Wednesday, 18 June 2008

No Mouse or Keyboard detected - press F1 to continue

I've been wondering how much longer the vast majority of people who use computer based equipment will continue to use a mouse and keyboard as their primary input devices.

iPhone users, you probably know what I mean already, huh?

While the keyboard has served us well, and the mouse is great for pointing and clicking, neither of them strike me as intuitive interfaces for deeply immersive user interfaces; and that's probably because of the misdirection involved in using them. When I type at my PC, I look at the screen. My fingers tap away at a keyboard, and it is only through years of practice (and of classical piano training) that I can manage to reconcile, fast, the fact that the input device requires separate neural processing to the output device.

Likewise with the mouse. For navigating around two dimensional, hypertextually linked applications, it's OK I guess, but as soon as I want to attempt to draw something, or zoom in on an image or a section of the screen I'm a bit stuck, and have to often co-ordinate keyboard and mouse to make things work. Mac users (least, those who haven't bothered to get a two key mouse) know this more than most - press CTRL for right click? Who thought that up? I understand that the Mac is partly about making simple tasks simple, but I reckon most people can grok at an intuitive level the concept of "left click for action, right click for context".

Saying that, I've never quite mastered the middle button on a mouse, except when it serves as a wheel as well. What was that third button for? It's like the third pedal on a piano you occasionally come across. What the hell is that for? Never saw a piece of music that refers to it in 14 years of classical training, or since.

I digress. I saw this little Minority-Touch-esque video yesterday and wondered if the time is right yet to reposition my career as a "Multi Dimension & Multi Touch Interface Human Design Specialist"

That's a career which doesn't yet exist. But it will.

Now naysayers will come along and tell me that they don't anticipate that they'll ever stop typing. Folk were loath to leave quill and ink behind too. I must admit, I don't quite know what will replace my 70+ words per minute typing speed with something that doesn't require me to dictate (still haven't got my head round that one, not for want of trying - the words seem to flow better when I type, and I don't have to go back and delete all the "ums" and "erms" and "ahs")

But what I do know is that the amount of time I spend interacting with data visually is increasing.

I love my Squeezebox, it's a great way of getting audio round the house without having to run computers or hard drives in the front room. The next version, the Squeezbox Duet has this great remote control which allows me to navigate by album cover. The remote itself is a Wi-Fi enabled device. (I'll post more on exposing your music collection over the internet using SqueezeCenter another time)

Squeezebox Duet Network Music System

But it's still not quite CoverFlow-As-Remote-Control. And CoverFlow still sucks at letting me browse through my extensive (3000+ albums) digital music collection

Now, what I want is an interface that looks like a CD collection, but in glorious Multi-D. Where I can navigate it based on all manner of factors, Where I can Zoom in Deep. Where I can move from one "room" to another. Where I can jump straight to an artists web site. Or all manner of interactions when I treat items in my music collection as Social Objects. And where I can manage this on a number of devices, from a wall mounted screen, to a PDA, to a headset based experience (you have to check this out)

Over the last decade and a half of my career in software I've been building flat, boring user interfaces, either for the web, or for the desktop. The next generation is not gonna be happy with that. They will expect their over-specced, highly connected, under-priced equipment to do more for them than that. They'll be comfortable with augmented reality (and may even be as lost without their overlay glasses as they are today without their mobile phones). They'll be over the concept of "media ownership" and will expect things to be shareable. Like playing pong over multiple iPhones

I know for a fact that there are not nearly enough User Experience (UX) specialists in the world. And this is probably because all the stuff beneath the UX, stuff to do with data persistence, graphics rendering engines, networks, systems integration etc, has been more than enough for the world of Software Engineers for the last 15 years or so. But I forsee a world coming, and soon, where many of the Hard Data Problems all start to disappear, and where aggregation and rendering of these ceases to happen server side, and instead, it will be smart, graphically rich clients, with multi-touch interfaces bringing it all together in the user experience. What is a software guy to do? Well, until the tools and frameworks are at a high enough level that anyone can build those experiences, I think there is still work for us.

