Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Filed Under (Android, Google, Technology) by Sean on September-12-2010

This is my first in a series of posts having to do with everything Google. From Google Apps to Android, I’m going to publish a series of posts detailing how to accomplish various tasks and workaround various bugs features after trial and error. I hope to evolve this series into something even more substantive, but you have to start somewhere. This post is a quick and easy beginning to help those still running early versions of Android (through Donut, otherwise known as 1.6), plagued by a particularly annoying bug.

Though I haven’t quite completely determined the circumstances under which this bug rears its head, it is evidenced by emails you send out using the GMail application on an Android phone stuck in the Outbox with “Sending . . .” but they never actually send. If it was a newly composed email, the solution was rather simple in that all you had to do was display the email, edit it and click the Send button again. Things are a little trickier with emails that are replying to a thread, however.

Rather than bore you with all the various things that didn’t work, allow me to jump straight to the punchline. Should you see such a message as a reply to an existing thread stuck in your outbox, here’s what you do: first, open up the offending thread. This can be either from the Outbox or whatever folder label the thread is under. Then, reply to one of the emails in the thread. It can be any email besides the Sending . . . email itself (you can’t open that one anyway). After you click Reply and you see the Compose Mail screen, click the Save as draft button. Then, go back to the Inbox by whatever means you choose (e.g., back button). Then, bring up the Drafts folder by selecting the Menu key and choosing View Labels and choosing Drafts. Open up the email thread you were just working on. You’ll note that at this point you’re actually editing the content of the original email that was stuck in the Outbox! Edit it as you see fit and click Send. Voila! If it gets stuck in the Outbox again, you can repeat this process as often as you like. In some extreme cases where you have to go perform this process via more than one iteration, you may have some stale empty Draft emails in the thread you can discard at a later time.

Look for my next Google post on how to share your GMail or Google Apps Calendar so the person with whom you’re sharing has complete administrative privileges over it.



Filed Under (Geekstuff, Stuff, Technology) by Sean on June-14-2009

As many of you may already know, I’m a beneficiary of Ford’s recent aggressive social media public relations efforts. I was initially contacted by a social media consultancy out of Canada, retained by Ford, through my blog early last month. My first reaction was one of disbelief, thinking this had to be some sort of grand social engineering phishing experiment. With mild trepidation, I responded with an indication if interest. My choices were the Ford Escape and the Lincoln MKS. Being a huge fan of SUVs, I opted for the 2009 Lincoln MKS (plus, I get to experience my brother’s Escape Hybrid every time I visit Florida). I was supposed to get the 2010 version of the MKS, which is all-wheel drive and sports a twin-turbocharged 355 horsepower, 350 lb-ft torque V6, but a shortage of media fleet cars made this impossible. My 2009 version sports a 273 horsepower, normally-aspirated V6 instead. In any case, I’ve been promised by Ford that they will get me a 2010 to drive as soon as one is available. They’ve also promised to get me the new 2011 Ford Fiesta to drive as well!

The Lincoln MKS

Many of you who haven’t known me that long may not know I’ve always been a huge car enthusiast (though it has waned a bit over the years and my current Ford Taurus would certainly give you no indication). I started as a young teenager by going out on a Saturday with my father and test driving just about everything we could get our hands on – sports sedans, luxury autos, exotics, the works. As a card carrying member of the SCCA, I used to participate in various auto sporting events as well. Cars I’ve owned over the years have run the gamut: a VW, a BMW, 2 Mercedes, 5 Hondas, a Porsche, and a Ford.

Herein I will outline some initial impressions of the Lincoln MKS after having it for a few days. Over that time, I’ve managed to spend hours navigating big city traffic, taking a road trip and running high speed laps around the Nuremberg town. I’ve also satiated my inner geek (ok, maybe outer geek) by diving into the Microsoft Sync platform equipped in this car. This post will discuss my initial impressions of Sync; future posts will go into driving impressions and other aspects of the MKS.

