Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Google Latitude - Reports from beyond the velvet rope

Back in May, I treated myself to the HTC Desire, which runs on Google's Android operating system. One of the benefits of this operating system is that it acts as an intravenous delivery system for Google's rather nifty mobile applications. The Gmail client is solid, the Google Maps with turn-by-turn directions has saved me countless hours wandering around badly laid out Irish cities, and Google Translate allows me to swear at my phone and have it translated into a foreign language, instantly rescuing me from boring conversations at parties!

Google Latitude is a rather unusual service from the search giants that makes known your (phone's) current location to anyone you've granted access. Pretty simple idea, but Google have built some cool features on top of this simple idea.

Since I have an Android phone, and most of my friends don't, I feel like (for the first time) the cool guy who has been to the exclusive club, so I want to share with you plebs what kind of exotic delights you're missing out on.

Exotic delights like a handy pie-chart representation of how you spend your time:

(See the gap between July and August? That was my blogging hiatus)

Ever wondered "What's the furthest I've been from home?"
5,145 miles for me! (Since May 2010, anyhow)

Can't remember all those countries you've been to? Now you don't have to!
This barren map makes me want to spend obscene amounts of money to add a bit of colour

What are the places I visit most often? (Do I spend more time at my mother's or father's house?)

No wonder I spend more time at my mother's - look at the extra amenities!

Latitude can also be used to trigger proximity alerts. These SMS or E-mail alerts can trigger when you or your friend "are at an unusual place, filtering out routine alert cases at home or work", or "are at a routine place but at an unusual time". Neat! Hopefully things like this increase the amount of "chance encounters" with the kind of friends I'd hope to run into.

Bored? Why not watch a sped up version of the last 500 locations you've visited? Just click on the 'play' arrow in the top right corner of the map and watch your life being pissed away by going to work, driving around, going home, and sleeping over and over and over again!

The service as a whole is cool, but it's not quite perfect. I was immediately offended when it suggested that I spend a mere 22 hours a week at work on average, but I realised that Latitude thinks I'm half a mile away from my current position when I disable the GPS on my phone to save battery. It's no wonder that the 'out' slice of my pie-chart is so meaty. Also, saving the last 500 locations in the history might sound like plenty, but in practice it only goes back a few days - if your phone pings your location every few minutes for a couple of hours, each ping is logged as a separate location. If each recorded 'location' represented a different set of coordinates, the history feature would be much more useful.

Well, what about the privacy implications? I had only planned on leaving Latitude switched on long enough to populate the dashboard with some information, but now I'm starting to enjoy it. The amount of consideration that Google has put into privacy seems almost excessive, even in light of the Google Buzz fiasco. By default, e-mails are sent out monthly with the subject line: "Reminder - You are sharing your location with Latitude applications", which is a good thing too, because I had almost forgotten about it after I first activated it.

If you want to throw caution to the wind and share your location with everyone, you can create a location badge, which you can put on your blog for your fourteen yearly visitors not to give a shit about. Google is wise enough to offer a pared-down functionality, in which only city-level data is shared.

So far, I only have one one friend set up on Latitude, and it's been novel checking the widget on my phone and seeing how far away he is from my current position. I take it he enjoys the novelty too. Mere moments after I touched down in Shannon after a fortnight in the States, I got a text message from him that read "Welcome home!" Creepy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A meme worth sharing

Memes are a fascinating subject. Observing these discrete units of behavior patterns, practices, or even products makes me wonder about who started them, and the kind of people who propagated them.

Top ten lists. Lolcat pictures. Folding toilet paper in hotel toilets so you know the cleaner has been in. All memes that have stood the test of time, and will likely exist as long as their respective mediums do.

All these memes pale in comparison to what I witnessed a few weeks ago.

After a few weeks away from home, I showed up with my girlfriend in tow. Had this been a normal visit, I would have tried to ensure that the house was reasonably clean to hide from her the level of squalor in which I am willing to live, but on this visit, I was completely at the mercy of my housemates' lax sense of sanitation. The sense of trepidation in stopping by was heightened by her announcement that she wished to use the "restroom".

Happily, on this occasion, the communal areas of our residence indicated that ours was not a fetid shithole. All the same, I warned my missus that I wanted to check the toilet before I let her proceed.

I had figured that the upstairs bathroom would be in the best shape, but hadn't anticipated the extent of the moulting season that one of my housemates was going through. After a few minutes of wrestling dark scraggly hairs into drains and scrubbing week-old skidmarks off the porcelain, the lavatory was again safe for human operation.

My ladyfriend was waiting patiently downstairs, standing in the middle of the kitchen - as if to avoid touching anything. I told her the coast was clear. She told me that while I was upstairs, she checked the downstairs toliet.

"You're out of toilet paper"

I poked my head into the outhouse under the stairs. The toilet lid was down, and the cardboard core of an empty roll of toilet paper was perched atop it.

I cocked my head sideways.

"Huh." I exhaled.

"Oh yeah, I put the empty roll on because I didn't want anybody to-"

I grabbed her by both shoulders and shook her a little

"You did this? You put the roll on the lid?"

"Well yeah - I didn't want anybody to start and then realize-"

"That's genius!"

"Well, it would be a shame if somebody-"

"Where did you see this?"

"What, putting the roll on the lid? I dunno, I just did it now."

"That's incredible… It's genius."


"It sends a clear message, and it obstructs the would-be-user from even using the toilet…"


"Even a total fool wouldn't be able to misinterpret this. It's so simple!"


"It's averting potential toilet-disasters! Sparing the desperate use of hand-towels -"


"Sorry. What's up?"

