Snake Oil? Visualization of Science vs Health Supplements

26 02 2010

Once again InformationIsBeautiful hits one out of the park.
Today’s fun is an interactive page ranking the scientific evidence proving a certain health supplement is effective vs it’s popularity.
Some surprises: Fish oil, folic acid, St Johns Wort, and green tea are well established with proveable scientific evidence to their benefits.
At the other end of the spectrum, Green tea, anti-oxidants, vitamin A and vitamin E have very little evidence as to their effectiveness.





Windows7 – So close!

26 02 2010

I’ve been using Windows 7 on my laptop at work for a few months now, and I have to admit, grudgingly, that Microsoft has removed 95% of the irritating problems that make WIndows nigh on impossible to use. The new GUI is smooth, clean, has some very smart behaviours (things that the Linux desktops have been doing for years), and for the most part, it just works.
But.
There’s tidbits that drive me absolutely up a tree, and I’m flat out boggled that Microsoft could make mistakes that I’d expect from a junior hacker whipping up their first app.
Here’s a few highlights.
* One of the BEST enhancements is the ability to grab and drag a window that is maximized. In WinXP, you would have to un-zoom it, move it, then re-zoom it to move it to another monitor. In Win7, a zoomed window can be grabbed and moved. When a window is pushed to the top of the screen, it automatically maximizes. Fantastic. BUT. This behaviour… wait for it… does not work in Office 2007 applications. That’s right, kids, Microsoft’s flagship office suite takes so many shortcuts in their innovative (COUGH HACK) menu and window designs, that it breaks Windows7 default behavior. Stellar work there, guys.
* It’s a universal pattern. A scrollwheel on a mouse will scroll the window or component you’re hovering over. Browser, document, or spreadsheet, move the mouse to a pane, scroll the wheel, and the view scrolls. Except in the Windows 7 explorer (or whatever they call the filesystem browser). Open up the explorer, and resize the window so you have scrollbars on both the left and the right pane. Now scrollwheel on the right – it scrolls. Move the mouse to the left pane, and scrollwheel again. The right pane continues to take the scroll actions. This wouldn’t be a major problem if it weren’t for the next oddity…
* This one isn’t a Windows7 issue in particular, but something that irritates me about Windows in general. Having been using my Macbook Pro for the last 6 months or so, oddities in UIs jump out at me. On a mac, if you click on a non-focused window, the window becomes focused, but the mouse event does not get transferred to the new window. All the click does is make the window active. On windows, the click event does get applied to the window. This is particularly problematic when trying to raise a browse window back to focus, since so many websites have that irritating “click anywhere and I’ll pop up an ad!” – or other javascript idiocy in place.
For the most part, I have to agree with the Penny Arcade folks. “Windows 7. It’s less bad than you expected.”





Review: Altec-Lansing Backbeat 903 – Best Bluetooth Headphones Evuh?

17 02 2010


Ever since I got my iPhone 3g, and jumped to OS 3.1, I’ve been searching for the best arrangement of comfort, functionality, price, and audio quality in a set of bluetooth headphones. I’ve tried the Apple earbuds, but I find them extremely uncomfortable. Several others have come down the Amazon.com-driven mail pipeline, but until now, I wasn’t completely happy with the results.
The Altec-Lansing Backbeat 903 (also available from Plantronics under the same name is a permanently linked pair of on-the-ear headphones that provide A2DP and HFP profiles to a bluetooth host (such as an iPhone). The tether between the headsets is part antenna part audio wire. It does not hold the headphones in place, it is simply an interconnect. The headphones sit on the back of the earlobe (similar to older Jabra designs), with an audio component placed over the ear canal (slightly inside it, in fact, but not putting any weight on it).
Personally, I find this arrangement excellent, and I’m bothered that it’s not more widely implemented (in fact Jabra appears to no longer make this style, sad).
The Backbeats use a pair of behind-the-ear components. Each side has an adjustable rubber centerpiece that I found quite comfortable and unobtrusive. The left earpiece contains telephone controls that allow a simple pickup / drop of incoming calls. The right earpiece has music and volume controls.
Of all the headphones I’ve played with, the Backbeats have the most intuitive control setup. In general use, just tapping the outside of the right ear piece triggers ‘play/pause’. Tapping the outside of the left ear piece answers / drops phone calls. Volume control is via a sliding control on the bottom of the earpiece. The right-left functionality means you don’t need to remember what little doodad to fiddle when a call comes in. Left side is phone, right side is music. Simple!
What really brought it all home for me was the comfort level of the headphones. I’ve worn them for 6-8 hours a day for the last few days without feeling any discomfort. Even better, when not listening to music, the non-earfilling ear piece means I can leave the headphones on and carry on a normal conversation. One particular enjoyment was spending an entire day skiing and listening to music, where the simple outside button was easily tapped even through a ski hat and while wearing gloves.
The volume level and audio quality is excellent, even with background noise and wind – I had no problems hearing music while zipping down a trail at 25mph.
In summary, I would highly recommend these headphones to anyone who is looking for lightweight, comfortable bluetooth headphones for their iPhone or other A2DP equipped device.





High Speed Rail in the US? Can it be?

4 02 2010

The Obama Administration, which has long made it clear high-speed rail should be a national priority, on Thursday released its long-awaited list of high-speed rail project stimulus money.
Read More at Wired.com.
As a huge fan of rail travel, I love seeing this gaining traction.