Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: September 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Vista Impressions – Ribbons and Fonts

I suppose this deals largely with Office 2007 and not Vista directly, but UI change is likely to permeate future Microsoft products so it remains very relevant. Generally the change between iterations of Office requires some openess to new ways of doing things, but with an almost seamless transition in terms of UI. Many felt 2003 was an almost defunct purchase for only prettifying the icons (not quite true, but not far off either). The same can certainly not be said of 2007 which truly tears out the old interface and starts from scratch. The result is something far less intuitive than one might expect from a company that has dominated the office suite market for the past decade — be warned that most offices are going to require some retraining.

Office 2007 UIThis is not to say the new “ribbon” method is bad, merely that the jarring change is surprising given how well and intuitively the old menu bar system worked. Although at first it appears intact, these buttons are no longer drop-down menus at all. Instead they change the set of visible icons in the ribbon below. It certainly looks nicer, and does speed up several tasks. Its greatest benefit is that styles are now much more readily accessible (with a single click instead of selecting from a drop-down list) and its prominent positioning is probably intended to convince users to utilise this useful function more liberally.

The downside is that it took me almost a minute just to work out how to open a document (although the keyboard shortcut remains the same). Without the familiar File menu, I eventually discovered that the big Office logo on the left is actually a button within which are hidden several major functions. Perhaps I was having a slow day, but if it took me that long to do something so basic I suspect many ohers will have trouble. I would suggest that an “open” button next to the conveiently located “save” button up at the top may not go amiss, but undoubtedly many more issues will arise until people settle into the new interface.

The other major plus is a new integrated document reader view for Word, which launches by default when reading things like email attachments. The lack of a reader app was one of my dad’s gripes with the product so I imagine many will find this extremely useful. It makes great use of the screen and as my use electronic texts only increases it should certainly save me from a little eyestrain!

Fonts are something to which most users will pay little attention but the new defaults included in Vista really are pretty special. Arial et al. are definitely a thing of the past now, with Cambria and Calibri providing a wonderfully clear serif and sans serif styles respectively at both large and small sizes. Indeed, all the new fonts scale remarkably well. Consolas provides a far more pleasant monospace experience too. The only real issue is that they all start with C — Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantina, Corbel. I’m sure it sounded like a good idea at the time, but it’s already confusing me! It sounds odd to say but given the going rate for fonts these days, these are genuinely impressive enough to almost justify the cost of operating system alone.

Vista Impressions – Nanny Knows Best

unversal? apparently not...UAC is an acronym you will soon grow to hate. One of Vista’s major flaws for the competent or professional user is that Microsoft’s “we know what’s best for you” attitude evident in XP has grown expansively. It can be illustrated very simply in the image here. You will see the start menu with the instantly recognisable universal icon for “shut down”. Only in Vista it’s not. Instead it stores your session in memory and puts the machine to sleep. Now I know Microsoft are keen to promote the fast booting and low power consumption that its sleep mode offers but, especially with this laptop, often I just want to switch the damn thing off. Forcing me to click on a tiny arrow an select it from a list is not only unhelpful, it actually slows the process down.

OS terrorism: desktop hijackThe major issue is the soon-to-be-loathed User Account Control system. It is designed to solve a very real problem — that of novice users running as administrators and inadvertantly opening their computer up to all sorts of malware because they don’t know what they are running. I, on the other hand, do. So forcing me to run in standard user mode and to ask me for permission every single time I perform an act like interacting with the Program Files folder is unnecessary. To ask me twice (a first popup warns that permission is required, a second actually asks for the requisite permission as well as a password if you are logged into another account) is unacceptable. Worse still the “secure desktop” proceeds to hijack my entire screen, fading out everything else and locking it, until I select a response. Drawing attention to a new window is fine, halting whatever I happen to be doing is not.

A neater solution to this problem is definitely needed because this intrusive system will likely lead to many users disabling UAC altogether. I should stress that many of these issues can be solved by tweaking the way in which UAC operates while retaining many of its security advantages. Ed Bott discusses these options as well as how Microsoft can save User Account Control as a concept.

