Archive for May, 2007

Summer and St. Petersburg

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

The above sight is from our apartment window, from earlier today. It’s coming from the trees. Beautiful. (Nevermind the sound, I was on the phone.)

I was in St. Petersburg for the past few days with my entire company, some eighty people. I had not been to Russia before. My wary expectations of the country were devastated, and I no longer have any reservations against going there. It is a beautiful city. The locals seem to not speak English, but we managed. I had some five hours of strolling around time, and it was barely enough to see one end of the Nevsky Prospekt (go Gogol!).

The weather was so grand that I burnt my neck for the first time this year. We were on a three-hour cruise on the Neva, and the sun just glared down, bringing the temperature up to +26 Celsius (78 Fahrenheit). Nice.

iSync and Nokia 9300 play together

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

I’ve been brewing a disaster, running three separate calendars (Lightning on the MacBook, Basecamp on the web, mobile phone). I finally managed to combine them using the MacBook’s iSync with Nova Media’s cheap plugin (about 10€ + tax). When I stopped trying it the hard way and just paid for the plugin, I was up and running in less than five minutes. Recommended!

I don’t yet have experience on how it all hangs together in practice, but with the plugin I got iSync talking with the Nokia 9300, and iCal should be able to subscribe to Basecamp’s milestones. I think that I can also get Lightning to play with the iCal, but I’m not at all sure if I want to use it anyway… I always disliked the way Outlook put the email and the calendar in the same workspace, making it a pain to write email and check the calendar at the same time.

Ah, the relief. I was expecting disaster to hit at any time, trying to keep up with the three separate calendars. Phew.

Mac apps: communication

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Continuing to list Mac software I’ve found useful, let’s tackle IM, IRC and Web development.

Adium is a multi-network instant messenger. I’m using it for MSN Messenger and Google Talk, and it just works. No problems at all and you don’t have to tweak it to make it look serviceable or unannoying, unlike the many Windows-based IM clients I’ve endured. It’s free, too.

I am not much of an IRC user, so when I do need IRC, I’d like it to be as easy as possible. Colloquy is, and it’s free, to boot. You don’t really have to learn anything, it works the way you’d think it would.

To work, I need a simple Web editor. Dreamweaver is way too hardcore for my needs (updates, small text changes), although I do like it for full-blown development, which I haven’t had to do in some years. And doing things with a plain text editor, web browser and FTP client is a chore. In steps Coda, which basically just integrates the three functions of editing, previewing and transferring to one application. It comes in at a currently reasonable 79$ USD. I’ve been using it for a couple of sites now and so far I like it a lot. It helps that it has integrated CSS support with visual helps, because I do not live and breathe style sheets.

Mac apps: refinement (MacBook)

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Continuing on my initial Mac applications impressions and recommendations, this is an update of sorts.

Path Finder by CocoaTech is essential, really. Considering how good the rest of Mac Os X (Tiger) is, the suckiness that is the Finder baffles me. Path Finder replaces it with a much more useful application which does all of Finder’s work and then some. It isn’t free, but the $35 USD seems very reasonable for less frustration and more work done.

I’ve been using Thunderbird now. Apple’s own Mail did not play nice with our office Exchange, but Thunderbird does. No problems whatsoever, recommended! I am loving the Saved Search (Smart) folders. Make an automated search for all unread or tagged (to-do) email, and presto – they’re in the same virtual folder. Immense time saver.

I just installed the Lightning add-on to Thunderbird for calendar support, we’ll see how it turns out. Currently I need to run several calendars side by side which is a serious pain in the butt (Basecamp, GSM, office).

Neo Office has worked for me, although I’ve only needed Writer (=Word) so far.

I did a clean install on the MacBook to save space and eliminate clutter. It was painless. I would’ve appreciated some options on what bundled apps to install, though; now I need to go through the trouble of throwing away a lot of stuff. The Comic Life is a fun discovery though. Don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but some kids out there ought to be inspired by it.

Bookshelf: Revelation Space (Alastair Reynolds)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

It was interesting reading the Revelation Space series’ debut title last. Some parts of the whole felt better before reading it!

It is a fine scifi epic, competently written, although full of signposts to the effect of “this is my debut book” and “this is the world I created”. Some details are just naive and there is far too much exposition, especially toward the end. The closing is somewhat let down by over-explaining things.

In a way I liked the series more before reading this premiere part. Things like the Inhibitors, the Captain and the Caches and much of the characters felt better when you had to piece together the back story from clues. I’m recalling from the English editions here – I read the Finnish edition of Revelation Space, so pardon me if I got the terms incorrectly!

While Reynolds’ technique is not honed yet here, the story is brought to a suitably massive conclusion, with perfectly serviceable tying up of clues in the process.

Even a somewhat clumsy Revelation Space “new” space opera is still delicious. There are neutron stars, cultures destroyed aeons ago, plots spanning a million years, warping of time-space, computer matrixes with the power of gods, old-fashioned violence and cybernetic rats. I couldn’t put the book down for the last hundred pages or so.

Indeed, I feel like maybe I should embark on a re-read of the rest of the series now.

