Twitter: The good and bad

April 21, 2009

Time to let off some steam on the subject of Twitter.

As a Twitter user, I regularly feel like a giraffe strapped inside a small Lada stuck in an information highway traffic jam. Let me explain why – I’ll start by pointing out why Twitter is worth using at all.

Twitter logo

It’s a global stream of consciousness

Via http://search.twitter.com, you can peek into the thought-stream of millions of net users. What are they reading, thinking, feeling, doing? This real-time flow of information is unprecedented. Sometimes I search using some random term, just out of curiosity. How many people think about cheese right now?

Helps you find and follow people of particular interest

I have used Twitter to find people who are excited about the same technology I am – sometimes to find those who are actually making that technology and have interesting perspectives on it. Concrete examples: Nokia people who are early users of the upcoming N97.

Now to the bad things.

The world’s biggest, loudest echo chamber

If you go looking for original information on a popular topic, you will have to wade through many, many tweets which are just “retweets” of the same information, with no information or just useless information attached. This makes tracking topics through searches harder.

Spam!

If you want information on a product, there will be Twitter accounts spamming ads about it. Annoying.

Only 140 characters

Face it – there are ideas you can express much better in 250 characters than in 140. The character limit is artificial and reduces the quality of the information, since it has to be split into smaller parts or abbreviated half-way to oblivion. A few times I have given up on a tweet, because I couldn’t reduce its size without compromising the message.

Twitter does not separate replies (threads) from messages

Admittedly, this is changing with some basic support for viewing conversations having been added. Still, when I reply to someone on Twitter, that counts as a full-blown tweet from me when in reality it is just a remark relevant only to the tweet I’m replying to.

It is used for everything – by everyone

Ads. News. Personal info. Professional info. All of that in a huge pile of tiny chunks of 140-char information. It is messy.

No system for accomodating both hyperactive and sedate users

Some of the people I am following regularly post 10-15 tweets every day. Others average 1-2 a week. Naturally the former completely drown out the latter.

Unstable

Twitter is the only regularly unstable Web 2.0 service I use.

Conclusion: A massive, unique mess

Twitter is slow, unstable, encumbered by spam, full of redundant information and so simplistic it hurts usability.

For personal, semi-private use, Facebook‘s status updates are superior. Facebook is  a more stable service, messages have no 140 char limit, and it supports comments to status updates – my news feed resembles a kind of web forum for my life. It works well, looks nice and is reasonably fast.

Aimed at enterprise users, Yammer is a much more feature-complete service. Proper threading and e-mail summaries are the features I use the most. It is also nice to have auto-following of conversations the people I follow take part in.

Twitter, however, is open and has a huge and rapidly growing userbase. I can’t think of anything matching http://search.twitter.com, simply because I know of no other open service with Twitter’s amount of users and activity. There is no faster way to hook into the global consciousness online, and that means I continue to come back to Twitter and keep sharing my thoughts there, even though I very much prefer the user interfaces and feature sets of Facebook and Yammer.

For the foreseeable future I’ll continue to use all three services – as long as one is wide open with a huge user base, one is private and social-network oriented and one is tailored for the enterprise they will fill different needs.

I just hope the Twitter guys are busy learning from their competitors – given the momentum they have now I think it will be difficult for a rival to emerge soon, and the Twitter user experience has vast potential for improvement.

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A day in the life of my Nokia N82 – and the beginning of the end of the laptop

April 14, 2009

Some days I’m so thrilled with what my smartphone can do that I can’t help writing about it. Perhaps this short blog brag will show you a few new uses for your modern Symbian device. And for how much longer will you and I need a dedicated laptop?

06:55: I’m half-way awake from the radio on the Wake-up Light (nice invention, by the way), the N82 sounds the proper alarm, and I get out of bed – instinctively checking my Gmail account. Their Java ME client is speedy, slim and has all the right keypad shortcuts (the new Nokia Messaging client is very nice, but not tuned for Gmail use patterns and thus not fast enough).

07:10: I make breakfast while listening to news on FM radio. I hooked up a pair of Koss Portapros and put the N82 on the kitchen table – thanks to its relatively powerful speakers, I don’t have to walk around with the Portapros on (or get a stand-alone radio).

