Google Music

Once a pon a time a number of years ago I went through a period of several years where I spent a fair amount of money on compact discs. Those days are long gone and have been for some time.

It’s probably just my age showing more than anything, but in recent years I lost interest in finding new music. I stopped listening to the radio the better part of ten years ago. When I did listen to music, it was to the old stuff.

To my surprise, I’ve become more interested in listening again. There’s a genre of music I paid scant attention to in the past called “electronic” that has caught my ear in the past couple of months. Mind you, not enough to start shelling out money for CD’s or even MP3’s, but these days that isn’t necessary. The “electronic” category of music is not for everyone. It is created with synthesizers and some of the sounds are very aggressive; some people would consider them noise. To my surprise, I’m really enjoying listening to this stuff — not enough to buy the music outright, but enough to pay to have access.

Google Music is currently offering a 30 day free trial. The price after the free trial is $7.99 per month if you lock it in by subscribing before the June 30 expiration date. The regular subscription price is $10 dollars per month.

I subscribed to the free offer, and so far I like it. I searched for the names of some of the electronic artists such as Hardwell and Armin van Buuren. I was easily able to figure out how to start the “radio” feature, which is initiated from a particular song. Once tracks started playing, I gave many of them a “thumbs up” if I really liked them and a few tracks a “thumbs down” if I didn’t like them. Google Music seems to do a great job of figuring out what I like over time.

Google Music claims to offer access to millions of tracks. A few experimental searches seems to indicate that they do offer a broad selection of both new and back catalog tracks.

You can download any track to your device by adding it to your library. I didn’t read the terms of service, but I’m sure once you cancel any downloaded music will go away once you stop paying the rent.

Renting access to music is actually a great idea if you want to casually listen, but don’t want to spend a fortune doing it.

Apple Customer Service ROCKS!

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A while back, I was on travel in LA with Ford and had an issue with my old Macbook that I use as my travel machine. The Macbook I have is an early 2008 white plastic macbook which I bought in mid 2008. That is almost 5 years ago! The problem I had is the caps-lock key was stuck on. That doesn’t sound like much of a problem. It’s a major problem if you can’t log in because your password has all lower case letters. I was able to login using an external keyboard and then disable the caps lock in the software. The problem was I couldn’t logout or reboot because it reset that setting.

So, today I was thinking that I needed to get the keyboard replaced. I called my local Apple Authorized service dealer, City Mac in Traverse City Michigan.. After I gave them the serial number, they informed me that Apple has a “program” where they will replace the Top Case (including the keyboard) on any white macbook that is less then 5 years old.

I took my machine in at 3:30pm today (I also took my Dad’s Macbook which had a simular problem and was bought at the same time) and they just called me (at 6:30pm) and said that both macbooks were ready to go and no charge!!

So, if you have a White Plastic Macbook, and you have keyboard problems, check with your local Apple Store or Apple service dealer to see if they can be replaced for free.

Now that this is done, I am thinking of doing a SSD drive replacement on it to keep my old machine going another few years. Tom Wiles (another GNC Writer) did that with his a while back and loves it.

Ring for Service with Wirelesswaiting

WirelessWaiting LogoIn my experience of eating out, it’s all too frequent for the waiting staff to disappear once the main course has been cleared away. By the time a waiter or waitress does eventually re-appear, any desire for dessert or coffee has gone and all I want is the bill. Not only has my evening been spoilt, the restaurant has lost money that I might otherwise have spent with them.

Wireless Call ButtonRecently, I was dining at Olio in Belfast and this restaurant seems to have found a solution to the problem with Wirelesswaiting. On each table, there was a small call button to alert staff that attention was required and I found the system worked well. Perhaps the best example was when ordering. Rather than the staff checking to see if we were ready to order and having to go away when we weren’t, once everyone was ready, we pressed the button and a waiter appeared within seconds. Also, when we needed some more drinks, again a quick press of the button and the waiter was back.

I contacted Wirelesswaiting for more information on the product and I was surprised at how inexpensive it really was. A 32-button receiver is £500 ($775) and each wireless button itself is £40 ($60). Obviously installation is straightforward, with only a power socket required for the receiver, as the wireless call buttons are battery powered. From their experience, customer spend typically increases by around 10% and Wirelesswaiting points out that this additional spend is usually on high margin items such as drinks, teas-and-coffees and desserts.

