Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Twitter: Different Clients for Different Needs

How do you access Twitter?  From a web browser?  An application running on your computer?  Text messages on your mobile phone?  Applications on your mobile phone?  Through a third-party website?

As Twitter has grown, so has the Twitter app industry.  To begin with, you could only use Twitter on their website.  Now there are literally thousands and thousands of ways to use Twitter.  Twitdom holds a directory of over 2000 Twitter applications, and this doesn't include websites that post, display, or interface with Twitter, or applications not registered with the site.

Today I read the following article in the Ars Technica blog on my Kindle.  It raises some concerns.
Twitter permission change hurts third-party mobile apps
While the authentication issue is a concern for developers and may impact end-users, the wider concern of Twitter wanting to limit third party applications has a direct effect on me and many Twitter users.

Web sites won't have an issue with the new authentication change, as OAuth is built for that.  And it doesn't look like it's websites that Twitter is concerned with.  It's actual clients.

On the desktop, I have tried many Twitter clients, some web-based, some traditional applications.  Of these, Seesmic Desktop is the one I've found most useful.  The abilities to use it with other services besides Twitter is very nice, and the support for multiple accounts is the main draw for me.  But most of the time, I use the normal Twitter website when I'm on the computer.  With Chrome plug-ins to allow URL shortening right on the Twitter website, and using a separate website like twitpic for pictures that has the ability to post to Twitter, the website works pretty good.  But other people have other needs.

On a mobile phone, the Twitter website isn't as useful.  Twitter's preference seems to be for people to use their application or to use text messages.  If you use a supported phone, the application is an option, but there's phones that only support third party applications.  If support for third party apps is removed, this will only leave text messages.  Some people love doing Twitter that way, while others don't.

I've used a bunch of different Twitter applications on my Blackberry.  Each have their pros and their cons.  I settled for two:  Seesmic for Blackberry and Twitter for Blackberry (Twitter's own client).  The main reason I don't use Twitter's client solely is that it only supports one account at a time and is difficult to switch accounts. In Seesmic, I can add as many accounts as I want and it's simple to switch which one is active.  I can also post to multiple accounts at once if I want to, which is nice, but not necessary.  Many people have both personal Twitter accounts and business accounts.  If Twitter's client supported mulitple accounts, I would probably use it exclusively, since there seems to be less connection issues with it.  The other advantage over Seesmic with Twitter's client is when it comes to lists.  While Seesmic finally allows you to add people to lists, it still doesn't allow you to manage your lists, to create or delete them.  This is the main think I use Twitter's client for.

As I said, different people have different needs.  It is impossible for one client or application to do everything that everyone wants or needs, and to do it the way each person wants.  While Twitter has come a long way with their clients, third party applications are necessary to meet this wide range of wants and needs.  Part of Twitter's current popularity is all the things you can do with it because of this wide range of applications.  If Twitter limits desktops and mobile devices to only their client, many users will no longer be able to do what they use Twitter for.  Only time will tell it Twitter has reached a critical mass where they can eliminate people's ability to do things they don't support and still maintain the momentum they currently have.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Future of Game Consoles

Original Nintendo.  Image
from TOFURIOUS blog,
originally from  Jen May blog.
I'm not a huge console video game player.  I played on the original Nintendo at friends' houses as a kid, and we had a Commodor with paddles and a few games we got at a garage sale growing up, but most games I played were on computers, our TRS Color Computer and Tandy 1000, and later my 286, the first computer that was mine, which is still out in the garage somewhere.

Gaming consoles have come a long way since my childhood as have all technology.  My wife owns a Sega Genesis, a Play Station, a Play Station 2, an XBox, and an XBox360.  I did end up buying a Wii for myself, the first game system that actually appealed to me enough to buy.  There has been many advances since the original Nintendo and earlier systems.

Cartridges have become disks.

Playing Kinect on XBox360.
Image from Indyposted.
Paddles and joy sticks gave way to the two-button controllers of the Nintendo.  Two button controllers have grown to many buttons with triggers and bumpers as well.  four-way control pads became thumb sticks, basically mini joy sticks.  Wired have given way to wireless.  With the Wii, Nintendo introduced controllers that used motion, not just buttons and thumb sticks.  Floor pads for dancing, and boards for balance related things have introduced exercise to gaming.  With Kinect, Microsoft has introduced using your body as the controller.  There are guitars, drums, guns, swords, all types of different "controllers" to allow different types of interactions with games.

The games with no ability to save gave way to memory cards, where you could save a game to continue it later, or even play it at a friend's house.  Memory cards lead to internal hard drives like a computer.

The original stand alone consoles added networking so more people could play than one console could support.  Networking led to online gaming, allowing you to play with people around the world and download content and even games.

Newer consoles can play DVD or Blu-Ray movies and disks, and online gaming has led to streaming video on consoles, as well as social networking like Facebook.  Video game consoles are continuously evolving as technology, innovation, ideas, and demand allow.  The modern video game console is approaching being the combination of a video game console, a computer, and a multimedia centre.  Anything that can be displayed may one day be on gaming consoles.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where's Waldo: A look at cell phones, GPS, and MapMyRun

Get Smart shoe phone.
Image from Slice of SciFi.
There was a time that the idea of people talking over long distances was the stuff of fantasy, science fiction, or even witchcraft.  Who would have imagined a telephone in every house?  But science fiction became reality.  Later, a telephone was something confined to one place, connected to a wall.  The idea of a portable phone, one you could take with you, was still the realm of fiction, like Agent Smart's "shoe phone".  Who would imagine the world of today, where almost everyone has a cell phone, even children?

