Cool things you can do with Twitter

Twitter is blowing up right now, and it’s easy to see why.  It’s extremely addictive, and very easy to update assuming you have unlimited texting on your phone.  Not being tied to a computer is, I believe, one of Twitters biggest advantages over similar offerings like Pownce.

But did you know you can do lots of other stuff with Twitter besides keep in touch with friends?  Here’s a short list I’ve put together…

You can:

1. track your gas mileage
2. Read “headlines” in a newspaper-like layout
3. Track packages from UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL (thanks John C. Dvorak for twittering this)
4. Use an RSS feed to keep track of high priority websites.  (it doesn’t have to be your website, got something you wish had a twitter feed but doesn’t, like a surf report or local news headlines?  Put their RSS feed into this website and follow them)
5. You can see what people love, hate, wish for or several other options.
6. With a little elbow grease you can know when to water your plants.

Okay, the last one is a stretch, but the first three are genuine useful applications that have surfaced using the Twitter interface.  I love it!

Still happy with T-Mobile customer support

Pretty much every experience I’ve had in the last year with T-Mobile has been wonderful. Each time I’ve spoken to a rep over the phone or gone into the local store with a question I’ve come out of the experience pleasantly surprised. After hearing horror story after horror story about every other telephone company it’s a pleasure to deal with the polite people who are willing and able to help with my questions and changes to my service plan.

I’m going to stop now before this turns into some sort of strange viral commercial. Which it basically is… I don’t have anything important to say or any tips or tricks for this post. I just had a nice experience at a retailer in an industry that is famous for its rude service reps and thought I’d let everyone know.

Making big video files smaller, or encoding the easy way

I just mentioned a neat site that allows you to share videos without letting the whole internet see them. But there’s a problem, the videos have to be under 50mb. I know that the majority of my videos are done on my digital camera or my cellphone, and even at the poor resolutions these devices use file sizes can quickly grow well beyond the 50mb limit set by Vox.

Here’s an easy solution. Video encoding is taking a video file and changing the resolution, bit-rate, or even file type so that it can be played with certain “decoders” or media players. There are several applications available for doing this, but one of the best (read free) and easiest I’ve found is MediaCoder. Even with the default settings MediaCoder took a 50mb video and converted it into a 2.5mb file for uploading to Vox. The only downside I can find with MediaCoder is that it is updated pretty regularly and if you want the best results you’ll need to check the website for updates pretty often. And that’s just nit-picking, I actually prefer updates and improvements over a product that gets released and then is never touched again.

So, if you’re looking to share videos online, or just want to save some room on that hard drive, get working on encoding those video files to a more efficient type of file. Just remember, while you can and will lose some quality if your settings aren’t set right or you try to compress them too small, you can never improve the quality above what the original file had. This is off the subject, but I’ve had some people come to me complaining that they didn’t hear any improvements when they converted their mp3 collection to lossless audio… well of course not, you started with mp3’s, the information that was lost when creating the mp3’s isn’t going to magically reappear! You need good source to get good finished product.

Sharing videos privately

Ever want to share a personal video clip, but just with a few people?  Afraid of putting it up on youtube?  Want to be able to use the same site for sharing pictures, videos, and blog posts?

Ok, that intro sounds like a bad late night paid commercial, but Vox is a neat little blogging site that can handle all the above as well as allowing you to setup friends and family groups so your private moments stay private.  It’s a little awkward setting up friends at first, but definitely worth it when you’re able to easily share the things you want with the people you want.  I’ve been using flickr for sharing pictures and it’s pretty easy to think of Vox as flickr for videos, with blogging thrown in for fun.  At least that’s primarily how I’ve been using it.

I mentioned that adding people as a friend or as family is a bit difficult.  Basically what you have to do is have them sign up, then find their page, click on their profile link, and then from their profile you can add them as a friend or family or both.  Not the most intuitive process, and it’s actually kept me from getting a couple of the less tech savvy family members setup.

Is Microsoft squandering their lead in the console war?

Microsoft has made a few good changes lately. Upping the warranty for the red ring of death to 3 years, finally doing something about the red ring of death, getting several games that used to be Playstation exclusives released on the 360. But there is one glaring problem that until recently I couldn’t put my finger on. I knew it was out there, I just couldn’t vocalize because there was no precedent, there were no other broadband connected consoles to compare to so I figured it just wasn’t to be. I’m talking about user created content on a console.

It’s actually much broader than that, but essentially, at the core of the problem is the fact that xbox live isn’t an open network. Everything is tightly controlled by Microsoft. Remember the Gears of War maps that came out recently? Epic wanted them to be free, it was Microsoft that demanded the maps be premium content. I’d like to blame Microsoft for the Guitar Hero song pack pricing, but seeing as how Red Octane, or Activision, or whoever owns the franchise now hasn’t spoken up, I don’t know where to lay the blame for that one. The point I’m trying to make is that as nice as a global friends list and voice for every game is, it’s not going to make up for the fact that the PS3 is an open system where developers can release add ons and map packs and even user created content on their own without Sony (or in the case of Live, Microsoft) getting in the way demanding this and that must be charged for, this or that has to be released later or earlier or even stating that content can’t be released at all.

This interview is what crystallized the whole situation for me. The fact that Unreal Tournament III can have mods on the PS3 is enough to break me away from the 360 for that game. If more games continue in this trend and Microsoft doesn’t loosen the death grip they have on Xbox Live they will start losing gamers to the more flexible gaming platform.

Come on Microsoft, I prefer your blades to the Sony Media Cross Bar, I prefer the universal friends list to Sony’s patched together mess. I don’t even mind paying $60 a year for an online gaming service. But when you start limiting what publishers can release, or start messing with a publishers pay schedule, forcing them to charge for something that they themselves would like to be free. I’ll leave. I will pack up my bags and head out the door. Don’t make me…

Grammar and Punctuation

Good lord… don’t ever go back and reread old posts on your blog.  I’m catching so many grammar and punctuation errors that it’s making my stomach hurt just thinking about it.  Is it kosher to go back and edit old entries after the fact?  I may have to, my selective OCD may not allow me to leave these posts up with all the goofs I’m seeing.

Note: I don’t actually have any kind of OCD… I think…

What I learned when buying my HDTV

First off, do your homework!  Read everything you can find on the models you are considering for purchase.  Reviews, forum posts, manufacturers websites.  Keep in mind that most forum posts will be people looking for fixes for things they aren’t happy about, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see people gushing about how they love a certain product.  It’s good to know what people aren’t happy with.

Second, don’t judge an HDTV by it’s display model in the store.  When shopping for my monitor, the model BestBuy had on display was displaying a standard definition feed while the models next to it had HD content.  I don’t know why it was setup this way, but it made the Westinghouse look plain awful.  Absolutely horrible picture quality in store.  At home with the proper hook ups and HD source?  Amazing.

Finally, don’t be afraid to return the item.  You’re paying a lot of money for something that hopefully will last several years.  If you aren’t happy with it absolutely take it back.  I would recommend sticking with a model that will fit in a vehicle you own, or in a pinch, a vehicle that can easily be borrowed.  It’s a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that if I hadn’t been happy with my purchase, I wouldn’t have to jump through hoops getting a moving crew and a huge rental truck just to take my purchase back to the store.

There you have it.  3 quick and easy tips on buying a new HDTV set.

Lack of updates

Work has been pretty busy the last couple of weeks, so I literally haven’t had any “time to kill”

It’s not that nothing has been happening, I managed to pick up a Wii as well as a Westinghouse 42″ 1080p LCD set and although I think everything’s to be said about the Wii has already been said, I have some thoughts on the TV.  So if work stays light today and tomorrow I may get something up concerning the Westinghouse.


Sick again

It seems like I used to get sick… maybe once a year?  I actually had a box of Advil cold and sinus expire on me before I used more than half the pills.  I picked up a new box this week and you know what?  It doesn’t expire for three years!

You’d think after days and days of copious amounts of fluid running from my head that it would eventually dry up.  The human body is an amazing thing isn’t it?  An amazing, kinda gross thing at times.