Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

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Real-time on the Social-web for the World Series of Birding

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Suppose, just for fun, that there was a 24 hour event happening, covering the whole state of New Jersey from end to end, and you, single-handedly, wanted to document it in real time, using the social web…twitter, blogs, and associated tools…so that anyone who wanted could experience it from, shall we say, ground level? Suppose. What tools would you use?

In my work life, I am the Observation Product Specialist for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, makers of binoculars and spotting scopes used in birding, and all types of wildlife observation. For 27 years we have sponsored a team, Team Zeiss, in the yearly World Series of Birding competition, and for 6 years we have been the sponsor of the Carl Zeiss Youth Birding Challenge. The WSB raises funds for conservation through per-species pledges to your favorite team of birders, who then go out for 24 hours, midnight to midnight, in the state of New Jersey (or some designated sub-section there-of) to count as many different species of birds as they can identify by sight or sound. It draws well over 200 of the best birders in the US, in over 50 teams, to Cape May, NJ each May. Most teams come in a few days (or weeks) early to scout the area where they intend to count…then there is the day itself…24 hours of driving crazy distances to hit the hot-spots and staked out birds…the Finish Line were, just before midnight, the teams bring in their totals for verification…and then, the next morning at 9AM sharp, the Awards Brunch where, after a lavish breakfast, the highest totals are recognized with various awards, and each team gets to briefly tell its best story of the day. It is marginally insane, considerably inspiring (if you are into birds…they have raised over $9 million for conservation in the 27 years of the event), and a whole lot of fun!

This year, I decided to try to document the whole thing in something approaching real time. I planned to be in a chase car, and follow Team Zeiss through some of the scouting and preparations, then through the 24 hours of the event to the Finish Line, and to the Awards Brunch the next morning. I planned to twitter and FaceBook the whole thing, with sound-clips, pics, and maybe some video…perhaps to do some live blogging on our WordPress blog…and, of course, to bring back enough photos and video for follow-up blog posts and web pages. It was only slightly more insane than the event itself.

You can see the results, all of the posts from the field, considerably expanded with images, video, and bit of commentary added after the event, at Team Zeiss: A Complete World Series of Birding Saga.

If you want to know how I did it, read on.

I have an iPhone 3G (not, unfortunately for these purposes, the 3GS with video), a Canon SX20IS which shoots excellent stills and HD video, an very portable Aspire Timeline 1810TZ CULV netbook/laptop, a Verizon USB mobile broadband doggle, a cigarette lighter power supply that puts out both 110 volt AC for the computer and USB power for the iPhone, and, obviously more enthusiasm than sense.

Experimenting before-hand I settled on the new Hootsuite app for iPhone for my twitter and facebook posts. I knew I would be twittering on 2 accounts: my own @singraham and the Zeiss account @zeissbirding_us. The facebook posts were going to my own profile. I needed an app that would post to all three simultaneously. Hootsuite looked like it would do the job. Since you can open it in menu mode, without downloading any streams, it is quick to post from. When I got to Cape May, I found that the Hootsuite app, on AT&T’s 3G network, was failing about half the time when I attempted to post a pic with the tweet/facebook update. Trying again sometimes worked, but I needed something more reliable.

I already have a Posterous blog set up, and have used it to post instant galleries of images via email when I have more than one image to post at the same time. You can set up Posterous to auto post to any number of twitter and facebook accounts, and if you make the title complete, it can act as a tweet or post in itself. You can even include hastags for twitter in the title. Posting from the iPhone is as simple as taking the pics with the camera app, opening Photos, selecting the ones you want to send and choosing email. You enter your Posterous address, and it is away, and posted to your twitter and facebook accounts soon after. The advantage is that Posterous automatically formats multiple images into a galley with an index and viewer.

Posterous will also take video, directly or as a link from YouTube…which is good, since I encountered the dread “caught in the processing loop” YouTube bug when attempting to upload video from Cape May. Not via 3G either…this was from my hotel room over a wifi network. I tired many times. Nothing worked. While Posterous video is not has high quality as HD on YouTube, it is certainly serviceable for my purposes with the WSB.

Posterous does have its own app for the iPhone, which allows you take pics directly and upload them into galleries on your blog, but I find that it is actually much easier to do it from the Photos App via email.

As it happens, Hootsuite updated their iPhone app while I was in New Jersey, and the new version seemed to work much better with pic uploads, even when I lost 3G and had to work on EDGE in the far reaches of the state.

I ended up using both Hootsuite, and Posterous via email, as the situation demanded and as the spirit moved me. 🙂

When I picked up my rental car, the first thing I checked was the number of cigarette lighter sockets, as I anticipated having to use my iPhone part of the time as a GPS. The Jeep Compass they gave me has only one cigarette lighter socket…but low and behold, it has an actual 110v, two prong socket, just like your wall sockets at home. I could plug the Acer in directly, and, since i use a Kensington Ultra Compact Power Supply while traveling, which has its own USB power port, and was packing a Griffen PowerJolt Dual with two more USB power ports for the cigarette socket, I was all set for power. I did not even have to set up the excellent Radio Shack compact power inverter I always have in my laptop bag.

As it turned out, I never even plugged the Acer in. It was just too close quarters with 3 of us and all our stuff in car, I was driving at least a third of the time, and we made stops too frequently to consider the laptop useful. That meant that I did not upload any video until the event was over.

Most of the pics were uploaded direct from the iPhone’s camera. I am impatiently waiting the arrival of the 4G iPhone with what one hopes will be a decent camera (rumors say maybe even HD video), but you make do with what you have. Since I was shooting most of the time with the SX20IS as well, the pics from the field were more or less placeholders anyway…I replaced most of them with SX20IS shots when I built the blog post…though I hope the iPhone shots added at least a little to the experience for those following my tweets and posts in real time.

