Archives for the month of: November, 2010
Seattle traffic comparison snowpocalypse 2010

Click to see the animation…

 

Wire in the BloodWire in the Blood, on paper, seems like it would be a tired and unnoticed example of a procedural drama featuring a genius who helps the police solve crimes, particularly catching serial killers, lost in the sea of other crime dramas featuring a genius who helps the police solve crimes, particularly catching serial killers. Not so—it distinguishes itself very well and was compelling.

And not just because it’s a British production.

The best part of the show is the main character, Dr. Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist who profiles violent criminals. The series focuses almost exclusively on him leaving the other characters very much in the background and, perhaps, not as well defined as you might expect secondary characters in other series to be fleshed out. However, this is actually the right balance because Tony Hill can carry every episode practically by himself.

He’s a genius, sure, but there’s a lot of character to the character and it’s wonderfully acted by Robson Green—so much so that I cannot conceive of any other actor, living or dead, playing the role as well as he did. Wow. Very good work.

Tony has a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome and this makes him interesting to watch. He’s a bit crazy profiling very crazy people, and sometimes goes a little crazy himself. Unlike other US dramas, like say The Mentalist, his smarts are not enough to keep him out of trouble so he’s definitely not in command of his environment. The dynamic this character sets up with the other characters is all around compelling.

Of course the murders are interesting as well. Since they’re all serial killers there’s always a twist and an obscure pattern and scenes of victims in distress. You know the formula. And though the series is formulaic—one can well predict what’s going to happen next—this doesn’t dampen enjoyment of the show because really the reason to tune in at all is to see what’s going to happen to Tony Hill next.

Wire in the Blood is available on Netflix streaming, which is how I saw it, and I would highly recommend it! It uses the formula of the genre to present something new, unusual, and interesting. They’re British seasons, so about four episodes per season, each episode an hour or an hour and a half.

Give it a watch!

Washington Post appThe Washington Post app is available for the iPad. There’s everything wrong with it. Not only is it poorly designed but its execution is lacking and it’s apparent where the failings are.

In no particular order…

It’s for-pay—with ads

These two things should never appear together in this medium. Yes, you pay for a physical paper and get ads—but that’s an entirely separate issue.

Registration required

To read any story, even during the free trial period before subscription is required, you have to register. This is profoundly wrong and, dare I say it, stupid. It shows the WP doesn’t particularly care for its users. Therefore, I don’t particularly care for them.

But such an egregious hoop can be tolerated if life on the other side is worth it. Once you’ve registered and accepted the fact that there will be ads, what’s the app itself like?

It’s jammed busy with clutter.

I compare WP to the USA Today app, which I read a lot over lunch. USAT is clean. I’m looking at the front page of WP right now and it’s so jammed that the stories are elbowing each other. For example, there’s a headline “Did the tea party cost Republicans the Senate?” and directly underneath that is a photo of a mob using a, what is it, a bedframe? as a battering ram. Has the tea party has gone more mental than they already were? OH! No, it’s about the student protest in London. Excellent use of white space, WP! Compare with USA Today, which has luxurious and smart use of white space. Everything in USA Today looks calm, focused, and like it’s there on purpose.

Ads are intrusive

The ad along the bottom interferes with the tabs along the bottom in that it looks like the ad cuts off whatever the tabs are supposed to be saying.

There’s no visual cue that there’s a fold

The aforementioned photo rides perfectly along the bottom of the top and it looks like the app offers four stories, a misleading photo, a bunch of tabs, and some ads. There’s no cue that I can scroll down and see, what’s that, seven more stories.

The boxes aren’t being fed properly

See the “Bomb could have downed plane over U.S” story? First, there’s no period for the S but aside from that, there’s no sentence either, like the rest of the page. It looks dumb when it doesn’t need to be. That headline isn’t particularly long, but it’s either too long for that box or the feed isn’t inserting the text correctly. My money’s on a too-long headline (or too large a font) because I bet you the period for S is being truncated like the rest of the tease.

Nitpick: Why does the tea party article have “The Fix?” Must be a WP thing I’m not familiar with. My point is, why doesn’t every story have this? Or, why do any of them? Who cares? Should I care? I don’t know.

