Google SMS: my latest show-and-tell

I pretty consistently have some technology product/service that I think is cool that I evangelize and show off to anyone and everyone that I meet. A couple of weeks ago, it was Google Earth. Five years ago (give or take) it was my home WiFi network, back in 1996 when I was living in Washington D.C. and working for American Management Systems it was my Palm III organizer (back in the US Robotics days, before 3com and everything else that has followed). For a while recently it was Lookout (and Google Desktop and X1, but mostly Lookout since it’s what I use the most).

The thing I’ve been show-and-telling most recently is Google SMS. I use SMS a fair bit, the most when I’m out of the country or when Shonali is out of the country — so I’m pretty good with text entry using T9 and I love everything about the user interface on my Nokia cell phone (including how it learns proper nouns in my ‘vocabulary’ that weren’t built into its dictionary — I should write about my love of my Nokia 6610 another time). So I’ve known about Google SMS for a while, but I only recently started using it. It’s great. No more 411 and it does a whole lot more. I was in San Jose on Wednesday of this week and on my way to a meeting, I decided I needed some coffee — I punched in the zipcode for where I was (I had it because I had just checked into my hotel and it was on the receipt) and ‘starbucks’ and I instantly got a list of all the nearby locations. I was parked at a Starbucks within about 2 minutes. Likewise, I’ve used it to get restaurant numbers, movie showtimes, and more. It just works. Now it certainly has it’s limitations. There’s no interactivity and the response time between input and output isn’t that great (again, not Google’s fault — it’s just about the way SMS works). This just means I have to know exactly what I’m looking for. Text entry can also be difficult for some people, so those people will continue to use 411’s voice-based technology. Also, for someone whose not done any serious sms’ing, I’d imagine the menus might seem esoteric for a query response sequence.

I’ve also briefly tried Google’s richer XHTML based portal for mobile devices (, I think) and it improves on a lot. Again, like their SMS product, the results of this product are extremely well suited to the target device (which translates to “it just works!” in terms of user reaction). You can iterate more with your queries on this device, though the Cingular Edge Treo 650 that I tried it on was still laggier than I had hoped. I could search Google Local for a restaurant or a restaurant category and not only get a phone number and address, but I got a map (that I could zoom in and out of) and the ability to get driving directions. Similarly, I could look up movie times and more. I didn’t have enough time to use it in real life, but I could tell that there was quite a bit of promise behind the concept.

Google SMS is great, if you can get the hang of using SMS, I predict it will be invaluable to you.

Just getting to ‘e’ for ebay

I have had about 200MB and 45,000 e-mail messages marked as SPAM sitting up on our company mail servers from the past couple of months. While most of them are actually SPAM, some could be actual messages that never made it through so I’m sitting down today to go through the painstaking process of filtering out the good messages and deleting the rest. Luckily, our SPAM filters are relatively good and I’m mostly deleting messages. I just hit ‘e’ and boy do a lot of spammers masquerade their SPAM messages as ebay emails!

switched to cable modem

About 2 weeks ago, I switched from DSL to cable modem and my connection is much, much faster now. It mostly just makes a difference when I’m pulling down large files. I’m not sure why I couldn’t get more out of my DSL connection… I think it might have had something to do with my distance from my nearest CO (central office). I know that I wasn’t eligible for SBC-Yahoo’s premium service for this reason.

iTunes everywhere

So I’ve been thinking about this ever since I bought a new wide screen Dell Ultrasharp LCD monitor and integrated speaker for the PC downstairs: wouldn’t it be cool if the 100 or so CDs that I have ripped to my iMac upstairs were available everywhere in the house? The only thing preventing it was the fact that iTunes’s built-in sharing feature would only permit sharing between computers on the same subnet. So I actually spent the time to reconfigure the two routers that provide network connectivity between the apartment upstairs and the house downstairs so now they’re on the same subnet and voila… iTunes everywhere. It’s pretty cool… The stereo for the speakers on the patio and by the pool are immediately below the apartment (which is where the iMac is) so nowadays when we are out by the pool, I just drag one of the laptops down there and wirelessly share music from the iMac upstairs to iTunes on the laptop downstairs. What we used to do was sync some music to the iPod Shuffle and then hook that up to the stereo downstairs.

Now I’m thinking about getting some appliances — like the Roku Soundbridge — that will eliminate the need for a laptop or a PC in between. I wonder if the iTunes SDK could enable a plug-in for Beyond Media for iTunes? I would LOVE that.

Google web accelerator causes IMAIL web-based e-mail to fail

I discovered something interesting… I occasionally check e-mail on my company e-mail address through IMAIL’s web-based e-mail client. Recently, from the computer downstairs at my house it hasn’t worked and today I figured out why. I have the Google Web Accelerator installed on this computer and somehow it prevents IMAIL’s web-based e-mail client from working correctly. Is there anything out there that fixes this problem in Google’s web accelerator? Is it a known bug (or is there a similar class of bugs that’s known)?

No high-res data for Monroe, LA in Google Earth

I was hyping Google Earth to my brother-in-law and sister last night as I drove them back from the airport and when we got home I pulled it up and punched in the address for their new home in Monroe, Louisiana. No high-res data! I wonder how Google Earth determines which areas they store high-res data for and which ones they don’t — seems logical that they would use something like population density. I would have thought that they’d simply have the entire United States covered. However they determine that, I don’t like hyping something only to fall flat on my face when I go to demo. Curse you Google Earth!! 🙂

If anyone’s curious about why they are moving to Monroe, it’s because my brother-in-law has recently taken a job with CenturyTel.

Disposable video camera from CVS: follow-up

I finished off the remaining video footage on the “disposable” video camera that Anu bought from CVS and dropped it off at a nearby CVS just before lunch. After lunch, I swung by the same CVS and was disappointed by two things: 1) they tagged me with a charge of another $12.95 (+tax) for the DVD (?!?) and “processing” and 2) the quality of the video on the DVD was seriously lackluster. I shouldn’t have expected much better, but the net-net is that definitely wasn’t worth $45. I still love the hardware and the simplicity of the model, it’s so well contained as a product:
1) buy/rent some inexpensive and simple hardware
2) have fun using it to record video and then
3) hand-off to someone and get a DVD back.

I didn’t have to mess with any firewire / USB cables, I didn’t have to think about video qualities to save to the DVD, etc. It just worked, it was foolproof. So I like the idea, I like the hardware, but the final product was expensive and low-quality.

a different approach to evangelism?

A note to Robert Scoble: I know it’s the evangelist thing to do to talk up announcements (early morning ones at that!) but maybe that’s not the best approach. Maybe a better approach is to let announcements and releases speak for themselves, ie underpromise, overdeliver. In the blogosphere, announcements and releases speak for themselves (and then some!) and all you do by over-hyping things is set yourself up for a fall, especially when you are Mr. Microsoft. But the bigger thing here is that hype like this makes it sound like you’re trying too hard, like you need other people’s confirmation of your ideas. What a company really needs to be successful is a strong internal compass pointing the way and with this, I believe, evangelism becomes the human voices to communicate what the compass is saying (yes, it’s a talking compass :)). I had a similar feeling about the hype around the Microsoft RSS announcement made at Gnomedex. When people figure stuff out why something is meaningful on their own, they understand it a lot better and you can create self-propagating evangelism/buzz. But anyhow, we’ll see what the response is like to the big announcement on Monday.

And, as an aside, is it just me or does a 6am PDT announcement seem nuts? I know, I know, it’s probably so that the news coincides with the opening of the stock market, but I’m assuming the buzz that you’re trying to generate here isn’t buzz on wall street. Steve says press releases are dead but I’m not even going that far. I’m just saying that when you’re making an announcement that you want people in the tech world to get excited about, 6am might not be an ideal time.

Disposable video camera from CVS, $29.99

On the way back from the airport after picking up my niece, nephew and sister, we passed a CVS near my house. The digital marquis outside the store was advertising a disposable video camera on their digital marquis. A disposable video camera?!

So when Anu, my sister, was in Monroe on Wednesday she picked one up to try it out and take some video of their new house (they are in the process of moving from Denver, CO to Monroe, LA). Anu got back to Houston today and I’m checking the thing out and it’s AWESOME. What a great product.

* 20 minutes of video
* little unit that fits comfortably in one hand
* nice full color LCD that serves as the viewfinder
* only four buttons on the thing — on/off, playback (you can playback the last clip you recorded), a record button and a delete button (presumably, you can delete the last clip).
* you return the thing to CVS and they give you a DVD with the video on it, presumably with chapter points at the beginning of each segment.
* I think the cost of “processing” and the DVD is included in the $29.99

Anu just handed the thing to me and asked me to finish off the last 10 minutes of video for her and I love this product, I can think of all kinds of uses for it. It’s only a matter of time before these things are all over weddings, being used in businesses for field visits and more.

Hey pt, how long before you hack one of these?? The LCD on this thing is great. I’m sure you can think of all kinds of cool uses for it.

Update: I’m behind the curve. Someone’s already hacked this thing.