Archive for January, 2010

How To Make Twitter Useful For You – Privacy, Advanced Twitter Search

I think Twitter is the best way to get real-time crowd sourced news.  Yes, Twitter can be a clusterfuck of useless people spouting useless information…but it doesn’t have to be!

If you’re not interested in publishing to the masses I’d recommend setting your tweets to private and requiring that you approve followers before they can see your tweets (check your account settings).  This combined with only following people you trust to tweet useful information will go a long way towards minimizing any craziness.

Even if you’re not going to tweet at all, following your favorite news sources is a great way to get access to your news in one place.  If you read CNN, ESPN, NY Times and, of course, Tech to Live By everyday then follow those twitter accounts and your feed will be filled with info from sources you already read (for me it’s often easier than RSS feeds).

Now, searching Twitter is the other side of the equation.  There are millions of tweets that you’ll never see (nor have any desire to see) and that’s the way it should be.  On occasion though, you’ll want information on a topic that hasn’t shown up in your feed.  That is when you can fire up the Twitter search engine.  With millions of tweets constantly flowing through the system there is almost always at least a few people tweeting about whatever it is you’re interested in.

My personal favorites are things like:

  • Finding out why I’m stuck in traffic (and yes, it can be faster than waiting for your navigation system POI to update).
  • Finding out why there are 8 cop cars circling my house.
  • Figuring out if that was an earthquake I just felt.
  • How big an area is affected by this power outage?
  • How long the line is for a ride at Disneyland.

The list goes on for a while… It’s really an excellent way to get real time reports of things that wouldn’t normally be covered by a regular news source or just haven’t had time to make it to the larger slower moving news team.

Searching is pretty simple and you can use keywords or #hashtags to investigate a particular topic.  Your searches can be saved as necessary to make running the same search again later easy.

The real power of searching  comes in when you move over to the Advanced Twitter Search page.  Advanced Twitter Search gives you a wide range of ways to search the Twitter stream and brings a lot of new opportunities into the mix.

There are lots of services to help you manage searches, but I like the Twitter’s own version the best.



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Instead of just keywords and hashtags you can search by:

  • Words – Search by word or phrase with various syntax options including hashtags and multi-language support
  • People – Search by username including to, from and referencing that person
  • Places – Search within a radius of a given location. Recognizes different location information (like zip code or ‘NYC’), but the location is limited to what the user sets in in their profile (more on this later).
  • Dates – Search by since / until X date.
  • Attitudes – Search for positive / negative attitude (looks for emoticons) or asking a question.
  • Other – Results include links and/or retweets.

The places search feature being limited to the user’s profile location is not as useful as a real location. Twitter is no doubt working on updating this feature based on their GeoAPI.

Combining all these different search elements you are able to create a search tailored to exactly what you are looking for and really get the most out of the abundance of information that is available through Twitter.

[ NOTE: For nerds and text editor lovers, all these search options are available through basic search using advanced syntax (if you want to use that method then you're smart enough to find the commands online without me giving you a link).]

Hopefully now you can use Twitter to your advantage rather than just being overwhelmed by useless information (or staying off the Twitterscape completely).

Do you have a favorite way to use Twitter?  Let us know in the comments!

http://search.twitter.com/advanced

3 Cool Things You’re Not Going to Spend the Money to Buy

3 things from Uncrate.com that I want, but will surely not buy.

Ping Pong Paddles – Brodmann Blades ($100)

These are the craziest table tennis paddles I’ve ever seen.  They remind me more of Klingon weapons then paddles.  I have no idea if they are actually intuitive to pick up and play with or if it’s just awkward.  Either way, I’m curious…

Dog Collar -  Bark4Beer ($15)

Ok, so this one you might spend the money on.  If you’ve got a dog that is always following you around you might as well put it to work!

Soccer Ball – Adidas Jabulani World Cup Match Ball ($150)

Yep, it’s a $150 soccer ball. I still want it.  If you like soccer you should too.

via [uncrate]

Google Voice Now On the iPhone with HTML5

I’ve talked about using Google Voice in your daily life before, but Tuesday Google quietly released a new version web based version based on HTML5.

I’ve already been using a gVoice program for my Palm Pre (gDial if you were wondering…and yes it’s updated with this release), but iPhone users were stuck in limbo without an app that Apple would approve.  So, the Big G has basically gone around Apple’s app store and created a web based version that iPhone 3.0 users can take advantage of (accessible at m.google.com/voice).

Users get the ability to make calls from their gVoice number at Google’s rates as well as text message for free.

If you haven’t tried Google Voice yet you need to find someone with an invite for  you and get on it.

The really interesting subtext to this is Google avoiding the Apple app store and the power of HTML5.  If Google can put together as robust a web app as this then there are going to be a lot of people that will opt for HTML5 rather than jumping through Apple’s hoops.  HTML5 provides excellent power and is OS agnostic so developers won’t need to develop for Android, WebOS and iPhone.  They’ll be able to work in HTML5 and deliver their product to multiple platforms much more easily.

via [Google Voice Blog]

Twitter Local Trends keeps you ‘up to tweet’ on the latest in your area

On Tuesday Twitter launched a new feature that (I think) is the first to take advantage of their new GeoAPI from Mixer Labs.

Local Trends builds upon Twitter’s trending topics feature by adding a geo-location layer.  Now you can set your location and see trending topics in your area.

For example, as I write this I can see that both the national and local trending topics include Apple iPad announcements and the canceling of Ugly Betty (seriously people?).  At the same time the state of the #union is a trending topic nationally while in Los Angeles people would rather be tweeting #nowthatsghetto than discussing politics (I do love my hometown).

So, that’s not exactly a profound example (tho it does say something about my angelino brethren), but it’s the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week.  It’ll be most interesting to see what pops up around the time of big public events or things like power outages and earthquakes.  I already believe that Twitter is the most powerful real-time news search engine available to the public right now.  For example, when there is an earthquake here in LA I’ve found the fastest way to find the epicenter and magnitude is to search ‘earthquake’ on Twitter.  With the addition of this layer of geographical information you’ll be able to get a better picture of what is going on in your area, right now.

Right now Local Trends is limited to a handful of major cities worldwide (mostly in the US), but Twitter will definitely continue to roll out new features associated with geo-location data and Twitter’s ability to deliver useful and relevant search results will continue to improve.

We’ll keep an eye on these features as they evolve and in the future we’ll talk about Twitter’s advanced search function and how you can use it to make your life easier.

via [Twitter Blog]

Keep Personal Errands and Work Projects on Track With the Right Tool

Everyday people have tasks they need to complete.  Be it at work, at home or somewhere in between there are chores, tasks, issues, assignments, to-do’s, … on and on.  There are basically as many ways to track and organize all of these from the always classic Franklin-Covey planner to a well organized spreadsheet to enterprise level project management platforms (and yes, in the end, I believe all of these serve the same purpose).  Most of them have individual pros and cons and it’s up to the user to choose the right one.

Today we’ll talk about solutions for different applications ranging from managing daily errands to project management for medium to large-ish projects.  There is a lot out there, but we’ll focus on the ones I’ve had the best experiences with while trying to keep my life and projects organized over the last decade.

A quick talk about my organizational philosophy…  For a tracking system to work, first and foremost, it has to fit with what you are trying to accomplish.  A 1,000 line project plan and gantt chart aren’t necessary to get your grocery shopping done and your dry cleaning picked up, but a checklist isn’t going to get you through a a significant development project either.  Next most important is that the tools fit the process.  A person without a smartphone is probably not a prime candidate for an online task list and you can’t use MS Project with anything agile project management.  In the end, I like a solution that is just barely powerful enough to support what you need.  This usually helps keep things streamlined and prevents the tool from becoming a crutch (this is obviously a fine line, but is something to always watch out for).

So, without further ado…

The Spreadsheet

The simple spreadsheet is a category unto itself…  The beauty of the spreadsheet is that it can be as simple or complicated as you need/want.  When you think about it, all the other tools you might use are really just pretty front-ends on some really complicated spreadsheets (I may have just oversimplified the concept of a database, but I’m going with it).

For most people just writing down the things they need to get done for the day, a party, or even a research project is an extreme improvement in productivity.  Create a spreadsheet with columns for a task name, task description, priority and due date and you’ve got a powerful little method for keeping track of your tasks.   For example, input the list of chores for the day and rank them as 1s, 2s, or 3s (don’t agonize over it, you can change it later) and set the due date for all the tasks to today.  Now you can use the sort function of your spreadsheet app (I recommend Google Documents) to sort everything into a prioritized list of tasks.  Review your tasks, rework your numbers, sort again and keep crossing things off the list until it’s all done.

Maybe you need something a bit more complicated to keep track of tasks at work?  Add  ‘last action’, comments, and ‘assigned to’ columns and now you’re ready to track yourself and other across a broader range of tasks.  If you want to get fancy learn a little bit about conditional formatting to highlight what is late, who is assigned to what or what is the highest priority.  In no time you have a quick, reasonably powerful, and well organized document you can use for yourself or share with others to keep you and/or your team on track.

