Macworld Keynote in 60 seconds

January 16, 2008

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Had to absolutely share this. Via dailywireless.

Veronica Belmont of CNet’s Buzz-Out-Loud fame says

So you probably heard that Macworld was today, and the main event was a 90 minute keynote by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple. Here’s that same keynote in 60 seconds.


Grand Central : One number… for life

January 13, 2008

GrandCentral

In this age of having multiple e-mail and IM accounts and phone numbers, I am big fan for consolidating the services to a single application. Accessing multiple service providers is such a pain, not only because of the time it takes to access them, but also because of the need to remember the access points and credentials for each service. A well-designed service aggregator can really make life easier. For instance, I either POP or use IMAP on all my e-mail accounts to consolidate them into my Mail application. I just need to open my Mail app daily, and all my mail’s are there in one single location. Similarly, Adium consolidates all my IM accounts.

Phone’s are the next dinosaurs amongst our current communication tools. GrandCentral is a great idea for consolidating all your phone numbers into a single number, which you can also retain for life. And best of all, it is free (at least for the moment).

I had heard about GrandCentral back in 2006 from GigaOM, but was not entirely thrilled by the $15 monthly plan. I was using AT&T’s CallVantage at that time, and had most of the features already. Also, I thought I didn’t really need one more phone number. But last year I had to sign out of VOIP – mainly for its lack of QoS, but also for the 911 features. After reverting back to plain old POTS, I terribly missed the ability to access my phone records and voicemail online. So recently, when I learned that GrandCentral was now open for invite-only beta after having acquired by Google, I decided to check it out.

I got an invite from http://www.grandcentralinvite.com/ and after testing it out for a few weeks, I must say I am impressed. You can not only aggregate all your POTS phones, but you can also add your GIZMO number, so you can remain available even if you are outside the US.

When you signup, you get to choose a phone number (most area codes seem to be available, but I have no idea if they have every area code in their list) that you can keep for life. Next, you enter all your phone numbers – mobile, home, work etc. Then you add phone numbers of your friends and family. And you are all set. You can now have your phones ring simultaneously when someone calls your GrandCentral number, or selectively based on rules you set up.

There’s a whole of bunch of other features that might interest you, but the one that I like best is Call Switch. While you are on a call that came from GrandCentral, you can seamlessly switch between your mobile phone and your home phone without having to drop you call. This is a great feature, because my mobile phone reception is pretty weak inside our home. So I can keep talking on my mobile until I reach my home, and then switch over to my home phone. Without the caller ever knowing. How cool is that?

Also, you can call out from GrandCentral to any long distance number. For free. Now, I am not sure if this will be free when the product comes out of its beta state. But hey, it is Google. They have ton’s of green, right? So, go on… Sign up, and enjoy…

PS: I still have a few invites left out. If you would like one, please let me know or leave a comment. You can always use the grandcentralinvite site above too.


Candidate Facetime

January 10, 2008

Compete is a web analytics company that estimates site traffic using its member base of over 2 million users. Recently, it introduced Candidate Facetime – a mechanism to analyze the online popularity of the presidential candidates. Candidate Facetime tracks the popularity of candidates online based on the amount of time people spend across the candidates’ websites and related sites on MySpace, YouTube, flickr, etc.

Here is the candidate facetime for December 2007.

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Having followed it through the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, it appears that there might be some validity to the parameter after all. Before any of the primaries started, Ron Paul and Barrack Obama had the major share of the online activity. However, as the race neared the primaries, Huckabee and Clinton have eaten quite a chunk of the above two online leaders.

Google also unveiled its Google Trends service recently, which can report similar analytics. For instance, here is how the democratic and republican candidates fare amongst search and news results currently. Click on the picture to run the query using up-to-date data.

Democratic Candidates:

democratic-candidates-trend

Republican Candidates:

republican-candidates-trend

It remains to be see how these online predictions will fall out for the rest of the primaries.


Netflix-type service for books

December 13, 2007

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Now, wouldn’t that be a killer? In fact, there are several services that already exist. But I’ll mention BookSwim here, because that is the one that I came across first at readwriteweb. It’s a simple service: you sign up, create a list of books you want, you get them shipped to you, you keep them for as long as you want, and you ship it back to receive more books.

The best feature at BookSwim is their ‘rent w/option to buy’. If you really really liked a book that you rented, you just pay the used-book price for that book and keep it for yourself. And the next book in your queue is shipped right away. This is pretty cool, because most of the time, the books that I get from the library turn out to be keepers, and books that I buy turn out to be a drudge.

However, the main inhibitor for this service is the cost. From the readwriteweb article on BookSwim,

BookSwim has plans starting at $14.99/month, which allow you to take out two books at once. Assuming your library is often out of the books you’re into, you’d need to read about three books (trade paperbacks cost about $6-7 each) per month, or at least one higher priced new release hardcover book to justify that cost.

Other similar services are PaperSpine and Booksfree. Both have identical price points.

And while on the topic of renting books, another fun activity with books is ‘catch-and-release’ at BookCrossing.com. Wikipedia defines bookcrossing as

the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.


Intel Penryn at CES 08

December 6, 2007

penryn

If you are planning to get a new notebook or laptop, you might want to skim through Intel’s chip roadmap from dailywireless.

New or revamped notebooks with the faster, cooler-running Penryn processors are expected to be all over CES next month.

As happened with Core 2 Duo and the Santa Rosa platform, the Montevina platform (which corresponds to the Penryn processors) will be available later.

The current generation of Intel Centrino laptops is based on Santa Rosa architecture. Montevina refers to the next-generation laptop architecture, available in Q2 2008.

I am beginning to wonder if such a staggered release of the architecture after the chip itself is merely a marketing gimmick to provide consumers with constant updates!!!


Femtocell vs GAN

November 14, 2007

Femtocell

Wireless service providers in North America have started to market a new feature gimmick that allows a mobile phone user to reduce his/her air time while making calls from home.

Earlier this year TMobile started offering its Hotspot @Home feature nationwide. This service allows a subscriber to place calls from a mobile phone using cellular and Wi-Fi networks, whether a home wireless network or a hot spot operated by T-Mobile. You need a ‘WiFi capable phone‘ and a special service add-on, and calls are transferred automatically over between the cellular and WiFi networks. Cincinnati Bell also has a similar service – CB Home Run.

An alternate to using Generic Access Network (GAN) – formerly called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) – to save on air time is to, er., have a personal cell tower right inside your home. This technology is made available to consumers using a device called Femtocell – formerly called Access Point Base Station (APBS).

This device is a scalable, multi-channel, two-way communication device extending a typical base station by incorporating all of the major components of the telecommunications infrastructure.

You plug this femtocell into your home broadband connection, and as soon as you enter your home while talking on your cellphone, it starts using the femtocell device. Sprint is running a pilot test of AIRAVE in Denver and Indianapolis, and is planning to launch this service nationwide early next year.

It remains to be seen which technology will win over the consumers eventually. From the looks of it, it appears that the WiFi option would win out just from the ubiquitous hotspots that are sprouting up all over town. With a femtocell, on the other hand, you extend your coverage only within your home.


A resurgence in Lunar Exploration

November 12, 2007

SmartLunar

Is there a race heating up with lunar orbiters suddenly becoming the focus of several nations around the globe?

The Chang’e 1 is an unmanned lunar orbiter from China’s CLEP that entered its one-year long lunar orbit early Monday. The $187 million mission is a key stepping stone in China’s quest to develop a lunar exploration program that includes a lunar rover and a probe to return soil samples from the moon’s surface. The spacecraft is named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, Chang’e.

Only a month back, Japan completed the launch of its own lunar orbiter – Kaguya. KAGUYA consists of a Main Orbiter at 100km altitude and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit. The scientific instruments on board the Main Orbiter will be used for the global mapping of lunar surface, magnetic field measurement, and gravity field measurement. According to JAXA, the name Kaguya was inspirted by the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

The name KAGUYA originates from “Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya)” in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori Monogatari). and many people overlapped the images of SELENE going to the Moon on an exploration mission and Kaguya-hime going back to the Moon.

India is also planning its own launch of a lunar orbiter in April of 2008 – named Chandrayaan. Over a two-year period, it is intended to survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography. Chandrayaan literally means moon-craft in sanskrit.

And finally, USA is planning to put the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter around the moon in October 2008. The first mission of NASA’s Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, it is designed to map the surface of the Moon and characterize future landing sites in terms of terrain roughness, usable resources, and radiation environment with the ultimate goal of facilitating the return of humans to the Moon.

Space race or not, these missions do add to the nation’s credibility for putting satellites in orbit. Apart from scouting for resources in Moon, these missions are also prove the technical merit of the nations involved, and could be a great source for technology exports.


GOOG-411’s ‘Biddy Biddy Boop’

November 10, 2007

GigaOM has a nice article on the origins of the ‘fetch audio‘ sound for Google’s GOOG-411 service. This is a free 411 service that can used to find businesses from a phone, and even connect to the business for free. The service has been around for several months now, and I am a big fan.

As the article says, the funny ‘Biddy Biddy Boop’ sound that plays while GOOG-411 is searching for the business is actually a voice recording from  Senior Voice Expert Bill Byrne.

While it would be fun to say he locked himself in a room for weeks to come up with the perfect prompt, the truth is much more simple. “I needed something quickly,” said Byrne. “So I decided to just imitate the various sounds I had worked with over the years.” It was supposed to be a placeholder.

But the human-mimicking-a-machine, “biddy-biddy-boop” sound stuck. In fact, what you hear is the original recording (with a little engineering to lower the volume and add fades). It beat out numerous other ideas, including “Jeopardy”-like hold music, and (gratefully) an aborted attempt at replicating human conversation (as in an automated voice telling you “One sec, I had it right here” as you hear papers rustling in a simulated “search”).

In case you have never used this service before, you don’t have to call in to the service to hear the voice (although I would recommend it for the sheer fun). The fetch audio file is available as an mp3 at the Google Groups | goog411 site.


DARPA Urban Challenge – Tartan Racing Wins 2007 Race

November 7, 2007

BOSSTartanRacing

The DARPA Urban Challenge for 2007 is a 60-mile race for completely autonomous vehicles. The autonomous vehicle must prove basic navigation skills by driving on a prescribed course, and demonstrate traffic skills by negotiating a four-way intersection with two human-driven cars and another robotic vehicle. The prize money is a cool $2 million. From the 53 teams that entered the event, 11 were qualified to compete in the finals on Nov 3rd.

The event was won by the Tartan Racing Team this past weekend. Tartan Racing is a colloboration between Carnegie Mellon University and General Motors Corporation. The team used a Chevy Tahoe to build its vehicle, named BOSS. BOSS is equipped with more than a dozen cameras, lasers and radars. The complete results are available here. Some videos of the event are available at TG Daily.

In 2005, DARPA conducted Grand Challenge, which was a race for autonomous vehicles, but with other vehicles in the mix. This event was won very closely by the Stanford team running a VW Passat, the CMU team came in second, at 11 seconds after Stanley.

Having been part of the UC Robotics team and writing the code for avoiding simulated pot holes using CCD cameras as part of my thesis, I think these two events showcase some of the greatest achievements in the field of autonomous vehicle navigation.


Quote of the week – Ayn Rand

November 2, 2007

To say “I love you” one must first be able to say the “I.”

Ayn Rand