Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bloglines

Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com)

If like me, you're hearing all about RSS feeds and you want to give it a quick try, then I can recommend this RSS article grabbing service. I tried a few stand-alone apps designed for this job over the past week or so; they're fine in their own right, but Bloglines is not an app on your PC, it stays on the web, so you can access it from anywhere.

You sign up by giving them your email address and a password, then you check your mail for their confirmation notice and simply follow the link to find yourself in a framed Bloglines webpage with your feeds in the left pane and the articles in the right pane. If you open a new window and go to a site with an RSS or XML button (meaning it has a feed) you right-click on the button and copy the link. Then you go back to the Bloglines page and choose to add a feed and then paste the link into the field.

Once you're set up though, there is a much easier way to add feeds:

Subscribe to a Bloglines button. This is simply a Favorite, just like any other. With the button in your Favorites list, when you are visiting a new site that you want the feed from, click the button and you're taken to Bloglines to confirm the correct feed, and you're done!

Another great feature is the Bloglines Notifier. This is a tiny app that you download. It places an icon in your taskbar that every ten minutes or so (you can adjust the delay) checks for new articles from your subscribed feeds. If there are any new articles it makes a sound to alert you; you then double-click the icon to go straight to your Bloglines page without having to log in.

It does take a little longer to display the feeds than some of the stand-alones, as they usually grab all the articles and cache them for the session rather than building them on the fly. I'm going to try it for a week and then decide whether I want its ease of adding feeds and notification, over the faster switching in say, Abilon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Scary Mary

Last night I saw a documentary on the German channel. It followed three women who joined the German navy officer training program. It seemed a little unusual in that the first step was a boot camp in the style of the army or marines; their daytime uniforms were full-blown green camouflage numbers, while their dress uniforms were more traditional navy style.

So each of the three covered a particular type; there was the upscale attractive one, the dowdy but earnest one, and the gentle "this is probably not the right profession for you" one.

Right away things weren't looking too good for the attractive one. At the end of the first day she was complaining to the camera that the higher-ups were being too stern with her. "Why do they have to yell all the time? They'd get better results if only they were more civil..." when it came time to strip down her rifle, of course she wasn't strong enough, or she couldn't see the point in taking apart something that seemed to be working fine in the first place.

Here's the surprise, and why I can't wait for Part 2: fast forward to one of the final scenes -- it's almost lights-out time and she's sitting on the edge of her bunk talking to one of her room mates. She tests the clip of her Glock handgun, slams it home, cocks the thing and clicks of a couple of times on the trigger, while absent mindedly testing the weight of the piece in her hand -- all the while idly gossiping about laundry matters.

It reminded me of that fat private in Full Metal Jacket; the one who turned into a blank eyed super soldier, and then went on a shooting spree.

Stay tuned.

Apprentice to "The Steve"

Funny guy, Steve Jobs. You know who he reminds me of? Donald Trump. Think about it. Something works well and it's tremendous, or fantastic, or sensational. Something fails and it's tremendous, or fantastic, or sensational but we don't understand it.

They're like: the kings of gall.

Don't get me wrong. I think he's brilliant; every industry should have someone like him. What I admire most is the design ethic that he, or Apple, keeps at the forefront: that of reduction. Removing to improve the experience instead of adding. There was a collective "What the?..." gasp when he took the rainbow stripes off the logo and replaced it with plain color. Now it makes perfect sense; same with the idea of chucking the floppy drive...

I wish though that he'd drop that line about comparing Apple to BMW. Has he seen the latest BMWs? Switch to Audi Steve. I also wish he'd re-assess his incremental improvement strategy. He plays on the loyalty of his existing base by bringing out a product, waiting for the resulting rush and showroom shine to taper off (usually only about four months), and then introducing an only slightly better model; not an upgrade or clip on, but a replacement unit that the loyal -- yet again -- rush out and buy. What a tease.

The kicker for me -- the reason I don't jump boats back to Apple -- is that I'm locked into my Pocket PC. I'm one of that rare breed that has neat handwriting; Newton worked for me, and Pocket PC works for me (I'm writing this on mine). So I have a hand held that is blindingly fast and synchs well with my PC. That ability to take my stuff with me and work on it in the field is half of my total PC reasoning.

So please Steve, swallow your bias for things pen-based or John Sculley inspired and resurrect Newton 2. I dunno; call it iPal or something, and do a PC port for synching to woo some converts. It can't fail.

(At the least, this Steve critique should generate some traffic to my site). :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

AnandTech Website Discovered

AnandTech Website (http://www.anandtech.com/default.aspx)

Mmmm. I just stumbled upon this site via a referral on someone else's weblog. I am most impressed; really in depth articles and reviews of PC hardware and software. I had a look at a review called A Month with a Mac: A Die-Hard PC User's Perspective and it goes for 17 pages! I suggest opting for the printable version.

By the way, when I come across an article like this I (using IE6) save it as a single mht file. It's a very tidy way to store such stuff forever.

Turns out AnandTech has a really good RSS feed as well, for staying up to date.

More on Design: Crapping Down

In Japan, where younger folk like to bling up their cars, some after-market suppliers decided to offer alternative tail light assemblies. They didn't have millions of dollars available to them like the major manufacturers do for the colored plastic parts, so they substituted round colored lenses from motorcycles.

They mounted these on chromed plastic bases and covered the whole thing in a clear lens; far cheaper to produce than the original, and kinda different looking -- if you like that kind of thing.

So now, and this is the perplexing part, lots of new models from Japan -- and Europe, are copying this look. Check out the Mazda 6 as a good example. So when is this horrible trend going to end?

I hope we aren't going to go back to car audio units that don't match the dash, or in another field, seeing Dell black towers with beige CD writers. Just for the sake of backward fashion.

It's a funny old world...

Monday, October 25, 2004

Abilon

http://www.abilon.org

I just installed this yesterday and it's a great way to aggregate RSS feeds. It's free, and if you're still running 98 like I am you don't need to download the huge Microsoft XML add-on to run it.

Hey Kid! Don't get so cocky...

One tweaking rule that I recently forgot was: "Don't do too many things in one session." Last night I had one of those productivity splurges that occasionally hits me. From about ten last night to four this morning I did a whole bunch of projects on the computer.

One of them included some enhancements to this weblog; sure enough, when I woke up later this morning my weblog was gone. All I saw was a black screen. At first I thought that Google had hiccuped in some way but no, it was me.

I'd set up a Haloscan account earlier to add Trackback to another blog; using that account I also added Trackback to this blog. It turns out that there was a clash on the robotics somewhere and the template for this site was half-wiped. It's all fixed now, I hope. Next job is to go back and restore the other blog to a more default setup...

Posting from Pocket PC

Ok, so now I've sort of figured out how to post here from my Pocket PC.

I sent a test post and everything was great, except the email app put in automatic line breaks, which I can't figure out how to turn off.

I worked around that by telling my blog posting options that I don't want line breaks to be automatically converted into code. So now, as they say, I'm cooking with gas.

If only I could tell the email app to quit wrapping text at x many charactors life would be that much simpler. So how do I make the paragraphs? By writing the code manually in the email. Like I said, its a work around and not a solution.

Clean Design

My favorite cars have almost no detailing on them; they look good because of their shape and lines. They're so clean, there's almost nothing more you could take off. I'm thinking of cars like the Audi A4. The one before the current shape. Or the previous A8.

Unfortunately when such models are updated, they invariably do it by adding shiny bits of trim and bright work. This almost always spoils the looks. The current Passat is a good example.

Another thing about design: a product should look its price. A Pocket PC is an expensive gadget and my HP 1910 looks its price, however the new range from HP looks decidedly cheap. So cheap they could be mistaken for $10 calculators! They really are that bad.

Why is it that just about any cellphone has good hard clicky buttons and yet the remote controls of even the most expensive entertainment systems have those pathetic no feedback squishy rubber buttons?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

757 gets a Seven

Some Video Clips (http://www.andrewburke.orcon.net.nz/757.htm)

I'm a plane spotter.

No, I don't wear an anorak (it's more like a wind breaker) and write down the registration numbers or anything like that. But I do look up every time I hear an airliner passing over. GA planes and fighters are fine, but to me there's something special about a jet airliner. They're tough and practical -- they really are "airbuses" in the true sense -- and yet at the same time they can't help but be graceful, even elegant to watch.

There's an airforce base not far from where I live in Auckland, New Zealand. It houses their transport squadron. Recently they replaced two aging Boeing 727s with a couple of relatively new Boeing 757-200s.

Apart from Paul Allen's 757 that popped in occasionally for the Americas Cup, 757s were never seen here until we got these two about a year ago. So anyway, I'd heard that there was going to be a reunion of old squadron members at the base this weekend. There was no mention of an associated airshow, but I went along and camped out (sat in my car) just outside the fence -- just in case.

Finally, as luck has it, I could see all the old codgers emerge from the main hanger and watch as a 757 and a couple of Hercs started up and taxied out to show off. Even the choreography of the taxi and takeoff was impressive; that special kind of precision you only see now in the military.

They re-appeared and buzzed the airfield really low in a tight formation, then split up and showed off individually. The Hercs were great, don't get me wrong, but the 757 really rocked. It did about seven passes in all, slow and dirty; fast and sleek; rejected landing; zoom climb, you name it.

I'm sure that they were operating well within its design limits, all the same, I never knew that a Boeing could be flicked about like that! I caught a lot of it using the movie mode on my digital camera. It's the first time I've really used that feature, and I'm quite impressed; nowhere near as good as a proper video camera but it beat taking stills due to the sound, which is really half the experience.

So for a Boeing nerd like me, this was bliss. The pilots must have had the time of their lives. Makes me wish I'd faked the colorblind test all those years ago. Never mind. Today I fired up Microsoft Flight Simulator, chose runway 03 at Whenuapai and my RNZAF 757 and flew roughly (and I mean roughly) the same routine. I chucked that plane about far more than I ever have in the past, trying to emulate the videos; hats off to those guys and their plane.

In flightsim I also moved the tower view to the location of my car and the playback was SO much like the video, but much smoother, framerate-wise. What a great app.

It was a sad day when they sold off the old 727s for scrap; I always rated the 727 a ten on the coolness scale -- what with those wildly swept and clean wings, the speed, and the T tail. But I'm rapidly very warming to the 757...

I'll give it a seven.

So, this is Gmail

I've been using Gmail for about five days now, and I really like it a lot. I sent an invitation to my brother and he asked me all about it. He seemed very impressed until I told him how it feeds you ads based on the content of the message you're reading. Boy, did that turn him off. "No way. Not interested!"

When I asked why not he said that "they're reading your email!" well, I wouldn't go that far; it's not like there's some creepy guy in an office somewhere reading what you're reading. Personally, I don't care. Google's such a great company and Gmail's so cool -- the ad thing doesn't bother me at all.

The feature I really like the most is the way it arranges a series of messages that are all replying to the same original; it stacks them from oldest at the top to newest at the bottom, and when you expand it, it shows only the newest text in each message, and none of the quoted text.

Outlook, which so so powerful in so many ways, doesn't do this. If it does then that feature is buried so deep that I certainly can't find it.