Geolocation is Trending

January 9, 2010

As CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) continues their hype over 3D-TV, another interesting trend is emerging.

Geolocation applications could be the next hot thing. Techcrunch has an interesting article about a new application called BlockChalk. Using Twitter, which automatically adds where you are along with your tweet, you can tweet about that area and interesting notes about it. Other people using the ap in that physical location later are also shown the information that you tweeted from there.

It will be interesting to see the kind of community that emerges from this area. I could see this being a useful way to talk about good restaurants and interesting facts about a place. It could also amount to a “Kilroy was here” announcement.

Speaking of announcing your location in various places, that is how the online game Foursquare works. When you sign-up for this game, the goal is to collect points by “checking-in” (announcing your presence in) different locations in your city. Previously, you had to be on a short list of cities to play the game, but Foursquare has recently announced that they are expending to an open-ended world-wide platform, where you can enter the locations that you have entered into their database.

You can earn various badges for different types of activities, like checking into a lot of places on the same night or becoming mayor by being the person who has checked into a place the most. Another neat feature is that you don’t have to announce the location to everyone to get credit for checking in, but if you want to, you can let your friends know you are at that location, if they want to drop by.

As mobile technology increases, I think more and more of these types of technologies will be more prevalent, and I think this will lead to some very interesting results.

Do you have any great ideas for geolocation? Let me know in the comments.


It’s Like Being Friends…with Audio

September 19, 2009

Sometimes you come across an interesting service that seems useful, but you aren’t exactly sure what to do with it.

Well, that’s the situation that I’m in with AudioPal.com. My previous post (if you linked here from somewhere, you can go to the main page at www.techeap.com to see both posts) shows you what this service is.

You go to AudioPal.com, call a toll-free line, enter a personalized code, and record a message. You give them an e-mail address to send the code to link it to your website. It also offers integration with many blogging services, including this one at WordPress.com. This makes it pretty convenient to add it to your site.

The drawback is that it only offer :60 of recording time. That really isn’t very much to do anything that amazing. I could see doing a contest or giveaway using a system like this. However, if you had a decent microphone at home, you could probably record something with better quality by yourself.

The site is very easy to use, and I’m impressed that they are offering this for free. This is serving as a way to market their other site at Sitepal.com. There you can get speaking avatars to talk to people logging in to a web site at a variety of different price points.

Now I’m left with an interesting service with which I can’t figure out any useful things to do.

Do you have any ideas? Let me know in the comments.


On-line Life After Real Life Death

September 5, 2009

I’m going a bit off the beaten track today after I saw an interesting article in Time about what happens to your on-line accounts after you die.

This was certainly a wake-up call for me when I consider how much of my life is secured behind passwords and other security features. Time reports that both Hotmail and G-mail will allow you a CD of the deceased’s e-mails, but doesn’t seem to allow actual access. Facebook will either take down a profile, or create a memorial profile that only users friends can access. Flickr will lock families out of any images marked private.

The main thing to take away from this is that each site has its own methods of dealing with the digital assets of the deceased, so this should be part of anyone’s planning for their death.

A number of sites, as described in the MSNBC article, have started to help people prepare for their death. One site, Deathswitch, which seems like a disaster waiting to happen, will send out a notice to predetermined e-mail addresses in the event you haven’t checked in on the site that week. A more reasonable system might be Slightly Morbid, which will alert your designated people, when family members let the site know.

I think in my case I’m considering including a sealed envelope of instructions along with my will for access to these accounts. In this case, a low-tech solution may be the best answer to a high-tech problem.

What are your thoughts and have you done any digital death planning? Leave them in the comments.


Give Voice to the Google-less

August 8, 2009

After a prolonged wait, I finally got my invitation to try out Google Voice. While not without its quirks, it offers a lot of functionality with relative ease of use.

Google Voice issues you a new phone number which you can attack to land line or cell phones. You can actually use the service to ring all of your phones at once if someone is trying to reach you. People can dial the Google Voice number and it will automatically forward the call. The next thing that happens is when the phone rings, Google Voice will try to ID the person who is calling you to see if you want to accept the call.

