Making Your Haiti Donation Count

January 23, 2010

In a previous entry, I talked about ways to donate in a Techeap way. As the operations in Haiti continue, I though it would be worthwhile to touch upon some topics that I discussed there and add a few more tricks.

My best suggestion remains at DonationDoubler.com. This site has added a whole new section of ways that you can have your donation matched by a variety of corporations around the country. They’ve added a number of ways to get a matching donation to Haiti relief, so I recommend you check that out.

Another major trend that is new to this particular disaster is the use of text messaging to donate. Generally, this works by texting a particular word to a telephone number and the aid organization charging your cell phone provider. This donation will then appear on your phone bill.

The problem that I have with this method of donation is that it takes a long time for your chosen charity to get the money that has been donated. For this crisis, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the major cell phone carriers each elected to advance at least some money before the bill is actually paid. Normally, however, this is not the case and that is something I consider to be a major drawback in this method of donation.

With that said, if a text message is so convenient for you that it is the only way that you are going to donate, then the drawbacks may be worthwhile.

The last item I’ll mention is that there are a wide variety of kickbacks for donations to Haiti out there. From role-playing game PDFs to recordings of the Hope for Haiti telecast to Miami Heat tickets, lots of organization are offering kickbacks for your donation. If that makes your donation meaningful to you, I encourage you to take advantage of those offers.

In these economic times, giving your money away can be very difficult, but if you can afford to do it, there are a lot of people who can use the help right now.

Any other great offers to those who help Haiti? Let me know in the comments.


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.


Improving Your Website With Pictures

January 3, 2010
'NeXTstation Turbo Color 33MHz' by blakespot (via Flickr). CC BY licence.

'NeXTstation Turbo Color 33MHz' by blakespot (via Flickr). CC BY licence.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do lately is improve my web design skills and keep my eyes open for sites that I like or that do things in an interesting way.

One observation I’ve made is that most of the blogs that I prefer always use some sort of stock image for each of their entries.

One of my concerns about doing this myself has been the licensing ramifications of using pictures from the Internet. I’m certainly not in a position to take pictures of a relevant item for each topic myself. This is where a site like Sprixi.com is most useful. Sprixi is a relatively new search engine (they are still in beta) for images that generally have a simple-to-use license. The neat thing about it is that in addition to having links explaining the licenses in a very simple way. They can also add a credit to the bottom of the image, as you can see here.

I’ve decided to double credit the image just to stay on the safe side and as an experiment for how the image will look. They have a wide variety of images. There is a legal warning for a variety of types of images.The part that caught my eye though was:

We warn you to be careful using images of people and children, especially for commercial purposes. You will most likely need to get a “model release” from the people in the image otherwise you could be infringing on a right of privacy or publicity. Do not assume the subjects of photos have consented to have their image used for anything. The same goes for images of private property, events, landmarks, attractions, artworks and copyrighted material.

So this is not a cure-all for all the legal obligations that you could be put under, so be careful before using the site. However, this site is much better than using Google Images and stealing something from there without attribution.

I’m still a bit torn about how this picture looks with the current WordPress system I’m using, so I still haven’t decided if I’ll keep doing them. It is a nice experiment to try.

Do you have any favorite sites for images or other types of content? How about other cool design tips? Let me know in the comments.


How do I use this gift again?

December 26, 2009

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, I’m told. That means evenings with family and friends, delicious food and new gadgets you can’t figure out how to get working.

Unfortunately, in the chaos that comes with the holidays the manuals and instruction books have gone missing. What’s a person to do?

Well, even before you try navigating the manufacturer’s website, you might want to try PDFgeni.com. This website has a wide variety of manuals and other PDFs (Portable Document Format files that are often read using Adobe Acrobat Reader) that are posted online, and while the search function is pretty basic, it is pretty accurate at finding that wayward manual.

Another useful website to check out during the holidays is RepairClinic.com, on this site you can get rundown of what the most likely problems are with your overused home appliances and what if anything you can do to fix them. Often the end result of the troubleshooting questionnaires is that you have to take the appliance in question to a mechanic, but it is nice to try some of your own repairs first.

Do you have any tips for making the holiday season brighter or the gadgets in your life more efficient? Let me know in the comments and happy holidays to everyone.


The Year in Search

December 20, 2009

As the end of the year rolls around, I find it interesting to look at the things people have been searching for on the web. Each search engine has their own list, so let’s take a look at the data for 2009.

Google:

1. michael jackson
2. facebook
3. tuenti
4. twitter
5. sanalika
6. new moon
7. lady gaga
8. windows 7
9. dantri.com.vn
10. torpedo gratis

Yahoo!:

1. Michael Jackson
2. Twilight
3. WWE
4. Megan Fox
5. Britney Spears
6. Naruto
7. American Idol
8. Kim Kardashian
9. NASCAR
10. Runescape

Bing:

1. Michael Jackson
2. Twitter
3. Swine Flu
4. Stock Market
5. Farrah Fawcett
6. Patrick Swayze
7. Cash for Clunkers
8. Jon and Kate Gosselin
9. Billy Mays
10. Jaycee Dugard

The first thing that jumps out at me in this data is that the only item that transcended all three lists was Michael Jackson. Certainly part of this is the methodology that the search engines are using to tabulate this data, and all of them are using “trending” topics. As you might guess, searches for things like Youtube or pornography are going to have relatively consistent growth on a year to  year basis.

The terms that made two lists were Twitter and Twilight/New Moon. It is certainly remarkable the growth that Twitter has had this year. It has certainly created a lot of public awareness in a short time. It will interesting to see if it remains a trend in 2010.

One interesting difference between the Google and Bing lists are the number of tech-related searches on Google versus the number of “obituary”-related searches on Bing. Bing has four celebrities who had died in the past year on its list while Google has arguably 7 different technology related results. TechCrunch Europe has an interesting entry on why Sanalika appears. Tuenti is the Spanish version of Facebook. Dantri.com.vm is a Vietnamese newspaper. Torpedo Gratis is a Portuguese site that allows you to send free text messages.

One thing you can certainly take from Google’s list is it’s international appeal. Techcrunch also argues that most international users will simply use Google over the address bar or bookmarks to get to particular websites.

Are there any interesting trends or notes that you’ve spotted? Let me know in the comments.


‘Tis the Season for Savings

November 21, 2009

As Black Friday, the shopping extravaganza after Thanksgiving, comes once again. I have some tips and tricks for getting you through this time of year with the most savings.

The first tip is to read every flyer and advertisement carefully. As CNN’s Money site points out, many stores will try to  lure you in with incredible deals in extremely limited quantities. So unless you plan on being in front of the store hours before it opens, you are probably best off avoiding those situations.

Some stores, like Wal-Mart, have decided in order to avoid those mad rushes for bargains to open stores 24 hours, but activate the sales at 5am. In this situation, you may be able to grab the item you want and just wait to checkout at the appropriate time. While this may not work in every Wal-Mart, it may be worth a shot if you want to grab the best bargains.

One site that I mentioned in my last post was BlackFriday.info, but if you prefer more of a blog format to the layout of that site you can check out BFAds.net. I also prefer this site’s search function, but both sites are worth checking out.

However, for online shoppers, it’s even better if you don’t have to leave your house. That’s where sites like DealNews and Ben’s Bargains come in. These sites will have update on online offers and coupon codes, many of which include free shipping. However, most of the deals are in the technology market, so if you are getting gifts for people who don’t like electronics these might not be the perfect sites for you.

One other thing to keep in mind is that after the Black Friday rush marketers have come up with a new way for online stores to get some attention by creating “Cyber Monday.” The theory is that everyone is  coming back to work after the holiday weekend will be working on their holiday shopping list instead of working at their job. However, as tends to happen with these things, perception has become reality and “Cyber Monday” has become a real phenomenon with increased sales and deals to attract those sales. Make sure you check those websites on that Monday for the good bargains that can be available.

Do you have an inside track for deals in this season? Make a note in the comments.


Charting a Course for News

November 7, 2009

I’m a serious consumer of news. I read, listen and watch a lot of it. Sometimes though I get caught in the trap of only reading stories that I find interesting. Certain major topics do not interest me enough to follow up and read about them as much as I probably should. I still don’t really know what Rihanna said about Chris Brown, so sometimes I need something that will force certain items to my attention.

One website that I’ve found that can do that is Newsmap. Newsmap is a colored-coded grid of stories that uses Google News to prioritize the most significant stories of the news day. Stories that have had more written about them are relatively bigger in the grid and have their headline in a larger font. Clicking on any of the stories will bring up the story where you can read more about it.

It defaults to having all categories of news, but if you want to limit it to just certain sections like health or technology, you can just click the appropriate check boxes and the grid will reorganize itself. It’s a nice little way to visualize the news.

At the 10000 Words blog, they have a great list of other news visualizers if you are interested in looking at news in a different way. There is the popular Newser tiled headlines with pictures, but this type of layout tends to make me focus on the interesting pictures instead  of finding good stories.

Another interesting visualization is 10×10, which offers a 10×10 grid of story pictures taken from Reuters, the BBC and the New York Times RSS feeds. It is very focused on international stories, but the way that it works is worth noting. It analyzes the words from the RSS feeds of these stories and computes the most important words of a particular hour. Then it will associate a picture with each word. Often times, the result will be that the same picture will come up multiple times, which lets you know that a story is worth looking at more closely. I would prefer if looked at a larger amount of time than an hour, because you will often get stories with no picture or only a very few stories and lots of repeated pictures.

How do you find news content? Have any interesting tips? Let me know in the comments.