December 03, 2009

TweetDeck 0.32 and Twitter lists

The new TweetDeck, v0.32 released a couple of days ago, supports Twitter lists. Even better, it is moving to using lists instead of its own “groups” for organising your twitter stream. This makes synchronising Tweetdeck columns across multiple machines trivially easy. A great improvement. Or so I thought…

It turns out that Twitter lists have a feature I hadn’t spotted, that affects the visibility of @replies. Normally, if somebody in your twitter stream sends a reply to another user, you get to see that reply if you are also following the other user. If you are not following them, you don’t see the reply. It didn’t used to be this way, and there was a big fuss from lots of people (including me) when it changed, but I’m used to it now, and I don’t imagine it ever changing back. I’ve even been glad of the behaviour occasionally!

Anyway, back to lists. When you are viewing a list’s twitter stream (i.e. the tweets posted by people on the list) you only see replies if they are to somebody else also on the list. That kind of makes sense if you are following somebody else’s list, but makes no sense of you are using your own lists to organise the people you follow. It especially makes no sense when using TweetDeck to organise people you follow into columns.

To be clear, with TweetDeck’s groups, when ever somebody I followed replied, I saw that reply if they replied to somebody else I followed. Even if I put the other person in a different group/column in TweetDeck. That’s the behaviour I want and expect. By converting my TweetDeck groups into twitter lists and building columns based on those, even though the people in the list-based columns are the same as those in the groups-based columns, I start missing replies. This is a bad thing.

Am I wrong about this? Is there something I’ve misunderstood? What’s the best way of fixing it?

For now, I’ve gone back to group-based columns in TweetDeck and will stay there until this issue is sorted out…

Wind–up bicycle lights…

Writing about web page

I don’t often get approached to review stuff on this blog, but just like buses sometimes requests come in all at once! Just last week I was asked if I wanted to try out the POWERplus Swallow Wind Up Front and Rear Bicycle Light Set.

This is a combination front and rear light set powered by a wind-up mechanism – no batteries required. I confess I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic at first. I’ve used wind-up torches and head-lights before and never been very impressed. OK for emergencies, perhaps, but a bike light is a critical piece of safety equipment and it really needs to work. When I got the device the specifications didn’t make me feel much better about it – 1 minute of winding gives 8 minutes of light in constant mode and 18 in flashing mode. 8 minutes isn’t long enough for my commute at its shortest.

Anyway, I fitted the set to my bike and gave it a go. I have two front lights already, one a 1W LED light which I run in constant mode, and a smaller 3-LED flasher. I don’t have the handlebar space for a third so I used the POWERplus to replace the flasher. I also have two rear lights already, but could mount the new rear as a third. I quite like the design. The rear light mounts to the seat post or, in my case, the seat stay, and is connected by cable (clipped along the top tube in my case) to the bracket for the front light. The front light is removable, while the rear stays attached. A single switch on the front light controls both lights, so both are either constant, flashing or off. I’d quite like to have the rear constant and the front flashing, but that’s just me.

In use I was pleasantly surprised. The rear light isn’t hugely bright but I have two other lights on the back of my bike and one more certainly can’t hurt. The front light surprised me by being brighter than I expected. It also lasted longer than the specifications suggested. I’ve given it a 60 second wind and had 10 minutes or more of constant light plus a similar amount of flashing time from it. This suggests the internal battery isn’t fully charged by the quoted 1 minute wind and there was some residual charge in the battery before I started. Maybe winding for longer will get you more runtime? I haven’t had a chance to try that out yet.

I wouldn’t use this set as my only lights. Neither front nor rear is bright enough by itself, but as supplementary lights they work pretty well. The limited runtime, though, means you are restricted to 10-12 minutes (3 miles?) on constant or 20-ish minutes (5 miles?) flashing before you have to stop and re-charge. If your commute is shorter than that, they work pretty well, and at least you know you’ll never run out of power. If you commute further, then look elsewhere…

I’m a little concerned about the lifetime of the internal battery. Rechargeable batteries are typically rated for 500 or so charging cycles. This needs charging every time, which means at lleast once, and sometimes twice, a day for six months of the year. It won’t be too long before the battery loses capacity and those runtimes start shrinking. And you have to remember to top it up occasionally during the summer too or the battery deteriorates further. I predict in two years time this is not going to be useful any more.

If you’ve followed the link above to the web-site for the product, you’ll see it is sold by What’s the mobile phone connection? As well as being a bike light, you can also use this as a mobile phone charger! There’s a Nokia-compatible cable supplied, and adaptors for other types are available as extras. Interesting, but since I don’t have a Nokia phone I was unable to test this out.

