Editorial

4 Favorite Firefox Plug-ins I Can’t Live Without

First off, if you use Internet Explorer regularly… What is wrong with you?

Now that that is out of the way lets talk about Mozilla Firefox.  The beauty of open source applications are the plethora (I can’t say that word without thinking of the 3 Amigos) of plug-ins, add-ons and extensions to let you add or tweak features.  Firefox is no exception and offers thousands of add-ons to allow you to manage your web browsing experience.

The key to technology is making it work for you.  Choose applications and technologies that put the power of customization in the user’s hands then take full advantage of making the technology better for yourself.

To that end, here are 4 add-ons that almost everyone would benefit from using regularly.

Sage

I subscribe to a ton of RSS feeds that I need to get through regularly to stay on top of news around the world and sage is my favorite RSS reader.

It is basic and simple, displays in the Firefox sidebar and allows for drag and drop adding of feeds.

Xmarks

Xmarks synchronizes your bookmarks and passwords across to a server so that they can be accessed through the web and in different physical locations.  I spend a lot of time reading articles and bookmarking resources, but I do it at work, at home on my desktop and on the road with my laptop.  Now when I find a work related link while at home I don’t have to e-mail it to myself, it’ll just show up in the bookmarks folder in every location and everything happens in the background so you don’t have to worry about it.

Firebug

I am not a coder, but I do often have to mess with CSS elements of a website to tweak this or that.  Every skill level from code peons like me all the way up to hardcore developers use Firebug to steal look at and tweak code.  From figuring out how a page is laid out to where a particular DIV ends, there is no tool better for getting a quick look at the behind the scenes action of whatever page you’re look at.  If you’re curious, download it and mess around. You wont break anything.

Greasemonkey

Greasemonkey is a plug-in that allows users to run javascript to modify or manipulate web pages.  For example, there are scripts for creating a Facebook Dislike button, re-organizing gMail’s layout and (my personal favorite) automating Mafia Wars playing.  There are thousands of scripts and often many for the same purpose so you should read the comments and consider ratings and # of downloads before you choose  (also don’t be afraid to try one then replace it with another).  Is there some way that you wish you could tweak a site you use every day?  Check userscripts.org and you might find the script to do.

Help Haiti With Your Cellphone (and other ways too)

The American Red Cross has setup a text-to-donate line (ya know, in addition to committing a million bucks)

Just text ‘haiti’ to 90999 and $10 will be charged to your wireless bill, but 100% of the donation will go to the Red Cross.

Couldn’t be easier people.  Get on it…

If you want more information than that:

Best wishes to everyone affected by this earthquake.

Heat Index – 4 Technologies to Watch in 2010

It’s 2010 and there is a lot to look forward in the world of technology.  With CES kicking off tomorrow there is an overwhelming amount of new products, applications, services, and general news.

To help you focus on what is important Tech to Live By is highlighting 4 technologies to keep an eye on and what to expect in 2010.

4G – Heat Index: Luke Warm

4G wireless is supposed to bring us gigabit wireless internet…someday.  Realistically it’ll be much slower than that, but your wireless connection will be at least as fast if not faster then your current cable connections at home (definitely faster than DSL, probably not as fast as fiber).

WiMax and LTE are the leading technologies in the next generation of wireless broadband connectivity.  Clearwire and Sprint are leading the WiMAX charge.  Verizon is the major LTE player in the US.

WiMAX started rolling out test markets a couple years ago and have fully launched a handful of markets in the US.  LTE is barely getting started and Verizon is just getting underway with their test markets.

Look for both of these technologies to search for traction in 2010.  Sprint is expected to announce WiMAX capable devices at CES and Clearwire intends to rollout 70+ markets.  Verizon knows it’s behind and will be making a strong push into 2011 to get it’s infrastructure into place.

The Lowdown: One or both of these technologies are the future of wireless broadband in the US (CDMA and GMS co-exist, these 4G equivalents may as well).  2010 will probably not decide a winner, but there will be huge advancements in both this year.

3D – Heat Index: Hot like a good Jacuzzi

3D technology has existed since the 1800′s (back to stereoscopic photographs), but only recently has it made its way out of the blue and red glasses that gave us all headaches as kids.  New recording and projection technologies combined with special glasses have raised 3D to a new level.  Each week more movies are released to theaters in various types of 3D and viewers are flocking to see them.

There are different types of 3D each with it’s own pros and cons and it remains to be seen if one will win out over the others.  All 3D technology relies on technology designed to deliver slightly different images to each eye thus resulting in the brain interpreting this input as a single image with depth .  If you want more details check here.

There are multiple keys to the growth of 3D:

  • In the Theater – The technology isn’t ‘experimental’ anymore.  I mean, have you seen Avatar?  Movie makers are using 3D and there are 0ver 3,000 screens in the US. According to Wired Magazine Cameron was at the forefront of pushing 3D tech and waited to make his movie until all the pieces were in place.
  • In the Home – High refresh rate TVs and the recently announced Blu-ray 3D standard (including the PS3) give content creators and home viewers the opportunity to watch 3D in the home with minimal effort (think popping in a DVD + putting on sunglasses).  Expect 3D capable TVs from numerous manufacturers at priced lower than the original plasma screens.
  • In the Home – DirecTV and ESPN have both announced plans to broadcast in 3D.  In fact, both have announced the launch of dedicated 3D channels in 2010.

