December 20, 2006

Space Marines!

Posted in Random Oddments, Technology at 11:06 pm by Calico Jack

From Popular Science:

As any battlefield commander will tell you, getting troops to the fight can be as difficult as winning it. And for modern-day soldiers, the sites of conflict are so far-flung, and the political considerations of even flying over another country so complicated, that rapid entry has become nearly impossible. If a group of Marine Corps visionaries have their way, however, 30 years from now, Marines could touch down anywhere on the globe in less than two hours, without needing to negotiate passage through foreign airspace. The breathtaking efficiency of such a delivery system could change forever the way the U.S. does battle.

The proposal, part of the Corps’s push toward greater speed and flexibility, is called Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or Sustain. Using a suborbital transport—that is, a vehicle that flies into space to achieve high travel speeds but doesn’t actually enter orbit—the Corps will be able, in effect, to instantaneously deliver Marine squads anywhere on Earth.

This really excites my inner military geek, regardless of how practical the idea Space Marines really turn out to be. For one thing, the cost must be astronomical for this kind of insertion. And once the Marines are on the ground, they’ll need a way to extract themselves (the spaceship rides on a carrier aircraft which takes it out of the atmosphere, allowing the spaceship to gain high speeds before igniting its propultion system.) The Corps expects to have a working prototype in fifteen years, and possibly a production model by 2030.

I don’t care if this never ends up working out; how cool is the idea?

September 19, 2006

Facebook’s Strategy

Posted in Random Oddments, Technology at 11:51 am by Calico Jack

First of all, apologies for the dead zone over the past week or two. It’s amazing how unimportant certain things (like blogging) become when life gets in the way. Now on to the post…

Last week came the news that Facebook was planning to allow open registration based on geographic locations. No longer will Facebook adhere to an increasingly transparent facade of exclusivity. With potentially millions of new users flooding the site, and without such features as a music player and video, Facebook needs to find a way to gain some appeal to new users.

Today, Facebook introduced a new feature (again!) called “The Facebook Friend Game.” In their words:

The game is very simple – a trivia question, five friends to choose from, one correct answer, and the clock is ticking. As always, this maps to your privacy settings, and since only your friends are involved, the actual content is protected by your Limited Profile privacy settings. If you uncheck ‘Personal Info,’ the friends on your Limited Profile list will never see you in the game.

There is no score kept, and you aren’t competing against anyone else. The questions follow a general pattern along the lines of “Which of your friends listed ‘There are two absolutes in life: friends and vodka!’ as one of his or her favorite quotes?” Trivia is drawn from profiles, and it’s surprising to see how wacky some of the information is.

I might be easy to dismiss this new feature as a minor footnote in Facebook’s history. But it’s important to realize that this is an additional way for users to spend more time browsing the site — as if they needed another reason. Over the past several months, Facebook has taken several steps towards openly competing with MySpace; and anything that encourages people to spend more time on their site is less time spent elsewhere.

I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see video uploads and a Flash music player be added to Facebook profiles. It seems that the Powers That Be are trying desperately to take a big chunk out of the dominance of MySpace. There’s a feeling of general unrest in the air among a lot of users, however; and if Facebook ends up becoming a prettier version of MySpace, I suspect that many college students who made this site so popular will leave. What’s been done before can be done again — only better.

August 22, 2006

The End of Facebook?

Posted in Technology at 11:53 am by Calico Jack

This morning, I noticed that Facebook had added a new feature to their ever-growing list of ways that you can promote yourself. Facebook has been hit-or-miss when it comes to adding new features. Some, like having global groups or allowing unlimited photo uploads, have revolutionized the way that people use the site. A few features are simply ignored (how many people actually look at their social timeline, or care enough to receive updates from Facebook Mobile?) And a few features have been big flops, such as when the creators moronically decided to lump all of your friends together in one big group instead of separating them by school. That was quickly overturned less than a week later due to an enormous number of complaints. And don’t even get me started on the whole “High School Facebook” fiasco; when they opened up this website to non-college students some of the appeal of exclusivity was gone.