Before I do that, however, I will sum up my reactions to the car as pros and cons:

Pros:

  • snappy performance for the size/class of car
  • good balance of ride firmness; corners and tracks well but doesn’t rattle your spine when driving over potholes and railroad tracks
  • good transmission; really responsive at down-shifting quickly. Manual mode available as well. Auto mode good at down-shifting before corners and engine braking when slowing down – something I’ve never seen in an American car. It seems engineers are doing their homework in studying German sports sedans!
  • decent ergonomics; comfortable and usable interior; sporty seats are suitable for long cross-country trips
  • seamless bluetooth integration with your phone and media device (could be the same device or two separate devices)
  • GPS NAV with real-time traffic, weather and other helpful travel information (e.g., gas prices)
  • QUIET. This car is almost devoid of wind noise even at 90+ mph
  • Air. Conditioned. Seats. It’s like lying down on a huge bag of ice. Gone are the sweaty backs Houston summers made famous.
  • SYNC system receives software upgrades and updates through an in-car USB interface where you can download the update on your computer to a USB drive (or your smart phone’s storage) and initiating the upgrade while connected to the car

Cons:

  • though the car sports very nice interior trim, the excessive amount of “shiny chromeplastic” is a little off-putting. The simulated brushed metal helps to counter that, however.
  • center console cup holders can’t accommodate two grande coffees (seems really bizarre the Germans have this figured out while the guys that invented the cup holders don’t!). See picture below.
  • beltline and cowl are really high; you can’t even comfortably rest your arm on the windowsill it’s so high. Obviously this is styling driven and at least there is a rear camera to assist you while you’re backing up since you can’t see shit out the rear window
  • I can’t use certain features of the NAV while driving (yes I know it’s an insurance thing or whatever, but it’s completely silly and promotes even worse behavior for reasons I’ll give below)
  • NAV system doesn’t have proper ICAO or FAA airport codes to use as destination or waypoint; I tried to use KGLS as the destination but it only knew “Scholes Galveston Airport” or selecting Airport point of interest

Of course, I love gadgets and toys. Consequently, I’m always interested in the latest state of automotive technology. Growing up, I benefited from my father being a huge gadget and car freak as well. I’m pretty sure he got the first car on Earth with built in NAV. I have certainly seen how not to implement car gadgetry. In-car technology has developed much of the way consumer electronics has: no standards, no interoperability, black-box proprietary systems and the like. Computer and technology companies have done most of the heavy lifting in changing the status quo in the consumer electronics industry, e.g., Apple. Now they’re attempting the same in the automotive space. I think that Sync is as close as I’ve seen to how it should be done (on another note, technologies based on other platforms such as Google’s Android could be coming to a car near you soon).

The car was delivered to my office by Becky, a super friendly Communications and Media Fleet Manager from Ford. She handed me the keys and said, “Enjoy! We look forward to reading what you have to say!” The first thing I did after parking it in my office parking garage downtown was pair up my G1 via bluetooth. I figured if I could make hands free phone calls and listen to my media library through the car’s audio system within a couple of minutes without opening a manual, that would be a good sign of things to come. That’s just what happened. I chose Phone from the console, selected the Add Devices button from the bright color touch screen, and a woman with what seemed like a slightly British accent instructed me to enter the PIN displayed on the screen when prompted by my phone when pairing with SYNC. Voila! The screen displayed a message asking me if I wanted my phonebook and call history to be loaded. I selected Yes. Not content to stop there, I then chose the Media button on the console. Within about 3 seconds the audio system started playing the current playlist on my G1. Sweet. While delighting in all this, the phone rang. On the color touch screen, the Caller ID and phone book entry of the caller is displayed along with a choice to answer or deny the call. The weird thing about this was it was my phone’s ring tone playing in stereo on top of the slightly-reduced-in-volume music through the stereo. It was a business call, so I answered and carried on the discussion for a few minutes before deciding I needed to continue this conversation on the way to my desk. I turned the key off, opened the door, and the call seamlessly transferred to my handset without the slightest hiccup. Too cool. In a similar vein, if I’m rocking out to some streaming music through my phone through bluetooth and turn off the car, remove the key and open the door, the phone automatically pauses the media stream. When you get back in the car and start it, the music automatically resumes once the bluetooth connection is reestablished. Similarly, if you’re talking on your handset and get in and start the car, the phone conversation seamlessly transitions to hands-free mid sentence without hesitation. You have the option to choose privacy mode where the phone call continues on your handset. Someone really paid attention to usability when designing this system.