I did process a few of the more marginal shots using the Adobe PhotoShop app for the iPhone before I posted them. I used, until this most recent version of the Adobe app, PhotoGene, which I really like. PhotoShop is just a bit faster on most operations, at least on my 3G phone, and, in the field, where you are posting mostly while hurrying back to the car or between stops, even that little speed difference can be critical.

While I had not planned to do it, since I was using Posterous, it occurred to me on a hill far into the outback of Sussex County, New Jersey, moments after mid-night when the team was listening for high flying migrants in the dark, that I could post audio. I made a few recordings during the night at various stops, while it was still too dark for photography, using the built in Voice Memo app on the iPhone, and uploading them to Posterous via email. Of course, since the Team was using their ears, I could not play them back to see what I got. They went out over twitter and facebook just as they came from the iPhone.

It was not long into the dark night when Hootsuite and Facebook stopped cooperating. I never did figure out what was happening. The app gave me a “failed to post on Facebook” message about 2 out of 3 tries. This was from the hinterlands and I suspected the EDGE connection, but when I got back to civilization and 3G it was no more reliable. It could have been an issue with Hootsuite at that particular time, or with Facebook, or with the iPhone. All of which make me rely more on the Posterous connection than I might otherwise have.

I am hoping, of course, that the folks who followed the tweet stream in real-time got a sense of how the event unfolded that is never available in hind-sight. (Though, honestly, I am pretty sure no one caught my tweets posted from midnight until 4 am. 🙂 )

Tuesday, safe at home with the Acer firmly anchored to a desk, and my wifi connection humming, I processed all the images (Lightroom) and some of the video (NeroVision) I shot with the Canon SX20IS. I also used Tweetake to capture all my @zeissbirding_us tweets into a spreadsheet, where I could sort and edit them into something like a coherent narrative. Using the tweets as the skeleton, I added images and video from the Canon, and a bit of commentary, to fill out the story. I used a few of the original iPhone shots where I did not have something from the Canon, but when I did, I grabbed them from Posterous or Ow.ly into Picnic for a bit of improvement before posting them back to the blog.

I intend to do a more reflective and thoughtful piece on the whole experience, the WSB experience that is, not the technical experience, when my mind fully recovers from sleep deprivation. (If my mind ever recovers…) But for now, the post referenced above stands as one man’s view of the World Series of Birding as done by Team Zeiss in May of 2010.

Next year I hope to have an iPhone 4G and even better apps. (I also hope, of course, that AT&T will have improved service throughout New Jersey, though I have to say, there were very very few places where I could not tweet!) In hindsight, and maybe foresight if the technology does not change much before then, I would set up a unique Posterous blog for the event, and post everything there, with auto post to twitter and facebook. Of course with the 4G iPhone posting live to WordPress may be practical by then. Who knows.

Much may change by next year’s running of the World Series of Birding. Team Zeiss is already committed to doing it again…for conservation…and for the fun of it…and I plan to be there, making the best use of Social Media I can, to give those who can not be there a ground level view of the World Series of Birding. As it happens. In real time.

Which is one thing, certainly, the Social Web can do better than any other tool we have ever had to work with. It can only get better.

Maybe I can take pledges: So much per tweet for conservation. That will make the birds happy. 🙂

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Written by singraham

May 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm

How the lowly Netbook forever changed the laptop game!

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Just over a year ago I wrote my first post here on Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights. That was just after buying my third Netbook. Yes, you read that right: third.

I bought an EEE PC within a few weeks of first release, in November of 2007: the Linux version (Windows XP was not even an option at that point) with the 7 inch, 800×600 screen and the 4Gig SSD. I loved it. It was so tiny, and so fast, and I had a blast finding apps to do all the things I wanted to do with it. Linux apps. GIMP. LightZone. (I am a photographer.) Open Office. FireFox and Thunderbird. It was fun.

However, it would not run Lightroom, and I really, really depend on Lightroom. I could not even find anything close on Linux. GIMP and LightZone were able editors, if idiosyncratic, but there simply was not a capable image cataloging system for the Linux OS…not that I found anyway. Still, I was hooked on the Netbook form factor: so portable, so handy…but I wanted it to be able to do the day-in/day-out stuff I do on a laptop while traveling. So when I saw a EEE PC 900 16G with XP on sale at Best Buy one day, for not much more than I had paid for my 7 inch Linux machine six months before, on impulse (or because I really really needed to run Lightroom), I bought it. Great little machine. One of the last with a Celeron processor but lots of room on that 16GB SSD (or so I thought). And easily enough processing power to run Lightroom. I was a happy man.

Unfortunately, Lightroom and Windows XP, I concluded all too soon, do not like SSDs. Lightroom does a lot of writing to disk to maintain a catalog that seems to contain 4 or 5 separate files for every image you own, and within six months, the SSD simply died…just suddenly, right after a Lightroom update and a subsequent Lightroom crash, XP would no longer boot. I tried everything. To make it worse, I was on a business trip, far away from home in a strange city, as they say. I was devastated. I went into Staples to see what one of those Windows repair CDs and an external DVD drive would cost me, and there, on an end-cap, for not much more than the cost of the stuff that might or might not repair my EEE PC, (and more than $100 less than the EEE PC 900 had been just six months before), was an Acer Aspire One with Atom processor and a 120Gig HD. Yes.

You know what happened.

I loved the Acer Aspire One. It was the first of my Netbooks that really, truly did all I hoped for. It ran Lightroom, and ran it well (no more library related crashes). It ran PhotoShop Elements (though not well if you tried to have both Lightroom and PhShEl open at the same time). It played Hulu streaming TV (if you did not attempt to view full screen, and were patient with it). And, of course, it ran Office like a champ. I discovered Google Chrome about the same time, and moved my life pretty much into the cloud…inspired by having to rebuild everything from the ground up when my EEE PC had to be replaced. That experience, moving into the cloud, got me started writing Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights.

(By the way, I tried everything to resurrect that EEE PC. Reinstalled Windows. Installed Linux in several flavors. Or attempted to. The SSD kept turning up bad sectors and no OS would boot. I eventually sent it to Asus for repair and they confirmed that it was totaled, so totaled that the computer had to be replaced outright…which Asus did, after a very, very long time. I set the replacement up for my wife when it finally came back, and it has served her well: for web surfing, email, and a little light word-processing, which is all she really wants a computer for anyway.

So?

Point?

Just establishing my bonafides I guess.

It is a year later: a little over two years since the first Netbooks appeared on the market, and I have been on board the whole time. I recently, after a misfire with the HP Mini 311 ION based super-netbook (see Atom+ION: empty promise?), replaced the Aspire One with an Aspire Timeline 1810TZ, one of the first affordable thin and light, sort of, kind of, Netbooks powered by the CULV (Consumer Ultra Low Voltage) processors. It is the same size as the largest Netbooks, and priced not much above them, but, with its dual core Pentium processor and GM4500 integrated graphics, it is in a whole different class, performance wise.

I wrote an early piece here called Netbooks: too good for their own good, (which is still one of my most read pieces, every week, even a year later). That was, if you remember, just about the time all the pundits were saying that the Netbook would kill the laptop industry, and maybe bring down the whole silicon empire. Too cheap. Too limited. Too cheap.

No one, the wise commentators said, could make any serious money off them, and they would undoubtedly force down the price of conventional laptops (the bread and butter, high calorie products then keeping the industry fat) so that the makers would bankrupt themselves trying to stay in the game.

Or, others predicted, as soon as early adopters and geeks realized that these were not real computers…like you couldn’t do any real work on them or play any real games or do anything much beyond surf the net and check your email, or geekwise, install alternative OSs and hack around with hardware mods…I mean, not real computers!…once the geeks got tired of playing with the new toys and regular folks realized their limitations the Netbook would die a natural death. Early adopters’ machines would clog ebay and shoppers would return to their senses and plunk down the considerably more calories…er, cash…for a real laptop.

If, of course, any of the real laptop makers were still in business by then.

Gloom. Doom. Gloom and doom.

And look what happened!

We experienced a slight hiccup in our economy (thanks to some greedy bankers, may they enjoy their just rewards) and suddenly everyone discovered their Scottish ancestry: we all became bargain hunters, Value Conscious Consumers, thrifty even.  Not just a few, but a lot of people, literally droves of people, looked at the price/ performance ratio in the laptop market and decided “you know what, a Netbook is just fine for the computing I really do.” And weary road warriors (among whom I count myself), tired of lugging 5 pounds of ugly everywhere they went, lined up at Netbook counters to buy them. Suddenly the Netbook was all that was keeping the computer industry alive. Relative upstarts like Asus and Acer and MCI were taking significant market share from more established and more conservative companies. Acer grew to #2 in laptops purely on the strength of a single Netbook offering (the Aspire One 250), and Asus seemed intent on creating a whole new industry all on its own, releasing a bewildering array of different EEE PC models with what amounted to indecipherable numerical code names, which seemed to change month to month, sometimes day to day.

Of course everyone had to get into the game. Pretty soon you could by a Netbook from anyone you wanted…all cookie cutter similar: 10 inch, 1024×600 screen, Atom processor, 945 graphics, 1 gig ram, Windows XP on a 160Gig HD…so alike you needed a program to tell them apart, and even then, if someone scraped off the logos and turned them all lose in a mall, even their own mothers could not have sorted them. This very similarity spawned a whole blogging industry with the sole purpose of trying to discover some difference between the machines. They failed, but the blogs thrived.

Oh Sony did produce a long thin job, with an atypical Atom processor: “not at Netbook. NOT a Netbook” according to Sony, but no one was fooled, and since they forgot to price it like a netbook, the results were predictable, especially in a tanking economy.

And Apple, being Apple, decided if upstarts like Acer and Asus (who was actually still producing laptops under contract for Apple) where going to change the rules and threaten everyone’s profits, then Apple would not play at all. So there! That’ll fix you. Their answer was the Mac Air: a completely different kind of machine, thin and light, based on an all but afore mentioned ULV processor (which is CULV without the C for Consumer and the ultra long batter life) and priced slightly above current full sized laptops. No one was fooled. Okay, maybe, like, very few were fooled…well, maybe, quite a few, but nothing like the numbers buying real cookie cutter Netbooks.

And the pundits were right in at least one way. The very existence of the capable Netbook forced the prices of full-sized laptops down. Late this summer, at the nadir, you could buy a full-sized laptop with a real, if not latest and greatest and most powerful, processor, a 15 inch standard resolution screen, a couple of Gigs of ram, a decent sized hard-drive, wifi, and Vista Home for under $500…under $400…even under $300 in one memorable WalMart door-buster special. After Thanksgiving sales repeated those price-points and there are now any number of full-sized entry-level laptops regularly available in the $400 price range. They are not, in reality, much more able than a Netbook that sells for slightly less, but they are full-sized! And to date, Silicon Valley has not closed down…and the factories in China seem to keep going strong.

Within the past months also, several attempts have been made to break out of the Netbook mold at, or just above, traditional Netbook price-points. Everyone agrees that Netbook graphics leave a lot to be desired, so nVidia proposed to do something about it by pairing an Atom with their ION graphic processor for accelerated graphics. The first out the door was the HP Mini 311, mentioned above. We will see more. Whether this is actually a good idea  or not will have to wait the verdict of the consumer, but my vote, as one who does not ever play games which require 3D video effects, is already in. (Again, see here.)

The second break-mold move was inspired, of course, at least in part, by the Mac Air. Apple generally actually knows what they are doing, often foresees a market that no else knows is out there, and produces a product that no one is actually ready for…at a price very few are willing to pay…but with enough adopters so that other companies take note, come in at lower prices points with similar offerings and attempt to eat Apple’s lunch (the hyena metaphor is hard to resist here). (Other companies do not always succeed: Apple still has the magic touch…the combination of functionality, elegance, and cool that often carries the day even at substantially higher prices: take the iPod/iPhone for example.) Just substitue a Consumer Ultra Low Voltage processor (slightly slower, slightly lower voltage) for the ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) processor in the Air, slap in Windows 7 Home Premium instead of OS10, and you are good, in theory, to go.

We are seeing an increasing number of CULV machines, the best with dual core Pentium or Core2 Duo processors, 2-4 gigs of ram, generous hard drives, decent integrated graphics, and, as above, Windows 7 Home Premium (the first Windows I can actually say I have liked, which comes to me as a considerable surprise). Not all are as thin and light as the Mac Air but the ones with 11.6 and 12.1 inch, 1366×768 wide (HD, 16/9 form factor) screens and are small and light enough to just about qualify as Netbooks. And they are getting 7 to 8 hours of battery life! These little machines are, to my way of thinking, exactly what the road warriors among us have been waiting for. Priced between $500 and $600, you pay a substantially more than for a 10 inch Netbook (which are going this Christmas season for under $300) but you get a fully functional, no significant compromise (unless you are a gamer), eminently portable machine which is able to do just about anything you would want to do on the road. They run Lightroom and PhotoShop (at least Elements which is what I have on mine) as fast as a full sized laptop (faster than my 18 month old Dell). They will play HD video just fine (which my Dell will not), and even stream Hulu in high-res if you have the new beta Adobe Flash plug-in. They will even run the latest HD capable video editing apps and do a decent job of on-the-spot HD editing. And of course, Office simply flies, and your browser catches every curl and rides the pipe-line all the way to shore.

So, how did the Netbook phenomena change the laptop game?

1) it revealed a unsuspected market for good enough computing at the under $400 price point. I say unsuspected, but clearly at least Intel suspected there was some market there, or they would not have built the Celeron and Atom platforms on which the Netbook revolution is based. But I doubt even they suspected the size of the market, or how fast it would grow. Because of the Netbook, millions of people around the world (okay, mostly in developed countries, but we are trying here) have entered the computer age for the first time. Millions have discovered the internet: social networks, email, and Hulu who otherwise would have still been closed out of the cloud. Life is good!

2)  To remain competitive, computer companies have had to reposition their full-sized entry-level laptops, which, honestly, had always been designed for not much more than good enough computing and were always ridiculously overpriced. They are now priced where they belong…where the average householder who just needs a computer for the internet, taxes, iTunes and Hulu can justify buying one…and families can seriously consider getting one for each of their children. This gives consumers two good enough options: a full-sized, affordable laptop, or a slightly smaller, slightly less expensive, but still able Netbook. Life is good!

3) Turns out, a portion of Netbook users and buyers actually intended to do real work on the machines. They bought them because they were the first really affordable portable alternative to the full-sized laptop. Remember, two years ago the makers were charging a $1000 premium for a screen under 13 inch…and that was on top of the $1000 entry point for any laptop. The Netbook, along with the Mac Air, demonstrated that there was a market among mobile professionals and serious students for fully capable, small, light, thin laptop at an affordable price. The Mac Air proved the concept. The Netbook provided the price-point. And the makers have responded with affordable CULV machines that make the heart of any road warrior beat a little faster, and have seriously mobile students salivating. Life is good! And it is only going to get better as this new class of machines heats up, and competition gets more intense, and the machines get even better. Imagine a CULV machine with discrete graphics. Oh, wait, that would be the Mac Air…but I really meant an affordable CULV machine with discrete graphics. Then, for most consumers, life will be really good.

4) Netbooks kept Windows XP alive until MicroSoft was forced to develop Windows 7, and to develop it intelligently as one of the largest live tested efforts in recent memory. Life is, OS wise, good!

But what, you ask, does the future hold for Netbooks? Will they survive in the face of just slightly more able full-sized laptops at the same price-point? Will they survive in the face of way more able, but slightly more expensive CULV machines the same size and weight? Clearly Intel thinks they will, or they would not be developing Pinetrail.

Me, I have my doubts. Certainly there will continue to be a market for small, portable, good enough computers with great battery life, but I suspect it will not continue to grow (explode) as the Netbook market has over the past two years. A lot of potential Netbook buyers will opt for the larger screen of the full-sized entry-level laptop, as long a prices remain comparable, even if they pay a bit more. And I see the CULV machines sucking off all of the mobile professional and student market. Why would any road warrior buy a Netbook when, for a few hundred dollars more (but still way less than a compact laptop of two years ago) you can a real portable computer, with a real processor, enough memory, storage, and power to completely replace your full sized work laptop. Even mobile photographers and videographers have to think about size and weight when traveling these days. The CULV platform, with decent 1366×768 screen, simply makes a lot of sense.

But no matter! The point is that the lowly Netbook has, all on its own, completely revolutionized the laptop game…the game will never be the same, and life is, in my humble opinion, a better for it.

Or at least that’s what I think.

Written by singraham

December 17, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Blossom: Smugmug browser for iPhone

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blnameBlossom is an example of what the iPhone and app store do really well. This is an app with a very limited and targeted appeal: only of interest to those who both own an iPhone(or an  iPod Touche), and who use Smugmug as a photo sharing/storage site. Smugmug provides its own browser based app for looking at your galleries and images from the iPhone, but, honestly, it is not very good. It is slow, and somewhat awkward to use. For instance, once you have chosen an image in the mid-sized gallery view to open full screen, and you open it, there is no way back to your gallery or to the gallery index. You have to close the app and start over, and since it does not save it’s position on close, it has to download your gallery list all over again. Slow. Awkward. Usable, but barely.

blindexAlong comes Blossom. Fast. Efficient. It has your gallery list in seconds and opens a gallery as a thumbnail table in a very short time considering. The first images load almost instantaneously, and as you scroll down to view more, you will see the blossom icon being replaced by thumbnails about as fast as you can expect any internet dependent program to go.

blthumbsWhen you chose a thumbnail it opens in a viewer that has both portrait and landscape views, and which moves image to image with a sideways flick. If you go more than a few images to either side, you will get the loading message, but even here, with full page images,  it is acceptably fast.

Blossom also integrates with several Twitter clients to allow posting of images with tweets (currently Tweetie, TwitterFon, and Twitterific, with more to be added). You can also email the image with the built in email interface.

Blossom only does a very limited number of things, and is only really useful if you use smugmug…but if you share and store on smugmug, Blossom is a must have app. A perfect example of the kind of tightly targeted apps possible on the App Store. $2.99 and worth every cent.

blimage

blopt

Written by singraham

July 19, 2009 at 11:43 am

Twitbit: first approved Twitter client with Push (by a hair)

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twbpushIn my review of the 2.0 beta of SimplyTweet I said it would be the first Twitter client with real Push Notification…unless the App Store approval process fouled it up. Well, of course, given the vageries of the process, SimplyTweet 2.0 is still pending and here we have Twitbit claiming the title.

Sort of.

[Note. Sign of the times. SimplyTweet 2.0 was approved less than 12 hours after I posted this!]

iTweetReply was technically the first Twitter client with full Push Notification out the door, but it is a very limited Twitter Client…so limited that most Tweeps who have ever used another client on the iPhone would find it very limiting.

And actually, while Twitbits is closer to being a client you might use for most of your Twitter needs, it is still, despite offering multiple twitter accounts, very limited in comparison the the rich feature sets we have come to expect in iPhone Twitter clients. If your Twittering is of the most basic kind, and you don’t require much more than the ability to view your timeline, reply, retweet, DM, follow, and unfollow then it might work for you…especially if you really feel the need for Push. Push works well in Twitbit, with all the standard notification options: badges, alerts, and sounds.

Twitbit also has trends and basic search functionality (but no saved searches), easy access to your profile and those of your friends, and the ability to drill down to follower’s followers. You can upload pics to Twitpics, and it has an in-line browser for links. It uses the same one-tweet-back-at-a-time view of @ in a conversation chain as Tweetie (and Twitter.com for that matter). It caches tweets locally so you can view past tweets without an Internet connection.

What it does not have is landscape composition mode, saved searches, groups, the ability to email a tweet or a link, choice of image sharing services, access to your friends list from within the compositon box for @s or DMs, themes, audio or video features, etc., etc. The power user features.

Not that they won’t come. This is first effort, perhaps even a little rushed to win the first with push crown (the initial release did not have an easy way to send a Direct Message or any way to Retweet…a new version with those features has already been submitted to the App Store and hopefully will not be delayed so long that Twitbit loses its street cred as the first Push app). This review and the screen shots is based on the 1.0.1 Beta. I am certain, as the web page for Twitbit promises, that more features will be added as the app matures. They have a good start here.

twbtimetwbtweettwbpro2

So…if Push is a must have in a Twitter Client for you, take a look at Twitbit. A solid little client. However, definitely wait for version 1.0.1 to make it through the approval process…and who knows, SimplyTweet and any number of other new clients with Push may be available in the App Store by then. Competition is good. Good for those of us who use the apps for sure.

Written by singraham

July 17, 2009 at 11:56 am

Twittelator Pro update

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Twittelator_crNo. Not Push.

That said though there is a new version of Twittelator Pro on the App Store today. Just an ungrade in the second decimal place: 3.0 to 3.0.1 but some significant improvements, no the less.

From Twittelator News.

Features in Version 3.0.1:

• Choose separate upload services for Audio, Video and Photos

• 5 alert sounds including hawk, cuckoo, kiwi and kookaburra

• Support for offline tweeting of audio and video

• Copy big avatar/photo option (for paste into new tweet)

• User Detail now shows the date a user joined twitter

• Following Map links opens the Maps interface

• Snapshots are automatically saved to your Photos library

• Uploading media continues on relaunch if you quit during upload

• ReadItLater links now display the tweet that originated the link

• DM button is hidden if Tweeter is not following you

(and thus couldn’t get a DM from you)

• Send Button moved safely to the top of Phone!