About the Settings

Who puts Settings last after About and FAQs beneath the gear icon—the universal icon for settings across all iOS apps since Roman times? And About is first? Seriously?

Who doesn’t put any settings for the app under Settings?

This makes the app look rigid and square in a non-geek socially inept square kind of way. It square from its tight grid layout enough already.

Individual articles are more difficult to read than necessary

When you tap one, the tabs and the ad remain which makes for reading area that’s too small for the article. It’s like I’m reading the story through a tiny window. Combine that with a surprisingly large margin ad and I find I have to scroll more than I should. Compare to the USA Today interface which replaces the whole interface with just the article and with page icons at the bottom for navigation.

Content isn’t optimized for their boxes

The politics section has a pic that’s been re-sized to fit the box. The pic itself is clearly smaller than that area and since its enlarged it looks unprofessional. This, to me, shows that they’re not supporting the app editorially, just shoehorning existing content into the app. Lame. The idea that this is a paid app for shoehorned content is exciting in a bad way.

Personal note: I, on paper, (ha! see what I did there?) like the idea of reading Twitter and FB comments about an ongoing story. But here’s the thing: I already use Twitter as my primary source of news (seriously). Whatever’s going to appear in the WP app I’ve already learned about previously—I don’t want to read headline-grade snippits underneath an in-depth article about the same story. But I (would) read the WP app (or in my case USA Today) for is information beyond headlines. But WP doesn’t want me to read the whole story because of its tiny window scrolling viewing style. You know what’s easier to read? The Twitter feed. And USA Today. Or the NYT app.

What really happened

It seems clear that someone, by that I mean J. Jonah Jameson, at WP said: “Make our app just like the NYT app except cram it full, don’t dare use any editorial staff on it, and I swear-to-god if there’s any white space!”

New Character Builder screenshot

The new Character Builder

WotC announced something good and surrounded that with bad things.

First, the Character Builder is going to be Mac compatible—in that it (come November 16th) is a website accessible by OSX. Well, a website where you have to download, of all things, Microsoft’s Silverlight module.

Not having to boot into Windows just to briefly use a single program is luxurious news! It’s something I’ve been wanting since the whole DDI was first announced.Three cheers!

Unfortunately, there was a slew of bad news that fairly drowned out the good news. Let’s get to ’em…

Reduced functionality

Easily the #1 complaint, which is entirely justifiable, is that WotC is reducing the functionality of the Character Builder—drastically. In fact the list of missing features is too long for this medium, so I’ll just mention a few highlights:

  • No house rules — This means I can’t use the Character Builder for the campaign I’m in. Worse than that, of course, is that we won’t be able to compensate for the Character Builder’s mistakes—which my epic-level players in my Monday game know of all too well. This lack of functionality makes using the Character Builder effectively unusable at launch.
  • No exporting — This is a feature that’s going to be added “later.” Why this is a problem is that third party developers—who’ve demonstrated an ability to build superior apps than WotC’s—won’t be able to function.
  • No customizable character sheets — Your ability to prioritize the data on your sheet is gone. Instead, you’ll have a choice of two sheets to pick from (more will be added “later” but, you know).

No tablet support

The perfect device for using an electronic tool at the table is a tablet, not a laptop. It’s exceedingly odd that support for tablets wouldn’t be included in such a web-based initiative. Also, I read through much of the discussion forum about this new development and I was surprised at how many times iPads were called out specifically.

Lack of trust continues

Surprising customers by replacing an extant product with a new product that offers less functionality—after saying that everything with the previous product was on schedule—is one of many reasons why there is such distrust about WotC and digital products.

I think a better method would be to telegraph what’s coming and ask for feedback on features before the product is released. That exporting was the #1 request shouldn’t have been a surprise, to name one of many potential examples.

And, principally, don’t mislead customers.

Backfire

I wasn’t personally aware of this, but it makes sense: One (significant) problem with the Character Builder is that people would buy a subscription for one month then download all the updates for it—which equates to getting every book—then cancel the subscription.

That’s not right, I agree. Moving everything to a server environment and requiring an active login (and therefore an internet connection) is the way to combat that, and I support that idea.

But this whole mess has resulted in the following quote by a friend of mine who routinely pirates everything—yet is a paid subscriber to DDI:

“I’m a pirate by nature and I was giving them money—and they burned me for it.”