Archive for the ‘design’ category


Huawei without Google: isn’t that a good thing?

21.05.2019

I see Google’s going to stop supporting Huawei as a developer. How is this a bad thing?
   First, Huawei can still get the public parts of Android, since they’re open-source. Secondly, if they don’t get updates ahead of time, so what? When have western software companies rolled out bug-free updates? Based on my own experience, Chinese cellphone developers make stuff that just works, and I’m inclined to trust them more these days.
   Thirdly, no one needs all that Google crap anyway: I always said that if it disappeared overnight, we’d all find replacements within a week. Now Huawei has to—in fact, it already has them.
   Anyone who owns a Chinese phone made for the Chinese market already knows that they have their own app stores. Why do you actually need YouTube through an app when you can browse to the website? Maybe Huawei will do a tiny YouTube app that only surfs to their site for those keen on getting into the Google snooping network. Is a Gmail app really a must if you can set up your phone really easily as an email client to pull from Gmail? As to maps, I’ve been using Here Maps since I’ve had my Meizu M2 Note in 2016, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s more than adequate. Recently I found they had maps of the Chatham Islands when the cars’ sat-nav didn’t.
   All Huawei really needs to do is roll out its own app store to its western phones with decent enough translations, and make sure it’s updated with the APKs.
   I have a better Meizu weather app on my phone than anything I’ve ever found on Google, and I’m sure Huawei has its version.
   I owned a Huawei phone many years ago, although it was from my telco and I never had it rooted. It came with a suite of battery-draining Google junk, including services that you could switch off only to have them restart; but when I was able to get a Google-free phone, I’ve never looked back. When that phone was replaced, I made sure the next one was Google-free as well.
   What’s going to happen is that Google and the US will lose out as Huawei might find itself zooming ahead with a superior app store, and its own developments may outpace the Americans’.
   Corporate America may be patting itself on the back, and their president may think he was doing their bidding, but I think they’ll find themselves weakened.

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The descent of Instagram

29.04.2019

The descent of software seems to be a common theme among some companies. You get good ones, like Adobe and Fontlab, where (generally) successive versions tend to improve on those gone before. Then you get bad ones, like Facebook, which make things worse with each iteration.
   Facebook Timeline launched to much fanfare at the beginning of the decade, and I admit that it was a fantastic design, despite some annoying bugs (e.g. one that revealed that Facebook staff had no idea there were time zones outside US Pacific time). It was launched at the right time: a real innovation that helped boost my waning interest in the platform. But then they started fiddling with it. I equated it to what General Motors did with the Oldsmobile Toronado: a really pure design upon launch for 1966, with that purity getting spoiled with each model year, till the 1970 one lost a lot of what made it great to begin with. Don’t get me started on the 1971s.
   Facebook had, for instance, two friends’ boxes when they began fiddling. The clever two-column layout eventually disappeared so what we were left with was a wide wall, a retrograde step.
   They’ve spent the rest of the decade not innovating, but by seemingly ensuring that every press announcement they make is a complete lie, or at least something not followed up by concrete action.
   When they bought Instagram, they began ruining it as well. First to go in 2016 were the maps, which I thought were one of the platform’s best features. Instagram claimed few used them, but given that by this point Facebook owned them, any “claim” must be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps their databases could not handle it. Back in the days of Getsatisfaction reports, there were more than enough examples of Facebook’s technical shortcomings.
   In December I had to replace my phone after the old one was dropped, but now I’m wondering whether I should have spent the money getting it fixed. Because the new phone is running on a skin over Android 7, and it looks like Instagram doesn’t support this version, as far as videos are concerned. So you could say that videos are no longer supported. Since December I’ve had to Bluetooth all my videos to my old phone, peer through what I could make of the details on a dodgy screen, and upload that way, if I wanted a proper frame rate. User feedback on Reddit and elsewhere suggests the cure is to upgrade to Android 8, not something I know how to do.
   It might have been a bug, or it may have been a case of trialling a feature among a tiny subset of users, but for ten months I could upload videos of over eight minutes. As of February 2019, that feature vanished, and I’m back to a minute. I notice others now have it as part of IGTV, but I can’t see anything that will allow me to do the same, and why would I want vertical videos, anyway? God gave us eyes that are side by side, not one above the other. Frankly, when you’ve been spoiled by videos going between eight and nine minutes, one minute is very limiting.
   Now I see with the latest versions of Instagram that the filters don’t even work. For the last few versions, no preview appears for most of the filters; and now it’s constantly ‘Can’t continue editing’ (v. 90) or ‘Your photo couldn’t be processed correctly’ (v. 89).


