Super short Nozbe review

Nozbe is a web app that allows you to organ­ise your to-do’s Get­ting Things Done style. This morn­ing I spent a lit­tle while giv­ing it a spin. I decid­ed to sit down and enter a bunch of actions I have in my Hip­ster PDA (a Mole­sk­ine Memo Pock­ets and a bunch of blanc index cards) into Nozbe. First impres­sions:

  1. Nozbe is a cool con­cept. I have real­ly been wait­ing for a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty web app. They got this part right! (Projects and con­texts are includ­ed.)
  2. I like the book excerpts that explain the dif­fer­ent GTD con­cepts such as projects, con­texts and actions.
  3. I’d real­ly only con­sid­er using Nozbe if it’d include a mobile vari­ant (oth­er­wise my actions are only acces­si­ble when I’m online behind a com­put­er).
  4. Nozbe forces you to enter each action in a project up front. This is, I think, a mis­read­ing of Allen’s ‘gospel’ and increas­es the cog­ni­tive load when quick­ly enter­ing an action. I’d have actions be forcibly linked to a con­text but give the user the option to add it to a project. (I worked around this by cre­at­ing a ‘No Project’ project and adding actions to it before reor­gan­is­ing.
  5. Con­texts are fixed, which is a shame. Please, please, please let me cre­ate my own con­texts, tag­ging-style. So I can have actions linked to mul­ti­ple con­texts (which again reduces cog­ni­tive load).
  6. Don’t show the dura­tion menu by default when enter­ing an action, keep it clean. I’ll add dura­tions when I want to, but don’t force me to.

Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty apps are hard to get right because every­one has such a per­son­al work­flow. A good app takes that into account and offers many ways to do the same things. So again, Nozbe guys: the app is a good start, con­grat­u­la­tions on the good effort! How­ev­er it could ben­e­fit from some more user-cen­tred think­ing and design. Try to get a feel for the con­text of your users and tweak the inter­face accord­ing­ly!

Update: For those who hadn’t noticed, I found this tool via the excel­lent Life­hack­er blog. Nozbe have their own spar­tan blog too.

Anoth­er update: The excel­lent GTD blog Black Belt Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty does an in depth review and comes up with some of the same points as I did plus a whole bunch more.

Google Reader improvements

The new Google Reader trends page

I hadn’t touched Google Read­er since tak­ing a brief look at its ini­tial launch in Octo­ber 2005. I’m now using it as my pri­ma­ry read­er, hav­ing grown tired of Rojo’s poor per­for­mance and fre­quent inter­face over­hauls. There’s a few things that have real­ly improved since that first release. I’ll sum them up briefly here:

  • Unclut­tered, sim­ple inter­face. They’ve gone back to basics and mim­ic a plain desk­top appli­ca­tion UI. Hard­ly any super­flu­ous web 2.0 fea­tures demand your atten­tion.
  • Trends page (I’ve book­marked a few arti­cles on this); which allows you to look at the feeds you’ve been read­ing the most but, more impor­tant­ly, allow you to weed out the ones you nev­er look at or have died. Essen­tial for some­one who has over 200 feeds to track.
  • Mul­ti-fold­er organ­is­ing, not quite free tag­ging (which is a shame) but still nice for the folk­so­nom­i­cal­ly inclined.
  • When scrolling through a list of expand­ed new feed items, Read­er auto­mat­i­cal­ly marks items you’ve scrolled past as read. Which great­ly reduces the excise oth­er web-based read­ers force on their users when want­i­ng to mark a feed as read.
  • Per­for­mance is accept­able to good. It’s not as fast as Gmail, but vast­ly supe­ri­or to Rojo for instance, despite the con­sid­er­able use of AJAX.
  • There is an unof­fi­cial Mac OS X noti­fi­er that uses Growl.

Most of these fea­tures are not includ­ed in one or both of the pre­vi­ous two web-based read­ers I used for a length of time (Blog­lines and Rojo). Google have real­ly come up with some­thing nice here. I won­der when it’ll move out of the lab.

