Entries for April 2011

April 11, 2011

Steven Sasson, Inventor of the Digital Camera

[cross-posted from my too-infrequently-updated photography blog]

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted one of these. This is my portrait of Steven Sasson, inventor of the digital camera. He was the 32nd inventor in my project. I shot him in October at Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, just a couple weeks before President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology.

When he initially mentioned that the first digital camera held 30 pictures, I assumed that was due to the storage capacity of the digital tape. It was really interesting to hear that he picked 30 as an artificial limitation, and his explanation why.

Here are a couple photos from our shoot, as seen in the video:

April 5, 2011

Idea: A New ‘Save’ Icon

I’m not the first person to suggest replacing the prevalent 3.5” floppy disk save icon. A quick Google search comes up with several discussions on the topic including a lengthy reddit thread with more than 700 comments.

3.5” floppy disks have been out of use for so many years that I wonder if younger computer users even know what that icon is supposed to be. Here is how it appears in the current version of Microsoft Word for OSX:

Not only don’t people use floppy disks anymore, but the options for saving are even more varied now than simple disk format. You might save to your own computer, or a drive on a server somewhere off in the cloud. You might even be using a program that autosaves in certain intervals without you needing to think about it. Even with a program like that, it would still be nice to know how long its been since the last save.

So then the question is, What do we use instead?

Here’s what I propose: instead of thinking of a file as being saved, think of your file as being in one of two states: it’s in danger, or it’s safe. And I can’t think of any icon to better represent being safe than home plate:

Maybe it’s because baseball season just started, but I think this is a good idea. Let’s think about how home plate could be used:

The “safe” icon is pointy on one end like an arrow. This can be used to indicate where your file is saved. If the latest version of your file is saved locally, it points down. If the latest version of your file is saved on a server somewhere, it points up.

Home plate on a baseball field gets progressively dirtier as the game goes on. When it’s too dirty to easily see, the umpire brushes it off. Similarly, the “safe” icon can get progressively dirtier the longer you go between pressing it. At a glance, you can tell if your file is safe or in danger. And if you go too long without pressing it to clean it off, a little animated sweeping brush appears to get your attention. Even if you’re using a program that auto-saves, the dirt metaphor can still tell you at a glance roughly how long its been since the last save.

For bonus fun, every time you press it you can pretend you’re an umpire and shout, “Safe!” That’s way more fun than pressing a floppy disk.

If this catches on, then no longer will people ask if the file is “saved”, and no longer will anyone have to wonder what that little icon is supposed to be. We can just look at the home plate icon and ask, Is it safe?

Update: Well, it didn’t take very long for people to point out the big flaw with this idea: much of the world doesn’t have baseball and has no idea what home plate is. Woops. But I still like some of the basic premises here. It’s a simple icon that tells you at a glance whether your file is saved locally or remotely, and whether your current revisions have been saved. And it still lets you push the button to update the saved file. So it’s not perfect, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Sorry about the oversight, rest-of-the-world.

Update 2: Now that both John and Marco have weighed in, I guess I should acknowledge that I understand they’re both right. I’m not so backwards as to think we’ll be manually saving things for much longer, and sure, the best solution to the floppy disk icon issue might just be to wait it out until it’s obsolete. But I still like my idea and urge it to be adopted by anyone writing software for Americans who are baseball fans without internet access or a modern operating system.