The GPS-based NAV is one of the best I’ve seen. Adding to its touch-screen ease of use is the fact that it gets real time traffic information via Sirius satellite, even if you don’t pay for a Sirius subscription (Ford apparently hadn’t paid for it in this car, which I thought was somewhat puzzling). The first thing you do is choose a destination by pushing the DEST button on the dashboard and selecting the destination through a variety of methods (nearest points of interest, street address, yellow page categories, phone book) or selecting the voice command button on the steering wheel and using voice commands to tell the system where you would like to go (and you don’t even need to train the system for your voice!). You then choose the shortest or fastest route and you’re on your way. The system provides you with turn-by-turn directions along with graphical depictions of each turn on the display. For upcoming turns, the screen is split with a map on the left and the detailed turn depicted on the right (see the photos below for an example). Additionally, it counts down the distance to the next turn or waypoint and displays a progress timer bar to help you determine your arrival to the next instruction. The bottom of the display shows your current location and speed limit, if available. If an accident or other incident happens along your route, a notice is displayed on the screen where you can review details  of it and choose an option to avoid at which point it accordingly reroutes you. One of the exercises I like to do is test out how resilient a NAV system is when you inadvertently (or purposely) miss a turn. Some of them incessantly complain and ask you to make a U-turn to get back on track. The system in the Lincoln, however, doesn’t miss a beat. Virtually the instant after you miss a turn instruction, it recalculates the route such that you can continue your general direction of travel. It’s so seamless that if you blinked you may have missed that anything happened at all. Information available at your fingertips also includes the weather (forecast, satellite images) and gasoline prices at nearby gas stations (see photos below).

There were a few hiccups in the system. Every now and again my phone would become “un-paired” or stop playing audio. Sometimes the device got out of sync where I would be listening to audio on my phone through  wired ear buds, and upon starting the car the phone would pair and stop the stream; I would have to start it up again manually (apparently the command to autoplay/autostop is a change of state and not discreet play/stop commands). It is important to note that you must have an A2DP capable media device in order to stream bluetooth audio through the audio system. If your device isn’t capable, you won’t be able to pair it at all as an audio device (this doesn’t impact the phone pairing, however). I learned this the hard way after I replaced my G1 under warranty that had an older version of the OS before they added AD2P extensions. There is a mini-phono jack if you want to connect an older iPod or mp3 player. My main complaint is that you cannot browse the phonebook while the car is moving over 15 mph or so, which seems silly since that requires you to pick up your phone an lookdown and scroll through its phonebook instead (yes I know you shouldn’t do either). At least you can use voice commands to make calls.

Microsoft SYNC definitely adds huge value to the MKS. Ford and Microsoft mention in some of their public relations material that SYNC is increasingly becoming a major contributing factor in the car purchasing decision process. I don’t quite know how exclusive the arrangement is between Microsoft and Ford, but I could see how SYNC would tip your decision towards a Ford or Lincoln when comparing makes of cars. It will be exciting to see what other manufacturers do in adopting future competing systems as well as what those competing systems will look like. The connected automobile is here and here to stay. After my experience with this car, I can see where having the capabilities SYNC provides makes your life easier and would be a driver in choosing a particular car over another. In today’s hyper-connected world where your information is living in the cloud and accessible through your smart phone, this Lincoln is not only a pleasure to drive but can help keep your connected world, dare I say it, in sync.

That’s it for the first installment! Look for my driving impressions coming soon. Check out some of the pictures below.

Lincoln MKS

NAV System

Travel Information

Cup Holders

 



Filed Under (Geekstuff, Internet, Social Media, Technology) by Sean on December-21-2008

I wanted to post this brief update about a new feature I discovered recently by accident while testing Twitter clients for my Android-based G1 smart phone. “@Replies” on Twitter now picks up tweets that are addressed to multiple people in a chain. These replies also appear to follow the same rules I pointed out in my previous post about Twitter in how @Replies work (alas it still appears most people don’t understand these important points, however). For example, if you send a tweet as follows: “@bob @jane @jim @jesus @mary @joseph have a good holiday,” then each and every person in that chain of addressees will have the tweet appear on their @Replies page! Note, however, if you interrupt the chain in any way, it breaks this behavior, e.g., “@bob @jane and @jim are you coming to my party,” @jim in this case will not get the tweet on his @Replies page. As noted, the rules from my previous post apply. In my first example, even if @mary doesn’t follow the person who sent the tweet, she will still get it in her @Replies tab nevertheless. Clients that use the Twitter API to track @Replies also follow these rules, as I found my accident when testing nanoTweeter for my G1.

Enjoy!



Filed Under (Business, Politics, Technology) by Sean on September-11-2008

Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The World is Flat, appeared on David Letterman this past Monday to discuss his latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman is known for being a huge proponent of free trade, outsourcing, capitalism, and globalization. While I may not agree exactly on his methodologies about all these from a practical point of view, I do think he stirs up some good thinking points. He has become a somewhat controversial advocate of the green movement in his advocacy surrounding what to do about climate change. In this case, however, I am in 100% agreement with his argument about stoking the American innovation machine in order to solve the problems facing us. Another book from author Fred Krupp, the president for the Environmental Defense Fund, entitled Earth: The Sequel, similarly discusses the role capitalism, coupled with government leadership as referee to ensure a level playing field (i.e., allow new technologies to come to market in a way to compete with the more than $6 Billion in taxpayer subsidies still received by Big Oil, not to mention addressing mothballed clean tech patents acquired by Big Oil to stifle competition), can play in stoking the new “energy technology” revolution the way it did with information technology (which, in its present form, was built largely on the back of a government project called ARPANET, which we now know as the Internet).

The full video of the interview on David Letterman is posted below for your viewing. I’ve taken the liberty to paste the main points from the interview verbatim, with emphasis added to especially important narratives. His points are the same points I would make in debating about what needs to be done with US energy policy, specifically as this country’s biggest mandate and wealth creation industry for the 21st century. It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change or not (though if you don’t you possibly also believe the Earth is 4,000 years old, but I won’t get into that here). It is an economic and security imperative at this point that we take charge and lead the way or suffer the fate of becoming a second rate power.

Dave (concerning letting the nation know the seriousness of climate change): “We need people coming out here screaming . . . . we need somebody to knock people over and jump up and down on their chest.”

Thomas: “[Republican's] mantra is drill baby, drill . . . what I’ve been saying to them is  . . . we’re on the eve of [the energy technology] revolution . . . on the eve of that revolution, to be saying, ‘drill, baby, drill’ is like saying on the eve of the IT revolution, . . . ‘I want more carbon paper . . . more IBM typewriters’ . . . hello?”

Dave (in discussing the Government’s role): “Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we don’t need leadership in this country, in the white house, maybe we don’t need a national political mandate.”

Tom: “We do.”

Dave: “Until we look at this like a national problem . . . this country always wants to be a world leader, why aren’t we leading the world at this?”

Thomas: “And why do we need government? Why, you are right we need a leader, because . . . leaders write the rules, they shape the market . . . what we need is a price signal, ok, a price on carbon, a price on gasoline, that says to the American marketplace, which is the greatest innovation engine in the world, go out and invent the alternatives and you’ll get rich. So we get 100,000 people trying 100,000 things in 100,000 garages, 100 of which will be promising, ten will be great and two will become the next green Microsoft and green Google.”

Dave: “Will either of these guys [presidential candidates] do it?”

Thomas: “Certainly if you listen to them today, they aren’t preparing the public for that. Everyone’s ready to say, ‘I’m going to throw this amount of money at it’ . . . but it really isn’t, Dave, about throwing money at it. It’s triggering the innovative prowess of this country that gave us the IT revolution. That’s what we need for the ET revolution. Now if we don’t do it . . . this is the next great economic revolution, the next great industry . . . the country that leads that is going to have the higher standard of living, the most economic security, the most national security, which part of that sentence don’t people understand?

Dave: “And to a great affect will solve our current economic problems . . . . it’s not an overnight kind of a deal, it will contribute greatly to making things much better economically. Why can’t we get a guy smart enough . . . to say ‘by god, here’s how it’s going to be different, and I’m the guy that’s going to make it different, and I’m going to lead the world, and I’m going to save the planet’?”

Thomas: “What if you were . . . one of those members of congress who came out and said, ‘we need a carbon tax, we need gasoline tax, we need the right standards, we’ll offset it on people’s payroll’ and then your opponent says, ‘there’s my opponent . . . [who] never saw a tax he didn’t like’ . . . here’s what I would say, ‘let’s get one thing straight pal, we’re both for a tax, because we’re being taxed right now by Saudia Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Russia; I just prefer that my taxes go to the US treasury to build US schools, US roads, US highways.  . . . It’s just a little tick I have  . . . that I like my taxes to go to my country.  . . . if you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics.”

