Sunday, 28 October 2007

Mentations - One Hour, Wasted.

About six months ago I came across and installed a piece of software called "Mentations." I won't give you a link to it, it doesn't deserve it. Read on first, see if you think it's worth the hassle - and then I'll provide the link...

What it is, is hard to say. After all, I've only installed it twice now and life's too short for something as ridiculous as this. From what little I've seen, (more on why I've only seen so little in a moment,) it's an RSS reader that does some attention management for you, and adds a few custom channels for "offers" ond other claptrap.

But people - what would you say to an RSS reader that takes you an hour to start up? Hardly worth it when Particls and similar software do a similar job and install in minutes and are up and running in under 10.

First time I installed Mentations was on my old laptop. I noted that it took longer to install than I took to make and eat dinner that evening, then ran the installed software and waited. And waited, and waited... Once an interface of any kind loaded, I noticed that everything had crawled to a halt including the software itself, and despite waiting an hour, stayed that way until I rebooted. I contacted the maker of Mentations and was told that it was my laptop. So I uninstalled and went about my normal business. Until I got this new laptop...

Now sporting a dual core Pentium 1.86Ghz CPU and 512Mb of RAM, I figured this machine jsut had to have more grunt than the old PIII-600Mhz 256Mb lappie - and so I installed the latest Mentations software. Here's my experience, I've left my notebook observations exactly as I wrote them at the time, to convey some sense of how ridiculous this has all been:

15:22 started installation of mentations.
15:52 stopped thrashing hdd and seemed to be loaded. (alhough title bar still says status 33%. F***ing pile of steaming dog turd.)
15:56 clicked "finish" on "preferences" which is actually "profile" and then waited until
15:59 for Turdations to restart the interface. For no reason actually, as there is NOTHING in preferences related to the interface.
16:02 Mental Retard uninstalled again but hdd still thrashing until1
6:12 so it was still background doing stuff but I'd had enough and rebooted the machine at that time.
16:21 after not letting the machine shut down until the uninstaller had run it's course, I have my machine back - after a WHOLE HOUR.

This bloated piece of crap is just an RSS reader for chrissakes! I tried running it on my old laptop and the developer told me it was running like a total dog because of the machine, and I believed them. Now I'm running it on a dual core Pentium 1.86Ghz with half a meg of RAM and it's exactly the same - so can you spell "useless programmers" children?

This is without a doubt the single most useless bloated resource wasting POS I've ever installed. The people that make it should not be let loose with a f***ing shovel let alone a programming tool. It's total bit-bucket-fodder folks! Just the shittest piece of shit ever...


So that's the lowdown. Go to http://www.mentations.com/ if you want to totally waste a whole hour for something Google Reader can do with one mouse-click. But otherwise, avoid this piece of bloat like the plague and go get Particls or something...

Look - the installation on the new laptop took around four to six minutes, then the software itself when I started it took forever and in fact never reached fully loaded state. If it had been this doggy on just the old machine I would have called it a fluke interaction between that machine and the software- but it's done this on two machines with two different Windows OS's running so I can pretty much say the software (if I can dignify something so ostentatious and full of puffery with that name) is at fault.

Besides the molasses-speed issue, here are a few more: "Perferences" is actually your profile information. But changing it still needs a slow and lengthy restart of the UI. That is pure bad useability and even worse programming. Then too - this piece of software has nothing to do with things maritime, so why label the menu for sources (from what I can gather, anyway - it failed totally to do anything for me when I tried it) with the term "helm?" Unless they mean the Enormous Foam Helm Of Stupidity rather than the control position for ship steerage, that is. What does a helm have to do with an RSS reader? Sheesh. Pretentious prat.

And the other menu choices are all equally laughable - there is nowhere you can change the window size, and it automatically picks a size which is just short of full screen so that it covers the taskbar and start button and you have to minimise it to attend to anything else. As I said, if this is supposed to be attention management software then it fails miserably, because you can't just leave it in a normal window and go about your daily work, it demands ALL you attention, and all the attention of all your CPU and all your RAM, too. Really crap idea.

They can say it's using the machine's resources to maximum performance all they like, but I know a resource-hungry pile of steamin droppings when I see one, and I wasted an hour on one this afternoon.

3 comments:

Brian Schneeberg said...