Vista Impressions – Getting Started

Windows Vista RC1 (that’s Release Candidate 1) can be downloaded as an ISO (a DVD image that you can burn to a blank disc) from Microsoft for free by those interested in trialling it before the official launch next year. This is not a standard “guide to Vista”. Other sites like Paul Thurrott’s do it and do it better than I could in limited space here. Rather this will focus on a few points that grabbed my attention for better and for worse.

Not being a complete moron, I wasn’t about to make the unfinished Vista my only operating system, so I had to begin by partitioning my hard drive and creating a second primary partition from which Vista could boot. For reference you can also check the specs of the machine in question.

installing VistaSmartly all the user involvement has been move to the start of the installation after which it takes care of itself while you sit back and relax. Or leave. Because this is slooow. You see this isn’t long in the XP go and make a cup of tea sense. This is more prepare a large dinner, eat it, drive to the gym and burn off all those extra calories, return home and shoot your dog because he’s now too old for life long. And then, magically, it’s done. I was wary of driver incompatibility, especially on a laptop, but to its credit Vista picked up my widescreen display and all the other peripherals with no trouble at all. I have yet to test bluetooth and wireless networking.

VistaAt first glance Vista is not earth-shattering: it looks like what it is, an upgraded version of XP. Instantly it is, however, very pretty. Aero’s translucency is a visual flourish that has been well executed and offers some exceptionally useful interface enhancements. Merging style with utility is something Apple were known for (and lost somehow with the Shuffle) and Microsoft seem to have grasped that the former alone is not enough. Switching windows or hovering over a taskbar item will now provide a preview of the window. Better yet, it’s a live preview so if you hover over a video player you’ll see the current video playing. The “switch between windows” view cascades you windows three dimensionally in a view even nicer than Tiger’s. The biggest UI change actually occurs in Office which will be discussed in depth at a later date.

Beauty comes at a price, of course, and that price is resource usage. A graphics card is a must for starters. Vista works fine on this machine but still occassionally feels sluggish despite the gig of RAM. In reality I would recommend a minimum of two for anyone intending to upgrade next year. For a new system to ever feel sluggish this early on after installation is worrying. Another culprit is the sidebar which provides gadgets for the desktop which Microsoft will be accused of stealing from Apple (who in turn stole it from Konfabulator). First impressions count and visually Vista should certainly impress, but next we’ll take a look under the hood at some of the new featues which justify the upgrade.

The Savage Jazz

First a big plug for The Savage Jazz, Rich Homer’s band based in Guildford. Upon listening their eclectic tastes and varied backgrounds in music are immediately clear — it’s not jazz, but a rather funky sound emerging from the same mindset while musically drawing together rock, reggae and blues. Coming up is a major gig at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden this Sunday at the Platform event (2:30 – 7pm, £4 entry). For a stupidly cheap entry price and cheap booze all afternoon it sounds like a perfect pre-uni weekend. At the very least check out their site, particularly the great video for Mockingbird.

Daniel Craig had a fairly negative reception from Bond fans who, to be fair, were unlikely to accept any replacement to Brosnan’s flawless delivery of the character as Fleming wrote him. Being a fan of Layer Cake and more recently Munich, I have been vocally pro-Craig and I think the full Casino Royale trailer shows he has the gravitas and the subtle charm to pull it off. It’s different, it’s darker, and it looks damn good.

Our final installment of the popular Sausagewatch was delayed by the fact Kirsten kept a vital part in Germany. However, she was kind enough to post it over so we can proudly present the first ever illustrated edition. So without further ado…

Thuringer RostbratwurstSausagewatch: Thūringer Rostbratwurst is a regional variety of the famous Bratwurst sausage. Named after a state in Germany, the “rost” in its name denotes that it is grilled. Commonly served as a heavy snack with ketchup and/or mustard accomanied by a toasted slice of bread. I should perhaps point out that the drawing was Kirsten’s sketch on a train in Berlin and was not intended for public consumption. I, however, feel its rough artistic brusqueness rounds off our segment on German sausages perfectly.

Shiver Me Timbers, It’s A Photo Album!

First Mate BromwinAvast, ye scurvy dogs! Be ye after me booty or per’aps me Berlin photos? Ye’ll not take ’em without a fight. Viewin’ is open the to right sort, o’ course. Whether ye call yerself corsair, buccanneer or gentleman o’ fortune makes no difference to me — ye be a pirate. Then, me hearties, pour yerself some grog and be welcome here as long as ye like. Thar be photos photos aplenty with the German lasses and the sprog Nele makes a fine addition to the crew. Not for the lily-livered we ‘ave some close-ups of bees and hornets too. Arr, and fer ye landlubbers with no idea what be goin’ on, here’s a little clue.

That’s quite enough of that, I think. Having missed the occassion previously, it seemed only right that this year P-2006 join in one of the net’s quirkier “holidays”. Aside from the photos, I had been intending to start talking about my impressions of Windows Vista today, but it’s been delayed by piratical stuff instead. Look out for that over the next week or so, each post focusing on a very specific element of the new operating system. Meanwhile this salty sea dog had best be getting back to work.

Viva Complaint!

There is no pre-defined formula for the complaint but then, being British, it’s something we’re not particularly good at anyway. Grumbling, now that’s a different matter, but outright complaints are considered to rank amongst the excesses usually labelled “nuisances”. I mention this because Cat informed me that she was writing a letter of complaint to Alton Towers. Now, I always thought my Aunty Manel in the States had this fine art perfected but Cat has gone one step further — she hasn’t actually been to Alton Towers*. That’s efficiency the Germans would covet.

Viva Pinata!For those who follow Rare’s games, the bizarre premise of their current project, tending garden on an island inhabited by sentient piñatas, is probably not that shocking. They are, after all, the people who brought you Conker, the foul-mouthed alcoholic squirrel. Now its the more child-friendly Viva Piñata! One of the most creative developers in the industry, this game is preceded by a kids TV show that has just started to air. Imagine a Pixar TV show and you’ll have some idea. Rare’s visual flair is spot on in producing a wacky style that complements their content and there are enough cheeky adult asides to justify watching to your friends. You can see the first two episodes right now.

And finally if you are a My Vitriol fan (and if you aren’t you should be) they are finally doing a show this year — but just one. It’s Friday 24th November @ KOKO in Camden. Tickets here. Check it, as they say.

*There was, it transpired, a legitimate reason involving their booking system.

Four Year Plan

I just signed a letter that charts out the next four years of my life. Officially accepting a training contract from Bird & Bird entails completing my final year of uni, followed by the LPC and finally two years of training with the firm. It feels distinctly odd seeing it mapped out before me, no matter how pleasant it may seem. In the same way that a block of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream moulded into the form of an anatomically correct human foot would be as strange as it was appealing (the ice cream that is, not the foot). I am, of course, delighted to be working for my favourite firm of this summer’s placements and it also offers some financial security since they pay my LPC fees as well as providing a modest maintenance grant, much needed while starting out in London.

Although this site has never dedicated itself to the day with the same piratical passion that is displayed by others around the globe, International Talk Like A Pirate Day is on the approach. You can see it from the crow’s nest at any rate. With that in mind I offer you this training video that you might best prepare yourself for the vocal working that the day brings. Though their vocabulary may be limited, do not be deceived for the language of the pirate is as colourfully intricate as it foul. Ninjas, on the other hand, should probably sleep in.

With the expanded size of the new hard drive I had various ideas for how best to utilise it. My mind was made up when Microsoft emailed me to inform that a Release Candidate for Vista was now available should I wish to partake. I promptly downloaded it, burned a DVD and installed it. I’m giving it a few days to sink in before I comment on it, but for now I will say that there is much to like here but with several surprising changes to the user interface that may not be for the better.

Failures of the Dishwasher Generation

As strange as the things one can find around here are the others that are missing. Take, for example, the everyday washing-up sponge, it’s friendly hue of not quite yellow sprouting a crop of dark green scouring pad hair, here consigned to the base role of bathroom maintenance. Kirsten’s family rely primarily on the dishwasher, a devilish device I abhor.

While I agree its premise is sound, in practice it functions, as near as I can tell (given the steel door blocking sight of its active machinations), in the following way. Warm water is ingeniously applied to items held prisoner within its walls in order to subtly separate any dried on remainders of an earlier meal. So far so good. Its brilliantly engineered twin blades then proceed to hurl it around leaving an even coating on every dinner plate, steak knife and novelty coffee cup within its confines. In instilling a sense of the brutality of absolute equality it is unrivalled — art, even. In terms of cleaning, it sucks.

