Monday, March 28, 2011

Product Review: Apple's Magic Mouse

It's a magical tool more likely to be existing in a sci-fi story instead of reality, but it also comes with a curse or two.

It's been roughly about a half a year since I got an iMac and one of the few items that was boxed with, was the Magic Mouse. Being a PC user most of my life and having to use "normal" mouses, the Magic Mouse was rather alienating. To my surprise, I got used to it much faster than I thought. Magical.

The Magic Mouse is about 11cm long, 4.5cm wide, and has the height of 1.3cm. The arc of the mouse isn't the most comfortable, but it's comfortable enough to be used for hours if needed, without breaking the wrist. It connects to an Apple Computer via Bluetooth wavelength and It takes 2 AA batteries. It's amazing how the batteries last so long. Since that time it got out of the box half a year ago, I have changed the (rechargeable) batteries only about 4-5 times in total. And I'm pretty much on this iMac for 2-3 hours on day to day basis. Sometimes, I forget that it takes AA batteries, or even runs on batteries at all since I change them less than often. It really just seems like something from a fictional story. When it comes to futuristic tools, batteries aren't really an issue.

The material on the top half is a white plastic with a small, gray Apple logo near the back followed by a transparent layer of plastic on top, deserving some nice points for the cosmetics. The bottom half has more of an metallic exterior and a battery cover (also with an Apple logo on it), where the laser sensor and on-and-off switch is located. It looks like something CSI agents would use to... check for blood in a room or something... The point, is it looks nice and it even looks as if it can perform tricks. The line splitting left click and right click buttons are something I wasn't too used to seeing gone, however. As I would often misclick to either side and rarely still do since I'm using the two-button-click setting. This means most forms of gaming are thrown out the window to the window's side of things unless I get a replacement mouse, but the saving grace is that mac's in general aren't built for games in the first place.

It also works on just about any surface! It's somehow smart enough to recognize even something ridiculous as my own arm and I can navigate on it. Books, walls, even clothes. It also doesn't seem to struggle like most optical mouses out there where their curser gets "lost" when the mouse is being used on a colourful surface. This is most likely due to the laser tracking mechanism at the bottom of the Magic Mouse. Working on just about any surface as long as it's even enough. That's just alien-technology.

The fact that it has no buttons as mentioned earlier, means the mouse can act more like an iPod Touch or an iPhone in terms of controls. Scrolling of pages can be done with a single finger swiping in any direction, which replaces the middle zoom dial that would normally be found on an optical mouse, and then some. The buttons on the side for the very much admired "back" button that's normally on even a cheap optical mouse now a-days is also replaced by the two-finger swipe function of the Magic Mouse. Just simply swipe two fingers to the left on the Magic Mouse to go back and swipe to the right to go forward of the browser. Surprisingly, the "swipe" features work well. Well, too well. I lost count on how many times it went back a page on my browser while I was reading the contents of the page. It scrolls fast and responsibility, but sometimes, it just runs through the page and I'm left to struggle to find where I was on the page prior to the little scrolling accident having my memory and "Command + F" as my hope to get back where I was. It's not the end of the world, but it's annoying enough for me to make a note of it. If I want to peacefully stay on the page I'm on and enjoy the contents, the only solution is to simply let go of this magical device, which I often refuse to do since I'm more used to having the mouse in my right hand incase I need to do anything while I'm surfing online as opening up another tab or scroll down a little. The two-finger swipe function can be turned off, but that would mean my left hand would need to constantly rest on the "delete/back space" button of the keyboard all the time. The Magic Mouse is a tool that looks simple with complex features. Quite the opposite from an optical mouse, if you think about it.

These little troubles I have with the Magic Mouse can be overcome with time and practice. Well, a lot of time considering I've had it for half a year already. One last thing-and the thing that drives me a little past being annoyed with it's magical-ness: Google Map is impossible to use with the Magic Mouse. Any slight movement can either leave you starring the map at street view of the location where the mouse curser was, or a view of the world map. It magically becomes too sensitive and zooms in or out, very much often on the extreme. I'm forced to use my iPhone infront of the iMac to look up directions on a map.

The features and the ideas behind them regarding the Magic Mouse is great and innovative like most things Apple. Also like most things Apple, it wants the world to get used to the new way of doing things. Most of the time, it's good and it works, but in the Magic Mouse's case, the features seem a little too advanced for my static ways of using a "normal" mouse. And Google Map.

I feel as though, while a "normal" wired optical mouse wont be as beautiful, smart, or technologically advanced (by several decades) as the Magic Mouse and I wont be able to be in awe of its wonderful features every time I use them (correctly), I just might enjoy it better in a sense that it will more... trouble-less.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Trip: Montreal - Food

Last time, I talked about the transit system of Montreal, the Metro and trashed talk did a comparison with Toronto's TTC. Shifting gears this time, though with no ill feelings towards anything: This post will cover my favorite topic about Montreal.