Will I stick with this set on my bike? I suspect not. I like the idea, and if I powered my existing lights with regular alkaline cells it would (a) save me money and (b) keep a pile of batteries out of land-fill. But I already use rechargeables in all my lights and haven’t thrown out a battery in a couple of years (although some are getting to that point now). I think I’m more likely to fit it to one of my kid’s bikes. They don’t often cycle in the dark, always cycle with me anyway, and they’ll find winding up the light fun rather than irritating.

November 24, 2009

My spam count is still falling…

Follow-up to The spam keeps falling from Steve's blog

I don’t empty my gmail spam box. I rely on Google to delete stuff older than 30 days. That means the message count in there is a good way of keeping an eye on how much spam I’m being sent. A little over 12 months ago there were 1400 messages in my spam box. That’s about 47 a day. Now there are just under 1000, or 33 a day. Compared to September 2007 when I had over 6000 messages (198 a day) that’s a huge drop.

Are spam volumes falling generally, is this just a blip, or is it just me?

Gmail is speeding away from me…

Follow-up to Still catching up with gmail… from Steve's blog

It has been a while since I looked at my gmail stats. Two years ago I was using over 70% of the space allowed in a gmail account (then a little under 3GB), and although the storage allowance was increasing my usage of it was increasing more quickly. I was catching up.

Two years on, I’m down to 44% usage. I’ve got over a GB more stuff in there (3.2GB in total now) but the allowance has gone up to over 7GB. Gmail is pulling away again…

I guess storage is cheap, and Google now have a better idea of how its users use the storage allocation so they can afford to offer much more storage to people knowing that most won’t take advantage of it.

November 23, 2009

Wine boxes grow up?

Writing about web page

I’m not a big wine drinker. I like a glass now and then, but rarely more than two. And the others in my household drink wine even less often. And that presents us with a problem. Drinking a whole bottle before it goes off. I can make myself drink a bottle in two days, but would much prefer to take longer. But even my unsophisticated palate can tell that by then the wine is no longer at its best. The solution to that has always seemed like a wine box, which should let the wine keep for a bit longer since it isn’t exposed to the air when you pour, but wine boxes always seem to contain wine people often describe as “plonk”. Again, even my unsophisticated palate tends to prefer something a little more upmarket.

A few weeks ago I found out about FRESHCASE – a new style of wine box with a better quality of wine inside. Even better, I was given the opportunity to try one out. Better still, when the delivery arrived there were two in the box, one red and one white.

Before I go on, I should point out that I didn’t pay for these, and unlike the mobile phones I occasionally review here I didn’t have to give the wine back afterwards:-) These boxes sell for £17.99 each, for a box containing the equivalent of 3 bottles. Tesco currently sell the same wine for £7.25 a bottle, so that’s the first benefit.

As you’d expect, as soon as the delivery arrived I opened and tried both boxes. The wine is as good as any other at that price point. Not exceptional, to be fair, but that’s not the point. As it turns out, I was almost immediately struck down by a cold/flu thing that kept be off work for a while and off wine for a while longer. Both boxes sat around untouched for a couple of weeks, and I’m still drinking my way through them now, four weeks later. Both red and white have survived pretty well so far. The white, of course, is being kept in the fridge which I’m sure helps it. The red isn’t, and still tastes fine to me. I expect both will be gone by the end of this week, five weeks or so after opening.

So, three bottles of wine in a box that lets it keep for at least 5 weeks – 6 according to the blurb on the box. That suits me perfectly. I can have a box lying around the house and just have a glass when I feel the urge, without worrying about having to finish off the rest of the bottle. Perfect.

That’s the main attraction for me, but isn’t the only benefit to wine boxes in general and the FreshCase in particular. The three bottle equivalents in one of these boxes take up very little more space than a single glass bottle, reducing transport costs, etc. And the boxes are designed to pull apart to make recyling the various pieces easier.

These are supposed to be in Sainsburys stores from last week. I didn’t see any in my local Sainsburys at the weekend, but that’s the place to look for them.

November 01, 2009

First thoughts on Twitter Lists

I’ve spent a few days now playing with the new Twitter lists and right now I’m not really sure what to make of them. At first sight the mechanism is straightforward – organise the people you follow into lists and then you can be more selective about whose tweets you read. Put the people really want to follow in a “Friends” list and you can make sure their tweets don’t get lost amongst all the others. This is a step forward for those occasions when you need to use Twitter via the web site but I rarely do that – TweetDeck’s Groups provides this functionality.

