April 22

Waze should have laughed at me.

The privacy-aware side of me was a bit freaked out the first time my phone decided to let me know that if I left for work right now I’d probably be on time.

Information my phone gives me
“Shouldn’t you be heading out soon?”

It knew, though it didn’t know why, that I tended to do a weird morning routine. Loop through the school parking lot at 7:10, drive to the grocery store at 7:15 and park, do a loop-de-loop around the school parking lot again at 8:10, before finally heading into work by 9:00. Fuh-reak-y.

But carrying around a cell phone is a walking, talking, data-collecting elephant to begin with. What’s a little more data? That useful part of it makes the data and usability nerd in me happy.

Hyper-Realtime Traffic Info

I got to thinking about the head to head race I had this Easter Sunday. I was thinking about it as I was running errands at lunch, my usual use of that hour. Did I have time, I asked Waze, to skedaddle west eight miles and south ten miles to pick up paperwork from a medical office?

Waze assured me in it’s non-judgemental way that I’d be held up by rail crossing closures and heavy lunch time traffic. And, oh yeah, a huge festival (one of what, 50 this year?) that had a major arterial road blocked off for at least half a mile. I might make it ….

What it didn’t tell me, but I remembered in time, is that the office closes every day for lunch. I put that errand off for another day.

But what if Waze was hooked into NAP data, too?

I gave Waze the address of the place I wanted to go by sending it information I dug by hand from my contacts list. But what if I were able to send that info automatically? And put hours into my contact information for someone? Say, that the office opens at 9am and closes from 12:30 to 1:45 for lunch? We could Waze could read that, too, and then laugh at me tell me I was attempting a fool’s errand.

Or even better; if Waze was hooked into Google’s NAP data, with open and shut times? I wonder if it even supports “siesta” times? It’d be darn helpful if it did.

Category: Apple, Data Architecture, Google, User eXperience | Comments Off on Waze should have laughed at me.
April 15

What’s in a name? A Bluetooth by any other name would be so much sweeter.

I like having lots of Bluetooth devices. When I bought my Prius ten years ago, I figured I’d never need Bluetooth phone connection, so I didn’t upgrade to that package. Big mistake. Now Bluetooth rules my life and my devices.

Image of iPhone Bluetooth options screen.
Even my backups have backups.

As you can see by the screenshot, I have BlueDotSound speakers. They’re pretty neat; they allow me to be LazyMom and wake the kids remotely. Click to connect to BDS, start streaming roosters and cool music to wake them up. Stream fog horns and The Itsy Bitsy Spider when they are moving too slow.

The P311s are pretty nice, too. Cute headphones (though I’ve worn the fake leather off of the ears). But I can’t tell which pair is the green and which pair is the black. Clicking to pick one on this screen is a crapshoot. Often times I’ll just delete them both, and go through pairing just to pick the “right” one.

I only have one BDS “discovered” at the moment. One is upstairs in the hall, and one is in one kid’s room. Keeping it “undiscovered” is a handy way to pick the right one every time at dark o’clock.

I’d rather, Apple, ahem, be able to name them.  But heck. My phone has a camera! What if you let me take pictures of the speakers, or something? Then I have a little teeny image to know which device to pick! If you don’t want to go that hog-wild, at least give us some image options that we can click to change …

Image of iPhone Bluetooth options screen with added icons.
Now I can tell the twins apart.
Category: Apple, Data Architecture, Free Beta Testers | Comments Off on What’s in a name? A Bluetooth by any other name would be so much sweeter.
April 12

20-20-24 hours a day … I wanna be in beta …

I suppose the UX folks finally were allowed to fix the “I own every episode” problem on the new Apple TV. Scrolling through eight or nine seasons of a show to find the newest episode was driving me insane.

I’d scratched together a post about it, then they went and dadgum fixed it. Yay, Apple!

But there are a few other things they can fix.

