Product review: Enso from Humanized

Executive summary: Any sufficiently advanced GUI is indistinguishable from a CLI.

People older than a certain age will recall the time when the only way to tell a computer what you wanted it to do was to type in stuff through a command line interface (CLI). So if you wanted a word count on a file, you typed wc filename and got the answers with no fluff. Then these kids came along with their graphical user interfaces (GUI) and persisted in believing that (among other things) opening the same file in a large and slow word processor and clicking on Tools | Word count was somehow more user-friendly than remembering commands like wc.

And where are we headed now? Watch this video about Enso (which is Japanese for circle) from Humanized, and you might almost believe that the future of a GUI is a CLI, perhaps a semantically aware CLI, but definitely some creature where you type commands (or start typing them anyway) instead of one where you point and click.

What’s Japanese for “full circle”?

That said, I downloaded and have used Enso for a few hours now, and it’s certainly got its uses. My first impressions are by and large positive.

On the plus side:

  1. the caps lock-based interface is usable and not intrusive — I had feared that using the caps lock key would interfere with normal operation, but it’s not bad.
  2. The calculator function is rather helpful, though currently limited to the four basic arithmetic operations with constant operands. It is reminiscent in functionality of the sagetex plugin for TeX and LaTeX, whose best use I have found is to write HOWTO documents for mathematics without typing the formula once and copy-pasting the results again. It’s probably helpful to think of Enso’s math abilities as a stripped down fast-response sagetex.
  3. The spellchecker and the case-toggler are nice, but your use for them will be much less if you type a lot in Firefox (blog posts, comments, etc) and already have a spellchecker add-on and the LeetKey add-on installed. Enso will probably be more useful if you do a lot of typing outside a word processor or a browser.

On the minus side (for me at least):

  1. I had a rude shock when (out of force of habit) I tried to exit Enso by holding caps lock and typing “quit”. Instead of quitting, Enso closed the application that was in the foreground! BE CAUTIOUS! Save all your work when you’re trying this thing out! This is not expected behavior for a habitual CLI-user, where if you type “quit” or “exit” you will only leave the command shell and be returned to the GUI. Perhaps “close” might be a better word than “quit” for closing other applications?
  2. The commands available for the calculator cannot currently read arbitrary scientific expressions, even ones that can be done with the plain old Windows calculator in scientific mode, or those that be done by asking Google Calculator. Hopefully this will change in future.
  3. It would be helpful if the user could switch between “replace the selected text with the result” and “append the result to the selected text” modes, particularly when writing math formulas in a document followed by their evaluations: the reader needs to see both the expression and the evaluated result.

Overall, the product looks promising, and I expect to find it more useful with a few more features and a little more extensibility.

Amazon Product Reviews as a Literary Art Form

There seems to be an online subculture that treats product reviews on Amazon.com as a literary art form and an outlet for creative writing urges. Consider these:

For Perry’s Chemical Engineers Handbook:

A riveting book from start to finish!, October 17, 1998

Perry has outdone himself once again. The seventh edition is even more of a show-stopper than the previous editions. I read this book from cover to cover in one sitting, unable to put it down for a moment, not even to relieve myself! The molecular weights were so accurate and the heats of reaction made my spine tingle. Once I reached the section discussing distillation and tray efficiencies I [k]new I was hooked. I won’t give away the ending but it’s definitely a shocker. Bravo to Mr. Perry’s and I am counting the days to the release of your 9th edition!

For Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable (a $500 Ethernet cable to connect your music system to your IP-based speakers) (via):

A caution to people buying these: if you do not follow the “directional markings” on the cables, your music will play backwards.

Another for the same product:

After I took delivery of my $500 Denon AKDL1 Cat-5 uber-cable, Al Gore was mysteriously drawn to my home, where he pronounced that Global Warming had been suspended in my vicinity. Additionally, my cars began achieving 200 mpg and I didn’t even need gasoline. I was able to put three grams of cat litter into the tank and drive forever.

One heck of a cable.

Didn’t notice any improvement in audio quality though.

For How to Avoid Huge Ships:

I’ve been plagued by huge ships all my life. Ever since I can remember. This book tells you all you need to know about avoiding these everyday hazards. Now I can come and go with complete freedom. Even my weekly shopping is a pleasure!

For A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates (as a point of interest, 24% of people who view the page for this book buy “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!” instead):

Such a terrific reference work! But with so many terrific random digits, it’s a shame they didn’t sort them, to make it easier to find the one you’re looking for.

Speaking of random, you just know that someone is going to compile all these reviews into a book and try to sell it on Amazon or eBay:

You can do this one in every 30 times and still have 97% positive feedback.