   Instagram is a steadily collapsing platform and I shudder to think what it’ll be like when they get to the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado stage. I almost wonder if Facebook is doing the digital equivalent of asset-stripping and taking the good stuff into its own platform, to force us into their even shittier ecosystem. At this rate, others like me—long-time users—will cease to use it and go with the likes of Pixelfed. I stay on there because of certain friends, but, like Facebook, at some stage, they may have to get accustomed to the notion that I am no longer on there for anyone else but a few clients. And they may bugger off, too, sick of every second item being an ad. We’ll have foretold this bent toward anti-quality years before the mainstream media catch on to it, as we have done with Google and Facebook, and all their gaffes.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Tumblr is dead, long live NewTumbl

23.04.2019

Tumblr is dead, long live NewTumbl.
   I came across NewTumbl (formally newTumbl) a few days ago, after finding my Tumblr feed just wasn’t what it used to be. It’s not that the dirty pictures are gone—I only ever followed one blog where the images might be considered sensual—but that the energy was. Those friends whose posts interested me weren’t posting much any more, and it wasn’t just them: my posting had diminished significantly. Platforms, I imagine, have a shelf life, and when announcements such as Verizon’s last year, which became known, perhaps incorrectly, as Tumblr’s ‘porn ban’, it was bound to affect the platform. It was the language that opened Verizon up to ridicule: apparently, they had a problem with ‘female-presenting nipples’, and some innocent content was flagged for removal.
   What Verizon had really underestimated was that among the adult imagery were communities that were having free and safe discussions about sexuality, and sex workers themselves had a place where they, too, could post. It wasn’t an “adult” site per se, considering the overwhelming majority of the content was family-friendly. That perhaps kept the place relatively safe: you could have these private discussions while coming across general posts featuring interesting photography or good political viewpoints. Tumblr also hadn’t descended into the political divisiveness that plague platforms such as Twitter.
   I liked Tumblr for many reasons. It became a fun place to post interesting graphics for me, and to put anything that I didn’t want to structure into long-form thoughts. It was image-based. Every now and then I would put up a quotation. The Font Police blog is still there, with over 20,000 followers.
   I liked the fact that for years, someone would get back to you when you posted a query. This was true even after Yahoo acquired it.
   But during the Blogcozy experiment, which sadly resulted in that platform’s closure, I cut down my time on Tumblr, because I had found a more suitable place to put those brief thoughts and to share with friends. Had Tumblr been a greater draw, I wouldn’t have considered it. After Blogcozy closed, I didn’t really resume my Tumblring to the same extent. Social seemed to be dying, since it was being run by Big Tech firms that lied as their main position. Even if Tumblr was more honest (and it was), the age of social media seemed to be at an end.
   I may have been wrong, because since posting on NewTumbl I’ve been impressed by the sense of energy there. Yes, it has attracted a great deal of the adult posters who left Tumblr. But if you don’t want to see X-rated stuff, you say so in the settings, and adjust to M (for mature), O (for office), or even F (for family). You won’t see anything coarser than what you chose (with the occasional exception when posters did not have a clue how the ratings’ system works). The interface is familiar-but-different-enough for Tumblr users and Verizon lawyers. Yet it goes beyond what Tumblr does, with the smart use of Interstate as the body typeface, and photos in multi-image posts actually appear in the order you load them.
   It’s not perfect: I couldn’t link a video but I could upload; and I managed to stumble on a 404 page by following links, both of which I’ll report, since they make it so easy to do.
   But here’s the really good thing: the transparency. One of the main developers, Dean, talks to users and provides feedback. He’ll even post when an error occurs during development—that’s something you’ll never see Facebook do when its databases die.
   He and I have already exchanged notes via DMs after I joined for two days, and I said I saw so many parallels between what he was doing and what I saw with Tesla when Martin Eberhard was running it (transparency over ego), or even in the days when Jerry and David were building Yahoo—I’m old enough to have been submitting sites to them while they were still being run out of a garage. There’s an exciting sense with Dean and the small NewTumbl crew that they’re building something useful for the world, celebrating free speech and humanity. Am I being overly optimistic? I don’t think I am: I enjoy the UI, I like the openness and honesty, and these are just what the tech sector needs. I see a draw for spending my time here even though I have zero followers to my blog. The buzz feels similar to when I discovered some sites back in the 1990s: it seems new and exciting.
   It’s also rather nice being the first person to populate some fandom hashtags, though I was second for Doctor Who, and for anyone ever searching for The Avengers, they will see, rightly, a photograph of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee.
   I’ll see you there at jackyan.newtumbl.com. Lucire also has a NewTumbl at lucire.newtumbl.com.


Above: The one thing I posted to Tumblr that went viral, in 2011.

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Posted in business, culture, design, internet, marketing, New Zealand, TV, USA | 1 Comment »


The Asus FX504 is far better than reviewers think

22.01.2019





Top: The new laptop, just unboxed. Centre: Publicity shots at strange angles. Above: The specs, as told by Windows.

When I think about it, I’ve gone through quite a lot of laptops over the years. The first this century (as there was an Apple II-compatible that I used for some months in the 1980s, though I think we called them portable computers back then) was a Dell, ordered online, costing over NZ$3,000 in 2001. That laptop, which is still alive (at least when plugged into the mains), ran Windows Me and I was surprised to see just how small a screen I was prepared to put up with. This was back in the day when I was the only person at the airport lounge with a device; now the opposite is true as I don’t always wish to be glued to a screen.
   There was a HP–Compaq in 2004 that was used by one of my team, and I later inherited it, running it into the ground with a motherboard failure by 2009. I took delivery of an Asus after that (that unit’s still with us, too, now running Ubuntu and plugged into the television), and was impressed by Windows Vista. In my opinion, it didn’t deserve the bad rap that it got. A Lenovo G570 bought off a charity was next, a friend having installed a 250 Gbyte SSD within, so it wasn’t as clunky as you might have expected.
   The laptops I disliked were the Compaq and the Lenovo, since they weren’t bought for me at the outset, and never really suited my requirements. Today I took delivery of an Asus FX504GD from Just Laptops, with a 240 Gbyte SSD within coupled to a 1 Tbyte conventional hard drive for data. It’s running an Intel Core i7-8750H with six cores, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX1050 with 4 Gbyte, and a full HD IPS display. It wasn’t my first choice but Just Laptops discovered a fault while testing that laptop, and recommended this one. I could have had a refund if I chose. The service, I should note, was excellent, especially since I was buying the computer sight unseen, and Des at Just Laptops made sure I was posted about every single stage of the transaction, from the work he had to do and when the laptop got to the courier.
   Of course the review is positive so far, since it’s only hours out of the box. I haven’t trialled it without the laptop being plugged in to the mains, so I can’t give a report on the supposedly poor battery life. But I have definitely noticed more positives than reviewers have let on, though admittedly the FX504s many of them tested weren’t as highly specced. It seems there are some real budget models overseas.
   For a start, the SSD gives decent speeds. I’ve had no issues with the viewing angles on the display; in fact, the type renders beautifully, and while it’s not a match for 4K, it’s still respectable in 2019. In fact, the GTX1050 does a very good job and ClearType works even better here than on my desktop machine (though this could well be down to the smaller 15·6-inch screen). I haven’t even changed the Microsoft default font, Segoe UI, because it actually looks pleasant here. The plastic chassis is fine, since I’ve put up with that on the majority of my laptops. One negative, and this is where I concur with reviewers, is the fan noise, which can be loud when the computer is under a heavier load. I don’t play games but it handles the layout, font editing and photo-editing work that I do, and the fast processor makes life so much more tolerable when I’m on the go away from the office. I’ve found that buying machines destined for gamers helps considerably with the type of work I do.
   The lit keyboard is reasonably good to type on, though generally I dislike chiclet keys. (I had once hoped that the chiclet trend would vanish by the time I had to replace the first Asus; it still hasn’t happened.) The lights turned out to be quite handy in less than ideal conditions in my lounge as opposed to my office. Even though I have long owned a gaming keyboard (a Cooler Master Quickfire TK) where I can turn on the lights, I’ve never seen the need to. I bought that because I make fewer errors with mechanical keyboards; and yes, typing on the FX504 isn’t as much of a joy. Still, it isn’t as bad as typing on many other laptops.
   Finally, I get a decent numeric keypad on a laptop, and the key layout is superior to that on the Quickfire. My other gripe is that I can’t tell when num lock is on.
   The unit feels robust (hence Asus’s TUF moniker, apparently standing for The Ultimate Force, which sounds like a science film narrated by Prof Stephen Hawking—points for those who know the origin of this joke). For someone like me who will use this laptop on the go, it’s good to know that it will stand up to a few knocks, even if I do look after it in a nice case. It doesn’t have the red lines on the case (which might appeal to younger gamers, but not to a middle-aged man).
   Annoyingly, though you can’t have everything, there is no optical drive, something which had once been a non-negotiable. But when I saw the specs and the deal Des was willing to do, that seemed secondary. I could always pick up a separate DVD drive which my partner and I could share, since she found herself sans drive in 2017 when she bought her Asus. If I have to be honest with myself, I only needed that drive a couple of times a year.
   Asus also put every port on the left apart from a Kensington lock on the right: not necessarily the decision I would have made if I were designing, since it would make sense to me to have some things plugged in to the right as well. Once I add, say, a Vodafone USB stick when I’m somewhere without readily available internet, having all the USB ports on a single side could get old really quickly.
   It didn’t take long to install the software that I had licences for, and, importantly, the fonts now match my desktop computer’s. The exercise that did take long tonight was taking everything off the Lenovo, since it didn’t come with installation discs (neither did this Asus, incidentally, which could be problematic five or six years down the line as I had to reinstall the OS on the previous one). I make so many changes to my computers that undoing them, and returning the font menu to stock, don’t bring me much joy. It’s the customizing that’s fun, not taking off the alloys and leather seats.
   Come February there’ll be two laptops for sale as the old Asus and Lenovo will head on to Trade Me. The latter is still acceptable as a workhorse thanks to its SSD, though you may need to be a masochist to buy the former. I feel I’ve future-proofed for a few years now, with a laptop that should suit my working needs.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | 3 Comments »


