Archive for June, 2006

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Smithsonian: Time and again

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

Feldstein Booth

Time and again is a neat Smithsonian article about a man who set out to photograph every person in a small town (670 people) back in 1984. He succeeded and then went back 20 years later to take them all again. It’s a fun read, and the 4 photo sets are interesting to look at.

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The quest for a perfect mail client

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – e-mail is the ultimate form of personal and business communication. It’s non-realtime, polite, indexable, searchable, cross-platform, and easy to use. The only problem I face right now with my favorite little mode of communication is the perfect way to access it.

I have over 6Gb of server side email with three different IMAP stores spread across the globe. I send and receive anywhere from 50 to 300 emails a day (in my personal life – closer to 1000 if you include my work life) and need a way to manage that incoming email as well as to refer back to it from a number of different platforms.

I use IMAP because it stores my email server-side and allows to to connect and synchronize a number of different clients. I have Windows, OS X, and Linux boxes floating around my house, and a number of phones and PDA’s which I use to keep up to the minute with email on the road. Having my main mail store be a server makes for easy mail setup – just point a new client at my mail stores and let them cache content to their hearts content.

I’ve used a lot of IMAP clients in my day (more than I can count), and none of them seem to really meet my bill of perfect. All I want is something fast, flexible and fully featured that I can rely on to never crash.

Here are my favorite email clients at the moment with my thoughts on each. Do any of my readers have any suggestions of clients I could try that might meet my needs and overcome some of the flaws of their brethren?

Apple’s is close to perfect, but not quite there. It’s a friendly, easy to use interface, provides indexing and searching via Spotlight, and easily handles downloading from multiple IMAP stores. It’s stable, has great performance even on older machines, and has a great plugin architecture for adding things like PGP.

It’s flaws: difficult to configure advanced IMAP options (how to handle sent mail, rules support is a little lacking) and a serious bug for IMAP where the read/unread flag on messages sometimes flips about randomly making mail management difficult.

Windows Mail (the Vista version of Outlook Express)
With Windows Vista Microsoft has done a bit of work to help the aging Outlook Express client along. It’s a bit faster, and now includes indexing and search features thanks to Vista’s Windows Desktop Search technology. The interface has not changed in a while, and it’s not the most feature complete mail client in the world, but it would for the most part meet my needs.

Where it falls down? Windows Mail has some stability problems (which hopefully will be fixed before Vista releases) particularly when dealing with large IMAP stores. I have over 6 gigs of mail on IMAP servers across the world, and Windows Mail chokes quite frequently when doing send/receive’s to synchronize it’s offline cache. Windows Mail has built in certificate support for email verification, but no good PKI solution for sending mail to PGP users.

In a phrase: Outlook has a fat ass! Outlook is by far the most fully featured mail client out there – in fact it barely even qualifies as a mail client any more and is much more of a portal to the enterprise world. Calendaring, tasks, resource allocation – it does it all. Unfortunately with this glut of features it’s bloated, slow, and only barely more stable than Windows Mail. Outlook is also very Exchange centric. Exchange is wonderful for the enterprise, but with the ability to only connect to a single Exchange server per Outlook install it falls flat on its face when it comes to consumer scenarios. Outlook is also a fairly poor IMAP client insisting on caching items locally, and making the invalid assumption that it’s the only client that will be connected to the server at any given time.

Thunderbird is the “odd bird out” in this flock. It’s fast, stable, and has pretty much all the advanced security, mail management, and encryption features I could want. To boot it’s free and open source software and has a thriving development community behind it. Given that it’s cross-platform and highly configurable I would use it exclusively if it were not for a few fatal flaws.

Thunderbird has no good indexing and search story – something that is becoming more and more critical as people become more and more dependent on mail clients to manage and store incoming information for them. This would be easy to fix if Thunderbird would abandon their monolithic mailbox store format and adopt a single file per email plain text solution enabling both Spotlight and Windows Desktop Search to index them.

Thunderbirds other fatal flaw: it’s ugly. I recognize that it’s difficult to develop software for multiple platforms and make it look good on them all, but that’s why I feel that Thunderbird should fork their UI development significantly more. Make the OS X version feel more like and the rest of the Aqua desktop environment. Make the Windows version feel less like Linux, and more like a part of the Windows family.

Webmail can be a good thing – I occasionally use webmail to access a few of my accounts IMAP stores and find it to be an adequate substitute for a real client in a pinch. The fundamental flaw all web based mail solutions offer is that you need a browser and internet connectivity to access them – no working on mail while on the road or in a plane – no offline cached mode whatsoever. Sadly when you are as e-mail centric as I am no web based solution comes even close to being a full time solution.

Gmail gets close, but it’s inability to give a good experience on a mobile device shoots it right in the foot. Yahoo and Hotmail have even worse experiences on the web (with Hotmail being by far the worst), and don’t even really offer a good story when it comes to mail on a PDA or phone.

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Programmable tattoos

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Programmable tattoos

Now this is cool – a mixture of e-ink technology with old fashioned body implants. Several researchers are looking at ways of implanting small displays under human skin to provide a wide range of interactive experiences to people via a “tattoo interface”.

The concept is not only cool from the POV of someone who wants a tattoo, but does not know what they want, but also someone like me who would like an external display for notifications – “You have new mail”!

I hope this hits the market in some reasonable timeframe because when it does (and enough other people have gotten it to prove that it won’t cause cancer) sign me up!

[via Digg]

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Beginning of the week and I’m vlogging already

Monday, June 5th, 2006

It’s only Monday and I’m already vlogging!

Oh X-Men

Monday, June 5th, 2006

Scott and Brien joined me for an evening out last night and we all went to see Xmen 3. I just have to say for the record that I’m rather disappointed in it. The first two movies were very well done, and had a good blend of story and special effects. Sadly this one was all about the special effects (which were pretty and mind blowing), but the story was simply no there. There are gaping plot holes, virtually no character development, and lots of unanswered questions.

Sadly this is not the real reason why I despised the movie. If you want to know the real reason keep reading, but I’m going to spoil something in the plot: They kill my favorite persona! Patrick Stuart (a.k.a. Professor Xavior) is killed before the first half of the movie is over. UNACCEPTABLE. I grew up watching Captain Jean Luc Picard and damnit if he’s not my hero. Killing him in any movie is simply out of the question – much less a sci-fi movie with links to Star Trek, the Next Generation.

Gripes aside I’m glad I saw it – it was pretty. Just pretty crap…

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Rest and other topics

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

After a 4 hour nap yesterday afternoon and a good 11 hours of sleep last night I’m feeling fit and feisty on this fine grey Sunday afternoon. It’s amazing what a good nights sleep can do for a young lad!

A couple of things:

Now for a nice relaxing afternoon with Skype, Scott, and some Xbox 360!

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You know annoying?

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Nothing quite so annoying as having an early morning meeting on a Friday. Wait – I take that back – there is something more annoying: waking up early, dragging myself out of bed, showering, walking the boy, getting in my car – and then half way across the bridge having my phone beep to notify me that the meeting organizer has canceled the meeting (15 minutes before it’s supposed to start), thus robbing me of an extra hour of sleep.

That is all.


Thursday, June 1st, 2006

My Oblivion addiction gets worse and worse – I’m now playing an average of 6 hours a day in addition to having a full time job and keeping up an active father role with Skype. It’s just such a good game! Given that my main character had done everything that made sense to do for a level 38 mage I restarted as an assassin/thief and am going through the thieves guild and dark brotherhood quests. It’s pretty exciting actually to play the dark side of the game – it reminds me a lot of KOTOR.

In other Xbox 360 news I’m pretty excited about a few new upcoming games including Two Worlds, and Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth. Hopefully they will both come out soon and be as good as the previews look.

On the personal front life is good. Keeping busy with work, and playing with Vista. Now if they could just iron out the bugs and get it out the door the world will be good enough!

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