Taking Astrophotography Seriously

Originally Published by Paul J Manoogian,
Given that I was born the son of a photographer, I’ve always been interested in photography. My father was a pioneer with certain film formats, processing techniques, and working with color film (yes, he goes back that far!). My attention to photography has always been a hobby of mine. Would I enjoy doing this professionally, of course I would! But, now, that’s not something I can do.
One of my favorite kinds of photography is macro photography. I like making tiny things bigger so I can see the details. As much as Astrophotography seems to be working with something gigantic, it’s really about bringing out details in something that is really small to our naked eye. So, essentially, I love this for the same reason I love taking ultra-close-up pictures of bugs and plants.
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Posted in Technology

The Trials and Tribulations of Creating a Film

On a regular daily basis, I find myself discussing a very dear project to me: Zombie eXs. This film culminated many long nights and weekends with so many wonderful friends (old and new). The project itself took about 42 days of shoot-time, but took us years to complete since we were working day-jobs to support the project and our lives. The post production time was intermixed with the production schedule, just to keep things moving along. The total project runtime is about 100 minutes, which roughly translates from a one-page-per-minute script formula. So, you can imagine the time it takes to shoot, on top of the time it takes to edit, add special effects, and just deal with the wonderful weirdness of Mother Earth, when you’re shooting outside. People’s personalities morph into some stranger shapes than you’d expect at times, friendships get a little strained for a few hours, and sometimes tempers get wildly out of control. Equipment failure, when you’re in remote locations during the latest of hours in the evening, are always tremendously unwelcome surprises. All-in-all a great experience, but certainly nothing for the faint of heart.

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Posted in Art, Business, Misc, Movies, Other, Photography, Style, Syndication, Technology, TV, Video

Why create a plant monitoring system?

Of the many loves I have, it’s clear I love technology. Love being a word that honestly describes a want to use technology, and simple amazement at what can be done with so much pre-assembled tech as well as pieces and parts. It doesn’t stop at electronics, of course, it’s about taking all of those things you can buy at your local hardware store and making them into something.

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Posted in Arduino, Automation, Hardware, Technology

The Hacker Community

It’s sometimes hard to believe, in a world of everyone-for-themselves, that there are vast communities of people who are willing to share ideas with each other. Beyond the simple telling of what one should possibly do, people help other people. People invest in other people’s ideas and become excited by them. Part of our world culture is shifting to helping people in any way they can. Everything needs a face-lift, and so does the world of advancement in every industry. This is clearly seen by the sheer amount of “crowd sourced” opportunities. Look at examples of Waze (recently purchased by Google), for gathering information about traffic or perhaps the huge number of projects being developed and hoping for funding from folks peering in on sites like Kickstarter. We have become a world of rapid change unparalleled to any of our earlier generations. The proliferation of shared ideas, and mashed-together solutions, proves that our world is become a sum of bolt-on parts.

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Posted in Assistive Technology, Business, Hacks, Home, Kids, Misc, Science, Software, Style, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Things Between Things

I’m sure it’s beyond clear that I have this insatiable want to do many things and learn all the time. My project list is beyond gross in volume, but I love everything I’m trying to carry out. If only there were 12 of me, I could get this stuff done! One of the biggest challenges I face with anything I decide to do is getting side-tracked by some other thing I’m trying to do, or something I’d started in the past that seems to fall into sight while I’m working on another project. For example, I’m working on this Gigantic Assistive Clock, and then while I’m in the middle of that, I finally get a piece of hardware to help me with one of my “monitoring” projects. So, I get all excited and go completely over-the-top with working on something related to that. For example, I started creating a fairly detailed (and possibly over-complex) version of an energy monitoring application that can send source energy results to multiple “Internet of Things” sites and aid my automation system. I have this problem where I desire details about the data I’m collecting. It’s a sickness, but I love it. I like the idea of business intelligence and love to create inference solutions based on it. So, like I said… simple idea… out of control.

This distraction cost me some time from working on the Assistive Clock. What cost me time working on the distraction was yet another distraction; the fan on my CPU died. So, after fiddling with finding the right fan and replacing it, it set me back several days and made me less enthused to put my tower computer back together. See? Distraction after distraction.

However, what I did gain along the way was a number of wonderful contacts (yet again!) for working on these projects. I personally see a host of applications to automate and assist people in their homes. After watching my father struggle with so many manual processes that have become difficult for him to handle due to poor vision and other issues, I figured I should look into how to solve these problems for him. Maybe I can help the rest of the world along the way.  So, as part of that, I think about all the lines of business I do, all the projects that can help others, and where these pieces fit together. Energy, large display systems, automated lighting, monitors and sensors for making certain pumps are functioning correctly, volumetric tank measurements, and other goodies. All of these working together create a well monitored, automated, visually useful way of running a home or business. This is where I’m going with all of my thinking. Blogging about it happens slowly… but I want to document my thinking and share it with those that might find the time to read it and process it along with me.

Posted in Arduino, Assistive Technology, Business, Development, Hardware, Home, Software, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Plodding Through Programs

With all the hardware for, what I’m calling, the “Gigantic Asisstive Clock” finally here, I’m able to start building towards the solution. Obviously it’s not a simple overnight kind of thing, so it’s going to take some time. Part of the reason I’ve chosen to blog about it is to hopefully just jar my memory in years to come when I think about doing something like this again. I’ve always been kind of “sit down and figure it out” type of guy, but everyone needs help. If it weren’t for the wonderful FlorinC at Time With Arduino I’d be rather lost. His constant help and support are amazing, let alone his kindness and generosity!

With that said, I’ve run into a couple of compiling snags. I think it’s a matter of getting all the many, many, many .h files in the right places with the right #define statements to match. One of the things that was slightly different from what I’d anticipated with this solution  was the use of the Sanguino hardware (an open source Arduino compatible ATmega644P chip). Not that it’s a problem, since I’m curious about anything in the microcontroller space. It’s just different and there are new things to learn. The learning curve isn’t bad, just that I was hoping to dive in without thinking about more than what I knew. However, there’s nothing wrong with learning a little more along the way!

The basic hardware of the solution is a WiseClock4 connected to multiple Sure Electronics 3216 Red and Green 5mm LED dot matrix displays. My original idea was to have four displays connected together, essentially making a 64×32 display. However, the design of the displays don’t really lend themselves to putting the top of one display against the bottom of the other. Although, the side-by-side method works. I had considered making a 128×16 display, but that seemed ridiculous for my purposes. Given that I was basically trying to just make a gigantic clock with a date display for my father, who has poor eyesight, it seemed that it might be difficult to read if he ended up having to turn his head just to read it all the way across (since it would be huge!). I’ll likely be doing two devices communicating over a short-range wireless transmission. I haven’t decided if I’m making one piece of hardware, or two though. I guess that will depend on how things work out in terms of size and space.

The other parts of the project will include an ID-20 RFID using either a secondary Arduino chip/board or perhaps an Arduino with an Adafruit RFID shield. WiFly is one of the possible options, also, so that the device can communicate over WiFi to the internet, but the original plan was to avoid internet connectivity, if it’s not available. The other part of the solution is to handle Caller ID and support speech output for that protocol. That way, when the Caller ID kicks in, we’ll be able to hear it speak the name. It sounds simple, but Caller ID chips are impossible to find anymore, for some reason. Plenty of different stuff on eBay and I’ll probably end up hacking a unit that has Caller ID with the speech stuff built-in. Not sure how this will all work with the Gigantic Clock, but we’ll hope for the best!

