Where’s the Netflix Shelf?

The more movies and shows Ligia and I watch on Netflix, the more convinced we become that Netflix lacks a vital feature. We call it the Shelf. Where is it?

The Netflix Shelf would hold titles we’ve seen and loved. It would contain two collections: a smart collection, which would automatically bring together the titles we’ve rated 4 stars or higher), but more importantly a manual collection, where we could add titles we’d like to watch again in the feature — movies and shows we really love, perennial favorites if you will.

Within the Shelf, we could sort titles by genre, keywords, actor or director (using the metadata added by Netflix staff or metadata we could add ourselves).

There were so many occasions we saw a movie, loved it, wanted to store it somewhere so we could see it again in the future, but didn’t want to leave it in the queue, cluttering up the list of titles we still haven’t seen. There was and is no place for them yet, and that’s regrettable, because it’s a lost opportunity for Netflix to create customer goodwill at a time when they need it.

Nokia: from a bright past to a dim future?

A few months ago I bought a Nokia X3-02 “Touch and Type” cellphone, and I’m sorry to say that I’m disappointed with it. I’ve been gradually let down by it over time, and in the end, it’s just not what I’d hoped it would be. In the store, I was dazzled by its small, thin design (I love thin phones). I loved its metal shell as well. It felt the proper weight as it sat in my hand.

After I took it home, I started to see the defects. This was a brand new phone mind you, and already one of its clamshell latches (on the back) refused to close properly. And the more I used its touch screen, the less I liked it. I’m accustomed to working with quality touch devices like the ones on the iPod Touch, the iPad and the Magic Trackpad. The touch screen on the Nokia X3 is just not as good. It feels like a sad, cheap imitation of a great original.

Granted, this is Nokia’s first touch-and-type device, as they say in their intro video for the phone.

But they have other touch screen devices in their product line-up. They’ve had time to perfect their touch screens. Why launch a phone with an inferior touch screen?

Once you ask that question, then you have to ask a bunch of other questions as well:

  • Why are they using so many versions of their operating systems on their phones?
  • Can they come up with common design elements and aesthetics on their phones, to make them seem like they’re part of the same product line-up? Because right now, if you were to look across the whole Nokia line-up, you wouldn’t know all the phones are from the same company unless you looked at the logo.
  • Can they reduce their product line-up to something more manageable? Why have a gazillion phones? What’s the point of that? I understand the need for targeting products at various audiences and at different price points, but do you need tens/hundreds of phones to do that? Why not have at most 10 phones in the line-up?
  • Why launch the phones with lackluster features? As an example, the X3 has a 5 megapixel camera, but it’s a sad facsimile of the 5 megapixel camera on my old Nokia N95, which was launched in 2007. And there are less in-software options available on the phone, so it’s even harder to get better photos out of the camera. It also doesn’t have a flash.

Another thing I quickly discovered about the X3 is its annoying sleekness. Normally, a sleek phone is a good thing, but somehow, the X3 has the annoying characteristic of being very likely to slip out of your hand. You’re afraid to hold it by its top half, because you’ll press the on-screen buttons. You can’t hold it by its lower side, because that’s where the keypad is. So you hold it by the sides, but they’re rounded and thin, so the phone slips right out of your hand and falls to the ground. To its credit, it’s pretty sturdy and unless it’s going to fall on bare concrete, it’ll probably be fine, but the design was not well tested before it was launched.

Another problem which I discovered, and I’m not sure if this happens on just my phone or on all the Nokia X3 phones, is a software bug that lets the built-in @Mail application access the internet when the phone is on a WiFi connection, but will not let it access the internet over WAP or GPRS. I’ve sent the phone in for service and it remains to be seen what Nokia will do with it (if anything).

I can’t help comparing the phone with my Nokia N95, which as I mentioned above, was launched in 2007.

