Tag Archives: Reviews

The Google Blog

As nearly everyone in the world has noticed, Google has a blog now. It’s too bad they didn’t go with the /blog/ URI because this one has extra redundant redundancy, and that doesn’t seem very Google-like. The new blog is very generic, it barely seems like a Blogger blog. On the same day Blogger releases gorgeous XHTML+CSS tempates from Doug and the crew, Google releases its blog with a table-based layout and funky HTML 4 (with no doctype). Also, Blogger uses utf-8 encoding by default now (like WordPress) and Google’s blog uses iso-8859-1.

So there isn’t a lot of information on their blog yet. The first post was signed by Ev, but after that it’s been non-entities writing (and modifying) the posts, which is very weird for a blog. Where to go for more information? Their Atom feed of course. The first thing I noticed was the <id> element, which contained tag:big.corp.google.com,2003:blog-1720. Big corp, ha! So who’s the mysterious author of the two entries after Ev’s?

<name>A Googler</name>

Well that’s helpful. Their second post on outsourcing has a more interesting bit of metadata.


Bloggers edit their entries all the time, but “A Googler” actually changed quite a bit, removing a paragraph on outsourcing to India. Perhaps Google is already sharing more than they had planned, but I’ll stop now before they take away my Gmail account.

Invalid Gnome

I get Chris Pirillo’s Windows newsletter (currently called “Windows Fanatics”) in my inbox this morning and was shocked that he seemed to assert that Lockergnome was going back to its old style, or lack thereof. Maybe it’s just Chris’ flourishes, but several things gave me cause for concern.

Remember what the Web was like when the BLINK tag roamed the earth?

Off to a bad start. We all know there’s only one good use for <blink>.

There were only a handful of browsers, and it didn’t take much to make a page “look good” on all platforms.

Maybe I missed these times. I remember pages “Made for Netscape” or that “Require Internet Explorer.” I remember having to essentially code two sites to work with two radically different browsers. I remember single-pixel GIFs and tables nested ten deep and bad typography. I try to forget, but I can’t.

It doesn’t take much to push the envelope, but sometimes (as we discovered) the envelope pushes back. You might recall the somewhat-simplistic design of our site before we dove head-first into Cascading Style Sheets. Despite its shortcomings and lack of finesse, the sucker worked – and we had few complaints.

I find that surprising. Here’s one: it was one of the ugliest sites I’d ever visited, and the bizarre look turned me off from subscribing to the newsletters even when I had heard several recommendations, because I assumed they must be unprofessional. I’m not trying to be mean, just honest.

Lockergnome.com is about to become less confusing as it goes back to more a basic code structure. We’re going to unbury the menus and options and chalk up the past few months to experience. I’m not saying that we won’t employ fancy scripts now and again, but we’re refocusing our new(er) layout on the thing that most likely brought you to us: the content. Right now, Jason’s putting the finishing touches on the overall structure and functionality…

The attraction of Lockergnome is the content, and the site could use better information architecture, but I hope this does not come at the expense of clean, fast-loading, semantic code and the distinctive aesthetic the site currently has. Though I’m not crazy about parts of it, their current design is pretty good in my opinion. It has some very nice elements that are impressive to me both as a web developer and a consumer. It’s not perfect, but a darn sight better than what was there before.

Is this going to be a step backward? In a way, yes. I’ll certainly miss certain aspects of our ultra-hip CSS implementation. However, until 99% of the installed browser / e-mail client base supports the same standards, we’re gonna leave the fancy-schmancy stuff to other online resources.

Mind pointing out these fancy-schmancy online resources so I can read them instead?

For what we do, and how we need to do it, advanced “hacks” just don’t work well.

What about web standards? Graceful degradation? From a purely business and marketing point of view, is the couple of percent of users on browsers so limited and hardware so old that they can’t appreciate modern web pages (and not just yours, also ESPN, Wired, PGA…) a demographic you want to cater to at the expense of the other 95%?

Furthermore, the old Lockergnome got eaten by spam filter several times because its markup was similar to the spam I got. Since the redesign, nada. Maybe it’s just my Bayes scores or installation of SpamAssassin, but I can’t imagine my setup being different from many others. If a newsletter falls in the spam box and no one sees its ads, does it make a penny?

I doubt it.

I could just be worried over nothing, their redesign could be impeccable markup combined with simpler CSS that works better than their current across browsers and platforms. The only reason I put my thoughts to words is that I’m on the cusp of several decisions. I’m examining my subscriptions; they recently cancelled the Linux channel (which was quite good) and the Web Developer channel is in a state of flux (it was pretty bad for a while). Also the affordable Gnomedex is coming, though my decision on that will probably be more influenced by its speakers. On one hand I have a lot of faith in the Lockergnome team to do the right thing, but the standards-lover in me is just terrified of the prospect of a site going backward. Not to mention the masses who subscribe to the newsletters that will draw the conclusion that “CSS isn’t ready for big sites yet,” in 2004. I can think of nothing further from the truth or more subversive.

