Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Mark Coleran, creator of “fantasy user interfaces” for films like The Bourne Ultimatum and Children of Men, is now focusing on solving real-world problems.

You don’t know Mark Coleran‘s name, but you’ve seen his work. He’s the designer who creates the futuristic computer screens that characters in movies (like The Bourne UltimatumChildren of Men, and Mission Impossible 3) use when saying things like “Enhance!” But now he’s the design director of Bonfire Labs, an agency who specifically hired him for his “fantasy user interface” (or FUI) skills.

Coleran Reel 2008.06 HD from Mark Coleran on Vimeo.

But what on earth do flashy movie UIs have to do with solving real-world design problems? Plenty, says Coleran: “[The FUIs] look fantastic when you see them in the theater, but a lot of that is actually grounded in reality — stuff that’s not mainstream yet, that I’ve been researching and experimenting with.” Case in point: Coleran’s design for a near-future music player in Children of Menlooks uncannily similar to iTunes’s “Coverflow” interface, which Apple released in the fall of 2006, almost a year after Coleran completed his work on Children of Men. Coleran didn’t invent Coverflow — Apple purchased it from an artist and programmer earlier in 2006 — but it is an example of Coleran’s method of combining and taking inspiration from up-and-coming UI concepts before they enter the mainstream. In the image below, Coleran also borrowed (with permission) the background from a 3D desktop concept called Bumptop.

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A FUI from Children of Men, which Coleran created almost a year before iTunes’ Coverflow interface was released.

Of course, Coleran had plenty of experience designing real-world UIs himself before joining Bonfire (including the innovative interface for a creative project-management application called FLOW). But he says Bonfire hired him to be more of a “visual concept designer” for their interactive and advertising clients — sort of a Syd Mead for UIs, “looking at the bigger picture rather than the detail of individual buttons,” says Coleran. “My background from the film work, plus my experience in engineering, electronics, and graphic design, sort of fits with these interactive projects. There’s an element of futurism, where you can play the ‘what ifs’ out to their logical conclusions. Not just for the sake of it, but if you know the rules, you can break them to get something better.”

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A FUI from Michael Bay’s The Island. Images courtesy of Mark Coleran

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From The Island, a gunsight used by an assassin.

But Coleran doesn’t just throw out the rule books on user experience and “human interface guidelines.” In fact, because many of his clients know his movie work, he spends a lot of time talking them out of doing something like Children of Men or The Bourne Ultimatum. “One of my biggest frustations is when people will say, ‘We have these specifications and requirements, now execute it just like we saw in the movie,'” he says. “What they don’t realize is that the requirements for those movie FUIs were completely unlike the ones that they’re dealing with. In a movie, you see an interface for at most a couple of seconds. In real life, every design decision has a consequence, and it doesn’t go away. It’s there day in and day out. Those human interface guidelines are there for very good reasons.”

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A computer interface for The Bourne Ultimatum

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One of Coleran’s mockups for a touch-based map interface.

So how do you push the UI envelope while respecting what already works? “It comes back to pure design,” Coleran says. “Everything has to be justified; you can’t say I put this here because it looks cool. At Bonfire we’re trying to come up with new patterns — not just user interfaces, but whole new models for experiencing TV or magazines or music — and mocking them up in the same way I did the FUIs. But now, I may actually get to execute them in real life.”

[Read more at Coleran.com]

John Pavlus
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http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/technology/personaltech/30basics.html?src=ISMR_AP_LO_MST_FB

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Technology

 

Illustration by Tamara Shopsin

By SAM GROBART
Published: December 29, 2010

Your gadgets and computers, your software and sites — they are not working as well as they should. You need to make some tweaks.

But the tech industry has given you the impression that making adjustments is difficult and time-consuming. It is not.

And so below are 10 things to do to improve your technological life. They are easy and (mostly) free. Altogether, they should take about two hours; one involves calling your cable or phone company, so that figure is elastic. If you do them, those two hours will pay off handsomely in both increased free time and diminished anxiety and frustration. You can do it.

GET A SMARTPHONE Why: Because having immediate access to your e-mail, photos, calendars and address books, not to mention vast swaths of the Internet, makes life a little easier.

How: This does not have to be complicated. Upgrade your phone with your existing carrier; later, when you are an advanced beginner, you can start weighing the pluses and minuses of your carrier versus another. Using AT&T? Get a refurbished iPhone 3GS for $29. Verizon? Depending on what’s announced next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, get its version of the iPhone, or a refurbished Droid Incredible for $100. Sprint? Either the LG Optimus S or the Samsung Transform are decent Android phones that cost $50. T-Mobile users can get the free LG Optimus T.

STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER Why: Because, while the latest version has some real improvements, Internet Explorer is large, bloated with features and an example of old-style Microsoft excess.

How: Switch to either Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Both are first-rate, speedy browsers, and both are free. It remains a tight race between the two, but Chrome has had the lead lately in features and performance. Both browsers include useful things like bookmark syncing. That means that your bookmarks folder will be the same on every computer using Chrome or Firefox, and will update if you change anything.

UPLOAD YOUR PHOTOS TO THE CLOUD Why: Because you’ll be really sorry if an errant cup of coffee makes its way onto your PC, wiping away years of photographic memories. Creating copies of your digital photos on an online service is a painless way to ensure they’ll be around no matter what happens to your PC. It is also an easy way to share the photos with friends and family.

How: There are many good, free choices. To keep things simple, use PicasaGoogle’s service. After your initial upload — which may take a while, so set it up before you go to sleep — you will have a full backup of your photo library. And by inviting people to view it, privately, with passwords, you will not have to e-mail photos anymore. Anytime you have new pictures, upload them to Picasa, send a message to your subscribers, and they can view your gallery at their leisure.

GET MUSIC OFF YOUR COMPUTER Why: Because music bought digitally wants to be freed, not imprisoned in your portable player or laptop. It wants to be sent around the home, filling rooms like good old-fashioned hi-fi.

How: Using iTunes for your digital music? Buy Apple’s Airport Express for $99 and connect it to your stereo. When you play music on your computer, you can stream it to the Express and, therefore, your stereo’s speakers. Have an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad? Download Apple’s free Remote app and you will be able to control your music from anywhere in the house.

BACK UP YOUR DATA Why: Because photos are not the only important things on your computer. With online backup services, you do not have to buy any equipment; you just install software, which sits on secure servers and runs in the background, regularly updating a mirror image of all your files while you spend time on more important things, like confirming that Ben Gazzara really was the bad guy in “Road House” (he was).

How: Go to sosbackup.com. Pay $80 a year. Install the software. Sleep easy.

SET UP A FREE FILE-SHARING SERVICE Why: Because while e-mailing yourself files is a perfectly decent workaround, there are easier, more elegant ways to move files around — and they do not cost anything, either.

How: Go to dropbox.com and set up a free account. You will then get an icon that sits on your desktop. Drag and drop files onto that icon, and they are immediately copied to the cloud. The free account gives you up to two gigabytes of disk space; 50- and 100-gigabyte are also available, but they cost $10 or $20 a month.

Set up your account on all your other computers, and they all have the access to the same files. You can set up shared, private and public folders, and apps for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and Android mean you can gain access to shared files from anywhere.

GET FREE ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE Why: Because attacks on unwitting users are more widespread and tactics are growing more advanced.

How: Windows users should download Avast Free Antivirus. Mac users can downloadiAntiVirus Free Edition. Both applications will provide a basic level of security against a variety of so-called malware. And they cost zero.

GET A BETTER DEAL FROM YOUR CABLE, PHONE AND INTERNET PROVIDER Why: Because it does not take much to get them to give you free (or cheaper) services. These companies are generally indifferent to customer needs, but they are quick to cough up discounts — if you ask.

How: Just call and ask — they will probably give you something. Other tactics: Measure your Internet speed, using dslreports.com/speedtest; if it is less than what you are paying for, ask for a free upgrade. Or ask to speak to the cancellation department. That usually scares them.

BUY A LOT OF CHARGING CABLES Why: Because you should never have a gadget’s battery die on you, and they are cheap. Smartphone user? Have a charging cable at the office, one in the car, and a couple at home. Laptops? Have enough chargers in the house, so you are not tethered to the den when the power runs low.

How: eBay. Search for what you need with terms like “original” or “oem” (original equipment manufacturer). You will often see accessories for as little as one-tenth their normal retail price. Buy them by the gross.

CALIBRATE YOUR HDTV Why: Because that awesome 1080p plasma or LCD TV you bought has factory settings for color, brightness, contrast and so forth that are likely to be out of whack. They need to be adjusted.

How: Order Spears and Munsil High Definition Benchmark: Blu-ray Edition, a DVD, for $25. Its regimen of tests and patterns will help you adjust your TV’s settings to more natural levels. After you use it, you may want to fine-tune the TV some more, but you can do so knowing you are getting the most out of your display.

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E-Mail Gets an Instant Makeover

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Technology

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/technology/21email.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

By MATT RICHTEL

Published: December 20, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — Signs you’re an old fogey: You still watch movies on a VCR, listen to vinyl records and shoot photos on film.

 

 

 

 

Dave Hetzler checks e-mail and researches jobs at the Grandview Heights Public Library in Ohio.

