September 06, 2011
It's been a blast, but my tech reporting shall now be continuing elsewhere. A huge thank you to all the readers over the years -- especially those that remember the days I just winged it with a home webcam.
August 04, 2011
More South Florida Redbox machines get video games
Redbox, the self-service movie rental machines found outside grocery and drug stores, will be adding more video game rentals to South Florida kiosks this week. The company said more than 60 machines in the Miami area will be able to rent the latest video games, costing $2 a night.
The Redbox video game program launched nationally in June, but has been in testing since 2009. And since that time, the company says it rented 4 million video games.
This week's expansion adds games to 5,000 kiosks nationally, bringing the total number of game-stocked machines to 27,000 of it's 33,000 units.
The eight-year-old company, a subsidiary of Coinstar, reached its 1.5 billionth movie rental in June. Redbox machines can be found at Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Winn-Dixie stores. Its movie rental counterpart, Blockbuster Express, does not offer video games.
July 27, 2011
The Casio G'zOne Commando is tough, but not invincible
When I get a phone that is marketed as waterproof and drop-proof, you know I'm gonna have fun putting it to the test.
So with the cameras rolling, I randomly tossed it in the pool and on concrete multiple times. When it went underwater in my first test, it was clear something was wrong. The screen was, well... freaking out. I had it on the main apps menu, but once it went into the pool, the camera automatically activated and started taking photos. And there were bubbles coming out of the phone. Odd.
But it appeared to worked fine when I dried it off! That is, until I got back into the office. Just watch the video:
So after my review ran this week, Casio offered me a second phone to test, saying I was the only person to report water damage. And I'm happy to give it another shot, since of course I could have gotten a dud. Or I could have loosened a seal during one of the water drops. (I only lightly dropped it on the first step of a pool. It's not like I was spiking it like a football.)
I will test the second phone, this time using some of those meticulous scientific method skills I picked up in my middle school science fair days. (I got a few first place ribbons in my time, so you know I mean business.) Stay tuned for those results. But in the meantime, keep in mind that although it can take a beating, it doesn't mean it is invincible... depending on how much of a klutz you are.
July 20, 2011
Review of Evo 3D (and a Miami company dabbles with 3D online)
So while reviewing the Evo 3D last week, I also happen to come across a Miami company that is on a mission to be a leader in 3D online videos: Net Element.
Net Element owns a number of web properties, including OpenFilm.com, a place for Spielbergs-in-training to upload their films. Some filmmakers have shown interest in uploading red-and-blue 3D movies, and that spurred the company to experiement in 3D video for its other websites, like Motorsport.com.
There are no 3D videos yet on Motorsport.com, but expect to see a few added this fall. They've already begun filming in 3D by putting the special cameras on cars during races.
Of course their success depends on more computers that can play 3D video. Consumer awareness of 3D continues to rise, thanks to the marketing push from 3D television-makers since last holiday season. But 3D TVs — which retail for three times as much as 2D sets — can't create the market alone. Analysts say what's more influential are the cheaper, glasses-free devices like the Nintendo 3DS and Sprint's Evo 3D smartphone.
Earn cash by expanding Microsoft's Bing Maps with Gigwalk app [UPDATE]
[UPDATE 8/4/11: Gigwalk now allows iPhone 3GS users to complete Microsoft Photosynth gigs. It previously restricted thousands of gigs to the iPhone 4, which has a 5-megapixel camera. The 3GS has a 3-megapixel camera. At the time the following post first published, only iPhone 4 users could make money off the Microsoft gigs.]
There is more than $35,000 in cash to be earned in South Florida from the iPhone Gigwalk app -- but most of that is attainable only if you have an iPhone 4 and some time on your hands.
First, an explainer of Gigwalk: It pays you around $4 to $5 for doing tasks on behalf of companies. Sometimes it's like being a secret shopper for a retail chain (example: send us a photo of the lipstick display in the store). Other times it will have a user fill out a questionnaire about an experience. It's similar to the FieldAgent iPhone app, which also pays for small tasks and surveys.
Microsoft has put thousands of assignments on Gigwalk at $4.75 a pop for users to take photos of establishments. This public "workforce" will be taking detailed photos of restaurants and stores, using the Photosynth app, which will then be embedded throughout Bing Maps.
The app currently lists 7,434 tasks in total around South Florida (and more than 116,000 gigs nationwide). There are more than 50,000 users since it launched in May. If you poke around, you'll find a few assignments that are not from Microsoft, so you can still make a few bucks even if you have an older iPhone model.
July 19, 2011
The smart rabbit is back! Review of Karotz, the update to Nabaztag
Karotz is uber kute. I mean, who doesn't fall in love seeing a little bunny read the weather as its ears wiggle and tummy flashes? But there are still kinks being worked out by its creators, such as tools for communicating with other users. For my early hands-on review, I got an sneak peak with one of the early models. (Any new features like Karotz-to-Karotz messaging or smartphone-to-Karotz messaging will come in a software update this fall.)
In a previous life, Karotz was called Nabaztag (Armenian for rabbit) and did some similar tasks. But now we live in an age of smartphones and social media addiction, so he's got more ways to sucker us into loving him. Let's just hope programmers stay motivated to invent cook tasks and games for Karotz.
July 14, 2011
Is the power out? FPL map shows live outage info
Is the power out in your neighborhood, or is it just you? A new website from Florida Power & Light answers that question, that is, as long as you have access to the website on a smartphone or Internet-connected laptop when power is out.
Customers can enter a location or zoom in on a map at FPLmaps.com to see what areas have outages, the time it went out, how many customers are affected, the cause of the outage and when power is expected to be restored. Information is updated every 15 minutes, and is the same information customers can get from calling the FPL customer care center.
When a tropical storm or hurricane strikes, the map will go into “storm mode” - meaning it won’t display details on each individual outage, but instead provide regional updates four times a day.
During a storm, FPL also communicates restoration information on mobile.FPL.com, on Twitter @insideFPL, on Facebook at FPL Connect page, and FPLBlog.com. FPL reports it has reduced the average number of outages its customers experience by more than 30 percent over the past four years.
July 07, 2011
New traffic iPhone app released by Florida Department of Transportation
Details on crashes, congestion and construction tying up Florida traffic can be accessed in an instant for iPhone-toting drivers. The Florida Department of Transportation released a free app for Apple devices, called Florida 511, which reports nearby traffic conditions using the device's GPS location. The app has the same information available through the phone call 5-1-1 news alert system and FL511.com.
Upon opening, the app can be set to automatically play an audio report of all traffic issues within a specified traffic range, so a user doesn't have to read the screen. By default it reports traffic conditions within 25 miles, but can be set to give information up to 200 miles out.
The app also gives estimated drive times to reach major nearby highways and allows users to self-report traffic issues with a voice recording message sent to FDOT staff. The app discourages use while driving, displaying a warning message at first launch.
"The goal is to know before you go, not to make that call when you’re on the road," said 511 spokeswoman Vicky Mixson.
Mixson said the app was created at no charge to FDOT by Maryland-based company LogicTree Corp., which developed Florida’s 5-1-1 phone system. LogicTree manages a similar phone traffic system for several states, but this is the company's first smartphone app.
The app delievers information much faster than calling, since the app can automatically determines a user's location, and users can cut directly into the info they need.
July 05, 2011
Officials say hacker did not steal sensitive Florida voting database information
The hacker, who writes under the Twitter name Abhaxas, posted lines of data and passwords said to be "inside details of Florida voting systems."
The information was from a poll worker training program within a Liberty County elections website, according to Marcia Wood, supervisor of elections for Liberty County, which is based out of the Panhandle city of Bristol.
"It has nothing to do with vital information at all," Wood said. "It's not confidential information. As far as the actual passwords they claim to have gotten, it was for poll workers to be able to log on to view training videos."
Florida Department of State spokesman Chris Cate said counties are taking steps to make sure information is secured, adding that law enforcement is investigating the training system breach. Cate said "no sensitive information was stolen."
Hacker Abhaxas posted the data with a personal note: "Now who still believes voting isn't rigged? If the United States Government can't even keep their ballot systems secure, why trust them at all? FAIL!"
Less than an hour after posting the data, Abhaxas wrote on Twitter: "By the way, these same servers have roughly 10,000 unencrypted credit cards as well #Fail"
Wood's response to the credit card comment: "I don't know what he's talking about."
June 30, 2011
Social Media Day: What's the point?
Happy Social Media Day! For those of you not aware, it's a marketing campaign holiday created by social networking news site Mashable.
There's no doubt that social media has revolutionized our lives. It gives a voice to the voiceless and helps loved ones keep in touch during a disaster. It's nice to reflect how different society is today thanks to these new communication tools.
And so, Mashable says we should take this day to celebrate! In fact, it's encouraged to step away from social media for a few hours to actually talk, out loud and face-to-face, with other humans at bar meetups. (Stepping away from social media on social media day? What a concept!)
There obviously isn't much point to the "holiday" (other than a way for Mashable to get some Twitter trending love). But you can give the day whatever purpose you'd like. I see it as a time to reflect on how you use social media. Are you contributing to the conversation to better your community, or just adding noise? Are you offering help to others, or just always asking for favors?
And rather than annoying your boss by doing more Tweeting during work hours, reflect on how you can make your time on Facebook and Twitter more useful. It's easy to get sucked in -- but is it a time-waster for you? What daily habits can you change to make Facebook and Twitter a more productive tool?
And if you spend all your time adding "friends" and "following" people you've never met, it might do you some good to actually put a real face (more than 50 pixels wide) to a username. Tonight's Miami meetup is at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, 3252 Northeast 1st Avenue #115. The Fort Lauderdale meetup is at the Briny Irish Pub on 305 S. Andrews Ave. Both start at 6 p.m.