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Monday, January 30, 2012

Minions #305 - Don't Diss the Messenger

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Greetings, Lunch breaks and Unpaid Holidays!

Yeah, I'm a little late this week.  I was busy finishing up "A Breath Away from Dying," my second "Panorama Beach" mystery.  It's off being copy edited, and hopefully will be available in ebook in a few weeks, depending on how the production pipeline goes.  So forgive the heck out of me for doing something that will actually make me some money!

Anyway, I'm enjoying the heck out of doing this series.  Sheriff "Big" Bass is the best evil overlord I've come up with yet, and his reluctant minion, Deputy Tommy "Mustang" Sawtell, is even more fun.  These books are set in 1967 in Panorama Beach, a fictional Florida panhandle resort packed with sugar-white beaches, amusement parks, outrageous miniature golf courses, reptile shows, aquatic parks, and of course, corruption of all kinds, not to mention a murder here or there.  Come on down to beautiful Panorama Beach, where vacation is murder!

See you guys back here next week!

               - Mystery Master Steve

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Minions #304 - Mixmastered Metaphors

Click cartoon to bust some bigger rhymes

Greetings, Dance Tracks and Beat Boxes!

Now sure, this week's cartoon seems pretty irreverent, but I'm making a point here.  User interfaces are both an interest of mine, and a constant source of annoyance.  One of my mutant powers seems to be and ability to spot those annoying problems in a interface, program or product design that are going to trip up users and make them crazy.  Most such points of human/product interaction seem to be designed either by engineers who are concerned mainly with function and the coolness of the code, or designers who are interested mainly in aesthetics, and not usability.

To give you a couple of examples that makes me insane on a daily basis:

Charter Cable has seen fit to give me a Motorola DVR that seems to have been designed in the 1980s.  The menu looks like the output from a Commodore 64, and the remote it terribly designed.  Most especially, right above the "fast forward" button there is another button marked "live."  So, when watching a show and fast-forwarding through a commercial, it's easy to hit "live," which takes you out of the program you're watching and into whatever is live on the tuner.  It then takes several button pushes and menus to get back into your program, and about half the time you'll dump yourself back to the beginning of the program by accident, and have to fast-forward (careful you don't push the wrong button again!) to find the point the the program where you left off.  This happens to me once or twice a night (and probably millions of times to other Charter customers) resulting in much cursing and yelling at the box, which does not have a "give a s&!t" button.

Less annoying but equally stupid are the comic pages of the Washington Post web-site.  I read a couple of comics in enjoy there every day, Doonesbury, Pearls Before Swine, and a few others.  (I subscribe to two newspapers on my Kindle, but neither of them includes comics.)   We will ignore the fact that it's nearly impossible to scroll around the Washington Post comic pages with a touch screen (like on my phone, where I usually view them) without accidentally hitting an ad or a navigation link to someplace you don't want to go, or that the layout of the page (which takes forever to load and contains exactly ONE daily three-panel comic strip) pretty much requires scrolling to see the comic on a phone, no matter which way you orient the screen.

What's really stupid is if you want to see any strip but the current one, you've got to:
A: Select a date from a pull-down menu.
B: Wait for the pull down menu to go away.
C: Click a "go" button next to the pull-down.  (Don't accidentally click the pull down again with your fat finger!)
D: Wait for the entire page to slowly reload you can again see one three panel comic strip.

Want to see the day before yesterday, or today's strip again?  You've got to go through the whole thing again!

Now, admittedly, my navigation here is not much better, but they supposedly have highly-paid professional web designers, and I have me and Blogger to do this site.  Anyway, look at most of the better designed web-comics, and they have "forward" and "backward" navigation buttons to view previous strips, and often clickable calendars as well.  The Washington Post, on the other hand, apparently just likes to watch you jump through hoops and get annoyed for now reason.

Now, what has that got to do with today's panel?  Well, one place where interface designers go wrong is to take a metaphor too far.  Usually Apple is the one company that gets this stuff right, but (maybe because the late Steve Jobs notoriously didn't seem to "get" books at all) the iBooks app on the iPad included an animated, touch activate page turn.  You could manually flip the page, and see the animated page moving on the screen in sync with your finger-tip.

Now, I'm sure this was a great thing for the software programmers and designers who came up with it and implemented it.  From a "gee-wiz, look at my new toy" standpoint it was pretty neat.  But from a usability standpoint, it was idiotic.  It was taking the metaphor of the book too far, just because they could.  It adds nothing to the usability or convenience of reading on the iPad, and in fact, the only reason is isn't totally in the way is that people are used to ignoring the intrusion of a page flip on a real book.

But when people first use a black-and-white epaper screen reader, they almost universally complain about the far quicker and less-intrusive "screen flash" that happens when you change pages.  The reason, of course, is that while it's much quicker and less intrusive, you're less used to it, so of course you notice it more.  Most people quickly get used to the "flash," and it's effectively invisible after a while.  But the point is, anything that kicks you out of the reading experience is bad.  You need to work to minimize those things.  Apple's page-turn animation goes the other way.

Of course, you can turn the page flip off, but it's interesting that (at least up until recently), most people who read books on iPads used apps like Amazon's or Barne's and Noble's, and I believe those just change pages without any graphical showboating.

