May 07, 2007

Head-to-head: Dell 20" LCD vs. Dell 20" LCD

E207WFP 20-inch Widescreen Flat Panel LCD Monitor

2007WFP Wide-Screen Black Flat Panel Monitor, LCD with Height Adjustable Stand

So, Dell now sells two different 20-inch wide-screen LCD displays. The value model has only 3 digits in its part number -- the E(conomy)207WFP -- and sells for $120 less than the 2007WFP, currently $219 for the economy and $339 for the deluxe.

Is the pricier display worth the extra money? How can you tell? I happen to have one of each on my desk, and have been using them side-by-side for the last 3 weeks.

After 3 weeks, I can't tell the difference between the image quality on the 207 from the 2007. I'm using both the DVI and VGA connectors, and colors look consistent, response time is acceptable (Dell says faster on the cheaper model!) and apparently identical for each display, and the controls are the same across both display models.

Why would anyone spend the extra $120? The more expensive display offers a stand that enables easy pivoting and height adjustment, and a number of extra interfaces: S-Video, composite, and 4 USB ports. The plastics are of a higher quality, and contrasting silver and black on the pricier model, where the cheaper model has a coarser grain one-color charcoal plastic that's similar to my home display, the last-generation Dell 2005 WFP.

In practice, I find that neither stand gets the display as high as I would like in landscape mode, so I have to use books or boxes to build a platform under the stand. That platform has to be taller with the cheaper display. Since I'm also using a KVM switch with one of the monitors, I'm not using the USB ports on the display (the KVM switch lets the mouse and keyboard change at the same time the video switches), but I do find myself pivoting the 2007WFP into portrait mode pretty regularly, to test public display layouts or look at big chunks of code. You could pivot the cheaper display in conjunction with a 3rd-party VESA-compatible mounting system, but not with the stock stand.

Which monitor works for you, then, may be a matter of which monitor you want to pair it with. If you're looking for a 2nd display to work with an Apple display, you might prefer the 2007 WFP: You gain the option of portrait mode, and the silver plastics coordinate with recent Macs better than the charcoal. If you've already got a pivotable display, though, and don't see running two portrait-mode displays, the E207WFP is a steal of a deal at less than $250 (it lists for $259, and is almost always on sale).

May 7, 2007 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 18, 2006

Don't miss Weird Al's current album

Weird Al Yankovic
Originally uploaded by Frank Steele.
I got Weird Al's Straight Outta Lynwood for my birthday.

It's awesome. Highlights include: “Trapped in the Drive-thru”, his parody of R. Kelly's unintentional hip-hopera self-parody “Trapped in the Closet”; "Do I Creep You Out?", based on American Idol Taylor Hicks's hit “Do I Make You Proud?”; and, of course, “White & Nerdy,” the parody of Chamillionaire's Ridin'. It's become the favorite “driving-around” CD for the family.

Also, I see Al did a parody of James Blunt's monster hit “You're Beautiful” that couldn't get permission to be on the album -- you can download it here.

Weird Al's site is here.

I shot the picture at right with my iSight camera off a TV screen, and uploaded it with the new FlickrBooth tool, a plug-in for PhotoBooth.

December 18, 2006 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2005

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I've just come from the preview of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the 4th movie in the Harry Potter series.

Book 4 is my favorite of the series, but from the first time I read it, I wondered how anyone could bring it to the screen. It's the most sprawling of the books, with a Quidditch World Cup, a Triwizard Tournament, a missing persons subplot tied into Voldemort's efforts to return to full power, background on Voldemort's followers (the Death Eaters -- a punk band name if I ever heard one) and the usual schoolwork and adolescent angst. It just seems impossible to squeeze 734 pages into 2.5 hours on screen.

I was dead wrong. Where I felt cheated by some of the "what's out" choices made by Alphonse Cuaron, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Mike Newell (working with a Steve Kloves script) has nailed it with the latest edition.

