19 November 2009

Switching to the Cloud

I used to love Microsoft Outlook. It has a pretty interface, especially compared with Lotus Notes, which was the application installed at work years and years ago. Compared to Lotus Notes, counterintuitive and clunky, Outlook seemed wonderfully quick and light on its feet.

Until fairly recently, when I began to notice Outlook activity slowing my computer to a crawl.

But in general, I remained comfortable with Outlook, which retrieved my mail from my Internet provider's server on a scheduled basis--every half hour, or every minute; however I requested. The obvious advantage of more frequent retrieval: getting my mail faster. The disadvantage: my laptop tended to pause for the occasion.

Then I got an iPhone. And wondered how I could get my Outlook mail synchronized with it. Certainly the mail came into my Inbox just fine, but the folders didn't match. A little research, and I discovered IMAP. And Gmail.

I had known of Gmail for a long time and found it resistible. The interface didn't attract me. Busy, dense with text...frankly ugly. However, since my alternative was sticking with email that didn't match my iPhone, or paying Microsoft $99 a year for a new email address (MobileMe), I decided to give Gmail a try.

I now use not only Gmail, but Google Calendar and Google Tasks, as well as Google Contacts. The advantage? All this information is simultaneously available not only via my iPhone, but via any computer, using my Google account. Further, I haven't opened Outlook in months and don't miss it. I've started using GoogleDocs more, too.

Now the application that slows my laptop most is iTunes.

11 November 2009

A Slight Complaint

I have nothing to complain about, really. It's silly. But I will anyway: why does everything happen at the same time? During the Chicago Humanities Festival, I'm typically completely booked--how can you miss stuff like John Hodgman, or the Guerrilla Girls, or Robert Reich, or Irene Pepperberg, or Lynda Barry? Tonight, for example, I'm going to see Dave Frishberg, who I adore.

But this same evening, Jaume Plensa, who designed and created the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, will be talking about public art at the Art Institute's Rubloff Auditorium, free. And all through these CHF weeks, there have been intriguing, though unrelated, programs--Margaret Atwood reading from her new book, backed up by a chorus. Science lectures, talks on Lincoln, readings by an array of novelists, a Parks Department meeting requesting public input on what should be done with Northerly Island. Why do they schedule everything at the same time?

OK, end of complaint. Really, I couldn't be happier. And Victor would probably explode, or collapse, or something if I dragged him to one more event.

04 November 2009

The Hypocrites' Frankenstein

The Hypocrites has become one of our favorite Chicago theater companies--it's gotten so we'd hate to miss any of its productions. So that meant we went to see Frankenstein at MCA a couple of weeks ago, even though Frankenstein is not one of my favorite stories, and it seemed likely that the performance would be made especially spooky since it was running during the Halloween season.

Indeed, the production included lots of creepy touches, not least, a bunch of disturbing dolls hanging from the ceiling, as well as plenty of blood, and an old black and white Frankenstein movie playing overhead pretty much throughout. Like Oedipus, which we saw last season, it was performed in "promenade" style--meaning the play goes on as the audience promenades around the "stage." Also like Oedipus, anachronisms mixed with literary and historic references--you often weren't quite sure where/when you were supposed to be. Ultimately, though, as has happened for us in every Hypocrites show, we were finally, inescapably moved: the story was retold, and somehow strengthened by the fringe-y stuff.

While I liked other Hypocrites productions better (again, Frankenstein is not a favorite story of mine), Victor liked this one best (at least until I reminded him of Threepenny Opera), and we look forward to seeing what the company does with No Exit and Cabaret later this season.

Animal Crackers

Last month I paid to see this show twice. And enjoyed it enormously both times.

Animal Crackers is a musical originally written for the Marx Brothers to perform on Broadway, which they later made into a movie. So the key cast members of this show are not just playing their parts, but playing a Marx Brother playing their parts. (Even though cast members have repeatedly said they are not doing impersonations, of course they are--Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are recognizably on the stage.)

But the show's success is not just based on pitch-perfect impersonations (Joey Slotnick as Groucho is terrific, but my personal favorite, Molly Brennan of 500 Clowns, is a swell Harpo, and Jonathan Brody even plays the piano like Chico did), but also great music (some of the songs are still stuck in my head), and choreography. Who expected dancing in a Marx Brothers show? I didn't. The set was beautifully designed--everything made you feel like you were watching a show 80 years ago.

Except the jokes, which were as fresh as ever. (But for the one about shooting an elephant in his pajamas...nothing could make that new.)

This was just a completely outstanding production. I have heard no whispers about it going to New York, but it ought to...it ought to go everywhere.

Loud & Rich at the Vic

Last Thursday, Victor and I went to see Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson at the Vic. I was conflicted about getting tickets for the show, not because I had any doubts about the performers--we've seen Richard Thompson a couple of times before, and he has always been electrifying--but because our live music experiences in the past few years have been less than rewarding. We've come to feel too old for pop/rock concerts--they start late, seats tend to be uncomfortable or nonexistent, we have no patience for junior opening bands, the regular act starts just around our bedtime, etc., etc. Basically, they make us feel like we're old fogies.

Well, perhaps one key to success is to see 60-something-year-old performers. More likely to start right on time because they want to make their bedtime. Also, know the opening act. Loudon Wainwright was outstanding, especially when performing his latest music, from a collection he's calling Songs for the New Depression. And the most important requirement is probably to make sure you're seeing someone who's terrific live...Richard Thompson is a thrilling performer. The new songs are all good, and he plays the old ones in such a way that you happily recognize them, but he also changes them--speeds them up, usually, or does something else to make you realize (and be glad) that you're at a live performance, not just listening to the same music you could've heard at home.

Much has been made of Richard Thompson's virtuoso guitar playing, and, indeed, it's great--especially compared with Wainwright's more straightforward strumming. But I'm also a big fan of Thompson's voice--it seems to me like nobody else's, and not something you particularly expect to hear based on his speaking voice (as opposed to Wainwright, who has an especially pleasant speaking voice as well as a lovely singing voice--they seem to flow into each other). I'm not sure where else these guys are taking their tour, but this concert should not be missed.