Posts tagged ‘design’


Google isn’t working

22.04.2020

I’ve done several Zoom meetings since the pandemic was declared, and two Google Hangouts. While I’m not thrilled at having to use two companies with patchy (to say the least) records on user privacy, the meetings (three for Medinge, one for another board I sit on) have been productive, and the only bottleneck has been, of course, Google.
   I’ve never known what to do with those meeting.ics files that come in but I assume they are digital diary entries for those who don’t like paper. But I can open them in a text file and figure out when meetings start and end and with whom I’m having them.
   If someone sends me a Zoom or Google Hangouts’ link then I’m all good, as I can head straight there and attend the meeting. But for one organization, which has been on Google for longer than I’ve been on their board, I’m expected to get this from the ICS file itself. Fortunately they have an excellent secretary and convener who sends me the link privately since I’m the only one out of the 10 or so who attend these Google-based meetings who can’t figure out how to use this technology.
   Apparently, for everyone, they receive the email and they get a Google Hangout link inside a Calendar entry like this:

and for me, and I’ve spent two hours on this, this is all I get:

   I can tell you it’s not inside the ICS file. There’s no link at all.
   Before you say, ‘Jack, you have non-standard privacy settings on your browser and computer,’ let me answer that now: I’ve downloaded a fresh copy of Opera with no privacy blocks whatsoever, and instead of retrieving the ICS from my usual Eudora email client, I’ve gone into Gmail, where they’ve sent the same invitation, and pretended to like Google and tried to do everything within their ecosystem. This is my only Gmail account, which we are all required to have on this board.
   I’ve opened the email containing this link. If I click on ‘Add to calendar’, I get the screenshot of mine above. Next to the meeting.ics attachment is ‘Download’. If I click on that, I download exactly the same file I had on my regular email, with no Google Hangouts’ link. Surprisingly, there is no way to add an ICS file from Gmail to your Google Calendar—not even a customized right-click option—which must rank as one of the stupidest things that Google could do if they expect us to use their products as a suite.
   There is no obvious way to open meeting.ics from within Google Calendar. However, you can import (Settings, then Settings, then Import/Export) the file, and the result? Same as before.
   Our notifications are sent through a service called Our Cat Herder, and when I click for the full meeting details, I just get taken to that site, again with no Google Hangouts’ link.
   I get that our brains are all wired differently, but there must be a simple, logical explanation on why everyone else can see this link and I can’t.
   I realize that when I spot something Google does, and write about it on this blog, I usually go, ‘That’s dodgy. These guys are a bunch of wankers,’ and 99 per cent of people go, ‘That’s dodgy but I’ll put up with it because free stuff,’ so I know we are different. However, I’m struggling to think how anyone has managed to navigate Gmail, Google Calendar and all their non-search crap to find this link.
   I’ve asked the person convening the meeting to show me in person how they get to their Google Calendar window after we come out of lockdown, but I really have clicked everything under the sun in Gmail, Calendar, Google Account, my profile, and anything else they let me access. I spent 90 minutes one morning and another half-hour today: two hours of letting this Big Tech crowd know all about my computer and invade my privacy. It just cannot be done. Except logic tells me if nine other people can, then their brains must be wired so differently that they are clicking on something that I obviously cannot see. That Google has made it that invisible or that illogical to my 1 per cent brain. But, Gmail users, what else should I click on? There isn’t anything else. I’ve clicked on everything that’s obvious and even on things that were obvious dead ends.



Above: I’ve clicked on what I thought are the obvious links, so where’s this mystery Google Calendar file that reveals a Google Hangouts’ link?

   But logic also says that if we are all receiving the same emails and the same meeting.ics file then why are they different? Even the time is different (theirs is 4.30 to 6 p.m., mine is 4.30 to 6.30 p.m.) as is the title (theirs has the name of the organization in it).
   This is yet another case where Google doesn’t work. I’ve written plenty about why this company’s products are bad for us, their record of censorship, their exercise of a monopoly, their taking and exposure of user data, and their general incompetence. We all know about their failure to be transparent, especially with the one product which makes the most money—their (independently unaudited) advertising. Recently I wrote about how Google Drive does not work, and now you can add Gmail and Google Calendar to the list. Conclusion: this hodgepodge of services is a waste of time. Like Microsoft Word, I’m glad I didn’t get laboured with them early on—and know to stay well away from them in the general course of my work.

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Posted in business, design, internet, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


One more COVID-19 post: graphing and animating the data

06.04.2020

Russell Brown linked this COVID-19 trend page by Aatish Bhatia on his Twitter recently, and it’s another way to visualize the data. There are two axes: new confirmed cases (over the past week) on the y and total confirmed cases on the x. It’s very useful to see how countries are performing over time as it’s animated, and to get a handle on what trajectory you’re on.
   I’ve plotted us against some Asian countries and territories in the first graph and western countries in the second. South Korea is doing quite well and Taiwan is really bending its curve down. Try it yourself by clicking on either of the screenshot graphs below.


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Posted in design, globalization, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Sweden, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, interests | No Comments »


One News is hard to miss on TV, but hidden on the internet

18.02.2020

I wanted to see what TV1 news (I can never remember its official name with all its rebrands over the years—is it One Network News, TVNZ1 News, One News, or something else?) had on GM’s decision to shut Holden, but I missed both the six o’clock and the Plus One screenings. I headed online with some trepidation because I recall that I could never find the most-watched programme on the channel on previous occasions. This time I decided to document my attempt.
   Usually I would get stumped by the log-in process that made me lose my place, so this time I decided to log in first.

Nowhere to be seen. Ah, but it’s a TV1 show, so what if I go to the TV1 page?

Nope. Under news and current affairs, we have Breakfast, Seven Sharp, Fair Go and Te Karere. There’s a 1 News link at the top, what if I go there?

No joy, at least not for the full six o’clock broadcast. I did spy a Kiwi category, and surely TV1 news is Kiwi-made. Let’s see …

Apparently only the Tonight and Midday bulletins count as Kiwi-made.
   Despite my searching for it around 8 p.m., it wasn’t under ‘What’s new on TV’ either. Something that finished broadcasting an hour ago isn’t new.
   By this time what I do is go on Twitter to ask for help and eventually someone finds it for me, which isn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but in the past that’s how I’ve solved it.
   Tonight I put news into the search box and got it there after doing all the above, but why does TVNZ make it this hard? It’s their flagship news programme.
   And Conan Gorbey on Twitter found it for me tonight. Thanks, Conan!

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Posted in design, internet, media, New Zealand, TV | No Comments »


Asus ROG Strix Evolve: a gaming mouse for a non-gamer

18.02.2020

My early 2000s Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1 is still the perfect shape for me. After getting the second-hand one into service last year, I thought that I needed a spare. I’ve several other mice, including no-brand ones, that are a decent size, but I got used to having the forward and back buttons on either side.
   Microsoft makes a Classic Intellimouse these days, but it’s based on a later design, and it appears the side buttons are on the left only, which seems to be the convention in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s also had some reviews criticizing the quality, so I knew I couldn’t go with the latest.
   I headed back to Recycling for Charity, where I sourced this Intellimouse, but judging by the stock, I’m not alone in my preference. All that were left were smaller mice, making me wish that I bought multiple Intellimouses a few years ago and stocked up. This surely is a massive hint to mainstream mouse makers on a latent, forgotten market.
   After sampling some during spare time at Noël Leeming in Porirua, which did fit my hand, I opted to look online. The Noël Leeming ones were mostly Logitech, and my experience is that their mice last about two years. I wanted quality.
   After much searching, one mouse that matches the dimensions of the Intellimouse (125 mm × 65 mm × 40 mm) with one millimetre out on the height is the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Evolve, and our old friends at Just Laptops in Albany had them on special at under NZ$70 plus freight. That’s a lot more than the NZ$3 I paid for the used Intellimouse and the NZ$25 I paid for the Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 in 2015, but with Asus claiming that the switches were good for 50 million clicks—probably 10 times more than regular mice—I decided that three times the price for ten times the longevity (at least in one respect) was acceptable. And it had two switches on each side, which I could program.
   It arrived a (working) day later. A lot of the gaming features are lost on me: the option to have lighting effects, choosing your own colour or having it cycle, for instance. I don’t necessarily need DPI switching. It’s simply vital that I have something my right hand is comfortable with.