As the series gets darker, Newell and Kloves deftly play up the humor in J.K. Rowling's work to give us a roller-coaster ride, focusing on the two tournaments and Voldemort's efforts to regain corporeal form, which together make up the heart of Rowling's book.

The cast also lightens the mood, as the regulars have grown comfortable enough to play off the groundwork established in movies 1 through 3 and offer up clever bits of stage business. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, in particular, get a chance to ham it up a bit.

If they're a bit of ham, Brendan Gleeson, as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, is the whole pig, munching the scenery on a glorious turn through the most entertaining Defense Against the Dark Arts role yet (sorry, Kenneth Branagh).

Also new on board are Ralph Fiennes, who will be back, and Miranda Richardson, who won't.

The special effects are flawless. From the snake's-eye introduction and the combat portions of the tournament, all the way through the final confrontation, all were spectacular. Never once did I find myself saying "That's not how that should look."

My 10-year-old Harry Potter nut loved it, instantly proclaiming it her favorite movie of all time.

I won't go that far, but I would definitely rate it the best Harry Potter movie yet.

November 15, 2005 in Film, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 07, 2004

CyberTool: It changed my life

Do you own a Victorinox CyberTool?

Mark Frauenfelder asks people for their experience with the Victorinox CyberTool. My quick reply:

I've had mine since soon after they came out (2-3 years?), and rely on it.

It's got all the bits you need to take apart any computer. I've disassembled 10-15 laptops with mine, and use it for field trips to do maintenance on my company's electronic signs.

We found a Leatherman Juice tool in our office, and I started trying to use it, but the CyberTool beats it hands down, for the way it fits your hand, the selection of tools (ballpoint pen! Eyeglass screwdriver!), and maximum portability.

I once used one of the bits to replace a blown fuse when I couldn't find a replacement.

My developers “borrowed” mine for a few weeks, and I didn't think I was going to get it back, so I'm likely to buy enough to go around.

I worry about packing it in my checked luggage, since it's so easily pocketable. I have other (often better) tools available, but the CyberTool is sort of like a phonecam: It's the tool that's on you that's going to get the most use.

I think I have the middle level, with 34 or so tools -- the same one in the BoingBoing picture.

All in all, $50 very well spent.

September 7, 2004 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 12, 2004

TypePad six months in

I first posted a public weblog entry into TypePad July 6, 2003, in an attempt to parlay my top Google ranking for “Tour de France update” into an experiment: What would it be like to set up a single-issue weblog that was updated very frequently? The appearance of the TypePad beta program meant I could experiment with a new site and a new hosting service all at once, so I signed up.

I wrote a review of my TypePad experiences in August 2003. To sum up, I compared it to OS X: powerful, reliable, and easy-to-use. Now, after six months with the product, I might update that to: “It’s like OS X, if there were no Terminal access available.” Most of the frustrations that I’ve had result from TypePad’s streamlined interface, which doesn’t offer a method to get “under the hood” to customize the service.

The service has been very reliable. I’ve never been unable to load my weblog, although there have been two or three times when I couldn't get to the control interface, and TypePad reported that they were maintaining the service. I don’t generate a lot of traffic, but I’ve had a spike recently, and they’ve had no trouble handling it, and my billing plan looks like it will more than handle the additional traffic without racking up additional charges.

Statistics are still fairly lacking. You get an instantaneous dashboard, displaying your hits in the last hour, the last day, this week, and for all time. But it‘s hard to tell what a “day” is; right now (Sunday night, Feb. 8th) my stats have 3286 hits today. About 24 hours ago, they were showing more than 4000 for that “Today” and about 24 hours before that, they were showing about 3300. Yet my hits for “This week” show 7025 hits, less than the sum of the days.

Also, that “Today” number would require about 130 hits per hour, but I've checked stats three or four times today, and the “In the last hour:” number has never been above 100. Maybe I had some heavy peak traffic that didn't correspond to when I was checking, but I would feel a lot more confident if I could audit my own logs. And I had a 58-minute gap in my logs recently, when TypePad reported no visittors or referers, but my home server was still serving quite a few graphics requested by “” pages.

There’s no way to use MT-plugins, which are available to do hundreds of different things.

There’s (as far as I can tell) no way to delete, or manage, individual files once you’ve uploaded them. Presumably, deleting an entire weblog or photo album deletes all its files, but otherwise, what goes in, stays in. It’s easy to justify this with “If you publish it, it should stay published,” but it’s another measure of control lost.

Once you switch to advanced templates, you're on your own for syndication. I had working Atom templates for as long as I used the basic templates, but when I upgraded, I lost them. On the other hand, I can, with some effort, customize my feeds to provide different content via RSS, Atom, or whatever format I like.

Even with all the little irritations, I’m very happy with the service. The pricing is fair, the look is highly customizable but with attractive defaults, there's support for moblogging, and a number of new features aimed at fighting comment spam. I get a fair number of referrals from the "Reccently Updated Weblogs" sidebar many TypePad sites support. With the addition of Google AdSense and Amazon Affiliate links, I can easily justify what TypePad hosting costs.

February 12, 2004 in Reviews, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 09, 2004

Halo for the Mac at last

About five years ago, my jaw dropped as Steve Jobs showed off a new game for the Mac. Yes, the Mac. Halo offered incredible graphics, the ability to use vehicles, and cooperative play with intelligent bots.

The company developing Halo was Bungie, responsible for the 2 greatest Mac game franchises: Marathon and Myth. The Mac world was shocked a few months later when Microsoft bought Bungie, with a plan to make Halo a cornerstone game for its then-planned XBox gaming console. Man, did we howl.

Halo for the XBox came out in 2001, Halo for the PC in September 2003. Through the work of Westlake Interactive, the busiest game-porting house in the Mac world, and MacSoft, who also distribute Unreal Tournament 2003, Halo for the Mac was released in December.

I'll mostly be comparing Halo to Unreal Tournament 2003 for the Mac, the latest first-person shooter I've played on my 867-mhz 12-inch PowerBook. First things first: Halo is less brainless. There are times when you have to work out tactical situations or carefully marshal your resources. One interesting wrinkle is Halo's limitation on weapons. Many first-person shooters let you hold on to whatever weapons you come across, no matter how many. Halo limits you to 2 weapons, and you have to choose based on your expectations of the upcoming game situation.

Another way that Halo keeps things fresh through its lengthy campaign is by switching up the missions. One level may require you to play sniper ahead of a coordinated assault, while the next may require you to take to the air, and knock enemy fighters down so you can move in on a ground target. Sure, there are a few "just keep hitting the mouse button" levels that test your ammunition collecting skills as much as your combat planning, but all in all, there's something for just about anyone here.

Halo's plot is thicker than average: You're the final example of a group of genetically and mechanically enhanced soldiers on board a spaceship that crashlands on a gigantic ring world called Halo. You're able to take the sexy AI from the ship, Cortana, along in your battle suit. You start out fighting the Covenant, who have been warring with humanity, but things soon take a turn for the worse.

Probably the area in which Halo is most likely to have a lasting influence is in its integration of land and air vehicles. You can walk up to a jeep (called a Warthog here), a tank (Scorpion), a land speeder (Ghost) or a fighter plane (Banshee), and climb right in and take off. With the Warhog, you can also climb into the bed to use the pivoting machine gun, climb into the passenger seat to add firepower, or (if you're driving) pick up other Marines to provide firepower while you drive. My favorite was the Scorpion, which lets you drive, fire the main gun with the primary mouse button, or fire the machine gun with the secondary mouse button. Unreal Tournament 2004 is starting to be advertised heavily, and, no surprise, it includes land and air vehicles.

I'm on the low end of the acceptable range for the game, but found only very rare slowdowns at 1024 x 768. I've only played the network version across the internet, and only long enough to get roasted to a crisp a few times, but frame rates seemed fine when ping times were low. This one would be great at a LAN party. Reportedly, the Mac and PC version are supposed to work together, but the cross-platform network games were broken by a recent PC update, and should be fixed by an upcoming patch.

