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Entries in Technology (77)

Tuesday
Nov252003

Old Time Radio

Old RadioOne of the wonderful things I grew up with was radio, the amazing wireless technology of the last century. It always amazed me to think that broadcasts were flying all around me every day, and all I needed was a little transistor radio to capture them.

As a kid in Chicago, I listened to pop music on WLS, tuned in Chicago Cub baseball games on WGN, but my favorite radio activity was listening to radio drama. I can still recall the cool summer nights in bed with my little radio and earphone, listening radio dramas on my AM radio until I drifted off to sleep.

My show of choice was the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre with host E.G. Marshall. Each night this show would present a thrilling mystery with multiple actors, sound effects and music for a very engrossing experience. I loved the depth of the mysteries, the excellent writing and how a radio drama brought my imagination to life. I loved many TV shows, but they never seemed to spark my imagination like a radio drama.

Later in life I came across other radio shows from an older era on public radio -- the 30s, 40s and 50s and fell in love with these recordings of live radio drama. I enjoyed the stories and the funny old products being promoted and best of all the old-timey lingo often used in the dialogue. It was like being transported into the past, 30 minutes a time.

Then, again through public radio, I came across modern radio dramas, like Douglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars and Empire Strikes back and separate American and BBC renditions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Wow, these shows were broadcast in full stereo, with entire casts and special effects personnel doing sound effects and music. These days you can hear radio dramas on CD or tape, either at the bookstore or the library.

Anyway, for some reason, I decided tonight to search the net for old radio dramas in MP3 format. I thought it might be fun to load some old shows onto my Tungsten E, and since they're mono and not super hi-fi, maybe they'd even be quite small.

So, I fired up Google and entered "Old Time Radio + MP3" and within the first few links, had found Jaweb's colelction of downloadable MP3 files of old radio shows! There are a variety of old shows in many genres ready for downloading listening to as MP3s. Titles include Sherlock Holmes, The Shadow, The Avengers, Suspense, Lux Theatre, Fibber McGee & Molly, Creaking Door and more... !!

In my brief search, I've also come across WRVO from New York state, broadcasting old time radio as MP3 streams. Then I came across the Live 365 stream of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre run by a fan named myafchak. I've also found the nice informational site Old-Time Radio with even more background and details. There must be much more old time radio info out there too. Cool!

So, if you're an old radio show fan -- or especially if you have never heard any radio drama before, check out these shows. You might be amazed at how entertaining they can be. :-)

Saturday
Nov152003

Spontaneous Bluejacking

This Saturday morning I came across some interesting links about bluejacking (sending messages to unsuspecting recipients via bluetooth). In particular, I came across a nice website called bluejackQ.com, created by a creative young Brit (jellyellie), who has provided all sorts of information on bluejacking from a bluejacker's point of view. I love it!

I appreciate the bluejacking information, tips & tricks, a FAQ, Forums and even posts bluejack stories. But I especially enjoyed jellyellie's story of bluejacking at Waterloo station, London, which includes pics her dad shot of the event. Here's an except:

"I causally turned around to face my victim and noticed that she was drawing a bottle of water from her handbag-type-thing. Right, I thought, time for Mr. Photographer!! I had briefed him on his mission, pointed out his subject and told him to get ready. Sometimes the 'ghastly Nokia message received tone' can be a comfort to a young bluejacker, especially when it means that your contact has been received by the victim. In this case, it had meant that pink-stripy top lady was reading my request for a sip of her water. Ha! Even a bigger grin emerged on her face. Un be-known to pink-stripy top lady, she was being photographed in the same shot as her bluejacker."

It's amazing to me how people just do spontaneous kinds of of things like this, but maybe it shouldn't be. After all, this is exactly how most Palm-oriented mailing lists, like the venerable Pilot-PDA list, and websites like PDA 24/7, PalmAddict, Palm Infocenter and even the Palm Tipsheet (which I founded) have begun. Each one sprung up because someone in the community decided it was needed or would be cool to do.

Self-emergent solutions to problems from within communities are very cool things.

You go jellyellie! :-)

Wednesday
Nov122003

Thoughts on Wireless Lifestyles

My friend Lorenz Szabo sent along an interesting essay on his wireless adventures in Austria, which he wrote and posted last weekend. Lo has been influenced by several other webloggers like Jeffery Belk, Om Malik, Steve Patriquen and Phillip Torrone, who have all written about their use and experiences with both WiFi and cellular wireless networks. Lo doesn't really use WiFi at all, preferring UMTS, GPRS and Bluetooth connections for his link to the Internet, via phone and PC card to his Tungsten T and Windows laptop.

His article got me to thinking about wireless use and how each person's environment and lifestyle influences their wireless choices, which is why I believe many wireless options are better than fewer, or just a single option (like WiFi vs. GPRS).

As an example, Lo has a very mobile lifestyle and his environment changes quite a bit over the course of an average day. He might spend time in his flat, on the train to work, in the office, at the gym, at Starbucks or many other places around Vienna in his daily routine. Lo carries a mobile phone and a Tungsten T, which he connections via Bluetooth. He can also connect his laptop to the Internet via GPRS data card if he needs more 'full-featured' Net access. Lo says he wouldn't want to live without Bluetooth, GPRS or UMTS, but has no real interest in always-on broadband, as he spends very little time at his apartment and has no interest in streaming music or other high-bandwidth activities.

Meanwhile, I spend most of my day in my home office and only a small percentage of my time being mobile. Because I'm not very mobile during an average day, I have no real need for a mobile phone or Bluetooth for that matter. However, the broadband connection and the WiFi network here are very well used on a daily basis. I'm required to be online during my workday and while working I'll often listen to streamed music or might have an IRC discussion with a work colleague. Meanwhile, my wife uses a Mac Powerbook with a WiFi card to check her email and surf the web.

So, my conclusion is that your environment and lifestyle really drive your needs for wireless access. I have no need for Bluetooth or a mobile phone because my environment is generally a single location and my lifestyle is not very mobile. Lo on the other hand, has a very mobile lifestyle and spends his days in multi-environments. Others, I'm sure, have mixed needs in between these two extremes.

Therefore, I hope that Bluetooth, WiFi, GPRS and a wide mix of standard ways to access the Net remain available so we can all choose the way we want to reach the Net. I have never understood the WiFi vs. Bluetooth or WiFi vs. GPRS battles I've come across, because to my mind, those are all complimentary rather than competing technologies.

In the end, my hope is that PDAs, notebooks, PCs and other electronic items which can take advantage of wireless connections, will begin including multiple options as standard features. At least offer SDIO slots or add-on features so that these technologies can be tacked on to our devices as we see fit.

What you think about wireless access? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday
Nov032003

My Funky House Paint Idea

A few weeks back, my dad was over at the house, playing around with a house painting program on our old Windows box. Dad was busy converting a photo of our house to wild colors and we were talking, when I came up with a funky idea for house painting.

Here it is: What if you could develop a house paint with color pigmentation that could be shifted simply by pressing a button on an electronic device? The idea being that your house paint would be a clear coat with tiny electronicly-changeable pigments floating around in the paint. Probably the closest current paint to this would be pearl paint, which changes color depending on your viewing angle and the light.

But this idea would be a step further: rather than set pigment colors, why not pigments which are changed to a new color by showering them with an electronic signal from a small device? I suppose this could even be a Mac or PC application which lets you view colors on your screen and then hit the 'Change' button to switch to those colors instantly via a local electronic transmitter.

I envision that you'd just need to paint the trim of a house with one of these electro-paints on frequency 1, and the rest of the house with electro-paint on frequency 2. Then, with a handheld device, you could select a preset color combination, or create your own, and press the button. Viola, your house would then change colors!

This would be great for many reasons. Rather than needing to re-paint your house once you get tired of your house colors, you'd just need to select a new palette and click the button on your desktop or handheld pigment-changer. Or, in the summer you could choose light or even reflective colors to keep your home cool and in winter, switch to colors that would keep your house warmer.

On the fun side of things, if you threw a party, your house could be switched to a couple of wild colors, so it would be easier for guests to locate. You could even color your house to match the seasons or holidays -- orange and black on Halloween, green and red for Christmas. You get the idea.

I suppose this idea could also be applied to other things like cars. Have a boring gray car? Repaint it with electro-paint and you can have a different color car every day of the week if you so choose, at the press of a button! :-)

So, is this a nutty idea? I suppose there would be technical hurdles involved, but it seems like it could be one way to have a little more fun with your house, car or whatever, and save the hassles of repainting to get those things looking different.

Friday
Oct312003

iChat AV: I'm Lovin' It

iChat AVSome most days I love technology, though on some days it drives me nutty. Today has been a good tech day, and I say that because I realize how great it is to do voice and video chats over the 'net.

Today I spent a few minutes chatting via iChat AV, with Sammy over at Palm Addict (a great guy who is doing a wonderful job for Palm OS fans with his site). Sammy wanted to give his new Apple iSight camera a go, so we connected up and had a little chat. Sound and video quality were excellent. It just amazed me again, that I was talking with a friend who lives 4,000 miles away over the Internet, in full duplex!

About an hour later, I convinced Michael Ashby in Nashville Tennessee, to install the iChat AV beta on his old iMac 233 MHz machine, running Mac OS X 10.2, and had a short chat with him as well. Quality was not as good as Sammy's iSight, since his iMac's built-in microphone made it sound like he was sitting on a diesel truck. Also, since Mike's iMac is slow, he was limited to audio chats, but that's still a pretty nice option.

I've actually been doing iChats for a while now, with my good friend Andy (who has a Powerbook and iSight camera). Funnily enough, we don't do the video chat that often, even though we both have iSight cameras. Rather, we audio chat together, usually once a week. It's quite nice, with my speakers turned on while I'm working, because it's almost like having Andy sitting at a desk behind me. We are sometimes silent for periods of time and then when something pops into our minds we can just chat freely, as if we were in the same room together. Even better, I can work and chat at the same time. It's really great!

As for the PC side there seem to be several options out there, including Yahoo Messenger, FlashTalk ($30 per year for 2 licenses) and Skype (free while in beta). Earlier this week my father, brother Steve and I tested FlashTalk, which worked pretty well. We hope to give Skype and Yahoo Messenger a try this weekend.

From what I hear from Michael Ashby, Skype is alot like iChat AV, with full-duplex, or close to it (full-duplex means it sounds like a regular phone call and not an intercom system). Still, even an intercom-style chat system is very workable and useful.

In any event, I highly recommend that you check out one of the Mac or PC applications listed above if you have a few long distance friends out there you'd like to chat with. You might be surprised at how much fun a voice or even video chat can be. :-)

Have a great weekend!