Google Releases Google Earth

googleGoogle released their “Google Earth” tool today. It seems to be just an updated and FREE version of Keyhole, the company they purchased a few months back. I played with Keyhole a little bit shortly after Google purchased them and it was some pretty slick software then! They’ve since enhanced it with Google’s local search and best of all released it for FREE! Keyhole used to charge either a monthly or yearly fee for access to the service (can’t remember the price). What Google Earth does is provide a virtual earth made up of satellite images that you can navigate, zoom, search, fly, rotate, and simply explore. It’s really fun to play with! They’ve also added (to certain cities) 3D buildings that add depth to the maps. If you have a chance (and a fast computer with a good graphics card) give Google Earth a download… it’ll keep you busy for a while just looking around.

Wired NextFest Chicago

nextfest.gifThis past weekend I traveled to NextFest in Chicago with a few friends. The event, held at Navy Pier, was a pretty cool. It showcased new and upcoming technology in several different areas. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite exhibits in the different categories.

    Communication

  • Motorola had a pretty large display set up showcasing quite a few of their new phones. They also had a pretty fun display using mobile SMS text messaging and Bluetooth. All around the Motorola booth, there were screens displaying text messages from anyone that wanted to send to a number listed for that display. I of course sent "Mentos… the freshmaker!" Motorola also had a pretty neat use of Bluetooth. If you had a Bluetooth device, you could send photos to a couple Bluetooth printers or to a large flat panel display inside the booth. I got a nice print from my camera phone of Kieran and Kevin stuffing their face with sliders from White Castle that I’d taken the night before.
  • Another neat display (that I think would be categorized as communication) was sound spots. Throughout the entrance to the event, there were spots of light on the floor where you could hear audio playing only when standing in the spot.
    Design

  • The design area could probably have been associated with much of the content at show. Some specific design items that I found interesting were some of the robots – more in the toy area. There were a good deal of robots at NextFest, but some were specifically made as a toy or entertainment.
  • There was also an exhibit containing some "future furniture" which I didn’t think was all that impressive. There was a pillow that when you squeeze it, would light up another (I’m assuming network connected) pillow somewhere else (grandma’s house?) in a different location. There were also coffee tables that did similar things when you placed a glass of hot liquid on them. Spots would light up on another network connected table somewhere else. I guess the novelty of this is somewhat interesting, but I can’t really see any practical use of this technology.
  • Entertainment
    The entertainment category had a lot of fun exhibits.
  • There were a lot of video game exhibits. Probably one of the most fun was called "Kick @ss Kung Fu." It was an immersive video game that worked with a chroma-key and a blue-screen and a weight sensitive pad to tell when you jump. There were two screens located to the right and left showing you inside the video game fighting characters with your motions in front of the blue screen. The Kick @ss Kung Fu site linked above has some good videos of the game in action. Several of the people in our group, Kieran and his brother, had the high score for most of the morning once we figured out that yelling improved your killing ability in the game. Pictures of them playing here
  • Another fun game that we played was BrainBall. Brainball is a game where you compete in relaxation. The players’ brainwaves control a ball on a table, and the more relaxed scores a goal over the opponent. You basically strap on a headband and try to relax. The more relaxed you are, the faster the ball moved towards your opponent’s goal, and you win. Kieran beat me and Christoph beat Kevin (who was testing the game by only thinking violent thoughts) when he played.
  • There were quite a few similar immersive games available for playing as well.
    Exploration

  • The exploration area held a good collection of robots for searching the bottom of the sea. The robots were very bug-like and able to search in very harsh environments.
    There was also a nice collection of space exploration equipment, including a solar sail, a mars space suit, and a mars rover.
  • The Exploration category also hosted a one-man submarine for sea exploration.
    Health

  • The health area had quite a few interesting exhibits.
    They had two cloned cats available for viewing. Baba Ganoush, the cloned cat, and Tahini the DNA source cat. The presenter said that the cats have exactly the same look feel and they even have the exact same smell. They also said that they didn’t like each other and needed to be separated. One of the more popular exhibits in the health area was the dermal scanner/projector, which allowed you to view veins through the skin.
  • There was also a pretty cool robotic exoskeleton machine that allows the wearer to lift many times their own body weight. It also has applications for physical therapy for people too weak to move or walk. It kind of reminded me of the industrial lifting machines from the Alien movies.
    Security