Hey Ted,

Thanks for the comments, even if they are *just* short of, ahem, complimentary shall we say ;^). Here is my humble attempt at a reply. First, the Overall Status shown at the top is *not* the status of the software load process but is instead the overall status of how *you* are doing based on the individual statuses of the categories shown in your particular interface. For instance, if the categories you are showing include Weather and News and the weather is going to be bad and you are not caught up on the news then you will have a low overall status versus if the weather is going to be good and you have read all your news items.

In terms of what Mentations is, it is a dashboard for your life. As such, it allows you to keep up with RSS feeds but much more too including pulling back info related to your interests, weather, stocks, friends, etc.

With regard to a thrashing hard drive, turn off bookmark analysis - that should help a lot.

Sorry about the unfamiliar use of the word "helm" although I don't think I'm the first one to use a metaphor to denote an area where you can control/configure software. The helm in this case allows you to set up or make changes to a given *unmanaged* interface. Unfortunately, you most likely had only created a *managed* interface at the time and so didn't see much in the helm although you should have been able to right-click on "Interfaces" to create a new one.

As far as the window size is concerned, Mentations is supposed to be screensaver-like; in fact, you can run it as your screensaver. As such, it *is* supposed to cover your entire desktop. As you pointed out though, it can be minimized... either to your task bar or system tray.

You are correct in that it is an attention management tool and falls into the broad academic category of "ambient information visualization": http://www.viktoria.se/~tobias/thesis/. As a result, I think it is fair to say that the Mentations concept encompasses more than just being an RSS reader.

As far as the bloatedness and lengthy install, I can only assume you did not previously have the MS .NET Framework 2.0 installed - Mentations will first download and install it if it finds it is not already present. Also, I would be remise if I didn't let you know that we're also working on a web-based version. In fact, you can access it now with your current credentials at https://www.mentations.com/MentationsWeb. While it currently contains only static information as of the last time you ran the desktop client, we are working on making it able to update itself directly - no client install necessary.

In conclusion, sorry you had such a bad experience with Mentations! At a minimum, we know our help is sorely lacking - I think that having access to that would have eliminated at least half of your frustration and confusion.

Kind Regards,
Brian

teddlesruss dat who! said...

Heya Brian.

I'm sorry, I call them as I find them. I gave Mentations a second chance as the last time, I only had a very underpowered machine and I could see that it wouldn't be a fair test. But this time, an almost clean machine brand new out of the factory wrapping, scads of CPU and enough memory to run serious 3D applications, I thought that was a fair test.

Here's the skinny:

1. Using a modal window to cover the screen is a BAD idea. Make it a resizeable window for the application, and use the Microsoft .scr hooks to run the screensaver in full screen. There's nothing worse than an application that "steals" my ability to run it alongside anything else by taking away my normal facilities. What's the point of a multitasking OS if not to run several applications AND BE ABLE TO ACCCESS AND USE THEM SIMULTANEOUSLY?

2. Make clear the boundary between the installation and the application running. Also, the machine had .NET on it already. There is no excuse for leaving a user hanging around without informing them of what is going on other than the clue that their machine has stopped responding and the HDD light is on solid for 10 minutes.

3. It's a bit rough for Mentations to be loading up *everything* in the Internet and The Known Universe right out of the box. And unless that's exactly what Mentations was trying to download, there's no excuse for the amount of thrashing and "Mentating" that it was doing.

4. If Mentations hadn't tried to load the Known Universe on it's first run, the bookmark analysis would have had a much better time of it, don't you think?

5. I noticed a lot of topics that floated around on the screen that I have not the slightest interest in. How do they contribute to "the dashboard of my life," other than to thrash my machine and frustrate me?

6. I took a quick look at the options and found no way to turn the main screen into a well-behaved window, nowhere to turn off the painfully slow animations, nowhere to customise what I wanted to pay attention to, and the themes, while pretty, do nothing for me other than use up a bit more CPU and memory.

I emailed last time and mentioned that the software was resource hungry and reduced my machine to a slowly crawling brick with a screen, and was told that the newer version was going to be less of a resource hog.

I was also told back then that the web based version was static and a live version would be up and running as a standalone soon.

Neither has happened, and I'm talking about a year in between then and now.

And - I've been around computers in one form or another since the early 70's and have built my own computers from scratch, built my own software from assembly code up to Perl and the occasional PHP/MySQL app, and I have never heard the term "helm" used when the common terms "setup" or "configuration" or "control panel" would suffice - except in the case of sailing simulators.

Here's an example of making a user interface unuseable: See Microsoft Office latest versions, and Microsoft Vista...

Microsoft have taken away all the familiar user interfaces and replaced them with things like "ribbon interfaces." People in general are *LOATHING* these Microsoft innovations and staying away in droves. Similarly, people aren't interested in being "at the helm of the dashboard of their lives" when they *thought* what they were installing an attention aggregating reader.

You mentioned that Mentations does much more "including pulling back info related to your interests, weather, stocks, friends, etc." But where do I tell Mentations where to start? Because, as it comes out of the box, I don't want everything that Mentations comes preconfigured with and I can't find a way to prune the interest tree.

I don't want stocks, I don't want back info on the whole loaded gamut of items that Mentations thinks I'll be enthralled with, my friends all have RSS links (that I can't actually find a way to configure Mentations to monitor, BTW,) and my TV station already has the weather as up to date as I need it to be.

Instead, I have an OPML file of feeds that I do find important, a list of watchwords various search sites - and no easy way to make Mentations aware that I want it to please drop it's existing configuration and use what's really important to me and work from that...

There is another AM software in the market and I've installed that too - it's far less resource hungry and lets me get on with my work, and it lets me preconfigure my range of sites and watchwords - but then it doesn't let me get all my feeds together, instead, it floats them past much as Mentations does - and if I take my attention off it for a second nd miss an important article, well that's it because I'll never see it again... It lacks a reader page where all the feed articles can be listed. Again, because I have to watch it every second or risk missing articles, it's no good to me.

And the problem is, that AM software has to be able to do a lot, without being obtrusive or demanding...

Brian Schneeberg said...

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the reply. Regarding your points:

1. As I mentioned, you can minimize Mentations to the task bar or system tray and hence multitask by working with other apps too. In fact, you can also Alt-Tab directly out of Mentations without minimizing. That being said, point taken in that I understand you don't like having your task bar obscured - I'll make that a configurable option - run as "full screen" (the current behavior) versus normal window.

2. I thought the boundary between installation and running the app *was* clear. It uses a standard installation program - Installshield, and I thought it was apparent when the install was finished. At the risk of sounding obvious, you know you are running the program when you click on the shortcut, you log in, and then the background with foreground icons load. At this point, you are in fact running the program. Perhaps I'm missing your point here?

3. I agree with you. I need to make Mentations more configurable from the get-go versus loading up a bunch of preconfigured stuff.

4. The bookmark analysis is not dependent on what is loaded preconfigured, but instead what it finds for you in *your* internet bookmarks from Netscape, IE, Firefox, and Opera. I know for a fact that this option is what has been the most resource-intensive for folks thus far - turn it off and Mentations *will* be less of a resource hog!

5. Regarding your #5, see my #3.

6. For full customization capabilities, create an *unmanaged* interface by right-clicking on the background and launching the wizard. Once created, you can right-click on each floating "icon" for options related to that category type such as "Add RSS Feed", etc. To stop the animations or make them faster, go into the Helm to do so - again, for an unmanaged versus managed interface. A managed interface is just that - you are letting someone else manage it for you. FYI, I have changed the behavior already so that an unmanaged interface is what is now created by default.

7. Point taken that I still need to work on CPU/memory utilization.

8. It may not be apparent from the website, but we are basically a 2-man shop, and only one of us (me) does any coding. Further, I have a day job in addition to working on Mentations and hence, we are what is known as a "micro-isv": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_ISV. That being said, we *have* made progress in the last year - see http://www.mentations.com/news.aspx. In other words, dude, I'm only one guy and am working as quickly as I can!! ;^)

9. Regarding the use of the word "helm", enter the following search phrase in Google: *helm software* (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rls=com.microsoft%3Aen-US&q=helm+software).

10. We understand that we need to be better about allowing custom configurations right after installing - it's at the top of my list (especially now)! ;^)

11. Regarding worrying about missing something, Mentations *does* have an "Information Stream" window (right-click and select "Info Stream") where all the recent messages that floated by are captured for your review. I understand that you don't like metaphors like "helm" and so probably will not like "stream" either... :^(

In summary, your feedback has been great (and not just in a masochistic sort of way) ;^). It really helps me to know what to focus on next... thanks!

Regards,
Brian

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