Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PeopleBrowsr at the TechCrunch Real-Time CrunchUp 2009

Last fall my buddy Brian Solis of bub.blicio.us introduced me to Jodee Rich of peoplebrowsr.com and I saw an amazingly powerful client that wrapped a unified, albeit noisy interface around all of the Web 2.0 properties. That's right, Flickr, YouTube, RSS feeds as well as Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed could all be accessed in a single dashboard.

I was hooked on the idea, but it needed some honing to make it more usable for the non-power set. A few months of Jodee's team tirelessly working on the interface, and we debuted search.peoplebrowsr.com at the TechCrunch Real-Time Crunchup in July 2009.

You can see how enthused I am over our work, in the video above. Take a look at the features, then give the service a try and let me know what you think of it!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Topgear from the mouths of children!

Top Gear season 13 is on the air again from BBC 2 in the UK and BBC America; if you don't have those, it can be found on the torrents of course. Check out this 30 second trailer from BBC showing what young Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hamster, I mean Hammond were like as dreaming children.

Also, you'll see a guest appearance from young "big Stig" (from the America South episode) or maybe he was just a chubby child...

Even if you don't like cars, this is quite an entertaining show to watch!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tiger Direct PC Build competition at CES 2009

Last year I was invited by the Max Borges Agency to attend their Tiger Direct/CompUSA (they bought the trademark and domain name) PC building competition with many of my industry buddies in television, print and online media.  Jim Louderback from PC Magazine and Patrick Norton (now at Revision 3,) Tom Merritt from CNET and my old buddy Al Hernandez from Fox news were worthy competitors, along with the some 30 techsperts.

In 2008, my tower PC was built in lightning time, then I booted up Windows Vista.  This was my achilles heel.  The box was supposed to grab an IP address then ping a server, with sweet victory mine.  What wasn't worthy was my installation of Windows Vista.  It did not see the wireless adapter correctly, and therefor did not attach to the router and grab and IP.  A quick reboot found the adapter and attached, but not before a hot-on-my-heels competitor pinged the server before me!

In 2009 it was supposed to be different.  I was going to take the championship and donate $10k to my charity.  But with the constant change in schedules that make up CES, I was unable to make it to the race in time; due to a last minute request for me to demonstrate the G4 TV "Best of the Best" winning products to the Chairmen of the major cable networks.  Their demo took priority before the contest.

Fortunately I did make it over at the end, and my buddy Al won first place.  Alison Haislip had fun with getting everyone psyched out over my PC building skills, and I was able to make an appearance, in the end.  I guess he ended up with the big check AND the cheerleaders.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Backup Frequently and Often

Originally uploaded by gadgetgy.
Since my first computer with dual 83K (that’s Kilobytes) floppies, which were great for text, the multimedia computing age has made our storage requirements grow exponentially. We literally store gigabytes of personal content like photos and documents, which have personal value, as well as paid digital media which can be expensive to download and collect. This data on the internal hard drive in our computers is a ticking time-bomb that can carry our precious media away once it starts clicking like a popcorn maker that only Orville Redenbacher would appreciate.

Any storage media is susceptible to mechanical or electronic failure before a device’s lifetime is extinguished; the problem with hard drives is that you only know when it is about to give up its ghost when it is too late. Recovering this data can involve luck or expensive data recovery services.

For this reason, I say backup your important data in many places, and often. The best form of backup is with a central device on your network, such as a connected network hub such as Apple’s Airport Extreme, or a Linksys USB sharing device or router for Windows users. I prefer these methods over all-in-one router and storage device like the Apple Time Capsule, which includes 500GB or 1TB internal drive options. This is because the Time Capsule has a lot of technology under the hood, and running all of that creates heat. Heat and spinning platters of a hard disk can create a cascade of errors like chip failure or thermal issues when reading and writing to the drive itself.  

External hard drives can run a bit cooler outside of a computer, which can help with a longer lifespan of the bearings and head motors, as they can see less heat. With these, you will want to keep the drive upright, out of the sun and with enough airspace around it.

