Monthly Archive for January, 2008

Google Street View: Useful Tool or Attack on Personal Privacy?

Street sample So you want to meet a few friends at a trendy restaurant in downtown San Francisco. Trouble is, you don’t remember the exact location or even the name. How are you going to tell your friends where to meet you?

Solving this dilemma used to require a long quest to track the place down. Now you can make that journey virtually, by clicking on Google Maps’ new Street View feature.

Street View is available for dozens of major cities across the U.S. It doesn’t cover all of each city. But in covered areas, it provides access to a 360 degree street-level view from almost any point on the block. All you need to do to locate your restaurant is to take a "stroll" down the street and check out the surroundings until you find it. Map

Here’s an idea for your next vacation: In order to capture everything you see, keep a camera rolling every time you walk down the street. That way you’ll have a virtual record of every intersection, every market, every coffee shop you pass.

That’s essentially what Google has done. They hired Immersive Media Corp., out of Calgary, to provide their high-resolution digital photographs. This meant mounting a camera on a car and driving down every single street that is covered.

It’s hard to deny that this is a really useful feature. Knowing what your surroundings look like is invariably helpful in finding your way. Everyone from the average citizen to local police officers can find a use for this.

But not everybody is so thrilled about the idea.

Suppose you find that restaurant by noticing the sign out front. But that’s not it. You can also see the people sitting at the outdoor tables, including one who looks a lot like your significant other. And who is that sitting suspiciously close to them…?

You get the idea. In addition to shots of the street, the images also capture people, cars, windows, yards, and all sorts of things that opponents say constitute a huge breach of privacy. And since there’s nothing we love more than privacy breaches, there are a bevy of blogs on the Internet where users have posted "items of interest" found on Street View. These show possible drug deals, people caught in embarrassing positions, and views of homes through windows.

Google defends its venture by saying that it offers protection for the embarrassing lack of privacy. Compromising images can be reported, after which they will be removed or altered. And of course, the images aren’t live; they were collected many months ago.

The bottom line? Lawsuits are inevitable. All it will take is a "discovery" on Google Maps that leads to a divorce, loss of job, or a burglary. Will this remove the Street View feature forever? Or will it simply force Google to be more careful about what it shows in its virtual Universe?

Motion to Energy: Powering Devices the Kinetic Way

M2E Mobile Phone

The search for practical, cheap energy sources ranges from the exotic to the minute. Fossil fuels are shipped in from faraway countries. The energy of the atom is released and then re-harnessed. The steam vents of volcanoes are tapped.

But many renewable energy options take advantage of sources that are right in front of our faces. Solar power “steals” energy from the natural sunlight that already floods our planet every day. The wind and the ocean allow us to borrow mechanical energy from the natural motion of the environment.

Mobile phone As energy explorers become even more creative, they look even closer to home. The human body is almost always in motion. As you race around town conducting business or relaxing with friends, your personal possessions join you in this state of perpetual motion. Why not take advantage of this motion as an energy source for your personal electronics? M2E’s new battery technology promises to do exactly this.

The principle of motion-to-energy has been around for a long time. When a coil of wire is placed in a changing magnetic field, a current is induced in the coil. The changing magnetic field is supplied by mounting a magnet on springs. Every time the contraption gets a little jostle, the magnet moves back and forth, inducing a current. This setup is coupled with a battery that stores the induced electrical energy.

M2E’s major breakthrough was the production of a small-size setup that can handle high-power devices. This technological step, achieved at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, makes M2E feasible for use in cutting-edge modern electronics.

How will this help your high-tech life? Cell phones are a prime target for the use of M2E technology.

Current cell phone batteries have all sorts of disadvantages. To start with, they’re annoying. You continually need to plug them in to recharge. And if you’re caught away from your charger when your battery runs out, your lines of communication are gone.

What’s more, traditional cell phone batteries are guilty of all sorts of environmental crimes. They contain toxic materials that are difficult to dispose of safely. They waste energy when left plugged in for too long. And of course, that energy is drawn from the usual supply: the cocktail of power arising from gas, coal, and oil that is supplied by your power company. This means you’re leaving a carbon footprint and paying for it as well.

Motion to Energy But with M2E technology, your cell phone could recharge just by using the slight motions that are part of everyday life. Every time you turn your head while you talk, or move the phone across the room by pacing, you get a little bonus in your battery’s energy storage. Your phone will recharge even while you’re not using it; just carry it around with you and it will continually recharge.

Party in a Box: Shrinking Portable DJ Systems

Dj PadA friend of mine was recently working on his laptop in a coffee shop. Preparing to shut off his MacBook, he closed the iTunes window. Surprisingly, the background music that had been playing in the store suddenly stopped. Confused, he reopened the program and the music picked back up. Why? The shop attendants, using wireless technology to pick up music from an iPod, had mistakenly tapped into his iTunes database. Turn table This kind of occurrence is becoming common as new technology focuses on improving wireless connections and shrinking the size of portable music devices. Who gets the most from these improvements? DJ’s are the latest group to benefit from the mind-boggling advancements in the silicon realm. New devices like the pocket-sized Pacemaker make it easy for a DJ to take his or her show on the road.
This little black palm-sized device can best be described as, well, cute. The next word that comes to mind is powerful. The battery-powered device has 120 GB of storage for music files in MP3, WAV, and AAC formats (among others). According to the manufacturer, Tonium, the rechargeable battery will give you 18 hours of music playback and 5 hours of DJ operation.

But it’s not just a playback device. The dual-track system allows you to listen to one song in your headphones while the last song is playing. This allows you to select songs, make any adjustments, and match the beats.

The anticipated February release date is eagerly awaited by DJ enthusiasts around the world. But who will get the most use out of this sleek little device? If you’re a famous DJ playing at sold-out clubs, this device is probably not so useful. After all, your roadies can carry that heavy mixing equipment, no? And let’s face it, your fans want to see you behind a set of big turntables.

Headphones But for the amateur song mixer, this could be a really useful device. You can create your mixes at home on your Mac or PC using the free software made available by Pacemaker. Then take your toy with you to parties, plug into the sound system, and do your thing. The mobility and flexibility of this device will even help aspiring DJ’s get their music heard and develop a following. Continue reading ‘Party in a Box: Shrinking Portable DJ Systems’

Should I Buy An Air? Pros and Cons of the New MacBook

Mac Book Air The introduction of the new ultra-thin MacBook Air at the Macworld convention is the talk of every town. Some people are thrilled. Some people are disgusted. Like any computer, this new edition has features that will work fantastically for some and will be a big hindrance for others. Here, we take a case-by-case look at whether the Air is right for you.

Family

A plus: It’s small and light enough that your kids can use it. A minus: At a selling price of $1799, maybe you don’t want your kids to handle it. This computer also assumes that you have fully upgraded to the digital age. If you still want to play or rip music CD’s using your computer or do not have wireless at home, you will have to buy expensive accessories.
Bottom line: This should not be your only at-home computer.

Work-from-home professional

The portability and 5-hour battery life of this MacBook mean that you can take it with you just about anywhere you care to work. You probably work almost exclusively wirelessly already, eliminating needs for interfaces with Ethernet and firewire. The Intel dual processor, 2GB memory, and 80GB hard drive should be enough for most of your business needs.
Bottom line: The Air was designed with you in mind.

College student

If there’s one thing students are sick of, it’s lugging around heavy objects. The thin Air can be easily slipped between books in a backpack, making it easy to bring your MacBook with you for notetaking in class, easy-access research, etc. College campuses usually have fast, easy-to-access wireless technology. You probably don’t need the memory and processing power, unless you experiment with digital music production. In addition, the new movie rental service might completely eliminate the need for a TV in your dorm room.
Bottom line: If you have enough student loan money left over, invest in an Air.

Traveling businessperson

Finally, a laptop that you can use throughout a cross-country flight without running out of battery. The portability, size, and processing power are also nice. Wireless will be available most places you work, and you could invest in the Ethernet adapter if you are worried about being able to connect from your hotel room.
Bottom line: A sleek, useful traveling tool.