Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

Apps Examined – iPhone Owns Us (Yay?)

Or my Vowel post…whichever way you want to look at it. C’mon…it’s so simple. The first letter in each word of the title…AEIOU (and sometimes Y). Sheesh. So I promised a quick list of apps that are just absolute must haves for me. Some of these are useful, most are geeky to some degree and a couple are just plain pretty. Let’s start with function. And by the way, unless noted these apps are all free because I’m cheap. Free is good, right?

I use a lot of online services. I need a mobile way to keep up with these things. So if you use Evernote, go get their free app. Not only does it allow you to see your notes, but you can add text, snapshot, saved photo and voice notes. It’s the all inclusive way to keep up with all the incidentals. Twitter users can look forward to a host of apps and probably the most popular is Twitterrific since it’s the most popular Mac client for Twitter. I say big whoop-de-doo. Twinkle has been a far more enjoyable app for me. It does the standard reading and posting that you’d expect, but the developers of Twinkle also decided to tap the GPS to show you what people near you are posting. I keep mine set for a 25 mile radius to keep down on what I read through but it’s been a wonderful experience digitally meeting people near me. This gives Twinkle the edge in the Twitter clients in my opinion. Oh, and they’ll be adding a block function for that radius section in the next release. The news just gets better and better. Moving on to IM, well I haven’t found one that I really like but Palringo’s free app seems to be more or less functional. This isn’t so much a knock against their app as it’s a knock against trying to use the iPhone for IM purposes. It’s really frustrating to try and hold an IM conversation on the device.

Fortunately I have the Last.fm app to stream some radio through my phone to calm me down a bit. It works rather nicely as long as you have a good signal and if you can hook the phone to your radio…then you don’t really need XM. For those times that you are actually listening to the radio but can’t place that song, get Shazam. Just hold it up to a speaker for a few seconds and it’ll come back with the song, artist, album, and a series of links to purchase the song and possibly even see the music video on Youtube. Neat, huh? Something funny happen while you were finding that song? Want to blog it and use WordPress? Just hop into the WordPress app and type away.

Just for fun, I say Sol Free or the inexpensive Solebon are great little card game apps. Just want to show off the accelerometer? Grab Labyrinth LE and let the amazement begin. Perhaps you prefer word games? Just go spend the $1.99 and get Wurdle…it’s very much like the old game called Boggle if you are old enough to remember it. It’s also the game I play the most on my phone. I actually don’t have any other games on my iPhone. I do have a couple of “just for fun” apps. I spent the money for Koi Pond. It’s fun and relaxing at the same time. I also picked up the free Lightsaber app. Don’t worry, this one is official (and more limited) so it shouldn’t be pulled.

In my area of random apps I have CheckPlease to help me figure up tips. I also have Dice Bag and D20 Dice which both are pretty neat for those of us that still enjoy pen and paper RPGs. eReader is a way to pass the time when there’s nothing else to do but honestly, I just don’t like reading long text on a backlit screen. Don’t get me wrong, it works really nicely…but I want e-ink. Let’s see…I left out Earthscape. It’s sort of a GoogleEarth for the iPhone. The app is really ambitious but I find that even the iPhone 3G hardware makes it really sluggish and the phone heats up awfully fast. But the app does do amazing things, albeit at a geriatric pace. There’s also WhatTasks as an interesting task list but I really don’t use task lists often so it’s been relegated to the back page where I don’t see it.

Now, someone tell me why there are no decent Magic 8-Ball apps out there? Huh? I’ve tried every free one and they all suck.

Mobile Life Without Corporate Systems

Lately I have been looking around at ways to separate myself from work specific systems but keep all the wonderful services. You know, all of those neat little things like email, calendar, contacts, file storage. Some of these things are painfully simple to replace but others are just painful if you don’t know where to look. But thanks to lots of surf time and reading unholy amounts of Lifehacker, I have managed to put together a near dream team of services that I daresay actually exceed most corporate offerings. Here’s what I use:

Email – Gmail is the way to go. They have some really great features from Labels to truly effective spam filtering. Add to that almost 7GB of storage and it’s comletely free…

Calendar – Google Calendar does a nice job of filling this role and it integrates with Gmail. There’s your web based Outlook/Exchange replacement. Oh, and you can have appointment reminders sent via SMS to your phone. Try doing that with a simple click in Outlook.