The Economist in my pocket

The Economist in my pocket

07:25: Walking down to the metro, which doesn’t have FM coverage, I switch to listening to The Economist in MP3 format, which I downloaded over WiFi yesterday. Halfway there I check the real-time metro information on the built in web/WAP browser. WAP may be ugly, but it sure is fast!

latitude

07:30: Standing on the metro, I use Latitude on Google Maps to see if my colleagues have left for work yet. (They haven’t – I’m early :) )

I also pull up my RSS feeds on Opera Mini to catch up on today’s news. This is something I do periodically throughout the day.

09:00: Having settled in at work, I decide I don’t want to listen to any of the on-board MP3s, so I hook the N82 up to the local WiFi network. It is protected by a proxy, but Web is treated like any computer and lets me log into the proxy server. I then use Mobbler – a Last.fm client for Symbian – to listen to my friends’ Last.fm stations. Here’s my Last.fm profile, by the way.

Now and then the phone buzzes, without lighting up – this indicates that GMail (which is running in the background) has received an e-mail.

11:00: I make a few photographs of the screen on the Citrix client. It is a bit cumbersome to get printscreens out of there, and the N82’s  5 mpx and autofocus will do nicely for this – just illustration photos for a sildeshow. I also make sure to catch the herd of office chairs – they have mysteriously assembled in our wing of the office over the weekend. Hmmm.

12:00: I set the alarm for 14:44 – I have to phone someone then and am likely to forget unless I set an alarm. I also check Calendar, to make sure I’m free at that time.

13:00: I tell my 5800 XpressMusic-owning buddy about SymTorrent (which does what you might expect).

I also showed him Qik – a program for streaming video live to the web from the phone.  I give him a Qik demo, starting off by telling him to check my public feed – where he could see himself from a 90 degree angle :) Take a look at my Qik page for an example.

14:43: The person I was going to call beats me to it – we’re both busy, so we arrange a new time.

16:50: I head home, continuing to listen to The Economist where I left off. En route to the store I use Opera Mini to find recipies for pancakes.

17:20: Leaving the store, I read on AllAboutSymbian‘s RSS feed that Nokia Beta Labs’ Photo Browser is now available for S60v3 devices – meaning I can give it a go. When I get home, I quickly download it via Web and WiFi and check it out. It spends quite a while indexing my photos, which makes it seem slower than it is, but the transitions are pretty nice and for an early beta product this is not bad at all. Hopefully it will be way more mature when the N97 arrives.

Sports Tracker route summary

17:30: After dumping the food in the fridge, I find my running shoes and start SportsTracker. This is a GPS-enabled exercise logger. As I run around the neighbourhood, I upload my route to SportsTracker – take a look. The photo I take during the jog is automatically included in the mashup on the SportsTracker site.

20:30: I start writing this post and transfer a aforementioned photo to my Flickr account from Gallery via the local WiFi.

Conclusion

So – I manage to go through quite an array of features and applications in a day. I love the sense of having so much computational power and so many sensors with me all the time. Of course – there are privacy and security (and sanity?) concerns when using so many services so intimately and constantly bathing in a sea of information and entertainment – but I think we’ll be OK as long as we are aware of that and just leave the phone at home once in a while.

Interestingly – I did pretty much all of this, except writing this blog post, without using a PC. Creating content will probably always be more comfortable on a big keyboard and big screen, but I still believe the N97 will make a noticable difference in my mobile e-mail/blogging usage patterns.

Also – a N82, considering all of its sensors and connectivity features, is in many ways more powerful than my vastly more expensive Macbook. Hopefully CPU, memory and I/O capabilities will develop rapidly – letting me write a new post in 2-3 years time with a full keyboard and 20″ screen hooked up to my ph… mobile computer.

Or, if I’m out and about, I’ll use the phone inserted into a laptop shell consisting of a 13″ touchscreen and full keyboard. That’ll be the end of the dedicated laptop –  unless you need to do heavy number-crunching or 3D gaming.

Parental controls stopping you from playing tracks in SingStar?

February 14, 2009

After swapping in a PS2 Singstar disk when playing PS3 Singstar, I was suddenly stopped from playing some of the songs. Ironically, the first song Singstar refused me was “We all stand together” – the rather child friendly Paul McCartney number…

Seems Singstar suddenly started to pay very close attention to parental control settings – or perhaps these were changed in a recent PS3 system sotware patch? I don’t know, but I found the solution on this forum: http://boardsus.playstation.com/playstation/board/message?board.id=ps3home&message.id=554051.