And damn, was it good.

The very first meal I had while I was in Montreal was at none other than Schwartz's. Luckily, by the time I was there, I had beaten the rush line up, as the whole place was just filled with people (like most of the time). The food, especially, the smoked meat sandwich (with cherry cola on the side) is simply that good. So good, that there's a film based on Schwartz's.

The concept of smoked meat sandwich is simple. Meat, bread, some more meat, topped with some mustard. But when you first take a bite... It's... almost as if you found something that's been missing in your life. I may be hyping this up more it should be, but you'll know when you try it. You just gotta try it. The taste. The texture. The sensation. It's like a smoked-meat-gasm in your mouth.

And of course, trying a "real" poutine in Montreal was quite an eye opener as well. Most places you go for food in Montreal, normally has a menu section dedicated to types of poutines you can order. For the poutine, I was at Brisket Montreal. A little bit pricy compared to some other places I ate at, but overall, very much worth the price. I really wish I could go on and actually talk about both the smoked meat sandwich and the poutine in more detail, but there just isn't a single word that could describe how awesome they are. My only concern is getting used to food back here in Toronto. I said there will be ill feelings towards anything earlier this post, but I haven't been able to find food that could top the ones I had in Montreal, which is very sad and even making me hungry as I'm writing up this post. Needless to say, food is probably what I miss the most about Montreal. I mean, you just take a bite of the smoked meat sandwich and you get the "This is it" moment.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Trip: Montreal - Public Transit Comparison

This is the second part of my Trip: Montreal related posts.

While I was in Montreal, I used their public transit, Metro, quite a bit. Sure, I would walk from downtown to Old Montreal, back, and repeat, but I'd have to get there from my hotel and it's not like my time there wasn't limited. So Metro it was, and it wasn't bad at all.

It's quite weird-no, let me start over. It's quite sad to even think about comparing Toronto's TTC to anything except maybe hell, but I'm going to break down the major differences and similarities between both Metro and TTC. Let's start with the differences and similarities in the subway. When it comes to the subway, TTC just feels like the backbone of the problem with this city. While constantly getting deeper in dept and buying new machines only to not use them until many years from now, it's also very unorganized and you can find a delay somewhere, at pretty much any given time. It's a beautiful disaster. Metro's subway on the other hand, Not so much delays to tick you off and while their trains are far smaller than the TTC's (just a little bigger than SRT trains), they use the what limited space they have with far more efficiency. People don't seem to just walk into the train, stop, then look around and hesitate as to where they should sit, they just walk in to the train, find a place to stand or sit so that people behind them can do the same.

The subway stations have many differences between the two cities. The stations at Montreal are built with around 3 different ways to get from one side of the platform to the other (i.e. east bound to west bound) in the same station (not including jumping off one platform and climb back up at the other side). In the Toronto's TTC stations, you got a narrow stairway and/or an escalator, averaging 1.5 different ways to get from one side to the other. The subway platforms themselves aren't too different in terms of size. However, the Metro provides benches that comes out of walls, which is classy and especially cost effective as it is just a few layers of brick attached the wall, while TTC makes one, puts it down on the floor, near the wall- not attached, and paints it. Followed by a repaint every now and then. Needless costs and takes up more room than it has to.

The biggest difference between the two subway trains is actually the age of both technology. None of them are relatively new, in fact, both are running on old technology in terms of trains, but the Metro, gets a sure win from this one. And it's in the one of greatest inventions of mankind: wheels. More specifically, their train wheels are rubber wheels, much more closer to cars. This makes maintenance cheaper than TTC's traditional wheels, and while accelerating and stopping the trains wont rock the trains and the passengers all over the place. Best of all, no squeeking sounds. None. Your ears are spared there. If you ever took the subway in Toronto, between Museum and Union, you can't even hear yourself think due to the high pitched noise of metal grinding away at each other. That, I did not miss. And most likely never will.

And it's not just in technology that makes their system better. It's also the people. The passengers seems to understand that traveling using the public transit shouldn't be comfortable, but be fast and efficient enough to get people from location A to B to minimize travel time. Simple as that. Passengers of TTC are quite the opposite. While they do want to go home after work, they don't want to be home quite fast enough, hence they walk into the train and stand and look around, while there are people behind them waiting to get into the train themselves. The train ends up departing later than it has to, and delays are slowly born, and quickly spreads on the subway lines. It just screams out in pain of the inefficiency from the TTC passengers. In order for any system to be effective, the users attitude will play a big role. And Torontonians just doesn't seem to want to get to their destination fast enough. Guess it really is about the journey, not the destination.