• Return key just inserts returns

• Developer API for sending messages and push notifications

Fixed:

– If you quit while uploading media, it’s resent on next launch

– My Profile -> Search -> result, tap avatar, works again

– Avatar -> Tweets -> More works again

– Unlimited number of accounts

– Saving a photo by clearing works now

– Some occasional crashers fixed includingTweetShrink issue

– Changing trends is more responsive

All this and what appears to me to be an overall improvement in responsiveness. Opening the compose box is faster. Loading the program is faster. etc.

For the absolute power user, there is still no match for Twittelator Pro. Most complete feature set hands down. The only full fledged Twitter client with full multi-media posting. Not the prettiest or the most intuitive user interface going, but you can get used to it.

As soon as the new version of Boxcarclears the App Store, you will even be able to have Push with Twittelator Pro (though at the price of buying an additional program).


Written by singraham

July 17, 2009 at 7:07 am

Managing Social Aggravation on the iPhone and Desktop

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Seesmic Desktop Preview, feedalizer, zensify, Darkslide, Mobile Foto (with Tweetie and TwitterFon thrown in the mix) and a brief encounter with PeopleBrowser.

Seesmic Desktop Preview: Twitter accounts and Facebook in one app.

Seesmic Desktop Preview: Twitter accounts and Facebook in one app.

In this day of multiple social networks and multiple social network personalities, the task of keeping up with your Facepeeps, Tweeps, and Flickr buds can be daunting,  even for the least social.

And then too, many of us are multiple device folks: desktop, laptop, netbook, internet connected smartphone, etc., etc. so we are often tracking our networks from two or three directions at once.

Of course there are several good desktop and iPhone clients for Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr…in various combinations.

My favorite for  Twitter and Facebook is Seesmic Desktop Preview, which handles multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, updates, replies/comments, friend/news feeds, follow and unfollow on Twitter, and most of the essential features of both sites. It is still a work in progress (it lacks the ability to view your own friend/follow list for instance), but it is excellent already and only stands to get better as it develops.

Recently I discovered zensify on the iPhone. zensify is a social network aggregater  that puts my Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr feeds in the same list on the same app, and allows me to update, reply, comment, etc. on each of them, with more or less ease.

Twitter interaction is pretty good, on a basic level, mimicking closely the functionality of  other iPhone Twitter apps like Tweetie and TwitterFon. You can choose to Reply or Direct Message. You can post images.

zensify: one stop social aggreation for the iPhone

zensify: one stop social aggreation for the iPhone

Flickr interaction is very good also. zensify displays single or multiple new image posts from your contacts list, and at it also captures images with new comments. In cases where there are multiple images opening the viewer provides a slide show effect where you can flip through the offerings. To comment you have to tap the image (lower right corner seems to work best) and the Flickr .m site opens with the image displayed. Commenting is quick and easy and relatively fast.

Facebook interaction is the weakest so far (though there are hints they are not done with this section).  It collects your friend’s status updates just fine, and you can view them the viewer, and like them, but to make a comment (so far) you have to open the friend’s profile in the browser. Awkward.

One good feature is that you can make simultaneous posts to Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, there is a whole layer of functionality provided by dedicated clients for these networks that is missing so far in zensify. You can not view followers/friends, follow or friend, unfollow or block, view friend’s/follower’s timelines, view follower’s followers, see the update that was replied to, etc. etc.

zensify takes a while to aggregate all that information too, and clearly strains the limits of what current iPhone hardware is capable of.

Therefore, wonderful as it is being able to interact with all my important social networks in a single app, zensify will not be replacing Tweetie or TwitterFon for Twitter, or the Facebook app for Facebook until it reaches a more complete level of development (and maybe not until I upgrade to a new iPhone).

But that leaves me without an easy means of keeping up with my flickr account. I can easily fall 400 images behind on my contact’s submissions if I am away from the netbook for more than a few hours!

Darkslide: list view, Mobile Foto: grid view of contact's recent images

Darkslide: list view, Mobile Foto: grid view of contact's recent images

I have had the free, ad supported, version of Darkslide on my iPhone for some time, but never gotten into the habit of using it. After zensify I gave it another try and liked it so well, I ended up buying the paid version.

Darkslide implements the full feature set of Flickr, including image uploads, groups, sets, etc. etc. but for me the best part is that it  gives you quick easy access to your contacts’ recent posts, with an excellent viewer and easy commenting and is just the thing for keeping up with the image flow on the iPhone.

Unfortunately Darkside has two annoying habits. 1) when you reopen it, it stalls and refuses to reload whatever you were viewing last until you manually initiate a reload by tapping, for instance, My Photos if you are in Contacts, and then retapping Contacts. Annoying! Then too, Darkside is evidently working without a parachute (no local cache) so it has to reload everything every time you work with it. That can take a while if you have a lot of contacts, and forever if you have a lot of images yourself. Annoying. (Interestingly there is a Cache size readout in Settings, but it is always blank.) [Note: v 1.6.1 (current in the app store) is apparently broken in several ways, prone to crashing, and to hanging up internally when switching functions. The company is aware of the problem and working on a fix.]

Which lead me to search for alternatives. Mobile Fotos presents itself as a full featured Flickr client, and it is just that. Since it does cache locally, it is much faster than Darkslide, and it auto reloads on launch. I do not like the way it displays Contacts’ images quite as well as Darkslide, which groups multiple images from a single contact together under the contacts name in a list view, and it has one glaring omission (shocking!): there is no Activity function to look at activity on your own images.

