bookmark_borderiTunes 8

I know a lot of you bemoan the fact it grabs huge chunks of memory, and that it has the audacity to organise your music into folders for you. I know this but, as I run on a nice chunky PC with plenty of memory and I don’t really care WHERE my music is stored as long as I can get to it all, then suffice to say I’m a happy bunny when it comes to iTunes. Even more so with the latest version.

And, in particular, that little Genius button.

I have a stupid amount of music in my library, a lot of which I rarely listen to as well as several Christmas albums which I don’t WANT to listen to other than for the entire month of December (I don’t actually get a choice in that matter). Because I have a large library of music I find that, quite frequently, I “lose” an album or two.

Most usually it’ll be a newer album which will sit in my “Recently Added” Smart Playlist for 4 weeks before then disappearing into the depths of my library, wherein it will remain until a random encounter reminds me that it was actually pretty good and why aren’t I listening to it more often??

And this is where the Genius button comes into play.

The premise is simple, select a track, click the button and iTunes will present you with a playlist based on that track culled from your entire library.

What I’m guessing it’s doing is quite complex. Firstly it collates the details of your library (artist, track title, maybe genre?) and uploads that to the iTunes Store library. It then runs an algorithm that comparies the track with similar tracks that other users have bought, matches them based on some magical criteria and then sends that information back to your iTunes library, where it sits and waits until you click the Genius button.

After that, weekly updates are sent to and from your library and the iTunes Store library to make sure the Genius button has up-to-date information from which to make it’s best guess when compiling your Genius playlist for you.

The information sent to the iTunes Store is anonymous, and I’ll admit that I have a few albums that were… ahem.. appropriated through non-legal routes, but there has been no knock on the door and I can use those tracks to generate a Genius playlist.

The idea isn’t without some glitches. The information stored against the MP3 needs to match what the iTunes Store has and it would be nice if it was a little smarter, possibly using a best match kinda thing rather than (it seems) an exact match only.

But after using it for a week or so, I am already a fan. No more faffing about creating playlists by hand or by crafting some weird and wonderful Smart Playlist, instead find a track you like, click the Genius button and away you go!!

Genius.

bookmark_borderUsability sucks

I’m getting royally fedup with a lot of what I read that is written in the name of usability. Maybe it’s just a personal loathing of the overly academic, or perhaps I lean towards simplicity a little too heavily but SHEESH, some of the better known experts can’t half prattle on…

I’m a member of the usability team at work, largely because I made a lot of noise about it when I joined the company, but also because as a technical communicator who is passionate about the entire experience of using a product, I realise that the interface is THE most important part of communication between user and product.

I’ll let that one sink in, shall I?

Despite our own protestations, we all know that while good documentation is crucial to a product, it’s the user interface that carries the bulk of the load of communicating the capabilities of the application. With that in mind it makes sense to be as involved as possible with the design of the interface for, as I read somewhere many moons ago, we [technical communicators] are “the interface to the interface”. So, if nothing else, getting involved in usability and screen (UI) design for your application should make the job of documenting the software a lot easier.

Now, I’ll happily admit I’m still very much a novice in this area, but I’ve picked up enough knowledge over the years to be dangerous. I’m very aware that my advice tends towards what I would consider common sense, but generally speaking I base my UI design comments, and generally usability thoughts, on the following processes:

  • Simple task analysis – picking out the main usage of the application should be pretty straightforward, but sometimes narrowing that down into distinct tasks can be trickier, so I tend to mentally “step back” everytime I approach a new screen and ask myself what it is I would WANT to be able to achieve given where I am in the application. Often you will find that the flow of the UI isn’t quite right.
  • Narrow your view – the next step is to pick out each control to make sure the label, text or icon make sense. It’s very easy to get caught up in the overall task and presume too much.
  • Quick, write something! – this step can be done mentally, with pen and paper, or just start typing. I often find that it’s only when trying to “tell the story” of how to use an application that all the pieces finally fall into place… and then you realise that one is missing.

As I said, I’m no expert but my approach seems to give reasonable results. Yes with formal analysis, metrics and so on, you can always improve things but sometimes perhaps good enough is good enough?

I sometimes wonder if I’m actually doing more damage than good so I’m quite careful that my opinion isn’t the only one (ok ok, isn’t the LOUDEST one), and I try and keep up with things – Boxes and Arrows & Jakob Neilsen for example – and I’m convinced that there is a big enough overlap between the two professions that one day I’ll be hiring a “usability writer”. No… a “technical usabilitist”…

bookmark_borderMinor randomness

If you are squeamish when it comes to the whole “burning metal” “eye” “doctor” “clamps” type thing (the “eye” bit especially) then do NOT go and read Alan’s latest posts. Well do, obviously, cos they are well writ. But I’ll fully admit that I can’t read the last two paragraphs of part three of his story. Physically can’t do it.. ick ick ick.

