Archive for December, 2009

National Hangover Day: Hangover Cure Round-Up

It’s no secret that tonight is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year.  Which, of course, means January 1st is one of the biggest hangover days of the year.  In a bit of obvious yet genius marketing the creators (or marketeers) of ‘The Hangover’ are calling for January 1st to be National Hangover Day.

In anticipation of National Hangover Day Tech to Live By brings to you a round-up of hangover cures to enjoy while watching The Hangover.



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I can already tell you exactly what my personal hangover relief will be…  Gatorade, the spiciest bloody marys I can make (Whiskey Willy’s Xtreme is the best mix ever) and a ‘Who is dumb enough to stay in this 50 degree pool the longest’ contest Polar Bear Plunge. Yup, that should wake me up just fine.

Have fun, be safe, and Merry New Year to all!!!

Mammoth Mountain Mobile!

large_MammothBikiniRun0801I love Mammoth Mountain.  I can’t really describe how much I love it because it’d come across as weird, but really it’s not…I swear.

Anyway, in recent years Mammoth has managed to upgrade their connectivity and I can get a reasonable cell signal around much of the mountain (at least Sprint is sometimes useful for something).  Usually I’m texting friends trying to figure out where our next drink break will be, but recently I found Mammoth has launched a Mammoth Mobile Site.

It’s a streamlined version of the full site and you have access to everything useful (i.e. snow reports, lift status, trail maps, web cams, and more).  If you’ll be up in Mammoth this season this site will come in handy at some point.  Keep it around.

Have fun ya’ll. Ride safe!

Twitter, Geolocations and You!

Twitter Stream - TownMeMore Location based services are coming to Twitter soon (in November they introduced their first geotagging capabilities).  You can read about the Twitter’s acquisition of Mixer Labs and the GeoAPI (previously TownMe API) here.  Now, I know a lot of people worry about the stalker-ish feeling of geo-enabled services and apps, but if you carry a cellphone you are track able and it’s just a question of whether or not you publish that information publicly.

In the case of geo-Twittering I’d like to highlight a couple of ways you could benefit without just further contributing to the general flow of minutia that is often associated with Twitter.

Real Time Search

If you’re like me you’ve turned to Twitter more than once for real-time information about something.  For me it’s primarily been things like blackouts, earthquakes, plumes of smoke in the distance, and other similar things that just couldn’t be covered effectively by standard news media.  I’ve always had to search for keywords or tags to find what I was looking for, usually combining multiple searches to get a complete answer.  The addition of location information would enable searches by proximity to be combined with the keywords netting a significantly better result.  I’d really like to see someone use this feature to create a method for communicating DUI checkpoints and the locations of motorcycle cops and their damn radar guns (hey, it’s worked for decades with CB radios, why not Twitter?).



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Organize Your Night Out

You have to have a certain critical mass of tech savvy friends for this to work, but when you have flakey friends or you don’t know exactly which bar (or house) everyone will end up at sometimes it’s just easier to tweet your location (or post it to Facebook) and let people find you.  This is the same concept as Google Latitude or Loopt, but without the constant location updates.  I help host a bar crawl every summer and next year you’ll definitely be able to track us online.

Marketing

So, marketing is not exactly going to ‘benefit’ you, but the addition of geo-location information to Twitter does open the door to some intriguing marketing opportunities (advertising based on location and various contests come to mind).  This is of particular importance as it may develop into a way for Twitter generate some significant revenue.

Even if you wont use these new features directly thousands of users of sites like Seesmic Web, Foursquare, etc can look forward to more robust feature sets.

I’m looking forward to finding out exactly what Twitter has planned for this bit of tech.

Drinking and Gaming Just Got Easier

Arkeg Gaming Cabinet and KegaratorI have built a keg fridge (quite easy actually) and I have done extensive research on building an arcade cabinet (more complicated and expensive, but I’ll do it someday), but never did I conceive of combining the two.  Thankfully, the people at Arkeg have done just that.

