Monthly Archives: January 2003

Understanding Comics

For Christmas I received a copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. I was familiar with his work only from his web comics (the I Can’t Stop Thinking series is particularly good), but never read his books. Turns out, it’s excellent. Probably best enjoyed if you’ve read comics, but I think there’s some good stuff in there for everyone.

6 Steps as an appleMcCloud’s “6 steps” (Idea/Purpose, Form, Idiom, Structure, Craft, and Surface) can be applied to many pursuits outside comics. To master the artform you need to progress through each of those steps, but often a comics fan decides he wants to “be a comic book artist.” He starts copying the surface qualities of the work (“look, I can draw Superman”), but rarely does he delve into it enough to go back to the other foundation steps: having a unique idea or purpose for the work, and understanding the form and structure of the medium enough to produce something great.

Building software is not all that unlike creating a traditional work of art. (Odd that I’m including comics in “traditional” art, but there you go.) Crafting the user interface, thinking through the design, layering one piece on top of another. And above all, keeping in mind the problem being solved. It can be creative work, if you approach it that way.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why Cocoa is so successful. By putting the emphasis on up-front user interface design while simplifying some of the coding with a mature object-oriented framework, it opens up application design and implementation to more people. In a sense, allowing people to jump directly to Scott McCloud’s step number 6 (“Surface”, in this case Aqua goodness), and then work their way backwards as they mature as software developers — if they choose to.

What a difference two years made to Brent Simmons:

Oct 2000: “So much of my work is UI work. The command line is a vacation.”
Oct 2002: “I love UI programming.”

Joel likes Tintin comics.

Parenthesis s

It wasn’t long after I started programming that I developed a pet peeve with other programmers who don’t feel the user is worth the time to put an extra “if” statement into their code. Here’s an example: “There were 5 result(s) for your search.” Obviously it’s a trivial matter to check if there was indeed just 1 result or some other number of results, and leave the “s” off or not. The “(s)” annoys the hell out of me, and I think it is distracting for most users as well.

Tonight I saw something that tops even that. The web folks over at Tripod Blogs display this bit of brilliance under a blog entry:

no comments

In other words, they took the time to put “no” instead of “0”, but left the “(s)” anyway.

Long time no blog

It’s been two weeks since I last posted, and with every passing day it becomes more difficult to post something. Why? Because with such a delay I feel that I need to somehow justify it with a great blog post. Just wait another day — then I’ll hit my readers (all 2.5 of them) with something great.

Well, something great hasn’t happened. Instead, I fooled around and added a blogroll to the site, tested Movable Type and Blosxom as possible Radio replacements (not yet), and took notes on things that I’d like to blog about.

I’ve also been thinking about what to do with my recently reacquired domain, I’ve been looking at TrackBack closer, and the site might make a good general index of recent metadata-related blog posts. It would use the standalone TrackBack implementation and could be pinged by anyone.

In my old NetNewsWire subscriptions, I had a group named “Natural Born Bloggers”. These were mostly old-school bloggers who defy classification, such as Meg with topics that range from web design to cooking, or Dave with technology to life lessons. Apparently I’m just not cut out for that elite group.

The flipside, though, is that I’ve been getting a great amount of real work done.

Final Safari UI comments

Safari puts the classic SSL “lock” icon in the window title bar. Here’s a screenshot:

Safari lock icon

Turns out this is easy to do in Jaguar with Carbon’s HIView system. Since the entire structure of the window (not just the content area) is a view, you can position items anywhere, including the title bar. Apple has published some example code showing how.

Another nice UI feature in Safari is the enhanced drag preview when dragging links:

Safari drag preview

Matthew Thomas continues to update his thoughts on Safari’s interface and what the new browser means for Mozilla.

John Gruber provides some even longer thoughts on Safari:

“That’s not to say that there isn’t some utility in breaking the traditional one-window-per-web-page metaphor, but I don’t think tabs are the optimal solution. My guess is that Safari’s engineers have something much better in mind, and simply didn’t have time to implement it yet.”

Okay, I’m done with the Safari-related blogging. Tomorrow: something different.