First Motorola mobile phone.
Image from TechPin.
The first cell phones were bulky affairs, not that portable by today's standards.  And it was just a phone.  It didn't have today's staples of text messaging and a camera.  This things were long off.

Cell phones have evolved a long way since those early days.  Who would imagined Internet on a phone, let alone Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr?  The cell phones of today, especially the smart phones, are way more powerful than the desktop computers when I was a kid.  They are faster, have more memory, have more storage, and have many features unheard of or dreamed of then.

iPhone browsing the Web.
Image from last100.
Today, people use cell phones more for apps, text (email and SMS text messaging), and as a camera than for talking.  In fact, I'm currently writing this post as an email on my phone and my wife us looking up information on the game she's playing on the computer using the web browser on her phone.

GPS satellite in space.
Image from howstuffworks.
When GPS (Global Positioning System) was first created, it was a purely military project (as was DARPA net which became ARPA net, which, together with other networks, became the Internet) to allow ships, planes, and personnel to be able to locate themselves and their destinations and targets without calculations and estimates.  Eventually, the military released it to the public, but with limited accuracy.  Since then, they have released more and more accurate algorithms.

Cell tower.
Image from eHow.
When GPS was first released, you had to buy a specific devise to use it.  Integration came later.  When cell phones first started using location services, they used cell tower locations to triangulate an estimated location.  In areas with lots of towers, this was pretty accurate, but in Wyoming with only one tower within reach most places, it was far off.  My old pre-GPS Blackberry had accuracy of 500 feet down in Colorado, but 9000 here in Laramie.  But now many cell phones have GPS using the newest, most accurate algorithm, and 911 centres can use it to find someone who makes a call.

Route for a 15K race mapped
using a GPS device.
Image from South Shore
High School
GPS can be used for more than just locating you on an X,Y axis, longitude and latitude.  It can place in you in four dimensions.  Because it uses multiple satellites at different angles from where you are, it can pinpoint your elevation, giving X,Y,Z coordinates.  It also gives a timestamp, synced from the GPS satellite network.  A series of X,Y,Z,T coordinate points give you the route you took and the direction you went, and the distance between the points combined with the time gives you your speed.

MapMyRun running on a
Blackberry.  Image from
Cythi Construction.
My Blackberry Storm 2 has a built-in GPS and there are many apps out there that take advantage of it.  One such app that I tried out is MapMyRun.  It's simple to use.  You just press start and it starts recording your workout.  Press stop and it asks you if you want to save it.

I got my dog, Juneau, all hooked up for canicross, with my belt, the towline, and gee harness and we headed out.  I pressed start on the app.

Juneau intent on the
trail ahead.
It was a nice walk, not too cold and definitely not too hot.  She did good most of the walk, pulling nicely, though she did get distracted.  I think it was a fairly normal walk and represented our daily walk pretty well.  The program seemed to record my average speed, current speed, distance, and elapsed time pretty accurately.

Juneau carrying a stick.
I got back and pressed stop and saved it.  I got my husky and myself disconnected, then took my phone back out to look at it.  I went to the workout screen where it's supposed to show the last twenty recorded workouts, but the list was empty.  No matter what I did, even rebooting the phone, nothing shows.  I don't know if the app failed to save it or if there's an issue with the program.

I tried viewing my workouts on the website instead, but it uses something the Blackberry Browser in Blackberry OS 5 doesn't support, so I couldn't see if it was saved.  When I get on a computer, I will check and then finish this post.


I'm now on my computer and the walk was saved to their servers, but it's saved as a "Run" not a "Work Out".  There's no way to view "Runs" on the Blackberry after you press stop.  You have to go to the website and see it there.

It appears we walked 3.9 kilometers, hence 2.4 miles.  I can't seem to get any other data except the route, though.  I found a place where it is supposed to "Time Series / Graphs" which I hoped would show them, but it just says "Loading Time Series Data" and never loads it.  I tried it on several browsers.  What I remember was averaging about 20 minutes per mile, so three miles per hour, and that the trip took about 50 minutes.  Calculating it, I get about 48 minutes.

A tired dog is almost home.
After the messing around I had done on the website, the app on the phone now shows the trip in the Workout screen.  It doesn't give average speed, but does say that it took 59:59 minutes and was 2.4 miles long.  I think the last time I had checked the duration was back a bit before finishing the walk.  I'm guessing the difference between the reported time and my calculated time above is that the average speed probably doesn't incorporate when we were stopped, but that these periods were included in the recorded duration.

My end analysis?  The app is a good idea and does what it intends to.  It shows what you can do with the GPS in your phone, records what it needs to, and saves it correctly, online where you can access it anywhere, ie, cloud based.  However, you can't just use the phone.  You have to go to the website and edit things before it will show up on the phone.  Also, the website isn't very intuitive if you recorded your trip using the phone and takes a bit to figure out.  I'm not sure I could repeat what I did except by trial and error again.  Also, the Time Series page on the website needs to be fixed.

Good concept, but the implementation post-save needs some work.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional