Godspeed Commander Hadfield

Canadian astronaut, space enthusiast, educator, social media sensation, and now entertainer? Yep, those are just a sampling of the roles that Commander Chris Hadifeld fulfilled during his 146 day posting to the ISS as Station Commander.

His Soyuz capsule returns to Earth tomorrow evening, but as a last surprise, the Commander released this video reworking of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Enjoy, and thank you Commander Hadfield! Have a safe journey home!

Using your iOS device for offline navigation

One of the coolest and possibly the most expensive feature of an iPhone or iPad is the maps / navigation feature.

Pocket Earth iOS icon

On our recent vacation to Maui, we wanted to have live maps, but not have to rack up expensive data to do it. A bit of Internet sleuthing turned up PocketEarth, a very cool app that performs exactly as advertised — delivering offline navigation and mapping without a live internet connection.

Using Pocket Earth, I simply:

  • downloaded relevant maps while at the condo or before I left home
  • created routes I’d likely use
  • added potential points of interest
  • saved everything to my iPhone

And it worked like a charm!  Here’s a map of the stretch of West Maui where we spent a lot of time.

West Maui map in Pocket Earth

And here’s a bit on how it’s done – from the support forum:

PocketEarth is designed for offline use and makes it easy to avoid data roaming costs by allowing you to download maps and routes in advance and use them offline, even with GPS.  Here is some information and suggestions to make sure you don’t get charged!

GPS usage is always free, however downloading data is often not!  To avoid expensive map downloads, we recommend downloading all of your destinations in advance from a WiFi connection. Please see this forum post for information on how to download entire countries or regions with PocketEarth.
Once you have downloaded all the maps you may need, you can disable downloading to be sure PocketEarth won’t download anything. Just go to Settings > Network Mode and change it to Offline Mode or WiFi Only.
Alternately, you may wish to prevent all of your apps from using up your limited and expensive data plan, not only PocketEarth.  While the Airplane Mode will certainly do this, it will also prevent all GPS usage! Fortunately there is a better solution which will still allow you to use the GPS in PocketEarth and other apps while preventing cellular downloads: In the device’s mainSettings App, just go to General > Network and disable either Cellular Data completely or just Data Roaming and it will prevent expensive data usage while traveling abroad.

Please note that using the GPS “offline” (when both WiFi and Cellular are unavailable) works well, but may take longer to find your initial location. From our experience this is usually 30-40 seconds, but in some cases can be up to 2 minutes.

My thoughts
Quite simply a no-brainer purchase. For $2.99 (CAD) in the iTunes store, this is likely one of the best navigation and mapping purchases I’ve made. Regularly updated, community supported, and uses a lot of open data sources. Hard to beat that.

 

Review: Griffin Beacon Universal Remote Control (iOS version)

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The Griffin Beacon universal remote control is an interesting device. It’s a little bit larger than an Apple TV2 (or a hockey puck if that’s closer to your frame of reference) but it’s got an odd, Zen-like IR ‘stone’ on the top that’s where the control signals come from. Not your everyday IR blaster.

On Paper
Using Bluetooth to talk to your mobile device (iOS or Android) it uses the smarts of your device to manage your home entertainment systems. All well and good, but wait, there’s more! It’s not just the Beacon alone doing the work…

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Well, actually a very cool app called dijit does the heavy lifting. The dijit – Beacon pair is quite powerful, with dijit not only bringing listings and management to your mobile device, it also brings social to your TV viewing with content discovery and social sharing. The duo:

  • Transforms iPhones and other iOS devices into an easy-to-use, never-lost remote for home entertainment systems
  • Converts Bluetooth signals from iOS device into infrared signals required to control AV components
  • Beacon connects compatible iOS device via Bluetooth with Dijit’s free Universal Remote App
  • iOS device’s MultiTouch screen display becomes the remote with Dijit’s Intuitive Program Guide, allowing users to change channels, volume, input, program DVR and much more
  • Dijit App uses a constantly updated device code library to make setting up controls for TV, set-top box, sound system, media player and more, simple and intuitive
  • For components not yet included in Dijit’s library, the App also includes an integrated learning feature
  • Beacon’s low-profile design blends unobtrusively with any coffee table decor
  • Powered by 4 AA batteries, eliminating messy wires and power cables

In Practice
Getting the Beacon setup and running is a pretty simple job of installing the included 4 AA batteries, paring the Beacon with the Bluetooth on your mobile device, and installing and running the dijit control software.

Then it’s a simple matter of letting the dijit software know which components you want to control, and binding those components to activities.

For example, to watch TV, I need to turn on my receiver, my set top box, and my TV. I had to configure those devices in dijit, then bind them to an activity (Watch TV). You also can configure the layout of your ‘custom’ mobile remote control in your mobile device — reducing the number of buttons to just the critical ones needed for any specific activity.