Dave: “Would that work as a stump speech . . . in a debate?”

Thomas: “I believe this issue is like civil rights and women’s suffrage . . . the public are ahead of the politicians. . . . [the public] will take a lot of pain on this if they think you have a real plan, and it’s equitable . . . and it’s a plan not just about energy, but about nation building in America. This is the key to propelling our country into the 21st century, not into the 19th century with drill, baby drill . . . if it’s a hoax . . . everything we would do to prepare ourselves for climate change would make us more respected, more innovative, more competitive, more entrepreneurial.”

Here is the video:



Filed Under (Internet, Social Media, Technology) by Sean on July-23-2008

It appears a major glitch has surfaced in Twitter where many people’s follower and followee numbers have been cut in half, in many cases. This is evidenced by the numbers that appear on your twitter page. You’ll also notice, if you visit the page of a suspected unfollower, you’ll no longer be able to nudge/message them, confirming your worst fears. However, if you visit the direct message page, you’ll notice they still appear under the drop down and you can successfully send them a direct message. They will also see you in their twitter stream, so don’t fear!

Go to getsatisfaction.com and report this bug or ditto if someone else has reported it (many have). I suspect this is due to a database caching issue since they have started partitioning the application to make it scale better. Hopefully they fix it soon!!

UPDATE

It appears I spoke too soon! I just noticed that my direct messages page does in fact reflect a number much less than the followers I have; in my case, this is a reduction of more than 80%! Likewise for the number of people I follow.

If this is a catastrophic data loss where we will have to re-follow everyone we’ve built up over months or years, I suspect Twitter stands to lose a similar percentage of users . . . .

Come on Twitter!!



Filed Under (Geekstuff, Internet, Social Media, Technology) by Sean on June-15-2008

Since Twitter‘s popularity is ever accelerating, resulting in it almost becoming a utility, not unlike email, I wanted to take a moment to lay out some details about how communication takes place using it. I still find many do not realize how @ replies work and as a result their tweets are not received by their intended audience.

The problem arises when a twitter user tweets about what another twitterer is doing, e.g., “@ted is kicking my ass in Wii Tennis.” Let’s say that @bill is the sender of this tweet. Let’s assume that both @bill and @ted have @sue as a follower. @sue will get the above tweet on her twitter stream, as intended. Let’s also assume that @betty follows @bill, but not @ted. Here is where things get dicey. @betty will not get this tweet on her twitter stream, even though she follows @bill who sent it! It will still appear on the public timeline. The problem is that Twitter assumes that all tweets that begin with @username are intended as a tweet directed at that user. In this case, Twitter assumes that @bill’s tweet above is being sent to @ted, when that is clearly not the intention. An additional unintended consequence is that this tweet will appear in @ted’s replies tab when @ted is logged into twitter through the web.

The lesson to be learned here is to never begin a tweet with a @user unless it is intended as a reply or tweet to that user.

How do we get around this such that we re-frame this tweet so its original intent is realized? Simply insert a word, character or space before the @user as appropriate, or, better yet, exercise those elementary school grammar muscles and rephrase the tweet altogether, e.g., “getting my ass kicked by @ted in Wii tennis.”

There is an exception to the behavior that I’ve outlined above. On your Settings page, there is a Notices tab. Contained within that tab is a section called “@ Replies.” The default setting (and recommended setting if you follow more than a few dozen people) is “@ replies to the people I’m following.” If you select the “all @ replies” setting, then you would get all @ messages from someone you follow even if you don’t follow the user to whom the tweet is addressed. If @betty above had this setting chosen in her settings, she would get @bill’s tweet above in the second paragraph. If @betty followed 400 people, however, and each person sent an average of only 3 tweets per day addressed to people @betty didn’t follow, she would get an additional 1,200 tweets per day! I personally wish Twitter would allow you to set the @ reply settings on a per followee basis. For example, if @betty followed @bill as above, and @bill was a very clever twitterer or A-list twitterati who communicated with followers that @betty would perhaps also be interested in following, then she could optionally select a custom @ reply setting for @bill such that she would see all his tweets, even if they were directed at people she didn’t follow. Likewise, she could decide that she doesn’t want to see @willy’s @ replies if they aren’t directed at her or people she follows.