Why do the fingernails of one hand get dirtier than the other?

If the store is not open, why let us walk in through the front doors, descending the escalators and, amidst the staff stocking the shelves, let us start filling our shopping baskets? There were around 5 or 6 other customers wandering around the food court in M&S this morning, and only after five minutes or so did one of the members of staff deign to tell us that, actually, sorry, but the store isn’t open yet. So I went three doors down and got my stuff in Tescos.

Having bought several t-shirts online, why can’t I find similar stores that sell shirts? Smart, casual shirts for everyday wearing is what I’m after. A bit bored of polo shirts. Cost, originality, and longevity are king. Loud patterns and ‘hot fashion’ are out.

Upcoming posts on this blog:

  • The reconstruction of self prompted by Hg
  • Why I’m not buying a Mac (boy, that’ll be a fun one)
  • Commenting, what’s all the fuss?

Which camera should I buy, a Canon G7 or something else??

Sometimes when I’m settling down to work, I struggle to pick the “right” music. Why is this?

I have a blog design to complete, it’s taken me flippin ages, far far longer than intended but no matter how many times I visited it I got stuck. Lesson: make sure I’M fully happy with what is expected, and that the client provides firm ideas of what they want. Or I end up just designing things that *I* like. Speaking of which, I have a new design for this site waiting in the wings, just need to find some time to switch it over. One man designs is slowly moving forward… ohh that reminds me, need to update THAT site too…

Current fashion: Those knee-high white boots all the girlies are wearing, what is THAT all about? Who started that and does everyone realise who ghastly it looks? (says the high doyen of fashion here…)

And finally, www.mclean.co.uk is STILL being sat on and all attempts to email the person sitting on it have failed. A letter is being sent to the WHOIS registered address. This is really bugging me now. I WANT THAT DOMAIN!

bookmark_borderWhat is my culture?

There is a long rambling post that refuses to tumble out of my head. It’s centred around how what I digest forms my own “micro-culture”, and whether the fact that I don’t really identify with any single “macro-culture” means that I’m cultureless?

Gosh, doesn’t that sound like something awfully twee and if I were to try and write it all down I’d probably disappear up my own arse, so I’ve paired it down to the following few thoughts, presented in now particular order.

~ Culture is such a large facetted entity that I always struggle to get a grip on it’s component parts other than realising that what I digest, the inputs, form a part of who am I, what I believe and think, and are largely responsible for the micro-culture that I maintain.

~ Ohh and I’m working on the presumption that we all have our own unique micro-culture. You are what you consume.

~ I’d do one of those “overlapping circle” diagrams (a la indexed) but I fear they are already fading into obscurity. In fact that’s one aspect of culture tracking that niggles, the speed of change which the internet has brought about.

~ Apparently the iPod is in danger of becoming ‘uncool’ because it’s so ubiquitous. Top Gear made the same argument about the BMW 3-series, arguing that as the BMWs were everywhere, buying a Ford Mondeo would be the cool(er) option as they were considerably less abundant on the roads. THAT, ladies and gentlepeeps, is some flawed logic. Yet it does help make the point that, as consumerism rises and we becoming increasingly materialistic, what chance does

~ The inputs, the defining factors of my micro-culture are largely chosen by me, but the reasoning behind their choice may suggest that I’m trying to create a false impression of what that micro-culture is. Why do I buy books by renowned authors then labour my way through a trashy ‘thriller’? I WANT quality inputs but not at the price they demand of my intellect? Or do I fear that I either won’t be able to understand them, or that they will not leave my ‘micro-culture’ as enhanced as I’d like? Are they, in this example, TOO niche?

~ Defining moments occur in every culture. Is 9/11 mine? It sometimes feel like I have no culture, I don’t identify with the 80s particularly strongly, nor the 90s as it’s only now that I feel I understand myself well enough to be comfortable. I feel like part of an in-between generation (or merely an undecided micro-culture?) that is awaiting the next phase of change. So much has changed, in every facet of life, in the past thirty years that I wonder if the concept of a generations will ever really hold true in the future?

~ My culture is what I digest. Yet I embrace all that I can, old and new, controversial and staid, so is that why I cannot identify with the macro-culture of others? There is always an overlap, always, but never enough to sustain.

