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Roger’s SurfCast

GrandCentral is Grand

January 23rd, 2008

I recently received an invitation to participate in the beta test of a new telephony service called GrandCentral which is very powerful.

GrandCentral is a web-based service which allows users to select a regular ten digit telephone number from their local area which can be used as the single number that can reach them anywhere. The way this works is when a user signs up with GrandCentral, they enter the numbers of their telephones- all of which will ring when someone calls their GrandCentral number.

For instance, I have registered the number at my desk at work, my home phone, and my cell phone numbers on my GrandCentral account. When someone calls my GrandCentral number, all three of these phones ring. When I answer one of them, I am speaking to the person that called my GrandCentral number.

This means two things. First, no more missed calls. If every phone number you use regularly would ring when someone called a single number, you would be much more reachable and your friends and loved ones wouldn’t need to cycle through all your possible numbers. Secondly, your telephone contact information never needs to change again. You can change the numbers you have registered in your GrandCentral account at any time. If you change jobs and get a new work number, there’s no need to tell all your contacts to update the number they have for you if they’re using your GrandCentral number. Just add the new work number to your GrandCentral account and you’re all set.

If that was all GrandCentral did it would be a great service, but that’s not all they do.

GrandCentral also provides free voicemail on your GrandCentral number with many amazing features. If there is no answer when someone calls your GrandCentral number, the caller can leave a voicemail on GrandCentral. This voicemail is then available when you log in to your GrandCentral account as an mp3 file you can download or stream from your inbox page.

Once again, if this was all GrandCentral did it would be a great service, but there’s more.

GrandCentral allows you to screen calls. You can direct certain numbers directly to voicemail, or you can even listen in as a caller is leaving a voicemail and click on if you decide to talk to them. GrandCentral allows you to save contacts and categorize them in groups. You can then configure custom greetings for those groups or even individual callers.

GrandCentral is currently in private beta and is currently totally free.

I have a few invites left. Leave a comment below if you are interested in trying GrandCentral.

Email is like Rock n Roll

August 20th, 2007

Despite claims to the contrary, email will never die.

Case in point, a new species discovered in the wild- bacn.

Putting it simply, Bacn is email you receive that isn’t spam… And isn’t personal mail. It’s the middle class of email. It’s notifications of a new post to your Facebook wall or a new follower on Twitter. It’s the Google alert for your name and the newsletter from your favorite company

For me bacn is things like phone bills, power bills, and notification for domain renewals. Stuff that is important and I need to read I just don’t want to read. I’m sure you get a sizable share of your own personal flavor of bacn. For tips on dealing with it, or just old fashioned commiseration check out the bacn forum.

Mood Music

August 16th, 2007

Musicovery is an interesting user interface for selecting online streaming music.

The interface consists of a box with the words “calm” in the bottom center, “energetic” in the center top, “dark” in the center left, and “positive” in the center right. It’s like a matrix or graph. Click in the region of the box corresponding to what you want to listen to ie. in the upper right quadrant for positive energetic music.

Above the mood selector are two tabs- one labelled “mood”, the other “dance” which allow you to specify music for dancing. Below the mood selector are eighteen buttons that allow you to limit selections to a certain genre such as “metal” or “latino”. Hovering over one of these buttons instantiates a smaller version of the mood matrix for just that genre and a mix is generated.

Once a selection is specified, a set of colored boxes with song titles in them appear scattered on the right side of the screen and connected by a curved, looping line. The line shows the sequence of play with the song currently playing centered in the right side screen area and showing a play/pause button and links to various places to buy the song.

The lo-fi service is free, but hi-fi “CD quality” streams cost two euro per month.

Musicovery looks like an interesting new toy for online music listeners and may be great for parties. If it had a button for instrumental I would call it almost perfect.

High Fashion

August 14th, 2007

One giant leap for space fashion: MIT team designs sleek, skintight spacesuit

Have you ever noticed how large and bulky spacesuits are? After decades of research and development today’s spacesuits are a far cry from what was worn by early celestial pioneers, but they are still far from ideal. It is estimated that 70 to 80% of the energy an astronaut expends during EVA is dissipated in fighting against the inflexibility of the spacesuit they wear. This could be envisioned as trying to clap underwater, or attempting to write your name on a chalkb0ard with a twenty pound weight tied to your wrist.

In fhte future, things might not be quite so difficult for the intrepid explorers of the cold black. Dr. Dava Newman has developed new spacesuit technologies that may allow future astronauts the kind of physical flexibility henceforth seen only in science fiction movies. Current spacesuits are somewhat like big person-shaped balloons. The outer material contains an astronaut and an atmosphere that in addition to providing air to breathe, has been pressurized to keep the astronaut inside from exploding in the vacuum of space. Dr. Newman’s propsal turns this around- instead of pressurizing the gas inside the suit, the suit itself is made to be skintight with a stuctural system that keeps the astronauts body pressurized. This allows the suits to be not only much more flexible, but far less bulky. The prototypes appear to be less constraining than the protective garb worn by a firefighter.

It is predicted that the technology could be ready when the first predicted missions to Mars should take place in approximately ten years.

A Whole New World

January 8th, 2007

I now have a new realm to explore and describe to you loyal readers. I have gained access to the mobile Internet via my new (to me) Treo 650. It’s a Cingular branded phone so I am constrained to GPRS bandwidth, but generally this is acceptable so far.

Aside from being a celphone, my Treo has added three basic and very dear functionalities to my life– the kind of things you don’t miss when you don’t have them, but once you do have them losing them would be excruciatingly painful. The first, in personal importance, is the ability to snap pictures (they aren’t great, but they are decent) and email them instantly. Now, to those to whom such a thing seems interesting, this is very appealing. It is especially useful to me, as the father of two young boys, since my father lives in Arizona and I live in Illinois.

Yes, I have a digital camera and take pictures of them and email them, but having to wait to get home, get the images from the camera into the computer, and then email the images is just enough work that, though many pictures may get taken, a much smaller number of them actually get emailed. This process is even more hindered by the fact that once I open the images on my computer to evaluate which are best to send, I invariably feel the need to ‘tweak’ even the best of the best and a 5 minute process of selecting images and then emailing them becomes an hours long process of adjusting colors, contrast, levels, and curves etc.

That is why I love the pared down, snap, save, send functionality of my Treo. I could sync the phone to my computer and then work on the pictures as before, but at a maximum resolution of 640×480 and not the best quality to begin with- I have arrived at a much more zen-like attitude towards these images.

I do my best to maximize what I can take by using the light present in the environment, set up the composition I want (”smile, Son!”), and click. If I move, or for some other reason the image is blurry, I just don’t save it and shoot another. I know there won’t be much more I could squeeze out of them with GIMP anyway. That makes it much easier to accept what I snap. My dad is delighted by the new tsunami of grandson pictures he’s getting and for me it’s also a very handy visual notebook. I snap pictures of anything I see I want to remember or find interesting.

The next aspect that has become very useful for me is the built-in to-do/task list application. It allows me to enter tasks with detailed descriptions and time based alarms. I can create a task to remind me to say, set the VCR (call me a dinosaur) to record a specific episode of NOVA or something on the history channel about ancient Egypt for my archeologiaclly obsessed seven year old, that will sound and audio alarm and pop-up the task on the screen with an explanation of what I need to do. This is very handy for a forgetful cat like me.

The final way in which my phone has become ingrained in my life is as a media player. With a 1 GB SD card I can load a respectable amount of podcasts on it. This is of especial value to me as a ride-sharer with someone who displays an undying predeliction for brain-dead AM talk radio. So while the radio of the car I’m riding in is tuned to “Man, gas prices are outrageous- what’s up with that? The oil companies are to blame. What do you think callers?” I am listening to such delightful technology related brain expanders as Steve Gibson’s Security Now.

Oh, and I can call people on it, too.

So, while this article is not exactly standard SurfCast fare, it is the advent of a new topic of articles here. Software for the Palm Treo 650. If you have one, stay tuned and follow along. If you don’t, stay tuned and follow along anyway because the primary focus of SurfCast has not changed, it has only broadened.

One Link to Mark Them All

April 14th, 2006

OnlyWire: The Only BookMarklet You’ll Ever Need!

If you are a social bookmarker like me, you probably have created accounts on a number of sites such as del.icio.us, blinklist, ma.gnolia, blogmarks, and others always in a quest to find one that suits you more perfectly or to check out the newest thing.

The only trouble with such a scenario is that you either end up focusing on one, like the 800 pound gorilla- del.icio.us leaving a trail of abandoned one-link accounts on the other sites, or you spread your use around randomly based on some well-meant but ill-considered methodology and your bookmarks are scattered to the winds.

I finally settled on the first case, but often felt as if I were putting all my eggs in one basket by defaulting to del.icio.us as my sole bookmark tool. I don’t think del.icio.us is going anywhere, but there have been times in the not distant past where it has been unavailable for a non-trivial amount of time and anytime one depends on a free service they don’t control for something as essential as their bookmarks (!- Have you ever thought that through before? -!), it behooves inestimably to have a backup plan.

OnlyWire is that backup plan in a single link.

It’s very simple, but very powerful. With one bookmarklet you can save, comment, and tag your bookmarks on seventeen popular bookmarking sites with a single click!

It works, I just tried it. It was mere moments from viewing the page the first time to instantaneous bookmark replication. I created an account, entered my account info for the services I use, added the bookmarklet to my Opera personal bar, surfed to a link, clicked the bookmarklet and that link was properly added to all my accounts– tags and all (and in my opinion, it just aint a proper bookmark without tags).

OnlyWire is not free, but the cost is not monetary. In an interesting new twist, the cost to use OnlyWire is that the first time you use it the OnlyWire site and their ’sponsor site’ are also bookmarked along with your bookmark on all the services you have added to your OnlyWire account. I think this is fine. In fact, I think it’s fascinating.

Links are already currency to bloggers, perhaps this is the advent of another new form of currency- bookmarks. The service provided seems solid and very very useful. I don’t mind paying– especially if the cost is in-kind.

One link to mark them all
and in the tag cloud find them

Netvibes

March 28th, 2006

Netvibes is among a new type of website commonly referred to as AJAX desktops. In this usage the term AJAX has nothing to do with aging US missile programs, or even Greek mythological characters. Here AJAX refer to Asynchronous Javascript And XML and if you have no idea what that means, don’t worry about it- it doesn’t matter. It just describes a coding technique employed to deliver all the cool, fun new Web 2.0 type features that the folks are eating up like candy today.

There are a number of AJAX desktops and I have looked at a couple of them, but none of them really clicked with me till I tried Netvibes. Netvibes has come to be my Internet control center- the hub of where all the things I do online are available in one place.

This works basically through RSS and Atom feeds. Netvibes pages look like columns of thin rectangular boxes of varying colors. Each of these boxes represents a feed- they display the title of the feed and the number of items in that feed that haven’t been read yet. In order to see the items in a feed, mouse over it and a wedge icon will appear, clicking it will open the feed box like a pull-down menu that displays the items in that feed.

The boxes are configurable allowing the title, color, and number of items to be displayed to be modified. Additionally, links associated with the feed in question can be configured to display in a pop-up on the Netvibes page, or to actually open the web page the feed item links to in a new window. The boxes can also be dragged around the page with the mouse to organize them or arrange them together.

If that was all Netvibes offered, I think it would be worth recommending, but they are constantly adding new modules which offer extended functionality. There is a module that can display POP3 email headers displaying the last 20 or so items as if your email was a feed (The module only displays From: and Subject: headers- it can’t read or get your email for you.) which is handy to see what you’ve got and from who. There is a module that can track Flickr feeds such as tags- add a flicker module, paste in the feed address for a tag page and when you open the module on your Netvibes page the most recent images appear right in the module box- each one linked to its respective Flickr page. There are modules for weather, ebay, delicious, etc in addition to a to-do list module, a webnote module which is a little text scratch pad that makes urls pasted into it clickable automatically, and modules that plug into popular web calendar applications, too.

The latest and most impressive in my opinion is the box.net module. This module interfaces seamlessly with box.net which offers one gigabyte of free online storage. Yes, one gigabyte- free. Simply add the module to your desktop, go through the quick and painless username/password registration and your Netvibes page now contains a place to stash your files so you can get to them wherever you can browse the Internet.

If you follow a large number of feeds and you want to be able to access all of them from anywhere in one convenient location, try Netvibes.

Geotags in action

January 30th, 2006

Link Geotagged Flickr photos to Google Earth and Google Maps.

Flickr2map is a very slick, very easy to use free service.

It allows you to place a link in a geotagged Flickr image description that goes to a Google Map with a pin placed at the location the image was geotagged with, or to a Google Earth location. That’s all there is to it.

In the description of your geotagged Flickr image, simply insert the following code

<a href="www.robogeo.com/Flickr2Map/?type=map">Google Mapped</a>

into your image description and you’re done.

Give it a try– it’s too easy not to.

Feed Icons

January 19th, 2006

Feed Icons - Help establish the new standard

Do you have a feed?

If you use WordPress (like I do), MovableType, or even Blogger you have a feed whether you know what it is or not.

If you have a feed and are familiar with the concept, the website linked above it attempting to standardize the icon used for linking to feeds by supplying a high quality, customizable version of the tiny icon that has been settled on by browser industry bigshots such as Mozilla and even Microsoft have endorsed as being a good choice for the universally ‘official’ feed icon.

So help them out if you want– take it, customize it, use it.

Panexa- Ask your doctor for a reason to take it!

January 3rd, 2006

MERD | Panexa (Acidachrome Promanganate)

Are you feeling a little too, or not quite enough… however these days?

Has the je ne sais quoi been getting you down? Has the ineffable nature of modern life been affecting you?

Well now that no longer has to happen!

Yes, thanks to new discoveries by the MERD Pharmaceutical Group, we now have the power of Panexa to combat the vagaries life and enhance the amenities.

For any problem you may have, or any lack of problem, ask your doctor for a reason to take Panexa and begin living the way you think you ought to!