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Friday, July 25, 2008

Twitter: Why bother?

When I posted on microblogging a while ago, I said I would leave the discussion over the value of microblogging for later. Well later is here :) I have now been using Twitter (and some of it's cousins indirectly through various aggregation services) for a couple of weeks and I thought I'd comment on what value I've found in the idea.

The first impression of Twitter is that it's a colossal waste of time, and just like Facebook or any other social utility, it can be. It's one more thing to monitor, or that will plague you with frequent notifications. It's also one more thing that can be a target for constant tweaking and fiddling, which is more time not spent on things that 'matter'. In my short experience with Twitter, it's also broken a lot, so one might wonder what the point of using any online application with frequent downtime might be.

It does however have it's positive aspects as well, and here are a couple of them:

  • Free SMSes from your desktop: With Natz and I both on Twitter, and her cell details set up on the service, I can easily SMS her from any of the third party desktop Twitter applications by sending her a direct message.
  • Great tool for simple news on your site: If you have a personal or commercial site which you want to update with really short, simple news updates, a Twitter account and the Twitter gadget code may be just what you need.
  • Great integrated tools: Twitter's API has been heavily utilized by third parties to provide great services. One good example of this is Remember The Milk which allows you to add items to your todo list, modify them and receive reminders and lists via Twitter. Combined with Twitter's SMS connectivity this makes for a very powerful productivity tool.
  • It's less distracting than web surfing: This may seem like a strange one, but if you crave just a tiny bit of an online fix before getting down to real work in the mornings, scanning Twitter updates on a desktop tool like Twhirl or Digsby is far safer than actually opening up your browser (which might just lead to much more wasteful browsing).
  • Gain new insight on people: It may not be productive, but it's just plain interesting to see what people get up to every day.

It all comes down to whether any of these outweigh the potential trap of yet another social network. In my case I think they do :)

[Update: 19/08/2008]

Oh well, so much for the most compelling reason to use Twitter. As of last week, Twitter no longer sends outgoing SMSs on their UK number, which was also used for pretty much everyone outside of the USA and Canada. They are looking into carrier agreements to try and make a plan, but I somehow doubt SA will be high on their list of priorities.

Friday, July 18, 2008


While high oil prices undoubtedly have advantages for the environment and society in general, forcing many commuters to finally realize that public transport is the way to go, those of us that don't have that option are suffering somewhat. When you have no choice but to pile into your car every day and hit the highway to get to work, there's not a hell of a lot yo can do to escape the high price of petrol.. or is there?

Hypermiling is a growing movement worldwide which utilizes non-aggressive driving to improve vehicle fuel efficiency. By slowing down, anticipating traffic movement and not madly racing from robot to robot and stop to stop (where you'll have to waste energy braking anyway) the mileage achievable on a tank of fuel can be stretched quite significantly.
Interestingly enough while some extreme hypermiling tricks such as rolling through stops and drafting could potentially increase your accident risks, the simpler methods such of those mentioned above are actually likely to improve road safety. You'll be safer and saving money.
I started my own minor hyperkiloing (stupid imperial systems..) experiment a few weeks ago. I limited my speed to 100km/h on the highway and strictly sticking to the speed limit in other areas. I don't accelerate rapidly away from stops and pay attention to upcoming stops, coasting to slow down instead of rapidly breaking.
Yesterday was my first refuelling since I started made these changes and I was pleasantly surprised. While the R525 to fill my 50l tank was hardly cheap, I got some satisfaction out of the fact that instead of getting my usual ~650km to the tank, I had squeezed an extra ~90km out of it and reached ~740km! My daily commute is 18km one way, so with the current petrol price of R10.50/l here are a couple of ways to look at this improvement:

  • That's an extra ~14% out of my tank, that's just over R70 worth of fuel.
  • It's an extra 2.5 full days worth of extra work commuting per month.
  • Annually this will save ~1.6 tanks of fuel, which is ~81l of petrol or ~R850 (probably much more as oil goes up).
  • My mileage has improved from ~13km/l to ~15km/l or..
  • In the popular alternate notation from ~7.6l/100km to ~6.7l/100km.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

KNRA Cleanup and Snare hunt

Natz and I visited the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve for the first time in May when they had one of their guided bird walks (they have one every month, check out their calendar). It's a surprisingly large reserve (the largest in the Joburg Metro) and besides being beautiful has an impressive array of fauna and flora and even an archaeological dig site! Not bad at all considering how close it is.

Well a reserve of that size obviously takes some maintenance, and part of that is occasional cleanups (stupid litterers) and snare removal excursions by volunteers. There will be one this Saturday July 5th, starting at the Silent Pool entrance (map here). Any extra hands would be welcome, and it's a great reason to get out in the open and away from overpopulated (and overrated) shopping malls. To quote Sue of the reserve association:

Suggest old clothes, comfy shoes, own water and lots of energy

For more info, there are contact details on the reserve's site.

Three bags full[Update: 10/07/2008]

We went, we saw, we collected. Andrew joined Natz and I as we split from the main group to collect on the opposite bank. We quickly filled the three bags we had on us. We found a dodgy, stereotypical old boot too :)


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