Friday, April 17, 2009

Best (and Worst) Twitter Usernames: My Favorites

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Usernames are important on Twitter because unlike with email and web pages, messages are limited to 140 characters so the username is the most common way to identify a user. With email you see the full name in addition to the address. With domain names you have more flexibility with length and suffix, and these are not usually associated with a specific individual.

Don Reisinger of CNET wrote a useful article with Eight Twitter username tips. He provides sound, useful advice. However, now I will discuss what makes a username particular memorable and stand out among the crowd.

So what makes up for the best and worst usernames on Twitter? Here are my favorites, followed by ones I dislike.

Best: Coin Your Own Term, Start Your Own Movement

My favorite username, by far, belongs to professional athlete Rod Benson. Rod was a basketball player at my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, aka Cal. He has his own blog, Too Much Rod Benson, with his own take on professional basketball, trying to make it to the NBA, and life in general. He is also a contributing writer on Yahoo! Sports. How come he doesn't have more followers on Twitter? You have to follow this guy!
  • boomtho: Boom Tho is defined as "an occurrence of an uncommonly good thing" or "an exclamation or show of excitement". It even has the Boom Tho Movement spreading across the Internet and through the sports world.
Well, not everyone can coin their own term - or at least, it's rather difficult to come up with one that will take off, or even necessarily be that catchy. Certainly it is a rare thing to start your own movement! So what is a suitable alternative?

Best: Use Your Real Name, With A Twist

If you have a common name, or a short name, you can use a play on words to come up with something original, creative, and unique. Here are some examples of some popular Twitter users:
  • Mickipedia: My favorite example - bonus points for being a play on words of Wikipedia, which itself is a portmanteau.
  • sarahcuda: A common name turned in to an edgy and completely unique username.
  • CupCate: Cute and endearing, but not too cute. Food reference subliminally stimulates the appetite.
  • Scobleizer: Not a common name, but goes from simply a name to something that brings comic book hero gusto.
A couple more great examples - these are not popular, well-known users on Twitter, but they are a couple of my friends (so check them out!):
  • bryonium: Like with scobleizer, not a common name with that spelling, but goes from a simple name to something with that mad scientist sci-fi feel.
  • mofobes: What's better than Fobes? Mo' Fobes.

Best: Shortest Username
  • ev: Unfair advantage, Twitter co-founder. Same thing with biz.
  • om: It's his name, and a word, and part of the name of his company.
Bonus points for being easy/fast to type.

Worst: Redundant (Or Conceited) Self-Proclamation
  • iamdiddy: Yes. We know you are. No need to tell us.
  • itsparis: No. I wish it weren't. UPDATE: It's not really Paris Hilton. Hers is BabyGirlParis (what do you think, just as bad? Worse?), which provides a great lead in to the second part of my worst list:
  • Any username that professes something particularly conceited. I won't cite specific examples - in fact, I have not really seen users guilty of doing this. However, please don't do it! Hypothetically speaking, if you were to call yourself the world's best photographer, you would instantly lose credibility in my book. On the other hand, if you are an avid photographer or fan of photography (again, hypothetically speaking), I have no problem with something to the effect of "photo fan".
  • Exception to this rule: Non-obvious reference or facetious statement. Hypothetically, if the username is "JoesHouse", and Joe is a dog - that's cool with me. Also, Judah Friedlander declaring himself the Greatest Athlete In The World is obviously a joke and has the twist of irony.
Update: Now I think "itsparis" was brilliant, because it really wasn't!

Worst: Blatant Marketing Promoter Or Spammer


First it was junk mail. Then it was telemarketers. Next was e-mail spam. Then came IM and text message spam. Now spammers on Twitter follow you and try to get you to click on their links. It never ends.


Closing Words

The vast majority of accounts on Twitter are individuals that use their real name. I do so with my own personal account. It may not be original, but it is definitely convenient for all concerned because it makes it easier to remember, easier to spell/type, and easier to identify people.

The second major pattern is companies/organizations using their name (and not the name of individuals). This is less personal, but makes sense for branding and identification purposes. This is also effective because it can be updated by different people without causing confusion to consumers.


Finally, there are accounts that are for companies/organizations, but are represented by an individual. This is less common, and blurs the line between the person and the brand.

(Note: I currently have to give myself low marks for having ambiguous identity/branding, but I would like to turn TechRantAndRave in to an organization/company with its own branding, with multiple people contributing to it. So don't forget to follow me too!)

Overall I see a lot more accounts on Twitter that interest me and pique my curiosity, and very few that are a turn off. What are your favorites and dislikes? Let me know!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reading List Apps Compared: Read It Later, I Need To Read This, Instapaper

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In today's world we are inundated with more information than ever before. Organizing and consuming this information is a struggle. These three applications are tools that help manage lists of web pages that you would like to read. Each allow you to easily add the web page currently open in your browser to the end of your reading list queue.

First, before comparing these apps, why would you need to use them as opposed to something else? Here are some alternatives for saving URLs, listed with drawbacks:
  • Bookmarking in your browser: not shared across multiple computers (unless you use a synchronization app), need to manually distinguish as being meant to be read later
  • Saving in a text file: more clicks to copy/paste each URL, not shared across multiple computers
  • Saving in an online document (i.e. Google docs, wiki page): more clicks to copy/paste each URL
  • Save to delicious.com: need to tag each to distinguish it from others as being meant to be read later
  • Save with ScrapBook Firefox extension: not shared across multiple computers
  • Drag url to desktop/folder: not shared across multiple computers

Note that for each of these alternative solutions, there is not a trivially easy (as in one click) means to mark a page as read or unread.

Read It Later

Now, on to the comparison. First, Read It Later (http://readitlaterlist.com) is available as both a web application, and as a Firefox extension and iPhone/iPod app. For my purposes, I'll focus on the web application. Why? The reason is because I use several different computers on a regular basis, and I do not want to install the Firefox extension on each one. Furthermore, even after installing and configuring the extension, they would need to constantly synch. I prefer the simple usability of the browser bookmarklets.

Read It Later provides three bookmarklets:
  • Read It Later: adds current page in the browser to reading list queue
  • Mark As Read
  • Reading List

Once each button is added to your browser's bookmarks, clicking on them will perform the described action. Clicking on the Read It Later or Mark as Read buttons will show a confirmation message in a small popup window, which appears briefly than promptly closes by itself.

Viewing the Reading List page (screenshot) online, you can view a list of Unread or Read pages, sorted by Date Added (Newest First), Date Added (Oldest First), Alphabetical, or by Site. For each link in the list, it only takes one click to either mark it as read (from the Unread list page) or delete it (from the Read list page).

Finally, Read It Later has a search box to filter the list of links shown to those matching a term you enter. It dynamically updates the page as your type.

I Need To Read This

Now, on to I Need To Read This (http://ineedtoreadthis.com). I Need To Read This provides two bookmarklets:
  • I Need To Read This: adds current page in the browser to reading list queue
  • Read An Article: shows you the oldest unread page in your reading list
Clicking on each will perform the described action - however, unlike Read It Later, I Need To Read This shows a popup window which does not close automatically. Which method is better is up to personal preference (I am actually neutral, each are good in their own way).

I Need To Read This shows two options for viewing your list of pages: the to-read list (screenshot), and the full list with all links including old/read ones. All pages are always sorted by date added with newest shown first.

From the list page there is an option to manually add a page to your reading list by just entering the URL. This has the advantage of not needing to actually load a page in your browser before saving it.

I Need To Read This has a newly developed Firefox extension.

Instapaper

Instapaper (http://www.instapaper.com) has a single bookmarklet called "Read Later". Like with Read It Later, the popup window appears briefly, then closes by itself.

Pages on the reading list (screenshot) have a few additional options:
  • Star this article: starred articles can be viewed in a separate list
  • Text-only version: view a text-only version with the content of the page viewed on instapaper.com
  • Edit: allows you to edit the URL, title (optional), and summary (optional)
  • Delete
Links can be viewed in a list with Unread, Starred, or Deleted items. Instapaper also has the option to manually add a URL, with an optional title and summary.

Instapaper has an iPhone/iPod app in both free and pro versions.


Other Features

All applications allow you to publish your reading list as a public RSS feed. Read It Later allows you to password protect the feed.

Read It Later and I Need To Read This both have Firefox extensions. At this time I prefer the convenience of just using browser bookmarklets, but I might try these again in the future.

Read It Later and Instapaper both have iPhone/iPod apps. The biggest feature of each is offline access to pages in your reading list. This is a big advantage because I have an iPod Touch and don't always have wi-fi access. I have installed both but am not actively using either.

As far as support, the first two both have forums available for you to report a problem or make a suggestion:
http://ideashower.com/support/read-it-later
http://getsatisfaction.com/ineedtoreadthis

The Verdict: Despite the additional features and options available in Read It Later and Instapaper, I am currently using I Need To Read This for my reading list needs because it is so simple, fast, and easy to use. It is the usability and my comfort with the user interface that is the distinguishing advantage, even though this is a very subjective factor. I am looking forward to several key feature additions to bring it up to a level of parity to the other sites. However, if the rate of development for I Need To Read This doesn't keep pace, I may switch to using Read It Later or Instapaper. Regardless, I will keep a close eye on each of these simple, yet extremely useful applications.

Full Feature List Comparison Spreadsheet



Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2009

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Today was BYOBW 2009: Bring Your Own Big Wheel race down Vermont St. on Potrero Hill in San Francisco.

In a high-tech world, it's nice to get back to basics and have some good plain fun.

Here's a video of the first run of the race.



I'll upload some more videos in the next day or two.

Here are some notable outfits:
  • Running of the Bulls: these guys actually ran, not rode
  • Knights in shining underwear: a couple of guys wearing plate armor and chain mail on the upper half of their body, and nothing but underwear and knee pad on the lower half.  One of them rode down on a tiny Razor kick scooter.
  • Mexican wrestling masks
  • Camouflage, paintball style
  • Easter bunny suit and plenty of bunny ears
  • Guy Fawkes mask, a la V For Vendetta
  • BMX helmet and pads (smartest one if you ask me)
  • Teletubby
  • Iron Man
  • Elmo (Sesame Street)
  • Elvis (I think?)
  • Nun (in drag)
  • Gorilla suit
  • Super Mario and Luigi
  • Red Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey, with a purple feather boa
  • Ladybug wings/antenna
  • Transformer/Voltron
  • Superman, Batman
  • Police cop
  • Scooby Doo
  • Fred Flintstone
  • Viking horns (plastic hats)
  • Giant Mii head (Nintendo Wii)
Here are some notable vehicles (sorry I didn't list more, there were so many):
  • Plastic Cooler
  • Hog big wheel like a Harley Davidson
  • Inflatable killer whale
  • Plastic trash/recycle bins
Here's a Google Street View of the location where this video was taken.



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gmail fail in German?

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Gmail fail in German?
Originally uploaded by georgewsu
Tried to get to Gmail from Firefox on Ubuntu Linux. Got this error message page, which looks to be in German.

I signed out from Google and tried again, and everything is back to normal.

I forgot to copy and paste the text to feed it in to a translator.

Fail Level: Strange

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Google eclipse plugin for Java development with App Engine (screenshots)

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Google just announced tonight support for Java on App Engine. Early access is available to the first 10,000 to sign up.

I signed up and then installed the eclipse plugin. Here's a screenshot of eclipse showing the files and code after initially creating a new Web Application Project.

There are 3 Google icons, they are:
  • New Web Application Project (blue g)
  • GWT Compile Project (red G)
  • Deploy App Engine Project (engine)

You start off with:
  • Servlet class (extends HttpServlet)
  • jdoconfig.xml
  • log4j.properties
  • appengine-web.xml (screenshot)
  • logging.properties
  • web.xml (screenshot)
  • index.html
Here is a screenshot of the test server running in eclipse. It runs jetty, like most Java based test servers do.

Here is a screenshot of the console log after a successful deployment. All I had to do was press the "Deploy App Engine Project" button (the engine icon). It was that simple. Really. How easy could it be.

See my app engine site live on appspot: http://techrantandrave.appspot.com/
(I plan on developing it out, but of course right now all it has is Hello World)

Verdict: Amazing. I am speechless. Completely floored. Utterly unbelievable. I'm my 10+ years professionally developing web apps and programming in Java, I have never deployed an application to a live site so easily. That was practically as easy as "emacs foo.html". Ok, my job is not to deploy web sites, my job is to develop them - however with cloud computing now, I can wear that many more hats that much more easily.

P.S. I did play around with App Engine before using python. However it just wasn't this smooth. Part of it was because I have little experience with python. The other part of it is that having IDE support with eclipse is huge. I didn't even have to touch the command line (which I did to deploy with python, and I think even to run the test server with python).

Here's proof that my appspot site is running Java. He he, forced a NullPointerException.

Rant: Outlook doesn't know what day it is. Today does not equal Yesterday!

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I use Microsoft Outlook as one of my email clients. It actually works quite well for what I need and want out of it. Much as I am a fan of Mozilla, and not of Microsoft, Thunderbird doesn't quite have all the functionality that I use in Outlook for this email account.

One of the features that I use regularly in Outlook is Search Folders. You can set up your own criteria of what messages to show in the folder, and they also include some default ones.

The problem is, sometimes the first time in the day I click on Received Today or Received Yesterday, it shows messages from the wrong day! I can click it over and over again, open another folder and come back, but in the folder for today it will only show messages from yesterday.

Luckily there is an easy workaround. Here's what I do:

The folder will refresh with messages using the correct criteria.

Fail Level: Annoying

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rant of the Day: Twitter fail, KDE froze on me bad

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Konsole scrambled image
Originally uploaded by georgewsu
Rant of the Day Part 1:

Twitter's hiccups today have already been discussed online.

What I want to mention is that I lost 3 tweets from yesterday afternoon. Just looking at my twitter page, it shows "15 updates" but there are only 12 there.

Ironically, 2 of those lost tweets were me talking about why my profile picture wouldn't save. In hindsight it's obvious that the site was having problems - but at the time I was really confused, because that was my first time uploading a profile picture and it didn't work. It showed up at first but then disappeared - I tried at least a good 5 times, even waiting a while in between attempts, to update it. Finally I tried uploading a picture of our cat, and then my original picture re-appeared! Well I got what I wanted, so I left it alone.

My 3rd lost tweet was thanking the Warholizer for generating my profile pic.

Rant of the Day Part 2:

I use Ubuntu Linux, and KDE as the window manager. For the most part I really love it. There is only one thing remaining that really bothers me: everyone once in a while - actually on a regular basis, it partially freezes on me. It's almost every day, or every few days, that the taskbar is frozen and won't refresh. Fortunately I have a really easy fix which will cause everything to refresh and work as normal again: issue "killall plasma && plasma" from the command line.

Today it starting freezing really bad. Actually it would still respond to keyboard and mouse input, but just the graphics wouldn't refresh. I had to just close all my windows. I'm not at that computer right now, but when I am I guess I'll just try rebooting.

The real problem was that the clock in the taskbar was frozen too. I was sitting there for an hour later than I thought because the clock kept showing the same time! It wasn't until I looked at a different clock that I realized what had happened. *sigh*

Sweet! Twitter / Unscheduled maintenance

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Twitter is currently down for unscheduled maintenance.
We expect to be back in about an hour. Thanks for your patience.

IT'S COOL,
I CAN CHILL.

HURRY UP.


I was actually glad to capture this screenshot because the site was back up as soon as I refreshed the page.

My take on Startup Weekend San Francisco

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See my previous posts for a list of the demos and photos from the demos.

Anand Iyer has a great summary of the entire event on his blog.

Here's what I think about the projects I saw at the demos:

  • FounderShack: I think this is a great idea, and definitely something I would use. I've seen how difficult it is finding people on craigslist that want to do the same thing you want to do, let alone connecting by word of mouth. I understand the revenue model - they would offer something valuable, so I can see people paying for it. I can also see VCs wanting to connect with founders, as well as product and service providers (Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, etc). My concern would be how to protect intellectual property - do people have to sign an NDA agreement to get past a certain step?
  • "Digg for Deals": this is a crowded market, but also probably the easiest to monetize. Makes sense for people who are browsing for something and are not picky about the exact model. For me, I would probably looking for a product with very specific criteria most of the time - so good filters would be key. For tech gear, one little difference in technical specs can make a world of difference. Definitely need email alerts too.
  • BigPonzi: I can't believe this kids were born in the 90s.
  • DemoClarity: This is desperately needed. Please don't sell out.
  • Hubb.Me: Awesome to see it live already. Needs to be scaled up so that people can trust using it. I'm not a big fan of iframes though. Maybe the landing page could also show all the links so that I can also right-click to open in new windows/tabs.
  • TwitFitLog: I'm not a fitness maven, so it's not really up my alley. I'm sitting here blogging in my free time, what do you expect. However, when I do exercise I would like to track it - I just bought some weights and haven't used them in a few days (just last night when I got back from Startup Weekend I thought about that, and how I normally would have used them if I hadn't been out). It occurs to me that this service technically doesn't have to be dependent on Twitter - but I guess it's a good platform to build on since people already use it. I definitely would only use this if the tweets were private though. It does make a lot of sense to just send an SMS text message than have to log this info in an iPhone/iPod or have to log in to something like evernote, or even jot it down on paper.
  • SnoozeMail: I can see some people using this all the time, so I think this is a great idea. For me, I'm not so sure. I don't really want the email showing up back in my inbox. I just want a better way to sort through the emails that I have already flagged/categorized. I think the way to go is to get a free personal version out there and gain some traction, and then try to make money from business use.
  • OurBlock: I have mixed feelings about this. I definitely want more crime prevention, especially since I live in the city (San Francisco). I want to see them succeed, however I am concerned about the privacy issues, the voyeuristic feel of it gives me the creeps a little bit, and in the back of my mind it seems all a bit to 1984. I feel totally hypocritical, but I want the cameras on all the time except for when I am in sight! Unless of course, someone is committing a crime against me, in which I want zoom!
  • Img.gr: Great demo! Impressive how much they got working. Not clear what the revenue model is here, but it definitely has value to people. Is the data all going to be stored on S3?
  • LiveCut: I so want to see this happen. Every time I leave a concert I hope I can find pictures people posted on flickr - hoping to ever get an audio recording of the concert is a total pipe dream. How could artists not see this as a great way to generate/retain fan interest and also make money? I thought some other companies were already trying to do this though, I seem to recall Phish putting up all their concerts for sale (I might be wrong).
  • FeedTheChef: I thought there were already lots of RSS readers out there, but probably none of them have as good usability. Put something like this on an iPhone/iPod, Kindle, or the mythical Apple/Mac tablet, and I am so there.
  • MonkeyCalling: Sounds really fun for personal use, and really useful for business use. The demo really showed something new and different. Obviously they can make the survey generation more slick, like integrating address books to pull in phone numbers. I wonder if they would do a text message version? Or is the whole point to always have the real immediacy of phone calls?
  • CheapParking: The tough part is getting the information, keeping it up to date, and making it relevant in real time. I think it is a hard sell getting parking lot operators to cooperate, because I don't see them being very tech savvy. However, the user generated feedback would help a lot. Think "Did this work for you?" like BugMeNot and RetailMeNot.
  • TinyUPC: I thought people were already trying to do something like this? I am misremembering? My concern with this is how many people are willing to enter the UPC information to get some product information, instead of just going to the company web site or googling for it.
  • Indinero: A couple of students from Berkeley doing mint.com for business. I can see that businesses have different needs than consumers, so I get it. I think it's a tough area to break into though, so good luck. Go Bears!
  • Yoola: This is so needed, can't wait for it!
  • Spelunkr: Are you kidding me, I totally need this! I just launched this blog and Twitter account to go with it. I need something to track number of followers over time. Save all the data for me and give me some nice graphs, please.
Well, there were lots of great ideas, and I was really impressed. It was inspiring to see so much energy in one room.

Photos from Startup Weekend San Francisco demos

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Photos from Startup Weekend San Francisco demos are posted here on flickr. I'm not a photographer, so sorry for the rough photos.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Startup Weekend San Francisco 2009 - Demo List

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I compiled a list of all the startups that did a demo at Startup Weekend San Francisco 2009:


The full spreadsheet is here.

Please let me know if any information is incorrect! Also help me fill in the parts that are missing. I'll be posting photos on flickr too (uploading now), I have at least one slide from every demo, except the one from ProdNV didn't come out (sorry guys).

Tweet or direct message me on twitter: @techrantandrave.

I've got my email up with Gmail for Google Apps, but I haven't sent up any distribution lists yet. Hey, I just started this blog this weekend - so I share the same birthday with all you #swsf09 folks!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Live cover of Blue Monday using Guitar Hero controllers

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Here's something I saw on TechNow TV today: a live performance covering New Order's Blue Monday using Guitar Hero controllers. The controllers are USB devices that act as inputs to the software developed to play notes and chords.

It reminds me of the times in high school / college when I would play around with Super Studio Session on the Mac and cover the Blue Monday intro (bass drum followed by bass line).

The band is called the Guitar Zeros, and their web site has a guide on how to use a Guitar Hero controller as an instrument. They also have a MySpace page.

Here's the video on technowtv.com with the story.











Announcing Tech Rant and Rave Blog - Rant 0, Rave 0

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Announcing Tech Rant and Rave - a blog about technology, and personal opinions on what sucks (rants) and what is great (raves) about it.

First Rant - Rant 0:
The first rant is a meta-rant. The fact is that there are too many things about technology to complain about, so it's not possible to pick just one to start with. There are issues with ease of use (usability), reliability, performance and speed, energy consumption, and a whole lot more. Over the course of this blog we hope to document organizations who are so guilty of putting out bad or flawed technology that they make the Hall of Shame. In the meantime, this will serve as a forum to voice personal opinions about complaints and gripes - things about technology that are irksome and infuriating.

To kick things off, here is a list of things I personally would like to complain
about:
  • spam
  • Microsoft
  • privacy issues
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Apple (Mac hardware, Mac OS, iPhone, iPod)
  • lack of free wi-fi

First Rave - Rave 0:
Like rant 0, rave 0 is a meta-rave, and is basically the same. There are so many amazing things about technology, and so many things people use today that are easily taken for granted, that no one thing can be picked first.

Again, I will kick things off with a list of things I personally am impressed with:
  • wireless internet
  • laptops
  • Apple (Mac hardware, Mac OS, iPhone, iPod)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • cell phones
  • cheap power CPUs
  • cheap high capacity hard drives
  • and of course, the Interweb, which this blog could not be possible without
A few things made both my lists (and this is just off the top of my head) - the things we use and value the most can also be the ones that we are the most critical of.

Here's to a new blog.