I hope I’ve accomplished my mission of clearing up how @ replies work in Twitter, and more importantly, compel twitterers to stop starting tweets with @ if they aren’t directed at that person!



Filed Under (Business, Entrepreneurship, Houston, Politics, Technology) by Sean on May-29-2008

The following is a letter one of my friends and colleagues wrote to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison concerning the upcoming Senate vote on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. I have left it unedited, with the exception of replacing his underlines with italics for readability. I think he makes some excellent points here and I concur with his assessment, particularly the point about Houston (and Texas) constantly taking the easy road of eschewing change, resulting in the best minds, ideas and innovations going to the west coast. I am tired of the intellectually lazy, business-as-usual conservative politics here. Because of insipid, brainless dogma, we repeatedly squander every opportunity to do truly great, innovative things. Anyway, enough of my opinion. Enjoy!

To: Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison & John Cornyn
RE: Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act

The Senate is scheduled to debate and vote on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act the first week of June.

As a citizen of Texas, a technology entrepreneur, a co-founder of one of Houston’s first Internet service providers, a veteran of the armed forces, and a current real estate professional, I urge you to seize this historic opportunity and pass this bill.

Here are five compelling reasons to act now:

  1. The political opportunity is ripe. 78% of Americans want Congress to act on global warming. We need to take advantage of the tremendous momentum that exists today.
    • Building a domestic renewable energy supply that weans us from a mostly foreign, Middle-Eastern oil supply should be a national security imperative.
    • Carbon emission caps also address a very important LOCAL concern in Houston – our notorious air toxicity and ozone (exacerbated by CO2 and other heat-rapping gases).
  2. This isn’t an issue with whether or not you agree with global warming – this is an economic issue now of producing domestic, cleaner energy and spurring technology investment in Texas beyond oil and gas – gas prices are out of control and we need more choices for energy. However, every year we wait equals extra effort. If we delay this bill by just two years, we will have to make twice the annual cuts in carbon emissions to hit the same cumulative reductions by 2020.
  3. Someone is going to win the global race to create competitive cleaner energy. Houston and Texas can benefit, with effective leadership, from this growing consensus. Renewable energy promises to become one of the world’s most profitable industries – Japan and Germany already are ahead of us. But advances in renewable energy technologies will not be fully realized without a national cap on global warming pollution – almost every clean-energy entrepreneur agrees with this statement that has been interviewed. Refuse to act and most of the entrepreneurship will go to Silicon Valley just like in 1995 when I was starting Houston’s first large Internet services provider. Please don’t become complicit in a technology brain-drain from Texas 10 years out.
  4. The science is unforgiving. As the Earth warms, we approach a “tipping point,” after which large destructive climate changes become inevitable. This is a scientific consensus (like tobacco smoke causes lung cancer) – I am frankly not interested in whether or not policy analysts or members of Congress agree with this consensus or not, especially when it comes to my planet and health.
  5. What legacy will the 110th Congress and you leave for Texas? When future generations look back at this moment, they will either praise you and the Senate for starting us down the path to solving the global warming crisis, or blame you and the Senate for squandering this opportunity. If you fail to vote, you stand to put us right back to the 1980’s in Texas while the rest of the nation moves ahead. You have an opportunity to make us a leader in the energy future of America, or to allow us to decline when oil production drops off. It will happen – history is famous for repetition.
  6. Finally, have you read Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming by Fred Krupp? What amazes me as a business leader and entrepreneur is his complete embrace of markets – with smart and effective federal leadership – to solve the problem, based on case studies and diligent research. What are you doing to secure Texas in this new emerging energy markets? Please vote FOR the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act when it comes to a vote in June.

Erik Fowler
Houston, TX



Filed Under (Stuff, Technology) by Sean on April-21-2008

If you are not seeing updates for people you follow on twitter through the web or your favorite client (e.g., twhirl, etc.), you are not alone! Be sure to go to this page and report it! Furthermore, tell everyone to do the same if they’re also experiencing the same problem. Let’s see if we can get about 20,000+ people to get the attention of the twitter people and at least get an update to what’s going on!

(UPDATE)

It appears if you visit this page, they have acknowledged the problem (I presume it’s the same issue noted here from a month ago). See if having them clear your cache solves the problem. I have asked them to clear mine and will post the results here.

(UPDATE 2)

I got this tweet from @biz indicating they are working on the issue. Ironically the only way I got it is running tweetscan on my nick.

