go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

March, 2009

  • go ahead, mac my day

    new Mac lust

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    One of the best things about working for MacBU is that I'm surrounded by other Mac geeks. Every hallway conversation so far today has included some discussion of the new Macs. It's awesome to have lots of other people who also really care about sexy new hardware.

    My current media server at home is a PPC Mac Mini. Since it now takes 5+ minutes for it to launch iTunes, updating to one of the new Minis is now coming in my near future. So I'll both get to have a computer that can launch iTunes and help stimulate the economy! :)

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    article review - 'When Users Do and Don't Rely on Icon Shape'

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    Article title: When Users Do and Don't Rely on Icon Shape
    Author: Jackie Moyes
    Publication: Conference companion of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
    Year of publication: 1994


    In this CHI '94 short paper, the author explores when users rely on icon shape. The test combines two earlier works. Kaptelinin showed that, after training on textual menus, users had problems finding menu entries if the positions were changed; but if the positions were the same and the letters were masked but the menu entries retained their length, users performed as well as they had with the familiar commands. Blankenberger and Hahn conducted an experiment wherein they found that their users learned the position of icons if the icons were abstract, but that representational icons were easier to find if the icon positions were randomised.

    Moyes designed a test that consisted of 8 blocks of 17 trials (one for each of the 17 commands represented by the icons), and four groups of users. The four groups completed the following tests:

    1. Exposed to the representational set of icons, which changed to abstract icons on the 6th block; positions were static.
    2. Exposed to the abstract set of icons, which changed to representational icons on the 6th block; positions were static.
    3. Exposed to representational icons throughout; positions changed on the 6th block.
    4. Exposed to abstract icons throughout; positions changed on the 6th block.
    In the test, Moyes found that users who used representational icons relied on the shape, whereas users who used abstract icons relied on the position. Users did not appear to use both shape and position to associate an icon with its command. The author does note that users might use both over longer use, but that is outside the scope of this paper.

    Another item that the paper did not take into account is the effect of icon grouping -- does that affect the user's speed and accuracy when finding icons? Does icon grouping have a different effect on representational or abstract icons?


    Related links:
    ACM Digital Library page for this paper

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    Macworld Expo has new dates

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    This morning, IDG announced that Macworld Expo is moving to February in 2010.

    Personally, I love this announcement. According to the article, one of the main reasons that the date was moved was because "the old January date posed logistic hurdles for developers, who found themselves rushing over the holidays to complete code, ship products to San Francisco, and travel for the trade show".

    I gave a talk at Macworld this year, talking about how to collaborate with others using Office 2008. I had the best intentions of getting it done before December 15, but that didn't happen. I had been planning on taking time off during the holidays, especially that week between Christmas and the New Year, but that didn't happen because I needed to finish my presentation. You could tell who else was working for something at Macworld -- we were pretty much the only people in the office or on email that week. For the previous year, when we were on the road to launch Office 2008 at Macworld 2008, the whole office was buzzing throughout December as everyone worked to get it out the door. So having the holiday back will be very nice.

    The date change isn't the only one coming for MWSF. The expo floor will be open on Saturday, and will only be open for three days. The Saturday day potentially means that more consumers who can't take a day off from work will be able to attend. For me as an exhibitor, it's one fewer day when I have to work on the show floor. (Don't get me wrong, I love working the show floor, but it's really tiring!)

    The article ends with the following statement:

    "The date changes won't be the last announcement you hear from Expo organizers, [Paul] Kent[, vice president and general manager of Macworld Expo,] added. "This is the first in a series of announcements that will continue to show how Expo is evolving," he said.

    Kudos to Paul for recognising the need to evolve, and for taking the steps necessary to keep Macworld Expo alive. I look forward to hearing more about what changes are coming.

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    the man behind the logo

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    Ever wondered where the Apple logo came from? An older interview with Rob Janoff, the designer behind it, has now surfaced. His website has a radio interview about the logo, too.

    What I like is that his inspiration came from a bag of apples. Inspiration comes where you find it, and his design has stood up for more than 30 years. It's also interesting how the original design, which Jobs wanted to be colourful to humanise it, has moved back to Janoff's vision of a monochromatic apple -- although one reason for the monochromatic apple was to save on printing costs.