But that’s not all that the lists functionality does. You can create lists of people you don’t follow, and follow them via the list rather than your regular timeline. I’m not sure I see the point of that. Why not just follow them and use lists to control what you see when? If you consider that your “timeline” – the tweets from the people you follow – is really just another list now, the “default” list you see on your Twitter homepage, then either follow everyone or follow no one. And certainly this feature makes follower counts meaningless. Some would argue they have been all along, of course…!

You can also build lists for other people to follow. Any lists you build are public by default. But that creates a problem. If I classify my followees for my own purposes I’d end up with different lists from if I classify them for other people’s benefit. And maintaining two sets of lists seems like a lot of hard work.

Finally you can follow other people’s lists. That seemed quite attractive at first, until I realised that those lists were then out of my control and I could end up following people I don’t want to, or not following people I did want to, because control of the list membership is in somebody else’s hands. Some lists might even be deleted and I’d lose contact with everyone on them. Plus, for any given category of interest there are already lots of lists of people. They all overlap but most have their own unique members. Do I follow one list, or several? That’s just a mess. What I’m going to end up doing is looking through the members of these lists and following the people individually. I can’t see myself following many lists built by others.

Aside from all of this, there’s the impact of lists on the people included in them. How would you feel if you found yourself on somebody’s “Annoying Tweeters” list. Or if you didn’t find yourself on somebody’s “Friends” list. Or if all the lists your were on were about X and you thought of yourself as more of a Y person? Think carefully when constructing those public lists, people.

So, where does that leave me with Twitter lists? I think I’m going to end up with a single, private “Friends” list for those times when I need to use Twitter via the web interface, not bother creating any others, and probably only follow one or two lists built by others, those I consider “definitive” somehow. This really isn’t going to make a big impact on my Twitter usage.

Now I’ve only had access to lists for a few days so I could easily have got it all wrong. I know there’s a new version of TweetDeck coming along that integrates with lists. It is early days for the feature, and it could easily change as it matures. We’ll see. What do you think?

October 15, 2009

What is Google Wave?

Writing about web page

I’ve seen lots of opinions about Google Wave. “Google wave will replace email.” “Google Wave will replace instant messaging.” “Google Wave is the new Twitter.” In my opinion, none of those is true. Wave is something different from all of them.

First, though, what does Google say Wave is:

Google Wave is an online communication and collaboration tool that makes real-time interactions more seamless—in one place, you can communicate and collaborate using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Also Lars Rasmussen, one of Wave’s inventors, has said “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today.”

I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the preview system in the first round on September 30th, so I’ve now had a couple of weeks to play with it. I know quite a few other people with accounts and so have been able to experiment with most of the features of it now. For me, the main differentiator is the real-time nature of it. Without that, a wave is little more than a wiki page that only a few people can see and edit. Or a whole thread of emails visible at once. That’s not so revolutionary, really.

So, the key is the real-time nature of it. How important is that, really? I see it as possibly useful in some restricted scenarios, specifically where a smallish group of people are collaborating on a single thing and will all be online at once. When you can’t guarantee that everyone, or a significant proportion of them, will be online together, then the real-time features are wasted and you are back to a wiki/email hybrid. And even if you can, how important is that, really? I’m not sure I see the point. I haven’t come up with an example yet that couldn’t be done just was well with a combination of existing tools. Maybe the that’s the point? Using a single tool instead of several? Or maybe I just don’t have enough imagination? That’s almost certainly true…! I know there are lots of clever, imaginative people out there playing with Wave and trying to find uses. Perhaps the killer app is out there, but we just haven’t found it yet?

There’s lots of good technology underlying wave. Making it all hang together in real-time, and all browser based, is clever stuff. The Wave developers have done an impressive job. But the hype at the moment seems to be focussed on that, and we need to look beyond the technology to the uses of it. The extension architecture provides lots of interesting possibilities, and again some very clever people are working on extensions to do interesting things. We just need to wait and see what they come up with. Maybe the technology itself really is the interesting part of Wave, and it will end up being used to support something else that is useful, and Wave itself is just the first demonstrator app and will eventually fade away?

Whatever Wave is, and whatever is turns into, I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to displace email, IM, Twitter or anything else anytime soon. And we need a lot more people with access to it before we’ll see how useful it is in its current incarnation. Keep those invites flowing, Google…!

(And before you ask, no I have no invites to give out – my eight invites disappeared on day one and I’ve been given no more. Sorry.)

