Thursday, January 31, 2008

GPS And Google Maps On My Blackberry

So I was quite fortunate this week. After managing to break my last Blackberry Curve after about 6 months of (heavy) use, I got a warranty replacement - and was quite surprised to find it to be GPS-enabled. So somehow I got a little upgrade to the 8310 version (CNET review) for my trouble, and should thank AT&T just this once for that.

I never quite understood how cool having GPS on your phone would be. And when the phone tried to force me into paying for the built-in Telenav application, which looks exactly like a Garmin interface on your phone, I quickly declined to pay the extra cash.

Then, almost without thinking, I installed the most recent Google pack - a pleasant experience - and went about my business. The next time I loaded up some maps, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see a little blue dot showing me where I was driving, right across the San Mateo bridge. Pretty sweet.

I wanted to test this out, and I was hungry and need of something quick. After a quick search for "Quiznos" (without any other modifiers like zip code, which I was used to), I was immediately given the 10 closest Quizno's restaurants to the San Mateo bridge. Sweet! Selecting one of them, I was then given step-by-step directions to get there from where I was.

What does make me angry is the built-in telenav, and how AT&T tries to force it on users who don't know enough to use the Google version. That's why I support the OHA so strongly, and am very interested to see what happens with the ongoing FCC spectrum auction.

I'm sold on GPS. And I'll never get a new phone without it - it makes the mobile maps that much more powerful and useful. And sorry, iPhone - you're cool, but I'll take my iPod Touch and my Blackberry. More info from the good folks at Google here:

More on the spectrum auction and the OHA:

Note: I hold stock in Research in Motion (RIMM), but not Google (GOOG). Validated by ZeccoShare.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Fun With Chumby

For Christmas I was very fortunate to receive a Chumby as a gift (my dad's pretty hip). Not too many people have heard of the things, and many of my officemates were confused (perhaps a little disturbed) when I brought it in to the office and placed it on my desk.

The Basics
Chumby describes their device as a "personal Internet player." It essentially plays a host of widgets, including twitter, weather, stock updates, simple games, and Flickr feeds. How does it work?

  • Connects to any available WiFi network (don't worry, you can enter passwords for locked-down networks).
  • Touchscreen controls let you interact with many widgets, including scrolling to read.
  • Connects to an ipod via USB to play music (very cool). It'll recharge your ipod while it's at it.
  • Motion sensors let you move/shake the thing to control some widgets, especially games.
  • Streams videos from YouTube, pictures from Flickr, and anything with an RSS feed.
  • Widgets are managed from chumby's website.

The Usefulness

It's not useful, in the sense that it doesn't solve any problems. I like having it for the "what the hell is that?" reactions from coworkers. But also because it streams headlines without taking up valuable monitor space. I especially like the stock tickers, since that's important info for me personally, and I don't have to go anywhere to keep checking current prices.

There's a community around the things, apparently. But since I don't really know anyone else who has a chumby, it's hard to gauge how useful it is. So if you get one, let me know and we can be "chums" (my chumby is tonyleachsf, of course).

Other reviews:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Something Cool From Facebook

I've complained a bit about Facebook's targeted ads, and how if you say you're a single male interested in women you get spammed with "Meet Girls" ads that are very annoying. So to balance that criticism, I wanted to share something I discovered this morning and thought was really cool.

If you type a link into a private message, Facebook will automatically go fetch some metadata from that page and display a snippet of information alongside your message. It's pretty slick, and easy to remove if you want. Only works for the first site you enter, but that's fine. Basically it pulls in:

  • The first image on the page
  • The page title
  • The meta description for the page
It'd be great if this sort of feature was available for blogs, emails, etc. - or even for sites like

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lijit Personal Search

I've got a couple cool widgets on this page and at my Tumblr at I like the ShareThis, which lets people send links to friends via email & to various social media sites very easily. Recently I added Lijit search (inspired partly by Chris Anderson), just to see what it's all about. It's the pink bar on the right.

From the user perspective, Lijit seems to be basically personal search. It takes the same angle as Tumblr, which I like, because it pulls from various sources (like the social networks I belong to) and aggregates the results into a single display. You can refine the results to show everything from my blog, from my online contributions to Digg, from sites in my "network," or from the web as a whole. Give it a try - search for something like "Tumblr" or "Apple" or "Zecco."

Lijit's powered by Google custom search, which makes sense. And while that gives legitimacy to its results, it also makes the results slightly less unique. Fortunately, Lijit makes it easy enough to use, manage, and install the widget as a publisher/blogger that it makes it uniquely valuable. Some highlights from the publisher perspective:

  • You can customize your search widget across several dimensions, and make something that is fairly unique and similar to your own page.
  • Customizing the widget from the Lijit site automatically makes the changes to your own site, once you've installed the javascript
  • The "Lijit stats" page is very interesting, telling you where your readers/viewers are coming from. It's much better than FeedBurner or MyBlogLog stats
What's more? They're based in my hometown of Boulder, CO. It's great to see cool ideas come out of the place you grew up!

Some more thoughts:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tony's Tumbles - Tumblr and Tumblogs

Tumblr is one of those things that will change the way people interact online.

I've been online since the creation of the Internet. It started with pine-based email, playing games on CompuServe (and being blown away by the amount of time people must put into those games to get the top scores), and playing card games in the early days. Then it was chat rooms, Napster, Amazon, and CDnow (not in that order though, I guess. Google came along and made everything easy to find. Nothing could really capture my attention though and keep me coming back on a daily basis, and the Internet was mostly a distraction.

Two things happened. First was Facebook/social networks, which somehow made active participation online not just for the uber-geeks. The next was discovering Google Reader. The idea that I could automatically pull (and manage) a ton of interesting content into one place and read through it like email introduced me to the blog world. Now I have hundreds of sites I track on a daily basis - millions if you count by RSS-ized alerts.

As a result, I've somehow found myself participating in dozens of places online. There's a snipper on the right showing those I can think of. Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Facebook, LinkedIn (I promise this isn't link bait, I'm just making a point), Zecco of course, Serious Eats, Flickr,, Yelp!... There's too many to keep track of - not only for me, but for others as well. Of course, that's only given the assumption that anyone would want to follow me to all these different places.

That's where Tumblr comes in - it's like Google Reader meets Facebook. All my participation, commentary, even blogging, gets pulled into one place that I can control. (Well, currently only 5 points of participation, but who's counting? I'm sure that will increase.) People who are really interested in me as a person can follow that. People interested in me as an eater, or as an investor, can follow me on those places, or simply let my contributions get summed up into the aggregate.
Why I'm excited:

  • People can follow my Diggs, Delicious saves, Twitters, and blog posts from one page. They don't have to go to lots of different sites or services.
  • I have full control over what's displayed. There are predefined types of posts, like links, photos, videos, quotes, even conversations, and I can decided how each of them appears.
  • I interact with other people using Tumblr. Reblogging posts & following people is very easy on the dashboard - for now. I could see some scale issue here in following much more than 5 active people.
  • I can see them building better, more direct, and faster API integration with more services. Upadates will become quicker. And each "post" could potentially have an icon indicating its source. All version x.0 sorts of things, I'm sure.
Anyway, check it out if you get a chance. It certainly makes it easier for me to pull the online "tonyleachsf" all into one place.

Other people agreeing:
(p.s. I'm glad they don't allow comments. That's not the point. Comments are for blogs).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Apple Movie Rentals Review - Apple Drops The Ball

UPDATE: I should apologize. I wrote this post the night this all was announced. iTunes music store clearly wasn't working at 100%. Checking out the rental offerings this past weekend has been a much better experience. Many more movies are available to rent (even more than to purchase). The ITMS experience is fine - it's easy to find movies and browse the offerings. I'll try to wait a while and get a chance to play with things for a couple days next time I write a review. Still, I'm not the only person let down by Apple on Day (or Week) 1.

HOWEVER, my complaints about lack of HD for macs are still valid. Hopefully Front Row and ITMS upgrades are just a Mac conference away.

Also - a playlist feature that works like the Netflix queue would be awesome for the rentals. Just sayin...

The world's abuzz with talk and recaps from the "Stevenote" fronting this year's Macworld conference. After some poking around with the new software, I have to say I'm disappointed. And I'm not the only one - AAPL stock dropped 5.5% today, and more after hours.

