March 29, 2008

Spring is in the air

The weather is getting nicer, and Spring is on the way!

Earth Hour

Google turned out the lights on their home page today to encourage people to participate in Earth Hour from 8:00 - 9:00 in their local time zone. Says their page...

On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Earth Hour invites people around the world to turn off their lights for one hour – from 8:00pm to 9:00pm in their local time zone. On this day, cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Chicago, Melbourne, Dubai, and Tel Aviv, will hold events to acknowledge their commitment to energy conservation.

It's an easy idea--turn out your lights for an hour tonight (a good time to watch a movie in the dark, I guess) to help conserve energy. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative website provides directions for using the energy saving features of your computer. Many people don't realize how much energy computers actually conserve or that many power adapters for rechargeable electronics consume energy when plugged in even when not connected to the device they charge. Judging by the load times of the CSCI website, it seems a lot of people are following the link from the Google home page today.

What's odd, though, is that while Google describes this as a global awareness initiative, Google's international home pages don't seem to be participating. Here are pictures of the Polish (, French (, and Japanese ( versions of the Google home page today.

March 16, 2008


Many new photos now included in the slide show.

March 14, 2008

Making Street View

Look what I just saw at a gas station outside Chicago! Ever wonder how Google creates those street views? Checkout the cameras in that dome and the satellite/GPS unit mounted behind it.

March 11, 2008

Twitter and micro-blogging

Wondering what all the fuss is about Twitter? Lee Lefever from the CommonCraft Show has posted another great video in his Plain English series breaking down this popular micro-blogging service and explaining why so many people (me included) enjoy using it.

Judging by the comments at YouTube, there remains a lot of confusion and misconceptions about what Twitter is and why people use it. While it is described as a social networking tool, I think Twitter is actually a pretty great professional development and networking tool. I've discovered many interesting resources, ideas, and events by following peoples' twitter updates. I've seen questions and calls for help met by a mass of followers (and their followers) and resolved in mere seconds or minutes. That's much more efficient and productive than possible using email or web forums. It's also just fascinating and informative to "shadow" people to see what they're thinking and what they're doing. Imagine the benefits to students, educators or other professionals who can receive professional development in their pocket simply by following the updates of people they admire in the field.

Because Twitter updates can be sent and received via mobile phones, web browsers, instant messaging clients or other 3rd party apps, people can communicate with each other in ways previously unimagined. For example, Twitter has become a popular way to communicate during professional conferences-it allows organizers to immediately distribute information to everyone's mobile phone and participants to discuss events or arrange their own ad-hoc meet ups. Protesters too realize these advantages to communicate with groups of people anywhere, anytime. Even established organizations such as NPR and the BBC are beginning to discover the advantages of using Twitter, and several of the presidential candidates this season used twitter to communicate with and listen to their supporters (and detractors).

So, what people need to realize is that innovative technologies like Twitter are really what you make them to be. Imaginative people will always be able to use simple tools to accomplish great things.

March 8, 2008

Web, meet phone. Phone, meet web.

nce upon a time, people "got on the internet" by firing up their browser or email client. These days, the line between the internet and other media is blurred beyond recognition. VoIP and other innovations are making the internet truly pervasive in our lives. Have you tried GOOG-411 yet? Amazing--and so incredibly helpful!

Last October, David Pogue delivered a very funny keynote address in which he highlighted several examples of how the internet now mingles with our cell phones and land lines. One of those, PopularityDialer, was shut down by the FCC. Another, GrandCentral, was since acquired by Google who is now providing it free for their Blogger users.

This is great news, because GrandCentral provides amazing functionality! They give you a new single phone number (you choose the area code) that when called can ring any of your existing phones (home, work, mobile, the other mobile, Skype-In number, whatever). It will call any of those phones individually or even simultaneously (wrap your head around that!), allowing you to decide where or if you want to take the call. The service is very customizable too, so you can screen calls, send them to voicemail, listen in, block the caller, or even ring different phones depending on the caller ID. Plus, they give you buttons like the one above to display on your blog or web page to make it easy for people to reach you!

Your GrandCentral number serves as a proxy for all your other numbers, so you can limit the number of people who know your "real" phone numbers. Visual voicemail (made popular by the iPhone) means you can login to the GrandCentral website to see a list of all your calls complete with details, a sound recording of each message, and a link to return the call (which actually calls your phone and connects you automatically). Here's a demo of the visual voicemail so you can see how it works. There's even a mobile version of their site (, so visual voicemail is easy to use from your cell phone's web browser.

Two other handy tools that blur the line between phones and the internet are Jott and Wakerupper. Register your phone with Jott, then call their toll-free number to leave yourself voice memos and reminders which are then sent to your email inbox as audio recordings. Wakerupper takes the opposite approach. Tell it when to call you and enter a text message. Wakerupper waits patiently until the moment you've asked it to call you, then it delivers your message as an audio recording (using text-to-speech which works surprising well). Vote for these and other apps (or search for intriguing Web 2.0 applications) at the Webware 100 Awards of 2008 website.

March 1, 2008

Making music on iPhones and watering plants

iAno is a new piano application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. As you can see in this video, it's incredible! Unfortunately, it requires Jailbreaking (hacking) your iPhone to work, so that might dissuade some users. But if this is a taste of iPhone apps to come, I'm psyched!

Piano not your thing? Check out PocketGuitar.

Music not your thing? Just want to keep your plants alive? Twitter can help. Just rig up a Botanicalls system to your plants and let them send Twitter updates when they need water.