Do it your-self fans will love FreeNAS which allows an old PC or laptop to run a free Linux based operating system as a backup server on your network. I have actually used FreeNAS to recover NTFS hardware based RAID partitions that Windows Servers would no longer mount and access! RAID is the ultimate in backup as many drives are spanned together into one single volume, and data is redundantly placed across these drives. This technology is cumbersome to setup and rebuild, but the external drive chassis by Drobo has automated this capability and is expensive, but very powerful.  If you go this route, look for automated software that can run on your laptop and desktop computers to automatically backup their data on the LAN, like Apple Time Machine.  See my post here on the Airport Extreme Router configuration!

Here are the things you need to look for in a backup external hard drive:
1. Warranty: First and foremost a 1-year guarantee won’t cut it. Go for 5-years, and three is all right.
2. Portability: Laptop based 2.5” external drives require no power or lugging of an AC adapter. With this portability, come smaller capacities of 500MB and slower rotational speeds of 5400 RPM, but you will be able to easily bring these on the road with you. The desktop 3.5” sized USB drives hold up to 1.5 Terabytes as I write this, and spin faster at 7200 RPM, but require a power brick and are 100% (or more) larger in physical size.
3. Speed – USB will be most compatible with devices like the new Macbook; which removed all other data ports, but if you store movies or shoot 12-megapixel photos, then you will want to find a drive that includes firewire 400 (traditional) and 800 (high-speed but downward compatible) as well as eSATA which is the fastest external interface currently known to man.

My favorite drives these days are the Seagate FreeAgent line. They max-out my three requirements above, sport a 5-year warranty, a choice of 2.5” and 3.5” sizes (get the big one for home and the little one for on the go!) and have fast interfaces. Their portable 2.5” Go series drives come in a PC version with a USB 2.0 port, and a Mac version (my favorite) which adds firewire and includes all of the cables for USB, Firewire 400 and 800 and a neat drive dock, plus these cables are “thick” and great quality with nice strain-reliefs built in. With the FreeAgent Desk USB is standard, but drives with Firewire and eSATA are available in up to 1.5TB capacities.

The drives have a neat industrial design, can stand on their edge perpendicularly for more airflow or lie horizontally, and the portable models have a neat silicone like bottom that may just keep them from flying off your desk or even out of your bag. The tops have an aluminum panel which works to dissipate heat and just plain looks cool, as long as it doesn't get scratched.

So there you go. You have data. It is important. Now get an external drive and back it up. Remember to store drives at different locations geographically if the data is extremely important. You do not want a natural disaster ruining your original and backups if they are all in one location. Just make sure you buy a quality drive!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Calacanis and Arrington Pups at TC50

Calacanis Pups at TC50
Originally uploaded by gadgetgy.
Last week had non-stop events in San Francisco, TechCrunch 50 (TC50), Apple's Lets Rock announcement and CTIA took my days, and the parties took over the nights. The dust has settled this week and I wanted to share my thoughts of the event. I saw a lot of stuff, and below is a sample of the good and bad that resonated with me.

On the first day of TC50, there was no wireless Internet access, which I actually liked. Having been to events with full-speed unadulterated Internet access like Demo, a few Gnomedexes and the Web2.0 conferences, and actually presenting at many events, it is quite annoying to speak at people gazing into their laptops. While many are tweeting your moments of awesomeness (like twitter.com/dacort/statuses/896814882 this) it's hard to have a connection with your audience when a laptop acts as a physical wall in front of your would-be engaged audience. Thankfully, a bit of off the cuff humor or a quick roll through a slide deck (as performed by Jeremy Toeman bugblogger.com/author/jeremy-toeman/) can force people to be engaged.

After a slow (read boring) start from Ashton Kutcher and his www.BlahGirls.com site - which I thought was for kids, but it's PG-13, the content at TC50 became more and more interesting. It was cool to see Marissa Mayer show Google's indexing (read scanning) of newspapers and the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and hot-linking on their scans of the printed page. You can read about the Archived Search paper project here: news.google.com/archivesearch/partner.html

I thought Yammer - www.yammer.com/ which is twitter for corporations was as pointless as twitter for consumers (disclosure: I reluctantly tweet myself) and could kill productivity faster than corporate instant messaging and email already do. The "only when necessary consumer" in me loved the idea of OpenTrace - opentrace.org/ which is a way to see the environmental impact that a product has from its creation. Microsoft's Marc Smith tried this with bar code reading Pocket PC's back in the days of Aura (now closed) but it never "really" launched.