Which lead me back to Flickr’s own m.flickr.com site, which is, afterall, very good. Not as fast as Mobile Foto, but in many ways the layout, look and feel, is just about as elegant as Darkslide (except no dark background view of images!!!, and the new postings are not grouped by contact), and it actually works better than the standard web version in that it returns to the actual page of contacts you were commenting on when you complete a comment…rather than poping all the way back to the first page of contacts’ images. For now, it might just be the easiest, fastest, way to keep up with contacts’ new postings.

zensify did make me wonder about developments in similar functionality for the desktop. FriendFeed I find somewhat limited from the interactive aspects, and I don’t enjoy being tied to my browser, but the availability of Adobe AIR has spawned quite a few social aggregation desktop apps beyond Seesmic Desktop.

You may have seen postings around the net for PeopleBrowser. People browser looks to be the ultimate be all and end all for social networking: once it is finished. Though a beta was announced this week, all I can find is the most recent alpha, which shows the potential. Unfortunately it appears unnecessairly complex and seems to produce inconsistent results at best. I will be tracking development on this one but it does not seem ready for prime time yet.

feedalizr: one stop desktop social aggregater

feedalizr: desktop social aggregation

feedalizr is an older, more mature app that looks like it might have been the inspiration for zensify.

Functionally they are much the same. You set up your accounts and then feedalizr aggregates them into one list. Filters are provided so you can see just what you want in the primary list, and you can open all kinds of things (other accounts, individual tweeps or Facepeeps, groups, searchs, etc.) in tabs beside the primary list. So far, I have not found a way to show new images of those who are not classifed as Flickr friends…all my contacts are missing.

Interaction with the various networks, updates, image posts, comments, replies, etc.  is pretty easy and works well, with pop down posting boxes, drag and drop for images for Twitter and Facebook, and image titling, tagging and description fields for Flickr uploads (up to 10 images at a time).

As with zensify, feedalizr appears to lack the second layer of functionality for Twitter and Facebook: friend/follow, unfollow, etc. (You can do these things but it kicks you out to the main Twitter site or Facebook to do them.) It does have a groups feature which is quick and easy (or was, until it mysteriously stopped working for me).

So, just as on the iPhone, the all in one solution on the desktop does not seem to be quite there. Seesmic Desktop still comes closest, but lacks the Flickr feed.

And I have yet to find an equivalent for Darkslide or Mobile Foto on the desktop. There is an Adobe AIR program called DestroyFlickr which attempts to be the equivalent for the desktop, but it will not run well on my netbook’s 1024×600 screen (AIR seems to still have trouble with windows).

The upstart of all this is…with the really strong social networking apps on the iPhone, it is getting to be more fun, and faster, to track my networks on the phone than it is on the netbook. This does not, somehow, seem right, but there it is!

iBird Explorer Pro

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iBird Explorer Pro

iBird Explorer Pro

[This review is for the Pro version, for the Plus version, go here.]

iBird Explorer Pro is a app for the iPhone/iPod Touch with references for 891 species of birds found in North America. It is, so far, totally unique (apart from its iBird siblings, more on that later) as an interactive field guide (with songs and calls), exhaustive reference, and powerful search engine for iPhone/Touch carrying birders in the field. It is, in fact, pretty much unique as interactive, reference on any platform, and just maybe, the most unique and useful field accessory you are ever likely to see.

Browse screens: notice keyword hints!

Browse screens: notice keyword hints!

I have reviewed two previous versions of iBird Explorer Plus (original and the v1.4.1 update) in a sort of incremental way. Pro marks enough of a departure to warrant a whole new review. (iBird Plus and the regional apps will continue to be upgraded with new content and features appropriate to their serious birder audience, but Pro will acquire a feature set which is more appropriate for the professional guide, teacher, mentor, citizen scientist, ornithologist, or field biologist.)

In general, iBird Explorer Pro provides, for each of its 891 species, instant access to:
1 ) one or more detailed illustrations
2 ) an audio recording of songs and calls
3 ) a range map
4 ) a basic description of identifying features and associated habitats
5 ) what amounts to a complete life-history, which includes detailed descriptions of individual body parts, descriptions of habit, range, feeding and foraging, nesting, etc., etc.
6 ) a few interesting or unique facts and factoids about the species.
7 ) lists of, and live links to, similar species
8 ) one or more (often several) supplemental photographs
9 ) conservation status based on the IUCN/Bird Life International ratings
10 ) instant links to every photograph published on Flickr of the species (requires wifi or 3G)
11 ) an instant link to the Wikipedia article for the bird (requires wifi or 3G).
12 ) and a large version of the primary illustration which can be zoomed in to study detail.

The illustrations pages

The illustrations pages

You can browse the species listing sorted alphabetically by first name (common names, Yellow-rumped for Yellow-rumped Warbler), or by last name (Warbler for Yellow-rumped Warbler). (Note that typing in Warbler does not pull up all the warblers, only those with Warbler as their last name. Painted Redstart, for instance, would not included in the species found by the keyword “warbler”. To find all Warblers you could do a search by family in the search section, see below, or use browse by Family, also just below.) In standard iPhone fashion, a quick index on the side of the page allows you to jump directly to any letter, or to scroll quickly through the letters. You can also view and browse by Families (as in all Wood Warblers), sorted in in the order they appear in on the American Ornithological Union check-list.

Range Map, Sounds, Similar

Range Map, Sounds, Similar

You can type all or part of a common name in the keyword field, or you can enter the “/” character and the 4 letter banding code, or “&” and the Scientific Name, and iBird will locate the species or group of species for you.

Tapping any species name in the browse pages will open the species (bird) screen with a scrolling (left and right) two-row set of info buttons at the bottom. Here you select from illustrations (Bird), Sounds (little speaker icon), Range, Identity, Photos, Similar, Facts, Birdipedia or (scrolling right) Favorites, Ecology, Flickr, or Portrait (all of which correspond to the information listed above.)