Meizu’s made it harder to switch OSes and root the M6 Note—at least I managed the latter

01.12.2018


Above: If phones were sentient beings, it probably is a bit mean to have the old phone take a photo of its successor.

After a drop to the ground (and by that I mean the hard floor at the local Pak ’n’ Save) produced lines on the screen of my old Meizu M2 Note, I decided to upgrade to the M6 Note. The familiarity of the Flyme interface was one big reason, though it’s only now, after 12 hours of fiddling, that I’m only slightly happy with how it all went.
   The experience was quite unlike the previous purchase, which went incredibly smoothly. The trouble seems to stem from Meizu offering a New Zealand-specific version of the M6 Note, model M721L.
   Why didn’t I buy it from a Chinese vendor like last time (when there were no New Zealand retailers)? It seems that all the Ebay vendors were selling global editions of the phone, too, so for the sake of a few dollars, I wanted the support of a local vendor. If there wasn’t much difference between a global phone and a Kiwi one, should it matter? After all, this phone is on Flyme 6·1·4·1G (G for global), and according to one page on the Meizu forums, all I needed to do was download a Chinese Flyme OS patch and it should upgrade and change accordingly.
   Problem no. 1: it doesn’t work. It might have worked for one user, but every patch I tried (and they take nearly two hours to download from Meizu’s website) ended with a ‘Firmware corrupt’ (if you were lucky to even get an error message) despite the ZIP files all verifying correctly.
   Resigned with the fact I could not turn the M6 Note into a Chinese one, I had to root it to remove the Google bollocks.
   Problem no. 2: Meizu has taken away the easy access to rooting the phone. This method does not work, either, at least not this model. After about six hours, I stumbled on the solution: you can follow the above method but switch your phone to Easy Mode first.
   Once rooted, I began removing anything Google, for reasons followers of this blog know well.
   After downloading the familiar apps, I did encounter some issues. First, the Chinese app store and the global one have different software. Weibo is an international version, for instance. The default music and video apps are much crappier for export, missing the Chinese content (which sometimes included international TV series), and going straight to the local directories.
   We do live in an age where the Chinese versions of software can be better than the western ones. Indeed, it was during my experimenting with my previous Meizu phone that I discovered that Chinese designers were creating more visually pleasing and user-friendly apps than their occidental counterparts, at least among the programs I needed.
   While there’s obviously a jump up in terms of speed (I bought the 64 Gbyte version) images seem to render duller on the screen.
   Then there were the usual problems of photo and music directories from the transferred SD card not appearing in order, which isn’t uncommon.
   While I’ve yet to give the phone the acid test (daily use, taking photos and videos), I haven’t really been wowed by the experience of setting up. It was far easier in 2016, with better results. It’s going to be a useful phone, and I thank Charlotte at PB Technologies Wellington for her advice, but if I had the time, I would have waited till a friend went to China and asked them to bring a Google-free one back.