I’ve gone as far as using spreadsheets to run small projects with great success.  The point is, the spreadsheet is the most flexible of the options because, small or large, it is what you make it.

Personal Use, Get your errands done or your party planned

RemembertheMilk.com is basically a project management platform for your life.  It offers organizable lists with due dates and priorities in a simple web interface with a great deal of integration and power behind the scenes.  You can setup different lists to group tasks, prioritize the tasks within that group then schedule all manner of updates to be sent to you through e-mail, sms, etc.  There are iPhone and Android apps (where are my WebOS apps!) as well as a number of ways to integrate RTM into your life.  It’s an excellent platform for people serious about using an application to stay organized.  Jump into the the RTM Tour and signup for an account (it takes about 15 seconds) or hope over to Lifehacker’s extensive rundown of the features.

A far less powerful, but still very useful tool is Google Tasks.  Integrated into gMail it offers a simple way to create and manage lists.  For now it’s about as simple as can be and due dates don’t show up on your gCal, but it’s Google and you can expect gTasks to grow like any other Google product.  If you want a quick and simple task list accessible on almost any platform, Google Tasks is a great option.



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Small to Medium Project, Getting things done with other people

Redmine is my personal favorite for a project where I get to choose the tracking platform.  It’s open source, easy to setup and offers the flexibility necessary to work on many different types of projects.  It’s simple to keep multiple projects going on the same installation of Redmine while limiting access across projects to only those people that need it.  In particular I like the ways that Redmine manages tasks across users and projects in summary views while also allowing for very granular resource and activity tracking.  Checkout Redmines site and demo to get a feel for the application.

Redmine is not a hosted solution and requires installation on a web host.  Anyone that has ever FTP’d a file to a webhost can get this setup in about 10 minutes and any SysAdmin worth his salt should be able to do it in 5 (if yours can’t then I suggest you find a new one).  This done mean there is a little bit of effort upfront to setup the site, but it also means no monthly fees (beyond your hosting) and unlimited accounts.

For a hosted solution ProjectOffice.net offers an excellent feature set at a reasonable per user price.  I always prefer to host my own apps, but not everyone can do that.  Project Office is clean and simple without a lot of overhead or clutter.  In addition to the basic project management features there are some gantt charting abilities and Blackberry integration too.

Conclusion

Both in your personal life and in business the key to the right tool is to choose one that fits what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are literally hundreds of solutions out there and I’ve tried A LOT of them.  I’ve touched on my favorites here, but what works for me might not work for you (heck, what works for me on one project might not work for me on the next) so it’s up to you to try things out and tweak them until they do what you need (which is why I love spreadsheets so much).  The key is that you try different solutions and continuously improve on your methods as you gain experience.

No matter what the venue or goal following the basic best practices of writing things down, assigning tasks and setting due dates will always lead the charge.  Start there and add-on accordingly until you’ve found the limit of what you need to track to be effective.  Follow that method and, at the least, you’ll always end up with an efficient system for your needs.

What is HD Radio?

high_hd_radioHD Radio first hit the market a few years ago.  Most stations are broadcasting HD signals and a reasonable number of people have actually experienced HD Radio in the car or at home (mostly in the car).  Unfortunately there is still a lot of confusion as to what it is and why you should care.

Since HD Radio is here to stay Tech to Live By is here with a rundown of HD Radio tech and how it will benefit you…

First off, the HD doesn’t actually stand for High Definition.  It’s a brand name and an excellent little piece of marketing intended to take advantage of the HDTV boom.

That being said, radio stations use technology from iBiquity Digital Corporation to broadcast a combined digital-analog signal that provides a clearer, higher fidelity sound (described as near-CD quality). In addition to the improved sound quality the HD Radio technology improves on the bandwidth and data capabilities of traditional broadcasts.

By using a compressed digital signal, broadcasters are able to transmit song information (including artist and song name), real-time information (gas prices, traffic updates, etc), and numerous sub-channels.  That’s right, sub-channels (actually called Multicast channels).  With HD Radio your favorite radio station is able to broadcast not only their usual programming but also additional ‘stations’ with independent content.  In effect the user can receive 2-4 times the amount of content from the same broadcaster (including multicast channels and data broadcasts).  Not bad, right?

The HD Radio standard also include the option of iTunes Tagging which allows users to tag songs they hear over the digital broadcast for later reference.  When an iPod is connected to the system the tags can be downloaded and synced with iTunes to facilitate a simple way to preview and purchase the music. Ford is the first automotive OEM to launch this feature in the car.