The Lowdown: With in-theater 3D leading the charge, in-home 3D is following fast.  In 2010 expect to see a boom in 3D movies and the beginning of consumer level adoption of 3D technology (and if you’re going to be one of the lucky bunch to have 3D in your house by this summer… CALL ME, I want to watch the World Cup in 3D!).  This will be the year the masses are introduced to 3D.

[Editors Note: I'm floored over how amazing IMAX 3D really is and you should definitely check it out.]



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Geo Location – Heat Index: Hot Like a Nuclear Reactor on Overload

Geo-Location and Location Based Services have been available as commercial applications for decades.  The growth of PNDs in the last 5-10 years has been huge, but it is the adoption of GPS in cell phones and the improvements of cellular triangulation that will put geo-level consumer enabled applications over the top.

We all know everyone carries a cellphone now and it’s only natural that rather than a separate device, like a PND, we would look for our lifeline cellphone to fill that void.  The adoption of GPS combined with increased battery lifes, bigger screens, smaller processes and most importantly better mobile broadband (3G and someday 4G) are making geo-location based information readily shareable and accessible to the mass market.

We’re already seeing the growth of applications like Loopt and Latitude step into the market while others like Foursquare are gaining momentum rapidly.  Twitter has even gotten in on the game by announcing new geolocation features and the acquisition of Mixer Labs’ Geo API.

The Lowdown: The growth of advanced handsets (smartphones, etc) combined with the availablity of application interfaces from major players like Google and Twitter will result in a much better user experience and, in turn, significantly increased availability of user generated geo-location data.  Expect at least one friend in 2010 to try and get you to do a geo-location based scavenger hunt.

Google – Heat Index: Hotter than the center of the sun.

I know Google doesn’t count as a ‘technology’, but you name a technology arena and they probably have a piece of it.

On the wireless side, Google has put the fear of Goog in many of the major players.  In particular Google’s expansion into 2 different operating systems (Chrome and Android) and launch of numerous pieces of hardware (most notably the Nexus One and Droid) have put the Big G in a position to take control of it’s users experiences almost from end to end.  Taking full advantage of increased bandwidth and the growth of advanced handsets Google will deliver more data to the user in an integrated platform (almost all of Google’s apps play nice together) in an almost unprecedented way.

In the web world Google is still the dominant force.  Search and advertising have both expanded effectively to mobile devices and Google’s consumer apps (gmail, gtalk, gdocs, etc) are growing rapidly (thanks in no small part to the launch of the operating systems and hardware).

Sister site inTELEMATICStoday.com covers why in 2010 your navigation system might finally be brought to you by Google.

The Lowdown: If you use the internet (wireless or otherwise) in 2010 you wont be able to avoid Google.  No question about it Google is in a position (by owning hardware and software backed by DEEEEEP pockets) to not only challenge Apple, but also define a new generation of technology (like the iPod did).  Watch for Google’s apps like Navigation and the Google Apps Suite to take off while ads continue to pay the bills.

IMAX 3D is the COOLEST! An Absolute Must See.

IMAX LogoIMAX 3D is without a doubt the coolest thing I’ve seen in recent years.  Even more amazing then the Pioneer Kuro Extreme demo at CES ’07 (which was freakin’ unbelievable).

My first experience with 3D was the magazines with blue and red glasses as a kid.  It did not work well.  My next experience was with Captain EO at Disneyland (which is coming back in February 2010…hell ya!).  It was significantly better.  Captain EO is only about 17 minutes so eye fatigue was not really an issue and the effects definitely worked (things fly out at you, depth in the screen, etc), but the whole thing seemed cheesy.  That level of 3D pretty much kept up through Honey I Shrunk the Audience (another Disney attraction).

At CES ’07 I saw the next generation of 3D using alternating lenses connected to a 120hz TV. This was very impressive. It was the first time I had really considered 3D in the home and since then 3D has gained steam but hadn’t really hit the mainstream.

The technology is game changing without being gimmicky.  In fact, the experience was almost overwhelming.  I saw Avatar (I’ll gloss over how useless the actual plot was) and my mind was blown before I was through the IMAX 3D previews (bastards make you watch a full set of regular trailers then a full set of IMAX 3D ones?! I hate trailers, but I digress).

Overall, it didn’t feel like I was immersed in the movie so much as it was just a richer, deeper viewing experience…like I was watching a play and not a flat screen.  It was far more engaging than traditional projection and kept my attention through an otherwise predictable and long movie.

At first there was definitely the opportunity for a bit of motion sickness (I’m sure some movie will take it to the extreme.  Jackass 3D I’m looking at you.), but it settled down.  Avatar is over 2.5 hours and my eyes did get a bit tired, but I’m pretty sure that was over 2 hours into the movie and the feeling went away after a minute of taking the glasses off.

I’m not a big movie goer (in fact, i generally despise the movie going experience), but I will see every IMAX 3D that comes out in 2010 (and I’m upset I missed previous ones).  You should absolutely do the same.

How do you like IMAX 3D?

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.

Stem Cells Cure a Man’s Blind Eye

Stemcell Cures Man's BlindessSeriously people, if this isn’t better living through technology then I don’t know what is.

Doctors in England have grown a man’s replacement cornea from a combination of his own fluids and cells (ewwwww). This once unlucky guy lost sight in one eye from a fight that ended with ammonia in his face (yup, that’ll usually end a fight), but has now completely regained his vision.

Best I can tell it sounds like they grew a new cornea for the guy (cool), gave him a cornea transplant (cooler), he doesn’t need the anti-rejection meds transplant patients are  left to take for the rest of their lives (awesome), and, oh ya, he can see again (freakin’ unbelievable).

Pretty impressive stuff folks…

via {gizmodo}