Thursday, August 31, 2006

web app reviews + book review

If there is one book every person must read this summer - or, er, fall - it's Freakonomics. If you've already read it, read it again. I'll be quoting from this book in future blogs, there are some really fascinating excerpts to digest. The premise is basically that conventional wisdom doesn't explain reality - human self-interest does, and the numbers prove it. Go. Read. This. Book. Now.

I like Gmail but have not migrated to it as my primary mail client, mainly because Y! Mail is just good enough and I'm too lazy to make the transition. However, some migrations are worthwhile, more on that below.

New Y! Mail Beta
I've tried the new Y! Mail Beta and while I think it's nice that it's following the "Outlook UI" (clean and powerful)... it's just too damn slow. Within a few days I had switched back to the old Y! Mail. Why? Because of performance. The new UI isn't worth the slow performance hit.

Google Calendar
The most impressive user interface I've used in a long, long time. I'm not the most savvy web calendar user, so maybe there are some great internet calendar apps out there that are better or that Google is copping from, but this thing blew me away. Love the color labelling mutliple calendar feature and it's a very straightforward UI. Can't say enough good things. One drawback is my general complaint on Ajax - yes, it's fast but it can be buggy and sometimes I'm not sure if something has been stored or not. Makes for some annoying run arounds. But I was so impressed with this product that I manually transferred all my datebook data from my Palm Desktop app to Google Calendar. And it's already worth it.

Firefox 2.0b2
Two steps foward, no steps back. The new icons are nice, but so were the old ones. At least it wasn't a step down, but not a huge improvement either. (When it comes to icon design my motto is "as long as it doesn't suck." Harder said than done.) Fading out the tabs is brilliant - it differentiates them from the browser chrome. Giving each individual tab a delete "x" button is a no-brainer, allowing for users to delete a tab they're not presently viewing. Also nice is if you click on a link that opens a new tab, then deleting that tab pops you back to the original tab. If you don't know what I mean, too bad, I don't want to try to explain it any better.
I'm a recent convert to Digg. Apparently it's a brand new web design which is also quite nice.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Flying with Four

We have just returned from an 11 day trip across the country.

First we flew to Bald Head Island, North Carolina. Milo was reunited with his Richmond cousins again. We had a bed and breakfast all to ourselves and a couple of babysitters to help out. We got around the island by golf cart. The weather was nice and warm, not too hot.

Milo made more big strides in swimming at the pool and overall he did really well, playing with his cousins and acclimating to the new environment. Ben had trouble getting used to the new location. We had to sleep train him and let him cry it out all over again. Fortunately our room was at the far end of the hall. It was a very nice retreat and turned out to be quite relaxing.

Next we flew to Chicago and spent the night at a hotel. The following day we drove to Michigan City, Indiana where we rented a big house on Lake Michigan with four other families. The occasion was a reunion for Merritt and her Duke friends and their families. Ten adults and 11 children ranging in age from 3 months to 6 years old all under the same roof. The house was nice but it was still quite crowded.

Again, Milo did exceptionally well, playing with new friends, enjoying the pool and the beach and sleeping well in a new bed. Ben continued to struggle with his sleep and both he and Milo had a cold. Milo complained about his ear hurting and we took him to the urgent care clinic where they said he had an ear infection.

Although at times chaotic, we all had a great time at Lake Michigan too and we were grateful to be able to see old friends again. The last night of our stay, there was a major hail/thunderstorm, complete with a tornado siren going off and loss of electricity for twelve hours. When we drove out the next morning we saw many full-size trees that had blown down, trunks cracked like matchsticks.

The trip home from Chicago O'Hare airport was miserable. First we drove at 7:15am through heavy highway traffic to get to O'Hare for our 12pm flight. This flight was delayed until 2pm, so we hung around the airport for several hours. The previously mentioned storm had delayed many flights in and out of Chicago. Finally we got on our plane and waited to take off. And waited. And waited. Eventually they announced that the flight was cancelled. The flight crew were on the ground for too long and legally they couldn't fly the plane. So we all had to get off the plane and scramble to get on another flight to San Francisco.

Milo was unhappy but soldiered on. Ben was a mess. Merritt was quite upset. I did my best to keep it cool.

I managed to get us on a 8:30pm flight to Oakland airport in First Class. The bad news was we had 4 hours to kill. So we went to the adjacent Hilton Hotel and splurged on a day-rate hotel room where we ordered room service, watched TV and calmed our nerves until 7pm. When we got to the airport we saw that our flight was delayed until 9:30pm. Then it was delayed until 10:30pm. It was well past Milo's bed time and he was barely holding it together (thank god for the dvd player.) Ben was trying to sleep in the baby bjorn on Merritt and Merritt was on the verge of packing it all in and heading back to the hotel. But they did finally board us on the plane and the plane did take off at 11:30pm.

We arrived in Oakland at 1:30am Pacific Time which was 3:30am for us on Chicago time. We arrived at our house at 2:00am and promptly fell into bed.

Needless to say, the entire family is glad to be back home again. Ben is back to sleeping almost normally now. Milo is doing great. Merritt and I are breathing a sigh of relief that the return flight is finally over.