[Editors Note: It's very annoying that this is tied to iTunes only, but it was probably a great for Apple to secure more business and for brilliant for iBiquity to align themselves with a major player.  When iBiquity was trying to sell this technology into major manufacturers you can bet they threw around the Apple partnership as best they could.]

The general rule for the HD1 (main) broadcast channel is that it matches the non-HD Radio analog broadcast.  The HD2 and HD3 multicast channels vary in how they are used.  For example, some stations are broadcasting previous formats (think easy listening station that went to rock) while other stations are taking the opportunity to broadcast a totally new set of content that new listeners might appreciate.  CBS Radio recently announced their intention to re-broadcast popular stations in other markets (like a major Los Angeles station broadcast on an HD2 channel in New York).  In LA right now KROQ’s HD2 broadcast is ‘KROQ of the 80′s.’

For now, the services are free, but there are companies out there working on ways to make features subscription or per-use based.  All you need to get  in on the goodness is upgrade to an HD Radio capable receiver (and there are plenty of them available for most applications).

The car companies are leading the charge with integrating these devices and they are pretty readily available now.

If you have any questions about HD Radio drop me a comment and I’ll do my best!

Yelp Ads Check-ins for iPhone Users

yelp-iphone-appNow Yelp users can check-in at their favorite locations and “broadcast your whereabouts and send Quick Tips to your friends on Yelp, Facebook and Twitter…”

I only recently started using Foursquare (my profile doesn’t reflect much more than a visit to an excellent Italian restaurant), but from what I can tell they should be worried that Yelp is going to eat their lunch.  Foursquare lets you check-in different places, broadcast your location, get tips, earn badges, and become ‘mayor’ of a location.  Yelp will let you check-in, broadcast your location and keep track of visits to a location (including a leaderboard ranking visits to a given location).

For Yelp, this is a way to jump into real-time data geo-location while adding some additional  social networking integration and if Yelp wants to add some hooks additional hooks to keep people coming back it wont take much to transform that leader board into badges and mayor-ship.

What is Yelp Check-ins? Yelp Check-ins is a way for you to broadcast that you are at a business to friends on Yelp, Facebook or Twitter. Your friends will be able to see:
- Your activity via your Yelp for iPhone profile page
- Opt-in alerts including “Push” notifications
- A Leaderboard on Yelp for iPhone
- A Map that will also show the “Check-ins” of your friends nearby and your check-in count next to your Yelp star rating if you’ve written a review on Yelp.com

- Where you’ve checked in on Monocle, Yelp’s AR feature launched in August
-Active users of Yelp Check-ins can also earn “Regular” status of highly-frequented businesses.

Geo-location data is really the missing link between social networking and people’s lives.  We’ve already highlighted geo-locations as one of the technologies to watch in 2010 and this is another example of the growth of geo-location data into the mass market.  You can expect Twitter to continue a move into geo-location data (discussed here and here) with Facebook and others not far behind.

GPS Trackers for Tracking Whatever You Want

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I  came across two standouts for portable GPS based tracking.  The, Xact Trax and Insignia Little Buddy, both offer a way to track your kids, car, wife, friends, dogs?, etc with similiar features and pricing.

The basic feature set of these devices allows you to place a GPS device on something mobile (car, kids backpack, etc) and view the location of that device through a website.  Depending on your pricing plan ($15 monthly unlimited or $.99 per use) you can track the device continuously or on an ad-hoc basis (i.e. My kid is late getting home, where is he right now).

If that’s not big brother enough for you, these devices offer geo-fencing (you can be notified when the device leaves a certain pre-defined area…like school grounds) and speed notifications (you can be notified if whatever you’ve attached the device to is speeding).  Notifications may be through e-mail or text.  All my examples have been of parents tracking their kids (which is the obvious one), but there are many less intrusive uses (like GPS tagging a car or motorcycle for theft recovery).

If you are using this to track a kid (or god forbid significant other) you still have no guarantee that the device will stay with that person (not sure how many times I lost my backpack as a kid).  Also remember that these devices are subject to the same limitations as other wireless and GPS devices (i.e. if you’re not in a coverage area or otherwise can’t get a signal the device will not work).

The Insignia product is a super simple GPS device powered by USB.  The Xact device offers things like a panic button and on-device medical history database in case of emergency.

All in all, these products are probably very effective if you need some element of their feature set.  Both pricing models are excellent depending on your needs.  If you do use something like this drop us a comment.  We’re curious what you use it for.

SlingMedia Launches 4 New Products…Flash Support More Important

Full Disclosure: I freaking love Sling Media. On the time line of groundbreaking home theater technology the Slingbox falls between the TiVo and 3D TVs.

[ NOTE: Real quickly for those that don't know, the Slingbox enables 'place shifting' which is a fancy way of saying you can watch YOUR TV from anywhere you've got an internet connection and laptop (or properly enabled mobile phone).  If you are on a trip you can control your TV and cable box (TiVo, DVD player, etc) remotely just as if you had your remote in your hand.  It's fantastic. ]

At CES this year Sling Media announced 4 pieces of hardware and one software change that may be the most important of all.  All of this works into the ‘TV Everwhere’ movement that is the buzzword du jour of the cable companies and all of these products will only be available directly through cable providers (only Dish Network, so far).  It should be noted that Echostar bought Slingmedia (they also own Dish Network) and all of these products are integrated or compatible with Dish’s new products.

[Editor's Note: Everyone I spoke to said that these devices will be available through providers other than Dish Network.  When I jokingly said, 'Ya, when EchoStar allows it.' They all rolled their eyes, dropped their heads and said, 'Ya, there are some challenges. It'll happen eventually.'  Not sure how bad a sign that is, but I have to assume it's EchoStars strategy and other providers are not eager to boost EchoStars bottom line (that is 80% speculation).]

Slingbox 700U

Slingbox-700uThe 700U is designed to be sold by the cable and satellite companies as a USB connected add-on to DVRs and cable boxes.  It should reduce the cost to the customer, but it will require providers to make their boxes compatible.

This is a good idea and a logical way to expand the market of users, but it’s definitely not groundbreaking.

Sling Receiver 300

Sling-Receiver-300The Receiver 300 is basically an extender box.  It has to be used on a network with an existing ‘SlingLoaded’ device and in standard Sling fashion, it allows you to watch / manipulate your primary TV source on a second TV.  It’s small and meant to be mounted on the back of a TV or on a wall.  The idea here is that the customer could use this device to get a HD signal to a TV without having to run additional wires (perfect for a 1 bedroom apartment with 2 TVs).  The device connects through HDMI and presumably slings the signal through WiFi.

Sling Touch Control 100

Sling-Touch-ControlThis is basically a really fancy IP-based universal remote.  Just like any remote, it will control all the devices in your entertainment center.  It’s trick is that IP-based part.  It’s a WiFi enabled device that use your home network to control compatible devices over your home network (it uses IR for ‘legacy’ products) while delivering a streamlined user experience to the 4.3″ screen.

The whole SlingGuide product is just an enhanced channel guide.  It provides additional ways to search your channels while also providing more access to additional information on a particular show.  SlingGuide is really Slings way of standardizing the channel guide experience across their products.

All in all, this is a pretty slick universal remote but depending on the price might not be worth it (no idea what the price will be).



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Sling Monitor 150

Sling-Monitor-150Continuing the TV Everwhere trend this is a 15.6″, 720p display that includes speakers and 802.11n wireless.  This is basically the Sling Receiver 300 with a screen.  It’s meant to be setup (wall or countertop) anywhere running a TV source wire would not be practical.  Again a very cool product that isn’t groundbreaking and whose adoption will likely be defined by it’s price.  For the record, it doesn’t have a battery and requires WiFi so it’s not portable (now if someone could add a battery pack and wireless 3G card…THAT would be a product).

Support for Adobe Flash

adobe-flash-player-iconLastly, but possibly most importantly, is Sling’s support of Adobe Flash Player and Flash streaming protocols in the Pro-HD and SOLO.  This means that any device that supports a Flash Player will be able to receive the Sling content.  Since Flash is already so heavily used for streaming, support across devices is very very high and Adobe recently announced Flash for Mobile there will be a rapid influx of ways that you can receive your Sling’d media (Fingers crossed that means a WebOS Sling player in the next few months).

In Conclusion

Sling has a fantastic technology.  EchoStar has integrated that technology into Dish Network’s products pretty well.  In an effort to expand their user base EchoStar is pushing the idea of ‘TV Everywhere’ and all of these products go a long way towards enabling that technology.  Hopefully TiVo will support this technology and I can continue my love affair with TiVo and Sling the way it should be (i.e. without IR blasters).   Most of all, the support of Flash will break down the most frustrating wall of Sling’s products … the mobile players.

Help Haiti With Your Cellphone (and other ways too)

The American Red Cross has setup a text-to-donate line (ya know, in addition to committing a million bucks)

Just text ‘haiti’ to 90999 and $10 will be charged to your wireless bill, but 100% of the donation will go to the Red Cross.

Couldn’t be easier people.  Get on it…

If you want more information than that:

Best wishes to everyone affected by this earthquake.