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Monday, January 29, 2007

AOL Instant Messenger 6.0

If you are one of the losers (like me) who are still using AOL Instant Messenger, please be warned that I do not recommend upgrading to version 6.0.

Here are some issues I had after upgrading and using it for 2-3 days:

1. After 4 or 5 messages in a conversation, the client would start mysteriously inserting blank lines into the beginning of my messages. First one blank line, then 2, 3, etc. This was also visible to the person with whom I was chatting. Although this is a complete dealbreaker, and I could stop here, I will proceed to mention a few other items I noticed anyway.

2. At times, it would not flash to indicate when I received a new message. This is critical. So a few times I would get messages back and then people would think I was ignoring them. Again, this is a dealbreaker. The program seemed to especially struggle when I had more than 1 conversation open. I like the tabbed feature where it only shows at most one AIM icon in the taskbar, but most of the time with tabbed chatting it would not flash when any new messages came in.

3. There was a problem with the timestamps. I would send something stamped 08:17 AM, then get a return message back stamped 08:14 AM. What the heck? This is not a dealbreaker, but very annoying.

4. This is not a bug, but it must be noted that they have a horrific new feature in AIM 6.0 which is hard to describe, but it is basically animated wallpaper in the background of your chats. When someone put a smiley in a message, the background would undergo a smiley explosion and there would be little shards of smiley shrapnel bouncing all over the place. (By the way, I am not making this up.)

5. I found out that this was a "Beta" release only AFTER going to the website to look for a Known Issues page. It seems like everyone releases products nowadays whenever they are 75% functional. They should tell you this before you install it. Of course, none of the above issues were listed as "Known Issues" on the website. The Known Issues on the site were things like "If you have the Smiley Central toolbar installed, you will not be able to send or receive IMs after the first one is sent or received." (Side note: I am paralyzed in fear of the existence of a "Smiley Central" toolbar. Please God, let me never come in contact with this toolbar.)

Let's hope they address some of the above issues before they force everyone on to 6.0. (Yep, only version 6.0 will be supported in Windows Vista. Enjoy!)

One bit of good news: I went back and installed version 5.9, and it seems to have effectively replaced this over the crappy 6.0 Beta version. Apparently, version 6.0 is so bad, they actually leave version 5.9 on your computer when you upgrade to 6.0 (I verified this on the AOL website).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rave: Driving Ranges (counterpoint)

This post is a counterpoint to the rant about driving ranges (read MikeB's rant first).

I love going to the driving range! I believe that the increased interest in golf from beginners and social players is a positive thing. In fact, the increased popularity has spurred many new driving ranges to open making them much more accessible.

Access to Driving Ranges - Where I live, there are several driving ranges within a short drive (unintentional pun). Most of these ranges have lights so you can practice at night. Some are even heated for the winter. MikeB complains about walking up a flight of stairs to the second level, but having a second level means more people can enjoy driving. And, my drives go a few extra yards from the upper deck.

Feedback/Putting Green - There have been great advances in feedback. Check out Woody's Golf Range, one of my favorite places to go. They have flags that light up when your ball lands on the green. They also have pitching, chipping and sand trap areas. How cool is that? I don't think Woody's is unique, though. There are many driving ranges around the country with these features.

OK, I will agree that prices have gone up and you sometimes have to deal with crowds. But this only goes to show that there is a high level in interest in driving. I also bet it costs a lot more to run a driving range with lighted/heated tees and electronic greens.

One last note, using Bowling as a counter-example to driving ranges is ridiculous. If bowling has seen remarkable advances, then why do I still need to wear those stupid ugly shoes?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Christian Faith Financial

I was a bit disturbed by this piece of spam I received for a website called Christain Faith Financial offering "CASH ADVANCE LOANS", "NO CREDIT CHECKS", and "GET MONEY NOW".

First of all, perhaps this is just some sleazy company trying to take advantage of people's Christian faith. Maybe they offer borderline legal and quasi-ethical loans with very high interest rates. That would be bad enough.

But even supposing that this is a legitimate financial enterprise, I find it dubious for them to use Christianity as their selling point. I don't remember anything in the bible about offering sketchy financial services to your fellow man.

Even without knowing much about this company, I think is is safe to say that Jesus would be ashamed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Captcha Security Favorites

A while ago, we ranted about a horrible CAPTCHA* screen that couldn't be interpreted by a machine OR a human (see original post). Since then, we have run into a few more classical examples of bad CAPTCHA's...

The first one is courtesy of our host, Blogspot.

Maybe this CAPTCHA was reasonable considering that the blog was about mind reading.

Google was trying to send a subtle message with this one. And, the next CAPTCHA that came up was the word "dumbass"! Go figure.

(Thanks to Chris Balbontin and The Daily WTF for this pic.)

*In case you didn't know, the term CAPTCHA is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. That is far less interesting than if CAPTCHA was just a cute way of saying CAPTURE.

Personal Information Management

It seems that every day there is a new website, device, or piece of software to help us manage our contacts. The item shown above, for a product called Notables, sums up the problems I have with this.

1. In this golden age of information, there is still no clear standard for moving your information from one application to another. So I guess these people are expecting us to spend 2-3 days loading all of our addresses, phone numbers, appointments, etc. into their product with the hopes that maybe it works and we will like it.

2. These products keep adding more and more features. Whatever happened to choosing a specialty, and focusing on that? Now, in addition to all of our contact information, we are supposed to also transfer our music playlists, photos, shortcuts, reminders, etc. And then pray that we can somehow get all of this stuff back out when we realize how buggy the Beta interface is and decide to switch to the new application that comes out next week.

3. If we don't upgrade to one of these "Information Management Systems", we suffer the guilt that maybe we are not managing our information as well as we could be.

4. Is it just me, or do people in general seem far less organized than they were 20 years ago? Back then, everyone had their trusty wall calendar and address book. They showed up on time for meetings without our having to remind them, and they sent birthday cards. The reality of the situation is that maybe it is not a better tool that people need, but just a desire to be organized.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Yahoo Email

Yahoo released their spiffy new e-mail service a few months ago. It is very impressive - much better than the clunky interface they used to have. In many ways it behaves more like the feature-rich thick-client e-mail applications we have all grown accustomed to using off-line. This is a good step for an on-line e-mail application.

There is only one problem - it is rather slow. It usually takes 5-10 seconds to open my inbox, and then 1-2 seconds to open each e-mail when I click on it. Doesn't sounds like a lot, but it adds up.

So what did Yahoo decide to do about this problem? Did they get more servers? Did they optimize the code? No, they hired some graphics people to come up with cute animations for us to look at while our mailbox is loading. I must admit, they are cute. Here is the mail guy getting chased by an ostrich:

So, the final tally is:

Speed of e-mail application: D+
Cuteness of animations: A

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Crane Game

There are certain individuals who leave a legacy of inflicting great agony upon the world, and among them is whomever invented the crane game. This is the game where a young girl puts a coin into a machine, drops a flimsy grabbing device in the hopes of winning a teddy bear, and then has her hopes dashed by the "crane" failing to latch on to the coveted object. For every child who successfully achieves a moment of joy from this machine, another 20 walk away crying. (Not to mention the 1 or 2 kids per year who get trapped inside the machine.)

As much as I hated this game before, I was even more troubled to recently learn that the game is rigged to not even work properly, except for a certain small percentage of the time. This goes beyond pure evil, and moves into the realm of fraud and deceit. I hope that anyone who sells these machines, or allows them in their place of business, is not able to sleep at night.

Monday, January 08, 2007

CD's or ITunes?

Ranting about the disadvantages of digital downloads and Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been on my to-do-list for a while. (And I've already ranted about hidden CD piracy software).

Rick Broida, over at Lifehacker, does an excellent job of summarizing the differences between CD's and downloadable music. Click here to read his article.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Driving Ranges

Golf Driving Ranges are one of the few aspects of modern life that have hardly improved at all during our lifetime. In fact, the price has gone up faster than inflation and the product offered has gone down.

Let’s take a look at some aspects of the range, and see how they have changed over time:

Tees: This is perhaps the biggest disappointment I have on a regular basis at the range. Who would ever want to hit a golf ball off of a tee that is 3-4 inches above the ground? This is not practice. It is like clown golf. This benefits no aspect of your swing. Perhaps they are assuming that everyone has the latest Big Bertha driver, with the largest possible head size? I remember back in the day, you would find tees of various sizes lying around the mats that you could use. You would look around, find one at the desired height, and then place it under your mat.

Balls: They definitely don’t seem any better than they used to be. Where is all that new technology – surely there are some used Titleist Pro V1 balls out there somewhere that they can scrounge up. No, it seems that we are stuck with the same red stripe specials they were feeding to us years ago.

Feedback: This critical area has not improved at all in 30 years. We are still stuck with a few signs posted at 100, 150, and 200 yards, pointed at an angle most likely different from where you are. You hit a shot and hope to squint and see how far it went. If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of your ball, you then need to triangulate the distance based on your angle from the posted yardage markers. It’s about time they tracked the balls and told you how straight and far they each go. And then they should keep some statistics to let you know your average distance, trajectory, and alignment.

Mats: Here is an area where things have clearly taken a turn for the worse. Back in the day, most ranges had a little grassy area down at the end of the tee boxes. This let you practice hitting some actual golf shots, as opposed to trying to hit some fake shots from the Astroturf mats. It seems that you can hardly find these areas at all anymore, except for the upscale ranges at nicer golf courses.

Tokens: It used to be that you could get a large bucket of balls for $5. Now you get tokens for $6 each. But what they don’t tell you is that it takes 2 or 3 tokens to fill up the large bucket. Yet this is still better than the courses that give you a little bag of about 20 balls for $5. Side note: I bought a bunch of tokens one time when they had a 10 for $20 special. The next year I found out that they changed the machines, so my old tokens from the previous year would no longer work.

Crowds: Thanks to Tiger Woods, everyone and their mother are now learning to golf. So don’t bother finding a tee box on the “main level”. Just head up a flight of stairs (with balls spilling out of your bucket) to the upper level tees. Assuming you’re not getting drenched by rain, your additional challenge is to do some calculus to figure out how much further your ball is traveling due to the height advantage.

Putting Green: The new trend is to have target flags without holes. The best you can hope for is to bounce your ball off of the flag. This is not at all rewarding. Is it that hard to dig the little hole in the ground? And of course the inevitable sign that says “No Chipping”. What the heck? Do these people realize that I am coming to this facility to practice golf? Hint: it’s not that hard to grow new grass – I do it in my yard all the time, and it takes a few months. They should just rotate the chipping area from time to time. I hope next time I go to the ice rink, they don’t have a sign that says “No Figure 8’s”.


Counter-example: Bowling, for example, is a sport that has done a better job improving over time. Most places now have bumpers so that kids can bowl, and they keep your score automatically (even though it doesn't work sometimes). They also have disco bowling nights, and other new concepts. I consider these to be good-faith improvements, and so I don't mind as much that the prices have gone up.

(Read counterpoint rave by BrianM)

Targeted Ads not so Targeted

I really hate when you do a search on the internet and some of top results are web sites that aggregate links to other sites. I feel the same about those sponsored ads that appear to be targeted but really aren't. You know, the ads that appear on the sidebar of the search and say things like "Find great deals on <insert search string here>, compare prices and stores!" You get your hopes up that they may actually have real live vendors waiting to sell you the rare item you were searching for, but they don't.

I did the following search to illustrate how obviously untargeted these ads can be...

and the results...