Jason's Blog

Reviews

I hate Entourage

by on Dec.28, 2006, under General, Reviews, Technical

Flat out, HATE the application.  I use it because I have to since the campus has the huge exchange system, and to do any kind of calendaring support in a reasonable way, I'm stuck using it, but  I hate using Entourage.  The application itself is relatively slow to respond at times (I'm on a 1Ghz G4, 512MB ram system atm), the interface is HORRIBLE.  It feels like someone slapped a huge number of buttons in random locations trying to get things to work.  For example, there are a huge number of buttons with text that appears and disappears as the window resizes.  Instead of perhaps giving you the option to just hide the text, or choose to display it under the icon, etc, they try and squeeze stuff in.  Finding which menu sets the preferences for the toolbar is kludgy at best (I'm not sure there is a preference other than to use small or big icons), rather than ANY other application on OS X which makes use of "Preferences->Toolbar" or right mouse clicking on the toolbar to set preferences. 

Note, this is just ONE aspect I hate.  And it's only the toolbar.  The interface for browsing your email, one of the absolute most important parts of the interface leaves me wanting to strangle the engineers who developed this.  First, it would be nice if it decently supported threading – something every major mail application has supported in one fashion or another for years.  Yes, there is "group by conversion" which barely works half the time (watch what happens if people send blank subjects or the same subject lines).  Further, watch what happens when you change your sorting methods, and you're trying to delete email.  Instead of handling this, i.e. when you sort ascending by date (then grouped by thread), instead of moving you to the next unread message, it moves you to the previous email message.  Reverse the order, and the behavior reverses itself entirely.  OS X Mail at least works the same way – you hit delete in either ascending or descending order, and it moves in the same direction – towards the top of the list.  Here's another gripe – delete a "Conversation" (again, Microsoft's attempt to do threads under a different name no one uses), and you completely lose the focus in the listing of your email and have to start over.  Instead of allowing mouse movement, you have to either click on a message, or use the home and end keys.  THIS IS HORRIBLE DESIGN>

Overall the interface just feels like it's legacy code from the OS 9 days, and is so complex with no cohesion that it makes it difficult to use.  I'm stuck with it because I have to, but more and more, I think I'm going to have to find a way to get rid of Entourage.  If the Exchange webmail worked at all decently with FireFox, I'd stop using Entourage and switch to webmail entirely.  Interface design is VASTLY more important than people could ever realize.  How many clicks does it take to do something.  Is there keyboard shortcuts available?  Things like this make a person who has to use such an application in a day-in, day-out basis vastly more efficient, and less frustrating.  This is why Microsoft is failing, and OS X succeeding – Apple understands interface design and making it usable in a way that Microsoft has NEVER understood.  I just can't wait for the day Microsoft figures this out… until then, I'll use Entourage only because I have no decent alternative.

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A plug for some great musicians… Bockman’s Euphio

by on Jun.14, 2004, under Reviews

I thought I’d post a plug for a local band that I try and catch as much as possible. Joe Cosas, and old buddy used to play with them. That’s how I got to know them initially, but even though Joe left, I still love their music, hearing them play, and going out and just dancing the night away, listening to them. Anyways, the band is Bockman’s Euphio. I don’t know how to quite accurately describe their music, other than to say it’s something you can dance to, jam to, just sit and listen to, or any number of things. They’ve got show times on their website, and a big Campout coming up soon. Take a look, check em out sometime – they’re worth it. If you have a website and would be willing, please link to them as well. If nothing else, plugging a local band is always a good thing as it supports the community. If you’re interested in seeing them, and you’re in Columbia, they’ve got a show July 24th at the Blue Note – I know I’ll be going. If anyone else is interested in going, let me know smile

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A new favorite browser for mac?

by on May.24, 2004, under Reviews

Just downloaded the new version of Camino from the mozilla project page. Let’s just say I’m VERY impressed with the speed, quality, interface, etc. of the new Camino. The only downside is it is Mac only. Well, a few other downsides, interface wise. First, I hate the command which switches between the tabs – it’s a lousy command, requiring a three part keystroke combo – not good. My only other beef with the browser is the tabbed browsing needs to be able to show the tabs regardless of whether there’s only one tab visible. Other than that though, this I think will replace Safari as my new web browser smile

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A new addiction: Knights of the Old Republic

by on May.17, 2004, under Reviews

I have a new addiction, and it’s name is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. That was how I spent my entire weekend, playing this video game. Well, not my ENTIRE weekend, but the majority of it. I didn’t get any laundry done, didn’t really leave the house at all – just played KOTOR.

I have to say this – this is one of the BEST games I’ve played in a LONG time. I haven’t been this addicted to a video game in years. The game play is phenomenal, as is the plot development, character interaction, scenery, weaponry, etc. etc. The basic story line is it’s something like 4000 years before the main Star Wars series and movies. The Sith are kicking ass and taking names, and it’s up to you and your companions to stop them. You start off on a ship orbiting a planet, then crash land on the planet. From there, you explore, go through quests, and can finish numerous side quests (or not, it depends on you). These adventures take place on something like 5 planets, with numerous quests for each planet, up to 9 characters you can meet and have join your party, etc.

Your character can be one of three classes, although almost always, the soldier class works the best. Your companions whom you meet during the game are of different classes, such as scout or droid. Like anything dealing with the Force you can choose the path of the dark side or the path of the light. Your companions are similarly of dark or light inclination, although you can work with players of any . Any choice you make through conversations or game play affects which path you go down, what it takes to use abilities, and apparently (though I haven’t seen it yet), the final ending.

Though I didn’t get much done this weekend, I had a great time playing this game, relaxing, and just doing nothing. Course, it means I’ve got a lot to do this week…. In other words, this game rocks, and you should buy it if you want a massive diversion from life.

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Jersey Girl review (WARNING – some spoilers)

by on Mar.31, 2004, under Reviews

SPOILERS AHEAD!!

I managed to see Jersey Girl tonight, and have to say, I disagree with a lot of the bad press it got. There’s multiple reasons, and I’ll get into all of that, but I’ll just say this – it had a few major messages to deliver, it delivered it well, and was well done, overall. I’m impressed with the subtlety of the messages, the way things were said and done, the humor, just in general, I found it to be a very good movie. I think almost every artist has something to say with their creation, even if it’s only to the artist him or herself. There’s definitely a lot of messsages in a lot of Kevin Smith’s movies, but this is one of the most prominently positioned set of messages I’ve seen yet from him. Yet, even that prominence belies a subtlty that was distinctly lacking in some of his earlier films, in that a lot of the humor and messages could be found through references or hints that if you blinked, you missed. Anyways, on to a few direct notes on the movie.

First, the whole Ben-Lo thing. Lopez’s character dies within the first 15 minutes of the movie. And I’m VERY glad this happens, as she was really starting to get on my nerves with her whining. Seriously, she needs to stop talking or something, or stop being annoying. I haven’t seen too many other movies with her in it, but this one was enough to sour my stomach. On the other hand, she did have a few lines that I think too many people don’t listen to. One of the biggest is this, for all the working people out there. Ben Afleck’s character is a work-aholic. He works late into the evenings, is busy as all hell, etc. The scene that really came into play on this, and was the one really redeeming part for Lopez (and only part that was decent, in my opinion), was a lamazze class. Ben Afleck shows up really late, after the class is letting out, and Lopez is like, you realize – you’ve got a family now, no working till 9pm at night, no missing out on classes, etc. Ben Afleck stops, and says OK. The thing is, so many American’s are like Ben Afleck – we work like crazy, but don’t stop to look at what’s important. We keep working on what we think will make us happy, on our careers, our individual lives, but then ignore stuff that’s really important – our families, our friends, life outside of work. That one message kinda comes in at several places in the movie.

Second, and this really applies to the whole movie, is the level of humor. People were commenting on the lack of typical Kevin Smith humor, but it really is there. It’s a lot more subtle, but it’s definitely there. The thing is, it’s not blatant in your face. It’s a line, or an action that represents his humor, and it’s through-out the whole movie. That humor keeps the movie going in a lot of places, getting past some of the serious stuff that he focus’s on more heavily in comparison to his other movies. And keep in mind, this movie in many ways is much more serious than Chasing Amy – perhaps one of the bigger “message” movies of Kevin Smiths.

Third, after some most amusing sequences of seeing how nuts guys can be while dealing with childbirth, and example of that humor, (and we can be nuts – I know I’m nuts enough normally to not want to imagine me in that situation!), there’s some interesting look at loss. I’ve not been married before, but I’ve definitely been in love, and I know what it means to lose love. I’m not sure if I’d handle it like Ben Afleck did, but I see aspects of myself in how he responded, as I would think most guys would, or most anyone would. There are of course some things he really screws up on, that I would like to think I wouldn’t screw up on, but it’s still a powerful message to send. Loss is a hard thing to deal with, and you never really get over certain losses. Lisa Hanewinkel I believe said it best one time – whenever someone leaves you, they take a piece of you with them. Usually, it’s your favorite piece. That’s really what loss is about – when you care for someone so much, that you make them a part of you in some indescribable way, and when they’re gone, it’s like you feel empty, lost, like losing a hand or a limb or one of your senses. You keep looking for it, but it’s not there, keep trying to use it, but it’s not there, and not having it there hurts. It’s a pain that never really goes away, but just fades over time. This theme of loss we see through most of the movie, and it’s a message that’s described really well, and shown in many different aspects.

The last major aspect I’ll touch on tonight, that hit me hard, was the concept of looking at your life, and what you’re going for. This is a poor representation of what was really said in the movie, and really expressed so eloquently and well by Kevin Smith. But, here’s my best attempt to explain it. Ben Afleck was so focused on his career, his life, that when all of a sudden it got railroaded, he got put off track. For the next seven years of his life, and we see this in multiple examples throughout the movie, he tries to get his old life back. He keeps trying and trying, but he doesn’t realize that things have changed. He’s looking in the past, seeing his past life, and thinking that’s what he wants. He never stops to look at what he has, what he has become, and his present life. He’s so wrapped up in what he thinks he wants, he doesn’t look at what he has, and how wonderful it is. It made an impression on me, because I think a lot of us are like that. We all have these goals set out for ourselves, college, a good paying job, families, etc. that we never stop, look at maybe where our life is at, value what is in our life. Yes, we should work towards a better future in a lot of ways, but trying to change everything in your life for some mystical happiness may not really get you happiness. Living your life, not trying to live a dream is more important, and really is what life is about. Yes, plan for the future, have a goal, but don’t stop living your life, to try and live another. LIVE. That’s the biggest message. There’s no real words to describe how powerful that message for me was, or how it was expressed so well by the movie and the direction and the script, but the message is there, and I HIGHLY recommend seeing it, to see if you get the same message, or perhaps something slightly different. As said, I don’t have the proper words to describe, other than to say it’s a powerful message I think we should take to heart, and it’s one that I haven’t seen too often.

So, as a closing note, GO SEE IT. It is worth it, in my opinion. There’s a lot of good scenes, a lot of things well done. It does have the tradiitonal Kevin Smith humor, but just in a different way than his previous direct in your face style. It’s a refreshing change, and one that has a lot of advantages, particularly when you consider he’s really in many ways trying to tell us something. I think he’s always had a message in all of his movies, but before the humor was the most important, the message secondary. Now, it’s the message that’s more important and the humor which is subtle. It’s an interesting shift, and I’m curious to see future movies of his, to see how he balances things out. Enough of me babbling, and taking up huge amounts of space. Go see the movie, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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An awesome ad, for a nonexistant product

by on Jan.21, 2004, under General, Reviews

Well, the product does exist, but it’d be hard to tell that it’s a movie, not a physical product. Take a look though at an amazingly well designed ad for the NS-5. It seems to be based off of Asimov’s book, “I, Robot.” Overall, I’m very impressed. It might be very interesting to see how the movie plays out. imbdb has some more information on the movie, which shows some of the cast and other information.

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Want to kill some time?

by on Jan.14, 2004, under Reviews

I found this Pingu thing pretty amusing – caught it off of a userfriendly link of the day. It’s a cute way to kill a bit of time. And better yet, makes me think of good ol’ Tux the penguin, the linux mascot.

Go, play with penguins and kill some time!

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Book Management Software

by on Jan.13, 2004, under Reviews

I’d been looking for a decent program to keep track of my ever growing library of books, DVD’s, Games, etc. I figured I’d post a few comments on what I’d found here.

First, the program I’m going to probably use for books, and if I decide to get ambitious and modify it, my DVD collection as well. Perhaps games too, but I’ll decide later. I’ve been playing with the beta for version 2, and I must say I’m really impressed overall with the interface, performance, quality of design, features, etc. Plus, it’s free. Anyways, check out this program, appropriately called Books. As a second note, not only is this program free, but it’s also GPL’d which means you’ve got the source code, and thus can enhance it (and thus the DVD library thing, and thusly no more thus’s). So, soon I’ll be working on yet more software code smile

Another alternative, which you have to pay for, is a product called Library. This app has support for books, as well as games, DVD’s, and CD’s. However, as I’m using iTunes for all my music, and the iPod, this isn’t terribly necessary. DVD’s are more critical, but as stated, I can probably modify the Books program to manage that. Last, I find the set of features is on the so so side. It has a pretty nice interface, but overall, I’m not terribly impressed with the feature set. Of course, it’s only $15 from their online store, but I’d expect a bit more before I’d spend any money.

Booxter, another pure book tracking app is even less of a choice in my opinion. I’m pretty sure from what I’ve seen (and tried) that Books has the same feature set (someone feel free to correct ANY of what I’ve said if I’m wrong), but Booxter isn’t free and has less features than Book. It’s also a $15 application, but I’d recommend just using Books, unless there’s some amazing thing that Booxter does for you.

The last tracker I’m going to mention is on the more expensive side, and really is multiple separate apps. It’s a program called readerware, and it’s also the only app that runs on either windows, linux, or OSX (save the best OS for last wink ). It’s got a LOT of features, good support (i.e. commercial, so in theory should be good – not always the case), and even has a palm version which works pretty well. With that of course, comes a few disadvantages – first, it’s not expressly designed for any one OS, so it doesn’t use the interface guidelines for OS X. Second, it is really pricey – for all the “options”, i.e. a book tracker, movie tracker, palm, etc. it ends up near $100. Last, when I tried it, it wasn’t the most responsive app I’d ever used. Part of that is Java, but I’ve been writing Java GUI using Swing for 4+ years now, and I know you can get a fairly responsive Java app if you’re good at optimization and careful coding. Last, I just am not impressed with their overall interface. ANY of the above seem to have a cleaner interface. However, all the above are OS X only, so that might be why smile. Anyways, you can check out Readerware and see what you think yourselves. There’s a 30 day trial of the app.

Conclusion? Overall, I have to give Books the bes thtumbs up, after playing with the version 2 beta. I definitely like the feature interface, the field set, etc. It’s simple enough to handle some fairly advanced library information without overwhelming the user or being too much of a “library” app. As always, feel free to post comments, suggestions, etc. If you’ve used any of the above, and find that I’m wrong on something, let me know. Other than that, get busy adding books to your library *sigh* Mine is going to take me a while, even with ISBN info lookup….

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Music fans, revel in the glory that is…. iPod

by on Dec.29, 2003, under Reviews

Ok, I have to say Apple has really outdone themselves here. I requested and obtained a 40GB iPod from Apple for Christmas. Figured I’d do a review of it, post some thoughts. Here’s the positive points:

