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The Monday Morning Technologist Rides Again! (On a Saturday)
It's been a while - honestly I've been tending to projects I actually get paid for - but it's time for another installment of the Monday Morning Technologist!
When is Vaporware Not Vaporware?
...when it's iVaporware apparently. Microsoft caught a lot of flack a couple of weeks ago for announcing the "Surface" - a new tablet device without a lot of particulars. Microsoft was widely derided in the tech press for neglecting to say exactly when the Surface will ship or specifically what it will cost (among other things). Which is why it's so ironic that many of those same folks are anxiously repeating rumors about a smaller iPad that may (or may not) ship later this year for some unspecified amount of money.
Apparently it's o.k. to talk about future products without all of the details unless you're Microsoft.
Cutting the Cable
I wasn't sure it would ever happen in my house but it looks like it's going to. We're going to put DirectTV on hold and try just streaming our TV and Movies online from NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the assortment of network websites like NBC.COM, HGTV.COM, BravoTV.com and so forth. The device that's hopefully enabling this for us is the Rikomagic 802. It's a tiny, inexpensive, Android 4.0 computer that can also run Linux. It has 802.11n networking so it can connect to our home network wirelessly and HDMI out so it can connect to our LCD TV. It also has Bluetooth so we can control it wirelessly with a mouse and keyboard.
We've come to realize that we don't watch very much TV and most of what we do watch is available online via streaming. True we might not be able to watch as many things live that way but...we don't watch much live anyhow. We DVR almost all of the few things we watch. The cost of the Rikomagic? Less than 1 month of DirectTV.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Are You Contributing?
I think I may need to do a full blog post on the subject of crowdsourcing but the fact is that there are some powerful communities out there and you're probably already using some of them. The question is...are you contributing to them? Let's talk about a couple...
Wikipedia is the elephant in the room when it comes to crowdsourcing. As you probably know it's a giant encyclopedia of information about just about any topic you could imagine. What makes it truly remarkable is that all of the content in it...was contributed by regular folks who were passionate and/or knowledgable about the particular topic. I think it's quite possibly the single greatest repository of human knowledge in history. An encyclopedia, updated constantly and in near real-time, available for FREE to anybody in the world (unless there's a firewall blocking it). That's remarkable.
The question is...are you contributing to it? I don't mean with $ (though they would welcome your financial contributions too) but actually with your knowledge! I'm sure there are topics that you're passionate about. Maybe it's what you do for a living, where you live, what your hobbies are, people you've admired, places you've been, events you experienced, a favorite movie, TV show or band....I'll bet if you think about it you could easily think of at least half a dozen topics that you know a fair bit about and that you're excited about. What topic do you bore the relatives with every Thanksgiving? The classic car you're restoring? The most recent book on the Crusades that you're reading? Egyptian furniture? I'm sure there's quite a few (for me: Columbo, Football, The USS Missouri...)
Why not go to Wikipedia (here's the link again) and look up the article on that topic? Read it? You might learn something! But more to the point you might find something you think is wrong! You might have some piece of information that's missing. The brilliant thing is...you can EDIT the article and contribute your knowledge. You can click the Discussion tab and interact with other people who are knowledgable and passionate about it too! Your people!
Why not contribute 10 minutes of your time and a little bit of your knowledge and passion to make Wikipedia a little bit better and share that information with other people all over the world?
If you have a SmartPhone you've probably used the GPS navigation app on that phone at least once. Ever wish you could make that app better? Ever wish that app had better traffic or incident reporting? Ever realize the navigation app was directing you to the wrong street? Waze is your answer. It's free and available on almost every platform (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, etc). What's interesting about Waze is that when you're driving along and you see heavy traffic, you can tap the screen on Waze and report that traffic so that other "Wazers" in your area will know. If you see a hazard in the road - an accident or even just a big piece of debris, you can tap the screen and report that too.
And, of course, since other Wazers are reporting these things you'll often be warned if you're about to come up on an accident or hazard (or Police speed trap).
If you see something wrong on Waze's map...you can report that too. You can even log into the Waze website and EDIT the maps yourself! Give Waze 10 minutes of your time and you can make the maps around your neighborhood truly useful for everybody.
But Waze goes better than that. When you're driving around with Waze running you're actually sending your track back to Waze. Waze can learn about the streets from your driving AND...even better...Waze knows how fast you're going. That means that if there are 3 Wazers driving down the freeway and they're all going 15MPH Waze can infer that there's heavy traffic there and warn others. With a glance at your Waze map you can see areas where other Wazers are moving unusually slowly...and that might help you steer around that traffic.
Waze does navigation too - give it an address and it'll give you turn by turn directions. It's not bad at that and they're improving it all the time (with a lot of help from the users) and of course it has the ability to route you around traffic that was reported by...other Wazers.
There's the catch though. The network effect. Waze is at its best when it has a large volume of users. Imagine if 1 out of every 10 cars had a SmartPhone running Waze in it. You'd get some pretty dynamic and accurate traffic information.
So give Waze a try...just by trying it you're contributing to that community and making navigation better for everybody.
The last one I want to mention here is Gas Buddy. Gas Buddy is another free app that you can install on your phone and it helps you find the best gas prices (or just the nearest station) in the area. Gas Buddy can save you a fair bit of time shopping around and a fair bit of money as well. There are stations right here in my town where the price currently is $3.59 a gallon for regular. But just blocks away you can get gas for $3.35 per gallon! Why overpay?
Gas Buddy relies upon folks to report the prices at their local stations though. Next time you get gas, fire up Gas Buddy and if it doesn't have current or correct prices, submit the right prices! Sometimes if I'm stopped at a light and I notice that the station on the corner doesn't have current or correct prices I'll submit those - hopefully it helps somebody.
Like Wikipedia and Waze, Gas Buddy gets better and more useful for everybody if everybody contributes.
This Tuesday is Microsoft's Patch Tuesday which means there will be some patches and fixes to download to your machine. Expect a possible reboot Tuesday night or Wednesday.
O.k., that's enough for today....enjoy your week!