Don’t make me think! (But please allow me to.)

My friend Brendan visited me from New York this past weekend. Brendan is a CCT friend and so naturally we talked about “CCT stuff.” I started the Apple Music three month trial earlier that week and was telling him how amazing the curated playlists are on that service. My colleague Noah captures my feelings on the subject pretty well.

Playlists was (is) about where the magic ended for me and eventually we covered everything we loved about Apple products like OS X, Final Cut, Aperture, and, yes, iTunes, and how all of them have declined or been killed off in the last few years. At some point Brendan said something that stuck with me. “It’s like they’re just saying: Don’t think about it! We got this.”

At first I thought ‘but that’s the whole point! You shouldn’t have to think!’ Steve Krug literally wrote a book about interface design called “Don’t Make me Think!” But Krug never said “don’t allow your users to think.”

Photos, the all-in-one iPhoto and Aperture replacement, is a good example to illustrate Brendan’s point. The cool thing about iPhoto was that you didn’t have to think. Photos has this neat feature where you can open an old Aperture or iPhoto library in Photos by simple double clicking or dragging the library onto the Dock icon, but then Photos makes a ton of assumptions for you. The big one: It assumes you opened it because you want to convert that library for use with Photos.

This is fine if that’s what you want to do but it’s not. Maybe you have an iPhoto libary that’s separate from your Aperture library. Maybe you recently got married and want to merge your family’s libraries into one and you’re opening them to see what’s inside. In either of those two cases, the experience you get is:

  1. Photos fires itself up
  2. Apple tries to sell you an iCloud Photo Library
  3. It starts creating a new Photos library from your original without telling you where the new library was created, what it’s called, or giving you an opportunity to choose an alternative. (And there’s no way to cancel.)

Lets say that original library started in 2004 and has about 70 GB of photos in it. That last step is going to take a long time and there’s nothing you can do about it. Once it completes, you might wonder:

  • Where are these photos I’m looking at?
  • Was my original Aperture library destroyed?
  • Will it still work in Aperture or iPhoto?
  • Is the new library referencing the same photos that are in the Aperture Library or did Photos create copies?
  • Is this the default library now? What if I want to open a different one?
  • If the original isn’t trashed and I open it in Photos again, will it create another new library?
  • If I open another old library, will it import those photos into the same library I just created or create new ones?

Apple has no answers for these questions.

iPhoto had this great feature that was common across most of Apple’s creative apps: Show in Finder. If you were trying to find the original of a photo to copy it or open it in a different app, you could ctrl + click the photo and choose “Show in Finder” and :boom: there it’d be in the Finder.

Photos has no such option, at least not on ctrl + click.

Photos context menu when control clicking on a photo.

It does have an option in the File menu called “Show Referenced File in Finder” but I’ve only seen it greyed out.

The contents of the File menu in Photos

The “Get Info” option doesn’t give you that information either.

The get info card in photos

You can’t even drag the photo to the Finder icon on the Dock. Apple to Boone: “Don’t think about where the file is, man! You don’t need to worry about it. Just keep snappin’ away on your iPhone and everything will be alright.”

The thing is, everything might not be alright. That’s why I need to know where the file is. And when you start breaking it down, MacBooks are the same way: On MacBook hardware: “Don’t worry about it, you probably want a new computer if something is broken.” Nobody literally says that to you, your computer gives you no other choice.

The beauty of iPhoto when I first used it was that it didn’t make me think. Every other photo manager out there was complicated, janky, and tied to the camera you bought. iPhoto worked with every camera and imported your photos in intuitive ways and that was great. Most of the time that’s all I needed to do. But sometimes I needed to get my photos out of the Finder and iPhoto made that possible. Sometimes, despite all of Apple’s best intentions, I wanted, no needed to think and Apple enabled me.

This “Don’t let them think” design movement seems to have cascaded out of the original iPhone and in the last couple years has infected OS X and even Macs. It’s a troubling trend that hopefully will spurn people against Apple enough for them to change. I want Apple Music to be great, I really do, but playlists alone won’t be enough. I want to be an Apple fan boy again, but it’s just not happening.

Riding the Great Washington Loop

This weekend I did a ride that’s been tempting me since we first moved from Arlington into the District three years ago: The Great Washington Loop. Starting from Georgetown, the loop takes you up the Capital Crescent Trail into Montgomery County and then circles the District via the Georgetown Branch Trail in Bethesda, Sligo Creek trail in Silver Spring, the Northern Branch Trail near Brentwood, and finally the Metropolital Branch Trail back into the District. Clocking in at more than 30 miles. It is an epic ride, to be sure.