The video game half of the cabinet is based on a windows XP PC (specs unknown) and 69 pre-loaded ROMs (including Spy Hunter and Paperboy … w00t!) that Arkeg “[has] the legal right to distribute, and that you have the legal right to play.”  Since it’s just a Windows XP system all the MP3s, videos and emulators you can throw at it are supported which means potentially thousands of games and songs (depending on HDD space).

The front end is managed through GameEx, a gaming and HTPC specific front end meant to streamline the user experience (and presumably make things navigable with a gaming joystick and start buttons).  GameEx supports a ton of stuff beyond ROMs that you might not expect…For example, Hulu / Netflix streaming and Karaoke! So, technology-wise, Arkeg has put together a pretty solid little package.

Alcoholism-wise, I shouldn’t complain about the combination of gaming and beer service, but I will anyway.  The kegerator sports all the standard cooling features and stainless steel tap with handle, but the refrigeration area only fits the Cornelius keg form factor.  Apparently this is what microbreweries use, but I’m not wasting that type of top notch beer on drunken adult gamers in the middle of their 4th hour of betting on Pacman (not that I’ve ever seen that happen).  I’d like to see the cabinet upgraded to at least support pony kegs and preferably a half-keg (though I get how that might make the cabinet HUGE), especially given the $4,000 price tag.



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So, if you’ve got the space and money and don’t want to take the time to build a kegerator and a gaming cabinet then the Arkeg might just be the thing for you!

via [Wired Gadget Lab]

If the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and an Oompa Loompa Had a Baby

The Selk Bag Sleeping Bag ‘System’ looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and acopy-72992-Lippi-Selk-Bag-One---MEDIUMn Oompa Loompa had a baby while Ali G watched.  Ya, I said it.

This ridiculous looking contraption / sleepwear is a sleeping bag turned body suit meant for I’m not really sure who…presumably people that can’t afford…dignity?



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In case this is just the thing you’ve been looking for, rest assured the quality seems high.  The suit seems to be well constructed, with pockets, vents, non-slip feet, and various sizes (up to XL for that 6’6″ NBA player that needs a walking sleeping bag).  The suits are made of many of the same materials as most decent sleeping bags and are even rated to as low as ~10 degrees F.

If you’ve got the perfect use for one of these I’d love to hear it!  Bar crawl anyone?

FOX vs. Time Warner Cable – What You Need to Know

In case you haven’t heard, Time Warner Cable may not be carrying FOX channels after the first of the year (this includes, FOX, MyNetworkTV, FuelTV, All the Fox Sports + Fox Soccer, FX and Speed).  This has been brewing for most of the year, but it looks like it’s going to be coming down the wire as it did between Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Viacom last year.

Best I can understand (and believe me they do not make it easy to get the un-spun truth) the issue at hand is a disagreement over the value of FOX’s contents per subscriber.  TWC wants to pay something like $.50 / subscriber while FOX wants more like ~$1 / subscriber.  A full 100% difference in desired price is not a great sign for a negotiation that has been going on for months.  I’d usually take that kind of information to mean that they two sides are either big time posturing (they definitely are) and/or there is little to no chance of a reconciliation in the near term (no one knows).

Both companies have launched what are essentially propaganda sites KeepFoxOn.com for FOX and RollOverorGetTough.com for TWC to ‘inform’ customers on the ‘facts.’  In this case, I have to say that FOX’s site and information seem significantly more reasoned and particularly focused on addressing TWC’s claims.  TWC’s site takes every opportunity to point the finger at FOX while reserving the right to raise rates regardless of what happens.  FOX points out that TNT receives ~$1 / subscriber and based on viewers FOX could reasonably be asking for $5-$10 / subscriber and the fact that they are asking for $1 is not at all unreasonable.  If all that is true (I have not confirmed) then I’m not sure I can disagree with FOX.  TWC keeps throwing up claims of 300% increases, but I can’t seem to find any indication of what is being increased 300%.

