Filter for good (or bad)

Brita Filters and Nalgene are teaming up in an effort called “Filter for Good,” in which consumers can buy two individual products to decrease the production of those nasty plastic water bottles (read: the greening of America = $$). In addition to ridding the world of plastic water bottles ((that is, if you actually remember to carry your Nalgene and Brita with you everywhere)), you’ll also be helping produce animal testing equipment and probably drinking the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A. Hmm, actually, this doesn’t sound so green anymore.

Healthy snacks in disguise

I am a big advocate of eating right. I participate in the No-Corn-Syrup Diet. To this end, I’m always really frustrated when marketing gets in the way of people making the right decision. Take for instance the 100 Calorie Pack by Nabisco, which come with the following message:

Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, creamy — what kind of snack are you craving? 100 Calorie Packs come in all of your favorites from Oreo to Wheat Thins. Now you can indulge and still know that you’re making the right choice!

Instead of optimizing for nutritional components (calories, fat, carbs, etc., etc.), I eat the snacks that I understand. My gym sells Sahale Snacks, little tasty nut blends that are high in fat, and contain tons of calories. One of my favorite varieties is the Ksar blend which is comprised of:

Pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried figs, sesame seeds, organic evaporated cane juice, organic tapioca syrup, sea salt, organic honey

I know what each of those ingredients is! A company that takes this even further is Larabar, which I also eat quite regularly. Here are the ingredients for a few of their snack bars:

  • Pistachio Bar: dates, pistachios, cashews
  • Banana Cookie: almonds, dates, unsweetened bananas
  • Pecan Pie: dates, pecans, almonds
  • Cocoa Mole: dates, almonds, walnuts, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, chile

Like other simple snacks, they don’t fare well with the nutrition information scrutinizer: high in calories, high in fat. I think they’re pretty tasty, and they really satiate my hunger in a way that processed foods don’t seem to. Maybe there’s some fancy science behind my intuition, but I’m willing to believe in the gospel of Pollan for now.

iPhone activation: It’s all in the UI

iPhoneYou waited in line, possibly overnight. You spent over $500 (not including accessories). You canceled all of your Friday night social obligations and went directly home to play with your new (and possibly only) friend, the iPhone. You plug it in and wait for the magic to happen, and for any number of reasons, your phone is not activated after 20 minutes, and you’re in AT&T limbo. You spend all weekend pulling your hair out and calling every AT&T number you can find.

This was the experience of thousands of new iPhone users this past weekend, and it has resulted in a similar number of complaints, legal threats, and overall user disappointment in both AT&T and Apple. How could this snafu arise? How could AT&T not have dealt with it? After being one of these estranged users myself, I believe the entire debacle could have been avoided by changing two user interfaces in the iTunes activation process. If you had a problem activating, you’re in one of two camps:

  • Ported number: You’re on a different carrier but you have long since ported your phone number. You get any number of messages about your number being “ineligible.” In order to port your number to AT&T, you’ll need to pretend you still live in the same zip code that you first registered your phone in.
  • Old AT&T customer: Even though you’re a current AT&T customer, you’ve recently been using an old AT&T SIM card (blue, pre-Cingular), and your account must be updated before the activation can take place. In other words, even though you think you’re a current AT&T subscriber, you’re not.

If you were in either of these two situations, you probably ended up seeing this screen during your activation:


Michael Sharon's final activation

Which of course did not result in an email for at least 24 hours. Also in both cases, simply changing the activation dialog could have avoided all of these problems. Here’s how a majority of these cases could have been alleviated:

  1. For people porting their numbers, a warning dialog could have alerted them to use the zip code where their phone was originally registered. The same dialog should appear on the billing information page.
  2. On the initial plan selection page, a warning dialog could have alerted old AT&T users (blue accounts) that they need to call customer support before activating their iPhone

I’m sure these two bugs were exacerbated by the utter secrecy of the project, but some simple QA or contingency planning could have averted thousands of people’s frustration. In any event, if you have either of these problems, rest assured, the actual registration process works very smoothly if you correct these UI flaws. Something tells me from this interface that Apple was not responsible for designing the activation process:

This person record requires harvesting
“This person record requires harvesting”

But that doesn’t mean their QA teams couldn’t have made it Apple friendly. And please, do that today so future users don’t have to suffer the same problems we did. Take that from someone who activated their phone 3 times and 48 hours later before finally second-guessing the interface correctly.

Update: As Anil aptly points out, “person records” are a common dialog element in the iPod installation process.

My First Digital Movie Creator

My package came. I opened it, and as expected, out came a matte blue kids video camera. I haven’t been so excited in my life.

If you haven’t heard the Intel Play story, it’s worth a few seconds. Trying to make ground on the interface barrier between kids and technology, the Intel Play division was making some pretty spiffy little products engineered for the kid form factor. At affordable prices (all under $100), they were selling like hotcakes.

Just at the tipping point, their parent organization, the Connected Products Division proved unable to turn a profit, and was terminated. The Play Division, being dependent on core materials from its parent, was also shut down.

That’s just about the point that most of my friends heard about the Digital Movie Creator, a tiny video camera in the Intel Play line. It records 320×200 full motion video at 10 frames/second for 4 minutes. It uses a CMOS instead of a CCD which degrades the quality significantly (more tech specs here). Despite all of these inhibiting qualities, at closeout-reduced rate of $30, it’s the cheapest portable video technology in the world. While supplies last, you can still purchase your own direct from Intel.

The quality is better than what you might expect for web content. Which is to say, had the product continued to market, I’m sure there would have been a fashionable version for slightly older kids (like me), hoping to capture explicitly the weblog audience. Audiovisceral.net is a video weblog run by a fellow Media Lab student that is trying to take advantage of this gadget to produce video content on a regular basis. We’ll see how much of mine actually makes it into public form. At the moment, I’m having a good time just making funny noises and contorting my face. But maybe that’s just the bright blue camera speaking.