Archive for December, 2009
Our offices will be quiet over the next week or so as the majority of Latitude staff spend time with loved ones. A few of us will be holding down the fort, but we’ll all be back in earnest following the New Year.
On the personal side, my hope is for an uneventful Christmas at home this year… and a quiet birthday for Benjamin. Last year my wife went into labor unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, and we ended up having our first child two weeks early, in the wrong city, during a snowstorm… and on Christmas day. I even managed to get trapped in an elevator at one point.
In any case, on behalf of my colleagues and I, have a happy and peaceful holiday season.
Today we cut the 2.1.2 release of Geocortex Essentials. Like other maintenance releases, we didn’t introduce new features; however, we did include a number of defect resolutions.
Head over to our support center downloads page to see the release notes for 2.1.2 to determine if you would like to upgrade. There you’ll also find the 2.1.2 version available for download.
Well, we made the move to WordPress over the weekend. We originally chose Telligent’s Community Server a few years back because it appeared to fit best given our technology (e.g. we were able to use our Windows domain accounts for authentication).
Over time it became clear that since we were only using it for a single blog, it wasn’t the right fit - not to mention that they discontinued the edition of the product we were using!
Anyway, we migrated everything (including comments).
Some changes include:
- We have changed the URL for the Geocortex Blog to: http://blog.geocortex.com (please update your bookmarks).
- We have started using Google’s Feedburner service for our RSS feed. The old RSS URL should still work, but you may want to update your RSS reader to use the new URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/GeocortexBlog. Feedburner also allows people who don’t use an RSS reader to subscribe to our blog via email.
- Mobile Browser compatibility! If you visit the Geocortex Blog from a mobile device, the page will be rendered appropriately.
- Better spambot protection. We were having to manually delete comments that were being left by spambots. We now have much better tools at our disposal to prevent this problem.
9.3.1 service packs released today:
Movember is a moustache growing charity event held in the month of November to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer research. It amounts to a bunch of ordinarily clean-shaven guys growing (often silly) moustaches all month and collecting donations.
We had about a dozen guys in our office take part this year (about six participated last year), and on the last day of the month a bunch of us once again went to Victoria’s Tony’s Old Time Portraits to get our portrait taken. Click on the picture for a full size view. What would we do if we didn’t live in a tourist town equipped with such amenities? On the other side of the country, Brock of our Toronto office also took part and grew a sweet moustache, but the photo he sent is so ridiculous I won’t embarrass him by posting it.
Though we aren’t moustache guys (I tip my hat to men who can pull them off) and perhaps looked a tad goofy for the month of November, it was all for a good cause. A couple participants who grew beards/goatees are still sporting them, but all the bona-fide moustaches were gone the morning of December 1st.
We’re doing lots of viewer design work these days, and I’ve been thinking about the dimensions of viewing devices. In recent years, a couple trends have affected the way users look at geographic information. Literally. Dimensions have shrunk (think mobile devices) or dimensions have widened (computer monitors). Let’s look at the latter.
The squarish 4:3 aspect ratio was the television standard until not that long ago when things went 16:9, and squarish to wide happened with computer monitors as well. I’d guess this had something to do with CRT technology, but it could be something someone just picked long ago. Certainly, movies have been “widescreen” since the 1950’s (in part to differentiate their product from TV). After putting up with black stripes and shrunken movies for a while on our TVs, they went 16:9 with the advent of HDTV, which is fairly close to movie theater dimensions. Most computer monitors are widescreen now too.
I don’t know the answer, but I wonder if widescreen has proved popular for viewing because it is closer to how we can see the world when we “go broad”—and also partially due to the fact that movies (usually the superior visual entertainment) are best watched in that aspect ratio. Simply, we all understand widescreen is better.
Back in my erstwhile amateur film directing days, I always found shooting non-scenic widescreen to be a lot more work, because if your focus isn’t horizontal (i.e. the scene) then you have to consider a lot of what’s going on in the background to properly frame a vertically oriented point of viewer focus (e.g. a face). When we look at scenery, we shift to a wide dimension of attention. When we concentrate on something like a face, the periphery fades and we naturally concentrate more along the lines of a 4:3 aspect ratio. I got to thinking about this while sitting in on web mapping design sessions recently. I expect that when we focus on an average task on our computer, we don’t have a widescreen focus. We’re concentrating on something specific. We see this observed correctly with text on most websites (kept within standard page width), but not with lots of new applications.
Is widescreen inherently better for computer users? Maybe, maybe not. Widescreen or multiple monitors are great for people working between multiple windows/applications they have open, but I’m curious how often when focusing on an application they go beyond requiring 4:3. I still prefer a more squarish monitor because I prefer to focus on one task at a time (I Alt-Tab between windows) and, believe it or not, I don’t watch movies at work. Most of the time I look at the computer I’m working with text, and I’d find my wide screen flipped on its side (more like a piece of paper) to be more relevant. I’m not suggesting that 4:3 monitors are better. Perhaps 16:9ish is the right for a computer monitor so we can go wide when we want to, but for applications, an assumption of widescreen as the ideal blank canvas is probably ill-advised.
While on my way in to work this morning on the bus, I was trying to get a few extra minutes work done on my laptop and found myself contemplating software design. We’ve all seen examples of good design – things that work really well and solve problems simply and completely. Have you ever stopped to think what made those designs good?
One example of a good design is my Logitech V220 mouse. I love this mouse because:
- It just works every time in every environment. I’ve had laptops that hated other mice that I’ve owned. Often they would fail to recognize the mouse receiver when I would plug them into the laptops USB ports. Sometimes it would take 3 or 4 tries and often I would have to try 2 or 3 different USB ports to make them work. I had one mouse that would refuse to work on those cheap plastic Costco fold up tables – not sure why. The tables weren’t even shiny. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to use those mice to dial 911.
- It has all the features that I want in a mouse. Those features include two mouse buttons, a scroll wheel and rubberized sides so I can keep a good grip on it and that’s about it. I know there those who see feature richness as a good thing, and in many circumstances, features are good. After all, it is often the number of features that allow us to solve a wide range of problems but in my experience, feature richness does not necessarily correlate to greatness. If you don’t believe me, consider Google’s user interface.
- It strikes the right balance between portability and usability. I’ve had portable mice and they are either too small and cause my hand to cramp or too large and weigh as much as my laptop. I know there are other solutions to portability such as my laptop’s built in track pad but I’ve but never got the hang of track pad drag and drop even after using the track pad exclusively for more than a year.
- It solves 2 common cordless mouse problems really well: loss of the mini wireless receiver and dead mouse batteries. The clever Logitech engineers came up with a slot in the bottom of the mouse to attach the receiver to. When I remove the receiver, it turns the mouse on and when I store the receiver, it turns the mouse off. The mouse and receiver are never separated in storage. Simple solution. Nice!
- It’s durable. I see all sorts of dents and suspicious marks all over it from where it has been dropped out of my bag but it keeps on working despite the abuse.
- It’s a reasonable price. At $30. It’s a bargain.
I think there are important parallel lessons in software design that can be learned from my mouse. I often wonder if sometimes we spend too much effort trying to pack features into our software products rather than trying to make the software work well and solve fundamental problems. Maybe we should take that extra time and really consider what it is our users are really trying to accomplish and work on solutions to those problems. It would also be interesting to know if one designer designed the mouse or a committee. I suspect that the design of the V220 was from the mind of a single talented industrial engineer.
Just some thoughts