"Can you let go now? I have to use the restroom"

Stupid meme that. 'Restroom'. Does anybody rest in there? No! I could live with 'relief-room', or even 'evacuation-room', but 'restroom', that's a meme I cannot abide.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Amazon - We Sell Book's

On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, my ladyfriend and I got an impressive demo of the Nook, and we were both quite taken by the idea of an e-book reader. She's since dropped some blatant hints about her desire to have one, so I've decided to start paying attention to this burgeoning gadget-category.

After a few weeks of seeing Nooks and Kindles at every turn (it was a few weeks full of airport departure lounges, hotel lobbies, and caf├ęs) I'm starting to believe that e-books are in fact 'the future'.

As soon as I decided to start paying attention to the technology, Amazon unveiled their newest iteration of the Kindle, so I decided to check out the official video detailing why it was worth the cash. It's a fairly typical video for this type of product: the main points appear as text on screen as a soothing male voice dishes out the impressive facts, and the Kindle pirouettes around on screen flirtatiously from different angles. Sadly, I was only able to enjoy this gadget-porn for about 78 seconds before an unwelcome visitor presented itself to me:

Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!

Begone, misplaced apostrophe! You don't belong here! You'd think that the largest purveyor of the written-word in the world would know where to put a shagging inverted-comma, right?

Of course they do:

These are the kind of silly mistakes that pedants like me use as excuses to ruin Christmasses. (Ask my girlfriend about the year when she really wanted an iPod, and ended up with a Sansa instead)

(Okay, maybe these are the kind of silly mistakes that pedants like me use to make themselves feel smarter than a huge corporation that earns more in one hour of operation than they will in their entire lives.)

Update: Gamma Goblin kindly pointed out in the comments that this matter isn't as black and white as I'd like to believe. The prick.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sully Versus the Reiki Practitioner

In everyday life, I try my best to gently push back against the general superstition and woo that are scattershot throughout my human interactions.

Since magical thinking is ingrained in everyday phrases and metaphors, I like to think that my off-the-script responses will prompt some kind of scientific epiphany in those who I meet over the course of the day. I don't believe this, I just like to think it.

For example, people at work often remark that I must've been "the one praying for rain", and I've taken to replying "If I believed it would make a difference, I certainly would." This general policy of assholery brings about many conflicts of interest. Like the tale I'm about to tell you about.

I have an aunt who is awesome - easily the nicest woman I've ever met. She's an incredible host, a wonderful cook, and is generous with her time to an unfathomable amount. Knowing the story I’m about to tell makes me fret that I'm about to misrepresent this fantastic woman, but tragically, certain elements of her personal philosophy clash with mine.

Let me start with a tale to introduce this woman and what she's about: A few days after my cousin's grandmother died, he answered a phonecall from his neighbour, and later reported that he initially believed the voice on the other end of the line to be that of the recently deceased. When my aunt heard this, she told my cousin that it was his granny’s way of checking in on him. She told this story to a roomful of relatives (as the older generation nodded sagaciously, the young 'uns exchanged confused looks).

My aunt is a humble person, and when she talks about how 'science can't explain everything', it sounds as though it is motivated by sheer humility. I think it's clear that anybody who immediately grasps for the supernatural explanation rather than accepting human error is not interested in sensible exploration into life's biggest questions. She wants it to be true, and will share her take on the mysteries of life with anyone who’ll listen.

I can’t remember the comment I made that set her off, but I felt the regret as soon as I began to utter it. Whatever the case, she began with her tirade about how science can’t explain many things, like the energy channels in the human body that only her reiki crystal can detect. I attempted to talk to her about the ideomotor effect, but by this stage she had whipped out her crystal, unwrapped it from its protective cloth, and was insisting that I lay back on the couch.

I didn’t want to insult this nice, albeit deluded soul, so I heeded her wishes and threw myself on the sofa, looking up at the ceiling. She started talking to me about the seven chakras, their locations and effects on the functions of the body as she began with the ritual. Starting over my feet, she dangled the popsicle-sized crystal from a foot-long chain, and told me that the speedy revolutions it was making were caused by my energy chakras, and not by her hand. As she moved through my lower body and abdomen, she told me that I had good energy, a fiery spirit, and various other attributes that somehow related to the bodyparts the crystal hovered over.

When she got to my chest, she tutted. The crystal had stopped spinning.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Pandas, Canyons, and Hookers, oh my!

For the first time since I started blogging, I went an entire month without posting a single entry.

Often I attribute the dearth of posts to a lack of bile: I'm at my most prolific when irascible, and as the months go by, I'm finding less and less in the world around me that is worth increasing my blood pressure over. Every now and again, just to see what happens, I'll spend some time in front of the keyboard when I don't feel a vein pulsating in my head, but what comes up on the screen is the gushing schlock of a love-sick-teenager. Happy people don't make good writers. You want to hear about what a terrible time I'm having. I want to write about what a terrible time I'm having. When I'm in the middle of a horrible situation that is steadily encroaching on my dignity, I can feel the words arranging themselves in my head for the inevitable blogging.

More often, I blame my taciturnity on the fact that I've been too busy to blog. Sometimes I'm gripped by the notion that getting a good night's sleep is more important than telling nobody-in-particular about the time a barber shaved my earlobes for the first time without warning.

My most recent absence was a combination of the two factors: I spent three weeks hanging out with that elusive ladyfriend of mine, who has a somewhat soothing effect on my pent up frustrations. Furthermore, two of those weeks were spent road-tripping across California, Nevada, and Arizona. Just check out this map showing where I was in the world when I took these GPS-tagged photos.

Pretty freakin' cool, yes?

The highlights:

The San Diego Zoo!

The Grand Canyon!
Las Vegas!
(Note the boast that the photo is an "Actual Photo")
Mark my words, dear reader - I'll make up for the deficit, just don't hold your breath for a story involving sexual misadventures with hookers. (Or Pandas, for that matter.)