   The mouse comes with a second set of covers, so you can raise it slightly to suit your hand. I tried all permutations: left high, right low, vice versa, both low, both high, before deciding on having both sides in the raised position. The rubber side panels help with grip, and they aid comfort.
   The first negative is that the forward end isn’t as wide as I was used to. The Microsoft mice are a reasonable width all the way down, and the Evolve is slightly narrower. That means my ring finger touches the mouse pad more on the side, as it did with an earlier Lenovo (plenty of those at Recycling for Charity, incidentally). I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to it, as I didn’t with the Lenovo, and it does continue to be a slight problem. In other words, I haven’t quite got the perfect mouse and it’s a lesson about buying online when your requirements are this strict (though again I wouldn’t have considered this a major problem if manufacturers weren’t skimping on materials and giving people repetitive strain injuries).
   Asus hasn’t deceived about the measurements: it is 125 mm wide at its greatest width, just as Microsoft has it on theirs.
   I may put up with letting my ring finger drop and go along the mouse pad for the time being just for comfort’s sake and see if I’m OK with washing the pad more regularly. Or adjust my hand positioning slightly. But I know I cannot use the modern mice.
   One Tweeter noted that maybe the mouse manufacturers are finally appealing to women, and I had to agree it was nice for us men to experience just once what it’s like for them in a usually male-designed tech world.
   The other features are excellent: the ability to program the switches, which I did very early; and I can turn the lighting off as I see no point to it if my hand is on the mouse obscuring most of it. Then again, I’m not a gamer.
   The mouse wheel and switches are far more solid than anything I’ve encountered, making the 50 million-click claim believable. I do occasionally hit the right button inadvertently, probably out of unfamiliarity, and I must hit the DPI switch from time to time, again accidentally.
   Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for second-hand Intellimouses. Mine has become the back-up again, and really I didn’t think I was asking for much. Microsoft had a perfect design for which the tooling must be long amortized, so it makes you wonder why they don’t just trot it out again and make a bundle more off us.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »


Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning

13.02.2020


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’

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Posted in design, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Human-centred peripherals should be the norm

02.02.2020

I’ve had a go at software makers before over giving us solutions that are second-best, because second-best has become the convention. While I can think of an explanation for that, viz. Microsoft packaged Windows computers in the 1990s with Word and Outlook Express, it’s harder to explain why peripherals haven’t been human-centred.
   I thought about this with my monitor. It’s “only” 24 inches, despite being QHD. But it works for me, as 27 or more would see me move my neck to view the corners. I was always happy with the 24-inch Imac: I had no desire for it to be larger. If I had 27 inches I might need to sit further back, cancelling out the upsizing. Despite saying this, I can see in some situations where people would be quite happy with 27 (and even larger ones for coders), but it begs the question of why there aren’t more 24-inch QHD monitors on the market. My friend Chelfyn Baxter believes it is the optimum size for productivity (granted, he told me this over five years ago, though I still see little to fault him). Are our suppliers driving us to larger sizes, just as car importers are driving us to automatics here? (The latter is not backed up by any research on preferences, to my knowledge.)
   The same thing applies to keyboards. To me, the optimum width of a keyboard is around 40 cm. Any wider, you’re reaching for your mouse and causing repetitive strain injuries. I’ve stuck to my 40 cm rule for a long time and haven’t had the sort of pain I had in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I had a standard-width keyboard. The mouse is roughly where I expect it to be, and I wouldn’t object if it were closer still. Again, it begs the question of why 40 cm isn’t a standard if it saves us from pain.

