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Google Reader is Dead - Long Live Google Reader

Google has just announced that their RSS service Google Reader will be shut down on July 1, 2013. The reason why?

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

Translation: Only the geeks use this, we can't provide adds through it, and we want to move on. I am not at all surprised by this but am still sad to see it go.

Automatic

Your cars computer, connected to your smart phone. Finally. The possibilities are endless and this new device and app finally open the vehicle's brain to more then just your local mechanic.

Your Car and Smartphone, Connected. Just plug the Automatic Link into your car's data port. Your car and smartphone will automatically connect whenever you drive, wirelessly.

Automatic.com

Everpix

This post is about a photo management service I learned about from John Gruber's podcast, The Talk Show. Everpix was a sponsor on episode 32 and he's been raving about it ever since. I'm going to try to write this in a different way, going with a who, what, when, when, where, why, how format. If it works I may stick with it for future reviews.


Who made it

Everpix was made by a group of extremely good web and application developers and very talented designers. How good you ask? Just take a look at this and you'll see where some of these people have worked before. The people involved in Everpix have worked for places like Apple, Cooliris, Frog Design, and other great companies. These guys know what they are doing. The CEO, Pierre-Oliver Latour, has a work history that includes graduating from Stanford University and continuing on to found companies and being a Software Engineer at Apple. The history of the other guys on the team are just as impressive. And the product shows it.

What is it

Everpix is an online photography management service that has a few really nice tricks up it's sleeve. After you sign up, download the utility for your Mac or PC, and create your account, you are prompted to add a few services that it pulls your photos from. Add Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and even your computer photo library and Everpix will import ALL your photos. Don't worry, this is ok, and it's private. You can also pick and chose what folders from your PC it imports. After I imported nearly 8000 photos from my Mac, and several hundred on the other various web services, Everpix took a few hours to process and analyze them. This is where the magic of Everpix really becomes evident. And yes, it's magic, these guys are wizards, all of them.

Everpix uses a super amazing method to perform a semantic analysis of the images that actually understands what is in your photos. It can essentially "see" things like People, landscapes, pets, and dishes. Fancy right? Everpix can help you find those older photos and rediscover images in a way that goes along with how we think. Not only that but it can also, and with good accuracy, analyze perspective and distance from subject in your images.

The Everpix website allows you to view your photos in a number of ways.

  • Highlights will display images in a timeline of automatically sized thumbnails with no duplicates. Yeah, no duplicates!
  • Moments shows you photos based on time, dividing the images up by day and even further by early morning, mid-day, night, and late-night.
  • Sources displays photos by, you guessed it, their source. This view shows where the photo was imported from and displays it along side other images from the same source. So if I want to see all my Instagram photos from February, which I often do, I now can easily. I can also download them all.
  • Explore is where that super amazing semantic analysis really shines. Pick one of five subject types and Everpix will extract photos that match the category. All by itself.

There are other nice features too, like creating a Photo Page that can be shared with anyone by giving them a link. And there's also the typical sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Everpix Highlight View

Everpix Home

Everpix for iPad

When did it come out

Everpix was first launched and became a finalist at the TechCrunch Disrupt competition in 2011. They have continued to aggressively develop and expand the service since then.

Where can I use it

Anywhere. They have an iPhone and iPad application, and the website. There is no app for Android or Windows Phone, yet. So I suppose not exactly anywhere.

Why is this useful

Because it's automatic. The utility that you install on your computer imports photos without you having to do anything. You set it and forget it. Same with other services like Facebook and Flickr. Those images are also imported automatically. But you can also go in and change the settings to modify how it works. Don't want to import your embarrassing Facebook photos anymore? Just disconnect the service and they're gone.

With the apps, the images are always available. Highlights, Sources, Moments, and Explore are all viewable from the iPhone and iPad. Not to mention Everpix.com is accessible from any computer with a modern web browser. Over 8000 photos of mine can be viewed from anywhere I have one of these devices. And it does it with style.

How can I find it

  • You can sign up for the service at Everpix.com They have a free try it out account and a paid subscription option that lets you see photos more then 2 years old.
  • The iPhone and iPad apps are available here
  • If you want to read up on the science behind how Everpix works, look at this PDF.

Cortex Cam

This app has been around for a while now but it's worth mentioning here as a way to enhance your photography. Especially in low light situations.

Cortex Cam is an app for both the iPhone and iPad that uses the video feed from the camera to take a nearly noise free high quality photo. In almost any shooting condition. It's a super simple app with very few settings to change. You can decide between a quick 2MP photo or an 8MP image that takess some time to process but looks great. You can even choose to save the image as a PNG if that's how you roll.

I can see using this camera app in many situations, as long as there isn't anything moving in the picture. If there is you may get some blurring. But in most settings, this app can greatly enhance the photo, not just with noise but also with better colors and contrast. Check it out here

Taken with Cortex Cam

Not taken with Cortex Cam

Nikon D7000 - Initial Shots

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Fall Leaves

Here are a few test photos taken from my new Nikon D7000 digital SLR. So far I'm really liking it. It's a huge upgrade from my 6 year old Sony A-100. Having trouble getting tack sharp photos from it though. Which is probably not the camera, it's probably me. Hopefully I can learn how to pull better images out once I really get my head around this camera. Also using a 35mm f1.8 lens for some of these shots. Great lens. Enjoy!

A "Curious" Choice

Mars has company these days. The rover Curiosity touched down safely and has sent back an image to prove it. Many people thought it a strange choice for NASA to pick a 2 megapixel camera sensor for this mission. 40MP sensors exist and even normal sized ones are cheap to use and readily available. So why go with just 2MP?

Because Curiosity can only transmit roughly 31MB per day. That's less than 1 gigabyte per month. Per Month!

Using Siri to Check the Weather

Siri has the ability to check the weather for you with results provided by Yahoo.com. It's great for a quick update of the current temperature, or if it's going to rain tomorrow, but it doesn't provide much more than that. Luckily, Siri can also pull search results from WolframAlpha's immense "Computational Knowledge Engine". The ways you can use WolframAlpha are endless, but it's weather information is some of the best out there, all you have to do is know how to ask.

How to do it

The trick to getting results from WolframAlpha is to enable Siri and say "Wolfram" before your question. For the weather say something like "Wolfram, weather forecast for Portland Oregon". Siri will then pull up a long sheet full of useful information.

It has your typical temperature and wind speed, but also adds relative humidity, dew point and even a quick description of the cloud cover. Where it really shines though is in the presentation of the forecast data itself. The weather history and forecast for the last three days and future three days are presented in a neat graph showing the fluctuating temperature and expected cloud cover throughout the day. Also precipitation rate if it's currently raining. Further down you'll find historical temperatures for the location you asked Siri about. A search for Portland, Oregon displayed recorded high and low temperatures as far back as 1975. Additionally it provides the lowest and highest temp for the current day in history, as well as the average high and average low.

There are a few more interesting pieces of information here like sun azimuth, station elevation and if the sun is above the horizon or not. It is an incredible amount of information that you don't even need to download another weather app for.

Maps in iOS 6

From the iOS 6 release notes as reported by AppleInsider.

Registering as a routing app gives you more opportunities too get your app in front of users. Routing apps are not limited to just driving or walking directions. Routing apps can also include apps that provide directions for the user’s favorite bicycle or hiking trail, for air routes, and for subway or other public transportation lines.” It goes on to say that Maps “knows about routing apps in the App Store,” and will provide users with the option to download those applications for directions even if they are not already installed on that particular device.

— Appleinsider

I hope developers take advantage of this. There are some handy transit maps on the AppStore.

The Nike Fuel Band

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The Nike+ Fuel Band

Watches used to be popular, I had worn one since I was a little kid and continued to until about 5 years ago. I didn’t stop wearing one because it wasn’t useful. I stopped because I started carrying something that already had the time displayed. My phone. And now many of us pull our phones out of our pocket click a button to light up the screen, then put it away. For me that movement has become almost as efficient as twisting my wrist up to look at the face of a watch. With that, there would have to be a good reason for me strap a watch back on. I had hoped the Nike+ FuelBand would be that watch.

The Band

The Nike+ FuelBand is a highly anticipated watch that is designed to monitor, record, and display your activity data throughout the day. You just put it on and the built in accelerometer tracks your every movement and uses a special custom algorithm to calculate what they call Fuel Points. These points tell you how active you were during your day. The watch has a few more tricks though, you also get a pedometer and calories burned count to go along with the Fuel Band’s crazy led display. Oh, and the current time of course.

I don’t want to write something that talked about each of the features of the Fuel Band in detail. There are plenty of other articles that do that, check out this article from The Verge. I just want to put my thoughts out there for how the watch worked for me.

Impressions

I was most excited when I got home from work and plugged it in. The watch’s 20 led display lit up and pulsed with a unique glow I had never seen from a wrist watch. It’s like something out of the future. At least the look of it. Once it was charged I used the Nike+ website to set up which wrist I wore it on, my height and weight, and how many Fuel Points I wanted as a goal for the day. I started at an ambitious 3000. After that I connected it via Bluetooth to my iPhone so the Fuel Band app could track my progress throughout the day. Easy.

Then. Well, I wore the band for over a week, and the longer I wore it the more I became dissatisfied. It’s not comfortable. The watch is a fixed hard plastic band with a smooth rubber coating that’s nice to the touch but doesn’t bend with your movements. Could just be my boney wrists but I was constantly aware that it was strapped on. I first tried a medium sized one but it was too big and felt like a woman’s bracelet (which just wouldn’t do). Then I had it replaced with a small and it fit well unless I became active when it would dig into my wrist. It comes with extra links to customize the fit but no combination seemed to work for me.

But the fit of the band wasn’t what really made me dissatisfied. It was what the Fuel Band was meant to do and what, in my opinion, was reality. The idea of Fuel Points is interesting, you earn points video game style for real physical effort. It’s all tracked with the app and on your Nike+ account online. Viewing these stats will give you some insight into how you spent your day. You can look back and see when you were most active, or, when you just laid there like a cat in a sunny window. But, at least to me, this only served to “gamify” your activities without providing anything truly useful. Accuracy really seems to be an issue, especially for those that talk with their hands, or drive in anything but a Cadillac. Every movement is registered, maybe not exactly as a FuelPoint, but each minute twitch of your arm is eventually added to your total daily score. Look at Day 2 below and you will see what I mean.

Let me be clear, the Fuel Band is not an all bad product. But it does cost $150. And at that price, from a company like Nike, combined with the promise of accuracy, I would expect more. The market for fitness products is huge, and many are trying to get a piece of it. Nike’s offering with the Fuel Band is unique but not incredibly useful. The design is beautiful, but not comfortable. If you are a runner and don’t mind the accuracy issues then it might give you some insight into your day as a whole, and how your run impacts your overall activity level. But if you work out in a way that doesn’t make you swing your arms then you will want to look elsewhere for something to track yourself.

Final Word

If you don’t mind the price and you want something fun to monitor your day then it could be for you. Just make sure you are ok with the comfort. For $150 just know that you can buy a heart rate monitor + GPS watch combo that will probably be more useful. As for myself, the watch has been returned and the refund is in my account.

Day one

  • Wore on right wrist
  • 3000 fuel point goal, earned 3525 for the day
  • Went to the gym with trainer (weight training)
  • Worked a regular desk job day
  • 1114 calories burned
  • 9187 steps taken, seems like a lot, will compare to iPod nano tomorrow
  • Noticed that steps were counted while typing at the computer and driving a car
  • Medium may be too big
  • iPhone app animations are really good (they get redundant quickly)
  • iPhone app could use finer graph design to better show specific activity results
  • Social stuff is not useful at all

Day Two

This day I counted the amount of points earned for specific activities throught the day.

  • Wore on right wrist
  • Wake up and shower = 177 points
  • Brushing teeth and rinse = 26 points
  • Shaving - blade razor = 26 points
  • Drive to work- 25 miles = 43 points
  • Medium too big, exchanging for small
  • 2:47 pm. At desk most of the day earned 1379 points so far.
  • Drive home - 25 miles = 186 points
  • Pound metal posts in backyard = 552 points
  • Walk dog - 1.5 miles = 300 points
  • End of day steps
    • Fuel Band 9790
    • iPod Nano 6398
    • 3414 points total for the day

The Nifty MiniDrive

Sometimes you find something that is such a good idea you can't believe it hadn't been thought of before. That's the case with the Nifty MiniDrive currently being funded on Kickstarter. I found this because of a tweet by Matthew Rex. After watching the video and seeing what the drive did, I had to back it. It was just to clever.

It's actually a simple concept, the SD card reader on your Mac works fine, but the card sticks out, getting in the way. The Nifty MiniDrive allows a Micro SD card to work in the same slot through an adapter that sits flush with the edge of the computer when pushed in. Genius. The idea is that you can use this extra space like a built-in hard drive for photos and video, or even a Time Machine backup. Almost whatever you want really, Micro SD cards are being sold at capacities of 64GB. I backed the project, their goal was $11,000, and as of today they are at $132,030 with 24 days ago.

Such a brilliant idea.