(Well, my computer is). A little while ago I heard about Malariacontrol.net, part of the Africa@home project. You download an application (the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing – Boinc – available on PC, Mac and Linux) and instead of donating spare processing power to the quixotic search for extraterrestrial life you can use your computer (when it is turned on but not doing anything else) to help scientists better understand how malaria spreads. Or at least you could until recently – at the moment they have all the computers they need for that project. But keep revisiting Africa@Home as they plan to publicise more projects soon. Meanwhile there are several other projects that use Boinc.
Archive for the 'Positive uses of technology' Category | back to home
London Walks for your MP3 Player is what it says – there 15 areas of central London covered (so far). So much more handy than carrying around a guidebook. For an alternative – a single downloadable package of 15 sites plus a map – see iaudioguide (which covers a number of other European cities as well). I heard about it via a roundup of such guides at Londonist – a (rather patchy) commercial blog about all things London.
According to this press release from now until the end of the year anyone in (or merely passing through) Canada or the US will be able to use Skype on their computers – or their PDAs for that matter – to call any US or Canadian number.
I have my reservations about Skype – I would be much happier if I could find a VOIP solution that worked well, was open and cross platform but so far I have not found anything that fulfils all three criteria – Skype while not open at least fulfils the other two. I would certainly like it if my friends and family over in North America would all sign up (hint, hint) and let me know they had done so. As an additional incentive, if you have Windows you can even use the latest beta to look in on Adrien while we talk using our webcam…
David Tebbutt, an old friend, posts hopefully that ’social software’ (wikis, blogs etc) could reduce the amount of ‘occupational spam’* we get. Alas, groupware apps like Lotus Notes and intranet messageboards were also supposed to free us from corporate email spam and in theory they could. But simply introducing the software is only the beginning. The main problems are organizational and psychological. 1) it is much harder to change people’s habits than it is to add a bit of software 2) for better or worse people feel an email to someone will at least get glanced at while other means of electronic communication (internal wikis etc) because they are not “pushed” may never get looked at and 3) having lots of communication options can lead to confusion. People think “does this belong on the project’s wiki? On the intranet? On my blog? Oh sod it I will email it to the people who need to know.”
Organizations can cut down on email spam but they need to start with a change to the organizational culture and lead from the top (with bosses participating in the online spaces they want their employees to use) rather than installing software and hoping for the best. If I had had more space in my book – Dealing with Email – that is what I would have stressed. I am sure that David knows this as well of course but I am afraid that reading this article business leaders will just see ’social software’ as a quick fix. Unfortunately, as I said, we have been down that road before…
* Emails cc:ed to lots of people who don’t need to see them, personal email like items for sale circulated around an organization, announcements of fire drills etc.
In theory the backup I made using Synk onto my firewire disk should allow me to plug the external disk into my Mac (or any recent Mac?) and have it boot up off that disk, making my work environment exactly as it was at the moment of the backup. I tried something similar the last time my PC crashed but that never worked properly and I ended up having to copy things across and re-install applications.
I found a colleague with a Mac today and tried my backup - my heart in my mouth - and it seems to work just as advertised! (At least on the basis of a few minutes clicking around).
So there will be a week of chaos while my machine is being repaired after which I should be able to go back to an almost completely normal life (technologically speaking). Thank you Apple and Synk!
I am not, shall we say, known for my cooking. But since my wife does the earning, it makes sense for me to hold up my end by wearing the chef’s hat. I usually use the Foodieview search engine to help me find stuff to do with the ingredients I have, but through it I found Recipe*zaar and as soon as I started using it I got that “Flickr feeling” all over again. For those who haven’t tried Flickr that’s the feeling you get when a website contains loads of really useful, well-thought-out features that help you use and contribute to it.
Recipezaar has over 150,000 recipes but its real genius is that with each you can see it in metric or imperial, change the serving size, see full (estimated) nutritional information and see ratings and comments from others. When searching for the recipe you want you can specify time to make, hot or cold, occaision, cuisine type or any of dozens of other ‘tags’. I don’t have time to enumerate all its cool features – check it out yourself. I don’t know why a site this good isn’t the talk of the tech blogosphere. Could it be that cooking just doesn’t interest 20 and 30-something male alpha geeks?
I haven’t made an exhaustive examination of recipe sites so please if you know of better ones let me know.
Playlist magazine has a handy roundup of places to get free or cheap audiobooks, including an interesting organization called Tell Tale Weekly which sells the audiobooks it produces but for very small sums and gives the money to the people who read out the books, which has helped to produce a reasonably large list of available works. Then after five years (or 100,000 downloads) it releases the audiobooks that have been digitised under a Creative Commons license. Librivox is a similar effort but relies on volunteers to read the books and charges nothing for the result. There are a couple of books read by people available through Project Gutenberg as well – lots more if you are happy to listen to computer-generated dictation.
