Hardy Herons and Cheesy Europeans

EDIT: so uh, when I said Gutsy Gibbon, I meant Hardy Heron. I even corrected myself in a draft of this post that subsequently got eaten, and then forgot again when I rewrote it. Oops.

I upgraded to Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon Hardy Heron a couple of weeks ago, and I keep meaning to write something reasonably substantial about it. I don’t know that I’d consider myself qualified enough to give an authoritative review of it, but I could record my experiences for the sake of posterity. Not sure I’m there yet, but I do want to say that the one really noticeable problem I’ve had is that, between firefox 3 beta 5 and rhythmbox, only one seems to be able to handle audio at a time, and it’s whichever one I opened first. So if I’ve been listening to music and want to watch a youtube video, I have to close firefox and rhythmbox, and open up firefox again. This is…annoying.

I haven’t tried yet with any other music players–my search for something that could successfully communicate with my ipod was traumatic, and I’m still a bit gun-shy. I did have the pre-release of Songbird for awhile, but it just wasn’t stable enough for me. Every so often after I’d had it open for awhile I’d lose sound altogether and have to reboot to get it back. I haven’t tried it on Gutsy yet, but I don’t expect that the problem was entirely on the OS end. I’ll keep a lookout for 0.6 and give it another shot. I think Songbird has a lot going for it and I am really looking forward to the first official release. Assuming they get their searching and sorting issues worked out by then…I mostly listen to my music by building playlists to fit a mood, and I do an awful lot of searching and sorting during that process, and I need them both to be fast and reliable.

Basically I still haven’t found a piece of software that lets me do exactly what I want with my music as seemlessly as iTunes. It’s pretty much the only thing I miss about Windows. Which, well, you know.

Rhythmbox does have one feature I wish iTunes had: automatically downloading lyrics. Lyrics are a lot of what I respond to in songs, and I like being able to see them and follow along, and refer to them for quoting and such. The downloading means I spend a lot less time on those evil lyrics sites. Speaking of which, Lyrics Directory is the best at being not evil. I wish there were some way for individuals to contribute lyrics, since they definitely don’t have as much as some of the big spammy sites. On the other hand, if I want to correct something or paste in my own lyrics, I have to click some “edit” button. This is dumb. There’s no reason for the program to get in my way like this. It’s even dumber that there’s no real visual clues to it. The lyrics display looks just like a text entry box, and in fact it looks exactly the same once I click edit (and again, when I’m done and click save). if I can’t just edit whenever I want, make the display clearly different from editable text entry!

But rhythmbox has bigger UI problems, like the fact that the play button turns into a pause button during playback, without any visual feedback. It still says play, the icon is still a little triangle. You just have to infer from the complete lack of any pause or stop button that you click on it again to stop the music. It’s especially annoying when things are getting slightly buggy, and I can’t tell whether no music is happening because the song is quiet at the beginning, Rhythmbox is trying to play the song but is just taking its sweet time about it, or something really is wrong and playback is just not happening.

Always give visual feedback. Obvious visual feedback. And always test to make sure it’s obvious to people who know nothing of your design, because you know way too much to be able to evaluate it yourself.

Anyway, time to restart firefox so I can listen to the 2008 Eurovision entries.

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maps

In yet another foreshadowing of my HCI interests (this time in the display of complex information), ever since I learned that maps can show more than political boundaries and the location of large bodies of water, I’ve been kind of fascinated by them. So finding this map blog just now was pretty exciting.

The post on map-related songs reminded me of a beautiful song by Great Lake Swimmers, who have a very nice site marred by gratuitous use of frames or I’d link to the page where you can download “Your Rocky Spine.” Instead I will link to the file directly and call it a day.
Your Rocky Spine by Great Lake Swimmers
It’s not about maps so much as using geography as metaphor, but it’s such a pretty song I couldn’t help but share. And anyway, isn’t using geography as a metaphor the whole idea behind maps that show information besides topology?

Other neat map things:
2008 web trends map
naming styles in the US (the Name Voyager is also a fun bit of data visualization. My name appeared briefly in the top 1000 names in the 1950s, and has reappeared this decade, both times due to pop culture influences)
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moonwalk, superimposed on soccer field, baseball diamond, and universal studios soundstage
maps as clothing
maps of war has animations of historical trends and events. I think some of the maps end up losing a lot of important complexity, but still interesting to play with.
human brain cloud is not quite a map, but it’s fun. It might be interesting for someone to work more seriously on it, to turn the presentation into something a little more sophisticated. At the very least, I’d like some visual representation of the strength of connection between two words.