Even Metro's passes are different. Or rather, more cost efficient. TTC's metropasses are made of cheap plastic materials and only comes at a luxurious price. I had the luxury of buying a 3-day pass over there at Montreal. For $16 (flat) it was a pretty good deal. The greatest thing is, like in most places in the world, it simply scans and not swipe. This means I put it in my wallet, scan it over the scanner, and I am free to enter their stations and buses while the pass, being a size of a business card made out of a small, tiny chip and paper, never leaves my wallet. And it hasn't until I came back and took it out to take a quick snap shot of it. Sure, TTC's day-passes are in forms of paper as well, which is good, but it's also about 3 times larger than a business card. It's hard to enter wallets at that point, not to mention it needs to taken out of the wallet for every use. I'm even getting a little depressed as I'm typing this.

The buses on the other hand, aren't all that different. Very similar in terms of design. There isn't much I can say about the bus services as both services are in the mercy of actual traffic. I did notice the buses that I was on didn't have the automated voice messages announcing the next stop like the buses here in Toronto. I suppose no one tried to sue them because they generally knew where they were going and didn't feel like suing the system about it. Twice.

To conclude, neither systems are perfect or anywhere near it. I've heard plenty of stories from a friend of mine who lives there regarding blunders Metro has made, some stories affecting even the safety of the passengers. And Metro itself covers less ground than TTC does so there are less rooms for errors. Although, it just doesn't seem like they're at a downward spiral with their problems like the TTC's as "fixing" most of TTC's and their union's problems wont really be a "fix" at all unless we just scrap it and start a new one. Only if we had the luxury of such time. But If I had to pick a system though, I would still go with the Metro's system even though I know a lot less about it compared to TTC. It's just that I'd rather go with a system that's 30 years behind in terms of state of the arts technology instead of 60 years behind. Sorry TTC, but you're just too old, you refuse to change for the better, and are ignoring all the problems between you and me. I no longer like you. Can't say I ever did.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trip: Montreal

Occasionally, I will feel the urge to get out of this city. Despite living here more than half of my life, I can't say I like the infamous Toronto very much. Traveling to somewhere has pretty much one main goal: take photos. The surge of having new subjects and scenery is always a good feeling. I go on these Photography Journeys or Photo-Journeys and I haven't gone on one since a few years back. I'd say it was long over due. Anyway, this is the first time I went on my Photo Journey since I started this blog. And since this trip wasn't exactly the shortest trip, I will divide the report into many different posts.

Destination: Montreal.

Where should I start? It's a great place! Food is great, and while it is generally colder than Toronto, the warmth from the aura from the city, by the people, makes up for it. Needless to say, people are great as well. I was shocked every time a stranger stopped by me and asked me where I need to go. I had no map out, and was just wondering which way to head on which street. I suppose I did give out some of that "tourist" aura. But that kind of courtesy, I would not find in Toronto. People here are lost enough as it is, and God help them if some of them were to give out directions here. People also smile more at Montreal. They really know how to enjoy life. Or at least enjoy it better than us Torontonians. People of Montreal aren't so tied down with the static way of life. It feels dynamic, but it doesn't feel like a rush. Instead, it feels relaxing. Weird, but I can't seem to put it into words quite right. Montreal also has some great stuff besides people. A photo of an example follows...

The machine was out of service, so I didn't get to try it out. But take a look at it! It's a vending machine selling french fries! Of course, I would like to talk about food on another post, possibly next week, as I do have other things to talk about on this post. However, that french fries machine still amuses me. Who knew? Of all things, I would be so amused by a vending machine that spews out french fries as little as in 2 minutes-which can't even do that right, due to the fact that it's broken. Still, the amusement remains.

People in Montreal seems to be just a little bit faster on foot compared to Torontonians. They also seem to have higher level of awareness, hence the jay-walking is pretty common-too common. That is one thing I could get used to without a doubt. Walking fast, know who and what's around you, while you enjoy the walk. The bike lanes are safer as they're separated from the road and the sidewalk. Although, not every road has the bike lanes, it is still an admirable idea that's missing here in Toronto.

The night life is also worth mentioning. Especially while I was there since Nuit Blanche was taking place in Montreal. I didn't get around to everywhere, but I saw a fair share of it and had a good time over all. Saw less drunks on the streets compared to the Nuit Blanche of Toronto surprisingly. But I guess they can appreciate art without being smashed. That takes skills. Some streets were just packed, however, and like all Nuit Blanche, the "best" activities had a line up and half. I tried to avoid those areas this time around and turned out to be my most relaxing Nuit Blanche experience yet. Not a bad experience.

I would like to go back to Montreal anytime I can. I'm hoping to have enough time to go back for a bit in the summer time later this year. If I recall correctly, the Jazz Fests should be taking place then.

And like most of my trips, the only regrettable part about the trip is actually coming back. Anyway, on the next post, I will be comparing the differences in the transit systems in both Montreal and Toronto.