On the other hand, I saw this great video the other day showing a new way of using "page flips" to quickly navigate through a book, magazine or document, something that's very cumbersome to do on most menu and "forward/back button" operated ereaders.

This is a smart use of the page/book metaphor, not for showboating or unneeded cosmetics, but to actually use the familiar design of a printed book to make it easier and less intrusive to navigate through its electronic cousin.  That's doing right what Apple did wrong.

So, getting back to today's cartoon, I do not need my iPad to animate page turns, or my mixdeck submarine console to make scratching sounds or play music, any more than a need my automobile to smell like a horse.

End of rant.

Speaking of ebooks, today's cartoon is brought to you by science fiction collection, "Walking the Virtch."  Check it out on Amazon.com!

Also available on Nook, Smashwords, and other major ebook dealers!

See you guys back here next week!

                                - Minion Mixmaster Steve
Support starving Minions in Lair-land! Your donations support Minions at Work!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Minions #303 - Workforce Reduction

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Greetings, Overstaffs and expendables!

Yes, we know the copyright on this still says 2011!  Can you say, "inventory?"  I knew that you could!

This week's cartoon is brought to you by a sneak-peek at a cover mock-up for my new Panorama Beach Mystery, "A Breath Away from Dying!"  This is the second in my series, featuring green deputy "Mustang" Sawtell and the corrupt Florida panhandle paradise of Panorama Beach.

Deputy "Mustang" Sawtell knows there's something wrong with the scene when he responds to a prowler call at the Aquarama aquarium and underwater-show, and finds a dead mermaid laying on the shore of the Mermaid Grotto. But he's dismissed from the case by a treacherous superior officer, who bungles the investigation and rules her death an accident. So when Sheriff "Big" Bass asks him to take a secretive, off-duty, second look at the case, he's eager to please despite the danger. But there are deep secrets, cut-throat business, old-flames, and hidden agendas waiting for him, and before Mustang knows which way the tide is running, he'll be in hot water -- face-to-face with a killer! 

Welcome to Panorama Beach, Florida, 1967, where the sand is white as sugar, the attractions are larger-than-life, and the money is all dirty and rolling in like a storm tide! Deputy "Mustang" Sawtell is the new badge in town, and he just wants to do the right thing. But he's fallen under the wing of his dangerous and morally compromised boss, Sherriff "Big" Bass, who calls himself "the best devil money can buy." Big Bass will tell you that he may be a little bad, but anybody who replaces him will be even worse. Mustang would really like to believe that -- because otherwise, this good-old-boy may have just booked himself on a rocket-ride to hell!

"A Breath Away from Dying" is in production, and should start appearing at your favorite ebook outlet very soon now.  Meanwhile, you can catch up on Mustang's first adventure in "The Best Devil Money Can Buy," available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBookstore, Sony and all other major ebook sellers!

See you guys back here next week!

                                            - Mystery-master Steve

Support starving Minions in Lair-land! Your donations support Minions at Work!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Minions #302 - Hydro-phony

Click to Blow Bigness Tanks!

Greetings, Sinkers and Dive Bombers!

Yes, we're finally back to shooting full-up, all-new material here this week.  Hopefully I can come up with a couple more gags to shoot on the Submarine Naughtyless set this week, then tear it down and make room for something else.  I love this set, but IT'S IN MY FRICKING WAY!

This is one of those weeks when I come up with a gag that takes advantage of cool props that I don't ordinarily get much use out of.  I was inspired by my latest acquisition, the miniature (and fully-functional!) Fender Guitar amp in the foreground.  Of course, it says something about me that I had a 1/6th scale Fender guitar (not to mention a drum set) waiting around to go with it.  That's just how we roll here at Minions Studios, boys and girls!

This week's cartoon brought to me by my cat, Sydney, who has written a book for every writer and aspiring writer out there!

Think you have to have a literary agent before you can sell a book to New York?  Think anyone who calls themselves an agent is worth trusting your work to?  Think an agent will always act in your best interest?  Think there aren't a thousand different ways that an agent can't skim your money, steal your work, ruin your career, rob you blind, and you'll never know?  

Get a hilarious and relatively-cheap education by bad example, as "world's worst" literary agent, Sydney T. Cat, explains her evil plans and schemes (all tested and approved by real-life, human agents!) to rip her clients to shreds and play with them for her cruel amusement.

Remember, anybody can print up business cards and call themselves a literary agent, even a cat!  And if it isn't prohibited, it is mandatory!

(Also available on Nook, Smashwords.com, Kobo, iBookstore, and other major ebook outlets!)
See you kids back here next week!

                             - Minion Master Steve

Support starving Minions in Lair-land! Your donations support Minions at Work!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Minions #301 - Peace on Earth, Bad Will to Trains

Click Cartoon for Larger Opportunity Fire!

Greetings, Secondary Targets!

As warned, last week's post was delayed, in that it didn't actually ever happen.  Sorry about that!  Holidays, travel, family and other stuff just took the wind out of my sails.  Well, we're back, and hopefully back on our regular schedule.

I won't hold you up any more, except to briefly plug my wife's (AKA, Mrs. Minion Master) new ebook fantasy collection, "Girls Gone Magic!"  It's now on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords.com, and coming soon to other major ebook outlets!

See you guys next week!

- Mercenary Minion Master, Steve
Support starving Minions in Lair-land! Your donations support Minions at Work!