Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Google's new look

Google's new look and feel is driving me crazy.
Google has been "improving" the look and feel of their different pages as they integrate different services with Google Plus. I think in general the changes are for the worse, but there's one change in particular that is horrible. The new look involves lots more vertical whitespace, which results in less information per page.

This is the new Google Reader look. I can now see only 13 items on a page (15" laptop screen with 1360x768 resolution). I find it virtually unusable. I like to scan all the items on a page and decide if I want to read any of them, or mark them all as unread. This new look will require a lot more work to do that.

Other Google services are similar. In Google Calendar, I like to use the 2-week view, and I estimate that (on my screen) each day can only hold 11 items, compared to 15 in the classic view. What's worse, I can only see about 3 of my "Other Calendars" at once, compared to 10 in the classic view. Google Docs now displays 20 documents instead of 22. I can no longer remember the old Gmail look, so I'm not sure what the change is there, but it doesn't seem as bad.

I get that in a service like Google Plus, more vertical whitespace might be nice to the eyes, and density of information is not necessarily as important, especially when shared items are often a paragraph or more. But services like Reader, Calendar, and even Docs are all about providing lots of information in a small amount of space, and this extra whitespace makes them much harder to use.

Update: I found Google Reader Absolutely Compact for Chrome (HT: Lifehacker) which looks promising. Also I see the Gmail redesign is yet to come. Great.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Google Contacts and Android

For about three years now, I've been using Android to make and receive phone calls, text messages, and emails. For the most part, it works great. But there is a problem that, as far as I can remember, has persisted since the beginning. I'm wondering if anyone has found a good way to deal with this scenario in Android, and how do other platforms (iPhone, Blackberry, ...) deal with it.

The scenario is: multiple contacts at the same address.

This comes up all the time. But I want to focus on two common examples: a husband and wife, and two people who work at the same company.

  1. Two people who work at the same company: for example at my kid's school, I have a contact for the front desk, and I have a contact for another person, named Susan. If I want to call Susan, I have to call the front desk and ask for her. So, the front desk and Susan have the same telephone number. The problem is, when I call the front desk, or when the front desk calls me, the contact displayed on my phone is Susan.
    Solution: There has to be a better way. For one, if I call the front desk, Android should be smart enough not to display Susan as the contact. When the front desk calls me, I grant that Android can't know whether it's the front desk or Susan, but maybe it could list the possibilities.
  2. A husband and wife: You're friends with a husband and wife who share the same home address and home phone number, but have individual email addresses and mobile phones. There seems to be no good way to set this up in Google Contacts. Let's say your friends are Steve and Laurene. If you put them all in one contact, then when you get an email from one of them, or a call from one of their mobile phones, it will show up in Android as "Steve and Laurene". If you make two separate contacts, then you have to duplicate their address and home phone - that's cumbersome, and if they move you have to change it in two places. Plus you have the same problem desribed above in #1. My solution has often been to make three separate contacts - one for the couple, and one each for the individuals, but that's hardly elegant.
    Solution: There are probably many ways to improve this, but how about a way in Google Contacts to link two individual contacts and indicate that they share an address and/or phone number?


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is it snowing in Minneapolis?

Can't be bothered to look out your window to see if it is snowing in Minneapolis? This is the best way to find out!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Toyota recall perspective

In the United States there were 1.27 fatalities per 100 million miles travelled in 2008. In the last 10 years, there have been 19 fatalities due to sudden acceleration in Toyotas. There are roughly 2 million Toyotas sold in the US each year. If each car is driven 12000 miles per year, that's about 1.3 trillion miles driven by Toyotas in the US over the last decade:

12000 * 2M * (1+2+3+...+10) = 1.2 x 10^4 x 2 * 10^6 * 55 = 1.2 x 110 x 10^10 = 1.2 x 1.1 x 10^12 =~ 1.3 trillion

That comes out to about .0015 fatalities per 100 million miles driven attributable to sudden acceleration:

19 / 1.3 trillion =~ 15 / trillion = 15 / 10^12 = .0015 / 10^8 = .0015 / 100 million

So, for the average driver of a Toyota made in the last 10 years, the chance of dying due to sudden acceleration is roughly 850 times less than the chance of dying in an accident due to other causes.

This is just meant to be a rough guess. If I missed something that makes these numbers way off, let me know.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Frequently Forgotten Fundamental Facts about Software Engineering

Bruce Eckel blogs about this article by Robert Glass. I've never seen this list before, but it is really good. The first one is so true:

C1. For every 10-percent increase in problem complexity, there is a 100-percent increase in the software solution's complexity. That's not a condition to try to change (even though reducing complexity is always desirable); that's just the way it is. (For one explanation of why this is so, see RD2 in the section "Requirements and design.")

I would add:

C2. For every increase in the software solution's complexity, there's a disproportionate increase (10-to-1? Maybe? Depends on the project I think.) in the cost of implementing the software.

I think he lets us programmers off the hook here:

ES3. Most software estimates are made, according to several researchers, by either upper management or marketing, not by the people who will build the software or by their managers. Therefore, the wrong people are doing estimation.

I don't know if I've ever met a technical person who overestimates, but I've met plenty who underestimate (myself included). You could argue the reason is insufficient information (see ES2), but we could all probably do a better job asking the right questions to get the information needed to make the estimate.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

G1 Phone

I love the G1 phone so far. Being able to access gmail, google reader, google calendar, maps, etc... from my phone makes it worth it.

What needs to be improved:
  1. Update me when a third-party application that I've downloaded from the Android Market has a new version available. Do it just like Firefox notifies you when new versions of add-ons are available. Do it very soon.
  2. Battery life.
  3. The orientation of the screen should change depending on how you're holding it, not on whether you have the keyboard out or not. Did they just run out of time?
  4. I want to be able to edit docs in google docs. Also view PDFs.
  5. The way contacts work: there's no good way to handle the fact that we all have friends that are couples. Usually these couples share a home address and home phone number, but they each have their own email and cell phones. Either you make them one contact, then whenever you send or receive emails or calls to their cell phones, you see their names together ("Bill and Melinda Gates are calling you". Which one!?). Or you make them two different contacts, but then you have to duplicate their information (do I just hate that because I'm a programmer?) Or you make them three different contacts ("Bill", "Melinda", and "Bill and Melinda") and store individual information with the individuals and shared information with the couple. I'd love to see a better way to handle it, but I can't find one.
  6. Please someone write an app that will track the stocks in my portfolio. While you're at it, a better twitter client. And a picasa app that naturally would allow me to upload photos from my phone to my web albums.
  7. I want to be able to close applications. Sometimes I suspect my phone is slow because of some app that's running. Now I have to reboot the phone.
  8. The maps application needs to display zip codes. Sure you don't need a zip code if you're navigating to somewhere, but you do if you want to look up an address so you can address a letter.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Steven Levitt's 5-year old figured out what took me about 35 years to get. This is why it's a bad idea for me to play video games, play fantasy football, or watch sports on TV.