Right now, the issue is getting the basic coding to compile correctly, and then we can move on to expanding the hardware and writing more code for it. …and here I thought making a big clock would be easy!

Posted in Arduino, Assistive Technology, Development, Hacks, Sanguino, Science, Software, Technology, Wireless Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Shrimping.It!

Fun, simple, and awesome! Check out: shrimp_breadboard.

Posted in Technology

The bench work begins

For those that know me, they’ll tell you that I tend to spend a lot of time planning. I like planning, and maybe this is why I decided I liked being an engineer (I love model railroading and building models, so you see how far I’ve taken this metaphor). When I’m trying to work things out, I have to admit, the internet is such a great place to do that. Compared to many years ago when I had to create work out of – what felt like – nothing, today’s research process is so much better! The best part about it is how many people in the community really love watching others succeed on their projects. I feel really lucky I’m able to plan an electronics project for my dad with a talented guy named FlorinC. He’s been instrumental as a sounding board and has amazed with his time and generosity. It just proves that the world isn’t as horrible as some people think it might be all the time (except for those people on that MTV show Catfish). It makes me feel a bit better about my faith in humanity when I see someone come to my aid when I need it. It’s even better when they volunteer to help you with more than for what you’ve asked!

 

What needs to be accomplished:

  • Build an assistive technology device to aid my father and his failing eyesight, hearing, and his advancing Alzheimer’s.
  • Device has to support the following:
    • Large (2 inch) clock that is always visible.
    • Large (2 inch) day, month, date, and year.
    • Caller ID support for incoming calls.
    • Caller ID memory.
    • Discernible color scheme for poor eyesight.
    • Ability to support dialing the phone with simple dialing methods (without the need to use telephone dialing buttons).
    • Wireless capabilities
    • Buttons for review of data.
    • No reliance on Internet connectivity.

Well that should be easy, right? So, yeah, not so much. You realize how much you need the internet after you try to work in the home of an 83-year-old with no internet connectivity and no ability to use it or learn it. Complicated problem solving, but really something that gets the brain going when you’re a complete geek and like to solve problems!

The process continues after I receive some stuff in the mail!

Posted in Accessories, Automation, Hacks, Hardware, Health, Home, Phone, Science, Software, Technology, Wireless Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

A Little Surprise from LinkedIn To Me

Top 10 percent on LinkedInNow, here’s something I wouldn’t expect: LinkedIn says I’m one of the Top 10% Viewed Profiles on its site of over 200 Million people. I’m shocked! Am I really this special? So, if you’re one of the people who has reviewed me before, or is looking now, what got your attention? What makes you want to hire me into one of the things that I do? Photography? Film? Music? Technical? Ministry? Do you need a Notary? I’m just a curious guy!

Posted in Business, Links, Misc, Science, Style, Technology, Websites Tagged with: , ,

It’s been a long time since I’ve Rock and/or Rolled…

I haven’t written on this blog since February of 2008. That’s not news, I know. But since then there’s been a lot of change in my life and many projects, updates to technology, and just the world as a place where tech and life have mixed. Not so many years ago, I talked about the integration and proliferation of sharing and how technology attached the real world with the interwebs. This was changing the landscape of how we interact with each other and our own space. It was doing it five years ago, and it’s completely changed since then.

It doesn’t take someone of any technological prowess to realize what I said, or notice that products like Smartphones have taken over the world about how we interact with each other as well as our environments. My personal interests in these types of things is pretty well documented in this blog from years ago. The intention at this point is to discuss the leaps forward and track some of my current projects. I thought that this was the best place to start doing that and not actually write posts on Facebook or writing 500 short posts on Twitter. Having my place to write allows me to do what I need to do, attach everything I would like to share, and be as goofy, technical, or ridiculous as I need.

With this in mind, I’d like to try to head back and update some of my earlier posts (which I was expecting to write follow-on) with new discussions and showcase some new projects that I’ve been completing. Here are some things that I’m hoping to discuss, and anyone reading can help keep me honest by pushing me to write more. As some of my friends have become professional bloggers, I don’t need to rehash all of their thinking. What I intend to do is talk about what it is I’m doing with technology, some thoughts on my interests, and just general ramblings because – just simply – I can.

Here are some topics:

  • Film
  • Photography
  • Electronics Design
  • Software Development
  • Music
  • Home Automation
  • Smartphones

The first two topics are of my recent work. I will discuss them in their own topics as their own posts, but to define what I’m talking about there, I’ll explain this: In the past few years I have been the Executive Producer, Director of Photography, and Business Owner of a film company called Northern Fabulous Productions, LLC. We produced a hilarious film called “Zombie eXs”. This film is now in the throes of distribution and contract negotiations. Information about the cast and crew is available via IMDB. I’d like to share my experiences there and offer what I can to others.

As for everything else related to electronics, I have projects galore on my bench. I will discuss those at length. These are projects related to IOBridge, Arduino, and other electronics that got rolled into my ideas. Most of these are assistive technologies to either promote my laziness, or actually help others. Most notably, my father.

As for music, I will talk about my band, what we play and what’s going on. We’re known as In Plain Sight. We were formerly The Barren Hill Band. But… that was too boxy. So, we threw caution to the wind and changed our name to something a little less boxy after we’d taken a little hiatus from playing in 2012. More on that as time continues and we actually book gigs! As a note, we’re playing at the Piper Lounge in Lansdale, PA on February 23rd, 2013, if you’re interested in coming out!

OK… chapter one of a new chapter of my life and everything I’ve got on the burners and what I’ve done is back in swing… at least that’s the plan! We’ll meet again shortly!

Posted in Business, Home, Links, Misc, Mix, Movies, Music, Photography, Science, Software, Style, Syndication, Technology, Video, Websites

The Social Network Frenzy: "Life Blogging"

The ubiquitous nature of social networking has become a major boon in this age of web solutions and emerging technologies. There have been so many improvements in what was once referred to as “Knowledge Management” as a platform, and now is “social networking” at its core. No longer are we bound by even modern tools, such as email, for delivering those new pictures of the kids; we now have photo sites a plenty. Just eight or nine years ago, someone came up with a site called “LiveJournal” to allow people to “journal” their everyday lives. This also grew into a solution for social networking and one of the earliest blogging platforms out there. Again, taking the idea of email or forum communications a step further. People could speak their minds and others could comment on it; a personal diary with larger audience.

Today we see many sites and tools cropping up giving us tremendous advantages for sharing our world with our family and friends — or even strangers — on the web. We express ourselves, our ideas, and deliver our personal touch to the world. This is where social becomes so much more than just effectively letting that small email list of yours know what’s going on; now, you have an audience.

So let’s look at the tools that make everyone get their 15 minutes (or maybe almost forever) of fame, while allowing them to be social.

  • Blogging: Blogs are a way of writing all of your blathering for everyone on the Internet to read. You know, like, this one! It’s a way to force your words, and way of thinking, onto other people. Or, sometimes, it’s a great way to communicate ideas and thoughts that others may find helpful or useful. I’m hoping you’ll be reading this blog for the latter reason.
  • RSS Feeds: This is an extension of a lot of web tools and websites. Most – if not all – blogs have an RSS feed. It’s a kind of list – in a special format – that can be read by specific programs or web browsers. The idea is a way to aggregate information into a simple protocol that can easily be translated by many programs and computers all over the world. Kind of like an easy to understand database… but, if you’re here, you probably knew that already.
  • Video sites: YouTube is a prime example of how people deliver their thoughts, rants, and sometimes content they want others to see. It gives even the most novice of the web surfers a way to create a video log or just share with their family and friends. Years ago, you had to hope someone could actually receive and download your giant video email attachment, now it’s all streaming to you in high-def!
  • Photo sites: Flickr is probably one of the most popular of the photo-sharing websites. But it’s not just sharing of your photos. You get so much more out of Flickr than just a way to let people see your pictures. You can organize them into albums, tag them for easy searching, and you can also add special geo-tagging to them, allowing people to see just where you were standing; attaching the GPS data directly to the photo. Thanks to the way digital cameras work today, others can see what kind of camera you used to photograph the picture and even what f-stop you used when you did. The benefit isn’t just a bunch of stats, either. You can look at what someone did with a certain kind of camera and say: “wow, I can do THAT with MY camera? Cool!” It lets you understand a little more about the quality you get from your own photographs and learn a little about photography in the process. Education AND eye-candy… Neat!
  • Micro-blogging sites: Twitter is by far the most popular of these sites. Micro-blogging is the process of writing a short (140 character) thought and pushing it out to the web. There’s nothing like creating a Twitter account and just watching what mundane things people are saying about their own lives. Sometimes, you run into some awesome people who have wonderful things to say all of the time, but even they get into the simplistic “life blogging” of stuff like “I just ate a chicken sandwich.” However, this same site, with a very nice open API lets you do neat things to let people know what’s going on in the world – yours or the larger. It’s kind of like a quick check-in to see if your friends are still breathing. If they’re decent Twitterers, then you have a shot at knowing what’s going on. Interestingly, the average age of a Twitterer is 37! You’d think it’d be a thing for the young only, wouldn’t you?
  • Social Network sites: Facebook comes to mind, here. You can argue that other sites even like “Classmates” or “MySpace” offer a similar service, but at a definite cost and varying quality. Facebook has generated a tremendous amount of interest from both young and older and it’s a great way to find all of those lost friends from high school, grade school, college, work, and even family. Of course, you kind of have to have people’s email addresses to really make this work out. At any rate, Facebook allows you to communicate what’s going on in your world but through a series of “applications” that bolt onto the main Facebook site. This is actually quite useful in the sense that you can not only do silly things like taking quizzes with your friends, but you can let them know what books your reading, music and movies you like, show them pictures, and even share a quick thought or two. Connections to other tools such as Twitter let them see a status of your day, as well. This is like a blog without having to take the time to actually write it all out. You click on a picture of a book, saying you read it, and suddenly you have an entry of what you’ve done and others can either be interested or ignore it. Got that great new achievement in some XBox game? Great! You can show that off, too! You didn’t have to do anything but set up your gamertag — the rest was totally automatic.

Putting it all together

Gluing this stuff together is where the real “Web 2.0″ and “social networking” is going to make everything awesome. You need something – or a bunch of things – to let people know what’s going on and allow them to get to your information easily. Let’s take a look at a “linked” scenario of how the above tools can work together to create a journal of a day without ever having to really write anything major.

Say you’re going on a trip – business or vacation fun – and you’ve got a couple of devices you can use, or maybe you opt for just something simple like your cool cellphone. Now, I’m not talking about anything too fancy, here. Most people these days carry a phone that has both text services as well as the Internet on it. With that, and a camera built it, you can tell a pretty cool story during the day. If your phone happens to have GPS capabilities built in, you have a little more detail to your story, and if you’ve got a PDA phone, you can almost write a book with something that fits in the palm of your hand. Back to the idea… So, you’ve got your cameraphone with text and Internet on it. You also have a Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and a Facebook account. No problem! You’ve got a full life-blogging suite in your hands!

You get up the morning of your trip and you’re tired. You feel the desire to express this to the world, but don’t feel like writing a long journal or blog entry, so you quickly text a message to your Twitter account that says “Man, I’m really beat this morning, but I have to travel.” In seconds, your friends know you’re awake, alive, tired, and heading out the door and won’t be home. Of course, this can work against you if you allowed someone to know this information who might do you some harm – like rob your house – so always be careful what you tell “the world at large.” After that, you pack your bags, Twitter that, eat breakfast, Twitter that, head to the airport and arrive, Twitter that too, and then sit and sip on a Latte while you wait for your plane – heck, let’s Twitter that bit, too. People know where you are. This is handy if a spouse or friend wants to know if they can get a hold of you, today. If you Twittered: “Getting on the plane and switching off phone” people know they can’t call you – pretty cool!

So, while you’re sitting drinking your latte, you see something cool in one of those airport shops, or maybe you just like the look of some plane on the runway. Quickly, you switch to your camera on your phone and shoot a pic or two. Now, maybe you find some sign funny, or something, and what do you do to share this with your friends? You upload it to Flickr! But wait, there’s more to this. While you were still at home, you also had created an account on a site called “TwitterFeed.com” which lets you “tweet” (That’s what Twitter messages are called by the in crowd) anything you might be able to get from an RSS feed! Wow, cool! So, hmm… hey, my Flickr account has an RSS feed that has information on all new pictures that I’ve taken! Great! I can now upload a photo to Flickr and TwitterFeed will post the information about it in Twitter (with a link to my Flickr photo!) so my friends know I took a picture. Hey, that’s pretty slick! Aww, but I wanted that on my Facebook account, too. Now I have to upload it there, as well.

Say, while I’m taking pictures and sipping lattes, I decide I’ll listen to some music on my iPod. I wish I could tell some of my friends what I’m hearing ’cause I think they’ll like some of these songs! I just discovered some of these new songs and bands through Pandora.COM, and wanted to share, but I didn’t have time. Do I Twitter? I could, couldn’t I, but I see someone — or something — funny that’s moving around. I need to shoot this with video to get the point across – I just have to! I decide to do this with my phone and then upload it to my YouTube account. Hey that’s pretty cool! Now they can laugh, too!

Now I’m trying to deal with all of these different places where I’m putting stuff. Facebook kind of helps put this together ’cause I can add little applications that show off my YouTube and Flickr photos. In fact, with a quick sync of my iPod, I can use an add-on to iTunes — called Last.FM — to let them know what I listened to! Facebook has an application to display that, too! Hey, now that’s pretty cool! That has an RSS feed, too! Let’s add that to TwitterFeed.com and let them know what I heard so they can check them out, too. Hmm, that’ll have to wait until I get back and sync my iPod, but that’s OK. Oh, wait, now I’ve got even more to deal with. At least it’ll do it on its own when I get back. Cool!

I still have this problem of how I deal with all of this content I’m collecting and want to deliver to YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr. In comes a solution called “ShoZu“. This application will download and run on almost any phone – probably the one in your pocket – and can also help you upload stuff to the aforementioned services via MMS (multi-media service) messaging, as well, if you don’t want to — or can’t — download and application onto your phone. You create an account at ShoZu, set up a couple of services like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube, then BAM! You now have a tool to consolidate from where you send stuff AND, it’ll do it in the background. No more logging into each of these sites and sending things one-by-one. You start up ShoZu, click on a service, like Flickr, and then select a bunch of pictures you want to send. Do the same for stuff you want in your YouTube account, and again for stuff you want up in Facebook – or just let Facebook apps consolidate the information in that “life feed” we’ve been building with RSS feeds and TwitterFeed. Once you click on the stuff you want uploaded through ShoZu, it takes care of the rest, in the background and will even Geo-Tag pictures you just took! You can even have ShoZu pop-up as soon as your done shooting pictures or video and ask you if you want to send it up now and to where. Now THAT is efficient and just plain cool!

Wow, I haven’t even left the airport and I’ve got a ton of stuff to tell my family and friends. Imagine what I can do once I arrive at my destination!

I’m not going to go through all of that, but you get the point. My little scenario was a way to describe a small sampling of the collaborative tools which let you communicate with friends, family, and the rest of the world. It’s not even that hard to set up! Beyond the beauty of you communicating with them, they can communicate with you, too. Each of these tools — like Twitter and Flickr — let others add replies and comments to your items. Now you have a full social discussion with your “life blog” and it even has some permanence.

So, have a look at some of these tools, set them up, try them out and see if you can’t communicate with your friends and family a little better! It sure beats email! …and it was wireless, to boot!

UPDATE! 02-26-2008, My brother-in-law pointed out a really cool utility to bring this all together, as well. Well, he twittered it. See! I told you this stuff works! The product/website – which is free – is called “FriendFeed“. This solution allows you to aggregate a whole bunch of different sites into one singular feed; kind of like what you can do with Facebook and all of its bolt-on applications. But it provides an RSS feed of everything. So, when I return a rental  movie to Blockbuster, it updates my personal RSS feed and, of course, updates FriendFeed because I have that as a something I want to publish. You can add Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Flickr, YouTube, and a whole lot more. Check it out and see if this doesn’t help the wonderful world of Life Blogging and social networking!

Posted in Automation, Education, GPS, Hacks, Links, Misc, Movies, Music, Other, PDA, Phone, Photography, RSS, SmartPhone, Software, Syndication, Technology, Video, Websites, Wireless

Mobile Phones, GPS, and Vacations

In the recent past, and I would say – for an old guy like me — that’s something like 5-10 years, I’ve really enjoyed the ability to use technology in helping me find my way around. Just think about all of the great mobile abilities you have, these days, that allow you to help yourself in not just the “intended” way, but in ways that make your life really easy. Let’s start with an example of something I think is cool, but I haven’t done yet it’s totally do-able.

Here’s the example: I’m taking a trip to Orlando to visit Disney World (OK, so I’ve done that, but not like this example) with my family and parents, and I’m driving from my home to the location because my mom doesn’t like the idea of flying. So, what can I do to find my way there? I know you have the answer: Mapping.

Sure, you could unfold a map and start tracing your route down the coast (I live in the north eastern part of the USA), and struggle with that. Maybe you could do something hip like type the address of where you want to go (we’ll say “Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge”) into Google Maps, and click on the waypoint, then click on “Directions from…” and then type in a home address. Then you print out the pages and it’s easy to read! Very cool, and very simple! Besides, paper is ubiquitous; it doesn’t get damaged when you drop it on the ground, you can drop it in water and it still probably is good enough to read, and you can fold it up and put it in your back pocket – no batteries, no hassle.

Now, simple is good, but more information and instant access to stuff is even better! There are a host of electronic solutions to give you all kinds of cool functionality. Here are some I think you could use:

  • A GPS Receiver – Something like what most people have stuck on the windshield in their car, or in the dash. The in-dash units are great, but their stuck in your car. What if you want to use it in a car that doesn’t have GPS in-dash, or maybe you want to Geocache? I think a PORTABLE receiver makes more sense. You can walk with these, talk to them as they talk to you, hook them up to a bike, or move them from car-to-car.
  • A PC with a GPS receiver – This is a cool solution because you not only have GPS mapping software and a receiver, but you’ve got access to all kinds of other information – especially if you’ve equipped yourself with some kind of “air-card” so you can connect to the Internet from wherever you are. This is a great versatile solution, but also a greater risk because you’re now carrying something you’ll need to watch over carefully while traveling to unknown places. Besides that, you incur the additional cost of wireless-anywhere connectivity from your mobile provider.
  • A Mobile Phone with GPS – Many phones now support some great GPS features. Companies like Verizon now offer services for voice-directed navigation with your mobile phone. You can also take advantage of (currently) free services like DIR-ECT-IONS (that’s the phone number) that will ask you where you want to go and then text the directions to your mobile phone! Excellent! 
  • A PDA Phone (with GPS) – Now, here’s the one I think is the coolest of all. If you have a PDA phone, not only can you install/use a GPS receiver (either some kind of connected one like a SDIO card or Bluetooth enabled), but you now have something small enough to carry with you everywhere. Beyond that, you can easily make use of applications that are cropping up everywhere. With devices like the iPhone, Palm, and Windows Mobile, you can install (or already have pre-installed) Google Maps or similar tools to help you not only locate people or places in your contact list, but be able to call them directly, and even get turn-by-turn directions from where you are (with a GPS unit attached), or the simpler follow-along list. Remember, this also would require some kind of data plan to access the Internet, so that’s extra cost to you.

Before you say “that last one was kind of cool…” think about this too: that last one is expensive, too. So, you’ll want to be very careful with the device itself – and they’re usually pretty temperamental. 

Now think about this: with this device, you not only can have a phone, your contacts, access to maps, Internet connectivity and messaging, you can (almost always) have a camera. Think about it, you know when you park your car, you need to remember where you parked it, right? A picture is great. Now combine that picture with the ability to attach a waypoint (that’s a specific point on a map – like “this point is on the way…”) on your Google Map on your phone. You have a picture, GPS, and a phone. You CAN’T get lost or lose your car! … unless, of course, you lose your phone or it dies. But, let’s just assume it’s working well and you haven’t left it anywhere.

If you happen to have GPS tracking while you’re in a big place like Disney World, you can do some other cool things, too. How about not having to read Disney’s daily map, but being able to find the attraction with your GPS? Drop some push-pins/waypoints into your handy GPS application (and there are plenty of these things on the web, mind you) and you have your own destination map for each attraction! With the GPS on, you’ll know how far and which way to go, too! If you have little kids (or even if you don’t!), there is NOTHING more difficult than locating a restroom when you need it. With a few carefully recorded positions of restrooms, you’ll have an easy time finding what you need. The only thing better would be if you had a picture of it so you can identify the entrance visually. … Wait, we can do that, too, can’t we? Sweet!

So, what does this all mean? It means that technology is not only your friend, it’s your butler. Imagine deciding you want Italian food while at the park. With a GPS and the proper Points of Interest (POI) marked, you can find the closest places that serve that kind of food and be able to get there with just a few clicks or pokes of a touch screen.

You now have the tools you need to find everything and remember where you parked your car. Besides that, many of these tools (if not all) have support for playing your MP3s, listening to audio books, and showing slide-shows of pictures you’ve taken (from your memory cards – usually SD) while you’re vacationing. Now you don’t just have to listen to your parents singing some song you don’t even recognize! Along with that, some units even support the use of services like MSN Direct, which will give you information like the closest gas stations and their prices, movie theaters with phone numbers and show times, and even traffic updates, so you can avoid jams from construction or accidents.

Vacation with your family doesn’t have to be difficult, anymore.

Posted in Accessories, Audio, GPS, Hacks, Hardware, Misc, Movies, Music, Other, PDA, Phone, Photography, SmartPhone, Software, Technology

The Consolidated Personal Productivity Platform

 

Recently (like 4 days ago), while trying to re-enter the world of consolidated – easy to deal with – email, calendars and all sorts of information sharing, I decided to try something I’d done in the past: use one email tool to help consolidate my accounts. I have a few, but not too many. I also wanted an online desktop of sorts so that I could see all of the calendars and tasks I have to view, and figure out how to keep on top of all of that stuff. Luckily, I don’t travel much, or that would have been another bunch of tools!