Photo, Flickr, Conservation

Photo, Flickr, Conservation

On top of all that, iBird Explorer Pro also has a built in search engine which can sort the included 891 species by:
1 ) Location (multiple settings possible)
2 ) Shape
3 ) Size
4 ) Habitat (multiple settings possible)
5 ) Primary Color (multiple settings possible)
6 ) Secondary Color (multiple settings possible) (Both primary and secondary color setting require care. If you specify two or more incomputable colors you will end up with no matches.)
7 ) Backyard Feeders (yes or no)
8 ) Family
9 ) Bill shape
10 ) Bill length
11 ) Head pattern
12 ) Crown Color
13 ) Wing Shape
14 ) Flight pattern
15 ) Conservation status
16 ) Song
17 ) Song pattern
18 ) Observed status in a particular state in a particular month (based on actual sightings records)

Song Search

Song Search

The search process is fast and efficient, and, in my experience, very accurate. While some (maybe most) experienced birders may prefer to use the sorting engine they have developed over years of field experience in their own brains, the search engine in iBird Explorer Pro will teach beginning and growing birders some good ID skills (at the very least what features to look for, and at the most, the most likely species to display them). It is also very useful when someone walks up with one of those “I saw a bird in my backyard the other day, and it was this big, and blue, and…” stories. Instead so smiling tolerantly (or superiorly, depending on who you are), and then making a series of inspired guesses (or shaking your head and walking away, again, depending), you can now enter the features as they are mentioned, ask pertinent questions

Global and app settings

Global and app settings (French currenly, Spanish and German planned)

(where is your backyard, what kind of habitat does it provide, did you notice the color of the crown, shape and length of the bill, etc, etc.) and end up with a small (hopefully) list of birds you can actually show them on the spot…and even play back the songs if they heard the bird sing. (You may answer some questions and spark some interest in birds and birding, but one thing I guarantee you will do, is sell quite a few copies of iBird, and maybe a few iPhones as well.)

So let us answer the question on many minds right now: how is Pro different from Plus? There is a feature table here.

In a nutshell, Plus lacks Song search, obvious band code and scientific name keywording (hint), search by month/state, the Ecology page (and search by Conservation Status), the full sized portrait, and the foreign language option. That’s it. All other features are there (even if some are not immediately obvious (hint):).

Portrait View

Portrait View

Is that worth the $10 difference? Maybe not, for some, but we are told that the differences will become more profound as more professional features are added to Pro.

The intention, according to the iBird folks, is to create a feature set for Plus that suits the needs of the average advanced birder, and to create a feature set for Pro that meets the needs of the professional, with professional being, in my interpretation, loosely defined as the group mentioned above.

Many even serious birders will find the features of Plus (and the regional variations) to be completely adequate. If you are among them, I don’t think you have to fear that there will be a time when you suddenly need a feature from Pro and have to buy the new program. Put down your $19,99 and be happy. Your app will continue to develop along the existing lines. On the other hand, if you are a professional guide, teacher, mentor, citizen scientist, ornithologist, or field biologist, who needs the Pro features now, you can be assured that more Pro level features are coming to Pro in the future. And if you are not sure, or you are just the kind of birder who has to have the most advanced tools, then just pay the $10 extra up front and be happy.

For those who already own Plus, it is a harder decision. Is there a feature of Pro that you can’t live without? Then go for it now. Pro will only get better. On the other hand, if you don’t find a compelling reason to buy a new app (Pro) to replace your existing Plus, then stay with Plus. It too will only get better.

In this, of course, we are kind of at the mercy of the Mitch Waite Group and their decisions about what constitutes a serious (Plus) feature and what constitutes a Pro feature. In the current split, I could argue strongly that Song search should be a Plus feature, not necessarily a Pro feature. In fact I plan to do so, via the new iBird Explorer discussion forum the iBird folks just put up. By the evidence so far, the Mitch Waite Group listens carefully to user feedback and feature requests in making these kinds of decisions.

State and Month Search

State and Month Search

And consider this: either program is a bargain at the price. To duplicate the content it would cost many times as much. The search features simply can not be duplicated.

And finally, the upgrade controversy. No there is no way, currently, for a Plus user to upgrade to Pro, other than buying the new program at the full price. There should be, but with the App Store system, which is totally under Apple’s control, there is not. This should change sometime after June when iPhone OS 3.0 becomes available, but it is really up to Apple, and until then…

You have choices. Need Pro. Buy it. Even if you have Plus. After all, even if you add the two prices together, it is still a bargain. If you can live without the features of Pro, do so. For now. Upgrade only when you have to. (And maybe by then there will be an upgrade path?? Who knows?)

(To be fair, I have three National Geo guides sitting on my shelf, one of each recent edition, and two copies of guides by Kenn Kaufman which only differ by the composition of the cover. I did not expect the publishers of those guides to upgrade my guide when a new edition, or an improved cover, came out. I did not even, come to think of it, as for a rebate, or a credit for already owning a copy. I just went out and bought the new guide. And no printed guide has ever promised, as iBird does, continuous upgrades of the content. (Oh there was that page for Sibely you were supposed to tape into your book…but you know what I mean.))

The bottom line here is that iBird Explorer Plus/Pro is an absolute must have app for any iPhone/iPod Touch owner who is even moderately intersted in birds. Plus for the moderate. Pro for the, well, for the not so moderate. For the avid birder, what can I say? Buy iBird Explorer. In fact, buy an iPhone if you have to, to run it on. With apps like iBird Explorer you will never regret the investment.

Written by singraham

March 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm