Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


MarineTraffic.com – Live Ships Map

Posted by Andrew at 4:40 AM on May 17, 2011

MarineTraffic.com is a live map showing the location of shipping of 299 GT (gross tonnage) or over. Sounds boring but in fact it’s a totally awesome mashup of data. You can zoom into your local coast and see what’s pottering about or you can follow a ship in the news and see what’s happening to it.

Here’s what’s going on in the English Channel:

Here are the ships waiting to go through the Panama Canal.

You can also follow ships that are in the news. Here’s the MSC Opera which lost power in the Baltic and the tug Svitzer Trym in attendance. If you click on a ship you can get further details, including the speed and pictures of the vessel.

Finally, here’s one of the UK’s latest warships undergoing trials. HMS Dragon is a Type 45 destroyer.

There are additional clients for iPhone and Android users. And if you want to get notifications of what your favourite boats are doing, you can sign up for alerts and notifications.

Great resource if you want to see what’s going on, especially if you have a sea view and you want to know what’s floating past.

Magellan Partners with AAA, Upgrading GPS to Travel Guide

Posted by Andrew at 11:16 PM on February 8, 2011

Looking back, the conversion of GPS from a military weapon to a ubiquitous consumer gadget is one of the defining technologies of the last twenty years and Magellan has been at the forefront of GPS technology since 1986, so it knows a thing or two about getting from A to B. Andy McCaskey gets some pointers on the direction of the GPS market from William Strand, Senior Product Manager for Magellan.

William demos the new Magellan RoadMate 9055, which is a tablet-style GPS with a 7″ screen, real-time traffic info and Bluetooth, a new generation of larger GPS units which go beyond just navigation and become travel guides. Magellan have exclusively partnered with AAA to include their TourBook guides in the RoadMate, giving ratings for places to visit, eat and stay. Available now for a penny shy of $300.

To finish, Andy and William discuss the relative merits of dedicated GPS devices versus GPS-enabled smartphones. Watch the video to find out what they think.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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OnStar Available For Other Vehicles, Not Just GM

Posted by Andrew at 1:21 AM on January 26, 2011

OnStar has been fitted to GM vehicles for 15 years now and has been a success from the start – there are now over 6 million subscribers worldwide. During this time, GM have often been asked to retrofit OnStar to other vehicles but that hasn’t been possible…until now. From this spring, the OnStar hardware will be available from Best Buy (and other retailers) for $299.  Installation by qualified professionals is recommended.

If you are not familiar with OnStar, it’s a safety, security and communication service all rolled together. One of the useful features is automatic crash response which will summon assistance if you are unfortunate enough to be in a crash. Let’s hope you never have to use it.

If you want to check if your car is suitable, whether it’s an Audi or Toyota, there will be list of approved vehicles at OnStar.com when it goes on sale.

Interview by Jeffery Powers from Geekazine.com.

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Where Are You & What’s Around You?

Posted by tomwiles at 1:24 PM on January 21, 2011

One of the most useful features/services of today’s smartphones is the ability to take advantage of the integrated GPS chip in combination with an always-on data connection, facilitating location-aware apps.

Priced at $1.99, “Allstays Truck & Travel” is an app that is available for Apple iOS and Google Android. It’s part of a larger suite of different types of location-aware mapping apps available at http://www.allstays.com/apps/.

The “Allstays Truck & Travel” app concentrates on showing locations for truck stops, truck scales, truck dealerships, truck washes, low clearance overpasses, Walmart locations, public rest areas and other places with truck parking.

The list of data points of interest seems reasonably complete, and the producer of the app seems to encourage as much user feedback as possible.

One potentially useful feature of the app is the ability to set up automatic alarms to give notification when one is within so many miles of an upcoming exit with specific types of favorited business.

Lost in Las Vegas?

Posted by Andrew at 9:55 AM on January 4, 2011

If you are overwhelmed by CES and feeling a bit lost in Las Vegas then break out your trusty iPhone and download the free Audi Las Vegas Navigator from Navigon

Courtesy of Navigon and Audi, the Las Vegas Navigator provides precise turn-by-turn directions, lane guidance and helps find hotels, restaurants, airports and famous Vegas landmarks. It also connects with real-time information services such as Google Local Search, Weather Live and has in-app connections to Facebook and Twitter. Whether you are flying in, driving or on foot, the Navigator will give you the directions you need.

“CES visitors have tight schedules and need to get around the event quickly. Audi and Navigon have come together to guide them around Las Vegas stress-free and in style with a premium navigation app,” said Gerhard Mayr, vice-president worldwide mobile phones & new markets.

Using Navteq maps for Las Vegas and Nevada, the Audi Las Vegas Navigator converts your iPhone into a superb personal navigation device for simple route planning and then easy-to-follow guidance when you are on the road.  Other features include Reality View Pro which shows photo-realistic 3D views of the actual road, signs and exits; and Navigon MyRoutes which analyses driving habits, patterns and the current environment to provide up to three possible routes with ETA, distance and driving times for each of them.

So if you are at CES and need a bit of help getting around, the Audi Las Vegas Navigator by Navigon is available free from the App Store for a limited time.

Smartphone Interfaces and Uses

Posted by tomwiles at 1:00 AM on October 15, 2010

If today’s smartphones are as powerful as our desktop machines were 5 years ago, the question emerges – why do smartphones have all of these apps written for them, whereas traditional desktop and laptop computers usually have a much smaller number of more generalized, less specialized programs installed?

Compared to the traditional laptop or desktop computer, the smartphone is with the user much more of the time. The smartphone has built-in location awareness, which the typical full-fledged computer does not have.

The smartphone has a very different interface than the full-fledged computer, dictated by its pocket form factor. That pocket form factor dictates a different interface interaction that demands bits and pieces of software to make specific uses easier. Because of always-on Internet access, smartphones can easily pull just the data they need instantly on demand for very specific purposes.

Here’s what can be surmised about the ideal future smartphone devices:

Ultimately, it’s a phone slash computer that fits into a pocket with an always-on connection to the Internet. The touch screen should be as large as possible, but still be able to fit into a shirt pocket. The battery life should be as good as possible. The memory should be as large as possible, the Internet access should be as fast and as reliable as possible. The processing, camera and phone performances should be as good as possible. The device should contain all of the current popular consumer wireless protocols. Overall the device should be as light as possible, and be as rugged and durable as possible.

In short, the smartphone should be able to do everything we expect, and do it well. Surprisingly, some of these devices are getting closer to meeting some of these ideals.

Tune In

Posted by tomwiles at 11:56 PM on October 9, 2010

The most useful computer is the one in your pocket.

What really makes any computer useful is the software that you are able to run on it.

When I was a kid in the early 1960’s, one evening my Dad brought home a battery-operated AM transistor radio. I was immediately transfixed. That simple AM radio and I were inseparable. That was the start of my interest in technology and gadgets.

When podcasts came along, I stopped listening to conventional radio back in late 2004. Podcast listening is a much more efficient experience.

Can conventional radio listening be made into a more effective, efficient experience?

The answer? Yes it can. “Tune In” available for free from the Android Marketplace turns your phone into the most effective, amazing radio tuner/playback device you’ve never had.

Want to “Tune In” to local stations? Tune In knows where you are, thanks to your phone’s built-in GPS chip. You are instantly able to pick from all sorts of local radio station streams.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Want to listen to a particular song? Type a song or artist name into the search box, and Tune In will present you with a variety of stations currently playing that artist or song.

Select stations based on radio genre, music genre, or geographic location. In fact, find stations broadcasting from virtually anywhere in the world.

“Tune In” turns your Android phone into a powerful radio capable of searching and tuning in to thousands of conventional radio stations that are broadcasting from across the world.

“Tune In” certainly isn’t the first app to present streaming radio stations. However, “Tune In” does a great job of presenting streaming stations in a format that can capture one’s imagination on a truly portable pocket playback device that is connected to the world 24/7.

I can only imagine if I were a kid today and had access to a smartphone…

DIY Weather Balloon Video

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 6, 2010

Over at How It Works there’s a short story about a father and his two children sending up a weather balloon to 19 miles with a video camera on-board.  The camera records all of the ascent and all but 2 minutes of the descent – the battery runs out!

It takes the Geissbuhler family eight months of planning and it’s a great testimony to what can be achieved by enthusiasts.  It certainly helps that the miniaturisation of technology has allowed GPS and hi-res video cameras to be encapsulated in tiny devices such as mobile phones.  However, this shouldn’t take away from their achievements.  Here’s the video.

Problems With Google Maps Directions

Posted by Alan at 7:18 PM on August 6, 2010

There are a lot of mapping sites out there.  Mapquest was probably the king, but I think it’s safe to assume Google has taken over the mantel.  Is that a good thing?  I thought so, since I, like many others, am living in the Google-verse these days.  And, consolidating my mapping needs into that simplifies my life a little bit more.

Now, I am not so sure, though.

It began last year when I printed out directions to Shenandoah National Park on the eve of a hiking and camping trip my son and I were taking.  In fairness there was only one error and, although it was glaring, that isn’t enough to convict them on.  Thankfully, it was also painfully obvious.  We were coming up on a double interstate exit – you know, those ones that are distinguished by “A” and “B”?  The highway exit sign said to follow “B” for Shenandoah, but the printout from Google said “A”.  Against my better judgment, and like a good Google lemming, I took “A”.

It was wrong, of course.  Thankfully, I knew right away since there was another turn listed within a quarter of a mile and it wasn’t there.  I was able to turn around and follow the road signs with no problem.

Soon after that incident Verizon was forced, by a court, to open their phone GPS to third-parties.  No longer could they require the use of VZ Navigator for $9.99 per month.  I was now able to use Google Maps!  And I installed it right away.

Now, Google Maps has a lot of to offer.  Not only directions and GPS, but all sorts of “layers” can be added that can show traffic, gas stations, restaurants, rest areas, and all sorts of stuff.

But, last week I took my wife and kids to Hershey Park and bad Google Maps memories came back to me.  We were close to Hershey – an easy two hour drive from my home, but getting to the park itself was not something I had down in my head.  No problem.  I pulled out my phone, punched in my starting location as “current location”, put in Hershey Park as my destination, and a map and directions instantly materialized on my screen.  I was in business.

And…it got us there.  We took a nice tour of the town of Hershey along the way, though!  Including, early on, passing by a street that we (much) later ended our trip on.

The good news is that Bing also has mapping software for my phone that works with it’s GPS.  I have heard good things about the Bing app as well.  We are taking another trip in a couple of weeks and I will be trying it out.  I figure it can’t do worse.

Smart Phone Critical Mass

Posted by tomwiles at 4:34 PM on July 12, 2010

The smartphone is a concept and an evolving device that has been around for a few years, though until now mass consumer adoption has been slow.

The introduction of the iPhone in June 2007 marked a radical improvement in smartphone interface design, usability and device capabilities. The iPhone caused a big upheaval in the then somewhat sleepy cell phone market. Even though the iPhone was an instant hit and unquestionably successful product, Apple’s choice of tying the iPhone exclusively to AT&T in the United States likely slowed the pace of faster smartphone adoption. In a way, this slowing of smartphone adoption has been good because it has allowed carriers to beef up their networks in the interim.

Google entered the smartphone market announcing Android in November of 2007. Initial implementations of Android-powered devices demonstrated promise, but it has taken a while for Android itself to be improved, and smartphone manufacturers such as HTC and Motorola to come up with highly-desirable devices that take full advantage of Android’s evolving and and advanced features and capabilities.

We are now in July of 2010. The iPhone 4 has been introduced. Alongside the iPhone 4, highly-desirable and functional devices such as the HTC Evo 4G, Droid Incredible , Droid X, and other Android-powered devices have either arrived or are shortly to come on the market. Now there’s suddenly a new problem – all of these devices are in short supply, and manufacturers such as HTC are scrambling to ramp up production to meet the demand that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Where did all of this smartphone demand come from? There are several pieces of the marketplace puzzle that have finally come together all at the same time. The new smartphone devices are finally at a point where they are highly usable. Multiple competing cell networks are finally at a point where data connectivity and speed make them usable. Also, millions of consumers over the past few years have become intimately familiar with “dumb” phone models that have had smartphone-like features embedded into them, such as integrated cameras, limited Internet browsing, gaming, text messaging and GPS functionality. They make regular use of these features, and are ready to move up to better devices with larger screens.

The smartphone has reached critical mass and is ready to continue the march towards maturation. Smartphones are becoming a very mainstream product. People who a few years ago would have never considered any phone labeled with the smartphone moniker are now readily embracing the new devices.

As a result of this mass consumer adoption of the smartphone that’s now underway, the market for highly-specialized smartphone apps will continue to explode to a degree in the future we might consider surprising even today. Multiple millions of consumers have millions of different needs and expectations. This exploding smartphone app market lends itself to the development of highly specialized niche applications.

Virtually any type of personal or industrial use a computer can be put to can likely also be done with a specialized app running on a modern smartphone. One tiny example of this is already in use is the area of automotive diagnostics. For many years, automotive technicians have used laptop computers in conjunction with special software connected via a cable to an automotive diagnostic port to onboard vehicle computers. Such software already exists for the iPhone to be used in place of a laptop computer, able to replace the cable connection with a Bluetooth connection. Imagine this realized potential multiplied a million times and you catch a glimpse of the future potential for smartphone apps and the uses these devices can and will be put to.