Saturday, March 17, 2007

Free for the asking: the over-the-range microwave that thinks it's a Web browser

We are replacing a Sears Kenmore Elite over-the-range microwave oven / vent. It is perfectly functional and high-wattage but it has a cosmetic flaw.

The main problem is that it is circa 1997, and it thinks it is a Web browser. I am not making this up. The controls include Back, Home, and Favorites buttons, and a rotating knob that serves the mouse function.

It was designed by Whirlpool in the heyday of Netscape Navigator. I met two young designers from Whirlpool at World Usability Day at MSU and they swear they are not responsible; they joined the company after that horrible mistake. Even the model name says 90s Web; it is Navigator. It's damn confusing to operate.

So my wife hates it. She curses whenever she warms milk for the cat.

The cosmetic flaw is a crack in the plastic fascia. You could probably order the part, but parts for this thing are expensive. The light bulbs to illuminate the range are like $50 each, but I bought two spares and they come with the package.

I told the Whirlpool engineers that my favorite microwave is the small Sharp cube I have at work. When you close the door all it exposes is Start and Stop. The Start button starts it. Hit it again and it adds a minute. Hit Stop and it stops. When I visit a foreign microwave and want to warm my hot tea, I always hit the Popcorn button. I think my comments upset the Whirlpool usability experts. I'm sticking to my words -- the best designs make it trivially easy to do the most common tasks.

If you could use this unit, or if you know of a charity that could, it's yours for free.

Oh, now I get it. Spring Break conference at Ohio U

Received spam from someone at Ohio University advertising a Web conference I never heard of that's taking place next Thursday. The text included this:

I thought: How strange to use the dishonored Break tag in an online missive.

Then I got it: it's a pun. Ohio U must be on spring break, and they must do a Web conference each year at that time.

A couple of modest proposals for the conference organizers at Ohio U: 1) Find a better title/tagline. 2) Spamming university Webmasters at 12:55 a.m. on the Saturday before a conference that takes place the following Thursday may not be the most effective marketing plan.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Promises, promises: since 19XX

Surfing Google News I encountered the Web site for a place called Promises, located in Malibu, the current domicile of a newly shorn Britney Spears.

I skimmed their purple prose describing the great gated community they purport to be. I chuckled when I learned that they've been in business since 19XX:

Click for full size screen shot

Yup, you read it right:

When Promises opened in 19XX, we realized that a facility is only as good as its staff.

And a Web site visited by millions is only as good as its Webmaster.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Complete New Yorker Portable Hard Drive

The New Yorker offers DVDs with past content -- articles, ads, and most importantly cartoons. Their latest ad really caught my eye: they're also selling this content on a small portable USB hard drive. For $200 you get an 80 gig hard drive with everything ever published in the New Yorker pre-installed.

It's not a totally new idea to sell content on portable media. Way back when Verbatim might have included a trial version of software on a floppy. But that was a case where you're buying the media and, by the way here's some content to sample. Here we have a magazine selling you the content and, by the way here's a hard drive to use for other purposes.

I wonder what happens when the head crashes? Do you have to buy the content again?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Google News favors foreign sources over local

My dad served in the Signal Corps in World War II. He landed in Normandy on D-Day. He never told anyone exactly what happened that day, but he was awarded the Silver Star for what he and his men did. Sometimes very important stories are lost to history. We will never know.

Ever since I predicted the creation of Google News I've watched carefully to see how it performs.

One of the serious shortcomings of Google News is that it showcases foreign news sources in favor of local sources covering local stories. A train wreck in India gets prominent coverage by the Chinese news agency, highlighted by Google News. A campaign event involving Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is covered by The Guardian, highlighted by Google News. The robot takes local news global, and it cares not who covers it.

Click for full size sceen shot

And so today we see Google News give the headline to Canada's Globe and Mail a very important story that the Washington Post broke in a series of investigative reports. Sad that the robot relegates the publication that spent many days and dollars investigating the issue to an also-ran, leading with a Canadian publication that had nothing to do with the reporting.

Nonetheless, in today's crazy Old Media / New Media world, the story got out, and, we hope, things will be fixed.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Amazing images of Saturn, courtesy of NASA

I remember as a boy loving a great little color picture book about space by Herbert Zim. I suppose space attracted my attention more than the average lad because my dad was a NASA engineer. NASA has released images from the Casini spacecraft showing Saturn from different views. Way cool stuff.

NASA even offers a movie showing the rings and a moon in orbit.

Awesome stuff.