February 28, 2008

Google Health (and Marissa Mayer)

Marissa Mayer who, besides being one of the early Google employees and now VP of Search & User Products, released a first look at Google Health on the official Google blog today. Its got some rudimentary screen shots that, coupled with Marissa's description of the service, tells us a little about it.

(More on the curiosity generating, high profile Marissa Mayer in GoooGirl from San Francisco magazine).

Basically its a way for users to manage their own health records and history. Based on the menu selections on one screenshot, Google Health provides for a way for you to track your medical conditions, prescriptions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results and immunizations.

You can import medical health records from participating health professionals and organizations. This is where Google will need to set up agreements with health care providers. But given their clout, there is not a daunting task.

There are several things that are neat about this.

  1. The service seems to be coming at a time where satisfaction with health care in North America is reaching new lows. And since health is a highly private matter, most users will want to be in control of their records themselves. Besides, lets face it, with doctors specializing and the only good doctors around being specialists, the best doctor to piece your health together is you.

  2. The service will address the fastest growing age segment in the US, which is senior citizens. Most people in the 50+ age group tend to be value shoppers but given value, which this service would provide, they are willing to spend money.

  3. The potential for advertising and cross-selling is huge and allows Google to deliver targeted advertising in a special market segments like pharmaceuticals and medical services.

February 14, 2008

OneCAT: The 120 mpg air-powered car

BBC reports that India could soon see a car that runs on compressed air and runs an impressive 120 miles per gallon. The car is called OneCAT, the inventor is frenchman Guy Negre and the development deal is being backed by Tata, makers of the recent and highly newsworthy Nano.

The car will be driven by compressed air stored in carbon-fibre tanks.

The tanks, built into the chassis, can be filled with air from a compressor in just three minutes - much quicker than a battery car.

Alternatively, it can be plugged into the mains for four hours and an on-board compressor will do the job.

For long journeys the compressed air driving the pistons can be boosted by a fuel burner which heats the air so it expands and increases the pressure on the pistons. The burner will use all kinds of liquid fuel.

If the car becomes reality, Tata will have exclusive distribution rights.

February 12, 2008

Mikkel Aaland's Photoshop CS3 RAW

The outstanding thing to note about Mikkel Aaland's book Photoshop CS3 Raw: Get the Most Out of the Raw Format with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Bridge is that is organized very systematically. Instead of providing a breathless description of everything you can do with the software, Aaland focuses on why you would do something and how to do it. Its an effort that is fun to read and easy to reference.

Each page in the book has two-thirds of its horizontal are dedicated to screen shots and pictures. Often, menus and tabs are broken out and overlaid on the images to explain procedural instructions. A third of the same page is devoted to text. The text and pictures are lined up really well so that you don't have to endure a lot of flipping back and forth.

Sometimes this layout leaves little space for some detail that would be enlightening. But in keeping with the spirit of the book, Aaland applies the same level of consistency to the amount of information he provides - which focuses on the digital photography instead of digital processing or photography itself.

The first chapter contains a really neat, concise explanation of what RAW files. A highlight of this is that Aaland dissects the pros and cons of using RAW files in a very practical way - concluding that both RAW and JPEG has a place in the lives of a professional photographer (and even provides some nifty examples). This really drew me into the book. I also liked Aaland's segue on how to use a color target in a quick and dirty way to level set your camera's color processing.

Chapter two shows you how to use Adobe Downloader to grab pictures from camera to computer. Chapter three shows you to organize them using Adobe Bridge. This chapter also contains a nice explanation of picture metadata and why it is important (for example for checking exposure which Photoshop doesn't have a tool for). Aaland then shows you how the basic workflow of editing a photoshoot in RAW.

Aaland also quickly runs through the options (space, depth, size, resolution) and tools (navigation, zoom, hand, white balance, color sampler, crop, straighten, retouch, image orientation) in Photoshop for processing RAW files. This is mainly a feature walkthrough, but Aaland does digress occasionally to offer insights (such as using the crop tool to create a panorama).

Later you learn how to distribute tone across a picture. Aaland explains how to interpret the color histogram, pick a suitable color space, map tone and how to adjust clarity, saturation and hue. Each topic covered contains material on why each setting is important. Although it doesn't dig into the details of how Photoshop applies the effects to each picture, there is just enough explanation to make you savvy about using these settings.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 8 on Sharpening where Aaland starts off with an excellent discussion of how Photoshop sharpens images. (A lot of the textual material here is reused from the Lightroom Adventure book.)

Finally there is a really useful chapter on how to convert RAW files to black and white. Aaland shows the simple conversion process from color to grayscale but then adds a number of useful lessons, among them: how to use the color sliders to darken or lighten certain areas of the grayscale image, how to add special effects like grainy film and cross-processing.

February 11, 2008

Live Mobile Cricket Scores

There are several ways to stay in touch with cricket if you are on the move and have a mobile handy. I'll list the services I've used mostly (and they work pretty well).

This is a non-interactive SMS service. SMS the keyword "cri" to 58243 and you will receive an SMS with scores from all international matches being currently played.

The SMS cricket service itself is free although you will incur regular SMS charges from your operator.

This service doesn't work in the US.

If you are stateside and want to check scores on yahoo, you should hit their UK sports sites for cricket scores on: http://eurosport.yahoo.com/cr/sc/. This is not optimized for a mobile screen but if you can scroll past the headers, you get a pretty good snapshot of all recent international matches. (Note: you'll need an operator data plan for this).

Cricket Companion
To download this application to your phone, point your mobile browser to http://www.getjar.com. Then click on the "Quick Download" link. Enter 22776 in the code and click Next. You'll be directed to a link to download the application to the Mobile.

Cricket Companion is a Java application. For a full list of phones that are supported, check this site - basically any phone with Java support. (Note: you'll need an operator data plan for this).

Cricinfo provides a free wap site for scores at: http://wap.cricinfo.com/. You can look at both live scores and previous results. (Note: you'll need an operator data plan for this).

This Plusmo application is my personal favorite. It allows you to look at scores and ball-by-ball commentary all from within an easy to use Java application. Download from http://ci.plusmo.com. (Note: you'll need an operator data plan for this).

Point your mobile browser to http://www.bbc.co.uk/sports. Then click on Cricket and then Latest scores or Results depending on what you want to check.
Scores link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/cricket/scorecards/default.stm
Results link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/cricket/results/default.stm
Not well optimized for mobile use but pretty decent.
(Note: you'll need an operator data plan for this).