Here’s the solution, courtesy of dadog102:

Go to your security settings of that master account then select Parental Controls

>then put in 0000 (thats the standard code if it has not already been set)

> select OFF as the control setting after you hit accept it will show a screen after that with a check box saying restrict starting a game with no parental control settings uncheck that box and select ok

>You should be all set. You can then go back in and turn the parental settings back to normal later on.

My three complaints with the Macbook Aluminium

January 25, 2009
The cat appreciated the Macbook just as much as I did.

The cat appreciated the Macbook just as much as I did.

One of the Macbook Aluminium’s strong points is its cat compatability, as evidenced from the image above. And overall it is a fantastic laptop. In fact, it is easier to point out its flaws than its strong points.

I’ve had my Mac for about three months now, and these are my complaints:

  • The laptop easily slides around when placed on a smooth surface, such as a table. The rubber “knobs” on the bottom – which elevate the laptop from the surface it’s standing on and are meant to keep it steady – do not provide enough friction.When opened, the forward edge of the main chassis, where you will rest your palms when typing, is pretty sharp. Enough to be somewhat annoying to me, depending on what position I’m sitting in.
  • There are only two USB ports, and it seems only one of them is fully functional when running Windows – my external USB 2,5″ drive won’t spin when plugged into the other. Given the real estate on the left side of the laptop, Apple should have been to put in one more USB port and made all of them 100% functional.
  • And it does have its rough edges in Windows – the trackpad is a bit finicky – the drivers need some tweaking, and there is no right click-button on the keyboard.

You probably realise, given that these are my main objections to the Macbook Alu design, that I am pretty happy with it. In fact, I consider it the best computer I’ve ever owned.

Great keyboard, nice screen, splendid design (and quite robust), huge trackpad, decent graphics card and powerful specs, backlit keyboard, decent battery life. And you can run both Windows XP and OS X on it.

I use mostly Windows XP – it is faster, I can play games and it is less dependant on a pointing device (I am a keyboard enthusiast). However, it is nice to have OS X as a virus-proof backup, and I use Garageband and iMovie from time to time.

PS3 system update 2.60 kills Singstar PS3? [No, it was a scratched disc]

January 25, 2009

Singstar PS3 seems to have stopped working on my PS3 after I applied the 2.60 update – ouch. Haven’t been able to find any info on this so far.

Update: The problem was a scratched disc.

World of Goo – the best cooperative gameplay on the Wii yet

January 15, 2009

After checking out World of Goo on my PC and reading a few glowing reviews (particularly Eurogamer’s Wii review), I decided to buy it for the Wii using the WiiWare download service.

World of Goo - getting around

Multiplayer has always been my favourite aspect of the Wii, and Wii Sports/Tennis and Bomberman my favourite games on the console. (Haven’t had the time to play much Mario Galaxy or Mario Kart yet.) Both Tennis and Bomberman are competetive games – though the best part of Tennis is playing doubles – while World of Goo is a purely cooperative game (well, unless you have rowdy friends, at least).

Very briefly explained, World of Goo is about helping small gooballs get to the exit of a level by building structures with them. It reminds me of a classic game called Bridge Builder (or Pontifex). However, WoG’s puzzles are more varied, the art style is incredibly charming, the music is great, the gameplay is very well suited to the Wii remote, and best of all, the cooperative gaming is fantastic fun and totally hassle-free. When someone else is playing, you just pick up a remote and play along.

This is AWESOME, and the way every multi-player experience should be. Mario Galaxy does it, but the second player has too small a part in the gameplay to really compare with WoG. Left 4 Dead, where your squad of four players run around killing zombies in the first-person perspective, is the only other game I can think of right now that implements this so well (the L4D implementation is a bit more cumbersome, but then again it is a network game and a much more complex one at that).

Puzzle has never been this fun. We had a one-hour three-player session yesterday, and we careened back and forth between thoughtful placement of goo balls and total mayhem as we all extended the structure in multiple directions at once. I’ll give two examples –

World of Goo - building the bridge

One level has you building a goo ball bridge from one side of a spiky valley to the escape pipe on the other side. To make sure the goo bridge doesn’t get pulled into the spikes by gravity as you extend it, you place balloons on it. Place too many too fast in the wrong place, and the bridge will veer upwards, popping the balloons on the overhead spikes. Eventually, we figured out that placing the balloons as low on the structure as possible simultaneously with placing new goo balls worked well. Also, we could move balloons along the bridge as we extended it, to make more careful adjustments to its height. The fact that it really helped to be more people – we could do different things at once – makes the multiplayer gameplay feel very meaningful.

Another level requires you to build a huge tower of goo balls to get to the exit pipe far above. It took us a few tries to find the right balance of tower width at the bottom and narrowing spire at the top. Two times our tower project wobbled into chaos as we started madly extending the structure at the top. Total failures, but very, very, fun!

Try this game. Its single player mode is nice on the PC, but the gameplay really shines in the Wii cooperative mode.

Macbook Aluminium makes funny clicking sound while apparently not charging

November 8, 2008

The title really says it all. My Macbook Alu had run out of battery and died; when I plugged it in, the light on the power plug did not ignite, and I thought nothing was happening until I noticed a steady low ticking sound emanting from the top left of the keyboard. I tried to google it, but didn’t find anything interesting (I have to admit I didn’t spend too much time researching, as it was via Opera Mini on my N82….).

After listening to the steady ticking for a few minutes, I unplugged and reconnected the power plug, which promptly lit up like it usually does, and I’m typing this on my Macbook. Funny.

I wonder if perhaps the ticking is the Macbook’s way of saying it is doing some low-level charging of the battery?

Nokia N82 appreciation usecase #3: The Economist in my pocket

November 5, 2008
The Economist in my pocket

The Economist in my pocket

As a subscriber to The Economist, I get the newspaper in my mailbox every Saturday (UK subscribers get it on Fridays, I believe, but up north we are not so fortunate…). However, I can usually download the MP3 edition on Thursdays. Of course, I copy it onto my N82 right away.

Most often, I listen to The Economist while walking or commuting to work, using my Koss Portapro headphones, but sometimes my ears tire from the headset, or the headset cable gets in the way as I move about tidying the house (right..).

Thanks to the N82’s pretty powerful stereo speakers, I can put the phone in my pocket and have it play The Economist for me as I walk around the house. They aren’t powerful enough for this to work well outdoors, and the sound quality doesn’t cut it for listening to music – but for radio, podcasts or audio editions of newspapers, they work fine.

My next phone will need to have at least as powerful speakers as the N82 – judging by reviews, it seems the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is well equipped; hopefully upcoming Nseries touchscreen phones (and Android handsets) are as fortunate.

Josh Woodward and how the music industry should work

October 10, 2008

 

Josh Woodward

Josh Woodward

About 30 minutes ago, as I was listening to a friend’s radio station on http://last.fm, I heard a song by Josh Woodward – “Midnight Blue”. I was doing something else entirely, but the song was good enough to make me task-switch over to my laptop and check who the artist was. In his artist’s description, it said he was giving his music away for free.

Fabulous stuff. I headed straight over there – http://www.joshwoodward.com/ – you can download 100+ songs in MP3 format. No hassle, just zip files and music. I decided I had to donate to this guy, considering his music is great and he’s letting everyone listen to it for free and share it as they like. Turns out I can’t actually donate – I mailed him about that and got a reply (within 5 minutes!) where he explained he didn’t want to make people feel they owed him anything. What a fantastic guy. 

Anyways – it is possible to order both CDs and lossless FLAC files of his music (which is awesome) for a fee, which you set yourself. I definitely don’t need the CDs, and the FLACs are also way overkill for me, but at least I can give something back to the man for creating such great music and sharing it with everyone.

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping other artists will follow his lead!

Nokia N82 appreciation usecase #2: On a whim, shooting the rooftop concert

October 9, 2008

I do have a digital video camera – a good old Sony DCR 115, which cost me about $3000 (!!) back in 2002. However, it isn’t exactly pocket-sized, and it uses DV tapes, which feel hopelessly analogue considering they store bits.  I hardly ever use it – though the picture quality is great and the 10x zoom very handy, it is just too big, and handling the amount of data it produces too cumbersome.

Enter my N82. It has VGA-resolution 640×480 video capture at 30 frames per second – I’d call it VHS quality, Nokia calls it “TV quality”. The sound quality is decent. And, of course, I always bring it with me. So when the company has brought a great musician to the summer party, it’s just a matter of deciding which parts of the concert to enjoy fully and which parts to “store” on my N82 (which could save all of it on its 8 gigabyte memory card, if I wanted it to).

Looking back at all the moments I’ve captured with my N82 over the last year, there is no way I’m getting a new phone with at least as good video capabilities.

Here’s one example: Molde on New Year’s day