However, Facebook has stayed remarkably consistent in a few key ways. Most importantly, they have kept their website clean. Apart from banner and side ads, every Facebook page is both easy-to-read and attractively uniform. Unlike MySpace or Xanga, users are unable to change much (in terms of layout or graphics) about their personal pages. This is a big draw for those of us who hate going onto MySpace, only to be bombarded with pop-ups and blaring music and horrendous backgrounds that make it impossible to read text or blog entries. Xanga has always been more of a blogging site for teenagers, but lately they’ve added photo and video uploads in a belated attempt to compete for MySpace. But Facebook has always stayed away from blogging, although this is a feature that a few people have wished for.

Apparently Facebook has been listening. Now comes Facebook Notes, a Xanga-lite version of blogging. From their FAQ:

Notes allow you to describe what’s going on in your life through written posts. You can upload photos to your notes and tag any friends that you mention in a note just as you would tag a photo.

Honestly, I think this is the worst thing Facebook could have done. What was once a very professional-looking website could now become cluttered with people’s musings on themselves and their boring lives. I would hate to go to someone’s profile and see “OMG!!! did u just hear about wat happnened to Melissa??? her and Dave broke up andnow he just went to a party w/another gurl!!! Im so sad, but I have lots of pics of them for u!!!”

Thanks, but I already see enough of that on people’s walls. Part of what made Facebook nice was the inability of people to show their illiteracy to everyone else, apart from the little “about me” box. Now we’re going to (maybe) get treated to a bunch of unnecessary crap. What was once a refreshing social-networking site is now a nicer-looking version of MySpace, only without the annoying music. Give it time…

I suppose the only redeeming thing about Facebook Notes is that you can upload your outside blog’s RSS feed, and it will display that in addition to any notes you choose to write. So if you have a blog that isn’t getting much traffic, everyone will be able to read your posts on your profile. I tested it with Ignorant Critics, and it seemed to work well. But I’d rather have the traffic head here, thanks.

August 15, 2006

Whom do you call?

Posted in News, Personal, Relationships, Technology at 1:03 am by Calico Jack

A new Swiss study reveals some interesting facts about the way we communicate in the 21st century. According to Stefana Broadbent of Swisscom, 80% of our cell phone conversations are only with four people. On first glance, such a claim seems rather unlikely. But then I thought a little bit more about the people I actually spend the most time talking to, and I think Broadbent’s right. Many of us don’t necessarily use our cell phones to get in touch with casual acquaintances. We have a myriad of options when it comes to communication, from cell phones to instant messaging to email to social networking sites such as Facebook and the cesspool of the internet, MySpace. With so many choices available, I often IM or email someone if I want to drop them a note or ask a question. It’s my close friends and family with whom I take the time to communicate personally.

This doesn’t mean that I only have a select few with whom I only talk to my cell; a quick glance at my recent calls displays quite a few names. But the ones who show up most frequently, and for the longest duration, are only a couple of people. If I’m planning a party, I’ll call a bunch of people to see if they’re able to come. But I doubt I’ll spend much time talking to them on the cell, especially if I spent an hour instant messaging them the previous night.

I’m not sure that this study actually means much. What it does point out is that we have many diverse ways of communicating, and we use each medium for different purposes. One hundred years ago, people didn’t profess their love for each other through telegrams — they wrote letters instead. But for business, telegrams were much more practical and efficient than waiting a week or more to receive a letter in the mail. Our ways of connecting are different than our forefathers’, but we are alike in one respect: we seek closeness with other people. However, I wonder if we aren’t less connected with each other than we used to be.

Nothing compares to actually talking to someone face-to-face. It is nearly impossible to read emotions through text, and a phone call removes our most important way of expressing ourselves to each other — through facial expressions. Communication has largely become something that is stripped down to its bare essentials; many people can’t even be bothered to write out full sentences when they write each other. The richness of sincere, leisurely conversation is absent, and I suspect few mourn its passing.

So check your cell phone records, and see how many people you actually call on a regular basis. And think about how many names are on your buddy list who you never IM. Instead of trying to have superficial relationships with as many people as possible, make an effort to develop true friendships with a few people. I suspect we’ll all be better off if we do that.