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    backing up Entourage: individual items, with EagleFlier, or via Automator actions

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    I <3 our Entourage MVPs. Why, do you ask?

    Well, not only are they all extraordinarily winsome and talented, but they rock beyond all belief. Michel Bintener has posted using Automator and Entourage to back up the MUD folder to the Entourage help blog. Corentin Cras-Méneur posted another article to the same blog about archiving your emails with with EagleFlier, and Diane Ross talked about backing up individual items.

    Backing up is always (always!) a smart thing to do, so maybe one of these methods should work its way into your regular plans. If you have any feedback about either of them, make sure you add a comment to Michel's or Corentin's blog post.

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    video help for Office:Mac 2008

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    In Office:Mac 2008, we added video help for various topics. You can see it in the help (look for the little camera icon), and now we've got a single page for all of our training videos. And, of course, it's all also available in iTunes (and here's an iTunes link to it).

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    Mac users needed in San Francisco Bay Area

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    My team is conducting a usability study in Mountain View, California, the week of March 16, 2009. In this study, we're looking at users who are Mac users, employed full-time, use their Macs for work, and collaborate on documents with other co-workers.

    If you are in the Mountain View area and are willing to spend a couple of hours with one of my colleagues to help us improve our software (not to mention getting a sneak peak of what we're working on!), please email v-agas@microsoft.com with the subject line "Mac usability study". When you email her, please include a phone number that we can reach you on. She'll call or email you back to ask you some additional questions to make sure you meet our needs for this particular study.

    My team has lots more research coming up. I've got a bunch of Entourage usability lab studies coming up, with the next one slated for late March. If you're in the area and would like to participate in one of those Mac studies, you can sign up here. (Please don't email the address above -- that's only for the study in a couple of weeks.)

    If you've got questions, just leave a comment.

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    Q&A: How is your Mac Mini set up as a media server?

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    When I posted about my new Mac lust, I mentioned that I'm currently using a PPC Mini as my media server. Someone asked what that looks like.

    The basic idea is really easy. Start off with a Mini. Add in more RAM (which probably isn't essential if you're only doing audio playback, but is definitely useful if you're doing video playback). Now, go buy an external hard drive, which is at least 1.5x as big as you think you need -- after all, your media collection will grow. Then set up iTunes to use this new external hard drive by opening the Preferences, going to the Advanced tab, and then changing the location of your iTunes music folder from ~/Music to your new external hard drive. Now rip your CDs or buy online or whatever to your heart's content, and try not to get upset when you learn in a few [days | weeks | months] that your external hard drive is no longer big enough. And don't forget to hook your Mini up to your stereo receiver, which just requires a mini RCA cable to connect to whatever input your receiver uses. If you've got an iPhone or iPod Touch, then you can download the Remote application and use that to control it.

    If you want to do video, it's not hard either. You might want to get another external hard drive to store your video files on, if you've got lots of it. Quicktime will play plenty of video formats, but I also keep a copy of VLC media player for those files that Quicktime either doesn't support or has problems playing. If you don't have a standalone DVD player, you can play videos on your Mini hooked up to your television (which works well, so long as you don't have DVDs from other countries).

    That's the basics. You can go way more in-depth if you want to, but I generally haven't found a need for it. I'm definitely not the right person to ask about anything video. I don't watch a lot of stuff, so as far as I'm concerned, my Mini is just another component in my stereo.

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    pretending to work

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    I was out last week, so I missed it when this first came out. The guy who did the 'Again and Again' video has done it again: he's pretending to work with Office:Mac.

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    Macworld productivity article wins an award from American Business Media

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    Congratulations are in order for Joe Kissell at Macworld. Joe wrote a great article titled Empty your inbox: Three easy steps to taming e-mail clutter once and for all, which includes tips for using Entourage 2008.

    His article was so good that it was recognised in American Business Media's 2009 Neals Awards for the Best How-To Article.

    It's a great article, and it's chock full of some great ways to help handle all of that email you get. Go check it out!

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