Contacts – I use Gmail’s contact list for this. It works great. Of course you can always use built in systems like Windows Address Book or Address Book.app on your Mac. Heck, you could just use your phone if you really wanted to but I find that the information kept in Gmail is more than sufficient.

File Storage – Dropbox is the winner hands down. Why? Because I like a system with a client that will automagically sync without any work on my part after initial configuration. Dropbox does that. Just set up your account and install the client. From that point on, just put the files into the Dropbox folder to have it sync in the background to their service and to every other computer you have linked to your account. Schweetness.

Notes – Evernote has a wonderful service. With clients that sync your notes to your Mac/PC/WinMo/etc system and OCR run on every image you send to them, Evernote stands above the rest for services rendered for the almighty price of free.

It takes a little time to get used to using these different tools if you are accustomed to the usual Microsoft systems and indeed you can integrate a number of these into Outlook if you really want to use it. But for the full use of all the features available, using the native clients is the way to go. And yes iPhone users, you can use all of these from the comfort of your mobile device save Dropbox.

Geek Plague – Fanboyism

In the world of geeks we have a problem. A serious epidemic that threatens our peaceful natures. This plague must be stopped before needless violence rips from us the very thing that binds us together: our overwhelming passion for tech/sci-fi/fantasy stuffs. This plague is the mutation of a mild mannered geek into a frothing-at-the-mouth fanboy. Fanboyism really isn’t a new phenomenon. As long as there have been geeks, there have been the radical right-wing zealots that evolved into full blown fanboys. It isn’t restricted to a specific genre of geekdom either. For today’s purposes, though, we will look at the OS Fanboys.

Probably the most famous group of fanboys in current times is the Apple Fanboy. Oh sure, there have been Apple Fanboys since the birth of the computer company in an unsuspecting garage. Since the advent of the iPod, however, the Apple Fanboy has been propelled into the Spotlight (see what I did there?). These are the guys that swear by everything Apple and condemn everything Microsoft. They are touted to have an unwavering belief in Jobs, their “messiah”. But they are not alone.

Microsoft Fanboys are always ready to return a volley of scathing remarks about Apple’s “toy” computers. They all but worship the corporate empire that Gates built and believe that the only reason people resent the object of their near-worship is its unparalleled business success. They resent the idea that any software or hardware offering could dare to think it can compete with their Titan Champion. They stand resolute and declare that all other systems are either just as vulnerable or more vulnerable than theirs. They proudly preach that the only reason their beloved OS is unfairly targeted more than any other is because it is so awesome. It doesn’t stop here, however.

The third leg of this unholy trinity is the Linux Fanboy. He lives by the mantra that all software should be free and open to everyone. He denounces Microsoft and Apple for their evil and secretive ways and blames any faults discovered in their systems on this closed environment. In the eyes of the Linux Fanboy, only the almighty Linus understands the truth in how to get the most out of a computer. Only open-source can save the geek world according to this steaming waste of carbon-based life form. Okay, that was unfair…all fanboys are steaming wastes of carbon-based lifeforms.

I’ve been accused of being each of these over the years. I find that funny. While it’s true that I do not like them all equally, the levels at which I do like them changes with time. I have a tendency to ramble on about one more than the others at any given moment. It has to do with which one I’m learning new things about or spending the most time on. See, I keep saying this in many different places: Each systems has its strengths and weaknesses. Each OS has tasks it performs a bit better than the others. The best thing to do is know them all and use the right system for the job. I really don’t see what is so hard about that idea.

Do I agree with Microsoft’s marketing practices? Not really. Do I believe that open-source is the silver bullet (ugh, I just used a buzzword) for cracking the computer world into an ecosystem that dwarfs what we have now? Not a bit. Do I think that Apple’s idea of totally locking down everything is the solution to the world’s computer problems? Not even close. But each of these groups does have important things to offer. The hard part is navigating the Fanboy Minefield to find real information. I think Dwight Silverman found this out with his article on Mac pricing. I’m guessing he wasn’t expecting a three way war to break out in the comments like it did. Unfortunately, that’s life on the intarwebs.

So to all Fanboys: Until you can stop frothing at the mouth and open your minds a little…shut up. Learn to recognize that other systems…other opinions…can have merit. I’ll be glad to calmly debate the merits of any system over any other. Is that too hard for you?

Organization Will Set You Free

I don’t know about the rest of you but I have friends that like to borrow things. These things are usually in the form of DVDs or books. With my memory not exactly being what it used to be, I really have a hard time remembering who has what. Heck, I’ve loaned stuff out that stayed gone so long that I forgot I even owned it. This is where Delicious Library 2 comes in if you have a Mac.

Delicious Library 2 is a program that will catalog pretty much anything and everything you own. Yes, I am aware there are lots of programs that will do this. Let me tell you the joys of why DL2 is superior. Probably the best feature in my opinion is the barcode scan ability. All you do is hold the book or DVD or whatever’s barcode up to your iSight camera and it will read it, look the item up on Amazon, and download all information about that item into your database (including current sale value!).

DL2 also integrates into your Mac’s address book which will let you drag an item you loaned to that person’s entry so you can keep up with who has what. It’ll even put an iCal reminder for the due date you set. See? Bad memory is no longer a problem. And speaking of friends, DL2 will use Bonjour to show you the library of other Macs on your network. It’ll even let you find libraries of your friends that are published to the web. Did I mention you can publish it to the web (using either .Mac or iWeb or even FTP)?

There’s a whole host of other things you can do including a simple three click process to sell an item on Amazon but for a full list of everything it can do I would suggest just going to the website. You can download the program and put up to 25 items in it before you need to purchase it. The cost is a very reasonable $40. Actually, next to the $20 I spent on Connect360, I think this is the best investment I’ve made in my iMac.

Home Media Makeover Part One: DVD Library

Technology abounds in every aspect of our lives. Computers are usually the center of a great many media types that we experience throughout the day. You can buy a computer pretty much anywhere these days for really reasonable prices. So the question on my mind has been, why are most people still using the old components of yore for their home theaters? Why not leverage some of this wonderful computer technology and versatility for the home theater experience?

Yes, I know there are HTPC options out there. Most of them run well over $1500 for the base model. I also know you can roll your own HTPC/DVR for about the same price. What I’m talking about is using a more distributed model, preferably leveraging systems you already have in place…just extending them to the HDTV in the living room. For my personal project, I have a 20″ iMac on my desk and a Vista laptop that usually sits on the coffee table. There’s a 50″ Samsung plasma TV in the living room that I really want to use to watch my media such as streaming video from the web with an XBox360 under it.

Ideally, I want to get rid of the DVD player and replace the set-top box from Comcast with my media system so I can drop the cable television service and thus save myself over $1000 a year. Now I realize that for my particular desires, I will not need a PVR/DVR setup and can thus skimp on some hardware. Actually, for step one of my media center makeover, I just want to stream ripped copies of my DVD library so my 360 will play the part of extender. For this setup, storage will be the biggest concern with network bandwidth running a close second. With today’s prices for hardware, neither of those should be a challenge to satisfy on a budget.

Continue reading “Home Media Makeover Part One: DVD Library”

Firefox Download Day is Here!

Today is the day. Mozilla aims to set the world record for most software downloads in 24 hours with their release of Firefox 3 which is expected today. So I say to everyone, the moment the official FF3 release hits the servers, go get it.

Update: According to Lifehacker, the release is set for 10am Pacific. Remember, to count in the record tally, you must download it from the official site in its entirety, updates don’t count.