27 April 2008

#68. Venturing into Culture: Cinema and Iconography

A great film is just the ticket after a great dinner at the Tool Bar & Grill. So today, your movie-buff chef will help you decide what to see. Meanwhile, back in the Linux Room, Mark is hunched over his drawing tablet…

Film Review Aggregators

Now and then I manage to find time to watch a good movie. But which one? With my blog taking so much of my time, I can’t afford to waste a couple of hours on a bad film. So like many of you, I count on the critics to pick the good ones for me. But I don’t want to rely on just one critic’s opinion (and I don’t want the general public’s opinion either). So I go to Web sites that survey many professional reviews of a film, classify them as favorable or critical, and deduce an overall score.

I usually check the following film review aggregators, listed here in descending order of preference:

Rottentomatoes – The main feature of Rotten Tomatoes is the “Tomatometer,” the aggregate critics’ score (as a percentage) for a film. It is accompanied by a whole tomato icon (score above 50%) or a tomato splat icon (below 50%). Different scores are provided for “T-meter critics” (most of whom I’ve never heard of), “top critics” (from the major media), and “RT community” (the lay public). One nice feature is that you can select a few of your favorite critics and get aggregate “my critics” scores, though creating a list of your favorite critics is not a simple matter.

The film’s plot is summarized under the Tomatometer, along with basic box office, cast, and production facts. Critics’ reviews are summarized in the lower part of the page, with tomato or splat icons, and you can click through to read the full reviews.

Rottentomatoes covers a wide range of critics (28 “top critics” for the selected film, “21”), and its scores generally are a reliable guide to movie quality. However, the site was recently redesigned, and now some former features are missing, the plot synopses are shorter, and it’s harder to find my way around.

Metacritic – Metacritic works much like Rottentomatoes, offering an aggregate “Metascore” (1–100 scale) with color coding (red for bad up to green for good), alongside a “Users” (1–10) score. Like Rottentomatoes, the scores are followed by a short plot synopsis and cast and production facts (but no box office numbers).

Also similar to Rottentomatoes, Metacritic displays review summaries (but with numerical scores and color codes) and links to the full reviews.

Metacritic displayed 29 reviews for the selected film, many from well-known critics and publications. Interestingly, “21” ranked 48 in Metacritic and only 28 among Rottentomatoes “top critics”; I guess I’ll have to see it to decide for myself.

Yahoo! Movies – This site displays an aggregate critics’ score and the users’ score (both on an A–F scale), followed by a brief plot synopsis and a few salient film facts. More detail is provided on linked pages.

Yahoo ranks only 14 critics’ reviews for the selected movie, though most are major names. You can click through to read the full reviews.

Movies – This site offers its own critic’s reviews along with aggregated critics’ and fans’ grades (on an A–F scale), much like Yahoo, and the usual details about the movie.

However, as you can see below, Movies.com covers only 10 critics’ reviews, so although they are all major names, I trust its score least of all.

You can click through to read the full reviews.

The Movies.com copyright notice says “Buena Vista,” a subsidiary of Disney. I don’t know if this corporate link might influence the reviews.

IMdb – The granddaddy of film sites, Internet Movie Data Base, aggregates reviews from the movie-going public, not professional critics.

However, IMdb also is the place to go to research films. Almost every detail about films, actors, directors, and everything else is listed here.

Free Antivirus Programs Updated

Just when I was about to try out the highly regarded free Avast antivirus program, AVG and Avira both released new versions of their free (for personal use) antivirus programs, both numbered version 8.0.

Because I already was using AVG Free Antivirus, brand-new version 8.0 takes the first turn. It claims to detect spyware as well as viruses, but lacks rootkit detection. It has a slightly more usable interface. I did not see any assertions that its antivirus engine had been significantly improved, but it already is very good. AVG also comes with its LinkScanner browser tool bar that claims to identify phishing and malware Web sites. However, the most useful LinkScanner features are disabled in the free version. The tool bar takes up valuable screen real estate, so I turned it off and continue to rely on McAfee SiteAdvisor and Firefox’s built-in anti-phishing alerts.