  • In the security there were a good number of military vehicles and drone planes that can fly on their own, or by remote and included artificial intelligence for finding and identifying people.
  • GE had a demo of its airport security walk-through detector. As you walked through the device, it blew puffs of air on you and would detect any remnants of explosive material that fell off.
    Transportation

  • GM had a very large exhibit showcasing some of their new concept cars. They’re a car company that has directed a lot of their energy towards Hydrogen Cell/powered automobiles. They were somewhat sketchy on details as to how these cars would be delivered and when this type of thing would be available. The fueling infrastructure for this type of thing is the major issue since there are only a few "Hydrogen stations" in existence. GM was also displaying their H2H (Hydrogen), which seems kind of counterproductive to me. The biggest (ugliest?) most inefficient car out there has been converted to Hydrogen power.
  • There were also a few more exotic concept automobiles on display. The flying car, and the dolphin submersible, which was kind of a jet-ski built into a plastic dolphin body.
  • There were also a good collection of Segways on display, including the new off road Segway and the new four-wheel Segway.

This is just a small sample of all the cool stuff on display at NextFest. There are more pictures and descriptions available here.

Flickr Montager

montager screenI ran across another cool Flickr tool today. Flickr Montager will take any image tag that you enter, and create one of those cool photo mosaics out of the images with the tag you’ve entered. You can choose the form that the mosaic takes by clicking one of the thumbnails from the mosaic itself.

New Mentos Sugarfree!

sugar free mentosIt’s always a good day when you discover a new type of mentos! Today I ran across new Mentos Sugarfree for the first time. They are exactly what their name says they are… sugar free mentos for those calorie-conscious folks out there. They’re made with Splenda instead of the high test sugar that I’m guessing is in real mentos. They come in “mixed berry” flavor which includes (from what I can tell): strawberry, raspberry, and purple, which I really can’t place (it’s not grape!). At first taste, I really noticed the Splenda, and wasn’t so sure what I thought about them, but after popping a few more they’re not too bad. I think I’ll stick with the regular high calorie version though. But it’s good to know that if I ever start to watch my figure I’ll still be able to have my mentos!

Best Buy Prices: In Store vs. Web Site

I experienced something a few weeks ago while shopping at Best Buy. I looked up the price/availability of a flash memory card on their website and seeing that it was available and cheaper than any other local stores (needed it right away – couldn’t wait for shipping), I drove down to the store. I scoured the camera and flash memory section and couldn’t find the card for the same price as I saw it for online. I asked around and the Best Buy associate told me that the one on the shelf was the same one I saw online. I told him I had just looked it up, and it was cheaper on their website. He told me to wait there and he’d go look it up. When he came back he said that I was right and mumbled something about it not being up to date yet which I thought was weird since I’d looked up the price a few times in the past 3 days and it hadn’t changed. How long does it take to update the prices in the store? Not wanting to talk to him any more, I marched up to the checkout, and the item rang up to the higher price. Hmm, not updated on the shelf OR in the computer system either. I guess it takes a while for the prices to get changed there too… right? I told the cashier that I had just spoken with someone back in the camera section and that it should the lower price. He had to bring over a manager and the manager had to call back to associate #1 back in cameras and finally they charged me the lower website price.

Recently I’ve run across a few other stories about this proving that this occurrence wasn’t unique to me.
Best Buy not your best buying experience
Best Buy Not Always Best Buy

I guess the moral of the story is: When shopping at Best Buy, always check their website before you purchase something in the store because it may be cheaper.

Cool New Tools from Yahoo!

Yahoo has been hard at work lately and has some handy new tools in beta.

The first one is called Yahoo! Mindset, and allows you to customize, or lean your search results in a certain direction. It works with the typical Yahoo search box, but the results page presents you with a slider allowing you to shift the focus of the search to either “researching” or “shopping” meaning either more academic or more commercial. I guess it really depends on what you’re searching for as to how useful this would be. There are many topics where I couldn’t really see the grey area between researching and shopping, but others there is an obvious separation. If anything it’s kind of fun to play with.

