end kvetch

Macs, productivity, &c.

My Experience with Chumby

chbablk_side_500x450I’m one of those people who dreams of the days when, upon waking, a pleasant, synthesized voice announces the weather, our schedule for the day and all that business (think Jarvis in Iron Man or S.A.R.A.H. in Eureka).

If I wanted to have my computer talk to me in the morning, I could do something like this. However, there’s no way to have my MacBook rattle off the weather or my agenda (although, if I told it to say “School: 8:15 AM to 3:45 PM. That is all.”, it’d probably be right 90% of the time). Also, if you’ve played with your Mac’s speech settings lately, you’ve probably noticed that none of the voices really fall into the “pleasant” category.

Considering that Pipe Organ is the zenith of our current progress in the synthesized voice field, it might be best to stick with a less chatty morning briefing system for the time being. Short of hiring a personal assistant (I would totally settle for my own Pepper Potts), Chumby seems like a pretty slick system. Basically, you keep the cute little duffer by your bed and it makes a lot of noise when you tell it to (i.e., it’s an alarm clock) and then it plays a stream of information including weather, your email inbox, Facebook updates, Google Calendar agenda, and, of course, Chuck Norris facts. In theory, it sounds pretty swell, but there’s a couple things that make this $200 alarm clock sub-par.

The biggest problem with the Chumby is its internet connection. Since basically everything is stored on the Web (rather than on the device itself), the Chumby can only do four things without an internet connection: 1) display the time, 2) do its whole alarm thing, 3) play music from your iPod or computer and 4) be cuddly. This wouldn’t really be that big of a deal if the internet connection wasn’t so flaky. My Chumby loses its connection much more often than my computer or iTouch and when I try to reconnect, it frequently doesn’t work.

Even when I can get the Chumby connected, another problem presents itself. At 6:00 AM on a weekday in the pitch black and freezing cold of a winter morning, I suddenly find that squinting at my calender or the weather isn’t as fascinating as I thought it was (especially when the latter is easily summarized as “damn cold”). Granted, this isn’t really the Chumby’s fault, but I can’t help but think that a nice big LCD monitor next to my bed would improve on the concept.

The default clock (i.e., the only one which works without a Web connection) isn’t too hot either. It’s low contrast and fairly small, so I can’t see what time it is from across the room (without my contacts, at least).

Of course, Chumby has his good qualities, he can play Pandora (often haltingly due to a poor wireless connection), he can play music from my iPod (although, it doesn’t work with my iTouch, just my old Nano. Oh, and it can’t play anything with DRM). My Chumby’s coolest function (arguably) may also be the creepiest: With the right widget, you can view the feed from random security cams around the world.  While the footage of snow-covered Helsenki streets isn’t exactly exciting, there are some more interesting feeds mixed in.  It’s great preparation for a career as a security guard.

Really though, after seeing just how bad things can get when S.A.R.A.H. malfunctions, maybe I should be counting my lucky stars that the cute little Chumby doesn’t holler at/try to kill me when it malfunctions.

Filed under: Kvetching, , , , , , , , , ,

Software Sumo: Journler vs. MacJournal (Rematch)

sumo.png

Some people did not like the agèd nature of MacJournal during the original match. So now, considering that MacJournal has just released a new version and Journler will soon be going commercial, I figured I would do a “fairer” match-up.

Interface

I must say, kudos to Mariner for the improvements in the MacJournal interface. It is starting to look like a nice, Leopard-worthy app. However, one thing I simply do not get is the fact that some of those godawful toolbar icons from v2 are still hanging around. I mean, they have a new dock icon, I don’t think it would kill them to get some new toolbar icons as well. Those hideous, Panther-y icons are what’s really killing this interface. I’m not crazy about the fullscreen here (but I’m not really big on fullscreen writing anyway) but it is quite customizable. The option to display entries either in the sidebar or above the actual entry text (like you would see messages in Mail) is nice. The calender looks a bit odd swimming in a see of white space when one’s sidebar is extra wide but otherwise it looks a-okay. One thing I do not like is that while in three-pane view, the entry list does not have an alternating background. The entry selection buttons (on the far left of the toolbar) are a little odd because they go up and down rather than left/right. Although this makes more sense I still think it looks a little odd (however, the plastic finish on the buttons is nice).

macjournalscreensnapz002.png

The Journler interface recieved a pretty small facelift with the latest update. The main change is that I noticed is slightly more spacing in the entry list. Overall, the Journler interface is quite similar to that of MacJournal. I prefer the calender in Journler and I obviously prefer Journler’s toolbar icons. Magically, Journler finds out what your system folder icons and uses them in its sidebar. I also like the more integrated header in Journler because it is both easier to fill out and, in my opinion, looks better.

journlerscreensnapz001.png

MacJournal: 7/10 – This would be a really solid interface if Mariner would just redo those buttons!

Journler: 8/10 – A nice, consistent interface that could use a couple tweaks.

Features

I’m not sure if journals in MacJournal are supposed to act like folders, but I’m not feeling it. Although journals can be placed inside each other, I really don’t like how the hierarchy works. Bad folder structure aside, MacJournal has all the features I would expect. It has wiki-linking, labels, fullscreen and blogging as well as sound and video recording.

Journler has finally brought real tags, a feature I have been waiting for for a while. Journler has all the features of MacJournal except blogging support which was recently dropped because the developer decided it was an underdeveloped feature. However, I do feel that the fullscreen (which includes all three panes rather than just the text) isn’t as strong as the fullscreen in MacJournal.

MacJournal: 7/10 – Bad folder hierarchy aside, a very nice set of features.

Journler: 7/10 – Good features but no blogging and fullscreen is lacking.

Overall

Journler is ahead by just a little bit and because it will be selling for ten dollars less, I think it’s the better choice.

MacJournal ($34.95): 14/20 – Needs more polishing, but it’s a good app at the core.

Journler ($24.95 as of v2.6): 15/20 – A good journaling application that needs a bit of work in some areas.

Look here for more screenshots from this edition of Software Sumo.

Filed under: Apple, Software Sumo, , , , , , ,

Software Sumo: X-Chat Aqua vs. Linkinus vs. Colloquy

sumo.png

Yes indeedy, our first three-way match. Today, we’ll be looking at IRC apps (which for some reason have hard-to-spell named). IRC, in case you don’t know, is Internet Relay Chat and is basically a somewhat outdated (but still reasonably popular) group chat protocol. Wikipedia probably describes it best. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to say that I myself use Colloquy but if I wasn’t a penny-pincher I would use Linkinus. However, the owner of one of my most frequented channels is an avid X-Chat user (but, for the record, he is running Panther and isn’t big on the direction Apple is headed). Anyway, [insert wrestling announcer type phrase here].

Interface

Personally, the X-Chat interface makes me want to gauge my eyes out. It does not look like it belongs on a Mac, it’s nonstandard and non-graphical. My X-Chat loving friend claims you can “make it look like anything you want” but what he is really saying is “it can be any shade of ugly that you desire.” Unlike the other two, it does not allow for different styles (think message styles in Adium) but it does allow you to change the colors. Sadly, all the lipstick in the world won’t help this pig. X-Chat also has a horrible, text-based preference system that I find really hard to navigate.

x-chat-aquascreensnapz001.png

Linkinus is another story, it is attractive out of the metaphorical box and provides a number of message styles (the bulky but fancy Apt is shown) and a SDK to build your own (although I have not been able to find any more ready-made styles, which is a shame). One of my favorite interface elements is topic bar that scrolls if the topic is too long to be seen in one go. Otherwise the interface is nice and polished. (Also, the Linkinus icon makes me droll, I’ve even cannibalized it and am now using it as my Colloquy icon. Linkinus has a preference system very similar to System Preferences which I found somewhat out of place in an application but others may like. Finally, Linkinus is the only one of these apps with a menu item. I also believe that it may badge the dock icon with the messages remaining. These are both things I wish Colloquy did.

linkinusscreensnapz002.png

Like Adium, Colloquy has a customizable, polished (but still kinda rough-around-the-edges) interface. It has a variety of message styles (and an additional small selection online) and a handy tool for making minor changes to a style right in the app. The navigation sidebar is similar to Linkinus’s except room members are displayed below the room rather than on a separate pane on the other side of the window. The style in the screenshot is custom (but based off of Smooth Operator).

colloquyscreensnapz002.png

X-Chat: 3/10 – Ugly and cryptic with limited customizability.
Linkinus: 8/10 – Attractive and customizable.
Colloquy: 8/10 – See above.

Features

My X-Chat loving friend uses it because of the features. And I must admit, it does have the most features of all three. It displays IP addresses when people join (something that apparently is hand) and does all sorts of IRC power user-y stuff that I, being something of an IRC n00b, have no need for. X-Chat does support logging but the logs are horribly formatted and hard to read.

Linkinus is a midway. It also displays IPs on join and overall seems a little bit more powerful than Colloquy. However, since I squandered my 15 day trial, I wasn’t able to do much with an eye for reviewing. Linkinus also has logging and the logs are presented like regular messages, your chosen style and all (i.e., it does the same thing iChat does).

Colloquy lacks a lot of hardcore IRC features in favor of Mac-like simplicity. For instance, X-Chat friend has made fun of the /whois which instead of sending you an IRC message with the information, gives you a little inspector window (I personally like it). The IP is not shown upon join (and this has made me the butt of several practical jokes). Colloquy logging works the same way as Linkinus logging.

X-Chat: 7/10 – Most features, too many for me.
Linkinus: 8/10 – The features I need without a bunch of extra junk.
Colloquy: 5/10 – Needs a little more power!

Overall

All exactly three points apart, Linkinus took the cake and X-Chat came in last. Do you agree with this assessment? Do you use a different IRC client like Conversation? Weigh in.

X-Chat (Free): 10/20 – Being the aesthete that I am, X-Chat’s slew of features did not allow it to triumph over the very poor interface.

Linkinus ($20, $15 for students): 16/20 – Linkinus got top marks all around, now if only it were free.

Colloquy (Free): 13/20 – Colloquy is the best choice for the price, it has a good interface but lacks power.

Filed under: Apple, Software Sumo, , , , , , , , ,

Software Sumo: YummySoup! vs. MacGourmet

sumo.png

As you can probably tell from my recent influx of Chef RPG-related posts and the fact that I was watching cooking shows at 3 last night, I am more into cooking than usual. So, seeing as how there are just about as many cooking apps are there are RSS readers for Mac I decided to review two of the more prominent ones. This Software Sumo will be a little different because I am not going into it with a clear preference. Also, rather than having Freeware vs. Lite version of shareware like usual, we will have two paid apps facing off.

Interface

Both apps have a fairly basic interface. We have the conventional three-pane view with a sidebar containing folders, a top pane with recipes and a bottom pane that displays the selected one.

macgor.png saved-screenshot.png

Although it seems like a silly thing to say, I must point out that I prefer the default proportions of YummySoup! better. Overall, the YS! interface seems more polished and modern. One thing I like about MacGourmet is the ability to choose different layout styles for the recipes (akin to message views in Adium). In YS! there is a “browse by image” option that is rather Cover Flow-esque. My main (and really, only) issue with the YS! interface is that damn seal thing. I appreciate that they let you change the default recipe image but it still lurks around. If MG did that I wouldn’t mind because I like their icon.

YummySoup!: 8/10 – Despite that stupid seal this is a very good interface.
MacGourmet: 7/10 – Good, but feels a little cluttered and rough.

Features

Both of these applications have all of the things you would expect from a recipe keeper. They have a full-screen (or large) view, ratings, difficulty, pictures, shopping and wine lists, etc. Most of these things I will never use, and may even consider as bloatage but its always nice to know that I can plan my wines in advance.

The recipe adding interface, arguably the most important part, is where I noticed the greatest difference. YS! has a very simple, one-paned design with handy autofill (configurable in the menu), MG, on the other had is a complicated jumble. In fact, the MG interface was so unintuitive that I wasn’t even sure where to put the actual name of the ingredient. I also don’t get why MG needs a whopping seven panes to get done only slightly more than what YS! can do in a single one (MG allows you to enter tools and nutritional information).

macgourmet.png

YummySoup!: 10/10 – The only feature it lacks is someone to cook the food for you.
MacGourmet: 8/10 – Same features, but many are poorly executed.

Overall

YummySoup!: 18/20 – A better application at a lower price. I’d go with this one. No doubt.
MacGourmet: 15/20 – Not only does it cost $5 more but its harder to use.

YummySoup! – $20
MacGourmet – $24.95 (Most popular software price)

Thank you, and join us next time when we’ll review assignment trackers, just in time for back to school!

Filed under: Apple, Software Sumo, , , , , , , ,

Software Sumo: NewsNetWireLite vs. Vienna

sumo.png

Just to start off with a clear air I will admit right now that I am a diehard Vienna fan and not big on NNWL. My personal preferences aside, let the match begin!

Interface

Many people don’t like Vienna’s interface but I personally find it acceptable. For those of you who don’t know NNW (but not Lite) recently received a interface lift. Let’s take a look at the two apps now.


My biggest issue with NNWL is its interface. I can’t pin down a single part of it that annoys me but I find the whole package to be rather off-putting. However, this is purely a visual thing, I think the interface is perfectly navigatable and consistent with other OS apps. I think for someone who is less of an aesthete the NNWL interface will do fine. (The interface is also much improved in the new version of NNW). One last little minor thing that I don’t like about the NNW(L) environment is the non-standard dock badge (which you can judge for yourself).


As I said earlier, many people take issue with the Vienna interface. Two issues that tend to repeat are the brushed metal and its inconsistencies with the standard OS X environment (namely, the controls at the bottom and the thick window border). Strangely, for all of my love of consistency these things don’t bug me. This may be because I like my news-reader to be more of a widgetesque app (a simple program that is is simple and streamlined). One option that people like about Vienna is the three-column view (shown) that is not available in NNWL. Yet another nice thing about Vienna is the option to use different styles.

NewNetWire Lite: 7/10 – An intuitive but less-than-gorgeous interface.
Vienna: 8/10 – A controversial interface that I feel is diverse and effective.

Features

Now, even though I’m not big on bloated feature-full RSS readers I know some people are. I’m sorry to say it but Vienna wins out here too. Although free, Vienna has many of the features that are in the full version of NNW but absent from the Lite one (these include an integrated browser and a bunch of other stuff). Of course, you could shell out $30 for a couple more features and an interface you may find more appealing but unless you have a hedge fund to burn I’d suggest Vienna for features.

NewsNetWire Lite: 7/10 – Has the features I need but not enough for everyone.
Vienna: 9/10 – The developer(s) could make good money with features like these.

Overall

Vienna has one with a fairly slim lead. I feel that this is one that is really up to the user. It depends what you are looking for in an reader. Please share you opinions.

Vienna – Free
NewsNetWire (Lite) – Lite is free, $29.95 for the full version.

P.S Ignore any misspellings…it’s complicated.

Filed under: Apple, Oldies, Software Sumo, , , , , , , , , ,

Software Sumo: MacJournal vs. Journler

sumo.png

There has been a rematch! After complaints that an old version of MacJournal was used, I have reviewed these two apps again. Click here to see the new review.

I have finally caved to HitTail’s requests and now I am launching a new feature: Software Sumo! Software Sumo will evaluate two Mac softwares (often freeware…in which case I guess it would be Freeware Fencing). Today we will be kicking off with MacJournal vs. Journler. Soon I hope to evaluate NetNewsWire (Lite) and Vienna. Any other requests you have for match-ups can be emailed to me. And now your regularly scheduled programming….

As the names imply MacJournal and Journler are both journaling applications. For the purposes of fair evaluation I have chosen to match up the latest free version of MacJournal (2.6) against Journler.

Interface

In this first screenshot we see a comparison of the toolbars:


Journler has a nice unified look going while MacJournal has a split aqua thing going on (however, in the most recent, fairly pricey version they have moved on to unified). The buttons are fairly similar but I prefer the ones in Journler.

Next, lets look at the MacJournal window:


We see there are two drawers, one that holds journals and another that holds entries. In the middle there is a basic text entry area with a title box, a main body area and a small button to lock the entry. Pretty boring stuff especially compared to this next shot of the Journler window:


Here we see a three pane, Mail-style layout. On the side we see the Journals (as well as a nifty calendar), on the top pane we see entries (with plenty of information about them) and on the bottom we have the text. The text pane allows for a title and the body text as well as tags, a category and the date. There is also a handy word count ribbon at the bottom of the window.

I certainly prefer the interface of Journler because it is more compact without drawers hanging out all over the place, it provides more data and it just looks better (if not perfectly integrated with the OS’s interface).

MacJournal: 5/10 – Looks like it stepped out of Jaguar or Panther.
Journler: 8/10 – Doesn’t look completely at home among other windows but fairly nice looking.

Features

Both applications have rich text entry and picture capabilities as well as journal locking and statistics and blogging (which we’ll look at in the next section). In addition to these Journler has labels (arrived in a later version of MacJournal) and better media integration. I personally never use the media features but I’m sure people will find them handy. In my opinion, as long as the application has basic text and organization features it can pass as a decent journaling application (or at least an improvement from using MS Word).

MacJournal: 7/10 – Has the basic features but not much else.
Journler: 9/10 – The only feature I wish it had is new Blogger support.

Blogging

MacJournal has full support for LiveJournal and Blogger, Journler has support for most every blogging service. Journler clearly says that it does not yet support the new Blogger, MacJournal does not address the issue but I assume that is the case because it would not configure correctly (this is a problem I have had with all blogging clients besides MarsEdit and Flock). Obviously I cannot try out the blogging features (at least not until they get new Blogger support).

Overall

Overall, Journler has scored better with 17/20 as opposed to MacJournal’s 12/20. This certainly reflects my experiences, anyone else who has used these apps want to chime in?

Journler – Free ($10-20 Donation Suggested)
MacJournal – 2.6 is Free, Others $29.95

As you can see, at the moment applications are only being evaluated based on two main points, if you have more suggestions please email them in.

Filed under: Apple, Oldies, Software Sumo, , , , , , , ,