How your mobile phone or tablet could save your life

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Believe it or not, there are many ways your mobile smart phone could be used when you find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation,  aside from the obvious — making a phone call for emergency assistance, I mean.

The recent events in Japan and New Zealand have shown that when disaster strikes, getting the most accurate information is likely the best way to make choices that could save your life.

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Provided the event hasn’t taken out the local mobile network, your mobile phone’s browser will help, linking you with many local, national, and international news services, as well as many different channels of communication (email, voice chat, twitter, etc).

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f1.jpgBut there are other ways your smart phone can help. For example, many smart phone’s display screens are bright enough to be used as a makeshift flashlight when the power goes out. Color Flashlight is a leading Android app and Flashlight 4 is one of the most popular ones in Japan right now.

As well, most phones these days know where they are in the world, either by triangulating between communications towers, wifi sources, or built-in GPS systems. Tie this in with any of the popular mapping applications and you have a good visual understanding of where you are. Helpful when you have to find an alternate route or transportation system in an unfamiliar city.

An app for that? You bet!
As you can imagine, there are many things that you could need in an emergency. And, of course, there are some apps that can help.

During the Tsunami warnings following the Japan earthquake, information like that provided by this Hawaiian-developed Disaster Alert app helped keep islanders informed about the impending waves.

And after an event, finding people and shelter is a priority.

Google launched their Google Person Finder during the Christchurch earthquake, and updated it for the Japan event.

And the American Red Cross has released their free Shelter View app.

So as you can see, with just a few bookmarks, perhaps an hour of app-store browsing, and a few dollars investment, you can have a pretty good emergency preparedness kit all tucked neatly into your mobile data phone.

I think it’s time I started on mine, what have I missed that I should add?
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Emerging Tech: This magazine app knows what you like

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You’ve got an iPad and all the popular magazine, content, reading apps like Reeder, Flipboard, Pulse, and FLUD. Well now there’s a new one using technology from the University of British Columbia’s Laboratory for Computational Intelligence.

It’s called Zite, and is it ever cool. But first, the video.

Why I like it
It’s a learning app. Log in to your Google Reader and Twitter account, let Zite perform a bit of analysis, and you’ve got content that Zite thinks you’re interested in. And it’s free 🙂

Speed up your Internet experience by using the right DNS server

Last week I saw this LifeHacker article (via AppleInsider) about NameBench, a window utility that tests the speed of your system’s DNS servers.

And I was wondering if my DNS was as fast as it could be…

Previously, I’d switched my DNS services over to OpenDNS, a free alternate DNS Provider that adds value as:

  • Ultra-reliable, globally-distributed network
  • Industry-leading Web content filtering
  • Easy to use for families, schools, and businesses of all sizes

Google also has free public DNS services available, which NameBench scans and includes in the results.

But recently I’d noticed that often videos and other streaming media just wouldn’t play back smoothly, so after reading this bit in the life hacker article I thought I’d give NameBench a try.

“When millions of users all tap into the same DNS server addresses to resolve domain names, as Google DNS does by design, Akamai and other CDNs route content to those users along the same path, preventing the network from working optimally. This causes problems not only for Apple’s iTunes, but also any other media streaming or download service that uses a similar CDN strategy to distribute downloads.”

As an added benefit, NameBench checks to see if your DNS servers are vulnurable up to security standards, and if your DNS requests are being censored or redirected (WikiLeaks, for example).

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WOW.
According to NameBench, By switching back to my ISP, I’d get an amazing DNS speed improvement of over 100%!! Remember, this doesn’t speed up my internet connection, just the speed that the Internet translates domain names into those cryptic Internet IP addresses.

So, by making the recommended changes to my systems DNS settings, NameBench was happy with my settings. Now to see if I actually notice any improvement…

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In Real Life.
Well, I’m not too sure if I am noticing any difference yet or not. There’s so many different factors that can contribute to network speed that one change rarely makes a huge difference.

But still, every small improvement you make adds up, and contributes to a more efficient online experience.
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My top Apps of 2010

bestapps.jpgEveryone’s got a Top ‘something’ of the year list, so I thought I’d jump in with my picks for Top Apps of 2010 — with a little twist; only one app, per platform, amongst the 3 platforms I use (Windows, iOS (iPad), and Internet). Yes, Internet, for my purposes is a platform — it’s mostly device agnostic, and had great new apps this year.

So, without further adiu…
Continue reading “My top Apps of 2010”

Show your parents you care – tech style

It’s highly likely that many of you, like me, are responsible for technical support of your families’ computer systems and internet connection.

googfooter.pngEarlier today I found a great little microsite (by Google) that’ll help you support your parents with their online issues.

http://www.teachparentstech.org/ is the site that helps you build a friendly little email and bundles links to appropriate self-help videos.

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Obviously this won’t address every question they’ve got, but it does:

  • Get them using email (they’ll need to in order to view the message)
  • Get them watching online videos through a browser
  • Teach them how to do something to customize their computing experience
  • Give them a sense of accomplishment and independence as they use new tech.

Here’s what your outgoing email could look like:

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It’s not just simple issues either, here’s a video showing how to set up an email autoresponder in Gmail — though similar email apps work in much the same way.

And it’s a great little marketing and branding opportunity to get Google into their computing experience.

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The Steve Jobs Way

Tomorrow Apple will likely announce a new look and feel for the MacBook Air and an update (perhaps significant) to their flagship operating system, OSX. And once again, the reality distortion field surrounding Steve Jobs’ presentations will be set to full power. It’ll be an interesting day, I’m sure. Especially since Steve ripped into Google, RIM,  and smaller-sized tablet computers in an earnings call earlier this week.

Coincidentally, last week Bloomberg released a good, detailed episode of Game Changers focusing on Steve Jobs.

Through interviews with friends, former colleagues and business associates, GAME CHANGERS reveals the many layers of the intensely private Steve Jobs – his style of leadership, management and creative process. Interviews include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Apple CEO John Scully, journalist turned Venture Capitalist Michael Moritz, Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Apple “Mac Evangelist” and Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Guy Kawasaki and Robert X.Cringely, technology journalist and former Apple employee.

Also coincidentally, former “Mac Evangelist” Guy Kawasaki re-released (for free) his 20yr. old insight into a particular period in Apple’s life titled The Macintosh Way.

The Macintosh Way is the first book that Guy Kawasaki wrote. Guy recently got the rights back for the book, and he’s offering it free to people who follow @GuyKawasaki on Twitter.

So, it seems that this is a good week to brush up on your Steve Jobs / Apple Knowledge — for free! Now just need to dust off my copy of iWoz and my week will be complete.

Are faster blogs more Google friendly?

Perhaps. And if you’re looking to be found by Google, you want to do everything you can to make sure you’re not doing things to make the process harder.

A month or so ago, Google announced that they’re ranking system would take page-load speed into consideration when determining how to present search results to visitors.

Eventually I’d read enough about this, and had installed a cool free performance monitoring system (powered by Pingdom) that allowed me to review my website’s display speed. But of course, life gets in the way and I’d been a bit lax in reviewing it, so this past weekend I took a look. I found this:

This is a response-time graph, the shorter the green line, the better. Which meant that I now had to spend some time figuring out what I’d done that caused my system to slow so significantly.

It appears that the culprit was a mis-configured caching plugin. So, I spent a bit of time playing with the settings on the cache plugin, removed a couple of fancy ‘type’ related plugins that were calling external javascript (external content calls can really slow things down, especially large content objects), and tweaked how the cache works.

And in initial runs, I seem to have reduced the page-load speed by about  40%. Not as good as it was initially, but better than it was quite recently.Yes, I’ll be monitoring results a bit more closely now, and tweaking things as I go. And of course, I’m always open to suggestions too — in the comments please 🙂

Hopefully, Google will look more favourably on my blog, as this site isn’t quite the slug on the Internet anymore.

Time will tell.