I bought it in 2008, brand new, unlocked, and have been using it ever since. I’ve used it, by my count, on four different mobile networks, one in the US and three in Romania. It worked just fine on all of them, did what it was supposed to do and it has served me well. I’ve recorded more video and shot more photos with it than I remember, and some of those videos and photos came out quite nicely. I still use it today, though it’s now my backup phone.

The N95 is Nokia at its best (for its time). It was compatible with a ton of cell networks, was even capable of 3G speeds, could use WiFi networks, had a 5 megapixel camera with a built-in flash, a ton of options for manipulating the photo software, recorded video at 640×480 resolution in stereo sound, it could play music and movies, it had Bluetooth, Infrared and USB 2.0 connections, it could use MicroSD cards, it had a second camera for video calls or video conferencing and best of all (for me) was the ability to sync it with my Mac using iSync and tether it to my MBP via Bluetooth.

The only things I didn’t like about the N95 were its operating system, which was (still is) a bit wonky, and the incredibly expensive apps (at the time) on the Nokia (now known as Ovi) Store.

Fast forward four years, and what has Nokia done since then? The software for their phones is still wonky and still looks the same, I’m still confused about where to find certain phone or system options when I look for them, their new phones still only have 5 megapixel cameras (some still sell with 2 megapixel cameras, like my wife’s new C3), most of their phones record almost unusable 3gp video with crappy sound (the X3 is a prime example) instead of mp4 or mov files, and I’m sure I could keep adding to this litany of complaints if I tried. Meanwhile, other phone manufacturers are doing unbelievable things with their phones.

One other thing comes to mind: Nokia Maps. In recent years, Nokia keeps advertising this app and the fact that their maps are free, but what they fail to mention is they’re not really usable. Sure, the maps are free. You can download them from the Nokia website at any time. But the maps are no good without an extra internet option on your phone’s monthly plan, and more importantly, you also have to pay extra in order to get the driving instructions (the voice guidance files and the step-by-step turns). So really, all the maps are good for is to give you general guidance about your whereabouts. But they won’t tell you how to get to your destination unless you pay more. Sure, you could futz around with your mobile phone, zoom in and out of the maps and eventually figure out how to get there, but that’s not going to be possible if you’re driving.

To be fair, I haven’t used today’s equivalent of the N95, which would be the N8 (or the E7). How much do you want to bet the Maps app has the same shortcomings on those devices as well? They’re supposed to be better. Unfortunately for them, they’re still using the Symbian OS, which from my experience is wonky and ill-organized, as mentioned above. I’ve heard Nokia plans to launch a new smartphone this year that uses a new and better OS. We’ll see how that works out.

There is a saving grace for Nokia though. Do you know what my favorite phone right now is? I’m using it and I love it. It’s the Nokia E63. Yes, I know it’s old, and it’s actually a hand-me-down phone (I bought it for my wife about 1 1/2 years ago), but I love it.

It’s got a surprising amount of options (if you keep digging through the OS screens). The camera is only 2 megapixels and the video camera only records at 320×240 pixels, but as far as the rest is concerned, it has the same options as my Nokia N95, and it has the incredible bonus of an actual keyboard. Of course, I can sync it to my Mac, just like the N95 (and unlike the X3, which still has no official sync plugin).

I never realized until now how useful an actual keyboard is on a phone. Sure, the virtual keyboard on an iPod Touch or iPhone is nice, but there’s something wonderful about pressing actual rounded buttons. I was so frustrated with buttoning on keypads and using predictive text (which sucks for anything other than simple messages). Now I can easily send emails and text messages from my phone at any time. It’s made my communication so much easier!

