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.


Welcome to the Machine

January 16, 2010

With apologies to Pink Floyd

I’m going to be a little more philosophical than usual today, as a topical story has come up related to technology that I think is worth talking about. I’ll add an economic angle to it, thanks to the help of the good folks as BusinessWeek towards the end.

A friend of mine pointed me to an article on a book by Jaron Lanier, who among other things coined the term “virtual reality.” Sadly, I haven’t been able to find the specific article he gave me. (It was a print out that I recycled before deciding I was going to write about it.) There is a good summary of his topic in the New York Times book review.

In this new book, “You Are Not A Gadget,” Lanier argues against something called the technological singularity. This is a difficult term to define exactly, but in principle, I interpret it as the idea that technology will improve to such a point that humanity will become one with it. Also, humanity will augment themselves, or alternately be so immersed in technology that individuality will be insignificant. Anyway, that’s a lot to pack into a single term, so it’s easy to see why there’s a lot of confusion about it.

Most of the arguments I have seen on the singularity has always remarked that this is something to be embraced. It is the savior of humanity, and the one possible thing that will prevent us from annihilating ourselves.

Lanier, however, argues that technological singularity is something to be feared and not embraced. His book argues that as we increase our interconnected nature, we must necessarily decrease our individualism. He points to Wikipedia as an important example of this concept. Individual voices are pushed out for the good of the collective work. Even experts are disregarded in favor of a collective “hive mind” interpretation of articles.

He takes this argument to its logical conclusion that if this continues we will enter “a persistent somnolence” with no real culture to speak of, just the hive.

Certainly, I would argue that we have not reached that state, and there are definitely many other results that could come about, as the result of the hive mind. However, I think there is something to his argument, and this is a result that needs to be avoided.

How we do that is where the Business Week article comes in. Nanette Byrnes argues that people like Conan O’Brien and talented people as a whole are being severely undervalued. The “knowledge workers” of this age can suffer greatly at the hands of those managing them. Oftentimes, the management “hive mind” couldn’t replace the content that an inspired individual can create. This results in a weakened product that is less successful for everyone, both company and client.

This problem is where I think the question of the technological singularity’s effect will be answered. If individuality, talent and creativity can thrive then this will be a positive development. If these things fail or cease to grow, then this will be a negative development.

I hope to read Jaron Lanier’s book at some point, and if there is interest, I’ll write a follow-up.

Do you have any thoughts on this topic? Let me know if 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.


Privacy Quest

December 12, 2009

There have been a couple of big announcements in the realm of privacy in the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to take this post to talk about the developments.

The first announced this week is that Facebook has updated its privacy functionality ostensibly in order to give you more control over the information that you give out through the service. However, as many people are commenting, a lot of the privacy protection that was previously available now is not.

Facebook is a business that is designed to have as much information available as possible as this makes it a much more interesting site for users, however, if people are not comfortable with how much information is available this sort of plan could backfire.

As you can see here, if you aren’t my friend, I have my privacy setting set at a very high level. You can’t even find me in a search if you don’t know me. (The profile with no data isn’t actually me. I’m not on there at all.) While that might seem a bit extreme for some, I’m perfectly happy with that level of privacy. This is a setting that is still available with the new Facebook privacy changes.

Now a company that is getting some praise for its latest move is Google. Google has created a new privacy dashboard, which, when signed in, allows you to look at all the data Google has compiled on you. More importantly, it has many setting that allow you to delete that information. So, if Google has your search history and there’s something on there that you don’t want, you can finally do something about it.

Ultimately, privacy needs to be something that users have control over and don’t feel that they are giving away to use the Internet. This is certainly a challenge for content providers as this is a key way to deliver relevant advertising. I do believe there is a happy medium between these two positions, and I hope the future has more and more powerful privacy controls.

Don’t forget if you have thoughts, throw them in the comments.

(Bonus points if you can identify the obscure mid-90’s TV show I referenced in the title.)