Monthly Archives: September 2010

Gmail Conversations “Feature” Finally Optional

Great news from Google this week!  They have finally given in to allowing Gmail users to turn off the feature known as “Conversations”.  Some people know this as email threads.  It’s now an option in the Gmail Settings under the General tab, and called “Conversation view”.  It’s being rolled out this week, and I was given the option in my settings this morning.

From what I have read, many users have complained to Google, and in blog posts and articles for years (since Gmail was first rolled out) about this “conversation” feature.  They have been asking for this to be an option, so those of us that hate this “feature” can finally turn it off.  Again from what I read, it’s a 50/50 love/hate ratio of people that like this and those that don’t.  Personally I am on the hate side.  And in my own personal survey find that there are more people than not that wish to turn it off.

This “feature” wouldn’t be so bad if it was implemented in a cleaner looking manner.  I think the implementation Google took is messy and confusing.  From what I have read, their reasoning for forcing this on us was to differentiate themselves from other online mail services.  Well choice alone and all the many other available features and options available on Gmail and their “Labs” add-on options is more than enough to differentiate themselves from the other services.

In my opinion, Google has a problem with forcing “features” on users, because I’m guessing a minority at Google seem to think it’s a good idea, and not because it’s necessarily in the users best interest.  Choice and options are always the best for any customers no matter what the service.  Offer features and options and allow us to turn them on and off as we wish, that’s how you gain loyalty and interest, not forcing a “feature” on users that at best only half the people want.

Another forced “feature” Google has yet to offer as an option is matching like contacts in Gmail and more importantly Android phones.  When you add a new contact and the name is similar to an existing contact, it merges this new contacts information to the existing one.  This “feature” was invented as the solution to merging contacts between differing services, like say on Gmail and Facebook, so they would appear as the same person.  However, I can confidently speak from personal experience, this crazy feature does not work in the user’s best interest.  At least it certainly does not in mine.  It works well in theory only.  Out of 2600 contacts in my own Android phone, it will merge almost 600 with similar names.  And none of these people are the same person.  And you can’t turn this auto-merging “feature” off.  You must dig deep in the the option settings of each individual contact and separate them on a 1 on 1 basis.  I have contacted Google and the Android team about this more than once in the past, and was told there were no plans to turn this off or offer it as an option globally.  

It baffles me that such a large company can get so stubborn about simply offering these radical “features” as options.  Give the users you are profiting from options in your products to keep them happy, and not put them in a position to decide if they have to stop using the product to avoid it.


Bonkey (The Backup Monkey) Review

I’ve been searching for the ideal way to do secure (encrypted) backups to my Amazon S3 buckets.

I’ve heard good things about Jungle Disk, but this is a subscription service.  I have no problem paying for good software (it doesn’t have to be free) but I do have a problem with subscription software.  I want to own my backup software.  Regardless of EULA’s, I want to control the program and use of it on my computer.  I don’t want to be at the mercy of a company to do whatever they want with a service I am going to rely on, if I don’t have to go that route.  Or have to worry about it may disappear if they go out of business.  It’s my understanding that at one time Jungle Disk was a “normal” piece of software that you paid for and used.  So I missed out on that option it seems.

I have read good things about an Open Source backup program called Bonkey, for Backup Monkey.  The normal complaints I’ve read about it have been regarding it’s name and having a confusing interface.  So I decided to give it a try, as that didn’t sound so bad to me.

In my personal experience, I had more problems that that.  I was using the Window’s version 3.4.1.  Not only is the user interface not user friendly (as I had been pre-warned) but I had the following issues:

You seem to have to create a blank log file manually before it allows you to activate the use of a log file.  It gave me errors turning log files on, until I realized this.  That’s not that big a deal.  I figured that out.  But far from user friendly.

I was completely unable to get the email notifications to work, no matter what I tried.  It gave me error messages, regardless if I used authentication or not, and no matter what formats I set the email addresses in, or if I used domain name or IP address for my mail server, or if I used port 25 or 465 for secure or unsecure connections.  So after considerable trial and error I gave up on this.

I was unable to get encryption to work on the saving of files to my S3 bucket, even though I selected the option.  It simply didn’t happen.  The files did upload, and it did upload with and without being in ZIP format.  But I was unable to get it to encrypt the files.

And once you create a backup profile, I wasn’t able to figure out how to edit that profile to make changes easily.  It appears you have to remove it and create a new one to make changes.

And worst of all, I was unable to find the developer’s name or contact info, or any means of support, not even a user forum.

So it baffles me that all the reviews I read were positive other than GUI complaints.  This software has the feel of a beta, not a finished product with a point release this high.  I hope anyone that might read this has better luck than I did.  I’m back on my search and evaluations for a “good” S3 backup program.


Browser Benchmarking & Chromium

This week I’ve been evaluating Chromium, and considering using it as my main browser.  Lately I have been using Google Chrome, and have enjoyed the speed and excellent compatibility with Google Gmail and Calendar.  But I was curious about Chromium (the Open Source version of Chrome) and it’s claims to be more privacy conscience than Chrome.

Chromium takes a little more work to get set up on Windows than a straight forward install.  Due to licensing, certain media files do not play directly in Chromium, as they do in Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer, so you must use the Chrome codecs.  And it doesn’t auto update, you have to look after that manually.  But I personally don’t mind having more control over my system.  I haven’t completed my personal evaluation yet to decide if I will stay with Chromium, but I decided to publish my benchmark findings between the 4 web browsers I have installed.

I found Chromium to be the fastest, followed close behind by Google Chrome, then Mozilla Firefox in the middle of the pack, with MS Internet Explorer way way behind.

I’ve read that Google Chrome is supposed to be slightly faster than Chromium due to the more aggressive compiling done for public use, but I’ve been using the dev and beta versions of Chrome, so maybe that’s why my findings show Chromium as the leader of these four.  Though the Chromium version is the latest daily build, so you would think that it’s also not the most tightly compiled, but I won’t claim to be an expert on which version is compiled better than the next of the two.

Here are the results based on the Peacekeeper benchmark website:

Computer system used:
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Processor Q6600
GPU: ATI Radeon X1650 Series

Chromium 7.0.527.0
Total Score: 6692

Rendering 4097
Social networking 3400
Complex graphics 14470
Data 15666
DOM operations 5128
Text parsing 12001

Google Chrome 7.0.517.5
Total Score: 6471

Rendering 3818
Social networking 3745
Complex graphics 13024
Data 16132
DOM operations 4704
Text parsing 10465

Firefox 3.6.10
Total Score: 2561

Rendering 2424
Social networking 2416
Complex graphics 4829
Data 3228
DOM operations 2053
Text parsing 2842

IE 8.0.6001.18702
Total Score: 784

Rendering 1152
Social networking 841
Complex graphics 0
Data 690
DOM operations 490
Text parsing 907


Killers (2010)

A romantic comedy about a hit man that falls in love with a “normal” woman, and decides to quit the business to be with her.

Ashton Kutcher is looking pretty good with his shirt off.  Oh, and it’s a fairly entertaining off-beat comedy.  It doesn’t hurt to see Catherine O’Hara and Tom Selleck as the parents.  Who doesn’t love Catherine O’Hara?!

Worth seeing for some light hearted watching.


The Duchess (2008)

The story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. A heart felt tale of a Victorian woman, forced into a loveless marriage with one of England’s most powerful men of the time. Her struggles with her heartless husband, their affairs, and being a head strong opinionated woman in a time when it wasn’t acceptable to be so.

This is a mesmerizing and emotional period piece, with outstanding scenery. Based on a book written by Amanda Foreman. No one could watch this movie and not be impressed and moved.


Black Death (2010)

Is this a good movie?  I have no idea.  I had to stop 10 minutes in from the head ache it gave me.  Not due to the story line, but due to the most extreme camera shake I have ever witnessed in a film.  The “camera man” (not that the idiot that held the camera deserves such a title) appears to be using a hand held camera without any sort of dampening system whatsoever.  Not only was there the typical motion associated with a hand-held camera while they constantly roam around, but add the feeling that this person holding the camera might also be physically shaking from some sort of trauma.  Or so it seems watching this jittery motion picture.  I’ve done a better job filming a wedding with a camcorder while drinking, than what you will witness in the Black Death.

The story itelf seemed to have promise, but be prepared for a disappointing viewing with potential motion sickness.


The Private Cloud

If you are a technical person, it’s hard not to read about “The Cloud” these days.  Storing your personal data, be that contacts, notes, spread sheets, word processing documents, music, or whatever type of data file you can think of.  Someone seems to offer a service for storing your data.

But who will do this and guarantee privacy and security?  That’s a head scratcher isn’t it?  I have an Nexus One Android phone, and love it.  But I don’t sync my contacts with Google.  It would be easy to do so.  But personally, I will never trust Google, or any other online service to store my most personal data, unless they can guarantee that transmission and storage is encrypted to the highest degree based on modern technology.  And won’t be read or intercepted for their own personal gain.

I came across a service last night called Ubuntu One.  I got excited thinking this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.  I paid service that isn’t looking to take advantage of “reading” my personal data for their own advertizing and profit gain.  They claim to transmit the data encrypted with SSL, that’s great.  But store it unencrypted.  Now it’s worthless to me.  Very disappointing.  Yes, they say someone has came up with a way to encrypt it for storage on their service, but now it goes from being an easy to use service to jumping through digital hoops and hacking together some abortion of a system, that will maybe get it to do what you want, and pay for the privilege as well.  From personal experience, I already know these solutions are very time consuming and typically break often.

There is an Open Source software called Funambol that shows potential.  Some organizations offer free and paid for versions.  But none of them have worked for me.  Yes they work, sort of, if you have very low and limited expectations.  All the versions I have tried have bugs, limitations, flaws, and unbelievably poor or non-existent support.  Last time I tried to use Funambol, it didn’t even allow for Outlook having multi-line contact notes that were more than X number of lines.  It simple truncates your contact’s notes and doesn’t warn you, erasing your notes data permanently if you didn’t make a backup and notice this huge gaping flaw.  And the Funambul community didn’t care when I brought it to their attention, cause it was my fault for thinking I could use my Outlook for the storing of notes about my contacts.  Their solution was to not save so many lines of notes, I was basically told doing so was stupid.  This is not a solution any true respectable programmer would ever consider to offer.  This is just one flaw I found in trying to use this “cloud” solution.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have software that would allow you to create your own “Cloud” on your own computer and be able to transmit and store your own data on your own system securely using the Internet?  Does it exist?  I haven’t found it yet.  Not that it will work with my devices.  Or requires you to write or rewrite your own device drivers.  Or even a paid for service that would do it for you, and offer you true security.  Somewhere we can sync our phones to without worry of our data being farmed.

I envision the Private Cloud to be an Internet storage service that easily works with my desktop, laptop and phone.  Offers encrypted transmission and storage.  I want them to charge me for the service so they can stay in business and not have to look at advertising to me, or selling my private information.  And charge me enough that they can offer support.  I’m surprised that no one seems to offer this service yet.  And if it exists, please tell me where to find it.

So I wonder, does the Private Cloud exist?  Or is the Cloud simply a paradigm for companies to trick innocent users into using, so they can sell them something.  Give us a Private Cloud and you may be surprised how many people jump at the chance to give you some money.

Pathfinder (2007)

After an attack on a native village in North America, a warrior in a Viking raiding party abandons his young son as a coward. The boy is adopted by the local natives and is raised as their own. As an adult, he battles his Viking people to protect the ones that took him in years before.

Exciting and fast paced, this movie is extremely well done, and visually beautiful. I would highly recommend it.


Wild Target (2010)

Wild Target is a British comedy about a hit man that falls in love with his latest target, and ends up protecting her instead of killing her.

I’m not usually a fan of British style comedy.  To me it’s too off-beat and I find it more annoying that funny.  But there are exceptions to that “rule” and this is one of them.  I enjoyed this movie.  It’s amusing, cute and mildly entertaining.  Far from hilarious, it will make you smile and hold your attention a lot of the time.

It’s a nice change from the production-line Hollywood films.


High Point Scientific Order Review

I can’t recommend ordering from High Point Scientific.

I recently placed an order with them online for the first time.  It turns out they do not accept Visa transactions from any country other than the US.  After 2 days I called them and asked why my order was still pending, to be told it’s due to this issue.  They didn’t notify me and also didn’t reply to my email inquiry.  They claimed to be busy.

I asked to have the order cancelled, and they said they would.

I see no reason they can’t mention their order system limitation with credit cards on their website.  They have many countries listed, claiming to deliver to them all.  The customer service person I spoke to agreed.

I placed my order with them because they website claimed all the items I ordered were in stock.  Yet when I called to inquire on my order, I was told one of the items was out of stock anyway.  So their online inventory system is not accuracte either.

I was told they will accept PayPal payments from customers outside the US, if I wanted to cancel my order and place it again.

They obviously aren’t too interested in dealing with customers outside their country’s border, so I for one will place my order elsewhere.

My experience…Not impressive.

Alternatively, I would recommend B&H Photo Video.  As a Canadian customer, I had a good experience dealing with them.  They ship quickly what’s in stock, have a comprehensive order system, and seemingly accurate online inventory system.  They accept credit cards as expected, and they did not treat me as a second class customer for not residing in the USA.

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