“You do computers don’t you?”. That’s the phrase I and no doubt many of you have heard from family members or friends of the family over the last however-many years. Any time anyone bought a new computer, had computer problems, setup a new WiFi router (what am I up to now, 20?), or even problems with a VCR it was my job to fix it because “I do computers”. Let me tell you, for a cup of tea and a few biscuits the daily rate you are missing out on fades into insignificance.

But this does illustrate how easily the geeks can sway the mass market when it comes to purchasing decisions, people trust them, and I think Apple are reaping this reward with their Macbooks right now. Of course they’ve laid the groundwork with some truly superb marketing for the iPod, as sales have shown over the last 6 years, and that has given them a name most people associate with quality products. But every day I see more and more colleagues and developer friends switching to Mac, with the option for BootCamp there’s very little reason not to, and once you do you start to really appreciate the power and ease of use OS X gives you. It could even be the case that Apple’s most die-hard audience is shifting in volume from designers to developers, but I have nothing to back up that statement.

ComputerWorld has an article which tells of Apple selling more than 1 in 6 laptops in the U.S., that even beats Gateway. It was surprising in that I didn’t expect this to happen for a few years, but not completely unexpected.

Personally I tell anyone that asks that if they can spare the extra couple of hundred, a Mac gives you greater value. You can get a dirt cheap “Vista enabled” laptop from Dell, a friend got one just recently because of the price-point, but it runs slower than a computer from the last decade with Vista pre-installed and that just won’t do from a brand new PC, such a terrible experience. With a MacBook the hardware is built to suit, you can install the free NeoOffice software, and you have a Mac with everything your average consumer will need a computer for (video/web/casual games/email/office). The ease of use and integration between most of the applications is second to none and it looks to be improving with the subsequent release of Leopard.

When switching from PC to Mac it’s very easy to think you are losing many of the applications and utilities you have gotten used to. You are, but then you step back and realise it’s because you don’t actually need them, they were there to fill a gap in your workflow. The other mental shift to get over is the difference between navigating OS X and navigating Windows. The keyboard shortcuts differ slightly as do several other things, but there’s a lot built in under the surface to make it a faster more enjoyable experience, look into features like Expose to boost your productivity.

So let’s see whether this trend continues. For the moment I cannot see a reason why not. All that leaves me to say is John Grden needs a Mac and he’s half-way there.

This demonstration is pretty incredible. The software performs calculations on the entropy of an image (amongst other things), to allow you to resize it whilst maintaining key visual entities. Some examples include mountains, tree-lines or people.

Other features include the ability to assign positive and negative weights to areas to make sure they are not distorted too much, or drop them out of existence entirely.

View the video here (or hi-res version here).

Update:

Just a quick update to say that we are also recruiting for New York, San Fran and DC, so if you are interested please feel free to get in touch via the email to the right.

(original post as follows…)

Some good news, we have a lot of exciting projects coming up and are currently looking to expand the team some more with fresh talent. So if you are interested in working for clients such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Fiat and XBox as part of a great team please read on.

Our team is known as CRD (Creative Research and Development) and we use technologies including Flash, Flex, AIR, Silverlight and WPF on a daily basis as well as real-world pieces for integrated campaigns and tacticals. Anything cutting edge, we’ll be the ones to use it. Feel free to check out the latest work over at AKQA.com and drop me a mail at the address over on the right.

NASA have released a Java component called World Wind that enables developers to build something that includes Google Earth-like 3D map data. This component can be added to for example a Swing application and the developer can create a mashup in any way they see fit.

These applications can be launched via Java web start (an app that launches from a web page as long as the Java JRE is installed, they state 1.4 onwards with some minor trepidation) or distributed as a standalone desktop app (again JRE required).

The terrain is 3D, so you don’t just zoom in and out on a flat image you can roll/tilt/yaw, it’s mountainous; in one example they have a flight sim that lets you fly a plane over some real mountains which turns a globe into a game.

See the vid (recommend the mp4):

http://java.sun.com/javaone/sf/media_shell.jsp?id=193627

Normally this kind of tech is very expensive, so it’s great of them to donate this data and it opens up a world of opportunities for developers.

Later on in the video (near the end) Sun shows what looks like a Java-based competitor to WPF(well Silverlight really)/Flash, an in or out of the browser hardware accelerated 3D rich GUI with fullscreen capabilities… They challenge anyone to “do the same in any other browser technology”). They don’t state whether it is JavaFX, doesn’t look like it from the 1 min you do get but I could be way off.