August 8, 2006

If Only Money Didn’t Matter…

Posted in Fashion, Food, Random Oddments, Technology at 12:47 pm by Princess Sela

Ever sit around thinking about all of the nifty things you could have if money didn’t matter? Well this post is dedicated to those moments of happiness. This is a list of the top ten “things” I would love to have if money didn’t matter.

Number 1: My very own private island. This 1 acre slice of heaven is located just off the coast of Australia on the Great Barrier Reef. For a meager $1.2 million you can live a life of luxury which includes a private jet strip, 4 homes on the island, and a weekly mail plane.

Hick's Island

Number 2: Now, what girl wouldn’t want to be the princess of her very own castle! That’s right, for about $365,000 US dollars you can own your very own South African Castle. It’s just minutes from the air port, racing stables, and beaches. The castle sits right on the edge of a lake perfect for fly-fishing (not my favorite “sport”, but I’ll take it if I get my own castle).

South African Castle

Number 3: Pretty and expensive cars are always nice too. Let’s go with the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet Porsche. 2+2 seater convertible, 6 cylinders, rear engine, 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, track speed 179 mph, all for $98,600.


Number 4: This one is for all the locals out there, a lifetime supply of Dietsch‘s ice cream. I’m not sure the exact money value; however, I’m sure it’s a bunch.

Number 5: Being the fashion loving gal that I am, I am extremely attracted to anything sparkly and expensive…just ask any of my guy friends…better yet, my boyfriend. It’s quite impressive actually, the special ability that I have to say, “ooh, I want that!” and then later discover it’s unreasonably priced. Anyway, this leads me to my love of the Tiffany & Co. Bubbles collection. Though simplistic in style, this beautiful bracelet is priced at $9,000.

Tiffany & Co.

Number 6: As a private university student, I appreciate the “value” of an education, even if it is priced at over $36,000 a year. But what if money didn’t matter and I could attend the most expensive college in the nation. Well, then I’d be attending George Washington University located 4 blocks from the White House. Yearly tuition is a staggering $36,400 excluding costs for room, board, and “attendance” (whatever that means). The university’s tuition recently had a 7.0% increase between 2005-2006. But gosh darn it…..they’re next to all the action.

Well, that’s all I had time for at the moment. Stay tuned for the rest of my list in future posts!

Captain Morgan adds: Good post!




July 30, 2006

New tech: Mozy Remote Backup

Posted in Technology at 4:34 pm by Calico Jack

Like many people, I’ve had computers crash and die on me. I had my first laptop for less than a year before I dropped it and destroyed pretty much everything inside. Thankfully, I was able to retrieve most of my files, but I very easily could have lost documents and files that were irreplaceable. Now that I’m on my second laptop, I have even more important photos and projects and files that I would hate to lose.

Mozy is one of the coolest websites I’ve come across in a while. They offer remote backup for all of your important files. The process couldn’t be simpler: sign up for a free account, download their program (currently only works with Windows XP, but they’re working on a Mac client), select the files you want to back up, and click “Start.” Mozy will upload everything to their secure servers, and you can set the program to update automatically whenever you add files of a certain type.

For example, I have a photo album that I want to make sure isn’t lost. So once a week, Mozy will scan my computer to see if I’ve added any photos to my folder, and it will automatically upload the new photos for me; I don’t have to do anything at all. You get 2 GB of storage for free, and if you want more space the fees are minimal. What’s great about Mozy is that you can download your files from anywhere, as long as you sign in on their website. If my computer dies, I can simply go to another computer and sign in; and Mozy will prepare a zip file for me to download. It’s as hassle-free as you can imagine, and you can restore your data up to several times a month.

Of course, you need a broadband connection, because Mozy needs to be able to connect to their servers to automatically update. And if you’re working with large files, it can take a while to upload, depending on your speed. But once you finish your initial upload, Mozy only updates if there are new items that you want to save, which cuts way back on the bandwidth.

I like the security that comes from having my important files in a secure place. Yes, you can go and burn CDs or DVDs of all of your files; but that takes a long time and you have to keep updating as soon as there are new files. And having your files online means that you’ll be able to retrieve your data, even if your house burns down. It’s cheaper than buying an external hard drive, and Mozy does all of the work for me. Seriously, this is a great website. Just click here, and you’ll be up and running in no time. I can’t recommend this service enough.