And so on and on and on…

Now, if anyone can make any sense of that I’d welcome your input. Hmm this might catch on, a “get your readers to write your post” feature, how typical of the “want it now” culture.

bookmark_borderA brief interlude

What I WANT to write:

Because I’m hot, tired and fucking grumpy.

I’ve mentioned this before, I’m sure, but what is with the ‘bash brigade’? Some things are popular for a reason. You aren’t expected to like it but it doesn’t make you smart, or clever, or even much fun if all you seem to do (seem) is take cheap potshots at “popular culture”. Popular culture IS cheap, it’s the lowest common denominator, THAT’S WHY IT WORKS.

So, please, enough with the repeated “why is [blah] like [blah] these days?” or “why is everyone [blah]ing this? It’s rubbish”. I get it. Move on.

I’ve had it, and I mean “closing the blog and fucking off” had it, with all this negative fucking energy. You wanna moan and grump and constantly CONSTANTLY judge and criticise, fine. Go for it. But don’t expect me to keep reading, or to listen. I have neither the energy or inclination.

Bunch of moany faced motherfucking weans. Grow the fuck up. And yes, I’m fully aware that writing all of this lowers me to your level, boo hoo. I feel so bad about that. Not.

Ohh and if I COULD turn comments off for this post I would but I can’t be arsed. So please, to anyone who reads this, enough with the “ohh that was me he meant” bullshit, remember, you are only the centre of YOUR universe, the rest of us think beyond the end of our own nose.

Fuck me, I’m fed up.

What I will write:

Blogging is supposed to be fun. I’m not finding this much fun at the moment, so I think things will be light around here. I’m in the midst of improving my fitness and the way I live my life and I’m re-assessing everything. Admittedly I’m hyper-HYPER-sensitive at the moment, and a lot of daft wee things are irking me more than I care to admit.

Anyway, thanks for the suggestions for music. I’ll post details of the final playlist, and the winner for best “Power Track” soon.

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be nice.

This post comes to you from both sides of my character.

bookmark_borderAn Oggy Oggy Pasty

A lot of blogs are filled to bursting with rants and moans about this company or that product. So today, by way of change, I thought I’d bring you a success story which, as the title suggests, is about The Oggy Oggy Pasty Company, specifically about their branch in Glasgow.

Why?

Because the staff are friendly, efficient and put the customer first. Which whilst it’s nothing particularly startling, still demands praise.

Now, take your usual lunchtime food outlet, a Greggs or local sandwich shop for example. You stand in line, and by the time you reach the front of the queue, and can finally see everything that is on offer, you MUST place your order immediately: “WHADDYA WANT?” This is usually said in a tone that suggests that if you don’t place your order in the next three seconds, somewhere a kitten will meet a brief yet painful death. Probably in a blender.

In a panic you point randomly at the counter, and blurt out “EYELLAVETHATONE”, then watch with horror as the smoked salmon, pickle and banana baguette you’ve just ordered is thrust into a one-size-too-small bag. Then, once you’ve paid and as soon as the change touches the palm of your hand, the person who served you is yelling at the next person in the queue: “WHADDYA WANT?”

Yes, I know they are busy but it would take the smallest of efforts to improve their customer service, and save numerous kittens.

So when I walk into Oggy Oggy, and I’m greeted with a smile and a hello — not a “whaddya want?” — it’s like a little ray of sunshine has entered my lunchtime. I’m given time to peruse the goods on offer, and when I’m ready to order I don’t have to spend five minutes trying to get the attention of the staff, they are right there, keeping busy but aware that I will need served.

I’m thanked for my order. When they give me my change they place the notes in my palm first, then the coins (a personal bug-bear I know), they ask me if I would like the pasty double-bagged to keep it warm, and when I leave they smile and say goodbye.

They don’t upsell (would you like the larger pasty?) or try any add-on sales (would you like a drink as well?), they just let you order what you want, safe in the knowledge that good customer service goes a long way. Or at the very least it seems like thats what they think and, as the customer, that’s all I’m bothered about.

The fact that the pasties are delicious, come in many varied flavours (sweet and savoury), and that they have a loyalty card (get your tenth pasty free) only adds to the feelgood factor. Hmmm, that’s not entirely right of course, if the pasties were rubbish then all the good sales techniques in the world wouldn’t help but, as the pasties are like little parcels of baked heaven, you get my point.

So I say BRAVO to The Oggy Oggy Pasty Company and in particular, the owner of it’s Glasgow franchise. If you are ever in Glasgow and find yourself on Gordon Street, keep an eye out for it (come out of the north entrance of Central Station, turn right and head for Borders. It’s on your left once you’ve crossed the road), or maybe there’s one near you?

Now, I wonder if they do a haggis version in their English stores?