Jun 21 2015

Sigh. So Word it is.

Adel Gabot

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10:23AM

I tried to stop using Microsoft Word. I really did.

I really hated its sluggish, lumbering quality, a behemoth of an app so big that it requires a nearly weekly update from the mothership. I hated its many many controls and options, and the millions of choices it’s forcing on you all the time, when all you need is the precious few that lets you write your damned work. I hate that it takes forever to start up, and gives you silly, proprietary formats for saving your files.

Maybe I hate that Word comes from Microsoft, that company that produces Windows and holds most of the world in thrall with. I hate that it comes from an entity that’s created this wild monster of an operating system that’s basically unwieldy and constantly patched-up like a crazy quilt, that hackers attack with viruses on a regular basis, and that millions of people struggle to use it everyday because that it’s the only operating system they know.

Maybe I just hate Word on principle.

I’ve been using Word ever since computers came into fashion, back to the time when the Apple II+ and the IBM 286 was in vogue in the late 80s. I remember souping up the Apple with with a 16kb RAM card and a Z-80 CP/M card just to be able to run the program with a 5 1/4″ floppy. Then I graduated to the 286 and the Mac, and Word kept up with me, updating itself through the years. And I kept right on using it through the years and through the many hardware upgrades until today, with Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac.

I tried other word processors and desktop publishing apps to wean myself off Word. I tried using Google Docs. Evernote. Scrivener. Those wonky Word-alternatives like FreeOffice, OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Most recently I’d been using Apple’s Pages app, and it was just fine, at least for a while. It was easy to use, and it copied my files automatically to the cloud. But interfacing with the world at large was a more complicated affair, and much like I’ve done with Word, often I’ve had to convert files so that most people could actually see and use them.

But Microsoft Word still had a weird, unlikely attraction for me, which I think is based on long familiarity. It may be clunky and difficult to use, but it was my kind of clunky and difficult. I was used to it, plain and simple. And no matter how fancy or how easy to use the competitors get, I still went for the familiar. Unfortunately.

It doesn’t help that it’s expanding to my other devices, like the iPhone and the iPad, and is, despite its reputation, actually getting better at doing its job. But I haven’t yet upgraded to the newest version like some folk have; I plan to milk Office 2011 for all its worth before I finally (if ever) upgrade.

So there. I hereby concede. I will continue to use, reluctantly, Microsoft Word for my work.

Damn you, Bill Gates.

 


Jun 19 2015

PS4 Media Player Review

Adel Gabot

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3:53PM

Now that I’ve had a couple of days to really try it out, I can now give the new PS4 Media Player a quick review.

First off, the thing’s free, so we don’t really have a right to complain about anything.

Sony didn’t have to give us a torrent-friendly video/music/photo player, given that their emphasis on the PS4 was as a game machine and not a be-all, catch-all media center like the Xbox One was initially marketed. It’s more a grudging concession to popular demand from countless users who missed the feature from the PS3.

There’s really no reason on earth why it would take Sony almost two years before porting it to the new console, other than that they wanted to firmly establish the PS4 as a gaming device first and foremost, and that media-playing capabilities were just an afterthought. That gambit worked well for Sony in the long run, as the Xbox One crashed in flames after being trumpeted as an all-in-one media hub and relegating gaming to the back burner.

But Media Player is here now at long last, and boy is it useful. For me, at least. It’s certainly made watching my media ridiculously easy.

I don’t even use my old system of the Beamer app and Airplay-ing my video files through my Apple TV anymore. In my case, the PS4 streams the files through the Plex Media Server (a free app, in case you’re wondering) in my iMac, and does so easily and handily. It does it so well that I even added my Mac’s music and photo files to the Plex Media Server so that I could play them on the Media Player as well. (Of course, my music and photo libraries play wonderfully on the Apple TV already, but it’s always nice to have other ways of accessing them.)

EASY TO DOWNLOAD

It’s easy to install. You can find Media Player in the app section of the PlayStation Store, or, more easily, right on the main desktop. Just click on the icon and it downloads right away.

The Media Player is just like any other PS4 app, and once accessed gives you a choice of servers or USB devices to play from. It kinda duplicates the function of the USB Music Player app, and I guess they’ll eventually phase that one out in favor of the Media Player. I haven’t tried playing off an external USB drive yet (I need a FAT or exFAT-formatted drive, and being a Mac user I don’t have one handy), but it certainly plays off of a USB stick.

LOTS OF FILE CHOICES

Once you choose your source, you get to pick from Music, Photos and Video. Drilling down into one of these brings up a whole host of categorizations by which the media is organized. For example, if you choose Video, it branches out into Movies, TV Shows and however else you categorized them in your server app, as well as categories like All Videos, By Director, By First Letter, Recently Added, Recently Released, Unwatched and several more. Once you pick a file, it takes a short while to initialize, but it plays it smoothly and consistently after that, in whatever audio and video resolution it was recorded in.

While it doesn’t play every single file format and codec on the market, Media Player does play the most common and most used. You can find out the supported file formats and codecs here from the PlayStation Blog. (The Player also works with subtitled files wonderfully, as long as the SRT or other subtitle file is in the same folder.)

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BASIC CONTROLS

The video file navigation controls are quite rudimentary though, consisting basically of play/pause, fast forward and back, and file info. There are no chapter skips, slow or fast motion controls, aspect ratio correction and any of the more advanced features you’d expect from a more robust player.

The fast forward and back controls are assigned to the right and left triggers of your controller, the play/pause buttons to X, the back-to-previous menus control to Circle, and the file info button to Triangle. The fast forward and back controls are quite fast, and you can scroll through an entire movie in ten seconds; this makes a fine-tuned search for a particular scene a bit of a problem, and you have to blip-blip the trigger quickly to find something specific.

The music and photo controls are much the same, and are very basic and rudimentary as well. I guess this will be further improved by Sony in the coming months, as this is a Version 1.0 app after all.

A FEW NIGGLES:

  • If you have a large media library, choosing your music, photos or video becomes a daunting affair, as Sony apparently neglected to include proper file organization features. You’ll spend a lot of time scrolling through all your files, lemme tell you.
  • The files are lumped together willy-nilly, even if you divided them into specific folders. Like, for example, on your computer you subdivided your films into Classics, New Releases, Documentaries, Short Films, Animated Movies and Animated Shorts under an overarching Movies folder, they’re all lumped together as Video in the PS4. Of course, this could just as well be a shortcoming of Plex Media Server than Sony, and it’s tough to assign fault.
  • The file-naming convention leaves a lot to be desired. Sometimes the file and accompanying graphic in the menu is way off the mark; like my entire library of Battlestar Galatica episodes were inauspiciously renamed as Adventure Time episodes. Again, this could be Plex’s fault too, and not Sony’s.
  • Sometimes the server disconnects for no good reason, and you’re sometimes bumped back to the beginning of the movie when it reconnects. Not all the time though; sometimes the movie resumes right where it was interrupted. But if you’re thrown back to the beginning, it’s a big hassle to find your place, particularly because of the impossibly-quick fast forward control.

Then again, most of these glitches were present in the PS3 version as well.

It’s a wonderful app though, considering. I’ve been using it virtually non-stop since it first came out, and if anything, it’s made my PS4 even more indispensable. I’m just glad Sony saw fit to finally give it to the users. I really do hope they improve the functions and controls soon, because they give the app really serious shortcomings.

And oh, what I wouldn’t give for a dedicated Bluetooth remote control like I once had for the PS3; it would be great for playing DVDs and Blurays as well. The good news is, since Sony has finally given in to popular demand by releasing a media player, it looks like releasing a remote control wouldn’t be too far off.

Christmas, maybe?


Jun 16 2015

Media Player on the PS4!

Adel Gabot

5:05PM

Sony released this afternoon, in honor of their part in the E3 conference in Los Angeles today, a Media Player app for the PS4. Finally!

It allows for DNLA streaming of media, as well as allowing playing video files by connecting an external drive, and play music and show photos. It’s been long in coming. The PS3 had this feature and I used it a hell of a lot. But the app was missing from the PS4 when it launched in November 2013, and they took this long to incorporate it. The Xbox One‘s had it for a few months, and I was seriously wondering if Sony’d ever get around to putting it in.

I downloaded it just before lunch today, and I’ve been spending the afternoon watching my movies and TV shows streaming from the Plex Media Server on my iMac, losing myself in the ease and facility of the app. I don’t have to use Beamer and the Apple TV combo anymore, which, while useful, was still buggy and a bit clunky.

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Of course, the app is still in its infancy, and still lacks some features that would make browsing through my media files easier, or include controls to navigate through playing a file. In particular, it refuses to show some files that are in the same folders as the other movies and TV shows, so I can’t access them. But I’m sure Sony will quash these bugs in the near future. (Then again, that file naming glitch is still there from the PS3 days, so maybe not.)

I’m just glad there is a media player already.

Whew! Finally!