Thursday, January 27, 2011

The next wave in location? "Don't Eat At ____"

I just saw this "extension" for Foursquare called "Don't Eat At___." If you are in New York, it will send you a notification if the restaurant you just checked in to has scored poorly on Health Inspections, hopefully before you order your meal.

I have toyed with Foursquare now and again, but ultimately don't use it because it seems mainly an exercise in vanity. I don't feel compelled to tell everyone where I am, and frankly I'm rarely in very cool places. Most of the people I know also don't use it, and if I want to catch up with someone, I'm much more likely to pickup the phone than track them down online and appear in front of them.

Last year I remember reading a bit on passive location awareness, and how potentially this could help with things like ATM security - the thought being your phone is usually with you, and if it's not near the ATM that is requesting money from your account there's probably something funny going on. Great in theory, but persistant location sharing is still a privacy concern for many. This seems to be an early example of what the benefits of location could be. I'm no longer checking in for vanity, but rather getting utility out of the check-in. I'd love to see more services embrace this mentality, and could see it working for a great range of situations.

Sadly, I'm not in NYC at the moment and can't try it out. I'd enjoy hearing anyone's first hand experience.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Successfully Ported Number to Google Voice

Last week Google let me port my cell phone number to Voice. $20 and 24 hours later, my phone number moved from its home of nearly 11 years to a new home on the web. The advantage is that I am now not tied to any one mobile provider - if I decide to switch providers, I just hop online and redirect Voice to a new phone number, without having to tell anyone that I've made a change all my calls and texts still find their way to me. Additionally, my voicemail gets transcribed and emailed to me, and my calls ring through to my computer, meaning I have a no roaming number while in London.

The move was fairly painless. It took almost exactly 24 hours from the first email notifying me that the process has started until the the second email came informing me that everything was done. As I'm in the UK and don't get many text messages on the number I'm not sure whether there was actually a 3 day outage on that front.

I tried calling the number from Skype, and got a scare: "The number you have dialed can't be reached." Did I just loose my number? Why isn't it working?!! I picked up my cell and tried from that, sure enough G-Chat started ringing. After playing around with it for a few more minutes, it seems that the caller ID broadcast from Skype was preventing the call from going through - so if you're using Skype, make sure you have a different number on the caller ID than the one you are calling on Google Voice.

Now I'm without a mobile phone in the US. I've called T-Mobile and asked to add a line back to my account. In fact, they appear to be able to move my old Google Voice number to the mobile contract (yes, porting does appear to work both ways). So for those people that do have that number, they should still be able to get through to me.

I'm happy with the decision to port my number. I would caution that it is hard to get support - there is no one you can call when something doesn't work, and some people claim to have problems with the forwarding. That being said the advantages are there, especially if you're not in the US and want to have a working US based number abroad.

Dinner For One: a Drunk Butler & a New Year's Tradition

We spent New Years in Germany - and per tradition enjoyed Dinner For One. I remember watching this every year that I've been in Germany for New Years - I'm always amazed at how drunk he manages to get in about 10 min. Maybe next year I'll get that bear rug for Christmas...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kindle Reading (part 2) / the Lack of Progress in Information Sharing

I continue to enjoy reading on the Kindle tremendously. Without sitting with a stop watch, I'd estimate it's easily in use for 1 - 2 hours a day and has made reading long form articles enjoyable again. This ties, in my mind, to the fact that there are no distractions - no outbound links to click, no flashing text to follow, and no chance to sneak a peak at the inbox to see what might have come in. The depth of long form articles is also the best way to learn - 120 characters, or even 200 words cannot communicate the subtleties of what's going on in the EU, or how life in Haiti has progressed over the last year - and therefore I would consider this a positive development.

What I begin to wonder about though is the realization that the internet is hyped as multi-media, and that this type of content is meant to become interactive online. Since picking up the Kindle nearly 2 weeks ago, I have only had two instances where I feel that I'm missing out on content due to its text bound limits. There have been a few stunning video clips that I've wanted to watch - Obama's speech in Arizona, or this video on NYC Underground - but clearly the black and white slow refreshing kindle can't oblige me there. I also just came across a NYT's interactive piece with pictures and audio interviews. Again, same problem.