Finnish police not up to par

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Finland’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat is reporting (in Finnish) that some of the police suspected of using excessive force in the September 2006 Smash Asem demonstrations in Helsinki have remained unidentified. I understand that it’s difficult to find out who’s telling the truth, I understand it’s been a confusing night, and I understand that the police involved are protecting their own, but come on – unidentified? It’s not like it was a full-on riot or anything.

Of course it’s entirely possible that the remaining accusations of excessive force are fabricated, I don’t know the details. They have already identified two police who are now facing charges.

Sounds suspiciosly like a prelude to giving up on the investigation. I don’t agree with the Smash Asem crowd at all and I’m basically on the police’s side of the fence on this one, but you need to handle this shit properly. Throwing your hands up on this one is a lot like silently admitting guilt.

Mac apps: A beginning

Monday, May 7th, 2007

So I’ve fiddled with my work MacBook over the weekend and installed a lot of crap to cover everything I need. This is a list of stuff I’ve found useful and would likely install in a new Mac, too.

Desktop Manager for more space. It’s a free virtual desktop solution, effectively multiplying my screen estate. Currently I’m using a web browsing, email and office desktop. I can change the desktop by taking the mouse to the screen edge or hitting [Option + left/right]. The software’s kind of old and the Universal Binary (Intel-compatible) version is made by another guy, but so far it’s worked well despite being a little clunky. Any PC user would be so envious of your funky desktop transition animations – I know I was.

Quicksilver for launching apps and finding stuff, which I already recommended in my last post. Really minimizes mouse use and time spent in menus.

Thunderbird for email. The Mac’s native does not play nice with the Exchange server we have set up at the office. Thunderbird does. It also feels more like the Outlook I’m so familiar with. Saved searches (like Mac’s “smart folders”) are a godsend – everyone should try them out if you’re unfamiliar with them. I don’t know if the PC version has them, too. I have saved searches for all flagged and unread items.

Growl for keeping me up to date on what’s happening with my hardware, notifying me of new email, new songs on iTunes and so on.

Coda for web development. It doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do with a separate editor, a browser and an FTP application, but it brings them all together in one workspace. Excellent when low on screen space, that is, working on the MacBook.

iTunes for music playing. I like the latest version a lot more than the previous ones. There is the not-insignificant reason that I need it to play with the office AirPort Express, too – I’d have to use iTunes anyway, so it’s a bonus I like it. I used to be very much a Windows Media Player kind of guy, just for reference.

I’m still looking for a calendar solution and remain undecided on the office solution. I’m currently trying out NeoOffice, the OpenOffice Mac version. If it plays well with the Microsoft documents I have to play around with at work, no need to shell out for Microsoft Office. I do suspect I may need the package for the full-fledged PowerPoint, though, as we do produce quite a lot of presentations.

Meeting the Mac (MacBook)

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

I’ve used Windows PCs all my life, with merely cursory looks at Apple computers in various computer classes in school. Yesterday at work I said I needed a new computer and got a little-used MacBook. Not the newest Intel Core 2 Duo model, but an Intel Core Duo nevertheless. After some initial stumbling, I’m beginning to like it. A lot. I am hesitant to completely abandon my Acer laptop, crappy as it was, but at this rate it’s going the way of the dodo next week.

For one thing, it’s a laptop I’m comfortable using as-is, without a external display and even without a mouse. The keyboard feels natural, it doesn’t get too hot, the battery has a life expectancy of more than half an hour. Many of the details make me wonder why PC laptop manufacturers can’t take a hint.

The keyboard looks very simple, like they hadn’t thought about the placement of keys at all, but it’s just natural. I’m comfortable typing on it! The touchpad performs so well that while using it as a laptop, I don’t miss my mouse. I haven’t seen the two-finger scrolling on a laptop before; so convenient.

The display is simply so good that I don’t necessarily need a monitor. But there’s more to it than clarity and resolution. The OS handles multiple applications so economically that so far I don’t see an absolute need for another display, although I’m still sure I’ll plug my secondary monitor on at work – my search engine optimization work does require two full-size applications on at once.

As far as problems go, currently I have two issues. One is navigation in text: I’m so used to the Windows conventions that it’s proving cumbersome. Second is the lack of Microsoft Internet Explorer, which I need for some web applications, like the full-featured Exchange webmail. I still have a Windows PC at home and there are plenty of Windows machines at work when I need one, so no problem there.

The single biggest thing I love is Quicksilver. It’s sheer genius and I don’t understand why there isn’t one for Windows – or if there is, I don’t know about it. The basic premise may not sound like much, but especially when using the MacBook as a laptop it’s a godsend. The idea is that I press a key combination to bring up the Quicksilver dialog (I’m using [alt + space]) and then type the first few letters of whatever I want to do next.

To access my email, ma
To open iTunes, it
To access this site, pos
To access the 9rules site, 9
To open my documents foler, do

And then just press Enter. No fiddling for the mouse and opening menus.

So it doesn’t matter whether I want to find something or launch an application or whatever – Quicksilver does it all. I am thoroughly impressed!

As for software choices, I don’t know yet. I’m trying a bit of everything to find the best email, word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and web development tools.