Obviously, this isn’t a perfect panacea as inattentive staff will always be inattentive staff and I suspect that I would be an even more annoyed customer if when I pressed the bell, no-one appeared. Overall though, it seemed to be a good idea that improved the dining experience. Apparently these systems are commonplace in Asia but this was the first time I’d seen the system in the UK so it will be interesting to see if it appears in more restaurants and diners. I can also imagine applications in other service areas, such spas, clubhouses, nursing homes and hospitals.

TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

I recently ended up purchasing a TomTom GO 2535M Live portable 5” widescreen GPS unit at a Best Buy store. With tax, the total price ended up being just under $300 dollars.

For the past 6 years or so, I’ve had a Garmin C550 with a 3.5” touch screen that is hard drive based. Since I drive a truck over-the-road, the Garmin has been running almost 24/7 for those six years, taking very high amounts of what can often be severe jolts and vibration along with occasional extreme heat and cold. I’ve paid to update the maps in the C550 about three times, but I’m reluctant to pay to update the maps again since I really don’t know how much useful life the hardware, particularly the unit’s hard drive, has left in it. For the time being, the aging Garmin is still working so I’m using it side-by-side with the new TomTom unit.

In my experience the perfect GPS unit has yet to be sold. Each brand has it’s strength and weaknesses. I’m including in this software-based solutions such as Google Navigation, Telenav, etc. that frequently comes bundled with Android or other smartphones. Maps used in GPS devices have improved dramatically, but they are accurate only about 90% of the time, and this includes Google itself. As a truck driver I’m looking for new addresses on average about two to three times a day, sometimes more and sometimes less. About 10% of the time I run into errors, sometimes with the potential to cause catastrophe – think narrow streets, weight-restricted bridges, etc.

Right after I bought the TomTom I had to go to a cold storage in Chicago, Illinois that the TomTom could not find, but the Garmin could. It turns out the street had been given two names with dual street signs, one below the other. The TomTom could find what was probably the original numbered street name, but not the other, which was a woman’s name the city was obviously trying to honor. At that point I was unhappy with the TomTom’s performance, but decided to continue to give it a longer chance before rushing into a knee-jerk judgment of the device or its software. The TomTom redeemed itself later that day by warning me around a 15-mile-long traffic backup in northern Indiana on I-65 which ended up saving me hours of sitting waiting for a major accident to be cleared and the road opened back up.

The TomTom is different than the Garmin. TomTom has a different way of doing things. The GO 2535M Live is a fairly sophisticated device. It even has a full-time GSM data connection to the TomTom server with the ability to do real-time Google searches, either locally or in other locations, get live traffic and weather updates, and do real-time rerouting to avoid traffic problems. Though the unit has free lifetime map updates from TomTom and a year’s worth of live “HD” traffic and weather updates, the live “HD” traffic and weather update service is just under $60 per year. Once you create an account at TomTom.Com you can sign in to your account with the unit itself. Incidentally, I’m willing to pay $60 dollars per year for accurate, up-to-the-minute traffic and weather information. That type of information can end up saving a lot of time and trouble as long as it’s presented as soon as it becomes available. The unit can even accurately display areas of traffic backups and slowdowns.

After I’d had the unit for about a week and a half, it was sitting on my dash and suddenly started going into a rebooting loop. Regardless of what I did, the unit would just keep rebooting. After a quick call to TomTom’s support number (I got right through to a live support person), they advised me to return the unit to Best Buy for an exchange since I was well within the 30-day exchange window. I’m pretty sure it must have been some sort of software/operating system error, since a few minutes before I had entered a new favorite location.

The replacement unit is working great. The TomTom rep gave me a reference number to call back with when I had the replacement unit so they could make the necessary changes to associate it with my existing account in their system, which I did.

There are much more expensive GPS units on the market (sold at truck stops) aimed specifically at truck drivers which look enticing, some of them priced up to 200% more than the units sold at a place like Best Buy or other big-box retailer. I talked to a driver that bought one of these very expensive trucker-specific GPS units. He said it was nice, but he didn’t feel the extra trucker-specific features were worth the substantially higher price he had to pay for the specialized unit.