   Then there’s the mouse—I now use a Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1 from the early 2000s after my 2005-made, 2015-new one gave up. I know there’s a lot of comedy around the US president having small hands, but we’re no longer in the sort of society whose products change to appease a leader. But regular mice are awfully small, a trend that seemed to have begun in the 2010s. I can’t hold them and maybe I have large hands, but I can’t be alone. In so many places I visit, I see some very uncomfortable hands try to grip a small mouse. I learned that was a bad thing in the days of the round 1999 Apple USB mouse (it wasn’t the Imouse), which created a trade in adapters that snapped on around it.
   Fortunately, mice manufacturers do offer larger sizes, recognizing that not all of us accept a child’s size as the standard. Here I can understand why mice have downsized: the manufacturers attempting to save a few bob and forcing more of us into it. However, there must be a decent part of the population who think, ‘I’ll be uncomfortable with that. I won’t buy it,’ and let the market move accordingly.
   I wonder how much more comfortable and productive a chunk of the population would be by following a few basic rules: have a monitor—whatever size suits you—where you limit strain on your neck; have a keyboard around 40 cm wide or less; and have a mouse which your hand can rest on (and keyboard wrist rests and mouse wrist rests to suit to make you comfortable). But I know most of us will just go, ‘The default is good enough,’ and unnecessarily suffer.

Speaking of practical, I hope Mudita gets its designs on the market sooner rather than later. Who needs pizzazz when we all value simplicity? Technology serving humanity: what a novel idea! Here’s how we can help.

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Posted in design, technology | 1 Comment »


Sticking with 24 inches, but going to QHD: a pleasant upgrade

31.01.2020


The Dell P2418D: just like the one I’m looking at as I type, but there are way more wires coming out of the thing in real life

Other than at the beginning of my personal computing experience (the early 1980s, and that’s not counting video game consoles), I’ve tended to have a screen that’s better than average. When 640 × 360 was the norm, I had 1,024 × 768. My first modern laptop in 2001 (a Dell Inspiron) had 1,600 pixels across, even back then. It was only in recent years that I thought my LG 23-inch LCD, which did full HD, was good enough, and I didn’t bother going to the extremes of 4K. However, with Lucire and the night-time hours I often work, and because of a scratch to the LG that a friend accidentally made when we moved, I thought it was time for an upgrade.
   Blue light is a problem, and I needed something that would be easier on the eyes. At the same time, an upgrade on res would be nice.
   But there was one catch: I wasn’t prepared to go to 27 inches. I didn’t see the point. I can only focus on so much at any given time, and I didn’t want a monitor so large that I’d have to move my neck heaps to see every corner. On our work Imacs I was pretty happy to work at 24 inches, so I decided I’d do the same for Windows, going up a single inch from where I was. IPS would be fine. I didn’t need a curved screen because my livelihood is in flat media. Finally, I don’t need multiple screens as I don’t need to keep an eye on, say, emails coming in on one screen, or do coding where I need one screen for the code and the other for the preview.
   Oddly, there aren’t many monitor manufacturers doing QHD at 24 inches. There was a very narrow range I could choose from in New Zealand, with neither BenQ nor Viewsonic doing that size and resolution here. Asus has a beautifully designed unit but I was put off by the backlight bleed stories of four years ago that were put down to poor quality control, and it seemed to be a case of hit and miss; while Dell’s P2418D seemed just right, its negative reviews on Amazon and the Dell website largely penned by one person writing multiple entries. I placed the order late one night, and Ascent dispatched it the following day. If not for the courier missing me by an hour, I’d be writing this review a day earlier.
   I realize we’re only hours in to my ownership so there are no strange pixels or noticeable backlight bleed, and assembly and installation were a breeze, other than Windows 10 blocking the installation of one driver (necessitating the use of an elevated command prompt to open the driver executable).
   With my new PC that was made roughly this time last year, I had a Radeon RX580 video card with two Displayport ports, so it was an easy farewell to DVI-D. The new cables came with the monitor. A lot of you will already be used to monitors acting as USB hubs with a downstream cable plugged in, though that is new to me. It does mean, finally, I have a more comfortable location for one of my external HDs, and I may yet relocate the cable to a third external round the back of my PC.
   Windows 10 automatically sized everything to 125 per cent magnification, with a few programs needing that to be overridden (right-click on the program icon, then head into ‘Compatibility’, then ‘Change high DPI settings’).
   Dell’s Display Manager lets you in to brightness, contrast and other settings without fiddling with the hardware buttons, which is very handy. I did have to dial down the brightness and contrast considerably: I’m currently at 45 and 64 per cent respectively.
   And I know it’s just me and not the devices but everything feels faster. Surely I can’t be noticing the 1 ms difference between Displayport and DVI-D?
   I can foresee this being far more productive than my old set-up, and Ascent’s price made it particularly tempting. I can already see more of the in- and outbox detail in Eudora. Plantin looks great here in WordPerfect (which I often prep my long-form writing in), and if type looks good, I’m more inclined to keep working with it. (It never looked quite right at a lower res, though it renders beautifully on my laptop.)
   I feel a little more “late 2010s” than I did before, with the monitor now up to the tech of the desktop PC. Sure, it’s not as razor-sharp as an Imac with a Retina 4K display, but I was happy enough in work situations with the QHD of a 15-inch Macbook Pro, and having that slightly larger feels right. Besides, a 4K monitor at this size—and Dell makes one—was outside what I had budgeted, and I’m not sure if I want to run some of my programs—the ones that don’t use Windows’ magnification—on a 4K screen. Some of their menus would become particularly tiny, and that won’t be great for productivity.
   Maybe when 4K becomes the norm I’ll reconsider, as the programs will have advanced by then, though at this rate I’ll still be using Eudora 7.1, as I do today.

Incidentally, type on Vivaldi (and presumably Chrome) still looks worse than Opera and Firefox. Those who have followed my blogging from the earlier days know this is important to me.

Vivaldi

Opera GX

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Posted in design, internet, publishing, technology, typography | 3 Comments »


Switching to Opera GX from Vivaldi: I needed the better type rendering

10.01.2020

Surprisingly, Vivaldi hadn’t notified me of any updates for months—I was on v. 2.05, and had no idea that they were up to 2.10. Having upgraded manually, I noticed its handling of type had deteriorated. Here is one paragraph in Lucire:

   My font settings had also changed.
   Coincidentally, I downloaded Opera GX last night to have a go, and it displays type in the way I’m used to:

   Since both are Chromium-based, and Opera is sensitive about privacy as Vivaldi is, I decided to make the change and see if I like the new browser better. I was used to Operas of old being independent, not Chromium-based, but the good news is I could use the same plug-ins.
   I’m missing Vivaldi’s easy screenshot process and its clipping (Opera GX has something similar but introduces an extra step of saving the file) but so far the browsers aren’t too different in terms of everyday functionality. Opera GX’s extensions’ window isn’t as well organized and I have to scroll to tinker with the settings of anything later in the alphabet.
   The unchangeable dark theme takes a bit of getting used to (but it matches my laptop, so there’s that), and there’s a GX home page that’s superfluous for me.
   I don’t need the built-in ad blocker out of principle, but I do have certain anti-tracking plug-ins (e.g. Privacy Badger) that I was able to install from the Opera shop without incompatibility.
   Hard-core gamers may like the CPU limiter and RAM limiter, to make sure the browser doesn’t eat up capacity for their games. It’s not something I need concern myself about, but I can see it being handy. I remember when old Chrome (many years ago) and Firefox (more recently) began eating memory like crazy with my settings (no idea why), and this would have been useful.
   But as someone who reads online a lot, it’s important that type is properly handled. I don’t know what Vivaldi has done to its type rendering, and that’s probably the biggest thing that tipped me in favour of change.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 5 Comments »


The return of borders?

22.12.2019

Nadia has done it for ages, but I noticed Glamour did it for a while in 2018, and Wheels has stuck with it for its “new look”. What’s the deal with bordered covers?
   I still prefer them bled, especially as I remember the difficulties of doing them back in the old days, and print agencies discouraged me from bleeds on cheaper jobs.
   Unless there’s a clever reason, I can’t really see these covers as having a greater impact. Having bought Wheels’ design issue recently, I was pretty disappointed in the overall look. Nothing really beats the feeling of the UVed, upmarket Phil Scott issues back in the late ’80s, even if the price hike put it slightly outside my teenage budget, and I stopped getting the mag monthly.
   Based on a cursory examination, Condé Nast’s Glamour went back to bled covers by the end of 2018, the gamble probably having done nothing for circulation.




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Posted in cars, design, publishing, USA | No Comments »