"an ology for the new millenium"
Why, it's the vanity site and weblog of Eric Tilton! [*]

Bernie says hello. He'd like to know if you have any wet cat food for him.

Welcome to ology.org! This is the personal vanity site of Eric Tilton and Carrie Jones. It mainly exists so that we can laugh heartily at our clever e-mail addresses (like tele@ology.org). Ho ho ho!

Please wander around, and feel free to enjoy my fine Corinthian web log.

Monday, December 24, 2001

[Posted 12/24/2001 12:27:58 PM by tilt]
Today's question: what's the verbal equivalent of an optical illusion? Consider the M. C. Escher painting with the monks ascending the finitely infinite staircase:

What seem particularly notable to me about these kinds of optical illusions is that they demonstrate some kind of infinity within a finite space, usually by appearing to violate some fundamental law of the universe. The violation is misdirection, of course, but nevertheless effective. So what's the verbal equivalent? It seems to be much easier to represent loops in the two dimensional visual space then it is in the one dimensional verbal space.

Right now, I'm kind of leaning towards Who's On First or the classic Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck argument over whether it's Duck Season or Rabbit Season. Still, I don't feel like these really capture the essence of really tripping up the observer, not just the fictional participants. (OK, maybe Who's On First does this to an adequate degree.)

Another possibility is the algebra "proof" that purports to prove 1 == 2; the proof relies on misdirecting the reader away from the fact that result is obtained by dividing by zero.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

[Posted 12/11/2001 07:38:01 PM by tilt]
To condense my long winded previous post: it's the difference between whether you're spending your time being irritated about the things your new toy does wrong, or you're spending your time wishing for new things for your toy to do right.

[Posted 12/11/2001 04:51:40 PM by tilt]
I've had my Pocket PC for a year and a half now, and it's... OK. It's fine. It's adequate. It's not particularly thrilling. It's very functional, and it's got a nice big screen, plenty of I/O capability, and some neat 'net functionality, but it's just not very exciting. The biggest problem with the device is that it's just kind of awkward. It's just kind of a pain in the ass to use. I mean, I know the Pocket PC was supposed to be a big functional redesign for the Windows CE palm-sized platform, but I can't say that that's saying much for the platform. There's just a lot of little things that are kind of difficult to do. For example:

  • There's no way to get tasks marked as done to immediately disappear.
  • There's only three levels of priority for tasks.
  • Editing pretty much anything is a pain in the butt. Want to edit the title of a task or calendar entry? Sorry, can't do it in the main view. Gotta go two levels deep, to get to an "edit screen".
  • You can set birthdays for users (where you enter a birthday in the contact list, and a calendar event is created automatically), but they can break in two ways: first, if your PC ever fails to recognize that it had synced with your Pocket PC, you end up with a whole bunch of duplicate events (and the automatic detection and deletion of duplicate events doesn't catch 'em all), and second (and much worse), if you ever move a time zone to the west, all of your damn birthdays show up as happening on the previous day (because they now start at 11pm of the previous day). And since you entered all of the damn birthdays in the device so you wouldn't have to remember them... well, you can see the potential problem.
  • Synching between two different PCs is temperamental, to say the least.
  • Wireless connectivity is a pain in the ass. I bought the damn cable to connect it with my phone, but it still requires a 30 second dial-up process. Dial-up? Is this 1991? Is anyone ever going to do this right? The wireless phone companies have the infrastructure -- to bad they're morons. Why doesn't my cell phone handle always-on packet connections to the 'net?
I could go on, but I can already see your eyes glazing, and the drool starting to drip. Point being, the device has a lot of great functionality. And it's all just enough of a pain in the ass to use that I don't use most of it. Microsoft managed to rip off all of the superficial ideas that Palm brilliantly got right, and completely failed to copy any of the deep insights. It's possible they've succeeded more with the new Pocket PC 2002s, but I kind of doubt it. And let's just remember: Palm got it right the first time.

Palm's main failure was that they sat on their damn laurels and failed to innovate. I was a happy Palm owner for several years. Then I started to yearn for a bigger screen, the ability to use a CF card to interoperate with my camera, and better I/O capabilities. And the only place to get that was the Pocket PC. In retrospect, it was a dumb move -- the Pocket PC is so much less functional that I don't actually use the features I thought I would.

So what do I use? Two things:

  • First, I love Pocket Excel. I used to use Pocket Money to keep track of expenses, but it didn't have any budgeting or analysis tools, and it was prone to data corruption if you were nutty enough to synchronize while the desktop version of Money was running. Oh, crazy user! (Again, a nice idea that turned out to be a pain in the ass to use.) So, instead, I've evolved an extremely handy budget spreadsheet in Pocket Excel that I can carry with me.
    Interestingly enough, the key aspect of this is not mobility, but the fact that the Pocket PC is like an extremely portable window. I usually only use the spreadsheet while I'm sitting down at my computer using Money. I enter receipts into Money and into the Pocket PC (like double-entry bookkeeping), and check the results against each other.
  • Audible.com. Along with NetFlix, it's one of the few dot-coms that actually deserves to make money (and probably isn't). I love to listen to audio books, and I love how cheap they are from Audible. I download them into my Pocket PC, hook it up to my car stereo, and listen to books while I drive.
Now, as an exercise, let's compare the Pocket PC experience to the iPod experience. (Full disclosure: I work for Apple, although my only relationship to the iPod is as a satisfied owner.) On paper, the Pocket PC looks awesome. It's got a bullet list of features a mile long, and seems to improve on the stagnant Palm platform in almost every respect. In reality, usability flaws make those great features such a pain in the ass to use that, in practice, you don't use them. It's not that it's buggy, or that the features are inherently unusable -- they're just difficult enough to use that you just don't bother.

By contrast, the iPod looks completely forgettable on paper. "Five gig drive? So what? Archos has a freakin' 20GB model for even cheaper!" "So it's small; they're all small!" "Firewire? So what?" This completely belies the out-of-the-box experience though. While the small hard drive size is regrettable, it's about the only tradeoff in the machine, and that sacrifice allows for the critically important small form factor. Plugging it in just works, and synchronization takes about 10 minutes for 5GB of data (whereas my serial-port hobbled Pocket PC takes 2 hours for 30MB worth of data). The small size is just right; it's hard to describe without holding one, but anything larger (like the Archos, or for that matter the Pocket PC) suddenly feels awkward by comparision. (Palm also got the form factor just right, even if they did compromise on the screen.) The jog dial feels responsive -- the acceleration actually makes it possible to navigate a list of 900 songs without getting irritated. Frankly, my only complaint is that it doesn't appear to be possible to toggle shuffle mode without going through several levels of menus.

Getting the details right is always the key to the user experience. Microsoft's done it before -- the introduction of the context menu in Windows 95 (and the fact that you could thus change your screen resolution by getting the context menu for the desktop) is a great example. In fact, that alone was sufficient to drag me from Apple to Microsoft. But whatever lessons they learned there, they didn't apply to the Pocket PC.

(There's another rant in here, which is about getting the message right. I sometimes forget that feature lists are primarily about getting the story right for a geek like me; non-geeks are much more likely to be shocked by the mere fact that you could hold a thousand songs in something size of a deck of cards. I think one of the big iPod innovations is in merely advertising the possibility of portable mass-music storage to a general audience, that frankly didn't understand what was going on with MP3 players.)

Friday, December 07, 2001

[Posted 12/7/2001 10:19:46 AM by tilt]
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was an amazing film. It was easily an order of magnitude better than I expected. The first one was merely adequate -- the second one was well executed on pretty much every level. If you're an anime fan -- and maybe even if you're not -- you should go see it.

See earlier stuff in the archives


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