Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

product review: skittles gum

February 4th, 2006

skittles gum!

Stunningly, there has been a relative lack of commercial coverage/public outcry at the advent of an incredible new product, Skittles Gum. With its attractive squarish packaging and questionable concept (skittles are too easy to confuse with gum already) this confection is exactly what I dreamed of as a carob-and-raisin fed child. Unfortunately.

Essentially sugar given the opportunity to last forever and ressurect a zombie army of artificial fruit flavors, this candy is about as fun as a game of lardball. Which, as you can imagine, is greasy and, after the first fumble, gritty and grimy as well.

In fact, skittes gum is what conjured the image of that nonexistant pork-based game in my mind based on its texture, as the product is initally actually softer than its parent food, as if that was possible, and then, as the incredible amount of sucrose dissipates into your nervous system, unpleasantly tough and completely tasteless, yet somehow retaining some sort of flavor presence one could best describe as ‘grey’. The rainbow of fruit flavors is there alright, for the first few seconds. Yes, red is, as it should be, the best, but sadly, while the combination of the colors of the rainbow is pure white light, the average of skittles is apparently sludge.

This product review has the highest amount of comma to word ratio permittable by law.

in praise of

January 23rd, 2006

I don’t know if the first rule of the unfortunately-titled is “Don’t talk about”, but just in case it is, I’m not going to directly link to them. You’re going to have to type the URL yourself — I hope you don’t break a finger or something, Judy Jetson. Anyway, the reason I bring the site up is that I think it’s got a commendable credo; it’s a torrent site, sure, but what sets it apart from the torrentcabana.orgs of the world is that there are no illegal torrents allowed on the site. At all.

That’s not to say it’s all 1930’s copies of “Popeye and Abbott & Costello vs. the Wolfman” or utter crap like that; there’s modern stuff on the site, but if you can buy it, you won’t find it linked. I think that’s an admirable philosophy. I found an excellent DVD of Zach Galifianakis’ old show “Late World with Zach” using the site, and the only reason it was on the site was that it’s not available for sale — apparently Zach ran out. And recently the oft-rumored 1970’s “Star Wars Christmas Special” was available on home-brewed DVD via the site*; a labor of love if ever there was one. Check it out.

UPDATE: OMFG Chris is so right. Article fixed.


*which, by the way, turned out to be unbearably, toxically awful, and even friends with highly-developed resistances to irony and camp were forced to turn away from the screen in disbelief.

in praise of prana pants

January 23rd, 2006

At some point in every guy’s life, they reach a time in their “career” where it might behoove them to stop wearing jeans to work. And even if you work in a downtown loft with high ceilings, huge windows, and exposed brick walls, to which you bring your dog to sit bored near your feet whilst you slowly rotate on your Aeron chair, rubbing your sexily-stubbled chin, tapping your glass desk and peering down your thin rectangular spectacles at a 37″ flat-panel display — it still might be in your best interest to not to be sporting ripped and faded jeans every damn day of your professional life.

That’s where Prana pants come in. They are comfy, they are reasonably stylish, and they have lots of nifty pockets. But what they are not is important: they are not jeans, and what’s even more important — they are not Dockers. And most important on top of that: you can wear them to work and not feel like a khaki-wearing sell-out wanna-be business-guy douche.


in praise of the new coke dispenser

January 22nd, 2006

the new improved coke dispenser

I love soda! and specifically I love “Coca-Cola Classic”. For years, however, each time I brought a 12-pack of Coke home I have been ragingly infuriated by the stunningly poor design of their cardboard dispenser refrigerator packaging. There has traditionally been a flimsy perforated tear away “dispenser” flap, but it’s located on the seam of the packaging; so each time you tear away the flap, a can of Coke would automatically pop out, as if to say, “Here. Have a can of Coke. Or have twelve, because I have ripped off entirely and now will dump 12 oz. cans of Coke all over your floor.”Well, my hundreds upon hundreds of angry and threatening late-night phone calls must have paid off, because with the advent of “Black Cherry Vanilla Coca-Cola”, they have redesigned the dispenser packaging. And I am happy to report that it does not, in fact, spray cans of Coke all over your fridge when you first open it. So: my life is incrementally better.

But about that “Black Cherry Vanilla Coca-Cola”; it tastes pretty much like how you’d think it would taste, as if someone took 50% “Cherry Coke” and 50% “Vanilla Coke” and shook them together. It does wind up being more pleasant than the sum of the base flavors, but it still has that slight non-alchoholic-rum-drink twinge like “Vanilla Coke” has, and in the end, is simply not as satisfying as just good ol’ “Coca-Cola Classic”.


iweb ’06

January 19th, 2006


I got my copy of iLife ’06 in the mail yesterday, and jumped right into iWeb. iPhoto is nice (and I have never even opened Garage Band), but iWeb is what I was really interested in. Any software to help my clients create web pages easily is great in my book. All in all, I am impressed with what Apple has done.

The much touted “Apple designed templates” are in fact fantastic. They do fun things with web layouts that were mostly out of reach to the average person before now. Try sitting an elementary school teacher down in front of Dreamweaver, and see what you get. The templates aren’t terribly limiting, as you can move or delete almost every element on the page. There are templates to fit different needs, from photo galleries to blog entries and podcasts, each of which come with rss feeds built into the code.

The organizational structure is a blend of your high-powered html grinders, and the Keynote style. You can arrange your site in the sidebar, and make sub-pages as though you were making a nested list. The linking format is pretty set in stone, but some changes can be made about what is linked where.

I have four complaints about iWeb. It is huge. I mean huge. Weighing it at a porky 630 megs, iWeb is easily the biggest single app on my machine. Its weight is because it contains all the templates and images (in various languages) inside itself, instead of relying on external support folders, a la Photoshop. Which brings me to complaint number two. Why hide the stock images away? There are some great pictures in the templates, but users don’t have easy access to them to mix and match. Complaint number three is with the photo gallery template. Whenever I click an image to enlarge it, it comes up in its own window (which is fine), complete with .Mac style brushed metal borders added in (which is not fine) no matter which template I have chosen. Why spend the time to make fantastic templates if the photo galleries are going to break the aesthetic? The final complaint is that I have no idea where it has saved my site. Every site I create is available in the iWeb interface, which is a mixed blessing. It makes it simple for people to keep track of what they have done, but I’d rather be able to move them around myself.

I have really enjoyed playing with this app, and I think it will be a huge success if they can get people to plunk down the $79 for it. Easy to use, great results, and I’m glad to see them putting more value-add back into the $99 monster that is .Mac via one click publishing to your .Mac homepage.

Update: Running a program like Youpi Optimizer or DeLocalizer to strip the various languages you don’t speak out of iWeb will slim it down to a fighting weight of 98 megs. Your milage may vary, use these apps at your own risk.

psp 2.0 web browser

September 15th, 2005

I need a keyboard, STAT

It’s a rainy day here in MA, and rather than do anything good with my life like actually get off my ass and apply to grad school, I decided to update my PSP’s firmware to version 2.0. I had been holding off on that because it cruelly kills off the loopholes in the PSP’s operating system that allow third-party software like emulators and such to work; but the desire to play with the Sony wi-fi browser pretty much overwhelmed my need to play 1995-era SNES games. So beep-beep boop-boop and it was upgraded.

Sony’s browser is nice. Very pretty indeed; the rendering is fast and accurate, and the UI is thoughtful and solid. The wide screen and the analog pointer control make for pleasant reading. There’s, get this, tabbed browsing and podcast support. Text entry and handling is an issue, though; there needs to be a text AutoFill function, and if someone came out with a little mini-USB keyboard for this thing I’d totally grab it because entering text on this thing is like entering your high-score initials in Donkey Kong. Over and over.

Also nice in this 2.0 firmware update: the ability to play AAC “.m4a” audio files, and the ability to play H.264 video files off the memory card. That is all quite lovely, Sony, thank you. I’m almost forgetting how you tried to make us all use that wretched ATRAC3 format a couple years ago. If you want even more gruesome detaiil regarding 2.0 features, here’s a good overview.

I kind of miss my emulators and DOOM and whatnot, but I have a laptop for that, and having a genuinely usable, tiny portable wifi browser that I can throw in my backpack while biking is totally worth it.


at the movies podcast

September 12th, 2005

This is (so far) the podcast I’ve heard that is the most fun to listen to. Losing the video aspect of the “Ebert and Roeper” TV show means very little, as the arguments these guys have are just plain interesting in and of themselves.

It’s interesting to find out what works and what doesn’t work in “podcast” form — looking at the top podcasts, what becomes obvious is that *(gasp)* people who were good at producing interesting content for radio (NPR, BBC) are producing interesting podcasts. Some people don’t seem to get it, though.


pitch black II

September 10th, 2005

It’s rare that soft drinks get a sequel; Crystal Pepsi certainly didn’t get another ride around the block, but Mountain Dew has decided to amp up the sheer cliff-climbing extremity of their “Pitch Black” grape cola and *take it to 11!* (Steve Vai guitar solo)

Now, I’ve never been a fan of “Code Red”, “Livewire”, or the first “Pitch Black”; but “Pitch Black II”, ooh la-la, trĂ©s magnifique! This is the best Mountain Dew sub-product yet. It’s like they took caffienated, carbonated, grape Sweet Tarts and somehow *milked* them. The end result is so very unhealthy that the mere idea that this fizzy junk might somehow actually improve athletic performance is a David-Copperfield sized illusion of marketing along the line of making the Great Wall of China disappear. Well done, PepsiCo!

Due to the bright blue foam emitted by a dark purple liquid, I have little doubt that the soda is carcinogenic, so try one soon, before “Mountain Dew: Pitch Black II” is legally declared a national health hazard and pulled off the market.


USB lava lamp

September 3rd, 2005


As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a sucker for anything that glows. And I’m a sucker for anything USB. So when Target put their mini USB lava lamps on sale for $4.99, I *had to have one*. And it’s perhaps the most intelligent purchase I’ve ever made. The little lamps come in clear, purple, and toothpaste blue; the one pictured above is toothpaste blue.


Mighty Mouse

September 1st, 2005

I picked up the Mighty Mouse a week or two ago. For the most part, I think it is great, but there are a couple of chinks in the armor.

The scroll wheel is fantastic. It isn’t a nipple like the ThinkPad, but rather a tiny little rolling ball held up by a soft spring, allowing you to scroll in four directions. The use of the nipple never made sense to me physically, since you don’t move it, per se, and it has it’s own acceleration thing going. The ball or wheel makes much more sense in the context of a mouse, in which you are dragging and pushing things around already.

The side grips server double duty as a button now, but the construction leaves something to be desired. Since it serves as a gripping point, it takes an extra strong squeeze to activate it as a button. That aside, the overall construction is great. The mouse is lightweight, and it somehow can tell where you are clicking, though it feels exactly the same on your finger, no matter where you press. Apple gets points for the technical cool factor, and the user experience success factor. For as subtle as it looks, this mouse has 4 buttons, plus the wheel. Right and left clicks, clicking directly over the scroll wheel (you actually click the mouse, not the wheel), and gripping the sides can all perform different functions. But…

The software leaves something to be desired. You can’t assign keystrokes to buttons, which means I can’t set a button to be “back” in my browser. You can assign it to open any application or document you want, so I guess I could set it to open an appleScript that “pressed back”, but that would be crappy from a user experience perspective. The nice thing is that it is 1.0 software, and I’m sure that sort of thing will be addressed.

someone comes to town, someone leaves town

August 28th, 2005

“Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town” by Cory Doctorow.

This novel was exceptionally hard to take. The plot is: there’s brothers, they are weird, their father is a mountain, their mom is a washing machine. It’s so *OMFG* quirky it hurts. The characters stop what they are doing every so often to go off on diatribes about wireless internet, and as such you can easily see the seams where Doctorow is cutting and pasting his BoingBoing rants in for page count. Cutting 20-30 pages of recycled rant out of this book would have vastly improved the whole affair. I mean, we get it, Cory, you don’t like Swisscom, but the book screeches to a complete halt as a result of the angry lecturing.

Also, Doctorow uses — again and again — the old Stephen King chestnut of having characters cut off each other’s thumbs, fingers and toes. It’s high time to retire this device; I suspect writers use it mainly because they know it will illicit an uncomfortable feeling in the reader. While certainly no one wants to get their digits cut off, just as certainly no one wants to read about it for 315 pages either.

Let me say something nice about the book: it’s licensed under the Creative Commons license and is available for free download here. Let me say something less nice about it: don’t bother. I nearly didn’t finish it, and if I wasn’t bored out of my mind down here in hurricane-addled coastal Florida, I probably wouldn’t have. I’ve never read anything else of Doctorow’s fictional writing, and after this book I probably won’t, although I hear his other stuff is better. My disappointment is palpable, and I award this book one-hundred teeny-tiny frowny-face emoticons.

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infuriate yourself

August 25th, 2005

I read a little of it, and I was like “yeah, ok, sure, right on.”

Then I read a lot of it, and I kinda wanted to bash this guys skull open and feast upon the tasty pink goo contained therein. I agree with an awful lot of his points, but the level of pretension in this writing is way up in the red. And he complains far more than he offers suggestions for improvement, which ultimately exhausts my patience for this type of cultural criticism; I have little tolerance for people who sit back and point out what consumer whores we all are, but then pretend to somehow rise above it by the very act of noticing.

Especially when he’s got ads for Target and Sony on the very same page.

Editor-in-chief, *Consumer Whore Monthly*

favorite dashboard widgets

July 25th, 2005

Enough time has passed that there have been some genuinely useful Mac OS X 10.4 dashboard widgets released. Here’s some of my favorites:

Symphonic. This should have been built into Apple’s iTunes widget, but it’s worth using them both in conjunction. Type a song, hit return, and it plays. Pretty simple, works well.

Radar in Motion. Shows a semi-real-time weather radar map of your area. It’s nice to use when you look at Apple’s Weather widget and know it’s gonna rain, but it would be additionally nice to know if that means it’s gonna rain in three minutes, or three hours.

SingThatiTune. Grabs lyrics for the currently playing song. And does a very nice job of it, too.

Wikipedia. I still like the Wikipedia more in theory than in practice, but this is an exceptionally well designed widget.

Marquee. Gets local movie times. My only problem with this widget is that it is honkingly huge, with no way to keep it active but minimized.

Now Playing. Now this is just *cool*; it shows me what’s been recorded and what’s currently recording on my Tivo. However, it also suffers from the honkingly huge syndrome, but not as badly as this similar but not as pretty widget, which does the same thing but provides full show synopses as well.

Archive Films. This is another one I enjoy more in theory than in practice, but just the fact that you can get easy access to entire streamed movies via dashboard (even if they are all old and way cruddy) is amazing.

Speaking of widgets, here’s a shocker; Yahoo has bought Konfabulator and is giving it away free.


new albums I have boughten

July 13th, 2005

(Many of these purchases were made possible via a challenge grant from the Klein Foundation.)

**Mike Doughty**, Haughty Melodic. This album is not very good. I usually really like his stuff, I’d put Doughty in a top-ten of working songwriters today, but this album is overproduced and suffers as a result. Plus, Dave Matthews sings on a track. *Dave fucking Matthews*. I don’t care if he runs the label or not, he shouldn’t be on this album. If you want to sell your album to a lot of guys in white baseball caps, you let Dave Matthews guest on a song. If you’re interested in making good music, you turn the lights off in the studio and get under a desk when he drops by. I should have bought the “Clem Snide” album instead.

**Marc Ribot**, Spiritual Unity. This album is hard to listen to. This is Ribot in his lesser-fun “skronky jazz” mode which to be frank I don’t care for as much as his “dime-store Santana” mode. Also, honestly, I don’t know why I keep buying albums of this type. They get one or two listens, and then they just take up hard drive space.

**Jon Hassell**, Maarifa Street. This is good stuff. Very mellow, except for the first track which is a slightly upbeat. Hassell tends to use individual sounds that date poorly, but his trumpet playing is as cool as ever. Recommended specifically for outdoor summer listening.

**Fridge**, Happiness. Hey! It’s Four Tet before there was Four Tet! There’s a stronger emphasis on guitar here but the basic Four Tet template is already clearly audible. Good stuff, if a little dryly academic; it doesn’t have quite the joy and exuberance that the more recent Four Tet albums have.

**Orthrelm**, OV. I think it’s possible, with enough time and training and a friend who plays drums, that any of us could have made the mistake of creating this album. I’m still not sure why I ordered it. It’s math-rocky, but more in the metal Melvins/Fantomas vein. OK, honestly, I listened to five minutes of it in the mall parking lot before I started feeling weird about myself and turned it down. It might very well be great — I’m going to try and work out to it tomorrow. We’ll see. I thought Hella was great for about five minutes too. UPDATE: This entire album reminds me of the world’s longest and most annoying car alarm, thus I award it one star — unless you are looking for a replacement for your current car alarm, in which case, FIVE STARS.

**Sam Prekop**, Sam Prekop and Who’s Your New Professor. These are great albums. I always tried to get into Sea & Cake (Sam’s older band) but never could, no matter how hard I wanted to impress that indie record store girl. I tried, I tried, but Tortoise was always, I dunno, more interesting. But these albums are great, very mellow. They’re both about equally as great, Jim O’Rourke plays guitar on “Sam Prekop” and John McEntire plays “Synth Percussion” (whatever that is; it’s likely one of those unsatisfying electronic don’t-wake-the-neighbors Yamaha fake drum pad kits I always fiddle with at the Guitar Center, but whatever — he actually knows how to *play* it). Both albums are great, I think I like “Who’s Your New Professor” slightly better.

Also, the “Believer 2005” music compilation is still growing on me. The Shins track is good and fun, even though I unfairly dislike the Shins for that plug that they had nothing to do with in that movie I hate “Garden State”. I just think it’s kind of way uncool when a movie takes time to *point out* how cool its own soundtrack is. Also, for the life of me, I can’t see what people like in “Scrubs”, it just doesn’t make me laugh. But I digress.