The other tool that I just discovered (don’t know how long it’s been out there) is “Yahoo! Farechase“. It is similar to the other travel search sites, in that it finds the best deals on hotels, flights, rental cars. The place where Farechase shines is that it brings many of the results from those other search sites and travel sites together in one place. When I need to book a hotel room or flight etc., I usually spend a good deal of time going from site to site trying to find the best deal. Farechase lets me do all that in one place, on one site. I’ll probably still do some cross-checking on prices, but from my initial searches, it seemed to bring back the same, or better deals than the other sites. Yahoo lists the sites that Farechase searches. Hopefully this list will continue to grow adding to the options and potentially improving the prices. Give Farechase a try the next time you need to book a travel reservation.

Point and Click Games

LazyLaces has put together a great collection of Point and click games. You know the ones, where you have to um… point and click. I’m sure you’ve all seen the games where you really don’t have any instruction and just have to point and click (yes, again) until you find all the secret hidden areas to take you through the game. Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’ll make sense once you’ve given a few of them a try. Have Fun!

Half Life 2 Dominos Mod

Somebody has built a Half Life 2 map of a huge domino setup. Using the Half Life physics engine, this domino course is built out of doors and pieces of metal from the game. The falling dominos travel all over the map until they finally smash an old guy at the end. Appropriate for a domino setup created in a shoot-em-up game, no?

Half Life 2 Domino Mod

Find Cheap Gas With Google Maps

Google Maps GasSomeone else has gone and done something really cool using Google Maps. There is now a cheap gas site where you can click and drag yourself all over the United States and see the locations and prices for the cheapest gas (regular or diesel). This site takes its price and location data from an already useful site called GasBuddy.com and makes it even better.

Star Wars Last Supper

Since tonight will be my last supper before going to see the new Star Wars Movie I thought this image was appropriate (yet still a little disturbing). I’m taking off work tomorrow to see Episode III (yes I know, I’m a geek!). We’ll be catching an afternoon show at the closest THX certified theater in Des Moines, and we’ll be all geeked out in Star Wars T-shirts (Jess is going with the Princess Leia hair!). Be sure to check the mobile phone photo gallery tomorrow for what I’m sure will be some lovely shots of us and a bunch of other Star Wars geeks waiting in line.

Star Wars Last Supper

Greasemonkey

Recently I’ve seen a bunch of articles on the Firefox extension, Greasemonkey (Slashdot, Wired, misc. blogs) lately and thought I’d join in with my own praise of this really neat tool. I’ve been using GreaseMonkey for a while now, and it is kind of one of those tiny novelty things that just makes life a little bit easier while you’re surfing the web.

Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that allows you to change how a webpage is laid out in your browser with simple DHTMLgmail delete scripts. It works similar to the CSS model where you can change little things or add little things to a page with and external script. I’ve found a few that I use regularly. One of the most handy is the “delte button for Gmail” script, which does just as it says and adds a delete button to the Gmail interface (why they don’t have one there by default is beyond me). This handy Greasemonkey script is just one of hundreds available to change how the sites you visit are presented. A few more that I have found really helpful are scripts that turn off ads in weather.com, and one that turns off the big full-screen ads on ucomics. Another fun one, called Book Burro, will bring up a little price comparison window when you view a book at several online bookseller sites.

If you want to give Greasemonkey a try, it’s really simple to get up and running (you must be running Firefox):

  1. Download and install the Greasemonkey extension.
  2. Restart Firefox
  3. Find some scripts to install – GreaseMonkey User Scripts.
  4. Follow the script link to the javascript code page.
  5. Select “Install User Script” under the Tools menu in Firefox.
  6. Visit the site that the script you just installed is supposed to modify.
  7. Rinse… Repeat!

200th Mobile Photo

As of last Sunday night there are now 200 photos in my Mobile Phone Pics gallery. It all started on October 20th, 2003 at 3:52 PM with a shot of my computer monitors at work taken with my first camera phone . Before you go exploring, be forewarned, it’s really random!