It turns out feature I like the most so far is the ability to do Google searches in order to input destinations rather than go through the standard process. Other features I like are that that unit has enough room on its bright, high-resolution 5” widescreen to display my current speed, the current time with the time zone automatically updated, and speed limits with audible alerts if I’m going over the speed limit. It also has a lane assist feature which primarily warns if an upcoming exit is on the left or the right. Another useful, though not always consistent feature is that it can be set to announce upcoming points of interest such as rest areas and truck stops, along with virtually any other type of other business one can think of, including user-defined points of interest.

I am enjoying the TomTom GO 2535M Live. It’s not yet perfect, but with continued updates from the folks at TomTom I’m certain it can continue to improve.

GadgetTrak Remote Tracking Software For Mobile Gadgets

GadgetTrak is a piece of software that you install on your mobile phone or laptop. The software will periodically check in and let you know the physical location of the device. If a camera is present, for example on a laptop, it can even take a photo of the thief and email it back to the owner. The software cannot be disabled by the thief.

For a Mac or Windows laptop, the price is $34.95 per year.

For Android and Blackberry phones, which includes remote data wipe ability, secure encrypted backup and a loud piercing audible alarm even if the device is in silent mode, the price is $19.95 per year.

For iPhone, iPod, and iPad, the GadgetTrak app is .99 cents, The iOS version does not include remote data wipe, but does include remote camera and push notification support to inform the thief of the GadgetTrak software’s presence.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine.

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What Makes A Tech Success?

It seems in the world of computers and the Internet there is always a steady stream of new things on the horizon, as well as a steady stream of new products and services. It’s been this way for many years at this point.

There are always winners and losers. Winners can win big, and losers at worst fail to make any marketplace splash or even a ripple and end up in the tech dustbin of obscurity with few people ever knowing that the product or service ever existed.

What is it that makes for a successful product? Why is it that some products and services that seem very similar to other products and services end up becoming household names, while others end up being cancelled domain name landing pages?

It’s obvious there are a variety of factors that come into play. If it were easy to predict these things, we would have a lot fewer losers. Why did Twitter become a household name, whereas similar services such as Plurk and Jaiku languish in the shadows? What enabled Facebook to steal most of the MySpace thunder?

New products and services that end up being successful frequently incorporate elements and principles of previously-existing successes, but package them in more compact and useful forms.

Initially when Twitter came along a couple of years ago, I heard people talking about it, but I was a bit resistant to sign up. I felt like I had plenty of ways to communicate with people, so why did I need to add yet another account to a service that would steal away time I already had filled, only to ultimately let yet another account go dormant? I finally signed up for Twitter, and after I began using it I began to understand the value of it. With a service like Twitter, the more people that are using it, the more valuable it becomes.

About the same time I signed up for a Twitter account, I also signed up for a Plurk account. After a few visits to the Plurk website over a period of a month or two, I haven’t been back to the site since.

I believe what is valuable about Twitter is that 140 character limit per Tweet, forcing people to be succinct with their wording. Twitter and Tweet are cute names. The site design is simple, the blue bird logo pleasing to the eye, and the developers kept the API and name open to other developers, allowing an entire ecosystem of ancillary products and services to develop around it at the same time it was rapidly increasing in popularity. Twitter is very much like chat, which was already well established, but it had the added value that it either could be in real time, or not, able to be accessed from a vast array of devices beyond the Twitter website. Twitter also allows you to subscribe to just the people you want, and ignore or even completely block the rest. Twitter also allows you to reach out and touch people, and it allows you to monitor what others are up to whose lives are at once very similar to your own, yet often radically different. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish interacting with the service. Another thing that turned out to be incredibly useful with twitter is the vast 24/7 real-time data stream that it generates. Real-time Twitter data mining has proved to be quite valuable to many people.

To be honest I have always thought that many MySpace pages were often monstrous, unbelievably cluttered messes that often took a long time to load. Nonetheless, MySpace became popular because it obviously served a need with a younger demographic.