 

 

 

 

Chanel Valentine, a student, checking messages at lunchtime — she gets more than 300 texts a day.

 

 

 

 

Lena Jenny, right, and Constance Linard text messaging with friends at Ms. Jenny’s home in Cupertino, Calif.

And you enjoy using e-mail.

Young people, of course, much prefer online chats and text messages. These have been on the rise for years but are now threatening to eclipse e-mail, much as they have already superseded phone calls.

Major Internet companies like Facebook are responding with message services that are focused on immediate gratification.

The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours. And sign-offs like “sincerely” — seriously?

Lena Jenny, 17, a high school senior in Cupertino, Calif., said texting was so quick that “I sometimes have an answer before I even shut my phone.” E-mail, she added, is “so lame.”

Facebook is trying to appeal to the Lenas of the world. It is rolling out a revamped messaging service that is intended to feel less like e-mail and more like texting.

The company decided to eliminate the subject line on messages after its research showed that it was most commonly left blank or used for an uninformative “hi” or “yo.”

Facebook also killed the “cc” and “bcc” lines. And hitting the enter key can immediately fire off the message, à la instant messaging, instead of creating a new paragraph. The changes, company executives say, leave behind time-consuming formalities that separate users from what they crave: instant conversation.

“The future of messaging is more real time, more conversational and more casual,” said Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering at Facebook, where he oversees communications tools. “The medium isn’t the message. The message is the message.”

The numbers testify to the trend. The number of total unique visitors in the United States to major e-mail sites like Yahoo and Hotmail is now in steady decline, according to the research company comScore. Such visits peaked in November 2009 and have since slid 6 percent; visits among 12- to 17-year-olds fell around 18 percent. (The only big gainer in the category has been Gmail, up 10 percent from a year ago.)

The slide in e-mail does not reflect a drop in digital communication; people have just gravitated to instant messaging, texting and Facebook (four billion messages daily).

James E. Katz, the director for the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers University, said this was not the death of e-mail but more of a downgrade, thanks to greater choice and nuance among communications tools.

“It’s painful for them,” he said of the younger generation and e-mail. “It doesn’t suit their social intensity.”

Some, predictably, turn up their noses at the informality and the abbreviated spellings that are rampant in bite-size, phone-based transmissions. Judith Kallos, who writes a blog and books about e-mail etiquette, complains that the looser, briefer and less grammatical the writing, the less deep the thoughts and emotions behind it.

“We’re going down a road where we’re losing our skills to communicate with the written word,” Ms. Kallos said.

Mary Bird, 65, of San Leandro, Calif., is another traditionalist, if a reluctant one. “I don’t want to be one of those elders who castigate young peoples’ form of communication,” she said. “But the art of language, the beauty of language, is being lost.”

Ms. Bird’s daughter, Katie Bird Hunter, 26, is on the other side of the digital communications divide and finds her parents to be out of touch.

“They still use AOL,” she says, implying with her tone that she finds this totally gross.

Ms. Hunter says she seeks to reach friends first by text, then by instant message, then with a phone call, and then by e-mail. “And then, while I’d probably never do this last one, showing up at their house.”

Like a lot of younger people, Ms. Hunter, who works in construction management in San Francisco, says e-mail has its place — namely work and other serious business, like online shopping. She and others say they still regularly check e-mail, in part because parents, teachers and bosses use it.

David McDowell, senior director of product management for Yahoo Mail, conceded that the company was seeing a shift to other tools, but said this was less a generational phenomenon than a situational one. Fifteen-year-olds, for example, have little reason to send private attachments to a boss or financial institution.

Yahoo has added features like chat and text messaging to its e-mail service to reflect changing habits, as has Gmail, which also offers phone calls.

“Mail is now only a part of Gmail,” said Mike Nelson, a Google spokesman. “It’s video conferencing, texting, it’s I.M., it’s phone calling.”

Mr. Katz, the Rutgers professor, said texting and social networks better approximated how people communicated in person — in short snippets where niceties did not matter. Over time, he said, e-mail will continue to give way to faster-twitch formats, even among older people.

The changing trends have even some people in their 20s feeling old and slightly out of touch, or at least caught in the middle.

Adam Horowitz, 23, who works as a technology consultant for a major accounting firm in New York, spends all day on e-mail at his office. When he leaves it behind, he picks up his phone and communicates with friends almost entirely via texts.

Yet he sometimes feels caught between the two, as when he texts with his younger brothers, ages 12 and 19, who tend to send even shorter, faster messages.

“When they text me, it comes across in broken English. I have no idea what they’re saying,” said Mr. Horowitz. “I may not text in full sentences, but at least there’s punctuation to get my point across.”

“I guess I’m old school.”