PS., December 4: Solution to getting the Chinese version of Weibo: since my old phone wasn’t completely dead (and will remain in service as long as the screen holds up), I went to its App Store, which is Chinese, got the URL for Weibo there (through sharing it), visited it on a browser on my new phone, and installed from there.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


The decline continues: Facebook pages no longer accept YouTube links

18.07.2018

Many of you know that I no longer use Facebook for my personal stuff. However, there are still work things to do, although I’ve noticed Facebook pages get more and more useless by the day. Here are the stats for my Facebook page:

   Strangely, I can see the stats on a page that’s not even mine, and for which I have no role:

   And now, you can no longer post links to YouTube videos on to pages. Facebook just gets stuck, trying to ‘import’ the link. I’ve tried this from different accounts and had to give up, opting to upload directly into Facebook, which is probably their (unannounced) plan anyway.

   YouTube’s uploading took ages, too. Or, rather, it took ages to find an uploading link. Dailymotion and Vimeo have, by far, superior interfaces.
   Yet, ladies and gentlemen, these are among the top three websites in the world. You truly have to wonder why, in the face of overwhelming evidence of tracking in one case, and privacy breaches in another.
   Facebook had been pretty hopeless as a traffic referrer anyway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others woke up to the fact it is worsening as a business platform.

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A three-decade time capsule hanging on my door

15.07.2018

There was an Epson bag hanging from the back of my bedroom door, hidden by larger bags. I opened it up to discover brochures from my visit to a computer fair in 1989 (imaginatively titled Computing ’89), and that the bag must have been untouched for decades.
   I’ve no reason to keep its contents (if you want it, message me before Thursday, as the recycling comes the morning after), but I wanted to make some scans of the exhibitors’ catalogue for nostalgia.
   Let’s start with the cover. It’s sponsored by Bits & Bytes. Kiwis over a certain age will remember this as the computer magazine in this country.

You can tell this is a product of the 1980s by the typesetting: someone couldn’t be bothered buying the condensed version of ITC Avant Garde Gothic, so they made do with electronically condensing Computers and Communications. In fact, they’re a bit light on condensed fonts, full stop, as they’ve done the same with the lines set in Futura.
   While the practice is still around, the typeface choices mark this one out as a product of its time.
   Inside is a fascinating article on the newfangled CD-ROM being a storage medium. Those cuts of Helvetica and Serifa are very 1980s, pre-desktop publishing. It should be noted that Dr Jerry McFaul remained with the USGS, where he had been since 1974, till his retirement. The fashions are interesting here, as is ITC Fenice letting us know that he’s speaking at the Terrace Regency Hotel, a hotel I have no recollection of whatsoever. I can only tell you that it must have been on the Terrace.
   The other tech speakers have a similar look to the visiting American scientist, all donning suits—something their counterparts in 2018 probably wouldn’t today. In fact, the suit seems to be a thing of the past for a lot of events, and I often feel I’m the oldster when I wear mine.
   The article itself makes a strong case for CD-ROM storage, being more space-saving and better for the environment: it’s interesting to know that the ‘depletion of the ozone layer’ was a concern then, though 30 years later we have been pretty appalling at doing anything about it.



   The second article in the catalogue of any note was on PCGlobe, supplied to the magazine on 5¼-inch diskette.
   Bits & Bytes would have run the catalogue as part of the main magazine, and did a larger run of these inner pages, back in the day when printing was less flexible.
   It’s a fascinating look back at how far we’ve come (on the tech) and how far we haven’t come (on the environment). Next year, we’ll be talking about 1989 as ‘30 years ago,’ yet we live in an age where we’re arguing over Kylie Jenner’s wealth. Progress?

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Posted in design, interests, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, typography, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Life is precious

11.07.2018

I taught 180 people at tertiary level in 1999–2000.
   Gutted that a second has passed away.
   Most of them were kids when I taught them.
   Lost one to a brain bleed in 2015, just lost another to cancer.
   Look after yourselves out there, and live life to the full. Tell those whom you love that you do.

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Neil Gaiman on JY Integrity on his UK paperbacks

09.07.2018

When Neil Gaiman pays you a compliment about one of your typeface families (JY Integrity, which I designed in 1993), you gratefully accept.

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