(UPDATE 3)

Yes, twitter is still broken. They haven’t cleared my cache or anything, so far as I can tell; I still only see a portion of my twitter stream. The problem seems to only affect the intersection of people with large amounts of followers with those who follow a decent amount of people. E.g., if you follow more than a few dozen people you won’t see tweets from the likes of @scobleizer, who has over 20,000 followers. Likewise, if you follow over 100 people, you won’t see tweets from people who have over 300 followers. I haven’t nailed it down precisely yet, but there is certainly a mathematical function to this. I hope they fix it soon! In the meantime, you can go surf each of your followees individual pages and/or subscribe to their tweets separately with an RSS reader.

I wish they would give us more technical details – there certainly is more tech knowhow on twitter they could tap into to fix the problem. I know they use Amazon S3 and perhaps EC2 for their infrastructure and some sort of caching mechanism (for performance and/or cost reasons?) that isn’t doing it’s job. Obviously writing a simple web app to do what twitter does would be fairly trivial to not have problems, at the expense of cpus, disk space and bandwidth; this leads me to believe they’re trying to be fancy, and it isn’t working so well. IMHO they should have a “brute force” fallback that would work 100% albeit not optimally until they sort it all out.



Filed Under (Business, Technology) by Sean on April-4-2008

I’m usually very loathe to simply link out to another blog’s content, but I thought, with tax season upon us, this post was worth a mention. I think it’s a tremendous testament to social media when a company the size of H&R Block (and one that is in the tax business of all things) embraces social media to strengthen brand awareness. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but I’ve pasted three paragraphs below from the story that relate directly to H&R Block’s use of Twitter. Who ever thunk it?

When people join Twitter, they often send an update out into the world and then go away. Nothing happens. So they don’t get it.” But once they move in to Twitterville, as you call it, and really listen and reply and become part of the community, they’re addicted. There’s nothing like it.

When it comes to truly connecting with customers, I’d say that Twitter has been the most valuable and most effective component of our social media efforts. I went back and looked at our update archive and I realized that more than half of our updates are “@ replies.” Not only have we shared tax tips and advice that serve the general community, but on a one-to-one basis we’ve helped people get jobs and professional tax training.

We’ve helped others overcome the anxiety associated with doing their taxes on their own for the first time. We’re having a blast participating in @zefrank’s Colorwars (how could H&R Block resist a “veryGreenTeam”?). We’ve discovered and resolved customer support issues and we’ve met and thanked very happy customers. It sounds crazy, but I actually feel like H&R Block has made some friends on Twitter. We even had a customer call us out as part of @garyvee’s Good People Day! We couldn’t ask for more than that.



Filed Under (Internet, Rants, Technology) by Sean on March-18-2008

I am getting increasingly aggravated at Firefox’s lack of adequate garbage collection. Firefox, over the typical span of usage over several days, or weeks, in which multiple tabs are opened and closed, possibly hundreds of sites visited, cumulatively thousands of JavaScript functions executed, and Flash instances instantiated, begins to consume inordinate amounts of memory. I have seen my Firefox process consume well in excess of a gigabyte, for example, though I’m only looking at 2 or 3 sites simultaneously. When I visit the Firefox IRC channel and inquire about this, as so many have before me, the excuse is given that the poor code written within websites or many memory leaks that plugins like flash and quicktime have are the culprit and are completely outside the responsibility of Firefox and its developers. I don’t buy it. Firefox, by proxy, is the new operating system in today’s world of Internet delivered applications. Thus it is Firefox’s responsibility, in my opinion, to perform aggressive garbage collection and manage memory leaked by wayward processes spawned from within it. In my typical session, where I have two gmail accounts open, and a couple of other tabs open simultaneously, I have to restart Firefox or kill it forcefully every few days it seems. As a Linux user who typically experiences login sessions measured in weeks to months of uninterrupted uptime, this is simply unacceptable. Supposedly version 3, which is currently in beta, addresses these many issues. We will see. I’m sure some of the garbage collection features and fixed memory leaks will undoubtedly help. However I feel the pathology of, “it’s not our problem” is the wrong attitude to take by Firefox developers. They need to step up to the plate as the developers of the Internet operating system of the future and do everything possible to deliver the best user experience possible.

Let’s watch and see what happens.