Friday, March 09, 2007

Cleaner air... with a lawn mower?


Who would have thought that you could clean the air with a lawn mower? OK, more specifically, my lawn mower simply doesn't pollute the air, after all, every little bit helps. How did I pull it off? I got an electric mower. It's really cool!

SRP, one of the local power companies, runs an annual event where you can trade in your old lawn mower and get $100 off of a new electric lawn mower. Being both a tech nut and being concerned about the environment (yes, I really am!), I jumped at the chance. So, a couple of weeks ago, I got myself a new mower and got rid of my old mower. It was good to get rid of that old thing because, somewhere in the move to Arizona (5 years ago) the gas tank cracked. So not only did burn gas but it leaked gas and made the whole garage smell like gas for a couple of days after mowing. Yeah, I was ready to get rid of it. The only downside of my new mower is that it's a plug-in. The battery powered ones cost $150 more and, with a lawn as small as mine, it just wasn't worth it. So now I'm the proud owner of a Black and Decker MM875 electric mower. How cool is that?

Of course the first thing I had to do when I got home was mow the lawn. Immediately I noticed something about my new mower, my extension cord isn't long enough for the whole lawn. So I had to hook two together. Not a big deal The next thing was how easy to use the electric mower is. No filling the gas tank, no priming the engine, and no pull-string starter. I just pulled a little lever and the mower started right up. Very nice. Not only that but the mower is MUCH quieter than my old gas mower. In fact, I almost felt more like I was vacuuming than mowing (especially with having to watch out for the power cord). On the power side, the electric works great. I had no problem mowing down those tall weeds that sneak into my lawn - especially if you haven't mowed it for a few months - and the mowed lawn looks great (well, except for all of the bare spots but that's not the mower's fault).

All in all, I'm very happy with my new mower. For my small lawn it does a great job and it's less of a hassle than a gas mower.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Which Web Portal: Google or Yahoo?

I don't like searching for my information. I don't want to go to 10 different web sites for national news, political news, tech news, comics, etc. With the advent of rss feeds, I was able to get headlines from my favorite web sites and that was good. However, I use a lot of different computers (at work, at home, sometimes at other people's houses) so I needed a good web-based rss reader, or more specifically, I was looking for a web portal.

Now I'm not your average web surfer. I needed my portal to compatible across several platforms. I regularly use Windows, Mac OS, Xandros Linux, and openSUSE Linux so the web portal had to work on just about any operating system. I'm also a huge fan of the Opera web browser. I know this isn't the choice for everyone but I love its speed, its interface, its mouse gestures, its email client, and especially its ad blocking. So I was looking for an Opera friendly, multiple operating system web portal. Oh, and it had to be easy to set up and use.

When I found Yahoo's portal (http://my.yahoo.com), I was delighted. It allowed me to personalize it to get rss feeds from all of my favorite sights. Not only that, it added neat features like a custom TV Listings section that let me see what's going to be on my TV this evening. It also tracked stocks I was interested in, showed the weather, gave me some of the daily comics that I like to read, and even added calendaring and yahoo maps to the mix. I especially liked that it allowed me to set several tabs to organize my feeds, etc. into different sections. It's simple, useful, and very configurable. Best of all, it works with Opera on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. It was almost perfect... almost...

There are several little issues that annoyed me with Yahoo's portal. The graphical ads are everywhere and very annoying. Luckily Opera's ad blocker shuts them out pretty well but Yahoo keeps sneaking new ones in. It's really bad if I ever go there using Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer; I almost can't use it. Also, it can't get information from any Yahoo Groups that I'm a member of or make any connection to Yahoo 360 for blogging. Also very annoying is that every now and then they change the site just enough so that something breaks on Opera. Basically it works (usually) on Opera but Opera is not a supported browser.

Then I found Google's portal (http://www.google.com and click on "personalize this page" in the top right corner). This seemed to have most everything that Yahoo has and all without the annoying ads. I decided to give it a try. I found the interface very nice and clean. I like being able to drag and drop sections; that's really cool. Google also has tons of widgets (called gadgets) for doing all sorts of things from weather, to games, to maps, to links to other search engines like dictionary.com or wikipedia.com, to just about anything. It even integrated my GMail account so that my inbox showed right up on the portal home page. I like its weather gadget better than Yahoo's and I prefer Google maps to Yahoo's. It's almost perfect... almost...

The first issue I notices is that it sets up specific gadgets for rss feeds. This means that if the gadget wasn't set up, I couldn't get the feed. I fixed this by finding a generic rss feed gadget that would take any feed. The second this is that it won't show the article synopsis under the headline. This was annoying but not a show-stopper. However, the TV listings gadget was aweful. I'd never use it and that poses a problem. Another real problem is that its Opera compatibility is limited. I noticed that, in Opera, usually the feeds don't all load the first time I load the page and I have to refresh it to get the rest. I've also noticed that with all the cool features, it's also really slow. It takes easily twice as long to load as Yahoo's web portal.

So which one is better? Well neither. Or both. I can't decide. I think if you're surfing without an ad blocker, definately go with Google. Avoiding those ads makes the experience MUCH nicer. Personally, I'll be staying with Yahoo for a while longer. It's faster, I like the format a little bit more, and it's TV listings gadget/widget/whatever is WAY better than Googles. However, if I'm ever surfing with a browser other than Opera, it's Google all the way.