Like Magic

I started using Apple’s new Magic Mouse today, and I absolutely love it. I find it very comfortable, a perfect weight, and with just enough resistance as it slides across my desktop. Of course, the best feature of it is the swipe to scroll. I really liked the scroll ball on my old Mighty Mouse, but this is a vast improvement. The scroll ball worked well, but just like the wheels, it could only scroll as far as your finger tip is long. This required you to move your index finger repeatedly to scroll down a page. With the swipe, you have the entire length of the mouse. On top of that, they have added momentum scrolling, like on the iPhone, so that a good swipe can send your page scrolling quite a distance. Also, the scroll ball would collect gunk over time and stop working. Then you would have to turn the mouse upside down and rub it rapidly back and forth on a piece of paper to clean it. That will not be a problem with the Magic Mouse’s touch surface.

Apple has received a lot of criticism over the years for its mouse designs. This one is a winner—likely the best mouse ever. Of course, I’ve been partial to Apple’s mice, so make of my review what you will.

A Litl Something

A new netbook-type product has been released: the Litl. I find this one more interesting than the underpowered laptops we have seen thus far, however. It takes what I consider to be an Apple approach. The creators must have asked the question, “If we were to design a laptop that was strictly for web use only, what would it be?”

The Litl looks like a small laptop—it folds open revealing a screen in the top and a keyboard and trackpad on the bottom. However, the lid rotates around to an angle at which the device can stand like an easel. The hinge acts as a handle.

The biggest change is that they realized a typical desktop OS was unnecessary. Much as Apple did with the iPhone, they created a custom UI designed specifically for web use. It is truly a case of browser as operating system.

The one flaw, to my mind, is that it doesn’t have a touch-screen. Instead, they opted for a dial on the hinge that allows you to flip through selections. I haven’t yet seen a demonstration of the UI in action, but this is begging for touch input.

Toner Moaner Part 2

So, I’ve been using my printer for a couple months since it started telling me to replace all three color toner cartridges. I wrote about that back in September. Last night, I was trying to print out two pages of black text, and the printer refused to print, displaying an error message stating that all three cartridges were “end of life”. A quick search turned up a number of discussion forums with the instructions on how to circumvent this premature money grab on the part of Brother.

There are little windows on the sides of the cartridges through which you can see the toner. Apparently, the printer has some kind of optical mechanism for testing the amount of toner left. Of course, once the toner gets below a certain level, it no longer detects it, even though there is still some in there. According to the instructions, placing electrical tape over these windows causes the printer to think there is still toner in the cartridge. That doesn’t make much sense to me, as the chances of all three cartridges reporting empty at exactly the same time are highly unlikely.

I didn’t test that procedure, as there were also instructions on how to access a special menu via the console that lets you reset the life of each toner cartridge. This worked just fine, and I was finally able to print my pages. We’ll see how much farther I get before printed pages actually start showing signs of low toner.

In the Details: Lefty

I was working on my new MacBook Pro today and connected my mouse—there’s no way I’m using a trackpad to do real work. All of the ports on this model are on the left side (as you face it). I’m right-handed, so my mouse cord had to wrap all the way around the back of the laptop. The cords on Apple’s mice are designed to be the perfect length to plug into a port on the back of the keyboard and no longer. It made it around, but I was constantly pulling on it, like a dog on a short leash.

So, is the USB port placement sub-optimal, the mouse cord length stingy, or should I take the blame for using a corded mouse when the best solution is obviously to buy a wireless mouse and throw money away on batteries?

Lap Happy

For 18 years, I’ve been using Mac desktop computers. I started on an LCII, then got a PowerMac 6100/60. After that was an 8500, followed by a G4, a G5, and finally the Mac Pro I’m writing this on. The Macs I’ve used at work have followed a similar path, although there was a Cube in there. My G5 at work was getting long in the tooth, and it finally came my turn to upgrade. This time, I opted for a MacBook Pro.

There are a number of good reasons behind this decision, and they can mostly be covered by explaining why I have never been interested in a laptop before. Power was a significant factor in the past. Processor speed, memory, and drive space were all concerns that are no longer an issue. The biggest reason has been screen real estate. I’ve been using two displays at home since I put a second video card in the 8500. I started using two displays at work about 7 years ago. I just can’t get along with a single display (although Spaces helps). Of course, the Mac laptops drive a second display now. In fact, the 15.4” widescreen display on my new MacBook is higher resolution than the cheap, 17” Dell LCDs I have at my office. Finally, I’ve been attending more meetings than I used to, and it’s inconvenient to have to take everything I think I’ll need on a thumb drive and then ask to use somebody else’s PC laptop to show my slides. It’s even a little embarrassing at times to be the only one at the conference table that pulls out a legal pad to take notes. I’ve had customers rib me about it on multiple occasions.

So now I have a laptop, and I’m realizing all of the accessories I need to get for it. I just ordered a bag, a mini-display port to VGA adapter, and the Keynote iPhone app. Let me know what else I need.

Here’s to going mobile!


Perhaps I’m just jaded, but I can’t get excited over the two videos Gizmodo has put up demonstrating Microsoft’s Courier concept. First of all, Gizmodo is treating it as if it is a unique, unforeseen vision for a tablet computer. What exactly makes it so innovative? Is it the folding, two-page form factor? I don’t think so. Last year saw Negroponte’s announcement of the second-generation OLPC XO: the XO-2.


And there was the Canovo that made the rounds in 2007.


Then, of course, we’ve seen the dual screen eReaders by ASUS (2009) and iRiver (2007).

