Friday, March 30, 2007

How to find your gas cap without getting out of the car


When you pull in to a gas station, especially in an unfamiliar car, you are often stuck with making a decision about which side of the car needs to be adjacent to the pump, before you get out of the car. It's a fifty-fifty shot, but if you get it wrong, you have to start the car back up and make an awkward maneuver to get to the other side of the pump, disturbing all the other people who are trying to get gas for their cars. If it's especially busy, you might miss it altogether.

Since I like to blog about how-to things, this is going to be in that category, I suppose. My boss just got a new Lexus LS 460 with all the bells and whistles such as bluetooth to link to your cell phone, built-in navigation and calendar which presumably syncs with your phone calendar, and more (it can literally parallel-park itself), but she was wondering which side the gas fill was on, so I pointed out something that I've know for a while, but not everyone knows. I think they should teach it in driver's ed. Anyway, on your fuel gague inside the car, there is an icon of a gas pump. That icon serves a dual purpose. First, it tells you that the meter you are looking at is indeed the fuel indicator, but it also tells you which side of the car the fuel filler is. There will usually be an arrow, such as this:


but also it might just be on a certain side of the gague, which is still an indication:

In both of these cases, obviously, you want the gas pump on the left side as you pull in, because the cap is on the left side of the car. This has been a part of most cars since at least the early nineties, so you can guess that it is probably true of your car too. I haven't looked back at older cars to see if it is true for them too, so tell me in the comments what is the oldest car for which this works, and the newest car for which it does not work.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Google really is working on a cellphone

According to this article on Noticas.com (I provide the translation below):


Isabel Aguilera, Director General of Google in Spain and Portugal, has confirmed to Noticias.com that the company is working, “among other things”, on the development of a mobile telephone. “Part of the time of our engineers has been dedicated to the investigation of a mobile telephone which can access information”, Aguilera said to this portal.

The speculations on the possible entrance of Google into the area of design and sale of mobile telephones arose after the company recently published an ad in which it looked for engineers and analysts specializing in telecommunications. In that same ad, Google specified that it is in the experimentatal phase with diverse systems of wireless communications.

At a conference on the integration of Internet into business strategy, organized by the Association for the Progress of the Direction of the Mediterranean Zone, Isabel Aguilera has explained to Noticias.com that although 70% of the engineers' time is dedicated “to develop our nucleus of business, that is to say, search and advertising”, and 20% to develop “products that they have something to do with this nucleus”, is clear that 10% of that time is centered on product development “that at some time could have to do with our business”.

Within this last scope, Aigulera has indicated that “it has been investigating” a mobile telephone which can “access information”, in “a manner which extends the information society to devloping countries”. In this sense, the Director General of Google in Spain and Portugal has said that while “the products can seem strange, all comprise of our process of innovation”.

At the moment, the search engine has 36 products and “18 others that are in laboratory” and, therefore, in the experimental phase, including the above mentioned mobile telephone.


This confirms weeks of speculation. I apologize for any errors in translation; they are my own. Please post a comment if you see any such errors. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Phone features I thought I'd never use

Data plan
When I was in Orlando last week, I had occasion to use a few phone features that I had never used on my w300i, and as it turned out, I used almost all of them. I went out of my way to use the few remaining features that I had not tried yet, and now I can give a full accounting of most of the features of this phone. I was pulled away from my own work on a software release to attend a family function, and as such I was afforded the opportunity to be as obnoxious as necessary in order to stay in contact with work during the trip. I had recently added a text/data bundle from Cingular, and as a result they gave me a free trial of unlimited text/data for one month.

Messenger
The phone comes with an instant-messenger application which can be logged in to AIM, MSN, Yahoo, or ICQ. My co-workers use MSN, so I entered my information and was able to see that they were online, and to send and recieve instant messages, just by knowing my e-mail address and password. The phone let me save the password on it, so that I wouldn't have to keep entering it through the awkward phonepad password interface. The instant messages were not quite as instant as they are through the computer, but it would altert me that I had a message even if the phone was closed, as long as I was signed in.

E-mail
There is a simple e-mail client included under messaging, which requires only knowing the pop3 server name and the user name/password. Again this information was saved on the phone for my convenience. If I lose this phone I will have to change passwords. The client would only receive 20 messages at a time, but on that small screen that was about all I could handle anyway. There is a simple interface for marking e-mails for deletion, and I downloaded headers only to make sure I could quickly eliminate spam and find the pertinent e-mails particularly from FogBugz. I didn't set up the client for sending e-mails, because I figured it would be easier just to call someone if I had to respond rather than to use the phonepad to type.

Google Maps
Because I have semi-debranded my phone, I was able to use Google Maps quite efficiently without the headaches of java security overkill. This is a cool applet that runs on your phone to give you map information and directions on the fly. Since we would be in a strange town, it came in handy to know where we were and how to get to other places, but also what was nearby, such as restaurants and attractions. There are tons of things to do in Orlando, so this was very useful. On the way to the airport, it was a simple matter of bringing up the menu and pressing # to see what the traffic was like. This is very cool; it was up to the minute accurate.

Music ID
An interesting feature that I noticed on the phone came in handy while driving in the rental car. It did not have a digital readout on the radio to identify the songs, and an old song came on that I liked. So I opened up the phone and chose Music ID, and held the phone up to the speakers. It recorded a snippet, then sent it off for analysis. In a few seconds, I got back the information that it was a song by 4 Non Blondes called "What's Up". It saved this information in a list of ID's. I'm not sure how much this service actually costs, but it was really cool that it worked.

AA.com
There is a mobile site for mini-browsers on WAP phones at www.aa2go.com. This has quick access to flight information and schedules, without the overhead of pictures and flash on the regular American Airlines site. I found this quite easy to navigate and use on the go. You can even get flight notifications sent to your voicemail or text messaging if you set it up on their site.

Radio
I have previously talked about the great FM radio and Walkman features of this phone, but it is also equipped with a feature called MobiRadio. Since I have unlimited data usage, I figured I would give this a try. The idea is that it streams continuously from some genre of music that you select, similar to XM or Sirius radio. It gives you a free trial, but in the end it is a paid subscription service on top of whatever data charges you incur. However, in my limited trial of this service, I found it to be utterly worthless. The music crapped out after just a few minutes, and continued to lose signal without me even moving. They seem to bring data across the regular built-in internet service, and without 3g or something, which this phone does not support, it is entirely worthlesss.

Modem
Our flight was overbooked on the way there, but we were given the opportunity to surrender our seats for a flight voucher of $300 apiece. We were told that we would be booked onto the flight at 2:20 rather than our scheduled 10:30 flight. Given this long a wait, I naturally wanted to get on the Internet. I pulled out my laptop and connected the USB cable made for this phone, and ran through the Mobile Networking Wizard that is attached to the Sony Ericsson PC Suite software available from SE. This set up a connection through the phone's internet connection so that the laptop could browse the Internet. I noticed on the AA site that there was another flight available at 12:00, and asked if we could get on this one. They agreed, and in fact said that it, too, might be oversold and give us another opportunity to get a voucher. This didn't happen, but at least we got in to Orlando sooner. While I was on the internet, I booked our trip to Discovery Cove for the next day.

Weather
Yesterday, I ducked in to my local watering hole to avoid the rain. I wasn't sure how long the rain would last, but the local yokel next to me pulled out his Blackberry, and showed me a display of live weather radar of the storm we were in. I think this is only available on Blackberry for now, but I can't wait until we get that kind of feature too. On the other hand, if it is through WeatherBug, and WeatherBug is the same spam-magnet spyware it ever was, no thanks. Still, I think there is a brave new world of mobile information that we are just beginning to tap in to. This market is beginning to penetrate into the joe-sixpack arena as we speak, and I think that speaks volumes for the near future.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Orlando

Tourism
This week I am in Orlando. One thing I want to say right off the bat is that there is more to Orlando than Disney. As a matter of fact, one of the best tourist experiences I have ever had is now Discovery Cove. This park is part of the same group as Busch Gardens, which has a park in Tampa Bay, about an hour and a half from Orlando. This group also owns Sea World, which has a resort just down the street from Discovery Cove. The thing that sets Discovery Cove apart from Sea World or any other mere theme park is that it is a very hands-on experience. They limit admission to the park, and when you check in, you will barely have spoken your name before they have all of your reservation information pulled up. You are issued a photo tag that gets you access to all parts of the park, along with all food and drink for the day. This being owned by Anheuser Busch, that includes beer and assorted other alcoholic beverages. Get there early, and take advantage of the included breakfast and coffee.

Discovery Cove
The park is relatively small, but with the small number of tourists allowed in, you will feel like the place is deserted most of the time. They keep it to 1000 guests a day, but on the day we went it seemed more like 300. Like Sea World, this park offers a variety of sea life to explore, as well as a decent-sized aviary with many hungry tropical birds to interact with. The bird food is included, so you never feel like you are being nickel and dimed to death. Visit the aviary first, so you don't have to get in the cold water yet, and the birds are still hungry. They will swoop down and eat while perched on your arm. There are toucans, parrots, kookaburras, and all sorts of birds I'd never heard of.

Snorkelling/swimming is the main attraction at this park, including a dolphin swim. Essentially, you spend the day killing time waiting for your dolphin swim to come up, but there is plenty to do while you are there. When you first arrive (no pressure, after breakfast) you are issued a diving mask and a snorkel, which you get to keep. It is a technically excellent snorkel; it has a one-way valve on the bottom to release trapped water from the pipe. You are also issued a wetsuit for the day, which can be long, short, or just a vest. During your free time, you can snorkel in two main areas, apart from the dolphin pools. One is the tropical river, the other is the sealife snorkel area called the coral reef. Even with all the swimming, this is still a perfectly good destination in the winter. Most of the water is heated, and the Dolphin and coral reef water is not that cold, especially in a wetsuit. This is not the arctic water of beluga whales or killer whales.

The tropical river is a sort of artifical freshwater river that loops throughout the park, made to look natural with a rocky riverbed and sunken artifacts throughout. However, it is at least eighty degrees and probably lightly chlorinated, so it is a fine place to spend most of your time if it is a little chilly out. The river isn't totally devoid of life, though. It loops through the aviary, and the birds are kept in by way of two waterfalls at each end. On another part of the river is a wider area with a white-sand beach and lounge chairs. Of course snack bars are nearby to keep up the flow of free food and beer.

Once you get tired of swimming in circles, there is a coral reef with some more cool ideas. First, it is salt water lagoon kept at normal tropical temperatures, and stocked with all kinds of tropical life, including gigantic stingrays. Swimming next to a herd of those, after the Steve Irwin incident, was quite the added adventure. Several of these rays had no less than a six foot wingspan, and it is really cool to watch them swim right beside you. There are all sorts of tropical fish, including barracudas and sharks. At first, it seems like they are all in the same pool you are swimming in, for an even greater thrill. There is a kind of permanent sunken ship with holes in it, and that is where you view the more ferocious sealife. But when you reach your hand through the hole, it appears that the glass wall you thought must be there keeping back the sharks is missing. It's an interesting, pool-clearing kind of effect.

Dolphin Swim
Soon the time arrives to swim with the dolphins. You get in the water with a small group, and your group is assigned a trainer and a dolphin. At first, this seems a little weird, because you don't have the one-on-one experience, but the groups are kept below ten, and the overall experience is not bad with that many people. At the end, you each get to individually be towed in by the dolphin, and that was a really weird, different, unique experience. Believe it or not, you can pretty much spend the entire day at this resort, and you will be entertained the whole time. A lot of the time is self-directed and really low key, so you should bring a book to read by the beach and expect to spend more time relaxing than you ever would at some place like Disney.

Amenities
Included in the price of admission is a seven-day pass to either Sea World or Busch Gardens. For an extra $30, you can go to both places. This would be a trip all in itself normally, but even if your are coming to Orlando to do the Disney thing, I would still recommend Discovery Cove as a relaxing day in the middle of your week to not spend the whole day walking around and stressing about fast pass ride times.