It’d be very interesting to know where the BCS and NFL stand on this whole thing as they seem to be the outside institutions in position to lose the most money should there be an outage.  I imagine they just want to see a resolution no matter what, but are they working both TWC and FOX or just FOX?  The ripple effect of the NFL missing TV opportunities and BCS bowl games being blacked out to 13 million households could be pretty extensive (advertisers would not be happy).

I never really thought I’d be on FOX’s side for much of anything other than keeping The Simpsons on the air, but if I had to pick sides here, it definitely would not be Time Warner Cable.  I was a TWC subscriber for many years before switching to DirecTV (so I’m not at risk of losing FOX…yay?!)  and I can definitely say that both companies are a pain in the ass.  It’s unfortunate, but we are once again seeing a situation where there is absolutely no good outcome for the consumer.  No matter what happens here rates will go up and subscribers may or may not temporarily lose access to some of the most popular television programming.



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Here is what you need to know…

You can’t do anything to effect this one in the near future.  If FOX gives in and accepts the lower price your TWC bill will still go up unreasonably within the next 6 months.  If TWC gives in and pays the higher price your TWC bill will go up even more in a shorter time frame.

Long term, the only thing I can recommend is pushing for changes at the FCC that would require cable and content providers to offer a la carte pricing.  This would allow consumers to pay for specific channels or smaller groupings of channels rather than being forced into the 400 channel bundles we all have now.  The concept of a la cart pricing is not a new one and we even saw it happen in the satellite radio industry as one of concessions of the XM / Sirius merger.  This is the only type of change that will really benefit consumers receiving content through cable or satellite. Of course, cable companies hate this idea (I wont bore you with the details of why they hate it, but suffice it to say that it’s related to the value of an individual customer).  As is usually the case, letting people pay only for the things they want (without being forced to take things they don’t want) is the best way to provide value to the customer.

Hopefully you’ve got a better idea of why you are being bombarded by these propaganda ads and junk mail.  It’s to bad we can’t do anything about it.

If you have any questions drop me a comment and I’ll do my best.

Open Source and the Palm Pre: Nerd Out!

OpenSourceSimpsonsI’ve had a palm device of some sort since 10th grade when I got the PalmPilot Personal.  After 13 years and about 8 devices (that I had), Palm FINALLY developed a brand new, ground up operating system known as WebOS and put it in a sleek new phone, the Palm Pre (for the record, I was in line at 6am on release day to get my Pre – yes, I’m a fanboy).  In that time the screens, processors, keyboards, and even the company have changed, but one thing has generally remained constant.

A commitment to an open source operating system and NOT preventing developers from taking control of the device.  As far back as I can remember (and before I had ever heard the term Homebrew refer to anything other than coffee) users have been able to download freeware, shareware and paid applications to extend the functionality of their Palm device and to customize their experience.

Long time users will remember applications like Technician and Butler that let you tweak just about every setting the device had (and even a few it wasn’t supposed to have).  Over time, Palm took a number of these features and integrated them into the core OS, thus improving the experience even for those users not quite nerdy enough to be messing with their PalmPilot.

Now the Palm Pre has saved Palm as a company (fingers crossed), but the pattern remains the same.  WebOS is Linux based so it’s open source by nature.  It took less than 5 days for the first hello world app to hit engadget and within 3 weeks we we’re all basking in the glory of a homebrew community.  While the folks over at Apple are constantly battling their developers and rejecting applications Palm has embraced their developer community at an almost unprecedented level.  It’s not that Palm doesn’t reject apps from their own app store, it’s that Palm encourages (at least, makes no effort to stop) developers from creating and distributing applications outside of their  store.