Some good news, we have a lot of exciting projects coming up and are currently looking to expand the team some more with fresh talent. So if you are interested in working for clients such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Fiat and XBox as part of a great team please read on.

Our team is known as CRD (Creative Research and Development) and we use technologies including Flash, Flex, AIR, Silverlight and WPF on a daily basis as well as real-world pieces for integrated campaigns and tacticals. Anything cutting edge, we’ll be the ones to use it. Feel free to check out the latest work over at AKQA.com and drop me a mail at the address over on the right.

There was a time when Nokia was the style icon in the mobile industry, the 3210 widely considered one of the best phones of all time (I can’t substantiate that claim), it was good looking, worked flawlessly and was as tough as old boots (if I remember it was also the first with Snake). In particular the foray into smartphones has left them looking a little bit… purely functional, leaving the Samsungs and the LGs to take the crown for best looking in the last few years.

Nokia made a few valiant attempts to stay original, but left me personally feeling they had lost some of the quality. Nevertheless they are certainly fighting back with some pretty daring new styles in the Prism range, not to everyone’s tastes, but it shows they are still willing to seek out new directions:

http://www.nokiaprismcollection.com/

The “lighting effects” and the “living wallpaper” (I would guess this is likely Flash Lite) are two features that make this collection stand out from the rest and provide user feedback in a new subtle way that sits well with how we like to use technology in a more passive fashion. The phone itself reminds me of the monolith from 2001… must have then. :)

Possible gotcha with the XML class, but I’d like to get this confirmed if anyone has a second to try this out.

It seems that the XML class is converting " to its literal ASCII representation (i.e. the quote mark ) when converting a String into a new XML object. I’m sending this data over XML-RPC and I cannot have quotes being sent as plain-text, they need to be XML/HTML encoded.

Here’s a quick test that shows it:

var str:String = "<string>Here is some text, with an image...
&lt;img src=&quot;http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/images/
logo.gif&quot; /&gt;</string>";

var xml:XML = new XML( str );
trace( xml );

At this point I’d be sending the xml object over the wire with HTTPService. The problem is that trace()/Charles/Fiddler etc is showing that the " is being converted to a real quote (literal) and that can cause a problem with the server which wants encoded copy, and being XMLRPC, I cannot use CDATA in this case. This is not the same behaviour as appears in Flash 8, it also appears that it differs when compiling with the Flex SDK and the Flash CS3 IDE in terms of whether it also turns the < and > entities to their literal representations.

Does anyone know a workaround for this? Can it be expected behaviour? I think I’ll have to be sending things as a string internally to avoid the problem for now but it would be good to hear other opinions.

Here’s a fantastic execution of an idea for mobile, using Flash Lite. For those up and coming Asian businessmen without a PA of their own, BreakDesign (makers of Dawn of the Fly) have created a digital PA that has a calendar, finds bars, taxis and other information.

I’m a big fan of giving a consumer something useful and then branding it. As opposed to giving a consumer something that does something associated with the brand (brand self-love I think they call it). In this case they hit the old golden “sweet spot” and did both. Some brands lend themselves to this naturally, such as Nike with Nike+, sometimes its harder to create something of real value.

Check out the video walkthrough of the application. (available for download soon)

We were lucky enough to have Luciana Haill from IVBA (Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyser) come in to work the other day and demonstrate the bluetooth enabled brainwave monitoring hardware and software on offer. To summarise what it is, this device monitors in realtime the frequency and range of brainwaves in the pre-frontal cortex and pumps that data wirelessly to a computer for many uses.

Here’s a video that shows the data it captures being rendered in 3D:

I must admit I was pleasantly suprised. I had no idea of the level of detail this device can get out of three electrodes placed on the forehead. What’s even better is that the device comes in a kit that includes software for Mac that supports general MIDI as well as AppleScripts. The first thing we were shown was a 3D realtime “EEG” showing peaks and troughs in the various bandwidths produced by left and right hemispheres of the brain, alpha, beta, gamma etc. We also saw some demonstrations that used Quartz Composer.

As a side-note, Quartz Composer comes with OS X and enables you to visually construct visualisations, applications and screensavers and forms the basis of several “VJ” apps. It has building blocks for inputs such as the built in mic, light and tilt sensors, RSS, and of course the brainwave kit over bluetooth. Then there are processes to manipulate the data and visuals you chain up, incorporating text, shapes, animation, 3d and special effects, and you can even customise your flow using JavaScript.

We were also informed there is a Macromedia Director Xtra to grab those inputs and I would say it wouldn’t take very long at all to write something to have Flash 9 communicating with it over sockets.