My big problem - there was plenty of love for the Apple TV. There's HD movies, movie rentals, and great new software. The love for the Mac Mini? Nowhere. I updated my iTunes software this evening as soon as I got home, and eagerly tried to find a movie to download. Here's what I think:

  • The interface: Poor. The browsing is not intuitive, if I'm not looking for something in particular (I wasn't). The movie selection leaves a lot to be desired - it doesn't look like anything has improved for Apple in this respect.
  • The content: Poor. Steve Jobs claimed participation from most studios, which they seem to, but not for high-quality content. This will be a major problem until Apple finds a way to make the studios play nice.
  • The speed: Poor. Downloading a movie took about 30 minutes, not the 30 seconds the Steve-inator proclaimed.
  • The renting: Where? I looked around the movie section for a long time, and could only find Robocop as something to rent. Everything else was for purchase only.
  • The HD: Non-existent. I couldn't find ANY HD content to purchase on my Mac Mini. Neither could the good folks at Ars. There was some stuff I'd never heard of in HD (podcasts, etc.), but was only available for the Apple TV. Not for the mac/pc users, which I'm sure greatly outnumber the Apple TV. At the very least, it'd be a great marketing tool for the Apple TV, since once someone sees the video quality on their monitor, they'd get a Apple TV for their television. This seems like a very odd choice to me. It can't be a technical limitation, as my low-end Mac Mini can play HD content from Hulu. I can only imagine Apple's choice.
I've been pro-Apple for a long time. As you can see on my ZeccoShare profile at Zecco, I hold some AAPL stock, primarily since I believe in the strength of their products. This is the first time that they have not only failed to blow me away, but have actually let me down.

Other announcements from today that were generally bad: iPod Touch users have to pay $20 to get their software upgraded, while iPhone users get the updates for free; an Apple external hard drive (the wireless is cool) that costs much more than competing products.

I can only hope that the coming months will bring some fixes that will restore their greatness in my mind.

OH, and I'm not the only one who thinks so:

Friday, January 04, 2008

Hulu transforms (again) the way I watch television

OK, here's the timeline:

  1. I move to college. I'm not willing to pay for cable because TV is crap, so I don't.
  2. I finish up college. I subscribe to cable since that seems like the right thing to do, but hate how much it costs.
  3. I get TIVO. My viewing habits are transformed, and I can now follow my favorite shows. Since I don't have to schedule my life around the networks, I fall in love with The Daily Show, 24, and shows like Scrubs and The Office.
  4. I get an HD TV. To watch HD programming, cable bills skyrocket. Their service stumbles, and out of frustration I cancel my service.
  5. I discover that I can get good-enough quality television online. Since my computer (a mac mini) is plugged into my HD TV, I can watch it all in huge-screen glory. For free (mostly). I haven't found a show I wanted to watch that I haven't been able to get online, other than the Food Network, sadly.
Most people that I talk to know all about how to watch mainstream television online - meaning full-length shows distributed by major networks. They think of or iTunes, which actually work out great. I can really get anything I want there, either for free or paying for a show subscription, like $10/month for the Daily Show.

Using Hulu, despite its mixed initial reactions, has been awesome for my online-TV experience, and gives me more and more confidence that the Internet is already replacing cable as a distribution channel for content.
  1. The HD Gallery is amazing. Sure, it's only movie trailers now, but the proof-of-concept is that all content will be able to stream in HD within a few years.
  2. They continually add shows. I was initially skeptical of Hulu because of their close affiliation with the NBC and FOX networks. But the amount of content there now and added since I joined has been very compelling.
  3. Browsing and playing shows is easy.
  4. Ads are there, but they're well-embedded into the player. No need to adjust anything when the ads are done like the network's sites.
  5. The playlist feature is awesome. I can queue up shows (like a Netflix queue) and play them all, back-to-back. It's a great way to get into new shows from the start, like Chuck or Heroes.
I particularly like that though they're building a great site, they're also making it easy for people to embed the videos different places (like this clip below). That open approach is surprising from a site so close to the networks, but will help Hulu's success immensely. Now numerous video sites are supported by Hulu's content - and I'm guessing that Hulu gets a cut of the ads embedded in the content.

Anyway, enjoy Hulu...