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For the record, iPhone users can install custom apps, but the phone has to be ‘JailBroken’ and until recently this was a pretty risky task. The term itself implies the problem iPhone developers face.  The iPhone platform is in jail…inaccessible from the outside world without significant effort and criminal acts.

The nice people over at PreCentral.com have setup a homebrew app store that is constantly growing with custom apps from the homebrew community (admittedly, of a varied quality).  So, now, any user with even basic skills can get in on the homebrew goodness.  I’m currently playing with about 20 different apps that would never have existed if they had to go through an approval process.  Not because they don’t deserve to be in an app store, but because the developers might not be able to do all the necessary work to get approved, or because Sprint wouldn’t like it, or any number of other reasons.   Some developers are using the homebrew community as their beta testing platform and last time I checked about 10 of the applications that started out on PreCentral have already graduated to the official App Store and that number will continue to grow.

In the other direction, developers have found that Palm has coded, but commented out a number of features.  That is, the code is there, on the phone…it’s just not enabled.  So, what’d the developers do?  They enabled those features and Palm, whether they like it or not, gets tons of free feedback from a very knowledgeable community.  The fact is that everyone benefits, the users and the corporations.

My point in all of this is that, in the long run, giving the power to the users, especially in consumer electronics, will help more than it will hurt.  Sure, you’ll get the occasional bad app or bricked device, but overall, letting the community work together to come up with the best possible solution IS the best possible solution.

Hackers have known this for a long long time, but as social networking comes to the forefront of our society and crowdsourcing a solution becomes commonplace, you’ll hear more and more about Open Source this and Homebrew that…and that’s a good thing for everyone.

ReKindleIT Brings Web Articles to your Kindle

rekindleitThis application seems like a no brainer for Kindle owners, especially ones that read online articles as much as I do.

ReKindleIT makes it quick and easy to send a webpage from your computer or iPhone to your Kindle.  So, before you ,get on a long flight, or just for your daily reading, you can send yourself articles from most sites (TechtoLiveBy.com, for example) and be on your merry way.

Articles can be delivered directly to the Kindle through Amazon’s Wispernet for $.15/MB or by email through Amazons free conversion service (but that requires you to connect the Kindle to the computer to download them).

Happy reading!

via {makeuseof}

6 Very Cool Uses for Google Spreadsheets

google-spreadsheets-formIn case you don’t know, Google Spreadsheets  is basically an online version of Microsoft’s Excel.  It’s got most of the basic functionality and a few of the advanced features with the added benefit of being hosted online and accessible to/editable by multiple users at the same time. If you need super hardcore analysis features, Excel is still your best option (though I’ve been known to start a document online then export to Excel at the end for the one feature I needed).

I’ve used Google Spreadsheets for everything from making to do lists and managing projects to collecting information from friends.  Today I’m going to talk about a handful of features that can be used in fairly powerful ways (some of these features are things you could also do with Excel and some are not) to make you and your business more efficient.

List View

List view is a very simple, clean and fast way to interact with a spreadsheet.  It keeps the formatting of the spreadsheet and functions more as a static page with filters and basic add, edit and delete functionality.  This makes for a nice way to present a table to end users while the administrator of the spreadsheet can use the standard view for easier/quicker updating and changes.

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

Use Live Google Search Results in your Spreadsheet

The GoogleLookup function has got to be one of the most under discussed but potentially powerful features in all of the Google arsenal. Using a simple 2 argument function call in a cell will return data from a Google search.  For example, let’s say you need to get the distance from the Sun of all the planets into a spreadsheet.  You could quickly search this information and type it into a spreadsheet OR you could use the GoogleLookup Function. All you would need to do is type the planet names into columnA and in columnB type ‘=googlelookup(“A1″,”distance from sun”)’.  Bada-bing Bada-boom you’ve got your data.  For anyone that uses spreadsheets a lot or had to do lots of data lookup there are an almost infinite number of uses for this feature.  It is worth noting that you can use the function GoogleFinance in basically the same way to get live stock prices into your spreadsheet quickly.

I’ve only recently stumbled across this feature, but you can sure bet I’ll be looking out for a good ways to put it to use.

For now, you can read more about these functions here and here.

Surveys and Forms

If you’ve ever needed to collect data from a group of people be it administering a survey or collecting t-shirt orders for your kickball team then these features are for you!  Using a Google Spreadsheet as the back-end you can create a custom form with custom fields including drop-downs, radio buttons, calendar pop-ups, and more.  All you have to do is share the form with anyone you need answers from (or just make it public for the whole world) and sit back.  You can even go as far as requiring login and having the users information automatically captured (along with date and time).  All of the data will show-up nicely in your spreadsheet ready to be analyzed, downloaded, edited, etc

You can read a bit more about this feature here.

What can you do with all this newly collected information?  More on that coming up!



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Visualizations

The Google Visualizations API allows developers to create gadgets and visualizations using Google Spreadsheets as the data source. Basically Google has made it easy for people to create ways to display data.  There are obvious options like gantt charts and pie charts but there are also much cooler options like the geographic heatmap and the piles of money.  The visualizations are basically Google Gadgets and can be embedded in your spreadsheet or directly in a web page or Google Site.

Google already has a substantial library of visualizations, but you can also create your own.

I’m thinking that when combined with the GoogleLookup Function and embedded somewhere useful the visualization API could be used to create some powerful and meaningful dashboard and tracking widgets.

Embed Spreadsheets and Charts Almost Anywhere

Pretty much all of the Google Apps provide you with code to embed that app (or some piece of it’s functionality) almost anywhere you can post HTML.  This is useful when you want to create a form (as described above) because you can use the same form on a website as in an e-mail.   Calendars can be created under your account but embedded in your blog.  Of particular interest is the ability to embed a spreadsheet (including list view) anywhere you might need it allowing you to create a simple to manage and update (and potentially dynamically updated) table or chart that you can place anywhere.

Like I said, all the Google Apps have ways you can embed elements in your website or blog, but for more thoughts on ways you can use this feature check out this list of 20 ideas for embedding a Google Spreadsheet.

Create a Simple Store!

Seriously… Through a combination of Google Checkout, the Google Checkout Store Gadget and the Google Spreadsheets API you can create a simple online store that supports all the basics including inventory updates, product sizes, and, most importantly, secure credit card transactions.

You can read about the specifics of the implementation here, but the fact is that now anyone with a basic website can sell through their site.  This lowers the barrier to entry for a ‘mom and pop’ online retailer to the point of having something up and running in under an hour.  I’m sure there are other simple solutions for setting up a store, but I’ve never seen one that requires as little effort, but still provides as useful a feature set.

I hold this as one of the best examples of Google’s ability to combine seemingly simple features to create something that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Well folks, that’s all I got for today.  6 features that range from super basic to setting up an online store, but are all backed by Google Spreadsheets.

If you have any examples of how you’re using these or other features please post them in the comments.  I’m very interested in how other people are putting Google Apps to work.

Check Out This Guy’s Facebook Problem

Craig LynchI know sometimes I have issues pulling away from my technology be it Facebook or my cellphone, but I got nuthin’ on this guy.

Craig Lynch escaped from prison in England and has been updating his Facebook status regularly! From meal updates to musings on finding a lady in 2010 Mr. Lynch seems to be enjoying his time on the lam and he seems pretty confident it’s going to continue for a bit.  He’s even RSVP’d some events including a New Years Eve party…Unfathomable!

Obviously the cops are looking for him and they’ve contacted FB for help, but either this guy is a mastermind using FB to throw the cops off the trail or the cops are just not very good at their jobs because they clearly haven’t caught him yet.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lynch! Merry Christmas…

via {CNN} via {Telegraph.co.uk}

PS. I just became a fan of this guy on Facebook. Click here to join.