Technical odds and ends

The week between Christmas and New Year’s must be the most unloved and unappreciated days of the year. They are especially weird for me this year because my employer, for the first time, is closed for the week. This is the longest vacation I have ever had in my working life (previous record was 11 days) and I’m finding it hard to stay on track. (Looking at my “Last Year’s Posts” widget, I see that this week last year was also underwritten.)

Where computer time is concerned, this is a good time of year to consider ways to do things differently:

Feed readers: I don’t really like them — if you’re going to start up a program so you can read aggregated news feeds, why not just visit the actual websites? I prefer the news ticker approach, where the news is pushed to your desktop, and have found two or three ticker-type (or pop-up) feed readers that do a good job: Tickershock, Feedpopper and Snackr (which requires Adobe Air). Feedpopper and Snackr are particularly good if you find yourself too busy to keep up with feeds every single day – you can program them to show you only what’s been posted at your favorite sites in the past day or two.

Twitter users may also find TweetDeck an interesting program, especially if they have dozens of people they are following (honestly I don’t know how people can keep up with 500 strangers at a time). Twitter has yet to find its true calling, I think. It could be a really useful local news tool (hey, it told me that Wegmans was mobbed the day before Christmas!) but it still is mainly about what other people are eating or watching. That said, it’s still more useful (and interesting) than Facebook as far as I’m concerned.

I also will put in a good word for a strange and low-tech device that came on the market a few months ago: the Peek. All it officially does is mobile e-mail (it does text messaging to phones as well), but it does it without locking you into a phone service contract. (See this recent NYT story about how Big Telecom makes their money on texting.) I got one of these because getting a Blackberry felt like it would be overkill, and my phone needs are served by my prepaid account. I have no idea if the people behind this startup company are making any profits, but their customer service is impeccable (they called me when I had a minor problem), and it was named Wired’s best gadget of the year. Consider it the “anti i-Phone.”