I will try to new Avira AntiVir Personal 8.0 soon, after running AVG 8.0 through its paces. Except for its annoying nag screens (which, some have pointed out, can be eliminated) and slow-to-download update files, it enjoys an excellent reputation for protection (as does Avast).

The bottom line is that whichever of these three top-rated free antivirus programs you use, be sure to keep it up to date!

Now Linux Room master of ceremonies Mark Lautman draws us into the world of miniature art.

Icons Worth Worshipping

by Mark Lautman

Well, last week was quite a milestone in the Linux Room. Nobody called the police to break up a fight, and I finished my first program called the Command Composer. It helps users compose complex Linux commands. Here is a picture of the top-left corner.

As you can see, the icon in the corner is expressionless. It's the default Gnome icon and it will bore everyone to tears. Icons that make a statement are very powerful, mostly because people are attracted to stare at them all day. The Mozilla icons are nothing short of fabulous and a pleasure to look at.

I also want an icon like that. Who wouldn't? However, icon designers cost more than interior decorators these days, so I need to find a less expensive solution.

In post 41, Jonathan discussed an online tool that makes icons from common graphics. It turns out there are many such Web applications. I tried another one called Real World Graphics. These web-based tools offer a basic pallet and a brush to paint your icon, and then download the *.ico file to your computer.

A Web browser is limited when it comes to graphic editing, however. Image Author takes online icon drawing to the next step by using a Java applet. You have a selection of brushes, colors, fills, and text tools.

A full-blown Java application for creating icons is IconPainter. This is a fabulous program for creating icons, with all the tools required to make a statement in a small 32x32 grid. The preview is particularly helpful.

And finally, for Linux there is the Gnome Icon Editor.

Well, you can see from my images that art isn't my strong point. However, if you think icon designers are pricey, take a look at art schools! They charge for everything, including drop cloths. Well, if I'm going to learn how to draw, it will be free and online, starting with Learn to Draw. –Mark Lautman

I hope you found this post about cinema and miniature art culturally uplifting. Please visit again each week for more recommendations of great utilities and Web sites, and bring all your fellow culture vultures. Are you a critic? Got some reviews of your own? Share them by clicking on “comments” below or, if you prefer privacy, by writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And please help keep this blog alive by visiting our advertisers.


  1. Avira AntiVir Personal version number is actually not 8.0.

  2. Thank you, Mikk, for helping improve the accuracy in this blog. Frankly, I just used "8.0" as shorthand for the current main release, because new minor versions come out very frequently... but at the least, I should have written "8.1" instead.

  3. Reader mjt328 correctly pointed out that when you install AVG Antivirus, you get a trial version of the full-blown AVG security suite, include rootkit detection and more. If you don't pay for it, however, the extra features disappear after 30 days, leaving you with the (still very good) limited free version. Thank you, mjt328!

  4. Reader Charles Lewis wrote by email:

    Dear Jonathan, I've just discovered your Tool Bar & Grill, your information is helping me a great deal right now--thank you very much, indeed!
    Let me try to return the favor in a small way by recommending Winroll:

    "Make a window roll into its title bar, send it to the back or make it stay on top. Minimize, maximize or close all visible windows, including minimizing to the tray area. Make a window translucent on Windows 2000 or above. WinRoll is lovingly hand-crafted in 100% pure assembly language to give the fastest response and the smallest memory footprint. WinRoll is proudly a FREEWARE and OPEN SOURCE application."

    While it does do all these things, I use it almost exclusively to "roll" a window into its title bar; it's a great way to see the window or desktop behind, without having to move or close a window. I use it constantly. It's at:

    Two other utilities I use just as often, because of my personal way of computing, are:

    FreeSnap - http://blueonionsoftware.com/freesnap.aspx
    StartupCPL - http://www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml
    FreeSnap, above, uses both the left windows key and the number pad on the right, requiring two hands; I remapped the left windows key to the right Alt key; now I can use FreeSnap with one hand, the right. There are many remapping programs; I like, use, and recommend:

    SharpKeys - http://www.randyrants.com/sharpkeys/

    Highlight the From key in the left pane, highlight the To key in the right pane, click OK and then Write to Registry, and you're done. If you run XP, use 2.1; for Vista, 2.1.1, it says--I run XP and have only used 2.1.
    Winroll, FreeSnap, and StartupCPL are startup programs; SharpKeys is permanent (unless, of course, you change it).

    StartupCPL was written by Mike Lin when he was fifteen.

  5. Charles, thank you very much indeed – for your compliments, and for your recommendations of great utilities. Now to discuss each of the utilities you recommended:

    Winroll is very nice, and many readers will appreciate your recommendation. However, I don't find much use for most of its functions myself. I use the built-in Windows shortcuts when I need to minimize all windows (Win-D and Win-M; I don't know why there are two). One of my favorite file management utilities, FileboxExtender (post #16), provides the roll-up and always-on-top functions (along with many others).

    FreeSnap looks very interesting; I was unfamiliar with it. Though I am a keyboard guy since way back when, I don't mind dragging windows where I need them, so I don't think I'll try FreeSnap right now; but I can see where some users could benefit from this functionality.

    Mike Lin's Startup Control Panel is a venerable and well-loved utility, and I happily used it many years ago, along with its companion StartupMonitor. However, as I mentioned when I reviewed startup monitors (way back in post #11, followed up in #13), other utilities have passed it by with broader functionality and snazzier interfaces, such as WinPatrol and my current favorite, AnVir Task Manager (see #57).

    I have been collecting information for a future post on keyboard remappers, and SharpKeys is on the list of tools to try. I will certainly take your recommendation into account when doing so.

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  6. Charles Lewis replied:

    Looking for continuous backup software, I stumbled across your comment at http://www.appscout.com/2008/04/idlebackup_makes_backing_up_yo_1.php, clicked the link, and wrote you after searching your blog only for WinRoll. I've since skimmed your whole blog and see that you've not only written about most of what I wrote to you about, but indeed suggest alternate software that might be even more useful. I will soon, very soon, try your suggestions.

    WinRoll: A confession: somewhere around 12 years ago I bought a UniComp keyboard, made in the old IBM manufacturing facility in Lexington, Kentucky, US. Somewhere around $120 then, although that's not the point. The point is that this good quality keyboard just keeps going, same as day one. I think I'll keep it. It also doesn't have a Windows key. That's why WinRoll works for me, and why I'll take a hard look at your FileboxExtender.

    FreeSnap is useful to me because I prefer a non-maximized window anchored at right bottom, with the few icons I occasionally have on my desktop showing on the left and top. (Although I too am a "keyboard guy since way back when....") FreeSnap's one limitation, to me, is that I use three screens and FreeSnap works only on your one primary monitor.

    SharpKeys: for me to use WinRoll, note that SharpKeys remapped a Windows key without the keyboard having one. 'twasn't immediately intuitive, at least to me, although I did catch on.
    ColorfulTabs: I searched your blog for Tabs and don't find this. It's a Firefox Add-on, eye candy, but useful eye candy. "Colors every tab in a different color....": https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1368

    Cooliris Previews: I see you've got this in #33.
    Jonathan, thank you for all the information in your blog. It's a G*dsend.

  7. Charles, thank you again for your kind words. I am always delighted to hear that my blog was helpful to someone. It's truly a labor of love for me.

    Your explanation of why you use the utilities you mentioned is very helpful. And I can sure understand that when you find a good keyboard, you don't want to let it go.

    I have tried the Colorful Tabs Firefox extension (or something similar perhaps), and found the colors very distracting. I tweaked and fiddled, but couldn't find a color scheme that was more useful than annoying. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste. I recommend utilities I like in my blog, but usually don't mention all the others I tried and didn't like.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you will return regularly, and tell everyone you know about it (including Digg, Technorati, etc. if you're so inclined).