For example, take advantage of the touch technology on the remote and in the software:

  • Long clicks. It’s part of the newer iPhones, and the Apple TV remote.
  • Customizable actions.
  • Recordable actions.

Put them all together and you can fix something that annoys me … play movies without six zillion clicks.

  1. Click to select movies. Fine.
  2. Drag to move over to Purchased movies. Fine.
  3. Click to get to the point to look at the movies you own. FINE.
  4. Drag and click to select a movie to watch. Fine.
  5. Get shown the  splash screen of the movie. Play is highlighted.
  6. Click Play.
  7. THE MOVIE DOESN’T PLAY. You usually get taken to an ‘extras” interactive screen where you can click Play, or start thumbing through extras.
  8. Click Play.
  9. Half the time we are asked if we want to pick up the movie where we left off instead of actually playing the movie. Another Click.

Things are no longer fine.

How about this?

  1. Click to select movies.
  2. Drag to get over to Purchased movies.
  3. Click to get to the point you look at movies you own.
  4. Drag and long-click to select the move you want to watch and start playing it from the beginning.

Four steps instead of seven to nine. If I want to watch extras, I could double-click to get to the “extras” interactive screen. Or to play the movie where we left off. Or whatever else I customize and record. Or triple click to switch back to the Apple TV homescreen.

It would make this user happy. And it would make the process designer in me ecstatic. All those Apple TVs out there, and one in what, fifty super user geeks like me making their own design decisions? I can imagine getting my hands on that kind of data: How the super user geek uses the Apple TV to improve the design for all users.

Come on, Apple. Give us some code!

Category: Apple, Data Architecture, Free Beta Testers, User eXperience | Comments Off on 20-20-24 hours a day … I wanna be in beta …
April 10

We can be a bit … competitive around here

I’m a little bit of a usability and data architecture nerd. I hate it when an interface doesn’t work well, or there’s information stuck some place that can’t get some place else. When it all comes together, it’s a joy.

But that interest is secondary to my ingrained competitive spirit.

Anything you can do, I can do better …

Picture a quiet Easter Sunday afternoon. I’m in the car with a friend and we’ve got our near-matching iPhones at the ready. The goal? Find out what stores are open that carry the perfect water shoes for knee-deep island landings. The real goal? Beat the other guy at finding out what stores are open.

One of us used an Apple app, the other a Google app. Both of us got the same basic information … Name of the store, distance, time to drive, address, website, phone number, hours …

But the Google app’r had superior NAP data. This is something Google very very recently expanded, and is very very useful. While the Apple app’r was still making phone calls, the Google app’r was ready to go, armed with some pretty awesome local and holiday-specific info.

I’m glad this is something businesses can use, and big national businesses are using well (or poorly) …

It saved the Google app’r a lot of dialing to businesses that were not open, driving to businesses that were not open, and aggravation. We went straight to the store we wanted — and yes, dear reader, we did find the perfect water shoes.

Note: All images are simulated because we were too busy squaring off forgot to take screenshots right then.

image of map and data shots from navigation apps
When two apps want to share data very very much …
Category: Apple, Data Architecture, Google, User eXperience | Comments Off on We can be a bit … competitive around here
March 8

This one is totally my fault – but do I have to rebuy my Scalzi?

I tweeted to @scalzi a few weeks ago about this issue, but I was unsurprised by the lack of response. He’s “just” the author – what can he do?

Not to denigrate what he does. He’s put together a few nice sci fi books, and I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve even rebought a few at Goodwill (I can’t seem to find actual used bookstores anymore). But he can’t control the bullshit the publishers pull.

It seemed like a cute idea at the time.

It was great at first. You get one episode of The Human Division a week. 99 cents each. A bargain! And such anticipation.

My smarter friends waited until the full book was released, and sort of told me “I told you so”. Me? Not so much.

As the series wended on, I couldn’t tell which chapter was which. They weren’t linked in any order, and there were no numbers on the “book” covers to help me out.

As I waited for each chapter, I’d try to reread the previous chapters (walking at 4 miles an hour on my lunch break). As we got nearer to the end, I had to stop; it was too confusing to try to sort them out. Gah.

I haven’t read it since.

I tried to; that’s when I tweeted at John Scalzi. Why isn’t there a way to “stitch them together” without just cracking them open in a software program and forcing them to be one book?

I want to read it again. But I don’t want to buy it again.

Can we trade in our ebooks?

That would be ideal. The ebook seller has the records of my purchases. They can allow me to flag the books for “exchange” and swap out my separate files for one big ebook.

Who loses? Right now, I guess Tor and bn.com are assuming I’ll just buy it. But if ebooks are the wave of the future, why not set up systems for making it easier for the end users?

Especially if you want to have a market advantage over Amazon … lead with a “book binding” innovation. Especially since I paid $5-6 more buying each chapter rather than waiting for the final full book to come out.

Category: Data Architecture | Comments Off on This one is totally my fault – but do I have to rebuy my Scalzi?
March 6

It seems to me I’ve bought this book before

One thing that really surprised me was the rebuying of books. I’ve gotten lazy. I search for a Nook book, I click the purchase link, I’m told I own it.

However, if I have forgotten I own it, and its been reissued under another ISBN – I’m out of luck.

I’ve done this twice now, and had to spend a not insignificant time working with four different customer service chat people to get the books removed and refunded.

What’s so hard about keeping track of your books?

Maybe I’m just lazy. No, I know I am. I pick up books like others buy candy bars or Pokemon cards. I simply can’t remember every single book I’ve bought. And we’ve all become dependent on the machines in our lives to track these things.

Yes, if it’s the same ISBN, bn.com is smart enough to remind me that I own it. Amazon does something similar with their item numbers; I can see when I’ve bought a book or an item before; that notification either reminds me to look for it, or gives me confidence that I am reordering the correct item.

Amazon and bn.com haven’t quite managed similars yet, though. If I buy a 2 pack of fridge light bulbs and later go searching for a single pack, I won’t be pointed by Amazon to the similar if different item. Amazon could solve this (as could bn.com) with some underlying architectural and search changes.

What’s the key to preventing duplication?

Aliasing and item matching.

Amazon does this to some degree; if you look for a book, you will find it, depending on when it was added to their system, displayed in multiple formats, available and linked on the product page. Hardcover, paperback, library binding, Audible book, unknown binding, previous editions, CD audio book, Kindle edition. They don’t quite yet remind you that you already own this item in [an alternative format], but they could.

Barnes and Noble could do this. Alias the ISBN numbers. If someone tries to purchase ISBN-13: 978-0-9836472-1-8, it could remind them that they already own ISBN-10: 0983647208 (not a terrific example, as one is a paperback and the other is the ebook edition). But maybe they want the paperback! So it reminds them, but doesn’t stop them from buying the book.

But what if that book gets turned into a movie? And the book changes publishers, and a larger edition is put out with illustrations, and a new cover picturing the stars of the movie? It may look like a different book, but it’s essentially the same. You click “buy” and now you own two editions of the item in ebook format.

If the ISBN numbers were linked, bn.com could look at your history and tell you something along the lines of “Hey, you have this edition of the book, purchased in January of last year. Are you sure you want another edition of it?”

Sure, buying it again is an option, and a boon for the industry (they’ve already got me rebuying all the books I got at the new and used bookstores of my youth). But it’s really annoying.

Category: Data Architecture, Nook | Comments Off on It seems to me I’ve bought this book before
March 5

Hacking the Netflix

I wonder how many people remember Netflix’s blue logo?

When we first got that flyer (packed in with our first DVD player), it seemed like an interesting idea. The DVD rental wars were still on then: Blockbuster on every fourth corner, Hollywood Video, home brew rental shops that had made movie madness what it is back in the days of $89.95 VHS movies.

Eventually we signed up, but didn’t keep it for more than a year. It took too long to get the DVDs across the country to us, and the selection was rather limited.

Now we stream Netflix every day. And this hack people have come up with seems pretty interesting, and a way to go with reactive technology. You wear a pedometer / accelerometer to track your walking and resting; when you drop into sleep mode, Netflix pauses your show. Pick it up later.

I’d like it to go further; if I wake enough to be “almost up”, I’d like to program the hack to perform a specific task, such as rewinding 10 minutes and starting it back up again. I like to drift to sleep to some sort of media. On nights I sleep to a book or podcast, my apps shut it off after a pre-set time, making it easier for me to sleepily start it up again for another 20 minute stint so I can drop off again and not drift too far off the path of the story.

But Netflix is doing  a lot of things right, even with their Beacon (yes, Facebook and Blockbuster did it too) and Qwickster hiccups. Aside from their originalish programming (House of Cards is a bit of a remake, Orange is the New Black and Arrested Development are more originalish), they’ve constantly tweaked and adjusted their UI we can see, and their algorithms behind the scenes.

Nook developers, you listening? There’s a lot of what they’re doing that can give you a few ideas to improve your service.

Category: Data Architecture, Netflix | Comments Off on Hacking the Netflix
March 4

Hooked on a Nook, where did I put that book?

Armed with my kid-friendly Nook library, I’ve loaded the Nook app on my iPhone again, so I can read my own books.

The screen may be small, but it’s somewhat readable until my vision goes. And it’s searchable, much like the Nook app.

What’s the deal with NOOK for the web?

What drives me crazy about NOOK for the web is that it’s not searchable. The books show up, in “recent” order (by date of purchase, newest to oldest), 12 to a page. With 300+ books in my library, it’s quite a number of pages.

So to find a book, I have to play “guess”. If I know the book, what page is it likely to be on in recent order? Okay, resort by title name, 60 entries to the page. Wait for it to refresh. Hit Ctrl + F and search on the title. Nope. Page 2, repeat. Page 3, repeat. Or resort by author name.

Or scroll scroll scroll, looking for something to read.

It’s not that fun.

What about the great archiving effort I went through the other day? Every time I clicked the Archive link online, I had to wait for the page to redraw itself. And sometimes it would reset to 12 items per page in recent order. Difficult and annoying.

How can they fix NOOK for the web?

We have to sign in to view our library, so I’d start by suggesting they allow users to set preferences. I prefer 60 items per page; sorting by author (last) name. Allow me to set those preferences, and keep them.

Have “recent” mean more than what you just purchased. Alternatively, rename it “sort by newest purchase” and add “recently read” as an option, too.

Sorting by author name is okay in a web page that has precious little ability to do anything. There’s no option to sort by first name, or to turn up a secondary or tertiary author. Nor is there a reverse sort (Z-A). Those are simple niceties to add; the information is there, after all.

Honestly, searching is the thing I miss the most when moving from Nook or Nook app to the web.

Getting around the lack of search on NOOK for web. 

Another broken item is using the web page to search the Nook available books. If a user searches the bn.com web site for a specific Nook book, they can find it. Yay. But it never tells the user that they already own it (assume the user is logged in). It’s not until they click the purchase link are they told that they own it.

Is it hard to start reading it right away? Amazon (sometimes) manages it.

The Nook stuff is just a bolt-on.

The lack of integration, after all this time, is really starting to annoy me. I bought a first generation Nook and books with the express purpose of supporting an alternative publishing garden to Amazon and iTunes.

If Nook wants to move into a more flexible sphere instead of simply raking in money for renting text books, the integration needs to be much tighter with the web page. The underlying architecture of the two systems (NOOK for the web and bn.com) have to work with each other, and the users need to have more control over their environment.

Make Library management a priority.

In addition to user preference options and searchability, the library management is pretty limited. You can archive something (hide it from your library ecosystem temporarily), you can delete items (I thought it was sci fi, not sci fi soft core porn), and you and unarchive items.

And you can do it one item at a time. Only.

Add in a check box option next to each book. Allow the books to be selected, and have an action apply to all of those books, such as archive and unarchive.

Adding check boxes and bulk actions should not be a huge change, and it allows us people who were dumb enough to buy books to “share” and not share within the family a lot less hassle in setting up person-specific friendly libraries.

Category: Data Architecture, Nook | Comments Off on Hooked on a Nook, where did I put that book?
March 2

Hooked on a Nook and what a pain in my ascii.

I have 302 books in my Nook Library.

For better or for worse, I am wedded to the Nook architecture, unless I decide to trot down the path so many others have of un-DRMing their books and putting them on any device they so please.

But what drives me nuts is that with all the competition out there, there is no incentive for them to improve their system.

Trying to read online or on a phone.

If you’re reading a book online in your web browser (NOOK for Web), you get bonked out every few hours. You aren’t told that you’re logged out – you just can’t read the next chapter. So you’ve got to go to the main page, log in, find your book, and start reading again. If you’re lucky, the system has remembered where you are, and you can pick up at the next chapter.

If you’re unlucky, it took you three or four tries to get in because the Nook system insists you only have a sample and it’s time to pony up to buy the book. So you play along, click “buy” and it says you already own it. You can’t read it, because web page A says you don’t own it, and you can’t open it because web page B sends you to web page A.

No worries, open it on your phone app! Oh, but your phone is out of memory. And it’s a large technical book, so your phone app screen isn’t very useful. Grab an iPad! ($400 later …) and set it up with wireless or a cell service … urgh.

And I can’t read my three Calvin and Hobbes books I’ve bought using this format of viewing.

Trying to read on a Nook.

I’ve only got the smallest, cheapest Nook (why did I ever give up the one with free cellular download!) and it does not have a lot of memory. No worries, just download books when I’m at a friendly wifi link. If I remember. If I have my charger. If the kids don’t want to read it instead of me.

I could remedy this if I bought a second Nook, I guess.

And I can’t read my three Calvin and Hobbes books I’ve bought using this format of viewing.

Trying to find a book.

I have 302 books. I can’t group them. I can reorganize them, slightly, in alpha order. Sometimes my Nook/Nook App remembers what I was reading last. But I find it difficult to page through books (302) in random order to find something I may or may not have bought or may or may not have archived.

And if I’ve been logged out while reading online, it’s another pain and a half.

Am I the only person on the planet with this many books? Did Nook designers (hardware and software) expect this was just a novelty?

I can’t read my three Calvin and Hobbes books I’ve bought using these formats of viewing.

I have access to a Windows computer. An Apple computer. I have access to an iPad, iPad Mini, and an iPhone. (I have several patient friends who let me experiment on their hardware.)

I can’t read my three Calvin and Hobbes books because I don’t own a Nook HD. Argh. I don’t want one, I’ve maintained that forever. I like my simple little Nook. I can deign to read on the computer. I want to read my Calvin books. Are they that hard to convert to read on the web?

It’s increasingly difficult to share my books with the kids.

You’d think I would have prevented my own stupidity. But, alas, no. I bought my books and the kids books on the same account. I can’t just throw a Nook at them and let them read a book; I have to pre-prep it by archiving all my books, syncing it, turning off wifi, then unarchiving my books online.

I just want a divorce! Divorce my kid books from my adult books. Dumb of me to not keep them separate at the outset. Makes me wonder if divorce decrees now spell out “who gets the apps and digital video library”.

However, Netflix has figured it out, with different login profiles. Each profile has things appropriate or set up as needed. Even if I had to add books to the kid login myself in my Nook account, I’d do it! I just “culled” my books online to show only the kid books, and left 5 “adult” books they might find interesting.

Total count of books to sync with the kids? 149. 144 if you don’t count the 5 adult books I left for them.

Come on Nook, make it happen. Alternatively, someone buy Nook and fix it!

Category: Data Architecture, Nook | Comments Off on Hooked on a Nook and what a pain in my ascii.