So, blogosphere, if I were to reinvent myself as a "Multi Dimension & Multi Touch Interface Human Design Specialist" where should I start? What should I read? What should I be learning? Bear in my mind that I have very little graphic design experience, and it's not really prettifying stuff that interests me, it's in making things usable in ways we are not yet familiar.

Here's some more things that inspire me in this space

Silverlight Deep Zoom

3D in Flash v.Next


multitouch in javascript

Microsoft LaserTouch

Project Looking Glass (seems dormant?)

What do you think? Ask yourself again at the end of a day of RSI inducing activity

Sunday, 15 June 2008


Download/listen here (100Mb or so)

It's been an interesting week. After bouncing back and forth across the pond several times this year, I took a week more or less out to rest; it was well needed and I feel very refreshed and ready to pick up the pace again tomorrow morning.

Amazing what happens when you take time for yourself. Things open up sometimes and opportunities occur that you just don't see when you're moving headlong at an air speed of 500 miles an hour. Let's just say that, partly due to a funeral I attended this week (mostly to support close friends), there has been some unexpected, emotional honesty that has, frankly, made me feel a whole lot better about life and myself. Not gonna say any more at this point, I'll leave it cryptic for now. Those involved will know what I mean. Things still need to work themselves out, and I'm in no real hurry, even though a good part of me is impatient to get to a denouement.

Anyway, I woke up this morning, and the sun was out. I packed the car with swimming things, we set off to pick up one of my daughters friends, to spend the day jumping in and out of the River Dart, and then, this being a British Summer, naturally the heavens opened and started to drench us. River trip cancelled. I can't complain too much, most of the last week was fabulous and sunny.

So home we come, and I decided to do a mix. I've had a couple in mind, one of sorta funky summery kind of tracks - the rain did for any funkful inspiration I may've had today. Another mix has been pending of kinda lurve songs - but that just didn't feel quite right to do today either, for one reason and another.

So I did a mix of purely electronic tunes. Broken beats, occasional stilted lyrics, shattered melodies. Once or twice you might feel like dancing. You might feel like getting weepy. You might barely recognise some of this as music. There are frenetic moments, still moments, and almost everything in between.

This is not music you're likely to hear in the clubs, or on the radio. Maybe if you're in a chill out room in Germany...

I wonder if my regular listeners will struggle with this one, perhaps more than the showtunes of a while back. Though it would be for completely different reasons.

If you like it, let me know! If you don't, it's fine for you to keep your opinions to yourself, thank you very much. I do these mixes mostly for my own self indulgent purposes.


In the Master BedroomA Viable Alternative to Actual Sexual Contact
05:45FreeformDiceAlt. Frequencies
13:23AGF+DelayThe Return of UsElectric Ladyland Clickhop Version 1.0
17:23MRIData BoogieAll that Glitters
23:55Telefon Tel AvivFarenheit Far Enough (Prefuse 73 Bonus Beats remix)Immediate Action #08
27:02Si BeggEnglandDirectors Cut
31:26TussRushup I Bank 12Rushup Edge
36:02ClarkNight KnucklesBody Riddle
39:41TrioskIntensives LebenThe Headlight Serenade
45:55B FleischmannPhones and MachinesThe Humbucking Coil
50:48Christain KleineQuentinBeyond Repair
56:00Global GoonLong WhineyCradle of History
65:34Susumu YokotaTears of a PoetGrinning Cat

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Death of Technology Without An Interesting Name?


Microsoft have, in their wisdom, decided that all scanners and similar image acquisition devices need to support Web Services, with an obviously named protocol - WS-Scan.

Go. Figure.

Does this mean we will see TWAIN no more?

From the MSFT press release:

This collaboration is a response to customer and industry interest in having the WS-Scan Service Schema mapped directly to the PWG Scan semantic model,” said Jack Mayo, group program manager with the Windows Experience team at Microsoft. “The benefit to customers will be making great scanning solutions for Windows-based interoperable with other platforms. The ability to make interoperable solutions will also greatly reduce the development burden on the PWG partner companies.”

So the only reason I posted this is because TWAIN is one of my all time favourite acronyms, commonly, if unofficially, understood to stand for Technology Without An Interesting Name. And I don't normally find reasons to refer to that. Seemingly pointless MSFT initiatives don't really worry me that much.

Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens
Be Silent