ASUS Eee Reader

iRiver E-BOOk

Well, then, is it the stylus? Surely not—we’ve had tablets and PDAs for years that have those. The iPhone was revolutionary for doing away with the stylus. Okay, could it be the multi-touch? Obviously not, as we’ve seen that in the iPhone, Surface, and any number of other demonstrations. And the combination of the two is already available in tablets such as Panasonic’s Toughbooks.

I’ve ruled out the form factor and input methods, so it isn’t the device itself or the technology behind it. Is the user interface especially innovative? There are some interesting ideas in it. Using the spine as a place to tuck things that you want to move from one page to another is a clever implementation of cut and paste, but beyond that, I don’t see any interaction patterns that I haven’t seen before. Quite frankly, I don’t find the scenarios to be very compelling. The UI has that “visionary concept” quality to it that suggests it hasn’t been fleshed out much beyond the script. The handwriting recognition is flawless, the screens show only the controls that provide access to the features showcased, and complex actions, such as selecting and copying a graphic and two columns of a 3-column table, are accomplished with a single touch of a finger.

Yes, it’s an interesting concept, and yes, there is value in creating such visionary explorations. However, I’ve seen far too many of these that don’t result in anything other than inspiration (not to say there is anything wrong with that), and Microsoft in particular has a horrible track record of delivering innovative products. Please pardon me for some uncharacteristic pessimism. I’m not going to take a deep breath, let alone hold it.

Tales from the Field: Postponement

Oil drilling platform technicians relate a tale common to maintenance in most industries. Rather than making a trip to the control room to grab a job card and document the work they just completed, they’ll continue to the next task, making a mental note to fill one out at the end of their shift. They’ll usually remember to do so, but even when it’s not completely forgotten, how accurate is the report hours later? Given a mobile computer, a technician can fill out a digital job card on the spot while the work is fresh in his mind and the equipment is present for reference. Much of the information may have already been populated from data entered during the maintenance procedure. As a result, important information is recorded in a timely manner with more detail and less errors.

Toner Moaner

I’ve only been the owner of a laser printer for less than a year, and while I’ve used plenty of them at work, and at school before that, I’ve never been responsible for the consumables. I was surprised when all of the color cartridges in my Brother color laser reported that they were low at exactly the same time. This seemed highly unlikely to me, and I haven’t printed all that much in color anyway. I headed to Amazon to see about ordering new cartridges and noticed that every review pointed out that the toner “level” is completely based on the number of pages printed, regardless of the actual amount of toner left in the cartridge. Everyone suggested rotating a dial on the side of each cartridge backwards to reset the print count.

This is an extremely non-useful feature. Perhaps this is the way all laser printers work, but that would surprise me. I expect the color cartridges to last well over a year, considering my low print volume.

Brother, do you want a satisfied customer? Don’t tell me to order hundreds of dollars worth of product when I don’t need it.

Touch Book

I’ve worked on a number of projects in which the goal was to deliver computer-enhanced capabilities to technicians in the field. We focused on tasks such as data logging, repair procedures, diagnostics, and the like. As part of the solution, we’ve evaluated PDAs, laptops, tablets, and even wearable computers. Most recently, I’ve worked with Panasonic Toughbooks that can pull the Transformer-like move of flipping the screen around to go from laptop to tablet. This makes for a versatile solution, allowing the user to carry it around and enter information with the stylus, but still type when he has a place to sit down. The one issue is that these laptop-tablet hybrids can be pretty hefty.

Always Innovating has announced an interesting product that is the first “netbook” I’ve found at all interesting. The Touch Book is a small laptop that has a detachable keyboard. Unlike the laptops with the flip-over screens, the guts of the computer are inside the display portion, rather than the keyboard portion. This allows the keyboard to be removed, leaving an 8.9” touchscreen that weighs less than two pounds. Rather than a hard drive, it uses a micro SD card for storage, and they are claiming 10 to 15 hours of battery life. They’ve even magnetized the device so that the display can hang on the fridge (or whatever metallic surface happens to be in the vicinity).

While they are marketing this as a consumer device, it seems to me to be the perfect device for a mobile field worker, except for one thing. A ruggedized version would weigh more and be a bit pricier, but would be necessary for many of the environments I’ve designed for.

Another thing I noticed is that the company has given credit to the designer, Fred Bould, on the product page. This is a rarity, and it’s obvious that Always Innovating has put much import on the design of the device. I think it’s going to pay off.

Low End Ascend

Apple announced a number of product updates this week. There has been a fair amount of talk about the memory, storage, and processor specs, especially in regards to price, but there is one particular feature nobody seems to be talking about that I think is significant.

I believe it was 1997, while I was in grad school, that I was finally able to afford a second video card in my PowerMac and hooked up an old 12” Apple monitor beside my 16” Sony Trinitron. Dual monitors, baby! I’ve been using a dual monitor setup ever since, replacing displays as they went bad with larger ones each time. I’m currently looking at two of Apple’s gorgeous 20” Cinema Displays. I could not go back to a single monitor.

And for that reason, the last time up purchased a new Mac, I went with a Mac Pro. Honestly, other than playing World of Warcraft, I rarely utilize the horsepower I have sitting here. There is nothing I do with this machine that an iMac couldn’t handle. But and iMac can’t support a second display… until now.

Both the iMac and the Mac Mini have been outfitted with multiple display ports. The low end, consumer grade machine is plenty powerful enough for my needs, and it is much cheaper. It will be a couple years before I feel the need to upgrade my hardware again. When I do, it’s likely that I won’t be purchasing a pro-level machine.

Correction: It’s no wonder nobody is talking about it. As was pointed out in the comments, the iMac received a mini-DVI port that supports a second monitor back in 2006. For some reason, I missed that fact. Sorry for the retro post.