up the name next to the IP, filtering that name in Mail, then going back to find the next instance of the IP, only to find that Safari took me to the next instance of the person's name. This kind of self-perpetuating failure means I have to manually type or re-paste the 'find' criteria each time.

I don't know if this is an intentional design decision on Apple's part or an accidental sharing of the namespace for a widget class, though the former seems more likely, since shared namespaces across applications in a unix environment seems pretty darned unlikely considering find and search aren't OS X 'services'. Either way, I'll have to take a look later and see if the behavior exists in iTunes and other apps that use the find/search widget.

Oh, and on a different Safari-bug note, it appears that if you hit the 'find previous' button in the find dialog box, it does exactly the same thing as 'find next'. I guess that's why it's beta. :-)

Thoughts on Game Design
Monday, May 05, 2003
Here's some school writing I worked on. I'm curious if it's interesting to anyone else. They're each a couple pages long:

The Role of Narrative at the Blackjack Table

On Models of Competition

Enjoy!

MP3 Player Feature Request: Short Fate Playlists
Monday, May 05, 2003
I was going to write this specifically about iTunes, but I think it applies to most mp3 players. If any mp3 players have this functionality, I'd love to hear about it, regardless of platform.

A predefined playlist is just that, a queue of songs whose composition and order has been set up manually. Set on random shuffle, the order is mixed, but the contents of the list remains the same. That's all fine, but it's not how Iusually work.

A lot of the time I use music as my background, but to let it fade in to the background, I need one of a smaller subset of songs, almost like you need certain conditions to fall asleep, but once there can tolerate a lot more.

What I want is to be able to insert two songs or five into the playlist queue, even if it's on random. I want to be able to say "play this song now, then that one, then go on to your normally scheduled randomness."

I can do this already with a single song by finding the song, playing it, then unfiltering so that everything is visible, but first, that limits me to a one song push to the queue, and second, that song has to be in the same playlist that it will be going back to after that song.

I want a 'current song queue' box where I can drag a few songs in, order them around, and then at the end of my little list, drag in a playlist's icon, so as to say "and when you're done, keep playing from this playlist.'

With this system, more advanced functionality could be to specify "Play three songs from ths playlist, then 2 from that, then al of this playlist on random shuffle, before emptying out into a random play of the entire library." All this would be possible with a little interface work.

What would be even better would be a system that gets rid of playlists altogether but relys on markov chaining to create song queues that meld well fro one song to the next, gravitating towards one or another style of song. This is similar to something my group created in our 'home MP3 player' assignment this semester, but I'll talk more about that once I put the work we did online.

In other news my graduation present is coming few weeks early. Let's just say I need to find some more mp3s to fill the rest of the 30 gigs. ;-) (Thanks Dad!)

We are all animals inside.
Saturday, May 03, 2003
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wrote, in Good Omens, "Civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism."

Judging by the United Nations, that may be a generous estimate.

Google knows who my friends are...
Saturday, May 03, 2003
I think I mentioned something like this last year, but I find it funny that out of Google's sites related to fury.com lists 15 weblogs, 13 are friends of mine I've met in real life.

It's slightly comforting though that these are almost all people I met through my weblog. Google hasn't found my 'real world first' friends... Yey, anyhow.

George Walker Beeblebrox
Friday, May 02, 2003
Am I the only person who, watching Bush's speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln yesterday (where he arrived by fighter jet landing on the deck of the ship, which was returning to its home port of San Diego, flanked by its battle group), was reminded of Zaphod Beeblebrox's introduction in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

To quote (sorry for the looong quote, but it's worthwhile until the Adams Estate asks me to take it down):

The boat sped on across the water. It would be some time before it reached its destination because Damogran is such an inconveniently arranged planet. It consists of nothing but middling to large desert islands separated by very pretty but annoyingly wide stretches of ocean.

[...]

The boat zipped and skipped across the sea, the sea that lay between the main islands of the only archipelago of any useful size on the whole planet. Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his way from the tiny spaceport on Easter Island (the name was an entirely meaningless coincidence --- in Galacticspeke, easter means small flat and light brown) to the Heart of Gold island, which by another meaningless coincidence was called France.

[...]

Zaphod Beeblebrox, adventurer, ex-hippy, good timer, (crook? quite possibly), manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, often thought to be completely out to lunch.

President?

No one had gone bananas, not in that way at least.

Only six people in the entire Galaxy understood the principle on which the Galaxy was governed, and they knew that once Zaphod Beeblebrox had announced his intention to run as President it was more or less a fait accompli: he was the ideal Presidency fodder. <footnote 1>

What they completely failed to understand was why Zaphod was doing it.

He banked sharply, shooting a wild wall of water at the sun.

Today was the day; today was the day when they would realize what Zaphod had been up to. Today was what Zaphod Beeblebrox's Presidency was all about. Today was also his two hundredth birthday, but that was just another meaningless coincidence.

As he skipped his boat across the seas of Damogran he smiled quietly to himself about what a wonderful exciting day it was going to be. He relaxed and spread his two arms lazily across the seat back. He steered with an extra arm he'd recently fitted just beneath his right one to help improve his ski-boxing.

``Hey,'' he cooed to himself, ``you're a real cool boy you.'' But his nerves sang a song shriller than a dog whistle.

The island of France was about twenty miles long, five miles across the middle, sandy and crescent shaped. In fact it seemed to exist not so much as an island in its own right as simply a means of defining the sweep and curve of a huge bay. This impression was heightened by the fact that the inner coastline of the crescent consisted almost entirely of steep cliffs. From the top of the cliff the land sloped slowly down five miles to the opposite shore.

On top of the cliffs stood a reception committee.

It consisted in large part of the engineers and researchers who had built the Heart of Gold --- mostly humanoid, but here and there were a few reptiloid atomineers, two or three green slyph-like maximegalacticans, an octopoid physucturalist or two and a Hooloovoo (a Hooloovoo is a super-intelligent shade of the color blue). All except the Hooloovoo were resplendent in their multi-colored ceremonial lab coats; the Hooloovoo had been temporarily refracted into a free standing prism for the occasion.

There was a mood of immense excitement thrilling through all of them. Together and between them they had gone to and beyond the furthest limits of physical laws, restructured the fundamental fabric of matter, strained, twisted and broken the laws of possibility and impossibility, but still the greatest excitement of all seemed to be to meet a man with an orange sash round his neck. (An orange sash was what the President of the Galaxy traditionally wore.) It might not even have made much difference to them if they'd known exactly how much power the President of the Galaxy actually wielded: none at all. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.

Zaphod Beeblebrox was amazingly good at his job.

The crowd gasped, dazzled by sun and seamanship, as the Presidential speedboat zipped round the headland into the bay. It flashed and shone as it came skating over the sea in wide skidding turns.

In fact it didn't need to touch the water at all, because it was supported on a hazy cushion of ionized atoms --- but just for effect it was fitted with thin finblades which could be lowered into the water. They slashed sheets of water hissing into the air, carved deep gashes into the sea which swayed crazily and sank back foaming into the boat's wake as it careered across the bay.

Zaphod loved effect: it was what he was best at.

He twisted the wheel sharply, the boat slewed round in a wild scything skid beneath the cliff face and dropped to rest lightly on the rocking waves.

Within seconds he ran out onto the deck and waved and grinned at over three billion people. The three billion people weren't actually there, but they watched his every gesture through the eyes of a small robot tri-D camera which hovered obsequiously in the air nearby. The antics of the President always made amazingly popular tri-D; that's what they were for.

He grinned again. Three billion and six people didn't know it, but today would be a bigger antic than anyone had bargained for.

The robot camera homed in for a close up on the more popular of his two heads and he waved again. He was roughly humanoid in appearance except for the extra head and third arm. His fair tousled hair stuck out in random directions, his blue eyes glinted with something completely unidentifiable, and his chins were almost always unshaven.

A twenty-foot-high transparent globe floated next to his boat, rolling and bobbing, glistening in the brilliant sun. Inside it floated a wide semi-circular sofa upholstered in glorious red leather: the more the globe bobbed and rolled, the more the sofa stayed perfectly still, steady as an upholstered rock. Again, all done for effect as much as anything.

Zaphod stepped through the wall of the globe and relaxed on the sofa. He spread his two arms lazily along the back and with the third brushed some dust off his knee. His heads looked about, smiling; he put his feet up. At any moment, he thought, he might scream.

Water boiled up beneath the bubble, it seethed and spouted. The bubble surged into the air, bobbing and rolling on the water spout. Up, up it climbed, throwing stilts of light at the cliff. Up it surged on the jet, the water falling from beneath it, crashing back into the sea hundreds of feet below.

Zaphod smiled, picturing himself.

A thoroughly ridiculous form of transport, but a thoroughly beautiful one.

At the top of the cliff the globe wavered for a moment, tipped on to a railed ramp, rolled down it to a small concave platform and riddled to a halt.

To tremendous applause Zaphod Beeblebrox stepped out of the bubble, his orange sash blazing in the light.

The President of the Galaxy had arrived.

He waited for the applause to die down, then raised his hands in greeting.

``Hi,'' he said.

Douglas Adams, you are a prophet and you will be missed.

Apple Music Store Numbers
Friday, May 02, 2003
I keep hearing the same numbers all over the net about the Apple Music Store. 99 cents a track, $10 an album, 200,000 songs in their library, and 275,000 songs were purchased in the first 16 hours of operation.

I thought of a couple more interesting numbers...

First, about the new iPods. 10, 15, and 30 gigabytes. That's a lot of space. With the 30 gig iPod, that's 21 days of solid music with no repeats.

7,500 songs in your pocket they say. $499. Pricey for a music player, but not out of this world.

Nobody ever mentions that at $1 a track, it would cost you $7,500 to fill up your 30 gig iPod. If you opt for the economy $299 10 gig iPod, it'll only cost a paltry $2,500 to fill it.

Of course it costs more if you actually bought CDs at $15 each and are ripping them to MP3.

On the other side of the equation, the massive 200,000 song library, ostensibly representing the crown jewels of the big five record labels, fits nicely on one third of a single Xserve RAID box.

So, looked at with a hand on the cynical stick, you can put 7,500 songs in your pocket... for the cost of half a Honda, or you could fit the whole collection in to 1U (3 inches) of rack space for half the cost of a typical San Francisco house (or a couple beautiful homes in Pittsburgh).

It reminds me of the pre-CD era Adobe Font Folio that service bureaus could buy for $30,000 and they'd throw the hard drive in for free! I wonder if they'll have a deal where where when you buy more than $3,000 at the Apple Music Store you get a free iPod to put the music in?

Happy Birthday Rachel!
Thursday, May 01, 2003
Love is opening your backpack and finding that your girlfriend snuck in a ziploc bag of chocolate chip cookies before she left for school in the morning.

I'm pretty lucky.

Birthdays all around!
Thursday, May 01, 2003
I figure everyone deserves their own birthday wishes, so I decided to spread them out today.

Happy Birthday Dawn! I'm sorry I won't be at your party, but I'm working on having a life-sized cardboard cutout brought in my stead!

Where does Spam come from?
Wednesday, Apr 30, 2003
I've been pretty free about spreading my email address around, deciding that since my email address is already on spammers lists, hiding it now would be like trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. When I see people list email addresses as 'hello at fury dot com' and such, I wonder how well that kind of obfuscation thwarts email harvesting spiders.

The Center for Democracy & Technology knows where spam comes from. This article is the most insightful look into how the online world works that I've seen this year. It's truly fascinating reading.

  
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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at Fury.com since 1998.
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