We spent the weekend in Hamburg visting Moni and Tommy. After a three hour train journey and a slight struggle with assembling her new bed (inherited from a colleague at work, it was missing a few vital bars) Saturday evening involved a great dinner party even though we (St. Pauli) narrowly lost the football (to Bayern Munich, which is perhaps to be expected). Kirsten seemed slightly worried that I was drinking alongside two much larger German men but I think I held my own respectably. In fact it seems my stomach was better suited than Tommy’s to the Tabasco-fuelled “Mexican” shots. Both he and Moni found themselves very ill the following day so sightseeing was cancelled in order to look after Moni in the flat. It was still a pleasant weekend away.


If there’s one thing to be said for Western Capitalism, it certainly gets things on the shelves. Many of you love to scoff at the Shiseido Men products I recommend with religious fervour and use like a pansy. Allegedly. When I started using them 2 years ago it was virtually impossible to find in the UK: I knew of only two buildings that sold the precious liquids in the whole country. Now, even in this remote end of Germany, I can pick them up for less than I would back home. If that’s not worth breaking down a wall for then I don’t know what is. Aside from, you know, freedom.

AchtelTo celebrate Kirsten’s dad’s birthday on Wednesday the grandparents were here. I was also able to meet her older brother for the first time. I have always praised socially lubricatative properties of alcohol and once again it seemed his unwillingness to risk attempts at English gradually evaporated with each glass of whiskey. Although the womenfolk seemed a little stressed by preparing the bounty of food (and yes, I too was pressed into service) it was a rather enjoyable evening.

Nele in her treehouseAfter seeing some photos I took of Nele in the garden, her mother asked me to take more to show friends of theirs, mostly to show off her baumhaus (treehouse, only this one didn’t really involve a tree — other than being made of wood, that is). I ended up with possibly the cutest “photoshoot” my camera has ever held. Unlike the distracted, fidgety girl I had tried to photograph before, I think Nele found she quite enjoyed posing with the rather rudimentary directions I was able to act out for her.

this is not a PS3 screenshotGamers amongst you will probably have heard by now that despite Sony’s bold statements of 2 million units worldwide at launch, the PS3 numbers will be closer to 500,000 and the European launch is to be postponed until spring 2007. It gives the 360 a second uncontested Christmas in Europe which must be a crushing blow to Sony’s European division. What is surprising is not so much the delay or the overall history of the console: last year’s Killzone guff, the poor E3 performance, the price, etc. — it’s the fact they will still sell out every single console they produce at launch. All I can say is it better do something pretty damn impressive, especially now that Assassin’s Creed is, as I have suggested for months now, officially coming out on the 360 as well. Boo-yah! as they say.

Feeding Facebook

With each iteration of changes to Facebook, that bastion of student procrastination, there is a frenzy of disgruntled posting. This time it may be warranted. I remember the uproar at the inclusion of photo galleries which are now very much loved, and I hear the response to “Walls” (an area on one’s profile to which other users may write) was similar. However the inclusion of feeds is a very different prospect. It adds no new content or information whatsoever. Instead what it offers is a new way to access that information. For many Facebook’s sole raison d’être was the ability to stalk one’s friends for information and gossip. To have it served up in a feed as soon as you log on destroys that entire concept.

Equally their own justification falls short. Claiming to provide all the useful changes that people want to know about their friends, instead the feed fills up with whose favourite book as changed in the last 3 days. Above all, however, its implementation is just messy. I have always been able to stomach its façade of sociability more than MySpace because at least it took a clean, minimalist approach to its design instead of the gut-wrenching mess of the latter. Shallow, I know. However little care has gone into the design of the feeds which is why many have made the above comparison. It began with the inclusion of the ability to blog on Facebook through “Notes”. Although not a fan, I cannot argue since I am able to hook them up to this site’s own feed so that more people can reach new updates.

On a separate privacy note, I would encourage you to carefully check your “My Privacy” page where I have been informed that under “Everyone” the settings include a checkbox ticked by default which shares your information with the Facebook Development Platform. It’s not that I don’t trust them, it’s just that — well — I don’t.

Finally, just to ensure that this is truly a social networking entry that Luke can truly despise, allow me to plug once again the Frappr map we set up a while ago. I haven’t mentioned it for a while, but if you are reading this, do take a few seconds to add yourself if you haven’t already.

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

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