In the Details: Overlap

I’ve installed Yosemite on two of my Macs now. So far, so good. I’ve had a chance to use a couple of the updated apps that came along with it. This is a screenshot from GarageBand.

Do you see that little slider in the top left corner? No, not the big one, the little one. The big one is the master volume control. That little one controls the zoom level of the audio tracks. The farther you move it to the right, the more you zoom in. I don’t know what their UI designer was thinking. Why did he or she decide to put it in the same space occupied by the timeline? If the timeline were only a display, that would be one thing, but it isn’t—it’s interactive. I can click in it to place the playback head. Furthermore, the little arrow that specifies the end of the audio track sits up there. Can you see it? The top corner of it is peeking out above the slider. You are supposed to be able to grab that and drag it to change the length of the audio file you are creating. Of course, since it marks the end, it is always right there at the right end of the timeline, right under that slider.

That’s a rookie mistake—not what I expect from Apple.

Photo Stream? More like Photo Ream

I’ve been using iCloud Photo Stream to share my photos with my family for quite awhile now. It was easy to share to since it is integrated with iPhoto, and my family members have been able to subscribe to it with their iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. They get notification when I post new photos. I thought it was working well, other than the fact that I couldn’t organize the shared photos by album—it’s just a straight stream.

While I was on vacation a few weeks back, my father mentioned that my photos seemed to be taking up a lot of space on his iPad. I said, “No, surely it isn’t storing all of the photos on there.” We didn’t have an internet connection, so it was easy to check. Sure enough, all of the photos were viewable, and the app said that there were several GBs worth. We hunted through all of the settings, but couldn’t find any way to limit the photos from the stream or delete them. The only option was to unsubscribe from the stream.

After I got home, I did some digging. I learned that to keep my photos from filling up all of my family’s devices, my only option is to manually delete old photos from my feed as I add new ones. This is completely unintuitive, undesirable, and quite frankly, irresponsible. How Apple’s team came up with such a crummy scheme for photo sharing, I couldn’t guess. This is Microsoft-level bad.

Knowing that Apple will be releasing an entirely new photo management app with Yosemite, I’m willing to wait and see what improvements they make to photo sharing. If they don’t significantly improve it, I’m going to find something else.


Our proposal to bring Midwest UX to Pittsburgh is almost ready to go live. Our design lead decided to give Wix a try to build our site. I’ve been doing some editing tonight, and I’m unimpressed. For one thing, it didn’t work in Safari, but that was the least of my issues. I realize it’s probably a great tool for someone that doesn’t know how to write HTML and CSS, but I found it extremely limiting and pound-your-head-on-the-desk frustrating to use. Unless you want to be tied to the specific designs they’ve made available, you have to “customize” your elements. When you do that, they no longer share their styles with any other objects, so if you have a list of buttons that have all be customized, and you decide you want them to be a different color, you have to change each one individually. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some feature I don’t know about that lets you define styles, but if so, it isn’t obvious.

Sure, it makes it easy to add transitions, shadows, rounded corners, and to lay out a page, but you can have it. I’ll take my trusty text editor and a CSS file.

Adobe CC 2014

I’ve been using the new versions of Photoshop and InDesign. I’m quite happy with the improvements to Photoshop, but InDesign has been a disappointment. I was expecting it to receive some improvements to improve consistency between the way the applications work. Alas, InDesign still doesn’t have scrubby zoom. I’ve become so used to it in Photoshop now that I try to use InDesign’s zoom tool the same way, which doesn’t work well at all.

InDesign still doesn’t play well with multiple displays. The toolbars only dock to the edges of the primary display. You can put them on a secondary display, but they just float, rather than snapping into place, and the document window doesn’t account for them automatically. I plug my MacBook Pro into a 27” Apple display, which I prefer to use as the main display. The laptop’s screen gets all the palettes.

And, while I was excited about the ability to import settings from the previous version of the application, I didn’t have very good results. I was happy my color list traveled, but my cursor preference and unit settings weren’t carried over, nor were my custom actions.

Dropbox for Granted

I’ve become addicted to Dropbox. For the most part, it’s a healthy addiction. I have access to files on my iMac at home, my MacBook Pro at the office, and the MacBook Air that I carry with me to class, church meetings, vacations, etc. All of the working files for my book are in there. All of my conference presentation and workshop files are in there. All of my classwork, from lecture notes to student work, is in there. I have Circus Ponies Notebook files and Bento database files in there. It’s kind of like Prego spaghetti sauce. “It’s in there!”

It’s gotten to the point that I just take it for granted. I expect that my files are always up to date. However, if my MacBook Air doesn’t have an internet connection, it can’t sync. Just last night I was bitten by my complete trust in the service. I arrived at my church for a meeting to find that the WiFi was still down from a lightning strike a couple days prior. I thought it was inconvenient, but it wasn’t until later that I realized that my laptop hadn’t been connected for awhile, and the versions of the files I was working with were out of date. When Dropbox detects changes to both versions of a file it is trying to sync, it keeps them both, marking one as being conflicted. That’s not immediately apparent for a package, which appears to be a single file, but is actually a collection of files.