I’ve always thought Facebook’s interface is somewhat confusing, though allowing for far less cluttered and confusing-looking profile pages. I still don’t quite understand what got Facebook to the level of critical popularity – perhaps the less-cluttered, faster-loading profile pages gave it the critical edge over MySpace.

It should also be noted that Facebook allowed for an open API, allowing a myriad of interesting and often useful applications to be plugged in to its interface.

However it did it, Facebook managed to get to a critical mass of users where it became THE thing to sign up for and THE place to be to stay connected with family, friends and business associates. Something interesting has happened with Facebook that has never happened before – everyday, non-geek people who had never built website profiles in all the years they had been doing email and web browsing were suddenly signing up for Facebook in unbelievable numbers. Mothers, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, etc. were suddenly showing up on the same service with their kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Once the ball rolled, Facebook became an incredible success.

I started noticing a while back that many people were starting to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with each other in lieu of email. At this point I find myself getting pulled into that trend myself. These services don’t offer the relative privacy of direct email, but they allow for easy, frequent public conversations and easy sharing of personal media such as photos between friends and family on a global scale.

What I take away from the success stories versus the less-successful competitors is that oftentimes the differences in design and implementation can be slight, but those slight differences can offer real, tangible advantages to the end user. If those often-slight advantages can somehow help get the product or service to a critical mass threshold, they can find themselves catapulted to the point of planetary awareness.

Should You Pay For Content?

I was listening to a podcast where the hosts were chatting back and forth about the newly offered Hulu Plus, where for $10 dollars a month, you can get Hulu on a wide variety of devices including smart phones and over-the-top Internet TV boxes. Hulu is also offering a somewhat wider, but still incomplete back catalog archive of shows. One of the hosts was saying he wouldn’t pay for content, he wanted it “for free.”

Whether we realize it or not, we are all paying for content, either directly or indirectly. Even if we have only a TV antenna and watch only the local TV channels, we are still paying for content indirectly via advertising. When we buy consumer products of virtually any kind, part of what we pay goes for advertising, which pays for content creation.

If we are paying indirectly only, someone else is deciding for us as to the quality of the programming content. We can either consume that content or not, but we still pay as consumers buying products. We have very little indirect control over what gets put on the air. On the other hand, if we pay for content directly, then we have far greater control over the quality of the media we are consuming.

If Hulu can offer value for the money, then it will succeed What they have to do is figure out what people are willing to pay for. Perhaps that value revolves around putting highly-sought-after content on as many devices as possible. Perhaps it revolves around coming up with the absolute best back catalog of old TV shows. Imagine having instant streaming access to every TV show ever produced in every country in any language, and every movie ever produced anywhere in any language. Something like that would be well worth paying for. Imagine a site such as IMDB.Com that lists every movie and TV show ever made, except as a subscriber you could instantly stream it – now you’re talking. Hulu, anyone else out there – are you listening?

I personally would be willing to pay for a service such as Hulu, except for one small glitch. There are no back catalog shows on the site at the moment that really excite me. Network drama shows can sometimes be quite good, but my tastes are somewhat different.

When I had Dish Network, I was watching a few selected shows on only 3 channels – Discovery, TLC and History. I can get most of these shows if I really want them at some point via Netflix. To my way of thinking, Netflix is a much better value. Netflix has a far wider variety of content, plus they also offer the handy rental service of DVD’s and Blu-ray discs.

The verdict is currently out whether Hulu will be able to figure out what value it needs to best serve its customers. If people are paying Hulu money directly, then Hulu had better quickly figure out exactly what those customers want and do its best to deliver it to them.

Hey Hulu, here’s an idea to try. Offer first-run streaming movies, but do it the Hulu way. I would be willing to pay for a first run movie streaming for a nominal pay-per-view fee, say $5.99. Vudu is offering streaming first run movies, but you have to have a big fat Internet connection to be able to use Vudu. The Vudu service demands way more bandwidth than my Internet service can currently deliver.

Here’s yet another idea for Hulu – offer exclusive, Hulu-only content consisting of well-produced material revolving around the “Entertainment Tonight” type of concept. Do exclusive interviews of movie and TV stars. Do exclusive interviews of directors. Give people real value for their money. Make your customers want to not only see you succeed, but motivate them to help you succeed.