Macworld and new apps

Macworld was a week ago today. A few fun quotes from Steve Jobs:

“This jacket is wicked.”
“We put the antennas where they belong.”
“You only use what you understand.”

Almost every weblog I read has been buzzing about Apple’s new web browser, Safari, but this Macworld also saw updates to iMovie and iDVD. iDVD has has some great new themes, and iMovie has apparently been rewritten in Cocoa (which explains the delay between the last release and now).

It used to be that part of an argument between a Mac person and a PC person might go something like this: “There are way more applications available for PCs than for Macs.” Response: “Well, that’s true, but all the ones that matter are on both platforms.”

In the last two years we have seen a different situation emerge. Innovative apps that are well-designed and focused on a single purpose are appearing for the Mac that have no good counterparts in the Windows world. NetNewsWire, OmniOutliner, and OmniGraffle come to mind. And Apple is continuing to lead the way by bringing a lot of power to users in the form of iMovie and iDVD. I don’t have numbers to back this up but I think bundling these apps can only help sell machines.

I’ve been using Safari since its release. I don’t miss tabbed browsing, but I do miss Chimera’s ability to store web site passwords in the system keychain. And for no good reason I’ve changed the color of the toolbar icons.

HTML 3.2 forever

In My Experience: “I still use html tables”:

“Fully abstracting your UI from its content takes skill and time. If you don’t follow thru, you can negate much of the benefit you seek to create. Now stop and think. Do you even know what the benefit is that you are attempting to create? Will that value be worth the effort?”

Mark Pilgrim: “Semantic obsolescence”:

“I bought into every argument the W3C made that keeping up with standards, validating, and using semantic markup now would somehow ‘future-proof’ my site and provide some mystical ‘forward compatibility’. How about some fucking payoff now? How about some fucking compatibility?”

There are some good points in both of these. Like many things, there is the “right way” to do something, the way that makes you smile and feel good inside when you leave work, and there is the way that actually works and allows you to implement a solution quickly and move on to what is really important (adding content to a site, improving application features, etc). I tried an all-CSS layout for an Intranet project many years ago where the browser version could be mandated. Sure, that was before Mozilla was done, but even so it’s not an experience I’d like to return to any time soon, just for the sake of doing things the “right way”. There has to be a real need, and that differs from project to project.

Pepys Diary

A great new blog to start off 2003: The Diary of Samuel Pepys. What an innovative use of the weblog format.

“This site is a presentation of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, the renowned 17th century diarist who lived in London, England. A new entry written by Pepys will be published each day, with the first appearing on 1st January 2003.”

This is also perfect timing for my new year’s resolutions, one of which is to write in my own journal more. (That’s the old cloth-bound, hand-written kind.) I filled the first one up a few years ago, a good portion of that on a 2-month trip to Europe, but my current journal has remained mostly blank.

Congratulations to the site creator for producing such an excellent site. Very polished, clean design, putting hypertext to great use. RSS feeds are also available, under “Other formats” on the about page.

Still digging

Wow, Dave Winer is applying for a new job:

“As I’ve been talking with people about this, it’s been hard for them to separate me from UserLand, but that’s what I want to do. I’m going to get a new job with a new title, and it’s going to be quite different from being the CEO of a commercial software company. It’s time to set my life in a new direction.”

Good luck, Dave. Still digging! :-)

Video games for a new year

Salon has an article on Tolkien-inspired video games:

“‘Immersion does not necessarily require photo-realistic rendering at 60 frames per second and Dolby Surround sound,’ says Singleton. ‘Imagination can play a huge part, too. Witness how immersive Tolkien’s books themselves are. In some ways, the lack of concrete images can be even more evocative.'”

Over Christmas I talked with a relative (who is writing about cell phone gaming) about the possibilities of networked, collaborative games. Without the graphics features of the modern computer, maybe the cell phone will be the perfect place for a new innovative game to emerge. Building a game for a cell phone does not require the army of programmers, designers, and animators that is commonplace for PC games, so a few creative developers could create something unique.

Meg on holiday video gaming: “I was stealing motorcycles and punching cops and doing all sorts of other nefarious things I would never ever do in real life.”