blog.asurroca.com my personal blog

August 27, 2008

Mozilla Labs’ Ubiquity: The Future of the Web

Filed under: business,design,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 1:49 pm

I’ve seen the future of the web, and it’s right here in this video below. The web used to be static. Then, it got filled with dynamic information, and “web 2.0” brought all this dynamic information together with web-based services. That was cool for a while, but Mozilla Labs’ Ubiquity prototype shows us the next step. Forget about words, just watch this video. Be amazed.

Now, I was thinking: drag-and-drop might be one of the most important functions to the user since the GUI, or multiple windows. Making the drag-and-drop function ubiquitous was probably one of Windows 95’s greatest contributions to the GUI. You might scoff, since drag-and-drop is rudimentary; well, that’s because Windows made it ubiquitous, mainstream.

Think about it: Want to open something in Photoshop? Before drag-and-drop, you had to a) open Photoshop, then b) locate and open the file(s) from within Photoshop. Now you locate the file(s), and drag them to the Photoshop icon to open the program and files with a single action. Want to attach a file attachment into an e-mail? Drag it into the e-mail window.

Ubiquity aims to make the web that simple. This user-focused simplicity does not exist on the web…yet. Ubiquity aims to change this. And I can’t wait! For a much more in-depth post on how this works, check Aza Raskin’s blog (he’s the dude behind this project).

August 7, 2008

Walmart Misplaces its Asterisk

Filed under: advertising,business,design — Tags: , — Alfonso Surroca @ 12:00 am


First off, I’d like to welcome WAL*MART—er, Walmart—to 2005! It seems the neighborhood-munching behemoth’s nearly two decade old logo wasn’t friendly enough to represent the company in this brave new world. Second, I wonder how long it took to develop this logo. Ten minutes? Fifteen? It probably took a year of focus groups consisting of old people who think lowercase proper nouns are cutting edge.

Business Week had the details on this change last month, and Brand New had a more snarky take—e.g. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

At least Walmart kept the capital; the same can’t be said for AT&T’s 2005 logo change. Hey, Walmart is working on being more environmentally friendly. All they have to do now is stop mistreating their employees, and destroying small-town America, and they just might back up their friendly new logo. In the same way that AT&T stopped being evil the moment they changed their logo. Oh, wait, never mind.

August 5, 2008

Golf VI, From Photoshop to In-the-Flesh Photos

Filed under: business,thoughts — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 12:48 am

It must really suck to make a computer-generated guesstimate at a future car model just days before the real deal gets leaked onto the internet. If your Photoshop handiwork is pretty close to the real deal, that helps lessen the blow, but still….

Here’s what Autobild came up with, seen just a few days ago at The German Car Blog:

Golf MkVI render from Autobild

Golf MkVI render from Autobild

Cool, so they basically started off with a bodykit-wearing MkV Golf/Rabbit, added the front end of the new Scirocco, and the rear tail lights from the Touareg and called it a day. Anyway, literally the next day, I see leaked photos of the MkVI Golf in the flesh on Autoblog. And a few more photos popped up on World Car Fans the day after that.

Golf MkVI

Golf MkVI

Now, as for the design, I’m happy to see Volkswagen’s design language taking a step back from gaudy chrome to the glory days of the MkIV generation. You might remember that as the generation that started with the then-iPod of cars, the New Beetle, and basically brought Volkswagen from a near-defunct brand in the US to its former yuppie glory practically overnight. Basically, I’m already sold on the design.

August 4, 2008

Glasses.com

I bought a cheap pair of glasses when my last pair broke because I needed new glasses ASAP, but I wanted to look for a pair that really suited me. See, when you’re buying eyeglasses because you actually need them and not for fashion reasons, you walk into one of several eyeglass stores and you’re fed upon by salespeople like you’re at a car dealer. Except, it’s glasses, and you can still see without having a car.

At any rate, I decided to start looking for a set of specs that suit me, and decided to use the internet the same way I do when making any purchase—check out reviews, compare specs, look for deals, etc. I’m just fine going to blogs for tech info, furniture info, etc., but eyeglasses? Clothing and accessories are a new frontier; everything I wear came with a Target price tag.

Innocently enough, I started by typing glasses.com. Which promptly redirected me to 1-800 Contacts. Well played, 1-800 Contacts, well played. Next, even though the term made me want to puke, I googled “where can I find fashionable eyeglasses?” and basically ended up with LensCrafters and Amazon.com listings. Damn, I could’ve thought of that without Google’s help.

The thing I like about eyeglasses: they’re the only item where the price disparity between no-name, brand name, and designer brand is next to nothing. No-names? Under $100. Ray-Ban? Oakley? $150-$200. Dolce & Gabbana? Burberry? Ferragamo, Prada? $200-$250. And then there’s the issue about insurance covering a good percentage on frames.

And in conclusion, these are the two frames I kind of settled on, after my exhaustive (15 minute) search. Kind of partial to the Burberry specs at the bottom for the Gordon Freeman look….

June 19, 2008

Albertsons, What a Tangled Web You Weave

Filed under: business,thoughts — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 6:54 pm

Can you spot the real Albertsons?

Logo and slogan for Albertsons IncLogo and slogan for Albertsons LLC

There are two Albertsons supermarkets near my home. I know exactly where they are, but out of curiosity I decided to go to albertsons.com and search their locations. Instead of a list of stores, I was greeted with the notice below:

“The ZIP Code that you have entered is in an area serviced by the Albertsons LLC family of stores. To read more about Albertsons LLC, read the press release explaining the distinctions in more detail.”

Apparently, in 2006, Supervalu, CVS/pharmacy, and Cerberus Capital Management got together to purchase Albertsons, Inc. In the deal, Supervalu and Cerberus split the Albertsons roughly 50/50, with Supervalu’s batch being spun-off as New Albertsons Inc. and Cerberus’ as Albertsons LLC.

Confusing customers, one market at a time

At any rate, I was directed to albertsonsmarket.com, since my area is apparently serviced by Albertsons LLC and not New Albertsons Inc. Only one of the two Albertsons near my home showed up in this site’s search, leading me to assume that the other one belongs to Supervalu. Well, that, and the fact that it’s suspiciously close to a Supervalu-owned Sav-A-Lot.

So, I’ve got two Albertsons stores run by two different companies in my area, and they’re as different as night and day. I will say that the Albertsons LLC store is clean and inviting, where the New Albertsons Inc. store is depressingly dollar-store-esque. I haven’t paid any attention on the prices, but I think I might start.

Actually, I probably shouldn’t bother. Just last week, Publix and Albertsons LLC announced that Albertsons will be selling 30 Central Florida locations to Publix come September.

June 18, 2008

Four Words: AP Sucks

Filed under: business,humor,news — Tags: , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 12:49 am

Apparently, the Associated Press, in a noble effort to appear as much as an obsolete dinosaur as possible, has rules barring bloggers from citing more than four words out of an AP article without paying fees. See the deets at Boing Boing.

This got me thinking: What would AP headlines look like were everything past the first four words chopped off. I checked out recent AP headlines and here are a few perfectly legal fair use citations from the AP, under their stringent rules:

“Bali bomber warns of”
“Hundreds of same-sex couples”
“Cuban TV shows new”
“Celtics rout Lakers 131-92”
“Clinton asks top donors”
“Mississippi River breaks through”
“Bush to urge Congress”
“Probe: Pentagon lawyers sought”

These spartan headlines are almost more eye-catching than the five-or-more word headlines available at the AP’s site. Perhaps I’m on to something.

June 17, 2008

Transforming In-Dash Navigation

Filed under: business,school,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:42 am

Adapted from school a project write-up from last semester — When you add several ingredients together, the result will either become nothing more than a hodgepodge of dissimilar ingredients, or something new and equal to much more than the sum of its parts. The latter case is a transformation. It’s the difference between the tacked-on motion-sensor in the PlayStation 3 controller and the motion-sensitive functions of the Nintendo Wii. Or the difference between sites developed from the ground up to foster social networking and sites which added this functionality as another bullet point in their list of features. It might be difficult to tell when a media transformation has occurred, but it’s pretty easy to tell when one has not.

Several months ago, the project team I became a part of set out to create something out of little more than a marketing phrase, a few ideas stemming from it, and a combination of several media. the “product” became called NavShield. We set out to take the head up display (HUD) technology already available in some vehicles—the Corvette has had this feature for nearly a decade—combine it with several current and upcoming vehicle technologies, and refine it into something new. We started out by thinking about how “cool” it would be to project pretty Apple-esque icons onto the HUD on your windshield. I came up with ideas by driving and having “if only I had this feature” moments. The “thinking process” of the system would be something like this:

  • Navigation information is pulled from a GPS receiver (e.g. where you are and where you’re going)
  • This information is augmented with location-relevant information pulled from the internet via Wi-Fi or Wi-Max (e.g. gas stations nearby, weather in the area)
  • The location-based information is refined based on your preferences (e.g. only gas stations nearby that sell diesel fuel, only whether or not it is expected to rain in your destination at the time you are scheduled to arrive based on your current average speed)
  • Finally, the augmented, filtered information gets placed on your HUD

The group’s first tendency was to come up with as many ideas for icons as possible, and clutter the windshield with pretty icons. Just as your first tendency upon first using Mac OS X’s Dashboard or Yahoo! Widgets or Windows Vista’s Sidebar would be to search for and add any widget that perks your fancy until your desktop becomes a mess. While no harm can be done by having too many of these widgets on your computer, having too many on your windshield would be a disaster. That’s why I came up with this process above to connect and filter the data that comes in, and only display the end result.

After showing our project in its current form at the Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence event at UCF, the single most frequent piece of feedback we received was the following question: “What about driver distraction?” I recall that driver distraction was an issue when BMW’s iDrive debuted because many core functions’ hardware buttons were replaced with computer-like menus and sub-menus displayed on-screen. The trend is toward displaying more information on the navigation screen, and I felt that were it backed with psychological research, the NavShield project could solve this issue.

While conducting psychology experiments pertaining to driver distraction, and then usability tests on the interface are well outside scope of this one-semester project, it’s definitely the next step. In the meantime, I decided on some measures to limit driver distraction:

  • Limiting HUD to upper-third: I decided on a rule that, should something like get to working prototype stage, the HUD could only be displayed on the upper-third of the windshield. What I thought was, if the law prohibits tint below that part of the windshield because of visibility issues, then we should prohibit HUDs below that part of the windshield for the same reason.
  • Prioritizing information: Information would be grouped into several types, and prioritized. For example, when at speed, only the most important information (e.g. current speed) would be displayed, but while stopped, second-tier information could also appear. Beyond that, context- or location-relevant information would appear only when needed. For example, an arrow telling you which turn to make would only appear as the turn approaches.

The dashboard screens available in many of today’s automobiles cram as much information as viable, and it seems apparent that this information is added mostly to one-up the competition in terms of feature sets. It’s not uncommon for systems which previously gathered and displayed only navigation information now connect with and display everything from your media player’s music list to your phone’s contact list. At present, the only product on the market putting this information together in a package that feels transformational and not simply tacked-on is Microsoft’s Sync. The Dash navigation system also works similarly to what I have outlined for NavShield; for example, it combines GPS information with traffic data pulled from over the internet. Therefore, I would use these two products are the benchmarks for NavShield were the project taken further.

While I’m not so deluded to say that my project team’s semester project has already reached the level of becoming a piece of transformational media, I do feel that it’s on the right track. The idea of grabbing a lot of information from many sources, intelligently putting them together, filtering them based on user preferences, and displaying only the most relevant information is key, and I feel it means the difference between transforming disparate media into a cohesive whole versus a bullet list of features. Furthermore, even if we were to ignore the application, the idea of collecting, connecting, filtering, and displaying information has applications in any field. It’s something key to the attention data and data portability movements and something that will change the way we behave as much as social networking has.

June 15, 2008

Bamboo, is it Green?

Filed under: business,design,environment,living — Tags: , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 2:31 pm

image of bamboo flooringWhile I’m satisfied with the cheap wood laminate flooring that I inherited when I bought my home, I’ve been waiting for the time when I’ve got the extra change needed to get some real hardwood floors installed. And being, a tree-hugging liberal, the first thing that came to mind was, of course, bamboo.

Sure, bamboo, unlike trees, can be harvested like any other crop, and grows back remarkably fast, but how “green” is it, really? Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one thinking about this. In short, since bamboo is a renewable resource, it’s definitely better than your average hardwood flooring… but the industry behind it isn’t. Apparently, bamboo is so hot right now that forests are being razed to make room for more bamboo crops.

Much of it comes from China, which kind of sours the deal for Fair Trade fans and folks into locally sourced materials. Oh, and those chemicals used in other materials? They’re used with bamboo as well. Fortunately, as with any product, there are good and bad companies out there. Apparently, Teragen is one of the good companies. And there are no less than thirteen dealers in my area, so I’ll have to get a quote.

June 10, 2008

Chevy Nomad (By Way of Germany)

Filed under: business,design,technology — Tags: , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:59 am

Photo of Chevy Nomad concept car

You might (or not) remember Chevrolet’s concept car from a few years back, the Nomad. It never made it to production, but a similar car might thanks to Murat Günak, former design boss of the Volkswagen Group.

Photograph of the 2009 Mindset Six50

Günak co-founded a new auto company, Mindset and made the Six50, whose purpose is to buck the trend toward larger, heavier cars; its name comes from its weight, 650 kg (1430 lbs). For reference, my VW New Beetle weighs in at just under 3000 lbs, and even the tiny Smart Car weighs about 1600 lbs. Add to the Six50’s light weight the fact that it’s a hybrid, and we should be seeing some serious MPGs.

Rather, Europe should be seeing some serious MPGs. With the target price of €31,000 and the weak dollar, this car’s chances of making it to the States are approximately 0.000%. Check out the details at TreeHugger and scope a few more pics of this sweet-looking hybrid.

June 9, 2008

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