A similar process is used to define other activity and device combinations. Pretty simple once you get the hang of it, and I like the ability to customize the layout of the remote control buttons.

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I had the iOS unit to review, and it easily hooked up to my first-gen iPad as well as my iPhone 4s. On the iPad, I really appreciated the extra screen space to display TV programming information and social media content.

Since the Beacon runs on AA batteries, it’s portable, which means you can move to various rooms if you have more than one entertainment centre.

The unfortunate downside is that the Beacon doesn’t have an AC adapter, which means that every so often, about as often as a handheld remote, you’ll be replacing 4 AA batteries when the Beacon fails to respond. Which may or may not be a big thing for you.

Watching TV
In the end, this is a pretty cool unit. I must admit, it took a bit of retraining for me to start looking at my iPhone or iPad for TV programming information, rather than using the device as a remote to control the set-top box’s menu system. But once I got over that niggle, using the Beacon and dijit software is actually quite natural.

So if you’re looking for an inexpensive master / universal remote control unit for your home entertainment system, you may just want to check out the Griffin Beacon and dijit combination.
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Libraries are dead. Long live the Librarian!

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I love it when coincidence and synergy lead to a blog post, this post in fact.

In a post earlier this week, Seth Godin lead us through the history of the Library and the Librarian. In his post, he eventually settled on the somewhat alarming concept that the Library was basically dead:

Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t shlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won’t unless coerced.

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.

Book warehouse?
Given the migration of information from paper to digital forms, the library will perhaps, outlive its role as a warehouse for books. Rather, it’ll become a place where some cool tech and some very well informed people meet and do great things with information (and here’s where the next part of the coincidence happens)  — such as Biblion: The Boundless Library, a cool new iPad app from the New York Public Library:

… go on an exclusive journey deep into the Library’s legendary stacks. This app is designed to open up hidden parts of the collections and the myriad storylines they hold and preserve…through a unique immersive experience. In this free iPad app you will hold documents, images, films, audio, and essays — directly from the collections in your own hands.

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Also earlier this week, the New York Public Library launched the redesigned and updated Biblion app. In this case, Biblion is a themed approach to exploring the library. The first release digs into the huge archives relating to the 1939-1940 Worlds Fair in New York. Download the free app and you’ll:

  • read original essays from such prominent writers as Karen Abbott, William Grimes, Henry Jenkins, Elliott Kalan, James Mauro, and others
  • view General Motors’ famous Futurama ride, in full color, from the original carousel!
  • explore the development of the Fair’s designs, uniforms, buildings, and exhibits, including Salvador Dalí’s then-shocking Dream of Venus extravaganza
  • relish the outrageous restaurant ideas that never made the cut
  • learn about the fate of the Czechoslovakia Pavilion after the country was invaded by Hitler
  • discover what was buried inside the Westinghouse Time Capsule … which won’t be opened until the year 6939!
  • fly from story to story, charting your own journey through the stacks…

It’s made of librarians!
Cool apps like this don’t  just magically appear out of thin air. Developers need to create the code, and content managers need to pull all the interesting content together in a way that makes sense to you and me, the viewer. In this case, the content managers are Librarians, and it’s exciting to see them creating these mashups of library science and technology.

What about the books?
As much as I enjoy reading a good book (the ink and paper type) I think their days are numbered. Except for significant works of a historical nature, many books more easily stored, searched and referenced digitally. Which means the book warehouses (libraries) can evolve into their next phase. I’m not sure what that would be, but I bet we’re going to love it :smileyhappy:

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#Winning on Friday the 13th

f13a_300.jpgToday is Friday the 13th. The only Friday the 13th of 2011 as it works out.

This specific date has special significance for me — and it has nothing to do with movies.

Since Friday the 13ths occur so infrequently, and are  somewhat famous, I use the day as a semi-random chance to get my digital ducks in a row.

Stop everything
My Friday the 13th routine starts with a quick review of all open projects and work. I don’t actually do any work on those projects, rather I look over everything, reviewing all the details and milestones, and just make sure that nothing’s being missed.

Backup everything
Next, I check out my data backup software and processes. In the blogosphere, the 13th of each month  has been promoted as Blog Backup Day, but really, protecting your data is something that everyone should do, be it through a highly-protected storage device like the Drobo-FS, or using a backup drive system like ClickFree’s, or some combination of  the two.

Vaccinate everything
Then, I make sure my anti-virus and firewall technology is current — and run a manual scan over all my drives. Yes, time consuming but it also provides me peace of mind that everything’s clean.

Defrag everything
Finally, I run a drive defragmentation utility over all drives that can benefit from it. Some operating systems automagically handle drive fragmentation and some don’t.

Data ducks in a row
And yes, that can be a lot of work, but at the end of it, I’ve got a good picture of my workload, and the state of my data on my computer systems. I’ve turned a day that’s famous for horror stories into a day of good. #Winning 🙂

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