Saturday, 24 May 2008

After my TwitterBerry review (it’s only O.K.), a friend suggested trying TinyTwitter by…well…TinyTwitter it seems. You can get it for Windows Mobile Pocket PC, Windows Mobile Smartphone, as well as older and newer Java enabled smartphones (MIDP 1.0 and 2.0).

This one seems to have gotten almost everything right. The main screen is your friend timeline. It shows them in reverse chronological order (newest at the top) with their respective icons and it shows the whole tweet. Moving between messages is easy, just scroll down the list to work backwards in time — no selecting necessary. In fact, if you select the message, it will show you a details screen, but you’ll find that everything was right there on the main screen in the first place.

Sending a reply is easy too. Just highlight the message, pop up the menu (with either select or the menu key on my Blackberry Pearl), and choose reply. It automatically fills in the @username part and you’re good to go.

The entry screen is otherwise straightforward. What more do you need than a place to type your message and hit send? There are two things I would like to see and really they’re just minor changes:

  1. When replying to someone else’s tweet, put the cursor after their @username so you can just start typing. It’s annoying to have to scroll over first. One could argue that leaving the cursor at the start makes it easy to fill in an instruction (d for direct message, follow or nofollow to control your friends list, etc.), but 99% of the time I’m not doing that. Generally replies are intended not only for whom they are directed, but the “room” at large.
  2. Add a character counter. The first line on the update screen only says “What are you doing?” (the ever-present Twitter question); there’s plenty of space to add a character counter so you know how much space you have left. Or use some of the other screen real estate, it’s not like 140 characters is going to fill things up.

The settings are easy to access and fairly straightforward. I’m not sure why there isn’t one “settings” area with sub-sections like most Blackberry applications, but the full menu is only a tiny annoyance. In the UI Settings you can turn on/off images, tell TinyTwitter to play a sound when you get a new direct message, and disable the last tweet ticker at the bottom of the main screen.

Under Sync Settings, there are similarly few choices. Just how often you want TinyTwitter to fetch updates. Never, 4 (the programmer’s favorite), 15, 30, or 60 minutes. I’d like to see this become more flexible, allowing for any user-selectable time here.

Finally there’s a section for Font Settings where the choices are small, medium, and large. Not that this choice actually seems to do anything. I haven’t experimented enough to see if this is an artifact of my overall Blackberry settings (I tend to use a pretty small font) or just something goofy about TinyTwitter, but I can live with it.

The final weird thing is that direct messages don’t show up in your friend timeline, but rather you have to go to a special screen called “Inbox” to see them. The Inbox also shows any replies sent your way via the normal @username thing. Kind of strange, but I can live with it.

It may seem like I’m nit-picking TinyTwitter to death, and perhaps I am, but it comes from love. In just a few days I’ve grown to really like TinyTwitter and would highly recommend it. At least on my Blackberry it completely kicks Twitterberry’s butt. That whole IM and RSS reader combo thing I was doing before? What on earth was I thinking!

Monday, 19 May 2008

I was headed to a friend’s house Sunday afternoon, driving West along 40th Ave in Woodbury, and it was in this middle-of-nowhere location that I came close to death. Much closer than I could ever be comfortable with.

40th is a two-lane road that is straight, flat, and open, with a 55 MPH speed limit. You can see what’s coming a mile ahead, easy. There are some groupings of trees here and there, but they’re set back from the road by 30-40 feet.

It was shortly after 1 PM and the sky was clear. Not being completely familiar with that section of road, I was doing a little under the speed limit. I saw the SUV pull up to the stop sign at a cross-street roughly 1000 feet ahead. They had a stop sign, I did not, so there was no reason for me to slow down very much.

Unless, of course, the SUV decides to enter the intersection…then stop half-way through completely blocking my side of the road. The driver either hadn’t bothered to look or didn’t see me. I’m thinking didn’t look, because I saw them pull up to the intersection and stop in the first place. Doesn’t matter, because there was no way they could have cleared the intersection before I got there.

When they pulled out I had less than 300 feet before reaching the intersection. That’s .06 mile — well under 1/10th mile. 300 feet until disaster. 300 feet from death. 50 MPH is roughly 73 feet per second, so 300 feet goes by in just a hair over 4 seconds. 4 seconds to realize what’s happening, evaluate options, and execute what you hope is the best choice. The 60-0 braking distance on my car is around 120 feet. That’s half the time I had before meeting with what seemed certain disaster.

That’s 2 seconds from death.

Luckily time stood still. I slammed on the brakes, swerved around the front end of the SUV, then punched it to get back my own side of the road before someone else came along. If I had a passenger, they could have reached out to touch the SUV’s front-end on the way by.

I have no idea why the SUV stopped. If they hadn’t, or if there had been a car coming the opposite direction, people would have died — not the least of which would have been me. There would have been no way to avoid it.

I don’t mind the occasional test of my car’s handling capabilities, but I’d rather do so on my own terms and without the involvement of anyone else on the road.

Thankfully the final 5 minutes of my journey passed without further incident, but I had to sit for 15 minutes just to stop shaking.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Just today I finally thought to look for a Blackberry app to do twitter updates. A quick Google search brought me to Twitterberry by Orangatame (http://www.orangatame.com/) so I decided to give it a go. Until now I had been using a combination of Twitter’s Gtalk interface and Newsclip, my RSS reader of choice.

Twitterberry has potential, but it’s not quite there yet.

The friend timeline has a nice layout that shows people’s icons and is a handy interface to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show the whole message either on-screen or when the individual tweet is highlighted. You have to select the message (just hit the select button or press enter), but then there isn’t a way to move between messages. It’s back to the list, then pick the next one to read. At least you can do replies and direct messages right from that list.

The update screen (where you write your own tweets) is straightforward. Just a blank screen and a character counter– something my IM client doesn’t do.

The config is minimalist. Just user name and password. The software doesn’t even auto-retrieve timeline updates, which is a big disappointment.

Another irritation is that Twitterberry doesn’t do anything to keep track of where in the stream you last fetched and download everything since then. It also only shows the last 20 updates, which is a major bummer when you follow more than a couple people and they tweet even a modest amount.

Overall, it’s not bad, but there is much room for improvement. It’s not even a 1.0 version (0.6 actually) and it’s free, so I can’t really complain too much. It will be interesting to see where Twitteberry goes in the future.

Updated 2345 PM: expanded the review slightly to include a couple extra notes.