Archive for January, 2009

Now Playing: January 2009

Getting in under the wire here, as it’s *almost* February! 🙂

  • K T Tunstall, “Eye To The Telescope”
    • Just good folk/pop/rock kinda stuff.  Love her voice, and she writes some incredibly catchy songs!
  • The Killers, “Day & Age”
    • The newest release from this “isn’t this 1982” throwback band.  Great album!
  • Interpol, “Our Love To Admire”
    • Though I enjoyed their last release, “Antics”, this album just appeals to be more all the way around.
  • Mogwai, “The Hawk Is Howling”
    • Incredible “instrumental” album recommended to me by a co-worker.  Don’t let the lack of vocals stop you from checking this out.  Really, really good stuff, and great for a non-distracting album while you’re working on things!
  • Snow Patrol, “A Hundred Million Suns”
    • A good album, for the most part, but the “heart-wrenching post-relationship” content gets pretty old.  Are these guys the modern-day Air Supply or something?

Enough of this, though.  Back to my music!

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Nice Win7 features…

My continuing experience with Windows 7 (Beta 7000) continues to be very positive.  Not perfect, but positive – and I am more than ready to move on from Vista to Win7.  Funny thing, though… my Vista experience has personally been quite good, but I can see very clearly how Win7 is better in a whole lotta ways.

CASE IN POINT:
Taskbar options and progress “feedback”

win7superbarALT

The screen capture (above) show a few things about the new Win7 taskbar (dubbed “Superbar”). 

First of all, the default taskbar view has all program icons – whether active or inactive – as just icons.  No text to the right.  As you can see in my screenshot, though, my active programs have descriptive text, and they’re “more visible”, if you will.    The inactive (not launched) programs are still just icons only, which is fine. 

Even better, we have a choice in this.  Not everyone will like the default view, and this option is a good go-between.  One of my favorite things about Windows is that you have a full-customizing abilities.  Make it your own!  I’ve seen some wacky Windows setups – and that’s fine.  Ever seen an iPhone?  How different to they look from one another?  Not very.  There are always issues giving “too much leverage”, of course, but I appreciate the option.

(Note: you can choose this option by right-clicking the taskbar, select Properties, and set the Taskbar Buttons option to “Combine when taskbar is full”.  As more Windows of one type open up concurrently, the program rolls itself back into a single-icon view again.)

If I have a dislike about this setting, well… it’s that my icons are shifting around all the time.  With the old-school “quick launch” area, I always knew where my Outlook, Firefox, and Zune icons lived.  With this setup, however, they shift as programs open.  With nothing open, my Zune icon is fairly far left.  With Outlook and Firefox open, though, my Zune icon is nearly in the middle of my taskbar.  Ideal?  Perhaps not…or it’ll just take some getting used to.

Secondly, my file copy “progress” shows up on the taskbar itself, which is really great visual feedback.  File copy processes typically get lost behind your other windows, and thus easily forgotten.  I would *love* to see this type of feedback worked into other programs: FTP clients, CD/DVD burning, Windows DVD Maker, or anything.

Thirdly, my currently selected window is identifiable as the “gray” button on the taskbar.  I like the visual feedback here, but it’s almost too noticeable for me.  Also, to my eyes the text is somewhat more difficult to read.  Perhaps that’ll change a bit before the final release.

SUMMARY
So, I continue to enjoy my Win7 experience – and so are many others, if the feedback is to be believed.  Also, the interest in Win7 is quite phenomenal right now!  It seems that a lot of folks really want Microsoft to succeed with this release. 

Count me as one of them.

Cool “Photosynth” collection

Whether or not today’s Inauguration really floated your boat, this Photosynth collection is pretty darned cool!

PhotosynthInauguration

(Note: requires Silverlight install)

Kicking the tires: Windows 7 Beta

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard at least something about the recently released Windows 7 Beta from Microsoft.  Since we’re MSDN Subscribers at my work place, I was able to grab a copy of it a day or so earlier than the general public.  Good thing, too, since the traffic essentially brought down the beta download sites for about 2 days!

Anyhow, I just wanted to give a quick run-down of my Win7 experiences thus far, having installed it five times already.

INSTALL #1 – Virtual PC
Before I had a decent physical machine available to install on, I went ahead and created a Virtual PC instance running Windows 7.  I was somewhat discouraged, I must say, as the install took about 2 hours to complete.  Not only that, but Win7 runs fairly slowly as a virtual on my work PC.  Slower than Vista in a virtual?  Hard to say.  Perhaps about the same.

INSTALL #2 – Sony Vaio
I was commissioned to wipe/reload a Sony Vaio laptop with a new OS for a co-worker of mine.  I decided that this laptop needed Win 7 (64-bit), and off I went.  VERY MUCH to my surprise, the entire install took just 29 minutes from boot-to-desktop!  That is pretty astounding, actually. 

Unfortunately, Win7 could not find any drivers for the wireless network adapter under the 64-bit version.  In fact, it appears that  64-bit drivers do not exist for that device, so I had to move along.  So sad 😦

INSTALL #3 – Sony Vaio (again)
I decided that I could live with a 32-bit install of Win7 on this laptop, so I set out for another shot at a 29-minute install… and that’s exactly how long it took!  This time, though, Win7 was able to find every single device on the laptop and supply the corresponding drivers.  Nice!

(Listen – I understand that Windows XP also installs very quickly, but it really takes the steam out of your experience when you have to follow-up the install with 96 Windows Updates + 7 driver downloads!  When all is said and done, Windows Vista and Win7 are faster OS installs.)

Anyhoo… the Vaio was cruising along with a 32-bit install of Win7, so I promptly joined it to the domain, loaded Office 2007, and handed it off to the user.  So far, so good!

INSTALL #4 – Dell PowerEdge 400SC
My home machine is more or less considered to be a “dinosaur” at this point, and I had a similarly-spec’d machine at work that wasn’t being used for anything any longer.  I grabbed a Dell PowerEdge 400SC (2.4ghz P4, 1gig RAM, 40gig HD) and started a Win7 install.  Again, to my surprise, the install took just about 30 minutes to complete – even on a older machine!  The video card was pretty sad, so I added a slightly-more-advanced AGP card to enable the fun n’ funky Aero interface for Windows – transparency and all that.  Everything else was working fine, and the box really moved along at a very respectable clip!  Nothing to sneeze for a 4+ year old computer, running a next-gen OS in “beta” form!

INSTALL #5 – Acer AM5100
Well… I couldn’t take it any more.  I just *had* to install Win7 on my work desktop machine, which probably seems crazy to some.  Had the previous installs gone poorly or the “word on the street” been less-than-positive, I wouldn’t have attempted such a thing.  As it was, I was already thinking about wiping my desktop machine to install Vista 64-bit, so a Win7 64-bit install didn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

I made the leap.

Without sounding like a broken record, the install once again completed in just under 30 minutes – and all of my devices were present and accounted for.  After logging on, you are greeted with the clever “betta fish” desktop.  This also happens to be the first 64-bit OS that I’ve ever run for my personal desktop, so that’s strangely exciting.

win7beta-desktop

SO HOW HAS IT BEEN SO FAR?
Had I not been a Vista user for quite some time, now, the UI in Win7 would’ve been a bit of a surprise, followed by a learning curve.  That said, Win7 does offer some very nice updates to the user interface – primarily around the Taskbar and Start Menu.

The new taskbar – dubbed the ‘Superbar’, for whatever reason – defaults to using icons for both your shortcuts and currently opened applications.  Hovering over the icon of an open application gives feedback in the form of a nice color that moves with your mouse.  Also, you get a small thumbnail view of that application window, that also happens to show real-time data from that window.  The thumbnail of a WMP session watching a DVD would show the movie running within the thumbnail.

iconPreview

For many windows within a single app, hovering over the icon will reveal all of those windows laid out side-by-side.  They can, of course, be selected or closed from that view.

iconPreviews

Right-clicking on an icon in the taskbar brings up something called the “jump list” – essentially a quick way to do certain tasks.  You can always select or “pin” an application using the right-click method, of course, but it gets more exciting with apps that are pre-disposed to “jump list” behavior.  For instance, I can right-click on Microsoft Excel and easily access my recently opened spreadsheets!  Ever more exciting (for me, at least) is the ability to “pin” certain documents to that menu so that they’ll always show up right there.  Have a half-dozen spreadsheets that you access all week long?  Just pin them to the jump list.  Nice!

jumpList

The Start Menu, although not drastically different from Vista, features the same “jump list” information, which is great.  I’m still getting used to how everything works together with Windows 7, but so far I’m really enjoying the UI enhancements!

startMenu

WHAT ELSE DO I LIKE?
As my good buddy, Andy, stated – “it’s the little things”.  Installing an OS and having all of the drivers present is a really, really great way to start.  Other things are nice too, such as…

