Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Queen

Caitlin and I went to see The Queen last night. Good film, I can see why Hellen Mirren won (and is nominated for) awards.

Maybe I'm just and anglophile, but I like Britons. I like their culture, the way they dress. That and I'm weird and pay attention to wardrobe choices and set design in movies.

But this movie was good. Aside from James Cromwell's slightly hammed portrayal of the Duke of Edinburgh, and Alex Jennings' accent as Prince Charles (it sounded too fake), it was a great look at the English Monarchy coming to terms with the 21st century (yes, I'm aware it was set in the 90s, but you know what I mean).

Also the director did an excellent job of splicing stock footage of Diana's wedding, etc., with movie footage. It rivaled Roert Zemeckis' splicing in Forrest Gump. Actually it was 100% better, because Stephen Frears didn't make stock footage people interact wth actors, he just cut them together well.

That and I had no idea Scotland could be that beautiful. I always thought of it as a soggy, forever-overcast netherworld. But Balmoral is apparently breathtaking. Good show, Mr. Frears.

And I reather liked Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. I think the only other portrayal of a modern UK Prime Minister is Hugh Grant in Love Actually. The fact that Sheen plays a real Prime Minister, and does it well enough that I believe him, is exceptional.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Things I Hate: Microsoft Entourage

You know, sometimes there's just no excuse. I like simplicity. Apple's Mail provides that.

But at work, we use Entourage. I suppose so we can be on par with all the other MNG papers. Whoopie. Personally, I don't see a problem with using Mail and letting everyone who works with Windows use Outlook, but I suppose there's a compatibility reason I just haven't considered.

Mail is easy to use. It's like all the iLife software. Like iTunes and iPhoto, you can create folders and smart folders, just like Finder. It just works.

Entourage? Entourage sucks. For some reason, Microsoft and their wretched "Mac BU" think just because you're forced to used one of the Office apps, you secretly desire to use all of them, including stupid mini-apps like the calendar and address book (which by the way, are both completely proprietary).

Not to hold you from your inner-most fantasies, Office for Mac kindly mandates you put all your addresses in its address book, and use its calendar, and write to-do's on its to-do list. Which, of course, do not synchronize with Address Book or iCal. And of course this means you can't keep the address book on your home computer up to date with the one on your work computer. And of course this means your calendar, even though Apple designed iCal to sync with .Mac transparently, is now completely obsolete.

Because who wants to spend an hour after coming home from work updating their calendar?

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Entourage's UI is just bad. They take a few lessons from Gmail. Notably, they have a thing called "categories," which is Microsoft's way of saying "labels." But as far as I can tell, that's where they stopped with the label idea. You can assign a message categories, but you still have to file the e-mail in a folder.

If you're like me, and you hate having messages in your inbox, this can be particularly redundant and unintuitive.

Further, the default view for the inbox and each folder you create is set to show in "Groups," something else Microsoft knew you would love.

Groups? Yeah, basically Entourage just separates the messages by day with subheaders. Well, almost day. After like three days it changes from "Wednesday" to "Last Week," or something stupid.

Again, if you're like me, and you like to have the mail program pretty small (it notifies you of messages, why do you need it to be anywhere near fullscreen?), you'll find this eats up space. A lot of space.

The icing on the cake? To change view options for a folder, you have to change it via a submenu in the menu bar. No keyboard shortcut. And you can't select more than one folder. You have to do it one-by-one. Just what I wanted, Microsoft, how did you know?

Sure, Entourage shows you links, where messages that are similar in subject or content are linked together (much *cough* a lot *cough* like Gmail's conversations), but it's just another Microsoft pain-in-my-butt.

Now that I'm out of college, I find myself using Word a lot less, which I suppose is very nice. Since we use News Edit Pro at work, I don't use it there at all. I use Excel as an e-checkbook, and to balance what Caitlin and I owe each other (e.g., groceries, utilities). And I do still use Word occasionally. But as I write this in TextEdit, and it checks my spelling, and I can use OpenOffice (which will probably have an OpenXML plugin months, nay seasons, ahead of Microsoft's Mac BU). Well, I think I use NeoOffice, because it doesn't require X11.

I should just come right out and say I hate Microsoft. But I'll probably trash another one, two or ten of their products. So I'll save that for a day far down the road.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Art Deco is the Shiz-Nit

Seriously. It is.

Caitlin and I just got back from visiting her friend, Abby, who lives in Baltimore. Not just in Baltimore, but within walking distance of Inner Harbor. Pretty cool. I'm jealous. Maybe it's because I grew up in the woods, went to school in Shippensburg and work in Hanover. Probably.

Anyway, Abby lives in "The Standard," which -- if you believe the carving above the side entrace -- used to be a Standard Oil Co. Building. They've done a fantastic job of decorating the place, and all the signs are in Art-Deco font, down to the laundry room and little diagrams telling you how to get out should the building catch fire. Of course, the interiors of the apartments are "normal," i.e., not art deco unless the tenant chooses to make it so. But the building is really cool.

It was a nice weekend. We walked around Inner Harbor, went to the pop-culture museum that's over by Camden Yards, had dinner at Shuckers in Fells Point, good times. We watched A Cock and Bull Story, which is oddly like Adaptation, except it's funny.

Got up this morning, and drove to IKEA, because heck, when you're within driving distance you might as well. Actually, I had a whole list of stuff to get. Because IKEA's shipping rates are outrageous for online shopping. My list included a new desk lamp, pencil jar, wastepaper basket, shower caddy and desk. I got everything, too. It's a nice store, and they make awesome stuff.

Some of the room sets they had, like the areas where they took a bunch of their products and set them up, pretending people actually lived there, were just well done.

When I have a house (or a reasonable-sized apartment), I'm definitely wandering around IKEA to look for inspiration. We really need a new couch, but today wasn't the day to spend $400 and then have IKEA delivery the beast to your house the next day. My desk didn't fit in the car (I actually thought they were sold out, as their online "inventory checker" lead me to believe... bastard), so we had to tie it to the roof. It's cool, IKEA gives you free triangular cardboard "roof racks," and lenghts of rope were only $1.

But I of course picked the windiest day of the year to do this, so it was like driving a sail down I-695. Not fun.

But we made it home. Let me tell you, it was heavy. Heavier than a box containing a desk should be.

All in all a very good weekend.

Pictures on Flickr.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Smokin' Aces

There's definitely something to be said about a movie that gives you glimpses of a sleazy, greasy world, but at the same time makes you want to immerse yourself. To get dirty. Get grit in your hair and breathe in the aroma of second hand smoke, body odor, scotch and gun oil.

Smokin' Aces makes me want to do all those things. The brief scenes from the trailer make me desperatevly want to see the movie. And I can't explain why. And then the splash at the end taunts you with a fully loaded cast: Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys, "Common."

And who doesn't love a burned-out, half-drunk, sleazball of an FBI witness/Vegas magician named Buddy Israel.

The movie looks like the director just stole Domino's DP and said "here, make this movie." But the wisely added, "but make it good."

Sidenote: Domino's DP did Mission Impossible III? Who knew?
Smokin' Aces' DP did Tears of the Sun. Thought I'd throw that in there.


Maybe DP isn't the position I want. In these days of digital filming, it really isn't the film and lenses you use, but what effects you put on the "film" to get it to look a certain way. C'est la vie.

But good movies often have a writer/director, as Smokin' Aces does. I've always been of the opinion that stories are told better when the same guy who wrote it brings it to life, ala Gattaca.

I can't wait to see it, but at the same time I know I'll probably be forced to wait until it comes out on disc, or iTunes (by then). It isn't a movie I can imagine Caitlin wanting to see. And I'm not going home soon, so I can't just see it with Lee. Well, maybe it will be playing in February when I go back. I don't know, we'll see.

Until then, I'll just make do by reading how a movie like this is Ben Affleck's second step toward redeeming his career from bad career moves.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Portable Document Format

At first I praised Adobe considerably for implementing the PDF. I saw it as an end to paper in the world.

An easy way to digitize documents. (Short of saving all your docs as JPEGs, I suppose.)

And you know I really don't know why Adobe didn't just make something that read JPEGs like PDFs, but I suppose this way they can have their own proprietary format.

Anyway. Soon after my praise of PDF I began to learn exactly how limited it was. I could not create a PDF without either paying hundreds of dollars, or getting an illegal copy. Acrobat Reader did just what it sounds like -- it read, it didn't write. I made sure to add Acrobat to my list of apps to get with my new computer.

But Apple sort of got PDF back on track. It supports "Save as PDF..." when you print. Imagine! Being able to print something as a PDF instead of wasting paper! It's like taking the middle man out of the digitization process.

Drawback No. 2: I was unaware, until recently, Adobe didn't really flesh out Acrobat, or the format, as I had hoped. I.e., there's absolutely no way to crop a PDF.

For a prime example, let's use me (well, if you insist). I save PDFs of The Evening Sun, because they make them readily available to us via a server here at work. It's easier, I thought, that clipping newspaper articles every day, glueing them to a piece of paper and then scanning them in to be saved as a PDF. I still have a stack of newspapers at home, but they're my "backup" copies.

Imaqine my sadness when I figured out there was no way to cut out my article from the PDF copy. I mourned my so-called paper-savior format for weeks.

Then, purely by accident, I found Apple had already come to my rescue. On top of being so cool about integrating PDFs into their OS, Apple's Preview (A great way to look at a PDF, JPEG, and any other format you can imagine without havig to load a gigantic app) allows you to select an area of a PDF via crosshairs, and copy that area to the clipboard.

Boom. bridge found. From the clipboard, the story will go to Photoshop, where I can piece it together with the day's masthead and page head (I like to do this, it gives me easy access to the volume number, date and page on which the story ran). I haven't decided if I'll save the whole thing as a PNG or PDF yet, but I figure I can make that decision down the road.

It's still a fair amount of work to archive my clips, but it doesn't involve a scanner (I was also disheartened to learn most scanner's beds are too small to accomodate broadsheet-sized paper, thereby rendering them useless for scanning newspaper articles).

Score another one for Apple. I've had this computer six months, and I'm still figuring stuff out that makes me wonder why I wasn't a Mac user from day one.

More Design

I have to say, I love Wired's new look.

I honestly have no clue when they switched to the nice, spacious white-grey-and-orange look, but it suits them well. They're old scheme made them look like HotBot and WebMonkey's love child. And while I applaud them for sticking with rotating colors of checkerboard blocks to unify the different blogs and sections (which mirror the masthead), it was like an Andy Warhol nightmare.

The new look, though. Mmmm. I like minimalism. I like it a lot (note: it is best to read this aloud, imitating Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective).

I don't know when they switched because, frankly, I just read the RSS fee through Safari. Which, by the way, is also deliciously minimal.

Another reason I can't say enough about Apple and their design teams. Sure, Jonathan Ive can put a pretty box around it, but damn if the software doesn't mirror the exquisite tastes of less-is-more.

Apple even encourages it, usually with a small rounded rectangle in the upper-right corner of the window. Click it and the menu bar goes away, leaving you with nothing but what you're looking at. (This works in Mail, Address Book, iCal, etc. Safari, while it doesn't have a button, just uses keyboard shortcuts to achieve the same effect.)

Heck, if I wasn't so worried about phishing, I would banish the status bar from the bottom of Safari. But I can't get used to not knowing where a link might take me.

Is it weird I love minimalism, but also seriffed font? I think that's a paradox, and yet I don't care. Especially since with less crap on a (Web or paper) page, serifs stand out so much more, and look fabulous.

Time to go day dream of the day my new router will arrive (Apple says March 6. Which means when they said "ships February," what they meant was "ships on the last day of February, and damn why isn't it a leap year >.<". I'm sure they used the emoticon as well.)

Oh, and we're headed down to Baltimore this weekend to visit a friend of Caitlin. Which means we'll be within driving distance of the elusive IKEA store. I plan to buy a nice Antifoni lamp, and drool over the Jerker desks.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cham-paggen, Anyone?

So it's finally getting cold. 'BOUT TIME.

But that doesn't mean if will stay that way. This freeze/that/freeze/thaw cycle we seem to be on might be perfect for fermenting champagne, but it's sure to drive people mad. Mad, I say!

Besides, everyone knows the Frenchys who live in that region are crazy anyway.

I'm heading back to the lake this weekend. My mom's birthday is Tuesday, and I want to take my bike back. At least up there it will have a roof over its head (but no walls, we hang them under the porch). I suppose not having snow AT ALL this year has a good side -- my bike didn't rust. Although it has rained a lot.

We're (Caitlin and I) working more toward making our apartment look like we live there. We've hung three more posters (AC Moore finally had a sale on frames! Honestly, who wants to pay $20 for a piece of cardboard, Plexiglas and four strips of plastic?). And I bought a new router, an Airport Express. Darn right it's an Apple router. See pics of my obligatory Apple fanboy unboxing over at Flickr. Also, notice the difference between the new router, and the ugly old D-Link I "borrowed" from my parents.

I'll post pics of the posters later tonight. Maybe even put one on here. GASP a picture on The Butterfly Net? Well, the Doomsday Clock did strike five minutes to midnight this morning.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I Hate Yahoo! Part II

I activated my @yahoo.com e-mail address. In my pre-iPhone excitement I thought, gee, I should start using the addy I have through Yahoo (via Flickr etc.).

So I signed in, poked around. All I wanted really was the POP (or IMAP, I had hoped. But apparently Yahoo IMAP is only due out closer to iPhone release) address so I could add the account to Mail and check it through that. I hate Web mail. I hate being tied into an arbitrary UI.

But I couldn't find a POP server address. So I decided I'd just set the darn thing to forward my mail to my Gmail address, and just check it through Mail via Gmail.

Oh wait, says Yahoo, NO. I e-mailed their tech support. They told me that I can only access my mail account via POP when I PAY FOR YAHOO PLUS PREMIUM SERVICE.

What the foshizzle? Pay? For something that should be free? Excuse me, but no.

Gmail of course provides you with the option to use POP, or forward your mail. Hotmail allows you to access your mail with Outlook via POP (which means I could have used Entourage, Mail, Thunderbird, etc.). So what's up with that Yahoo? Seriously.

You suck. How are you the world's largest e-mail provider? Is the rest of the world just dumb?