Amar Sagoo

19 July 2006

The Non-Wheel iPod

Whenever you see the rumoured next-generation video iPod mentioned, the expected features always include a huge screen covering the front of the device and a “virtual”, touch-screen-based click wheel.

I may be missing something here, but what exactly would be the point of that? The reason the iPod has a scroll wheel is to make scrolling easier on a device that doesn’t allow more direct manipulation of screen content. If you had a touch screen, the grounds for having a scroll wheel would disappear, and you could just use a scroll bar, right? A scroll bar would allow scrolling directly to any point in a list and would involve less (and less awkward) physical movement.

Also, if you had such a nonsensical, virtual scroll wheel, you’d be waving your thumb around over the contents of the screen all the time, which doesn’t sound like a clever idea. Of course, you could dedicate a section of the screen for this wheel, but wouldn’t you rather use that space to make the list taller?

So I think either the creative minds behind the rumour sites didn’t think this one through properly, or the creative minds at Apple are making some rather silly decisions. Let’s hope it’s the former.

13 July 2006

i use this

A few days ago, i use this, a nice alternative to MacUpdate and Versiontracker, was launched. It uses a model that’s quite different from, and arguably more useful than, traditional software databases. Instead of the number of downloads (which say more about marketing than about quality) and user ratings (which only a very small proportion of the user population provide), i use this simply lets registered users mark applications they use. The resulting numbers are what drives the rankings. One advantage is that since you can also unmark an application when you’ve stopped using it, the data stays representative over time, so that the Internet Explorers and StuffIts of this world don’t skew the results.

The uptake in the first few days seems to have been quite impressive. I think it’s the aspect of personal expression (”Look, here’s what I use!”) that makes this model so attractive and gets people to happily provide the data. It also has a social component by allowing networks of friends and by showing you “neighbours”, who use similar applications.

It’s also a very useful tool for developers. The data on my applications so far looks quite unexpected. I might do a little review in a few weeks time when the site has a larger set of data.

I hope that in the future they will provide some more interesting data mining results in addition to the list of top and hot applications (which, I’m guessing, take into account how many people “love” an app). For example, I’d quite like to see the fastest recent climbers. Also, an interactive graph of the total distribution might be interesting (which I imagine would be a Long Tail).

Oh, by the way, if you’re interested, i use this.

8 July 2006

Don’t let it control you

Since I got broadband Internet a few years ago, I’ve had my email client at home checking for new mail every 5 minutes. When I started using a dedicated RSS reader, I also set that to check feeds as frequently as possible (every 30 minutes in NetNewsWire).

Earlier this year, I had to spend a few weeks without an Internet connection at home. I was able to check my email only when I made the trip down to the university library, and I stopped following the news altogether. Although slightly inconvenient, this was not as bad a situation as I had expected, and I felt that I got lots more work done this way.

When I eventually got connected again, I really felt the contrast. The RSS reader in particular was very interruptive. Unlike email, which comes in intermittently, there were updates in my subscriptions virtually every time the program refreshed them, so an interruption was almost guaranteed to happen every 30 minutes, with the green badge on NetNewsWire’s icon tempting me to see what was new. I tried to compensate by setting it to check only every 2 hours. However, it turned out that I had got conditioned to expecting news on a regular basis, and found myself glancing at the Dock icon quite often. I actually lost patience and manually refreshed the subscriptions sometimes, which only resulted in me feeling disappointed with my willpower.

My solution to this unfeasible dependency has been to turn off automatic checking in NetNewsWire. As hoped, this seems to have undone the conditioned expectation of updates, and I now manually refresh my feeds when I’m having a break. I’m sure that’s still more often than truly necessary, but at least I can concentrate on my work when I want to.

I’ve also reconfigured my email client to update every 15 minutes. I don’t want to turn off automatic checking altogether here, because sometimes you do get emails that need immediate attention. It seems that since emails are more sporadic, there is no regular interval to get used to, so you don’t actually notice that the program is checking less frequently.

Another highly effective strategy I use is to minimise the number of RSS feeds I subscribe to by using good news “gatherers” such as John Gruber, and even to dump Flickr contacts (except friends, of course) whose photos I don’t end up liking as much as expected.

If you feel like you’re getting an information overload on your desktop, I recommend you take control and make some changes as well. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get by without being constantly connected.