The good

These trails are some of the best maintained, least-congested bike infrastructure in the area. When there’s pavement it’s smooth if not fresh, usually wide enough to ride abreast with room to adjust if someone tries to pass, and not overcrowded. Unlike the Rock Creek Park Trails there’s typically room to pass walkers and runners without slamming on your breaks, and there’s almost always space for them to run or walk off the pavement if necessary.

No steel plates were encountered during the duration of the ride.

About 90% of the ride is on some kind of trail if not always paved. The on-street segments are for the most part easy (though, see The bad for a big caveat) and where you’re required to cross large highways you are given a crosswalk and flashing lights to help cars see and stop for you.

The Georgetown Branch Trail remains unpaved, for the most part it’s not a problem but you can’t ride it with pizza cutter tires and watch out for erosion. The bridge crossing over rock creek and the old railroad bridge you cross right before joining the road are breathtaking views.

The meh

Inconsistent signage across the various trails was a bit difficult. For example, the Georgetown Branch does not simply connect to Sligo Creek Trail (at least not obviously). After the separated trail ends, the signage for Georgetown Branch takes you on back streets and eventually through the middle of downtown Silver Spring. The best way to connect to Sligo Creek is to break with the signed trail and either ride with traffic on Colesville Rd. for a few miles or take back roads occasionally crossing 16th St. Georgia Ave, and riding briefly on Colesville Rd. The closest trailhead we could find was off Colesville Rd. and Sligo Creek Parkway just past Dale Dr.

In short, this is not a loop like Minneapolis’s “Grand Rounds” but the trail connections are manageable and, for the most part, don’t get in the way of enjoying the ride.

The bad

Signage, or lack thereof, made the ride most difficult. It’s a problem compounded by the fact that the turn-by-turn guidance on Bike Washington is sorely out of date and difficult to read on a phone. It should really be replaced by a really clear Strava route or a mobile-friendly layout. But it also needs to be updated as we missed every trail connection after the CCT–Georgetown Branch linkup in Bethesda.

This isn’t a knock on Bike Washington. They’re a volunteer organization and keeping that page up to date is probably a low priority given all the other priorities for bike advocacy in this region. If you’re going to attempt this trail, I recommend combining their directions with a Strava route or riding with someone who has done it before.

The worst of our mixups came at the end of the ride. Sligo Creek Trail takes you pretty far east into Prince George’s County without going very far south back toward the District. Around the West Hyattsville Metro station Sligo Creek Trail becomes the Northwest Branch Trail (the directions say to watch for a “basketball court”, there are at least four of them before the split). The part of the directions for getting from that trail to the Metro Branch tell you the “trail will end” and to take an “unpaved street” around a building to connect to 37th St. Either the trails were less developed when the directions were last updated or we were simply enjoying the ride too much.

Comparing the route we ended up taking with the directions from Bike Washington we probably went a few miles off course and ended up riding Rhode Island Ave. into the District and joined Metro Branch at 4th and S NE. We could have joined earlier, but by the time we realized we had gone off route we were too tired to “figure it out” and stuck with what we knew.

Recommendations and our route

The normal route has you take Metro Branch down to the mall and loop back to start off of the trails around the mall and the river. We were at 34.5 of 30 miles when we got to Union Station. Our Strava Map is below. If you follow it, I’d encourage remixing it a bit to avoid riding on Rhode island at all. I’d espcially recommend turning off Rhode Isand Ave. at Monroe St. NE into Brookland to meet up with the Metro Branch trail in Brookland. I suspect Taking Queen’s Chapel Road off the Northwest Branch trail and following Michgan Ave. Down to Catholic University is also a better option.

For folks who want a longer ride, the Northwest Branch Trail is outstanding, low traffic, and might loop around to meet the Anacostia River Walk trail. I’m not sure, but it’s worth exploring.

All told we rode 34.5 miles, three of which was each of us getting to the trail from our homes. If I were to do it again, I’d probably start at Union Station and run the loop in reverse. Attempting to figure out how to connect into the Northwest Branch trail at the beginning when I’m feeling more adventurous, instead of at mile 27, would probably make the rest of the ride more enjoyable.

Here’s the full map: