Sunday, May 29, 2005
Friday, May 27, 2005
Thoughts on Mac OS X 10.4: "Tiger"
When 10.3 came out I jumped at the chance to install what was likely to be the first really polished version of OS X, and I was right. "Panther" was faster, better organized, and included standout features (like Exposť) that really made the upgrade compelling.
10.4 supposedly does the same, but I can't say that I find the improvements in this round as attractive. Let's take them in no particular order.
This supposed "global" search doesn't seem to exist (or offer a significant improvement) where I need it most -- in my e-mail client (I use Entourage, which doesn't interact with Spotlight) and in my text editor, StickyBrain (more on StickyBrain later). Entourage maintains its own database format to which Spotlight doesn't have access, and since Entourage 2004 (the second version of the software for OS X) doesn't interact with the OS X Address Book or iCal, I don't see any reason that the Microsoft engineers would try to work with the operating system on that level either. I've been tempted plenty of times to switch to the Apple Mail client, but even the new version that ships with 10.4 is missing too many features (like categories!) to be useful to me. I also enjoy the fact that my calendar exists in the same application as my e-mail; it uses fewer resources and just generally integrates better. (Now if only Entourage could publish and subscribe to the iCal format.)
The find feature in Entourage is pokey but sufficient. The best find feature I've seen in a mail client is in Mozilla Thunderbird, the search bar for which defaults to searching both the subject and the sender simultaneously, which really cuts down on the number of searches you have to perform when looking for a receipt or a flight confirmation.
As to Spotlight's other functionality for finding iTunes tracks or launching applications, the excellent (and free) Quicksilver does a great job of both. I'm not sure why we need a global search tool for things like this when each application has a great search tool built in. Don't you have to launch iTunes to listen to the track you just found? And can't you search within iTunes in the same efficient manner? I don't get it.
Of course, doing all of my writing (other than e-mail) within one application really helps matters. I don't need a tool that will search all of my Word documents because I don't create a lot of Word documents. Almost all of the information I deal with (again outside of e-mail) on a day-to-day basis gets dumped into StickyBrain: addresses, reviews, blog entries, you name it. Searching within Stickybrain is lightning-fast, even with hundreds of entries.
Unfortunately, Chronos has "upgraded" StickyBrain into a feature-laden behemoth that doesn't even behave in the same way the old version does. I purchased the version 3 upgrade but quickly returned to version 2 because it's faster and does just what I need without ever getting in my way. Version 3 actually lost useful features. For example, in version 2, if you start a new note and then change its category, the note will change colors and fonts to match its new category. Not so with StickyBrain 3, which uses a confusing "folders" scheme. Version 3 also added a ton of visual clutter and a back-end database called "OpenBase" which takes significant time to start up. I'm hoping to heaven that Version 2 remains compatible with new versions of the OS X.
Bitching about tangentially-related software aside, Spotlight just doesn't seem like something I'd use. I live in three applications (StickyBrain, Entourage, and Firefox), each of which have excellent search capabilities built in. So on to the next feature.
I don't get this one either. Lots of little web-enabled widgets eating up screen space? There are a few widgets I've seen that look neat, but when I see most of them I dismiss them as toys. Someone needs to show me a really great widget and then explain how it's better than a web page that does the same thing. Until then, I don't need Dashboard eating up system resources on my already overburdened Powerbook.
A new version of Safari. Yawn. Firefox does (almost) everything Safari does, in most cases better -- and a few things that it doesn't. As for RSS reading, I recently made the switch from my standalone reader, NetNewsWire, to Bloglines. With Bloglines I have all my subscriptions no matter where I am or what computer I'm using, which is great. The other beauty part is that NetNewsWire will read my Bloglines subscriptions, so if I ever want to go back to a standalone reader, I can. But it all works so much better, not having to switch between apps.
OK, this one might be good. The multiple video chat windows sound great. But I only know one other person at this point with an iSight, so it's not really necessary. For text chat, I use Adium. Next!
This sounds pretty cool too, but there will have to be some pretty repetitive tasks in my future for me to devote the time to figuring out any scripting language, even if it doesn't technically require any scripts to be written. AppleScript was supposed to be monkey-easy and I never used that either.
The new .Mac sync features (bookmarks, contacts, calendars, e-mail) would be great if I were using Apple Mail and iCal. But I'm using Entourage because Mail and iCal pretty much blow. So .Mac sync is really only good for my iDisk, which I rarely use. Another strike. (I guess what I'm saying is that Apple and the Microsoft Mac Business Unit really need to get it together.)
Those are the features that jump out at me from Apple's Tiger page, and none of them are insanely great on the same level that Exposť was. That's not to say that I'll never upgrade to 10.4; sooner or later some software that I'm using or want to use will require me to do so. (In fact, the latest version of QuickSilver is Tiger-only. Hmmmm.) I'm just not licking my chops the same way I did with 10.3.
Monday, May 23, 2005
Star Wars: The Line People
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
B-Fest preparation tip
Hey, is that Ken Begg's house?
Momma don't take my Kodachrome away
Man, that reminds me. We better digitize those old Super 8 reels before they disintegrate.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Eyes: Another great show down the tube
We all realize that TV networks are in business to make money and that there's no excuse for a bad show that has poor ratings, but when a program is so obviously well-written, acted, and produced, why can't the execs have the patience to let a show find an audience? And how many times must I write this same entry bemoaning the death of a newly-beloved show? The usual petitions to save the show can be found by clicking the banner below:
My gratitude and respect go to those folks who organize these campaigns, but I wonder: has any show other than Farscape ever been saved by petition? Let's cross our fingers for a DVD release of the remaining unaired episodes of Eyes at the very least.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
After a long and tortuous road, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (hereafter H2G2, the semi-official abbreviation) is finally a feature film. The compression of a wildly popular novel into a two-hour motion picture predictably set Douglas Adams fans in mortal opposition to one another over whether the film is any good or not. Unlike a typical hyperbolic Adams scenario in which the two factions would wipe each other off the face of the Earth to the benefit of the rest of mankind, the end result has been a lot of pointless nattering and a lot of wasted web space.
Far closer to the truth than the plaintive fanboy complaints that Adams' legacy has been defecated upon or the opposite claims that this picture is the best thing ever to come from the franchise is this idea: Adams himself would likely have enjoyed seeing his characters come to the screen in one of the liveliest science fiction universes ever put to film. He especially would have enjoyed cashing the royalty checks. Alas, Adams left the Earth far sooner than anyone would have liked, so we are left to evaluate it in his absence.
If you haven't read the books you will be at something of a disadvantage, but if you have a sense of humor you won't be lost. The film begins much as the book does, as Briton Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) begins his final day on Earth -- not because he will die, but because the planet won't be around much longer. Arthur is rescued from the Earth's disintegration by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def, an inspired bit of casting) -- who turns out to be a journalist from Betelgeuse. From there it's an interstellar roller coaster ride as Arthur encounters aliens, true love, and the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
About halfway through the story, the film departs radically from the source material and introduces elements that will throw Adams purists for a loop. These new story elements -- in essence, a re-imagining of the original story -- are the source of the whining and gnashing of teeth, but I found them a welcome addition to the H2G2 pantheon. After all, we've been exposed to the radio dramas, the books (five of them, and of varying quality), a television series (which should have long ago satisfied the fans who wanted a faithful screen adaptation), an illustrated coffee-table book, and a video game, all of them comprising much the same material. Is it really such a crime to bring something new to the table -- to give new life to old characters? Admit it -- you always wanted Arthur to hook up with Trillian, and now, in this alternate-fantasy version of the story, he gets his chance. (My eternal gratitude to whomever cast Zooey Deschanel in the role. Brilliant!)
"The chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied," the improbably named Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy) tells Arthur. "I'd far rather be happy than right any day." Though there are many signs that Garth Jennings and Karey Kirkpatrick (the director and writer) have an abiding love for the original material in all of its forms (the appearance of the original Marvin costume in a crowd scene is a dead giveaway), it doesn't take the calculating power of Deep Thought to figure out that any attempt to film H2G2 was going to displease some number of fans. Wisely, they opted to make the picture that would make them happy, rather than attempt to make it "right."