This is where one of those quirks comes in. I  found that you did not have a very long time to make a decision and find the number that coordinated with the option that you wanted. If you use the line a lot, you’ll get over that issue, but it will take some practice. If you elect to take the call at any time in the conversation you can hit the ‘4’ key and have it record the rest of the conversation. It will take this call and automatically forward the recording as an mp3 to the e-mail you have linked with your account, or you can change to setting to just let it live in the Google Voice account.

Next, if you don’t want to take the call, you can send it to voice mail. This time Google Voice will attempt a speech to text translation and e-mail that to you. Like all speech-to-text, it bungles a lot of it up, but it can give you a solid idea of what the person was trying to pass along. Just don’t count on it to get detail like addresses and phone numbers correct. The voicemail is also recorded and becomes downloadable as an mp3.

The last main feature is the calling and SMS feature. From the Google Voice page, you can initiate a free call between your Google Voice attached phone and any number in the US. I found the connection process was a bit slow, but once you were  connected the quality was surprisingly good. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has certainly come a long way from the old days. You are also supposed to be able to send SMS messages to any number, but I had some problems with this and a couple of my test messages never got through. Unlike a phone call, it’s hard to verify if texts have gone through, so you might use this feature with caution.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the service, especially considering that you get it all for free. However, to use it you have to get invited by Google and I had signed up over 6 months ago before finally getting my service recently. So if you are interested, get yourself on the list now, and you might get invited by Christmas.

Google has announced an automatic invitation service for members of the military. That is, people with .mil e-mail addresses. This is a nice touch and I think people in the military overseas can really use this to get audio messages from their friends and family members in this country.

I do have to mention that using this service could potentially give Google a lot of information about you. I would check out their privacy policy before you sign-up, just to make sure you are comfortable with how they are using your information.

Have you used the service? Think you might sign up? Let me know in the comments.


Birthday Greetings

July 19, 2009

I suspect this will be a shorter post than usually as I am just coming off a birthday celebration yesterday. I did think that this would be a good time to discuss free on-line tools related to birthdays.

There are a lot of sites that claim to offer free on-line birthday cards, but I find the one that works best for me is 123Greetings.com. The only thing you really need to have is an e-mail address, and you can always use the temporary one that I’ve suggested previously here on Techeap.

There is advertising on the site, but all of the cards are available. There are a number of sites that only offer a few cards for free and charge for the rest. It’s disappointing to have your heart set on the perfect card and then realizing it is going to cost you some money to actually send it.

My other suggestion for you is a reminder service, so that you can actually send those e-cards in time. I’ve tried Alerts.com, which didn’t exactly me floor me with the service. Amazon also offers reminders with items attached that you may want to get for the person’s birthday.

Another possible service that may work for you is Facebook. When you sign-up, one of the pieces of information usually included is a person’s birth day. Facebook will remind you when a person’s birthday is coming up, but that requires that both of you be members and friends with each other.

Another option, of course, is using a calendar service like Google Calendar and inserting your friend’s and family’s birthdays in there.

Do you have any other ideas or tools for birthdays? Let me know in the comments.


Gmail Gone Gold

July 12, 2009

Well, it’s now official. Gmail is out of beta. Now, for you and me this probably means very little. I’ve been using the service for years and been very satisfied with it. This transition is more for large business, which Google hopes they will be able to hone in on now.

With this news hook, I thought I would talk about some of the advantage and a few tips and tricks that I use on Gmail to make it worthwhile for me. First, if you want a great mini-course on using Gmail, check out their page on becoming a Gmail ninja. I found it both good for a laugh and very informative. I won’t go over everything they have there, but there are a couple of things worth highlighting.

I really like the labels system. Many online e-mail services offer folder, and I really didn’t understand the difference between the two at first. Until one day, I had an e-mail that was related to both my job and bills I had to pay. Normally, I’d have to choose one folder or the other, but with labels, I can stick it in both and call it a day.

Another useful thing about Gmail is that it offers a more secure https: connection, if you are checking it on public wi-fi. While this may not be the end all of security when on a public Internet connection, it does help. You can access that on one-time basis at https://www.gmail.com or you can clicking on settings in the upper-right of Gmail, scrolling to the bottom of that page and clicking the radio button for “Always use https.”

There a lot of helpful settings in that area of the site, and if you are a heavy Gmail user, its worth some time to go through each page and make the settings are setup to make the most effective use of them.

One other tool to mention in the settings is the filters tab. I used to do a lot of eBay shopping, and would get a lot of e-mail from them. Mind you, I wanted this material, but it was clogging the front page of my inbox when I was looking for other material. The solution which worked for me was filters. This is very similar to Rules, if you use Microsoft’s Outlook. You set certain parameters, like who the e-mail is from, or e-mails that contain certain words and tell Gmail what to do with it. For this eBay problem, I simply had Gmail label them and archive them. This took them out of my inbox and put them in a place where I could look at them at my convenience.

This is a very powerful tool, and if your e-mail service is missing this, it might be worth considering a change.

The last thing I want to mention is Gmail Labs. These are add-ons to Gmail that are in testing. Some of them are a little crazy, like having to solve a few math problems before sending an e-mail late at night. (In order to prevent drunken e-mails) Some of them though seem really useful like tasks, which gives you a convenient to-do list in Gmail. These are in testing, so you definitely have to confident about your browsing experience before you go to far into the most experimental ones.

How about you? Do you like Gmail? Do you think its over-hyped? Are you worried about privacy issues?

Let me know in the comments.


Write Rightly

July 4, 2009

I’ve been thinking about my writing on this blog lately and wondering if I’ve been writing on appropriate level. My goal is to write clearly that a person not into technology in general can get something out of any given post if the topic is of interest to them. However, I also want those who follow the field, who I suspect are at least a good portion of readers here, to not be bored.

I wondered if there is any (free, of course) way to objectify some of these goals. At about that time, I found an interesting list of writing tools for bloggers and other writers at a publication I wasn’t familiar with, Smashing Magazine.

One that seemed of particular interest to me was Advanced Text analysis. Back when I used Windows ’95 (Yikes!) and Microsoft Works (Double Yikes!), one of the features that I liked was a readability grade. It gave you an idea of how complicated a text was by analyzing how many long and multi-syllabic words were used in your document.

The folks at UsingEnglish.com are giving you that tool and many others, but most of them require that you be registered.

Here are some of the results of the analysis of my last 10 blog posts.

Readability:

Overall Sampled Calculated Grading
Hard Words: 538 13
Long Words: 1,046 21
Lexical Density: 26.56 % 68.91 %
Gunning Fog Index: 12.38 12.30 Hard
Coleman-Liau Grade: 17.85 9.29 9th Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 9.40 8.31 8th Grade (3 years)
Flesch Reading Ease: 64.06 70.82 Fairly Easy: 6th Grade
ARI (Automated Readability Index): 15.69 8.55 8th Grade
SMOG: 11.03 11.06 11 Years (Some high school)
LIX (Laesbarhedsindex): 40.91 37.48 Standard

In some ways, I’m happy to see that my writing is not too complicated, but it seems that I might consider upping the bar a little bit. As a point of reference this article describes the writing level of various publications.

The thing that really struck me though were the values of different words used.

General:

Overall Sampled
Characters (all): 29,174 641
Characters (words only): 22,988 507
Words: 5,106 119
Different Words: 1,356 82

With over 5,000 words generated, I had only used 1,356 total words. That’s a pretty staggering figure to me. It may mean I need to vary my word choice a little more, or that I should talk about some different topics.

This is really only the beginning of the analysis on the site, and you can find lots of interesting and frankly not so interesting pieces of data about your writing.

Hopefully, you won’t find this analysis too self-indulgent, but if you are fellow or blogger or doing writing somewhere else in your life, it might be worthwhile to put your text through the analyzer and see what you get.

If you find some interesting results, let me know in the comments.