The kit itself is not too expensive at all, £1000 GBP, which puts it in the reach of the home experimenter or artist. It includes the sensors, the bluetooth enabled box that does some of the hard work and the software to make sense of it all.

You could use this for a variety of things, including music, art, therapy and understanding other psychological processes such as what happens to the brain during hypnosis. One such example is Brainball, a game played by two people trying to “clear their minds” in order to force a ball toward the other to score a goal.

Check out the website here.

I’ve had access to Buzzword for a while now, so I think it’s just about time for a review. First of all thanks to the guys at Virtual Ubiquity for the invite and the permission to post this.

Disclaimer: This post speaks only of the preview version of Buzzword, so things may have already been added that might be considered missing at present and it doesn’t reflect the final product.

I think the easiest way to do this is to break things down into some topics to see how it measures up and also what I like about it. But first, a screenshot (click to view fullsize).


Buzzword

Comparisons

So the obvious comparisons are Word/OpenOffice and Google Docs. For most people Word has several thousand features that they don’t use, so it’s not about having to imitate all of Word’s features in order to serve a purpose. Having said that the feature set is ample for a lot of document editing tasks and I didn’t find it lacking, although polishing some existing features would be good here to allow greater control over how the document looks. We are still giving feedback on little things that would make it better, such as H1, H2 buttons and other more semantic additions, but overall the application is solid and doesn’t limit you in what you are trying to document.

Google Docs on the other hand is a lot more basic than Buzzword, however I have still used it a lot in cases where I didn’t care about the look of a document, I just wanted to have it backed up offsite and be able to share it with others for editing. Buzzword has a share option, hopefully in the future that will allow for multiple simultaneous editors as this would make it an easy choice for me to use that instead. One thing Google Docs does have is a suite of tools to open spreadsheets etc. I imagine that might be in Virtual Ubiquity’s plans for the future, but rightly so they’ve targeted the most common “office” task for their immediate plans, and Buzzword does support tables, so presenting data in a tabular structure is still possible if that is what you want to do.

Performance

I’ve seen a great many Flex applications that just have me hitting the back button as fast as possible because they are managing to kill my dual-core 2.4ghz. Thankfully Buzzword is fast enough for it not to give you that sluggish feeling. I think that’s more to do with the designers keeping things simple and not using a myriad of controls on screen at all times. I hope they keep on in this way because it makes for a good user experience which is something a lot of online apps seem to have low down in their list of priorities. The document portion of the UI is obviously very custom and as a result it reacts very responsively, I’m guessing they decided not to try and hack and extend existing components, and that really pays off, it will keep up with your typing and selecting as fast as you would normally want to work.

Compatibility

This is probably one area that is low on the list of priorities for now but will come later. I’d like to be able to export to PDF for manual sharing of documents (you can share via email and have them come straight to the app, but I might want to create a version, customise it and send it off as a PDF). Another must have would be Word and ODF import/export. This has been mentioned so I don’t think I need to say any more on the topic.

Integration

For me there is one thing that trumps almost all features they could add, and that is to keep it easy to access. It is already easy to use, but what I’m talking about here is how you go about your daily work. If you have to perform several steps to open the application and start a new document you’re onto a loser. You need to make it easy for people to come back and start where they left off. This can be done in many ways, for example the reason I think Facebook is going to overtake MySpace this year is the way it makes you keep coming back by using meaningful and purposeful emails. I’d suggest using OpenID for this reason, Word doesn’t ask me to login after I’ve already logged into my computer once (if at all) so I don’t expect my online document editor to do that either. Perhaps it’s just because I’m someone that regularly clears my cache, but it might be a good option to use Flash cookies to store the username and password, and then using Buzzword would be as simple as hitting a bookmark.

One thing Buzzword does very well in this category is auto-save. Something that in my opinion is even more essential in an application that runs in a browser tab. It’s far too easy to close a browser tab or have something crash the browser elsewhere. In fact this happened to me today. But I restarted Firefox with the “restore session” option and Buzzword had already saved my doc so I lose nothing.

Buzzword is one of those applications that screams to be made into an AIR/Apollo application, so fingers crossed that is taking place. The reason for this is offline document storage. If you can’t access your documents you may as well have not made one. I’m thinking the online version could use Google Gears, the desktop version use AIR/Apollo and have the Buzzword server auto-sync between the two whenever they go online.

Overall

I’d recommend you give it a good try as soon as it is available, there really isn’t a learning curve if you are using word processing apps already. I’m looking forward to seeing how Buzzword develops. If they nail those integration tasks then it will definitely become part of my bookmarks toolbar for creating and editing documents for myself or to share with colleagues.