I can't believe that OtherInbox.com got such a great response considering their methods are obvious to tech-know-how-folk who run their own domains, or one of the 26 million people who use gmail. You see, those of us with our own domain, like www.davemathews.com can create a "wildcard" address scheme where anythingyouwrite at davemathews.com can come to one in-box. If someone (like Hertz Gold membership in my case) had their database of email addresses hijacked, I could turn off the address that I used by pointing it at a "blacklisted" or spam name that was created later. Gmail users can add a +uniquename to their gmail user name (before the @ sign - like [email protected] and you can see who is spamming you, and create a filter to move them away from your inbox. I do like their ability for them to automatically "folder" a "user name" so you can send everything for your "[email protected]" and have a single click of a folder to see your flights, hotels or tickets easily. Their truly unique feature is a daily "snapshot" that they can send to your primary email address, to let you know what came into your other inbox that day. Think of it as a peep-hole to see if you need to check that other box. That is smart.

It seems as the stuff going on at Demo day one was more interesting to me than the TC50 day one. But that changed on day two the TC50. Unfortunately I was not able to attend either of those conferences as the G4 network had me cover the Apple Lets Rock event. Which was interesting, albeit evolutionary, not revolutionary. You can catch the fun that we had over there; here: www.telepixels.com/2008/09/ipod-nano-4g-and-itouch-2-along-with.html

Even though I wasn't present for their pitch, I did order the gadget from www.fitbit.com - I am more interested about what this will do to register my (lack of?) sleeping patterns than how far I run around the city during the day. Lets hope this hardware gets open sourced for other modules and capabilities. I also watched the demo from www.Tonchidot.com in awe. Their software uses GPS and WiFi location sniffing to overlay user submitted data on the top of video seen by the iPhone camera. Although it is a demo and may prove to be difficult to execute in the real world, it showed augmented reality - something that I worked on and dreamed of when I developed the CueCat barcode reader. Theirs was in a 3D space, which made it almost magical. Lets hope they create a database structure that can live up to its promise, without being too ambiguous. The guys from T9, the global standard in "touch once" texting software for numeric (read: non smart) mobile phones showed their Swype text input for touch screens. You can run this software on your Windows mobile device, by going to www.forwordinput.com if you still use one of those phones. Yeah, I didn't think so.

On Wednesday the Internet was flowing through the TC50 air at the pace of the drip on that sink that you always meant to fix. Twitters mobile site worked well; on your laptop. And that was good enough for me. I was most interested in www.TrueCar.com which uses actual sales data from lenders, insurance companies and god knows who else to tell you what others are paying for their new automobiles. This is an interesting service as the automotive business is never as cut and dry as you would expect a commodity product to be. Caveat Emptor!

The guys from www.bojam.com showed a collaborative music site, like Apple's Garage Band but with a Web 2.0 user generated flair. You can upload your own beats, loops or tracks and let other musicians contribute to a final song, or use your beats in theirs. What happened to musicians finding each other on Craigs List? This site tears down geographical boundaries, which should give an interesting spin to concerts. I can just see it now, a live conference concert via iChat!

Back on the "what's old is new" tip, www.GoodGuide.com gives users access to health and other environmental impacts that products have and reports them to consumers. Again this is a take on Microsoft Aura in a Web 2.0 world. Oh, and a bar code will trigger a users input from a mobile phone in the near future - how novel. With 61,000 entries so far, and 200 data sources polled for information on these products, it may just help you to buy something that is "greener" than not, if you stop and take the time to check.

So there you have it. A quick look at the TechCrunch 50 presenters that I found interesting and gauche. By the way, as much as I didn't think so upon my seeing them online, the Calacanis and Arrington dogs were kind of cute in person. Name badges and all...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

iPhone vs Blackberry FREE HTML email


When I went to Europe this summer, two weeks before the new iPhone came out, I had to fight myself from buying the original iPhone before the new "3Jesus phone" was released upon my return. You see, as a Sprint cellular user, I am unable to use my 3G CDMA phone in Europe, because they do not support the network nor frequencies that we do in the US. For my mobile communications instead, I bought an iTouch and ran the iPhone 1.1.4 software on it, using WiFi hot-spots rather than the 2.5G EDGE cellular network. This mean that I had no roaming fees for data, which saved me buckets of money. The setup worked perfectly, although there were a few instances that I had to walk around more than I would have liked "dousing" for open WiFi. However, iPhone applications like eMail, Google Maps (with Skyhook WiFi location) and jailbroken applications like Twitteriffic all worked fine within open hotspots. The location finding via WiFi was spot-on and a real treat to have when I got lost in Amsterdam.

The thing that I really liked about my virtual iPhone, I mean iTouch, was that it was a wonderful media and information consumption device. "Flicking through" weather updates, web pages and even music (gasp!) was a deeee-light. But, trying to tap-tap away on a glass touch-screen for a twitter update, or worse yet an email, was a time-consuming and error ridden experience.

This European vacation with the iTouch convinced me that I was not going to buy an iPhone 3G (with what I also consider a terrible AT&T data and voice plan) upon my return to the States. But another phone had piqued my interest - the Blackberry 8330, another 3G device on Sprint and Verizon networks. As a long-standing member of Sprint's "All You can Eat" plan, now at $99/month, I was happy with the network, despite its lack of global coverage.

The Blackberry is no stranger to my pocket gadget arsenal, as I have had a couple in the past, but they were now down to 4 oz, and nearly half the thickness of my 3G Treo 755p. But one feature was really lacking on the Blackberry - its lack of HTML email support. I fell in love with the hardware however and made the leap, figuring that third party applications would provide the feature I missed, yet all fell short. Mail load times were longer, obtrusive messages popped up, and the font support didn't mimic the factory settings. You could tell this was an add-on, and if you installed it and can't figure out how to remove it, just look for SmartView within the Add/Remove Applications icon on the Blackberry Desktop software - and un-check it. Once I read about the 4.5 client software update, with the 2.5 Blackberry Internet Service upgrades that were coming to the carriers I hoped this could be my ideal solution.

As I am not one to wait for Sprint to release "blessed" firmware, I monitored the forums and checked others, who were less dependent on their mobile phones, that tested the "buried 4.5 firmware" on the Blackberry web site. A few catastrophes were debugged, and by deleting the vendor.xml file from the installation package which dropped it within the C:\Program Files\Common Files\Research in Motion\AppLoader then by running the 4.5 Desktop Manager, all of the Curve (83XX) model phones could be upgraded to the latest and greatest, with built-in HTML email support. Find your model of Curve's firmware and instructions here: http://forums.crackberry.com/f52/

After upgrading both an AT&T and Sprint Blackberry Curve without fail, I was still unable to get my HTML email from Gmail and my hosted domains. Turns out, the profiles (with their unique capabilities) are sent down from the Blackberry Internet Server (BIS) which must be accessed by going to yourcarrier.blackberry.com (sprint.blackberry.com in my case) then after logging in, delete all of your current email addresses, and finally re-instate them. After the "Congratulations" email (this feat, I hardly consider congratulatory) your addresses will default to receiving HTML email and automatically load images. These features can be turned back off by clicking on the Blackberry button while in the message list view, rolling down to options, clicking on Email Settings, then disabling HTML or Image auto-load for each of your configured accounts. You may want to stop loading images if you are on 2.5G networks, but the HTML color, font and other settings will be beneficial to you. Corporate users with Exchange servers will have other settings that I am not privy to in my installation.

Oh, and Gmail users who do not want to get a copy of their own email just sent from a Blackberry to hit them again when they press send, use this fix to create a from-address filter of your own address:  Removing duplicate or email echos from Gmail accounts.

So for the next year or so, or until Android, some other hot phone, or Apple fixes all of their iPhone bugs (like this tweet from my buddy Brian Solis - http://twitter.com/briansolis/) I have the perfect phone for "producing content." Something I like to do. Like this how-to story for you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Defcon 16 - 2008 Coverage

There is no worse place to be than the city of Las Vegas in the summer. Yet, for years my brother and I have made our trek there for his birthday weekend and the conference that makes you want to never turn on your laptop, Defcon. This year is the 16th annual security conference and we learned about cable modem vulnerabilities, lock picking (a show favorite) and how to instantly take over an Internet kiosk via multiple vulnerabilities.

A ran into my friends at G4 TV while I was there, and got them hooked up with my buddies Zoz and Joe Grand from the new Discovery Channel show Prototype This! Take a look at the segment here and watch when I talk about the Wall of Sheep.