If you want to hear free contemporary SF instead, check out Escape Pod (which broadcasts short stories) and Podiobooks which hasn’t quite launched yet but you can subscribe to it through iTunes or whatever and wait…
Benjamen Walker’s Theory Of Everything is quite like one of my favourite radio programmes, This American Life, but… well… stranger (which is sometimes no bad thing). Ben is a professional radio producer and it shows.
If you are more interested in technology (and I am guessing most of you have some interest in it) the top-ranked podcast at the moment – This Week In Tech – is head and shoulders above much of the podcasting rabble. It features a large round table of tech luminaries and is a very convincing and enjoyable reproduction of the kind of tech-related banter, gossip and bluster that I used to enjoy myself when I was a tech journalist (though at over an hour each week it may be a little self-indulgent). For daily more ’straight’ tech snippets, you could try Future Tense, and for recordings from the many technology-related conferences that seem to happen every other day across the US you should check out IT Conversations. And if you are a hardcore Macintosh user you should try listening to the MacCast (though frankly it could do with a little pruning as there is a lot of discussion of minutiae on it).
Update: If you want more audiobooks for no payment there are a number of streamed options. They are less easily downloadable (you need to use Total Recorder – PC – or WireTap Pro – Mac – to turn them into MP3s) but OneWord radio offers free audiobooks and book commentary 24 hours a day (streamed only) and the BBC – Radio 4 and BBC7 broadcast less but includes some originally commissioned work too and unlike OneWord the streams are archived (if only for a week) which makes capturing easier. A few BBC radio programmes are even being podcast (though not drama yet).
This packed schedule gives you an idea of the richness of this amazing event. Of course we won’t be able to see even a fraction of the tens of thousands of performances at this the world’s biggest arts festival. The advent of the Internet has been a godsend in helping to arrange our upcoming visit. Not only can we listen to interviews with the artists and read several blogs by performers and critics but we can access the invaluable reviews by the Scotsman and others mixed in with the comprehensive listings for all five of the currently-running festivals, and read comments by fringe festival-goers as well on the Fringe Festival’s own site. The latter even offers SMS voting for shows. The Stage also has a pretty comprehensive Edinburgh review festival and fringe reviews and listings site. This way we can get some idea of the ‘buzz’ around shows before we take the sleeper up and book what we are interested in – which is just as well since I’m sure a lot of the best stuff will already be sold out for the rest of its run…
As a quick glance at the links on the right hand side of this weblog clearly shows I like listening to speech online (or rather I like using Total Recorder to transform realaudio streams into MP3s which I then listen to on my MP3 player). So the increasing prominence of podcasting should be a godsend for me you’d think. Indeed, a few interesting programs I already know like Go Digital have embraced podcasting. But I’m still finding it hard to find anything much out there I want to listen to – I haven’t found a good trusted source to guide me through the profusion of sources out there.
There are 437 “audio blogs” registered with the iTunes podcast directory (which you need iTunes to visit), and hundreds of “technology-related” podcasts, plus 191 “politics” podcasts and 134 movie and television podcasts but seemingly no way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Apple provides a Top 100 podcast list but without reviews, and there is seemingly no way to get to their list of “top n” by category (plus there is some suggestion the ‘top lists’ can be manipulated). Random sampling of ‘top’ podcasts recommended by sites like Podcast Alley was at first disappointing.
Fortunately, I have started to find the odd interesting podcast at last. Resonance FM an experimental station in London featured quite a funny mock-lecture by Kevin Eldon, This is England by a pair of Brits features interviews with random people doing interesting jobs in the English countryside, “Escape Pod” – a podcast of SF authors reading their short stories (excellent idea – I want to find more free short story feeds – preferably of classic and/or out of print authors) and best of all Ewan Spence and a gang of colleagues are doing a daily podcast from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which will be very useful for keeping up with what’s hot and not over the coming weeks.
I would be interested in anyone else’s recommendations either for individual podcasters or for sites that help you find the best ones. It will be interesting to see whether podcasting gets to be as big a phenomenon as blogging. Speaking seems to be a more ‘natural’ way of communicating with people than typing does but it turns out that making something that people will actually want to listen to is even more difficult than writing something because editing audio is a lot harder to do…
As Salon pointed out to me, the wonderful folks at the Internet Archive have 150 tracks of Caruso singing – part 1 and part 2 – turned from 78s into MP3s. Download what you like before some idiot lengthens the term of copyright even more and it goes out of the public domain again…
And along similar lines, I was encouraged to learn that the BBC’s recent experiment with free Beethoven downloads garnered millions of downloads – many more than any commercial single sales.