As a matter of fact, do you know what our current phone line-up is? It’s this: a Nokia E63, a Samsung Ch@t GT-C3222 and a Nokia C3. Notice something common across all of them? They all have keyboards. I think the Nokia keyboards are better designed. The buttons have rounded edges so it’s easier to press them. But there’s no mistaking the productivity gain from having an actual keyboard on a phone.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make? The point is this: phones with keyboards are awesome. Nokia should focus on them. If they’ve got to use their kludgy old Symbian OS, then simplify it and put it on nice phones with nice keyboards and nice cameras. That will work well and won’t disappoint. And if Nokia’s bent on imitating Apple and putting touch screens on their phones, they should work on the quality of those touch screens. They should make sure they’re just as good or better than what Apple’s got. I know that’s a hard standard to beat, but if they shoot for that, they’ll probably end up with 80% of what Apple’s got in terms of touch screen functionality, and that’ll do just fine.

I’ll end on a final note, with a pet peeve of mine. If all these phones from Nokia have Nokia Maps and access geo satellites, why in the world aren’t they geotagging the photos I take with them? This has been bothering me ever since I bought the N95. It started as a nagging wish on the back burner, but now it’s a full blown pain in the derriere kind of thing. The iPhone’s doing it. Now consumer-grade digital cameras, cheap ones, come with built-in GPS chips. Here Nokia’s had this in their phones for 4 years or more, and they still haven’t bothered to do it right. It’s not even a hardware upgrade. It’s just a software upgrade that checks for an internet connection, goes out, gets the geo coordinates when the camera app is activated, and applies them to the photos. And if there’s no internet connection, then the photos don’t get geotagged. How hard can it be? Sadly, this is yet another example of Nokia’s inefficiency.

Initial thoughts after installing OS X Lion

I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts about OS X Lion, having just installed it on my MacBook Pro. I looked forward to getting it for months, and as luck would have it, I happened to be out of town with little internet access when it was released on the 20th.

  • The upgrade was painless. I bought it from the App Store, it began to download, and when it was done, it ran and finished without any bugs.
  • Without a media disc of some sort, or at least an image file, I am somewhat concerned about a re-install of the OS, should I need to do a fresh install. I hear there’s going to be a Lion Flash Drive available for sale in a month or so, but short of paying for that as well, is there some way for me to burn Lion on a DVD or make a bootable flash drive?
  • Overall, I like it. The design is more refined. It feels like a more mature OS.
  • I like the full-screen functionality of the apps.
  • The login screen is interesting. It’s a departure from what we’ve seen thus far. I like it, but I’m not sure what to think about the round thumbnails for the accounts yet. I’m used to square thumbnails. Photos are rectangular. Square photos? They used to be en vogue in the late 1800s. But who knows, maybe those round thumbnails will grow on me.
  • I do wish iCloud were launched at the same time as OS X Lion. For example, I don’t know if I did something to cause this, but every time I start up Safari, it wants to log me into MobileMe, where I don’t have an account. (I only have a .Mac email address.) If iCloud had been available right now, this glitch wouldn’t have occurred, because .Mac and MobileMe would have been unified already. And I think more people are going to run into it as they poke around in the new OS.
  • The hidden scrollbars are great, but they’ve changed the direction of the scrolling, haven’t they? It’s counter-intuitive… and yet it’s not. You now push up with two fingers on the trackpad to scroll down, and pull down to scroll up. If you think about it, it makes sense, but it’s been the other way around until now, so it’ll take a while to get used to it.
  • I like Launchpad. I think it’s a visually appealing way to present a list of all the Apps on my Mac, and to allow me to easily choose which one I want to run.

A couple of pieces of advice before you upgrade:

  • Run Software Update to make sure you’ve got the very latest version of Snow Leopard and whatever other updates you need.
  • Run Time Machine to make sure all your stuff’s backed up, just in case something goes wrong.

For those who like this sort of thing (I do), I’ve included a couple of before and after screenshots of my “About This Mac” window.

Before the upgrade to OS X Lion
After the upgrade to OS X Lion

That’s it for now.

Shaving: art versus design versus profit

Where’s the art?

When I think of shaving razors currently on the market, I think of cartoon fights where everyone pulls out a bigger gun. Razor companies are constantly trying to outdo each other with more blades. If it’s not the blades, then it’s a “microcomb”, or a vibrating handle… which brings all sorts of other imagery to mind, the kind that has nothing to do with shaving, unless you’re into weird fetishes.

It’s the same kind of approach that software companies use these days. Their code gets so bloated, because they never take the time to clean it up, that all they can hope for is that hardware manufacturers can throw more RAM and MHz at the problem so they don’t have to optimize their code. Apple took a different approach with the Snow Leopard operating system: they took almost a year to clean it up, throwing out the junk. That’s why I admire Apple.

Made better through improved design? Not really.

On the other hand, companies like Gillette and their competitors lost sight of the art of shaving and figured everyone was a nitwit who couldn’t learn to shave properly and couldn’t take care of their razor, so they overdesigned their razors for the lowest common denominator. In the process, the razor became a plastic toy, not a tool, a crappy little thing you throw away instead of something you respect and maintain, because it keeps you looking civilized.

Designed for profit? Thank you sir, may I have another?

Because it became a throw-away toy, their profit margins increased. Because the razors no longer lasted a lifetime, they could sell more of them. You just look down the line of razor models from the Gillette over the years, and you’ll see they get more and more plasticky, with less metal parts. If they have metal in them, it’s not in the head (certainly not where the cartridges attach to the handle); that part needs to be plastic so it breaks after a while.

Don't let its flashy looks fool you. It just can't compare to a good safety razor.

The cartridges have started to cost more as well. A pack of eight cartridges for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor (the latest flashy gimmick from Gillette) runs about $30 at Amazon. That’s $3.75 per cartridge, and from my experience, they last about 3-4 shaves. By contrast, a pack of 60 assorted safety razor blades costs $18. That’s 30 cents per blade, and they last about 6-7 shaves. (By the way, I’d recommend that pack for those learning to shave with a safety razor, because it’ll let you try different brands to see which blades work best for your face.)

The real deal.

Wait, it gets worse

They also polluted the environment with all that disposable plastic crap. Now you throw away the razor, not just the blades. And the blades aren’t just steel, which is perfectly recyclable, but they’re plastic and metal, which is annoyingly difficult to recycle, because you need to separate the two materials from each other, and it’s just not worth the trouble.

It’s such a shame. I used to admire Gillette about 10 years ago, before I got disappointed with all the stuff they’re doing these days. I still shave with a classic Gillette Safety Razor, pictured below. I still keep my grandfather’s Gillette Heavy Duty Safety Razor, and plan to use that when my own breaks down. Things used to be simple and beautiful. Where did they go wrong?

The classic Gillette safety razor.

If you’d like to learn how to shave properly, check out my wet shaving guide. And there’s also a video, embedded below.

Image of ProGlide Razor courtesy of Gillette. Image of Merkur Heavy Duty Safety Razor courtesy of Wikipedia.

It’s time to demand reliability from DSLR manufacturers

When DSLRs (and now HDSLRs) cost thousands of dollars, and the manufacturer makes a promise that the shutter in said DSLR is rated for 100,000 shots or 150,000 shots, I think it should no longer be a promise, but a guarantee, and the manufacturer ought to be responsible for the repair to a DSLR whose shutter failed before its rated number of shots.

Look at cars. Some cars cost little more than a top of the line DSLR, but cars have serious warranties. These days, some cars have 10-year warranties on everything. Historically speaking, even if most cars haven’t had good warranties on everything, they’ve had good warranties on the power train — on the basic stuff that makes them go.

On a DSLR, the shutter is part of the camera’s “powertrain”. Without it, the camera can’t take photographs, and a full-frame DSLR that can’t take photographs is a very expensive paperweight.

It’s high time we demanded that DSLR manufacturers come up with warranties for the more expensive DSLRs, where they’ll guarantee that the shutter and the motherboard (pretty much every part that takes photos and writes those photos to a card) will work for a certain amount of time.

If we don’t, we’ll likely run into the situation I’m in right now, where my Canon EOS 5D’s shutter started to fail at under 50,000 shots. Initially, photos taken at 1/6000 sec or higher (1/8000 sec) would come out black or almost black. Now, months later and at around 52,500 shots, even photos taken at 1/1000 sec are severely underexposed.

Have a look at three photos taken with the 5D. The first two were taken at 1/8000 sec shutter speed a couple of months ago, and the third was taken at 1/1000 sec shutter speed a few days ago.

It’s not right that the shutter has started to fail at half its projected life span of 100,000 shots. And what’s even more improper is Canon USA Support’s reply to me. They told me the shutter’s rated life is not a warranty, not even a promise, but an expectancy (an anticipation if you will).

What that means is they can advertise long shutter lives all they want, but they’re not accountable for actual, real-world results from its customers. It’s irresponsible, and it shouldn’t be allowed. When we pay thousands of dollars for a fancy DSLR, we as customers pay that money with certain expectations in mind. Those expectations entail (among others) a need for durability and reliability.

I propose that a set of benchmarks be set for the entire photography industry, where shutter life is one of the differentiating criteria. Processor and camera motherboard life should be another. Manufacturers would then have to offer warranties on these benchmark criteria. I propose 4 or 5-year warranties on the circuits, and on shutter life, the warranty should go as far as its stated life span. If it’s 100,000 shots, then by Noah, it should be 100,000 shots, end of story.

Bring back POP3 for Gmail, Apple

Due to some file corruption issues, I’ve recently had to re-install Snow Leopard on my MBP. Afterward, as I set up Mail, I found out there was no way to configure my Gmail account for POP3 access. IMAP was the only choice. I searched for this on the internet, and it’s a confirmed “design” behavior in Snow Leopard.

I really dislike it when I’m told by someone else how to manage my digital stuff. I’m an IT professional, and I like the POP3 protocol. I don’t care if IMAP is better. I use IMAP on my iPod Touch or iPhone or iPad or Nokia N95, and for those, it works great. But all I want to do on my laptop/desktop is to download my emails via POP3 and archive them by year, then move them into long-term digital storage. (I have an email archive going back to 1996.)

I also want to keep the emails in my Gmail account, so I have them in two places, just in case. You can’t do that with IMAP. You drag an email onto a local folder, and it’s gone from the cloud. I also dislike the fact that IMAP stores a local cache of the cloud emails, eating up space on my hard drive.

Thankfully, I was able to use Time Machine to retrieve a previous version of the Mail Preference file, restored it, and I was back in business with POP3. But everyone who chooses to do a fresh install of Snow Leopard (not an upgrade) is out of luck if they want to use POP3 for Gmail.

Now along comes Apple and says I can’t use POP3 for Gmail anymore, because they don’t feel like including it as a config option in Snow Leopard’s Mail. That really bugs me. It’s not like it cost them anything to have it in there. The code for POP3 was written more than a decade ago. It’s a simple, light protocol (much simpler than IMAP).

Apple, why are you forcing me to do something I don’t want to do? If I like using Mail and POP3 works for me, why take it away? That’s rude. Work on improving the OS, and making it do more, but don’t take away something as basic and simple as POP3!

The stats on Walmart

Neat infographic about Walmart. See below:

  • Last year’s sales: $405 Billion.
  • Walton family’s net worth: $83.6 Billion, out of which they give 2% annually to charities. By contrast, Warren Buffett’s net worth is $47 Billion, and he gives 78% annually to charities.
  • It has 1,400,000 employees.
  • The average salary of a Walmart employee is $20,774/year. The annual salary of Walmart’s CEO is $19,200,000.
  • Walmart’s “Buy America” campaign showcased “Made in America” banners hanging over imported goods made in China and other countries.
  • Walmart imports over $30 billion in merchandise from China every year.

Walmart: The Stats
Via: Home Loans