In the grand scheme of things, I merely hit the Boxee "watch later" button and when I'm next on my TV enjoy the videos there, or click through the interactive feature on my laptop. What I am startled at, however, is that I've only encountered this issue three times in two weeks - has news / information distribution really only become digital text? It would seem that the wonders of the internet still haven't filtered through to establishments of the old media world. But, looking at a news source that is new media - huffington post for example - reveals much the same. Can this therefore lead to the conclusion that we, as consumers of news / information, simply have a preference that content is delivered via text? Again, the rise of cable news channels disputes this. While I'm not sure of the cause, I do find it remarkable that there has been no real innovation in this area, but rather only small tweaks to where the revenues come from, or how the news is gathered. I am curious to see if some of the tablet "magazines" manage to push the ball forward, or if this will remain an area ready for change.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Athens in the Snow

Athens - known to be the home of the ancient Greeks, center of philosophy, and a warm city in the sun on the Mediterranean - the perfect escape from the 4pm sunsets of December London. A quick 3 hour flight out on a Friday night would put us in the sun, and give us a chance to enjoy the stunning Acropolis, and other noteworthy sites like ancient Agora. Unfortunately, those hopes were quickly dashed when the pilot came on to warn of a bumpy landing due to the snow storm in Greece.


Thursday, January 13, 2011, kindle, instapaper - my news reading habits

It was recently announced that yahoo is shutting down / selling I had been a long time user, and as any of you who subscribed to my RSS feed will know, used the service mainly to share articles I found interesting - sort of a what I'm reading list. With the uncertainty around' future, like many others, I've decided to find a replacement.

As I never really used it as a bookmarking service, but rather an article sharing method, I've decided on Instapaper as my replacement. Instapaper offers a "Read Later" bookmarklet - whenever you find an interesting article, a quick click and it's added to your queue of things to read. This queue can also be shared (as I've done on the right of my blog) so that others can see what you're reading.

The main premise around Instapaper is that it allows you to save lengthier articles for later - when you actually have time to sit down and read them. This is great, as I'm frequently emailed links, and don't always have a chance to read them then and there. Additionally, they offer the ability to send the articles to a Kindle - taking them to a screen which is much more eye-friendly; something I've come to appreciate dearly since spending more and more time in front of a computer.

As many of you will be aware, Amazon charges a data transfer fee if you use their "" email address to send things to the device. If you have a mac, there's a neat workaround in the form of an automator script. This little hack detects whenever you plug in your kindle and automagically downloads whatever articles are in your Instapaper queue for easy reading in "newspaper" form on the Kindle.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Review: Lost on Planet China

Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation
Lost on Planet China is my favorite kind of travel book - written in a light spirited fashion, Maarten Troost explores what current day China is like. In the first few chapters, as he explores Beijing, I was repeatedly reminded of my own trip there - the combination of an over sized city (compared to what seems normal after New York or London), the smog, and the millions of people all trying to find their fortune creates a surreal environment. He goes on to travel throughout China, including a trip into Tibet, and does a fantastic job capturing the energy that is currently flowing through the country. 

For anyone considering a trip to China, I would strongly recommend this as an additional travel book. And for anyone not considering a trip, I can only say that China is where it's going on and you really need to experience it first hand. 

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Running 2011

I've been running more regularly since about mid-year last year, and am hoping to step it up in the new year. In the hope of reaching my goals, I'm trying two different tech toys to help me track my workouts:

RunKeeper Pro: running on my phone it tracks my route via GPS. It provides a lot of speed / elevation / distance statistics, which are interesting to see. Also, while I'm running the program announces my progress - time / pace / distance, which is great as it provides a way to gauge whether I'm slowing or speeding up (I should add I have ear buds in for music already, so this isn't a lot of extra effort).

Garmin FR60: A birthday present that I've only recently started getting comfortable with, the FR60 combines a heart rate monitor and a cadence tracker. The heart rate monitor should help me with pacing by ensuring that I'm in the best performance zone. Unfortunately, out of the runs I've taken it on, it's only worked all the way through the run once - as such I'm therefore not sure how good it will be. The cadence tracker is interesting as it shows whether my stride is shortening as I run; this would indicate more effort to achieve the same distance.

Unfortunately, it's not currently possible to combine the two sets of data. But switching between them gives a pretty good indication of my overall performance on the run. From yesterday's run, I can see that my pace and cadence were fairly constant, with my HR increasing throughout. At the end of the run I wanted to see how quickly my HR would come down, and then go back up - hence the dip.

I'm looking forward to increasing the data amount over time. Hopefully, I'll be able to see progress in the course of the months to come, and use this as a form of motivation.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
I recently finished Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson's story of the struggle to build a series of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After failing to summit K2, he finds himself lost in the middle of Pakistan. He stumbles into a small village where he is nursed back to health, and in exchange promises to build the villagers a school. The story of his struggle - nights working in San Francisco's ERs and days spent sleeping in hallways and the back seats of cars - to raise the funding for the school, and the experience of building the first school are moving. More remarkable, however, is the insight into a culture very foreign from our own - one where education is not readily available, and customs dictate how many interactions play out.