  1. First, 40GB of space. That’s a LOT of extra storage. You can use part of it for mp3’s/AAC files (iTunes music store format), and part of the drive as just general storage – it’s up to you.
  2. it is TINY. The whole 40GB iPod fits in the palm of my hand.
  3. It is one of the most well designed little gadgets I’ve seen. The buttons are all pressure sensitive, there’s this really cool pressure sensitive scroll wheel, there’s a backlight for the buttons and song display, everything looks and feels really solid. Further, the accessories are pretty nice too. The docking station (an additional accessory that really only provides a line out to a set of speakers, and a convinient storage spot) is cleanly formed, well designed, the remote is an even more impressive item (although the clip is near useless), etc. I’m just impressed overall with the design – it’s beyond engineering, it’s near art.
  4. Battery life definitely has to rate on here. I love the fact that the battery is built in, rechargable, is long lived (I swear, I think I got more than the 8 hours advertised while I was letting the juice run down on it), and for long trips, it rocks. Further, you can get a car adapter for those trips that take longer than 8-10 hours. Now, this is without the iTrip running, so I’m not quite sure how that’d change things. Further, I’d imagine if you ran the backlight, or did any other number of things, your battery life would drop. But, for the most part, it ran great. HOWEVER, there have been reported problems with battery life after a period of a year or two, so we’ll just see how that goes.
  5. Can we say extras? For those with an apple computer, you can transfer your calendars, including alarms to the iPod. You can also transfer your contacts, notes, and a lot of other information. Further, it has a nice little alarm clock, some games played with the scroll wheel, and a lot of expansion accessories that are constantly being developed.
  6. Some additional niceties are the included options and interface support. iTunes as I’ve said before is one hell of an application. The integration between iTunes and the iPod is amazing, and makes life much simpler. The ability to manage your library, sort music, etc. just rocks. The firewire or USB2.0 support, and just design of the software interface on the iPod itself all speaks of smart thinking.

Ok, we’ve got lots and lots of positives. Let’s add a few negatives (and they are few).

  1. The first and biggest problem is price. An iPod isn’t cheap, particularly for the larger sized versions. Of course, getting all that space with the features on a tiny object is a bit difficult, but overall, it’s still on the expensive side. I think it’s worth it for what you get, but that doesn’t change the price. However, it’s possible that soon price won’t be too much of an obstacle. Keep in mind that this is pure rumor, and also that these new “iPods” won’t have as much storage (and thus reducing the price), but for a basic mp3/aac player, that’d be a nice base system. The last comment on price – think about how many CD’s you’d have to burn to take your mp3 library with you. It’s a heck of a lot handier to have it all with you in one simple little device.
  2. Another gripe of mine is that there should have been some kind of sleeve included. i.e. some sort of protector for the iPod. There’s several after market versions that work pretty well, but it would have been nice to have one out of the box, particularly one with Apple’s engineering ingenuity behind it.
  3. Finger marks. The iPod is a beautiful piece of equipment, but good grief! You can’t hardly touch anything on it without fingerprints everywhere. It’s pretty easy of course to wipe them off, but it makes me wish there was some other metal or something else that could have helped with this.
  4. The earphones stuff. They work pretty well for the most part, but they feel kinda on the flimsy end. Hard to say on this one, and it’s more nitpicking, but if I’m going to rate the iPod as art, damn it I’m going to nitpick. A simple thing – the left vs. right icon gets hidden by the bud protectors. That’s bloody annoying.
  5. Recharging – you have to have the firewire cord to recharge the iPod. The dock doesn’t include a separate connector. You have this “ipod connector to firewire” adapter that is absolutely critical. WIth the dock, you plug the connector into the dock, the iPod into the dock, and the firewire end either into a laptop or a “power” adapter for an outlet. You can bypass the dock with seems only to really provide a resting point and a line out, and plug the connector straight into the iPod. The connector itself is relatively flimsy, which makes me nervous when traveling with the connector in my bag. Further, you have to have it even though you have the iPod dock. The dock doesn’t have a built in “connector” cord, which means you really need to connector cords. I’d almost have recommended that instead of a dock included.
  6. This isn’t related directly to the iPod, but to an accessory I bought – the “iTrip”. The iTrip is an accessory that lets your iPod play to a selection of FM radio stations. It works ok for the most part, but you’ve got a VERY short range on it, the selection of stations is kinda funky, and overall, it’s kinda so-so on the quality. I don’t have any other FM transmitters to test, or I’d have something to compare to. I just feel this one could have been a bit better.

Well, that’s about it for my comments. I’ll just sum up by saying, WOW. I like, am impressed, etc. If you’re looking for an mp3 player, I’d HIGHLY recommend looking at an iPod. If price is an issue, and storage isn’t, wait till probably after January, and you should have some more options. Sometime soon, if I get my digital camera working again, I’ll post pics in action, along with other details. Now, to listen to some more music….

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