  • Having your screen in high-resolution (1280×1024) right after install
  • Right-clicking on an .ISO file, and being greeted with a “burn to disc” option
  • A much less cluttered system tray
  • Updated built-in applications that “look and feel” this century 😉
  • Explorer and browser icons that show your download/copy progress on the icon itself.  Nice!!
  • Auto-detected and extended dual-monitor setup
  • Paired-down application install base, as compared with Vista
  • Updated Windows Media Player
  • Much less invasive OS overall.  Fewer distracting notifications, kinder UAC, and so forth.
  • Generally seems to be a faster-responding OS, as compared with Vista (which was typically just fine for me)
  • Some good Windows 7 Tricks to check out

WHAT ELSE DO I NOT (SO MUCH) LIKE?
It hasn’t all been roses, per se, though my day two experience (yesterday) was really flawless.  A few gripes worth mentioning, though…

  • IE8 Beta was causing some system-wide sluggishness, it seems.  I like the browser well enough, but I had to install Firefox to operate normally.
  • For whatever reason, Win7 does *not* map my network drives automatically when I log in to the domain.  Not sure what that’s all about just yet. (64-bit issue?)
    UPDATE: This is a carry-over issue from Vista that has to do with security and the UAC.  There is a reg-fix that resolves this issue, or turn of UAC (not recommended).
  • Hovering over the Start button makes it look like it’s on fire.  I don’t dig the visual much.
  • The “Show Desktop” / Aero Peek button in the bottom-right corner is great, except if you have an extended monitor off to your right-hand side.  It would be ideal to simply move your mouse to the bottom-right corner and have the Aero Peek feature spring to life, but with a right-hand dual monitor, the mouse moves to the other screen instead. 😦
  • Upon booting up today (evidently some “updates” had been installed, and then my computer restarted), my screen resolution was bumped down to 1024×768.  Aggravating.
  • Some graphical hesitations here and there.  Might be a “beta” display issue.
  • Some system “freeze” type hesitations in strange places.  Went to select a screen-saver this morning, and the dialog box froze for a few moments.

SUMMARY
So far, my Win7 experience has been more positive than negative, and I *do know* what  a “negative first-time-using-a-new-OS” experience feels like.  Trust me.  Moreover, Win7 is really an amazing accomplishment already, and it’s only at a “beta” stage right now.  Here’s hoping that Microsoft continues to hunt down the lingering issues, tackle them, and then releases a ready-to-use Win7 sometime later this year!  Whether warranted or not, Windows Vista is viewed upon quite poorly in the consumer & business markets.  Windows 7 needs to hit it out of the park and get back into the good graces of users and businesses everywhere.

Microsoft Arc Mouse: So awesome, and so wrong

I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to “mice”.

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What I really mean to say is… I’m always on the lookout for the best possible mouse (pointing device) out there.  When something seemingly revolutionary like the Microsoft Arc Mouse comes along, I want to check it out.  And so I ordered one for my workplace.

The packaging for the Arc Mouse is very nice, and more or less what you’ve come to expect.  It also ships with a driver CD, carrying case (pleather-ette?), two AAA batteries, and the mouse itself.

“What’s the deal with this mouse?”, you might ask.  Well, as you can see from the picture above, the Arc Mouse is fairly unique.  First of all, it’s wireless and ships with a very tiny receiver that folds into the mouse itself for easy storage.  Secondly, the Arc Mouse – when unfolded – has very little in the way of surface contact.  Essentially, the very front and the very back of the mouse touch your desk like the St. Louis Arch… but smaller and easier to use with a computer. 🙂

The Arc Mouse has a nice, matte finish that doesn’t slide away from your hands.  Very nice.  It’s really a very attractive, eye-catching piece of technology.  The top two buttons click nicely, with a decent amount of feedback.  The wheel feels solid and works fine as a 3rd button, though the “spinning” mechanism is of the older, more common ‘click-click’ style.  Essentially, it has a “ratcheting” feel that I’ve since moved past.  Many mice these days, including my current Microsoft Notebook Laser Mouse 7000, have a free-spinning wheel that is so much nicer to use.  It’s difficult to go back once you’ve moved away from the “ratcheting” style wheel.  Finally, the Arc Mouse has a 4th button on the left-hand side, which is typically reserved for a “back” click.  Are you a “back button user”?  If not, then disregard these comments, because they won’t matter to you.  If you are, though, then you’ll want to pass on by the Arc Mouse and find a different solution.

Let me explain.

Years ago, many companies began shipping the “5-button mouse”, which featured the standard top two buttons, a clickable wheel, and a button on each side of the mouse.  Microsoft’s IntelliMouse Optical is a great example of this, and is still a very good mouse.  A bit more weight and better finish could make it the mouse-to-beat for low-cost offerings, but I digress.  The 5-button offering quickly took off for me (any many others), since it allowed for 2 additional, programmable buttons.  Their default state, however, remains my favorite: back and forward.  In a browser window and want to return to the last page you visited?  Instead of moving your mouse to the “back arrow”, just click the back button on your mouse!  Want to move forward again?  Just click the forward button on your mouse?  Quite honestly, it’s faster, more accurate, and less stress on your mousing hand.  (I may have just coined the phrase “mousing hand”, by the way.  Or not.)  What does this have to do with the Arc Mouse?  Well… this mouse also features a 4th button – the left-hand side of the mouse only.  No worries, as I use the “back” feature way more often than forward.  The problem is, the 4th button on the Arc Mouse is placed way too far forward to really be of any use.  Instead of a slight movement to click “back”, you literally have to shift your entire hand to reach the 4th button!  Sad to say, others have commented on this fact as well, so it’s not just me or how I’m holding the mouse.  That button is incorrectly placed, and I really don’t understand why.  It grieves me.

SUMMARY
The Microsoft Arc Mouse is really a nice piece of hardware, though a bit spendy at $49.  If you’re looking for a sturdy, fun-to-use, eye-catching, portable 3-button mouse, then cast your eyes toward the Arc Mouse.  However, if you are, like me, a “back” button user, then kindly move along.  There is nothing to see here.

Hmmm.  Perhaps the new BlueTrack mouse will be nice?!

The “Politics of Modern-Day Science”

A few days ago (while unable to sleep), I finished watching the recent Ben Stein documentary, ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’.  If you care at all about science, evolution, or ‘Intelligent Design’, this movie is worth watching.  It’s also humorous and well-made.  For those with streaming Netflix accounts, you can easily add this movie to your Watch Now queue!

Let me first say that I am a believe in ‘Intelligent Design’ and ‘Creationism’.  They are NOT one and the same.  That said, I believe in the God of the Bible, I believe that God created the Universe, I believe that God created the Earth, and I believe that God created Mankind in His image.  I also believe that Jesus Christ is came to this earth as both God and man, died for our sins, rose again, and that those who have accepted Him as Lord and Savior will live forever with Him in Heaven.  Does that make me a right-wing, naive, brain-washed Bible-thumper?  Perhaps it does.  So be it.

Moving right along…

You might be surprised, as I was, to find out that the movie ‘Expelled’ was not pro-Intelligent Design.  Rather, the movie attempts to shine a light on the fact that those who are brave enough to ‘suggest’ that Intelligent Design at least be considered as a viable option regarding the beginning of this earth (and mankind) are systematically shut-down, belittled, and ostracized.  The movie features no support of Intelligent Design or Creationism, nor does it necessarily attack the theory of evolution, but boy has it made people hot under the collar.  So much so, that a search on Google for ‘expelled’ first brings up a sponsored link to a website called ExpelledExposed, which happens to be maintained by the National Center for Science Education.  Touted as an “anti-evolution movie”, the NCSE seems obligated (for whatever reason) to answer this movie.  Watch the movie for yourself and decide.  Is it anti-evolution, or is it simply asking that “all theories be considered”?

Hot on the tails of watching this movie, I head out for lunch with a good friend (and co-worker) of mine.  Although he’s not a “religious guy”, he touted many views that fall-in-line with ‘Expelled’ as we began discussing it.  I was quite surprised, actually, and I listened intently to what he had to say.  Today, he emailed an article to me, titled  ‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’ featuring a speech from the late Michael Crichton.  The article is far less sensational than you would think, and is really worth reading if you have 15 or 20 minutes to spare.  It is well-written and easy to read.

Here’s the issue at hand, as I see it: science has become majorly politically motivated.  Gone are the days of devising a theory, setting out to prove it, and taking the results at face value.  Now we get our major scientific statements based upon a “consensus view”, where we believe what we believe simply because a group of scientists (or politicians or whomever) have said so.  It seems that science has become a religious movement, and has thus declared a holy war against anyone who would stand in its way.  It’s frightening, really, because science should serve mankind, not itself.

As a Christian, I’ve never felt particularly “at odds” with science.  I believe in God, I believe in the Bible, and I believe that science ultimately (and eventually) supports what the Bible says.  I also understand that much of what I believe and live by is based upon faith.  Faith, as defined in Hebrews 11, is “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see”.  Science needn’t be scary to believers, but I now find that the “scientific establishment” is.  These are folks with an agenda who wrap it up with ‘science’ packaging and present it to the public as “truth” – never mind whether or not it can be proven. 

So sad.