Sunday, March 17, 2013

Clever Use of Space by Mailbox

 Clever ideas seem obvious in retrospect.

For example, first look at a screenshot from Apples native Mail app. In this screenshot on my iPhone 4S I just refreshed the inbox:

Note the space held by the persistent status bar in the bottom, the temporary space held by the loading icon below "All Inboxes", and the doubly redundant loading icon in the status bar.

Now contrast that with Mailbox on the right, in the same state of refreshing the inbox:

Active feedback is provided consistently at one location in the status bar, conserving precious real estate, while still displaying the standard status bar information when in it's neutral state.

Personally, I also found that Mailbox's less intrusive status indicators invited me to continue interacting with my inbox, regardless of what state it is in. I never thought of clicking an item or writing a message in Apples Mail app while it is loading. Instead I find myself staring at the loading indicator waiting for it to finish before proceeding with my business.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Do We Hashtag?

I originally understood hashtags on Twitter and Instagram as a functional way to link your personal experience to a larger shared experience. This is in line with the positive sociological trend, towards a more global consciousness, that I wrote about a few years ago.

Then people began to be clever; creating unlikely tags, daring you to click and find out whether anyone else in the world had concocted such a string of characters.

But then the meme made a radical evolutionary jump that left me awestruck.

Someone intentionally wrote a status update on Facebook followed by a series of hashtags. Not because it provided any functional linking, but because it was a way to provide commentary.

Digital social networks are changing us in a way that is compelling us to provide witty commentary on our own commentary before anyone else can.

And it is the sociological significance of this that I am still grappling with. Honestly, I'm struggling to find a positive take on this trend. Thoughts?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Zara: The Apple of Fast Fashion

Six years ago I bought a used pair of Zara cords, knowing nothing about the brand. They quickly became my favorite pair of pants. With no stores in the Pacific NW, I have always been curious about this mysterious brand behind my favorite pair of pants.

In January I was browsing the Bloomberg Billionaires and was shocked to see the 3rd richest individual in the world (displacing Warren Buffet) was the founder of Zara. I became insatiably curious about how this self made founder of a clothing brand, that does not even have a store in Seattle, much less Portland, could become so wealthy.

When NPR did a segment on The Reclusive Spanish Billionaire behind Zara, I tuned in.

It is interesting to note that Zara embodies a few core Apple-like traits:
  • Methodical focus on Supply chain efficiency; 15 days from design to shelf.
  • Vertically integrated; tightly controlling supply chain from factory to retail.
  • Spending relatively little on advertising, instead focusing on flagship stores.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Why Hackers Hate Driving, And Why I Love It.

"Imperfect systems infuriate hackers, whose primal instinct is to debug them. This is one reason why hackers generally hate driving cars-the system of randomly programmed red lights and oddly laid out one-way streets causes delays which are so goddamn unnecessary that the impulse is to rearrange signs, open up traffic-light control boxes . . . redesign the entire system." - Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy. 
My wife can testify how much of my daily life is dominated by this primal instinct to debug imperfect systems. Reading this excerpt even resurrected a favorite soap boxes of mine, about why traffic jams are a senseless waste of resources. But there is a pragmatic strain in me as well, because at the same time I genuinely do like driving; yes, even in a traffic jam.

When I am driving I will attempt to maximize my own efficiency within the broken system. On freeways specifically, a large part of this is by outsmarting the other users of the system1. But it's the next stage of my curse that infuriates my wife even more than the traffic. I'm not content to be deluded by a half-baked theory about which lanes are are more efficient at a particular time on a particular stretch of freeway2. I am constantly testing my theory by setting baseline cars in each lane to monitor and refine the effectiveness of a theory.

Instead of being infuriated; I embrace the problem as a challenge to first study, and then develop and test theories on how to subvert the system.

1You could also define the driver, not as a user, but as a component of the transportation system which has a goal of expediency and efficiency. Then autonomous cars would indeed be a significant system upgrade.

2If you ever travel North on I-205 during evening rush hour, I have some tips for you. I'm also working on abstracting what I have learned to general rules that can be applied elsewhere. But that is for another post.