October 06, 2009

Gore cables are awesome…

Follow-up to My bike is a 3–speed… from Steve's blog

I normally try to spend as little as possible on my cycling kit. I’m quite an enthusiastic cyclist, but I’m not a fanatic and I’m a bit of a cheapskate. Unless I’m convinced that spending money on “proper” cycling kit is worthwhile I try to make do. I was long ago convinced that proper lycra cycling shorts were worth both the money and the embarrassment, and that proper cycling jerseys were so much more comfortable on longer rides that the cotton T-shirts I use to wear. I still buy bottom of the range stuff, though, as I’m not persuaded that paying silly money for kit buys you enough extra.

So, when my gear cable broke last week I immediately went looking for the cheapest way of fixing it. In the end I was persuaded to go for something a little above bottom of the range, specifically Gore Ride-On Low Friction Cables. A little pricey for a set of gear cables, but boy are they worth it. The difference between these and the original cables has to be felt to be believed. There’s so much less resistance in the shifter, and shifting happens so much more quickly and predictably. It really is a pleasure to change gear. That sounds stupid to me as I type it, but I’ve had the cable on the bike for about 5 days now and I still enjoy every gear shift. Strange but true. And these aren’t the “professional” version of the cable, which I assume is even better. At over £40 for a set of gear cables, though, I don’t think I’ll be going for those next time. I might, however, go for Gore brake cables when I need to change those.

Seriously, Gore cables are wonderful things. Get some. Now…

September 29, 2009

Macride 2009 – Ride Report

Follow-up to Macride 2008 – Ride Report from Steve's blog

[ I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, immediately after the ride, but obviously forgot to post it. Oops! ]

I wasn’t originally planing to do the Macride this year, but I’m helping a friend build up his cycling distance in preparation for something exciting next year and the Macride was the right sort of challenge for him before winding down a little for the winter. And I had to keep him company, of course. I was also looking forward to doing the ride in the dry, unlike last year.

This year’s route was pretty much the same as last year’s, but without one or two diversions around the flooded bits. And as last year, it included Bakers Hill – the one hill that made me stop and walk for a bit. I was not looking forward to that!

Everything went pretty smoothly, it turns out. We made good time as far as the hill. As last year, I got about half way up Bakers Hill and had to stop and walk for a bit. We then had a 10 minute rest and re-fuel at the top before carrying on. After that I was nursing slightly achy knees and so slowed down a little, and as we were still in the Cotswolds then the roads were quite undulating still, which didn’t help the poor knees either. Finally, for the last 10 miles or so there was an irritatingly strong wind, always a headwind of course, just to make it a bit harder. Still, we made 4 hours 40 minutes for the 66 miles (note Macride organisers, not 63 miles:-) which is just over 14mph.

I don’t think I could have gone much faster. This isn’t a fast route – the Costwolds is a bit too lumpy for that. The roads around here are much flatter and I can average 16mph over that sort of distance, but not down in the Cotswolds. I said this last year and never did anything about it, but I could do with working on my hill climbing a bit. I suspect my knees might just stop me from getting any faster as I just can’t pedal much harder, but maybe I could work on my technique a bit and that would help. Maybe for next year?

My bike is a 3–speed…

Or more precisely it is a 27-speed with only 3 reliable ones. My rear gear cable has started to go just at the shifter end, meaning the inner cable doesn’t move freely inside the outer. I have persuaded it to stay in the fourth gear of nine at the back and I’m leaving it there for now, giving me just the three gears I get from the triple chainring at the front. That makes riding interesting, but it has also been educational.

My commute in in the morning is overall downhill and so quite quick. Not good without lots of gears. This morning I managed to get it up to 28mph, but only by pedalling at 149rpm!! Interestingly, over the course of only a couple of miles I got much better at that. To start with 135rpm was feeling fast, but I ended up feeling not too bad at 149rpm. I’ve got to go for 150 tomorrow morning!

Going home, I thought, would be more of a challenge. Obviously it is overall uphill, and with my knees I usually end up on the smallest chainring and a nice low gear on the steeper bits. Can’t do that at the moment so I thought I might end up killing my knees. Apparently not. I didn’t even use the small chainring last night. I guess having all these gears has made me lazy. Without them I just had to get on with it, and I had no problems at all.

This hasn’t persuaded me to go out and buy a singlespeed, but I can certainly see how it might improve my riding. I will definitely have to stop being so lazy, and avoid the low gears a bit more often.

I am looking forward to getting all my gears back, though. Replacement cables on order…

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