Another advantage of Halo over UT2003 (and for that matter, Bungie's Myth series) is that once the game is installed, there is no further compliance compelled. No 'Insert disk now', no 'please re-enter your serial number'. In two weeks of game play, the game has locked up once, which led to me force-quitting.

January 9, 2004 in Apple - Software, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Why I still love The Daily Show

Back after Thanksgiving holiday, The Daily Show covers the Bush visit to Iraq:

Jon Stewart: Our own Stephen Colbert was among the reporters who accompanied Bush on this unannounced trip. He's back from Iraq, he joins us now from Washington. Stephen, nice to see you again, welcome home. You guys in the White House corps cover the comings and goings of this administration every day, yet it sounds like nobody in the White House press corps had even a clue that this trip was going to take place...

Stephen Colbert: That's right, Jon. You gotta give the White House credit on this one...My colleagues and I are incredibly impressed by how well we were misled. And this was for a good cause -- just imagine if they were doing something they were ashamed of...We'd never find out. This just proves that we journalists shouldn't even try ... which we don't.


JS: Clearly an incredible amount of logistics and foresight had to go into all of this.

SC: Yes, Jon, this visit was an extremely well coordinated operation, and the Bush team has learned a lot from the success of this mission that they can now apply to the rest of their work in Iraq. For instance, when it comes to planning...Do some.

This Thanksgiving trip has shown the president that a lot of the best preparation is done ... in advance. Unfortunately, with regard to our occupation of Iraq, we did all of our preparation afterwards, and now it's a seething cauldron of death and rage. But hey, that's why pencils have erasers.

Now, Lesson 2 of this Thanksgiving trip, with respect to an exit strategy ... Have one. What we saw last Thursday was a president with a clear idea of when and how he would leave Iraq ... Specifically, at noon and full of giblets.

December 2, 2003 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

Reviews: Why Bush must go

I've been working through a few books lately, and a few of them fall into a single category, so I thought I would do a quick combined review, for anyone who might be considering reading one or more of them.

The Franken and Alterman books are very much on the same topic: Whether the press can fairly be said to have the legendary "liberal bias" in light of the coverage of Monicagate, the Bush-Gore campaign and the bad craziness in Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a variety of other issues.

The Alterman book reads like a graduate thesis. It's meticulously documented, offering dozens of examples of stories presented in a pro-business, pro-Republican, or pro-Bush way. Alterman also presents quite a bit of "inside baseball" reporting on the way American media works. For many, Alterman's book may be a little too inside.

Franken's book, on the other hand, reads like the class notes of the smartass in the back of Professor Alterman's class. If you read this book in public, you will embarrass yourself. The last few years have offered increasingly surreal setups for gags, and Franken is not one to pass up a good straight line. He's previewed many of the book's best lines during his press tour for the book, and his many appearances resulting from the recent Fox News lawsuit.

Franken looks at the windbags who provide the most public face for modern conservatism: Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity, with appearances from the Republican apparatchiks, President Bush, and even Supply Side Jesus.

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America focuses not on the media, but on George W. Bush's record as governor of Texas, what overall effect he had on the state, and the parallels between Bush-as-governor and Bush-as-president.

If Alterman's book is a little too wonky, and Franken's book a little too snarky, Ivins and Dubose have written a book that's just right. It would be difficult to finish this book and still identify yourself as a likely Bush voter. Bushwhacked goes into the dirty details of Harken Oil, exactly how right-wing have been some of Bush's nominees to the federal bench, how the leading opponent of ergonomics regulation (there are opponents?) became Solicitor of Labor, how the EPA is allowing methane-gas drillers to throw up thousands of wells on previously protected lands, how No Child Left Behind failed in Texas, and dozens of other facts about Bush's governorship that shed a lot of light on the Bush presidency and its goals.

The tone of the book is by turns hilarious and outraged, street-smart and erudite. Dubose and Ivins, as Texans, are particularly experienced in Bush's politics, cronies, and policies, but to me (admittedly not value-neutral on the question), they don't seem to have an axe to grind, as Franken sometimes does, and as many of the folks who have written on the Clinton administration have.

October 15, 2003 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 27, 2003

Bowling for Columbine

I just finished watching Bowling for Columbine (So, Frank, have you heard about this show "Friends"?).

I like Michael Moore; I was one of the five viewers of TV Nation, and greatly enjoyed Stupid White Men.

My perception of Bowling for Columbine was clouded by the blogosphere, where many pro-gun advocates have tried to take Moore to task for making a dishonest movie, or an unfair movie, or taking advantage of Charlton Heston's senility. Moore has answered most of their criticism in a new post on his weblog.

Anyway, my perception of the movie, based on coverage in the media and the blogosphere was that it was a film about guns, strongly advocating gun control.

It's not. Moore emphasizes his NRA membership, and I don't think he's a member just so he can throw people for a loop. Moore's point isn't that guns cause murders, or that too many guns lead to a high murder rate (some of those he interviews suggest this, but I think Moore disagrees). I base this on the fact that the movie leans so heavily on Canadian society, where 7+ million guns in about 10 million households exist side-by-side with a murder rate that's orders of magnitude lower than that of the U.S.

No, the movie is about what most of Moore's works are about: social justice. To the extent that Moore offers an opinion on the cause of the U.S. murder rate, he suggests it's the gross inequity in our society, with millions of Americans without health care, welfare vanishing through "reform", and the gap between rich and poor widening (now with the help of an administration focused on paying off the fat cats that got them appointed). Every one for himself; anybody else is probably out to rob or kill you. "I stick my neck out for nobody," growled Bogart in Casablanca, and it's practically the American motto.

Update: I'm watching the DVD extras, and Moore explicitly makes some of these points there.

In our neighboring liberal democracy in Canada, as Moore points out, the system recognizes that all of us can do only so well as the least of us, and therefore makes an investment in health care, education and fighting poverty.

Moore takes a social justice approach to international affairs, as well. He clearly believes that (to borrow from Holy Grail) the violence inherent in the system when we invade Panama, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or back dictators in Iran, Kuwait, or Iraq, teaches everybody that kicking ass is the way to solve problems.

Looking beyond the politics, this is a terrific movie. Moore isn't a journalist. He's a storyteller, happily sacrificing objectivity to deliver truth.

September 27, 2003 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 30, 2003

Review: Finding Nemo

Pixar does it again, with another movie that scores with kids and adults, featuring even more eye-popping animation.

Albert Brooks (born Albert Einstein) plays Marlin, a timid clownfish living on the Great Barrier Reef. A single father to Nemo, Marlin is powerless to keep Nemo from being captured on the first day of school. Marlin sets out to find and rescue Nemo, wherever he may be. On the way, Marlin encounters all sorts of sea life, and befriends forgetful Dory, voiced by Ellen Degeneres.

Meanwhile, Nemo is trapped in the aquarium of a Sydney dentist. Willem Dafoe plays brilliantly to type as the battle-scarred angelfish Gill who’s tried to escape the aquarium so often he’s lost count.

Unlike Dreamworks SKG’s Shrek, the art never becomes subservient to reality — the graphics are by turns spot-on realistic and brilliantly stylized.

No Randy Newman music, a bit of a surprise after he finally won the Oscar for Monsters, Inc.

At our screening, we also got a sneak preview of The Incredibles, Pixar’s next movie, due in November 2004. And, being Pixar, there was also a short, Knickknack, from the files of Pixar.

I love Pixar movies. I once took my entire team to see Toy Story 2 in place of our weekly meeting; one advantage of working in a building with a cinema. I got all 8 of my pretty sharp group within 10 feet of the box office before anyone even suspected my nefarious scheme.

Don’t forget to stick around for the credits; Pixar always makes it worth your while.

May 30, 2003 in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack