To Blog, or to Micro-Blog?

To blog, or to micro-blog? That is the question.

With the advent of Twitter, micro-blogging has seemingly taken the world by storm. Heck, even President Obama is known to do it.

While you need to sit down and focus in order to write a blog post (or at least I do), Twitter lowers that “preparatory barrier” by forcing you to write your micro-post (which they call a “tweet”) in 140 characters or less. Mind you, that’s 140 LETTERS, not words.

That sounds fine in theory, and even I “tweet” every now and then. (http://twitter.com/maxahn)

But that 140-character limit is a double-edged sword, and it often grates on me.

The thing is that I actually like writing, though I seldom manage to gather up enough drive to write a long post. But on the other hand, I honestly don’t think that I can write anything meaningful within a mere 140 letters.

I find that my tweets often degenerate into banal blurts of day-to-day happenings, devoid of any flavor. (“I’m going on a vacation, yay!”)

From what I can see from others, they seem to share my problem too, even though they may not see it as such.

I think that’s what causing me to tweet less and less.

But that’s not making me write more posts on my blog either, so I’m just ending up writing less.

Or maybe I’m just getting lazier with age?

BeeJive – The Multi-Protocol IM Client for BlackBerry

Although I only have a handful of friends I chat (through Instant Messaging) with on a regular basis, they each have their own “favorite” IM client and refuse to use others.

I’ve tried time and again to “unify” them under a single IM protocol, but in vain.

That’s why I use Multi-Protocol IM clients like Digsby when I’m on a PC.

But ever since getting my BlackBerry Bold, this became a problem for me again.

Now, RIM (Research In Motion, the makers of BlackBerry) does provide serviceable clients for the major IM protocols (GTalk, AIM, Y!, MSN) for free. And there are a number of free clients that provide multi-protocol support, such as Instango and Palringo.

The problem with the former is that having each client running will take up precious device memory. Since the BlackBerry Bold is notoriously short of device memory, this can become a major problem.

The problem with the latter is that… well, while they do support multi-protocol, the support seemed rather flaky from my experiences with them.

Enter BeeJive, formerly known as JiveTalk.

This is also a multi-protocol client, but the beauty of it is that they have a dedicated server sitting in the middle, between my BlackBerry and the actual IM servers. This way, BeeJive provides a more stable experience.

Come to think of it, Instango and Palringo use a similar approach too, but through the Jabber(XMPP) protocol. The BlackBerry connects to their server using the XMPP protocol, which in turns routes the connection to the respective IM servers through XMPP transports.

Maybe it’s just me, but connection through XMPP transports are often fickle. I’ve had connections dropping at random interval, and sometimes the transport just won’t let me log into the IM server.

I don’t know what protocol BeeJive uses, but I suspect that they’ve developed a proprietary one for their use. In any case, it works really well for me.

But BeeJive comes with a caveat, which can be a real biggie for some people.

It’s not free.

You have to dish out US$19.95 for a one-device license, meaning that you have to purchase the license again if you ever lose your phone, or upgrade to a new one.
If you want to be protected against such changes, you’ll need to pay US$29.95.

BeeJive does offer a 30-day free trial, so you have a full month to test it out before deciding whether it’s worth the money.

In my case, the answer was a resounding “yes”.

But BeeJive isn’t all perfect, though; I’ve had it crashing on me with some “unhandled java exception” errors 3 times in a month of usage.
It also locked up my phone once when I tried to use its feature of grabbing a phone number from chat, adding it directly to Contacts.

That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the most stable Multi-Protocol IM available for the BlackBerry at the moment, and that’s enough reason for me to be worth $19.95.

WordPress for BlackBerry is No-Go for SK Telecom

Oh, for god’s sake.
Not *another* BB app that cannot connect through BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service)… and SK Telecom has no concrete plans yet to support Direct TCP connections on their BlackBerry devices. To make things worse, the folks working on WordPress for BlackBerry don’t have any ETA on the availability of BIS connection either.

This makes the app practically unusable for me, because the only place where I have free WiFi access is my home, and I won’t have any real reason to use WordPress for BlackBerry over other full-blown weblog clients (or even a web browser).

Oh, well.

Therefore must the soul deceive…

One of the most impressionable quotes I’ve come across, comes rather surprisingly from a video game called “Vagrant Story“.

The body is but a vessel for the soul,

a puppet which bends to the soul’s tyranny.

And lo, the body is not eternal,

for it must feed on the flesh of others,

lest it return to the dust from whence it came.

Therefore must the soul deceive, despise and murder men.

Maybe it is not so surprising, if you consider the fact that this game was one of Squaresoft’s more ambitious and experimental works, with an especially dark and mature theme.

I should do a review of the game sometime… If I can ever find the time for it.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

I was first introduced to this beautiful poem through the movie Solaris (starring George Clooney).

These haunting words by Dylan Thomas have become my favourite ever since.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Google’s Shopping Spree

Hot on the heels of the Writely acquisition, Google announced on tuesday (14th Mar 2006) that they have bought SketchUp.

This time, though, the acquired product is a commercial software, currently selling for a whopping US$495. They do offer a free trial version, but it is rather severly crippled with one of the shortest trial periods I have ever seen (it stops working after 8 hours).

I did not have the time (and frankly, neither the inclination) to get any hands-on experience with the trial, but it does look like an interesting piece of software from what I can gather from the screenshots, descriptions, feature lists, and user reviews.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the official website, explaining what SketchUp is:

What is SketchUp?

SketchUp is a deceptively simple, amazingly powerful tool for creating, viewing, and modifying 3D ideas quickly and easily. SketchUp was developed to combine the elegance and spontaneity of pencil sketching with the speed and flexibility of today’s digital media.

Developed for the conceptual stages of design, this powerful yet easy-to-learn software allows for quick and easy 3D form creation, the result is an interface that supports a dynamic, creative exploration of 3D form, material and light.

SketchUp combines a compact yet robust tool-set with an intelligent guidance system that streamlines the 3D drawing process.

So, basically, it is a user-friendly tool for quickly “sketching up” 3D models, almost as intuitively as drawing a sketch on a piece of paper.

But why would Google want this software? The answer is most probably two-fold:

  • It is extremely easy for any user to quickly pick it up and draw simple buildings
  • SketchUp has a robust plugin that integrates well with Google Earth (also see Wikipedia entry)

If you don’t know what Google Earth is, it is a free 3D graphics application through which you can view aerial photography and satellite images of almost every major location on earth. Due to the nature of these licensed images, most locations are quite outdated, while not a few of them are totally non-existant. That’s where SketchUp can come in.

 

By offering a “lite” version of SketchUp (or maybe renamed as something like “Google Sketch”) for free, the existing millions of enthusiastic Google Earth users can draw up and add the missing landmarks and buildings. Google Earth already has a vibrant community that creates countless plugins, so this possibility should not be too far-fetched.

Considering that Google Earth also offers “Plus” and “Pro” versions costing from US$20 a year to US$400 a year, they might also offer more powerful versions of SketchUp to these paying users. Or they might even choose to offer this service exclusively to paying users, although I think that would seem out-of-sync with the typical Google Philosophy of “Do No Evil”.

All in all, I say this was a good buy, with excellent synergy potential as well as ROI (Return-on-Investment).

So, where is Google’s next stop on this shopping spree?

The Google Word Processor

Writely Screenshot

One of the hottest topics around the web this last week has been the acquisition of Writely by Google.
So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about that?

Allow me to take a few minutes to give some background on this situation.

On 4th October last year, Sun Microsystems announced a “strategic relationship” with Google. This announcement whipped up a whole storm of rumors, predictions and hopes that a “Google Office” will soon be launched – spelling certain doom to Microsft Office.

The idea behind the “Google Office” was something like this:

  • It would be 100% based on the web browser, so that any computer with an internet connection and a web browser (which I believe would refer to more than 99% of all the personal computers in the world) could run it.
  • It would also sport a sleek, elegant and user-friendly interface, as can be seen in the Google-branded product line.
  • Files would be securely stored in a Google-run server, and accessible from anywhere in the world – users would no longer need to remember to make a copy of their documents when going someplace else (such as a holiday or business trip).
  • All content of all the files ever created by the user would be searchable using the proven Google engine, and users would never again have to “lose” a file by forgetting where they put it

Sounds cool? A vast majority of tech-inclined bloggers and netizen thought so too.

Weeks passed by with no significant progress or official comment on the “Google Office”, and Google announced on 31st October plans to fund the development of Open Office.

In the following months of silence, most cynics and even ex-enthusiasts started to regard the whole “Google Office” affair as one wild rumor, especially since the “strategic relationship” only states an agreement in the bundling of Java with Google Toolbar , and vice versa.

Then, with the sudden announcement of the Writely acquisition on 9th March, rumors are flying high again.

Ok, so what is this Writely thing?

Basically, it is a very, very close implementation of the Google Office (or at least the word processing part of it). Here’s how they describe it:

What does Writely do?

Writely allows you to edit documents online with whomever you choose, and then publish and blog them online.

What exactly can I do with it?

  • Upload Word documents, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
  • Use our simple WYSIWYG editor to format your documents, spell-check them, etc.
  • Invite others to share your documents (by e-mail address).
  • Edit documents online with whomever you choose.
  • View your documents’ revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Publish documents online to the world, or to just who you choose.
  • Download documents to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip (compressed).
  • Post your documents to your blog.

As soon as news of this announcement broke out, Writely has closed off new registrations while the system is “moved to Google’s software architecture”, and is offering a waiting list instead.

Does this mean signify the first of many components from which the Google Office will eventually emerge? I strongly believe so.

Am I excited? You bet! :)

P.S I had the fortune of snapping up a Writely account before they had been acquired, and I’m currently writing this post on Writely. Let’s see how well their “direct blog posting” feature works…

Update: It works extremely well! In fact, it works almost perfectly. The only gripe I have is that WordPress’s “blockquote” feature is not supported, but that’s minor.

Googled Up!

Today, I googled for my name “Maximilian Ahn”, and was pleasantly surprised to find me as the topmost search result! A search for my shorter name, “Max Ahn”, also returned information about me in the first page.

I have finally achieved one of my goals for setting up this blog :)

Originally inspired by this post from Lifehacker (a collaborative blog with a focus on sharing productivity tips), now I have:

  1. My own name (both maxahn.com and max-ahn.com) registered as a personal URL
  2. A blog which shares my thoughts (using my personal URL)
  3. A group of e-mail addresses ending with my personal URL (@maxahn.com)
  4. A growing “Internet Presence”, showing up in the major search engines

Pretty cool, huh?