New Yahoo Search

Yahoo has flipped the switch and is no longer using Google for their search. (Some technical details.) The question on everybody’s mind: Is Yahoo’s search better than Google’s? Yes. Why do I think so?

  1. Results are given as an ordered list, or <ol>, which is a good thing.
  2. It shows 20 results instead of just 10.
  3. You have an option by each result to open it in a new window.
  4. They are somehow detecting RSS feeds for sites that have them, and linking to them directly and also allowing you to add them to My Yahoo. They seem to have gotten my RDF file instead of my RSS 2.0 file, which is prefered, but no worries. I’ve been meaning to replace that with a 301 redirect lately anway.
  5. It is much better designed.
  6. But the best reason to use Yahoo? I’m the #2 hit for “Matt”. Yes, even ahead of that Drudge clown.

What? Were you expecting me to check for any other search terms?

A quick trip to MyCroft and you can make Yahoo your default search engine for Firefox. Easy as pie.

On Orkut

What can I say, I like it. Orkut is a new social networking site funded by Google that takes the best of all the other sites out there and rolls it into one fast system. Let me emphasize fast. I gave up on Friendster because I’m not patient enough to wait minutes for every screen to load. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but every site I’ve tried so far (with the exception of LinkedIn) feels like it’s held together by spit and duck tape and run on a 486. Not to mention the atrocious markup.

A neat thing about Orkut is that it’s invitation-only, so everyone there is connected to the original seed guy and programmer (whose name is Orkut, incidentally) which I think is an interesting idea. Scott Allen (who has a great new WordPress-powered blog) says that’s the most innovative thing about Orkut.

Scott remarked to me that he didn’t see Orkut flourishing the same way Ryze or Linkedin have because it mixes the personal and business aspect of things, while those two are mainly for business networking and only flirt with personal aspects. It’s too soon to tell, but I think Orkut is going to be a big success. It does a lot of things right.

So go check it out, and if you’re having trouble getting in let me know and I’ll send you an invite. If you’re already on, introduce yourself.

Thunderbird 0.4

As you may have heard, Thunderbird 0.4 has been released, and it’s a delight. I’ve been using Thunderbird off and on since I first heard of the project. I snubbed 0.2, as it was quite clunky. 0.3 changed my mind and became my default email client over Outlook Express, and I also set it up for my mom. However it was not so much on Thunderbird’s merits of the time that I switched, because it was still quite rough in many areas, it was simply the least bad of all the IMAP email clients I have tried. (And I’ve tried them all.) However this new 0.4 version is a pleasure to use. The graphics have been completely revamped, which is a much bigger deal than I would have thought and really changes how I view the application. (Literally.) Of course they were pretty patchy before, it didn’t even have a separate icon for mail you had replied to. The other problem I had before was that the program would get hung up on something, I’m not sure what, but when it was nothing would work until I restarted the application, which was annoying to say the least. I haven’t even seen a hint of this problem for about two months now (I’ve been keeping up with the weekly builds).

It just does IMAP so well. Having all my email and folders on the server makes it easy to try different email clients and not worry about importing, exporting, or keeping my data in sync. A few minutes ago, just to make sure I wasn’t remembering things wrong, I opened up Outlook Express again to give it another go. That’ll probably be the last time I ever do. Moving IMAP messages to different folders in Outlook Express opens a dialog box that actually precludes you from doing anything else in the application, so if you’re moving a message with a large attachment or several messages you have to wait for everything to finish before you can do anything else. For someone who lives in their email client, that is simply unacceptable. Thunderbird does all that in the background, and it’s so fast with most things that the “IMAP lag” is gone.

It’s not perfect, there are a few things I hope the Thunderbird team addresses in future releases. First is the spell check, which rocks but always wants to spell check the name of the person I’m replying to in an email. Second when I forward a message inline it includes all the headers, which can often be twenty or thirty lines, most of it junk that isn’t important. Just give me from, to, subject, and when it was sent, and I’ll be happy.

Thunderbird understands that on some IMAP servers, including mine, some folders contain mail messages and some just contain other folders. Outlook Express would try to select these “holding” folders and return an error, where Thunderbird shows them in italics so they’re visually set apart from the folders that hold actual mail. Thunderbird is also supposed to have some great spam handling, but since I handle all that on the server side I can’t speak to that personally.

Bottom line: try it out. You have nothing to lose and you might just find that perfect email application you’ve been searching for. The best thing about it is I know that right now another version is in the works, and in a few months they’ll be a 0.5 I can rave about. Or I could wait until 2006 for a new version of OE to come out with Longhorn. Right.

On The Matrix Revolutions

It was a really, really great movie. Go see it. No spoilers here. 🙂 We were the very first people in the movie theatre, which was nice because we got the best seats. One of the times I saw Reloaded I had second row seats way too close to the screen and it was pretty miserable.

If you’ve seen it already, let me know what you thought. Spoilers are open in the comments.

Matrix Reloaded

No spoilers here. I liked it, but several people I talked to either flat out didn’t or were on the fence. Not what I was expecting. Tek suggested elaborate preperations and such (contrast mine), but overall the showing I was at seemed pretty laid back. Theatres all over town had it, generally with at least one show starting every twenty minutes, and tickets were relatively plentiful. We got there early and they had already opened the theatre and were letting people choose the seat, overall the opening of X-2 seemed more crowded.

The truth is I really liked it, and after Tantek’s two day blackout (which I think is an excellent idea, and I hope it sets a precedent) I’ll be happy to discuss it with anyone who thought otherwise. What was really fun about the night though was hanging out with the gang of Joe, Kyle, and Rene. With Rene in Boston and Joe and Kyle busy with their senior year, plus my obligations, I didn’t really see much of them for a while. Hopefully this summer we’ll be able to catch up.


ieSpell is a must have for people like me who are severely crippled by years of spell-check conditioning. I’m generally a pretty good speller, but there are some words I just alway mess up, and in formats such as this I usually don’t proofread anything too closely. ieSpell adds spell checking to all text boxes in Internet Explorer, so basically you have an web-application–independent way of checking your blog entries, forum posts, anything. Though some excellent web apps like b2/cafélog have spell checking built-in, I find this is much faster. Also I appreciate the ability to define my own custom dictionary for words that I use often and have it accessible across websites. Best of all, it’s only free dollars.


I like software that just works, is set up once (or not at all) and forever goes about its tasks, quiet and unassuming. Right up there with the Google Toolbar, some of my favorite browser software is RoboForm. What does it do? It makes the tedious process of filling out the hundreds of forms web users are presented every day a breeze. I’ve tried form fillers before, but I was always turned off by them not , being flexible enough, not recognizing a form element if it didn’t have the exact same name as one you’ve filled out before. The Internet Explorer Autocomplete feature is the same way. RoboForm fills out whatever personal details you want to put in the form, remembers your logins and passwords, generates good passwords, and best of all has no adware or spyware like some of the other products in this category. I’ve set up multiple profiles that I use depending on what information I want to give where ever I’m signing up, for instance I have a “Spam” profile that gives the form my throwaway email address and no personal information.

RoboForm is free for personal use, and the free version is more than good enough for pretty much everything you do. I plan to buy the full version soon not so much because I need the features it offers, but simply because I want to support the authors of this software. My main warning with this software is that it can have the same effect on your online buying habits as the Amazon one-click system can. In the past filling out those forms gave me a little time to consider my purchase, but now you can having something being Fedexed to you before you know what happened :). This is another one of those products that goes in my “Indispensable Web Software” category, so check it out.

Google Toolbar

The Google Toolbar is always one of the first things I install when I work on a new computer because it is simply one of those tools that is so elegant, well done, and useful that you can’t imagine how you functioned without it. Unfortunately it is only available from Google for Windows users running Internet Explorer version 5 or over. You can use it straight “out of the box” and be quite happy, but I tweak it a little to make it fit my experience best. If you click on the Google graphic it will bring up a menu where you can select “toolbar options.” This is where they hide the good stuff.

Once you’re in there it actually loads a page that lets you customize your toolbar experience. The first thing I do is change the search box size to wide, because I’m running at 1600×1200 and have plenty of screen real estate, I also uncheck the box that keeps a search history because I don’t like the dropdown box, and I also seldom search for the same thing twice. Next I kill the descriptive text for all the buttons; they’re pretty well designed and even if you haven’t used the toolbar before you can figure out what they mean in a few minutes. The text also takes up too much space. Then I add the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, because that’s just fun :). I add the voting buttons, which adds two buttons that let you vote up or down for whatever page you’re browsing. I don’t know if that actually makes any difference to anything, but I’m all about spreading Google karma to good pages so I use them anyway when I find something nice. Finally if you go into “experimental features” you’ll see an option to suppress the onUnload javascript event, which I think is annoying and also kills a few popup ads. Isn’t that cool?

One of the more useful features of the toolbar is that it lets you type things into the search box and then search for those terms within the current page, even if it hasn’t been indexed by Google. This can be a huge help on big pages that I know have the information I need, but it could be buried anywhere. I can just jump right to the spot on the page that has the information I need. It’s functionally identical to the “Find (on this page)” function under the Edit menu, but much easier to use. Optionally using the highly button you can also highlight your chosen terms on the page, which works just like if you look at something in Google’s cache and it highlights the terms you searched for. If you ever look for stuff on the web and you meet the system requirements, you should get this. It’s going to be an invaluable tool in helping me rebuild my computer.

Cordless MouseMan Optical Mouse

It’s the Mercedes of mice, the one with everything you could ever want in a pointing device. With each item I review here in the Toys section I like to say a little about why in the world I would buy this particular item over all the other available. My personal philosophy is that I spend a lot (perhaps too much) time at a desk and on the computer every day, and I do a lot of work there that earns money, so it’s in my best economic interests to make the environment as comfortable and productive as possible. To this end I tend to spend a little more on interface devices, the things that you actually use to interact with the computer. So, following that logic, the mouse, keyboard, monitor, and chair are four of the most important things about my computer to me. So on to the mouse itself . . .