So, I set out on a quest to find the right grouping of tools to make it all work. In this lengthy article, I discuss the products I tried out, as well as what worked out for me as of now. With the ever-evolving world of computing, things will change in my bag-of-tricks in the near future, I’m sure, but for today, this is where I am until I find something better.

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Posted in Audio, Automation, Business, Hacks, Home, Kids, Links, Misc, Office, PDA, Phone, RSS, SmartPhone, Software, Syndication, Tablet, Technology, TV, Video, Websites, Wireless

PDA Phone and PC: Why Do I Need The Online Calendar?

I’ve been sitting here playing with a few different online tools like Backpack, Twitter, IMified, and AirSet. Though I think all of these tools are pretty cool, I’m just not getting it, I suppose.

While I’m playing with these things on my laptop, I’m wondering what good they would do someone like me. See, the reasoning is this: if I’m a technology-evolved person, and I’m using tools like a Convertible Tablet PC and a Windows Mobile phone, does it really make sense for me to keep something like a 30boxes or Google calendar? Now, hear me out on this simple thought…

I can totally understand where someone with just a tiny web browser on their phone might want a half-decent tool to help them manage their stuff. But if I have a full PDA phone with the ability to sync my calendar and contacts with my Outlook client, why would I even want to sync them with an online resource or get sent reminders via a text message?

Now, before you go spouting off at me, listen for just a second… then you can go spouting off at me. I understand that it might be a good idea to sync my calendar somewhere else in case it somehow got corrupted on my computer, but the fact is, if I sync it with my Windows Mobile device, haven’t I already taken care of that? … and vice versa?

It got me thinking about how I was approaching some of these tools and what exists. Products like IMified seem neat, but I don’t use them on my PDA phone because there’s just no need. Like I said, if you have a standard phone with an IM client, maybe this makes more sense. Otherwise, I’m just sending twitter stuff through my IM client on my PC… which I could just do in my browser on my PDA… or on my PC… or… well, you get the picture.

So, other than trying to be like the cool kids out there, I can’t see any reason for a mobile person to want to use these tools (again, other than for some kind of back-up purpose or use with a standard phone).

OK, now you can tell me I’m stupid. … but you have to explain yourself.

 

Posted in Home, Links, Misc, Office, PDA, Phone, SmartPhone, Tablet, Technology, Websites, Wireless

Chris Pirillo’s iPhone Rant

Chris_pirillo_iphone_rant

I was reading an article on my buddy’s James and Kevin’s site. They truly are the mobile warriors of the world. These guys know their tech and they know how to be mobile – all of the time! So, when I saw them pointing to Chris Pirillo’s iPhone Rant video, I was really glad to see they were – overall – on Chris’ side. [View article... ]

I happen to be one that agrees with the sentiment that everything Apple creates is not gold. Honestly, I love my iPod, I was a long time Mac user, and really do think that Leopard is a cool operating system, but I think the iPhone lacks one major thing: PHONE functionality. Yes, you can dial numbers on it and receive calls, but I have heard so many rants about how there are difficulties syncing with Windows environments and tools like Outlook, that even the cool “CoverFlow” (which Apple bought from SteelSkies – they didn’t come up with that!) isn’t all that intriguing; isn’t this just more bloatware? Pretty is nice, but really, if I want to get to something quickly, the last thing I want to do is emulate flipping through my entire CD collection like it were in a jukebox.

Chris gets into some huge rants about it not having video – personally, I rarely use the video on my phone. I’m sure I’m not the mobile warrior that Chris is, but I would agree that no (or even poor) video on a phone with 8GB of memory is pretty dumb. Heck, I can even stream live video (really well!) with my XV6700 using some apps out there. I don’t, ’cause… well, no-one cares what I think, but that’s not the point! But, no removable battery? That’s just stupid!

But I’m wondering, even if the new iPhone isn’t “all that,” what will this bring? My guess?: By around November or December (maybe as late as February), Apple will release a new series of iPods. But, what I’m guessing is that they’ll probably even release the 2G version of the iPhone. Imagine the new tooling of the iPod looking like what so many speculated: the iPhone style, and it just plays music, pictures and videos! So, do they call it the 6G or “iPhone Lite”?

[Excerpts from Chris Pirillo and JKOnTheRun]

Posted in Fashion, Hardware, PDA, Phone, SmartPhone, Software, Technology, Video

Downloadable Content Vs. HD-DVD/Blu-Ray

There is so much stunning visual delivery technology out in the wild these days that it’s hard to look anywhere without it being right in your face. The cable providers, satellite TV, phone/broadband service providers, all are in the act when it comes to content delivery. Then you’ve got the devices: Apple TV, HD-DVD/Blu-Ray players, set-top consoles like Playstation 3, and XBOX 360s. Each of these solutions is vying for your undivided attention to use them for Hi-Def content, leaving many people swimming in this sea of sharp photorealistic quality and no understanding of the best choice. Frankly, given how much I love the quality of Hi-Def and tech, I’m feeling a little lost too.

Think about it, you’ve got pieces of hardware, bits of software, and some combination in between as your choices for viewing Hi-Def images on your TV. If you’ve got a PS3 or an XBOX 360, you’ve got some better choices (or decisions you’ve made) for what you’re getting. For example, if you had a PS2, and then upgraded to a PS3, then you’ve sort of chosen the Blu-Ray route. But you’ve also probably opened up your ability to – in the future – download all sorts of Hi-Def content via an online resources strategy that hasn’t quite made it out of Sony’s head’s yet. It’s sort of the same for the XBOX 360, except you’re looking at HD-DVD and there’s already a bunch of content you can download from XBOX Live. If you’re an iTunes fan, you’ve got iTunes for music, TV, Podcasts, and Movies; you pick up an Apple TV, and you’re all set, as well – downloadable content right to your Hi-Def TV! Then there’s the other choice, the HD-DVD or Blu-Ray (or maybe the combo) player; the old school method of getting your TV on. You buy a player, hook it up to your TV and you watch what’s available on Discs. So, which is the better solution?

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Posted in Audio, Hardware, Home, Movies, Music, Software, Technology, TV, Video

5700 Tracks: 3 Upgrades?

So, yesterday, I do my iTunes 7.2 upgrade in hopes of un-DRMing my songs… this is what I see: 3 Songs. What? 3 songs?! That’s ALL that it could find in my 5700 song library? OK, so, maybe I have a lot of old CDs that I ripped, but I KNOW I’ve purchased a lot from iTunes. So, I have only three iTunes-purchased DRM’d songs from EMI? Either I don’t like much coming out of EMI or there is something dreadfully wrong.

iTunesPlus

As much as it pains me to have to pay even more for a song, the extra $.30 is worth the upgrade so that I can access my iTunes purchased music from not only iTunes, but from my Windows Media Player, or my Roku SoundBridge. I love the idea of downloading music: It’s quick and it’s simple. I think the DRM thing has finally started to get its rightful share of criticism. I mean, sure, there are many groups that have been fighting it; hey, I don’t like it either, but have put up with it to be legal.  But I believe the executive attention of the music industry is finally focusing on the difference between profit and loss; it’s sure taken them long enough.

I think, if you give people the option, you can get most law-abiding citizens to pony-up the extra few cents to pay for a song that is more versatile than the currently DRM’d versions they have been getting. People, especially young people, get it. It’s how music is delivered now. I mean, look at how different this is than what my youth was like: when you had an LP record, you not only could not just skip to a specific track (without a good eye and a keen hand on the grooves), but you couldn’t see what track was playing, it’s title, the band’s name or anything. Worse than that, you could only listen to one band at a time. If you wanted to shuffle your collection, you literally had to place a stack of platters on the phono and keep dropping plates until you ran out… then you had to flip them over! The “Party Shuffle” was definitely not something we had. Then you had cassettes; at least MIX TAPES were a possibility, then. But you still lost all of that great skipping and track identity. This wasn’t even close to being able to “burn a CD.”

I wonder how long it’s going to take the other record execs to agree with Mr. Dr. Professor Apple? I hope it’s soon, ’cause I want to be able to stream my collection of iTunes tracks at a higher bitrate!

 

Posted in Audio, Business, Music, Software, Technology, Video, Websites

Embracing Mobile Technology For Life

Obviously, it’s been a while since I’ve written. I won’t get into the details, but there were a number of valid reasons. But let’s just talk about how embracing mobile technology can simplify your life.

If you talk to my buddies James and Kevin at JKOnTheRun.com, these Masters of Mobile can certainly tell you that this type of technology can not only be efficient, it can change your life; I would wholeheartedly agree. In the past few months there have been a number of changes at the old Manoogian Manor (there was even a once fabled website by that name – now defunct). One of the major things that happened to me was that I switched my mobile phone device; that change, alone, was huge. I also started needing this technology even more – due to personal family circumstances.

So, what’s my gear? Well, that’s pretty simple. I use a Verizon XV6700 as my Windows Mobile/Cellphone as well as my EVDO data connection through my Gateway Tablet PC. These two devices, alone, are awesome! The 6700 is my daily life-line. Obviously, the cellphone is one of the main reasons I use this device, but I probably get more use out of the PDA portion of the device, than anything else. I’m not a huge fan of convergence, I assure you. But, when the right grouping comes together, I’m all for it. My general problem with device convergence has always been the sacrifice of each technology just to make one singular device. In this case, I didn’t give up too much at all. I suppose my ideal device would be Windows Mobile 6 with an eight megapixel camera and the ability to sync to iTunes (iPhone-ish?!). But, I honestly prefer Windows Mobile, right now. I’ve used Palm in the past, but came back to WM because of stuff like Activesync; I love immediate sync of my stuff — I wish my iPod did that too! If my WM device had the aforementioned and a 120GB flash drive, and could sync my iTunes stuff (sans the DRM!), I would be in portable heaven!

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Posted in Automation, Business, Home, Misc, SmartPhone, Software, Tablet, Technology, Websites, Wireless

AirSet: You’re Set Where You Are

It’s been a little while since I blogged anything, but that’s because I’ve been busy, and haven’t really found anything that no-one else has already said 12000 times on 50000 blogs. I used to just report a lot of stuff that was coming out – like many other blogs. But I’ve decided to focus on writing my own articles more times than not. So, here’s one of those things. 

I was having some fun, the other day, just flipping through some “Web 2.0″ websites and decided I would keep my eyes open for something interesting. I found this site called “AirSet.com.” They have a product that is somewhat similar to what many may have seen. It’s a scheduling and contacts application, that’s web-based, with a really slick interface. Now, sure you’ve seen these before: they let you keep track of your calendar, contacts, and share it with your friends; it even syncs with Outlook and stuff. Great! Here’s the cool thing: they also have an application that runs on your Verizon phone. The app is designed in a way that it’s totally efficient to run on the phone and gives you all of the immediate functionality of the web version of the application. Sounds good, right? There’s more…

They have a cool screen-capture video of the application, and it tells you how it works. I was pretty amazed at the application and its simplicity. I use lots of “calendaring” (I hate that word) tools, so I’m always looking for ways to improve my access to my information. If you’re someone with a Verizon phone, this might be your ticket! Save for owning a PDA phone.

The focus of their application is getting you to share it with lots of people. Think of the scenario like you have a team (like my cycling team), and you get them all signed up to AirSet. You keep your team and personal calendars on there. When there’s a change to your group calendar, you immediately see it on your calendar. When this happens, you can also get an alert letting you know something has changed. That way, you’re not out of the loop and you do go driving off to an event where no-one will be.

This same scenario is great if you have a busy family life. If you’ve got a kid or two, and both you and your spouse are busy running around, wouldn’t it be great to communicate your schedule changes through something like this? Imagine having a neighborhood calendar, School, Team calendar, family calendar, and personal calendar. Together, you know what’s going on all over the place. If someone makes a change – a singular owner of the calendar – then everyone sees the change. This is so much better than those emails flying around between you and who missed them. You sync it up with your Outlook calendar and BANG! You’re done. What, Practice is canceled? No problem… you know before it’s too late! The school play is tomorrow? You know before it’s too late!

I know this sounds like a commercial, and I’d gladly get paid to say this, but I’m not getting paid. I’m just passing on something cool. Check it out! I think combining this functionality with some other great tools would be just astounding!

So, who wants to share a calendar with me?!

 

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Posted in Uncategorized

Dying To Blog

I know it’s been a while since I wrote anything. I want to write, but unfortunately that “day job” keeps getting in the way. On the up-side, my day job should be happy that I’m doing my work and NOT blogging. See, I’m a good employee. :)

Two things, though…
1. I’ll be on vacation, starting tomorrow, and will be away for a week. I was thinking, however, that I might do a PocketCast while I was on vacation. I’ll be in Disney, so it’ll be a cool place to ‘cast. That would be fun!

2. I have this really awesome news from Waterfall Mobile, that Matt Silk and I talked about, and I’d love to share, but I can’t yet. I had drafted a blog post about a conversation we had – about a two weeks ago – but I decided not to release it as 1) I hadn’t finished reviewing it, and 2) Matt showed me some cool stuff and I wanted to release the whole thing all at once.

3. Part Deux of my “Home Automation Discussion” will arrive in a couple of weeks. I hope you guys are looking forward to it!

So, hopefully you guys will come back when I can talk more about the cool and different technology I’m seeing!

Stay tuned!

Posted in Uncategorized

Used Cisco: A Buyer’s Guide

With all of the crazy ferver of Cisco buying WebEx, I thought I’d take a different tack; how about we talk about what Cisco originally did: they sold networking hardware!

Well, we all know that Cisco has its hooks into home networking gear, and that unified messaging and presentation software, and that’s all good. In fact, it’s really good – especially when the proper integration is there. I, for one, love the Cisco thing when it’s functioning well. But there’s more to Cisco than just software and home-based networking hardware.

You’d be amazed at how big of a market the Used Cisco marketplace really is. There are many Cisco Authorized VARs and independent resellers, as well; those are known as “brokers” or dealers, sometimes remarketers. Well, Cisco has Cisco Authorized Refurbished equipment (or Cisco Reman) out there which includes all of the typical licensing and looks like it’s packaged just like regular Cisco stuff, except that it’s marked as Factory Refurb.

There’s actually a really excellent, perhaps even the “Ultimate Guide,” to buying used Cisco equipment on Network World’s website. It’s called the Used Cisco Buyer’s Guide. It covers all of the details of the Cisco refurb products and how to find dealers that carry this equipment. You can even learn about “user to user” Cisco sellers and what that means. You’ll learn all kinds of things like when it’s the best time to buy the equipment as well as how to confirm if you’re working with a qualified reseller of the equipment.

Truly, this is a great opportunity to buy great Cisco gear at a great price. I’ve been looking at some professional gear to protect my home network, but — at the new price —  it’s out of my range. Looking into this guide has helped me narrow down what it is I can buy and for a much better price. The guide isn’t just for tech junkies like me, it’s for Fortune 500 companies and SMBs that want to learn how to get great prices on equipment. it’s absolutely worth the look and you’ll even find comments from resellers in the article telling you about special “End of Month” discounts. How great is that?

Go check out the article and read about how you can save on some high-quality Cisco gear! Who knows, you might even run your own data center from your house!

 

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Posted in Business, Hardware, Websites

Trillian Astra: Web-Goodness, But Not Apollo

Recently, I had looked at the details of the upcoming Cerulean Studios Trillian Astra product/project. It looks like this awesome Multi-Network IM Client (with a whole lot more integration!) will be even more than most people expected. Though, it should be noted that it was recently uncovered that the product was not Adobe Apollo, as it was first thought. It is, however based on Flash.

The new application is a floating Trillian App that gets kicked off from the browser. Once you’ve done your web-login, the product is free from the browser and works on its own – including working with the file system and being able to drop into the system tray. There’s also a web-based version of the product that lets you use the product through a web-page, as well; which is pretty cool since it lets you “Trillian” from anywhere!

Here’s a You Tube video done by one of the developers at Cerulean Studios:

Basically, this is one really slick product! I love Trillian, myself. I’ve found all kinds of cool plug-ins for it and I hope there are updated versions of those that support them; even a plug-in for Skype. In fact, it would be excellent if I could not only look at my performance stats and IM clients, but be able to use Twitter through it, and do other great communications with “Gamer” focused clients like XLink Kai Evolution, TeamSpeak, or Ventrilo. The addition of functionality for a Tablet PC is just great! Being a Tablet owner, I love this. Though I type really fast, it’s sometimes fantastic to be able to express myself through a drawing or two. There’s even a new Skinning engine that makes it much more flexible for skin designers. It looks like the Meebo folks are looking at some pretty serious competition, as well as the possibility that IMified might see some overlap.

Hopefully, I’ll get my fingers on an opening for the Alpha/Beta of the product and I’ll be able to do my own more closely written assessment for you guys!

 

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Posted in Software, Technology, Websites

Get Twittery-Dizzy With TwitterVision!

Twitter (the craziest good idea in social networking) has certainly become one of the most rapidly growing Web 2.0 applications I have ever seen. There is such a flurry around it – and yes, I use it, too. You can see my twitterificness (not to be confused with the twitterific Mac application) under my cartoon mugshot in the sidebar. Well, for the fun of it, I was playing around the web, and found the Twittervision “thingy” on Twittermap.com. It’s a pretty cool mash-up of Twitter and Google Maps. It’s sort of funny, really. You’re basically watching messages pop-up all over a Google World Map with little Twitter pictures and the quotes that people have to say. I’ve found it quite amusing.

So, if you have nothing to do for a little bit of time and want to randomly try to make friends from all over the World, then this is definitely a good place for it! It’s really a hoot!

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Posted in Hacks, Misc, Other, Software, Technology, Websites

Adobe Apollo, You’re Generally Available For Liftoff.

Well, it’s finally been announced, Adobe’s Apollo platform is now GA for developers. This has been one of the most highly anticipated platform-agnostic SDKs in a while.   The best part about this product is it takes the basis of tools developers already know and understand, like Flash, Flex, HTML, AJAX, and javascript and allows them to design and build super-rich internet apps, for the desktop.

Developers have been playing with alpha/betas for a while and there are some pretty amazing demos out there, already. Ryan Stewart, over at TechCrunch, wrote a full article in February about some of the better Apollo demos. Really neat stuff like Virtual Ubiquity‘s Word Processor app, and Intelisea (which is a frontend for controlling a yacht!) - totally built in Flex 2.

This is all still kind of “pre-release” ready stuff, but it’s truly a new paradigm for how applications might be developed in the future. I think we’ll start to see some really interesting software come out of this SDK, and it may actually make Web 2.0 some interesting, rather than just a marketing machine of developer toys without actual functionality.

The software developer kit can be downloaded at adobe.com/go/apollo.

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Posted in Business, Software, Technology

I Feel IMified!

With my recent talk of IMing and saving the world, I thought “what about saving myself from forgetting what I need to do?” Well, that’s where “IMified.com” comes in. They’ve come up with this “Beta” product that allows you to get instant access to an increasing number of web applications, right through your IM client. If you have an IM client on your mobile phone, you have that much more instant access to your stuff. Like your calendar, your to-dos, all sort of GTD (that’s Getting Things Done for you guys that don’t know) on the fly!

They’re a self-funded organization that’s small and just launched about a month ago. They’ve been developing their list of connectivity through many API’s to many other productivity tools, such as Basecamp, Google Calendar, Blogger, Moveable Type, WordPress, and 30boxes.

IMified is just a buddy you add to your IM list on MSN, GoogleTalk, or AIM (they used to do Yahoo, but it’s currently offline). You communicate to the source applications through your IM client after you set up the source applications in your account, which you create on their site. Now, they claim to be very secure (considering you’re giving up your precious credentials for your personal stuff) by using AES 128 bit encryption and they keep their servers in a secure data center in the Rocky Mountains. you decide if you feel safe. ;)

I have an account, and have my little “IMified” buddy staring me in the face at this very moment. It’s pretty neat, really, but for me it doesn’t work out as well. I happen to have a PDA Phone, so all of my stuff is with me (and secured) all of the time. But, if you’re using a regular phone, or have other methods of getting to your stuff, you can set up a nifty account with these guys. Besides, right now, the service is currently free and there’s no catch (at least, not yet), but they’re planning to make it a paid service.

 

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Posted in Business, Software, Technology, Websites

Home Automation Makes Things Interesting: A Guide (Part One)

Those who follow my blog know that I love automation, especially things that can be done in the home. I most especially love when something is quick and easy to install. It’s not a lazy side of me, but it’s something that proves to me that the product manufacturer is trying to really make it possible for anyone to do; this is key.

At least a year ago, I had threatened to write an article about a couple of home automation companies. My position in the article – which I got as far as drafting – was to get information from each of the companies about their decisions to use specific development technologies for their solutions. I thought that this would be, well, informative – for the geek and the possible “user.” Well, needless to say I think I disappointed both companies by never releasing the article, but I do want to talk about it now. But not before I cover the more general topic of Home Automation.

I believe that, even after a year, there’s still plenty to understand about the differences in implementation, but moreover, what might make more sense for your own implementation. So, here’s the deal: The companies I’m reviewing are:

  1. Homeseer
  2. HomeHub (Now known as Myion)

But that’s not all I’m going to tell you. Part One of this article will deal with the possibilities of Home Automation products (both software and hardware), and then Part Two will more deeply cover the technology solutions I just mentioned, but from more of a software engineer/developer’s point of view.

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Posted in Automation, Hardware, Home, PDA, Software, Technology, Websites

PS3 and FAH: Don’t Forget To Participate!

Sony recently announced that on March 23rd, they would be giving PS3 owners a chance to help researchers come with with drugs for Alzheimer’s. The study includes simulations for learning how proteins fold into the clumps that plague the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. With enough gamers playing with this stuff, it could dramatically improve the information gathered from those simulations. 

Many of us know what Alzheimer’s is, and though my blog article title might be a little tongue-in-cheek, there’s nothing funny about this debilitating disease and I honestly don’t take it lightly, as I have family suffering from this very thing. Those who know me understand that I often use humor with the discussion of many things, but I certainly don’t take health and helping others as not serious: it’s all very serious to me.

So, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the tech. Think about the potential for solving so many medical issues by inserting technology, into games – even the fun ones – which could assist in calculations for simulations. Honestly, it’s not even necessary to be completely cognizant of the process being performed; using bits of “game data” while users are playing could increase compute cycles for medical simulations. Of course, I don’t advocate not letting people know this is going on, but it CAN occur in the background and create huge GRID networks for scientific study; which is what the Folding @ Home distributed computing project from Stanford is intended to do. Sure, there’s always potential for some of this stuff to fall into the wrong ideals, but it is certainly a way to better the world, too.

The problem this is solving the fact that even the fastest computers can’t perform all of the necessary calculations to achieve certain answers quickly. The key is the combined effort – the smallest amounts – from many different sources creating tangible solutions.

Right now FAH includes about 200,000 computers and has slashed simulation times from 30 years for a mid-size protein to two or three years, says biophysicist Vijay Pande of Stanford University, who began the project in 2000. But “there’s a certain point where adding more computers doesn’t help anymore,” he says, because some parts of the simulation cannot be broken down any further.

Sony believes this is where they will win the day. They believe their Cell Broadband Engine Architecture (CBEA) is the key to unlocking critical pieces of the simulation.

Pande says that he will concentrate on simulating amyloid-beta, deposits of which are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. His goal, he adds, is to identify a drug candidate for Alzheimer’s disease that pharmaceutical companies will want to evaluate. “I would really love to say a year or two from now [that] we’ve made a fundamental advance in Alzheimer’s,” he says.

Turning the work of years into months is the true benefit of this type of architecture. Relying on many interested parties to assist in such wonderful understanding and a huge undertaking is another, though. According to Richard Marks, a senior researcher at Sony, the FAH software will be able to be switched on and off at a users request and can run during idle system time, such as in-between games. Making it a little fun was part of their design, as well, and they created the simulations to mimic some qualities of real games such as realtime zoom, folding, and rotations of the simulations. Their hope is that people will have a compelling reason to do this, and I hope they’re right.

How could you not want to play a game that truly has the ability to save lives? The truth is, not to sound cliche, the life you save very well may be your own. So, if you’ve got a PS2, trade it up for a PS3 and lend a helping hand to science!

 

[Source data: Scientific American]

Posted in Games, Hardware, Health, Science, Technology, Websites

Windows Live Messenger Shares The Financial Love

The other day, while I was singed into Windows Live Messenger, I noticed this little tab. It said: “I’M”, so I clicked it. It told me about this great new campaign that the Live Messenger system is doing to help share some of the wealth. It’s really simple to do, too.

Basically, you go into your profile and type in one of the following codes to have part of the Windows Live Messenger ad revenue support one of these particular causes:

 Text Code  Cause
*red+u American Red Cross
*bgca Boys & Girls Clubs of America
*naf  National AIDS Fund
*mssoc National Multiple Sclerosis Society
*9mil ninemillion.org
*sierra Sierra Club
*help StopGlobalWarming.org
*komen Susan G. Komen for the Cure
*unicef The US fund for UNICEF

All of these different causes are important, and there are many more out there. I hope that more organizations can get on board and start seeing some of the trickle of the funds coming from ad revenue like this.

I suggest you “sign up” and get your little I’M next to your name!

Posted in Uncategorized

NAVTEQ Goes 3-D Ways With Mapping

Map of Los Angeles Provided by Ludington Ltd Maps Looks like it’s finally happened, the geniuses at NAVTEQ, the number one leading provider of mapping data for GPS devices and services (you know like all that stuff you see in Google Maps?), March 15th, 2007 announced a “new Visual Content suite” that will allow for three-dimensional models of cities and major landmarks. Whoa! This could be so cool. Imagine, all of your digital mapping (which is pretty much how it’s all headed) being in 3-D, and when you’re doing your turn-by-turns in your car with your GPS software, everything looks just like what you’re seeing. Now THAT would just be mind-blowing the first time around, wouldn’t it?

I’ve been wondering if everyone uses NAVTEQ’s capabilities or if it’s just the big guys. From what I understand, it’s everyone. I haven’t dug into the roots of this stuff, so I’m not sure if NAVTEQ is “owned” by the government, or provides services to them and the commercial market. The relationship would be interesting to understand. I do know that NAVTEQ also supplies and small bunch of the same services to Windows Live Local – which I think looks pretty amazing, too. As simple as it may seem, I think the IP location that it does is kind of neat, too. Obviously, it’s not dead-on, but it ballpark’s really well.

Overall, I’m glad to see that all of this technology is moving forward in reproducing a more realistic map of the world. Just imagine how great this type of thing is for kids learning their geography. Kids can be in a classroom and take a full walking tour somewhere famous that’s nowhere near them. At some point, full photorealistic images will replace the three-dimensional models and it will be an astounding learning experience for everyone. Isn’t this what we’ve been talking about for the past 25 years or so? I’m glad it’s finally starting to trickle into the public sector.

Posted in GPS, Science, Software, Technology, Websites

Telework: Where’s The Energy Savings?

I got to thinking about the benefits of teleworking (or telecommuting, if you prefer). Many times we look at this subject with the positives of who gains what. Companies see the benefits being lesser office crowding, fewer required parking spaces, desk sharing, and energy savings based on few people drawing power, heat, air conditioning, and water. This saves the companies in a number of great ways.

The employee benefits, too, right? You get to stay home, in your bunny slippers, not take a shower, have great coffee, and keep your dogs happy. You’re home more for your family, and you’re just more comfortable and can get more done, right? I’m sure this is all true; that and you save on the energy costs of driving your vehicle, too. You’re thinking, this is great! I agree, it is great!

Here’s where I see a problem: What about the energy we use in our homes when we’re working there? Think about it: you’re in your house, right? So, you’re using your lights, your heat, and energy to supply your laptop. You’re also using your broadband connection to support your VPN. Granted, there are a few benefits to this too: you can claim your home office on your taxes if you’re on a real telework schedule (by the percentage of square feet of your overall house size, if you need to know), and your company might even pay for part of your broadband solution.

But think about this: now that you’re home, you’ve probably got your 60″ HD Plasma screen on while watching CNN. You’ve probably got multiple lights on in your house (unlike that one high-efficiency desk lamp at work). If it’s winter, and it’s cold where you are, you might have a gas fireplace that’s probably on. Maybe your stereo is on, your using your water, and boy isn’t easy to run to the restroom more often ’cause you’ve been drinking more liquids (which are good for you, so long as it’s not alcohol). …and hey, you get a lunch break, let’s run out to the local restaurant and maybe meet up with some friends; so, now we’re driving.

Here’s my thing: I love telework. My question is this: has anyone figured out if this all really saves any energy? I’d love to see the numbers, ’cause I’m a stats geek like that. What else could be factored in to figure out the actual savings and by whom? Who gets the better end of the deal, the company or the employee?

What’s your take on the whole thing? I gotta know!

Posted in Appliances, Misc, Other, Technology, TV
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