Space Shuttle launch scrubbed, and Cloud Girlfriend changes her mind

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Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134 (201104290004HQ)
Photo credit: nasa hq photo via Flickr

The launch scheduled today of the Space Shuttle Endeavor on its final mission before retirement, which I wrote about earlier this week, was postponed due to a technical problem. The next launch opportunity will be no earlier than Sunday. I flew down to Florida last year to catch the final launch of Discovery but left with only a bag full of souvenir T-shirts because that launch was repeatedly delayed. Good thing I didn’t act on an impulse I had to hop on a flight to see this launch.

Cloud Girlfriend was released this week. I was a bit skeptical about whether this thing was legit or some kind of publicity scam. Originally, the concept I was led to believe was that the service would artificially create a girlfriend experience online that you could interact with in some fashion. However, Cloud Girlfriend was unveiled to be a kind of pretend dating service for people who assume fantasy online personas. Since I wrote about it before, I felt obligated to provide this update. The initial concept the company put forth was intriguing. The reality was disappointing, kind of like a bad blind date.

In February, I wrote about IntoNow, the app that listens to your TV and can tell you what you are watching. It was reported this week that Yahoo! will acquire the start-up for as much as $30 million. The iPhone app debuted on Jan. 31.

Last week I said that I was testing some photo apps on my iPhone. The most impressive has been Microsoft’s Photosynth, which creates photo panoramas. It’s very easy to use and I was eager to show off my results. WordPress.com won’t allow me to embed a photosynth, as they are called, so you can view them here.

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The evolution of animated GIFs

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I love good animated GIFs, which are a series of looped images to create a repeating animation. They’ve come a long way from the classic GIFs of the 1990s, such as the “dancing baby.” There are still plenty of crude ones clogging the Intertubes, but a new type of sophisticated GIF has emerged. The Tumblr blog “From Me to You” has some great examples related to fashion and urban scenes from New York City. What makes them elegant is that the image is static except for some small element – wisps of hair, for example, fluttering in a gentle breeze. I found the “Blade Runner” GIF from the Tumblr blog “If we don’t, remember me,” which features GIFs created from movie scenes. You can see a few of my other favorites from that Tumblog after the jump. More

Tablet computers replacing waiters? Now we’re cookin’!

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Folks, we have a game-changer in the restaurant business. When the iPad first came out, one of the obvious uses envisioned was as a fancy menu or wine list. And some restaurants adopted the iPad for this, but the idea hasn’t yet caught fire. Now a relatively cheap, custom tablet has come along to basically replace the waiter entirely. Say hello to E la Carte and the “Pronto” tablet. If this thing actually works as advertised and is durable, say goodbye to the indifferent 20-somethings who have been ruining your dining-out experiences. First, let me state that I am not some anti-labor greedhead. E la carte doesn’t publicly advertise itself as a payroll cutter, but it makes sense that restaurant staffing will be trimmed. Yeah, it sucks, but think of it this way: Would you give up ATMs to rehire bank tellers? That said, how does the Pronto work? As described, you get a tablet when you are seated. You can browse the menu, see pictures of whatever is available, get nutrition information for each dish, and whatever else they can offer in terms of information (food allergies, restaurant history, neighborhood descriptions, etc.). You place your order on the tablet and customize your dishes in any way that the restaurant allows. The tablet beams the info to the kitchen, and you are told how long it will take to get served. Yes, people will still have to move food and drinks back and forth, and you can tip them (and calculate the tip on the tablet, as well as play games). When it comes time to pay the bill, you do it on the tablet. Dinner is done. It was debuted last week at restaurants in San Francisco and Boston. Applebee’s is rumored to be the first big chain client. Variations on the table-computer are in play, so expect the competition between devices to heat up. A good waiter is hard to come by. And I am happy to give them a really good tip when I am served by one. Those folks will survive because they are hard-working and have common sense. If this tablet thing doesn’t work, we can always hire the fellow in the video above.

Skip the wedding, watch the Shuttle

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Shuttle Launch
Photo: oneaustin via Flickr

On Friday, the media will be saturated with coverage of that disgusting Royal Wedding. Thankfully, there is something else that actually is important happening that day: The scheduled final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. I say “scheduled” because weather or technical problems could delay it. It will be the second-to-last flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head by a lunatic in January, has been cleared by her doctors to attend. Her husband, Astronaut Mark Kelly, is commanding the mission. Now theirs is a true love story. Oh yeah, President Obama will be there, too. The launch is set for 3:47 p.m. Until then – and to avoid the nonstop William and Kate wankery – you can visit the NASA website, which has a fantastic assortment of content. You can watch NASA TV, which has ongoing programs and will be showing the launch. You can visit the social media page and connect many ways. For example, NASA has dozens of NASA Twitter accounts to follow. On a related note, a cool thing you can do on Twitter is follow @twisst, which gives you notifications of when to watch the International Space Station (ISS) crossing the sky. It is particularly bright right now, so check it out. Fun astronaut trivia: Mark Kelly has an identical twin brother, Scott Kelly, who also is an astronaut and most recently was ISS commander.

Cloud Computing, like you, will have bad days

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Beanstalk to the Cloud

Questions about the reliability of cloud computing emerged again this week when Amazon’s cloud-computing services suffered an outage that partially or completely disrupted Foursquare, Reddit, Hootsuite, Quora, and hundreds of other online services. The New York Times echoed the concerns that some businesses had as a result of the outage: “Amazon Malfunction Raises Cloud Computing Doubts.” The article also quoted an industry executive who had an apt observation:

The Amazon interruption, said Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer of Rackspace, a specialist in data center services, was the computing equivalent of an airplane crash. It is a major episode with widespread damage. But airline travel, he noted, is still safer than traveling in a car — analogous to cloud computing being safer than data centers run by individual companies.

“Every day, inside companies all over the world, there are technology outages,” Mr. Moorman said. “Each episode is smaller, but they add up to far more lost time, money and business.”

This weeks outage only affected a tiny percentage of all the users of cloud-computing services. Netflix, for example, relies on the same Amazon data services and suffered no problems. I didn’t have trouble accessing my Gmail or my photos on Facebook. All that stuff is in the “cloud.” I was waiting for a good explanation about what happened at the Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) center in northern Virginia, but I’ve decided I probably wouldn’t really understand the technical stuff anyway (excessive re-mirroring of Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes?). There will be outages in the future. Businesses will suffer. I will be irritated that I can’t get into Reddit or whatever is down. These things happen. Your computer will break. You’ll have trouble connecting to the Internet. Your car will break down. You deal with it. The problem at Amazon will be fixed. New problems will pop up, there and elsewhere. Of course, you can choose to avoid cloud services. Or you can be like Microsoft, which is spending $8.64 billion this year in cloud research and development.

Reddit’s dysfunctional charm

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I’m not a Reddit guy…yet. But it’s hard to avoid the creative, entertaining, and sometimes informative overflow that comes from this community. Plunge yourself into the realm of “subreddits,” where you can spend hours exploring topics such as Advice Animals, Today I Learned (TIL), Ask Reddit, First World Problems, or Pics. It all came crashing down yesterday, when Amazon’s cloud computing services suffered an outage that impacted Reddit, Foursquare, Quora, Hootsuite, and a number of other websites. This was my favorite tweet from a Reddit user confronting the reality of the situation:

I woke up this morning and found Reddit was still experiencing problems. In the title of this post, I said Reddit has a “dysfunctional charm.” Reddit was also down last month. It is notoriously underfunded. Just take a look at its headquarters in these photos. You apparently can see three of Reddit’s four employees. And yet it has ONE BILLION pageviews a month. I’m rooting for Reddit. I want it to flourish. Even when it was really down yesterday, it maintained a sense of humor (note No. 4):

Photo! Solution? Make Better!!!

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Nick Bilton at The New York Times noted on Monday that the iPhone 4 was fast-becoming the most popular camera being used for Flickr, the photo-sharing site. If you’ve reached your Times paywall limit of stories, you can just go to the Flickr graphs here that he cites in his blog post. Before I got the iPhone 4, I used to carry a camera bag containing my Canon PowerShot SX 1 IS, which is one of the best point-and-shoots just below the DSLR category. I still take it on special trips and vacations, but I don’t carry it around on a regular basis like before. The iPhone 4 camera is that good. I also carry a bendy Joby hand-held tripod that I carry in a pocket.  The iPhone 4 picture quality is impressive, but half the fun is in all the photo apps. I’ve written about the popular ones, but tonight I went on a downloading binge for crazy photo apps, particular ones from Asia. I have several now that put Hello Kitty-type cartoony decorations on pictures. Another one puts the face of a woman you photographed into a maid outfit. Fetish apps! I also downloaded several panorama apps, including the new Microsoft Photosynth, which looks pretty awesome. I have a big trip to California planned for next month with stops at Death Valley, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and Big Sur, and I plan to go bonkers with my photography and tech. I’ll let you know how these apps work out as I test them to see what works. I can’t wait to use the maid app!

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