Have You Tried Google Labs

I have to admit I like to try new things and am willing to take the risk that it entails. Which is why I love Google Labs. The lab contains experiments that Google believe have potential, but are not ready to release to the general public yet. If you decide to use a lab product, you need to be aware that it is just that an experiment. It may not work perfectly and it can be pulled at anytime, without notification. How long somethings stays in the lab, varies by product, some products spend years in the lab, while others either die or are released quickly. Google Reader and iGoogle are just two of many graduates of Google Labs. There are some Google products that have their own labs, such as Google mail and Google calendar. There are a couple of ways to get to Google Lab, the first is if you are in a Google product, you will find it under the more label, when you click on even more. The direct url for Google labs is www.googlelabs.com.

One of the lab products that I have been using lately is called Google Squared, this is a great tool if you want to organize a category. For example I love to try different cheeses, from around the world. Right now I am trying various blue cheeses, too keep track of what I have and have not tried I used Google Squared to create this chart. Obviously this is just an example, you can create a chart about any category. This one of dozen of lab products you can try from the Google Lab. With the advent of the Google android platform there are some lab products that are specific to that platform. Also there are a few lab products that are OS specific, so before you try to use a lab product make sure its available for the browser and os you use.

The one complaint I have about Google labs is that sometimes the products stay in the lab so long, you forget that they can be pulled at anytime. The product become a part of people’s work flow and when they do get pulled, it can cause quite an uproar. It is important to remember that a lab product can be pulled at anytime, never make a lab product a critical part of your work flow. If it is part of your work flow, have something to replace it or be able to do the work flow without it. Do you use Google Labs, if so what your favorite product?

EduFire says it can help students learn and teachers make extra money

edufireA couple years ago, I talked with a friend who was a teacher. We put together an idea for a website to help teach. It never made it off the planning stages, but I knew something would eventually come along.

It’s hailed as the “eBay for teachers”.  EduFire is a site that has been around for a year and has over five thousand teachers creating hundreds of classes with over 30 thousand students. For $30 a month, you get a Superpass to all courses.

Teachers get a cut of all students that take their lessons. EduFire gets 85% commission. It’s not unlike a musician renting a practice room for lessons or a personal trainer for a Pilate session. A good teacher that gets hundreds of students per course could easily make some good extra cash.

But is it a quality education system?

With five thousand teachers and growing, you would have to keep up with the content being published. There seems to be no accreditation needed to teach or tutor. Sign up for an account and go.

There is a “Tutor score” to weed out the bad ones. 1-4 = minus 1 point, 5-6 = 0 points and 7-10 – 1 point.

Still, it might be a great place for your kid to get the extra help needed to pass the ACT, or improve an individual academic. It even looks like a place to help those kids who have English as a second language. The flash card section is also pretty interesting.

Bottom line – if your child is partaking in the course, keep an eye on it. Make sure they are not giving misinformation. If you are a teacher, it could be some good extra money, but make sure it’s not going to cause any problems with your regular job.

As for my friend, I am going to point her in this direction. It looks like everything we discussed a couple years ago. I think this will be right up her alley.

My first Librivox audiobook chapter recording

Electronic readers have been a hotbed as of late. Audio books are other ways to get the content on the go. Last week Google posted a bunch of open domain books, but did you know that there is also a service that lets you download open domain audio books?

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Audiobooks iPhone Application

A couple weeks ago I found out about Librivox.org – a place to go to get audio books in the open domain. For the last few years, volunteers have been reading chapters to these books. I was so impressed with the service, I decided to contribute to the service.

I went to the site, signed up for a chapter, read and submitted it. I chose a book on musical notation by Karl Gehrkins. The chapter was short, but challenging enough – I had to remember how to pronounce those latin words you see all the time in music. After all, Molto Dolce is not just a coffee.

If you have an iPhone, check out the application “Audiobooks”. You will find that there is a book for whatever you want to read. I just got done listening to “How to write and speak correctly”. Hopefully it shows in this article, but I think I will be going back over that book for items I may have missed.