At first, I thought I had lost my changes, but quickly thought to check inside the package where I found the conflicted version of a file containing the content I had edited. I was fortunately able to recover my work.

It’s a tribute to Dropbox that it works well enough to become a subconscious part of my behavior, but that makes it especially unsettling when it does something unexpected, even when it isn’t at fault.

Upgrade Amnesia

I was finally able to upgrade to Adobe CC at work today. I installed the usual suspects: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Acrobat Pro. After the installation, I launched Photoshop to continue working and… oh bother! I was looking at defaults. My custom workspace setup wasn’t there. My color swatches were missing. There was no sign of my recorded actions. I know they are still somewhere on my drive—probably buried in one of the Library folders that Spotlight doesn’t search by default.

I spent time getting all of my palettes arranged just right. I’ll probably take time tomorrow to run through all of the preference settings and find those files. It’s a real hassle. And then I’ll have to do the same for InDesign and again for Illustrator. Is it too much to ask for the installers to be smart enough to transfer all of my custom settings?

Unintelligent Upgrade

Ever since Quicken dumbed down its Mac version, I’ve been using iBank. You can read about that saga in these posts if your are interested:

Cut to the Quicken - 1/19//10
QuickEnd - 7/11/11
The Quickening - 12/22/11

This weekend, I discovered that they had released a major new version (5), and I decided to upgrade. I had purchased iBank through the Mac App Store, which is quite handy, but still doesn’t allow upgrade pricing. So, I could either buy iBank 5 at full price from the store, or I could download it from their website and purchase an upgrade license for about half price. I like to save money, so I did the latter.

This modal dialog was displayed, asking for my credit card information. Yes, the software I use to download transactions for all of my credit cards asked me to enter my credit card information. It could have asked me to select one of the credit cards it already had information for. Of course, since it was modal, I couldn’t even look up the information in the application. I had to resort to getting it out of 1Password.

Correction: I was contacted by someone at IGG Software who pointed out that the application doesn’t actually have my credit card information, just the account information. It’s been a long time since I entered my accounts into the application, and I just assumed. You can’t offer to use what you don’t have.

In the Details: 1Password 2-for-1

I started moving my software registration records from Yojimbo over to 1Password, because Yojimbo requires a paid subscription for synching, while 1Password synching is included in the price of the app (as it should be). I noticed two nice little microinteractions as i was doing this.

First, I noticed that as I added each application, 1Password was finding that app on my drive and pulling in its icon. Notice that the Mobile Authenticator has a generic icon. That’s because it’s on my phone, not my desktop.

The second “aha” moment happened when I added the eleventh item. The list gained alphabetical dividers. The application’s designer decided that for ten or less records, dividers weren’t necessary. Nice touch.

Crop Accuracy

Prior to Adobe CS6, I was able to accurately crop an image with pixel precision at 100% zoom. With the change to the way the crop tool works, I find that I now have to zoom in quite a bit to get my crop boundaries where I want them. I no longer have the previous version installed, so I can’t do a side-by-side comparison. I can only conjecture as to the reason.

As I recall, the outline created by the previous crop tool would be either black or white depending on the background behind it. At any rate, I certainly remember that it changed to contrast with the background, and this made it really easy to detect edges. The current tool uses a nearly black line, regardless, which is only slightly transparent, and it darkens everything outside the boundaries. This may work well for photographs, but it actually obscures edges when trying to crop screenshots of UI elements, which is what I’m typically doing. It now takes me over twice as long to crop an image.

Back to Basics: Database Keys

I don’t know a whole lot about relational databases, but there is one thing I know about them all too well. Each entity within the database has a primary key that acts as a unique ID by which the entity may be referenced. It is also typically used as a foreign key, linking it to other entities. An example of this is the User ID, which is required separately from your actual name because, unlike your name, its uniqueness can be enforced by the system and thus depended upon to distinguish you from every other user in the database.

Left to their own devices, developers will invariably use a value from a user-entered field as the primary key. Because it is the unique ID and used to link to other tables, the value cannot be changed. So you are now left with a UI that allows the user to enter a piece of information, but once entered, won’t let them change it. This is a design sin. As a rule, if the user is responsible for entering information, they should be allowed to change it, if for no other reason than to correct typos. There are certainly edge cases in which this rule should be broken, but they are few.

When specifying your UI, make sure you include editing capabilities for any data the user enters. If editing functionality is specified, the developer will know that they can’t make it the primary key. They will generate a key behind the scenes that the user will never see, and that’s the way it should be done.