Why am I not using a desk­top based read­er? I’d like to (Net­NewsWire’s great for instance), just as I’d love to use a prop­er desk­top email client, but my mul­ti-plat­form, mul­ti-machine per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al use doesn’t allow me too. I work on at least two sep­a­rate PCs at work (a desk­top and a lap­top) and have a cute lit­tle iBook that I use at home. This all means I am a real web OS user. Fire­fox as brows­er (with Google Brows­er Sync to keep it the same across all installs), Google Read­er for RSS, Gmail for email and (until recent­ly) Google Cal­en­dar for, well, my cal­en­dar. Is it coin­ci­dence I seem to pre­fer Google prod­ucts for these things? Prob­a­bly not, Google seems to be doing a very good job at these kind of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty appli­ca­tions (just as Yahoo! seem to be lead­ing the way in social appli­ca­tions).

X-Men 3 mini-review

Poster from X-Men 3 set reading 'Mutant Rights Now' After a nice week­end in Barcelona I sat down togeth­er with my bet­ter half to watch X-Men 3, which was final­ly released on DVD. My over­all impres­sion: anoth­er kick-ass super­hero movie and a wor­thy series finale (I do hope they real­ly stop). Some minor gripes: there were quite a few new char­ac­ters (which is good) but they didn’t get enough time to build into full-fledged per­son­al­i­ties. Most notably Archangel. I also felt the movie start­ed to buck­le under the weight of the huge epic action sequences by the end. I pre­fer small­er scale bat­tles like we had in the first two movies, where you can clear­ly see the indi­vid­ual mutants use their pow­ers (a huge part of the fun of these kinds of movies). All in all: rec­om­mend­ed.

Geotagging on Flickr: flaky

Geotagging on Flickr

Flickr launched its geo­t­ag­ging feau­ture a few days ago. Today I came across a few rav­ing posts on Tech­n­Crunch, so I decid­ed to give it a go.

I’ve been geo­t­ag­ging my pho­tos using Plazes for a while now (has it been more than a year already? This pho­to seems to prove as much.) I enjoyed doing that but it was always a bit involved. Also, geo­t­ag­ging becomes real­ly use­ful and fun once lots of peo­ple start doing it. That wasn’t real­ly hap­pen­ing yet so I’m excit­ed about Flickr inte­grat­ing it.

My first impres­sion of their map-dri­ven inter­face was pos­i­tive. It’s tucked away in the orga­nize sec­tion though; I won­der whether they’ll include some bits in the indi­vid­ual pho­to pages soon. For instance: a lit­tle map show­ing the loca­tion where the shot was tak­en and an easy way to add geo­t­ags (maybe even allow oth­ers to do it for me?) I’d like this most­ly because now the map isn’t real­ly social (in the sense that it shows an aggre­ga­tion of geo­t­agged shots, just my own.) Update: I found the social fla­vored map here; a bit under­whelm­ing, but fun.

How­ev­er: although Flickr proud­ly sports “gam­ma” at the top of its logo, the tech­nol­o­gy still lags behind. It’s beta qual­i­ty at best. New­ly tagged pho­tos don’t appear on the map after a reload; per­haps Flickr doesn’t like me chang­ing the tags out­side of the map inter­face? Update: edit­ting geo­pri­va­cy set­tings on batch­es gives back strange results too, these pho­tos should show up on the map some­where near Baarn, but they don’t. Weird…

Also, I think not being able to “snap” a batch of pho­tos to a city I found through the search inter­face is a usabil­i­ty issue. Adding pho­tos to loca­tions I haven’t iden­ti­fied in Plazes (and thus don’t show up as hotspots on the map yet) becomes arbi­trar­i­ly. Call me a meta­da­ta nut, but I real­ly want to add my pho­tos of Jurjen’s pret­ty street Zwarte­hand­spoort in Lei­den to the exact street, not drop them some­where in the vicin­i­ty of the city Lei­den.

Con­clu­sion: a promis­ing addi­tion to every­ones favourite social pho­to shar­ing site, poised to make geo­t­ag­ging ready for the big time, but not exact­ly there yet due to some tech­ni­cal and design issues.

Anoth­er update: after rum­mag­ing through the help forums, I learnt that indeed, Flickr doesn’t automag­i­cal­ly pick up on new­ly geo­t­agged pho­tos from oth­er ser­vices (such as Plazes.) You need to re-import them (as described in this post). This sucks big time, Flickr seems to think that only pho­tos that have been tagged inside the sys­tem mat­ter. Think again! (Of course all this is prob­a­bly sim­ply due to tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions, which is no excuse, but still…)

Shadow of the Colossus mini-review

A screenshot of Shadow of the Colossus, courtesy of IGN.com.

One of the most reward­ing gam­ing expe­ri­ence I’ve had in quite some time, Shad­ow of the Colos­sus is an exer­cise in restraint (some­thing rarely found with game design­ers). Large parts of the game are spent rid­ing a horse through a lav­ish­ly rich land­scape, look­ing for a giant mon­ster to bat­tle. Felling one of the title colos­si always involves solv­ing a log­i­cal puz­zle (real-world log­ic, as opposed to the so often found in-game log­ic) and is very sat­is­fy­ing. One of the best look­ing games I’ve ever seen on the PS2, rid­ing, fight­ing and climb­ing cliff-faces are always esthet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing and quite cin­e­mat­ic. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed!

Broken Flowers mini-review

A still from Broken Flowers: Don Johnston and his long lost son (?) having lunch.

This film pro­vid­ed what I expect­ed of it: a typ­i­cal apa­thet­ic look­ing Bill Mur­ray who finds him­self in var­i­ous bizarre sit­u­a­tions. The film seems to be about noth­ing, and lead nowhere, but in the end you find it under your skin, some of its images lin­ger­ing. I par­tic­u­lar­ly like the way in which the set­up (Mur­ray as John­ston receives a let­ter from an unknown ex-part­ner) has you con­stant­ly look­ing for clues as to who of the four women is the moth­er of Johnston’s alleged son. It plays on and por­trays the way the human brain des­per­ate­ly looks for pat­terns in ran­dom phe­nom­e­na — any­thing pink is loaded with sig­nif­i­cance, just because the ini­tial let­ter is pink. Rec­om­mend­ed.

(Also, the jazzy, “Ethiopi­an” music is very nice as well.)

MacBook at a glance

White MacBook product shot, courtesy of AppleSo today I dropped by both Apple stores that have recent­ly sprung up in the cen­tre of my home­town to check out the new Mac­Book. My thoughts in a nut­shell:

The shiny screen isn’t as shiny as the xblack ones on Sony’s Vaios, I actu­al­ly kind of liked it.

The mat­te fin­ish on the black Mac­Book real­ly does get all oily and smudgy, like Derek already point­ed out a while ago.

The new key­board looks great. The spac­ing between the keys doesn’t both­er me since I have big hands, but the flat sur­face of the keys is an annoy­ance. Inter­est­ing­ly, the guy at the shop told me that the new key­board is sup­posed to pre­vent the keys from touch­ing the screen when closed – which is the only real prob­lem I have with my cur­rent 12” iBook G4.

All in all it looks like a real­ly sweet piece of hard­ware. Nev­er­the­less I think I’ll wait to see what prob­lems spring up with the first gen­er­a­tion and when those are fixed, prob­a­bly take the plunge.

Crash

I final­ly got around to watch­ing Crash on DVD yes­ter­day evening and I must say it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in quite a while. The sto­ry revolves around a large group of seem­ing­ly uncon­nect­ed char­ac­ters whose lives get inter­twined through a series of car crash­es. Mag­no­lia did this before expert­ly, this film does it even bet­ter per­haps – nev­er giv­ing you the feel­ing the run-ins between peo­ple are forced. The dri­ving force and main sub­ject of the film is racism, I’ve hard­ly ever seen the top­ic han­dled so thought­ful­ly. There’s a lot of ambi­gu­i­ty, no clear-cut good or bad guys and as a watch­er you’re forced to con­stant­ly re-exam­ine your pre­con­cep­tions about the char­ac­ters. In short – huge­ly enjoy­able!

Michael Pena as Daniel in Crash

Rojo redesign

Rojo has redesigned. It all feels a lot clean­er and more com­pact (as well as slight­ly faster). Head­line scanning’s improved quite a bit.

The one glar­ing mis­take I’ve noticed is that head­ers no longer link to the orig­i­nal sto­ries, but are some kind of perma­link to the post inside Rojo. You have to click a link beside it, labelled “via [feed name]”. Sil­ly choice!