Archive for the ‘Cool’ Category

Google Gears on the iPhone?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

I really hope that Google Gears will work soon on the Apple iPhone. That would be sweet. Basically, if you don’t want to pay for a data plan, it would allow you to sync your data when you have a wifi connection, and then use that data later when you don’t have a connection.
The application I’m thinking of is a grocery list. So, you and your family or housemates could edit your list on the web, on any computer or cell phone. Before you leave, you sync your iPhone with Google Gears over wifi to get the latest list. Once you are at the store, you take out your phone and use the grocery list web application just like normal, without an internet connection.

Things I Wish Existed: Wiki Drawing Tool

Monday, June 4th, 2007

The name pretty much says it all I think: wiki drawing tool. Basically, I want a website where I can go and draw something, then other people can come in later and edit it. Just like Wikipedia, all changes will be saved, and each drawing would be able to be instantly reverted to a previous version.

Cartiki, a user edited database of locations

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Introducing Cartiki, a user edited database of locations. A cartography or map making wiki.

Anyone can add a location name to the database with a corresponding bounds on the map, a parent location, alternate names, and external URLs.
Other features will be released soon based on user feedback, so, send me an email and let me know what else you want to see on Cartiki!

Amazon’s New Web Services

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Maybe I’m a little biased because I’ll be working for them soon, but I think Amazon’s new web services are really cool. Basically, they offer a really reliable computing infrastructure for developers with a pay-as-you-go pricing structure. You only pay for what you use, and the interfaces are dead simple. They offer both SOAP and REST style web service interfaces.

For 10 cents per hour per CPU, you can rent as many or as few CPUs as you want. And, this can all be controlled automatically via their web service API. You pick the linux distribution, software, and data you want the machine to boot with. This pay-as-you-go computing is called the Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2.

For 15 cents per GB per month, you can store as much or as little data as you want with the Simple Storage Service, or S3. Each file in S3 can be anywhere from 1 byte to 5 GB large. Because of the way REST works, public files can be downloaded directly from the browser, so they can be embeded in or linkable from web pages.

Another service that I just started playing with is called the Simple Queue Service or SQS. At first, it didn’t seem all that useful to me, but I think it will become useful for messaging between unreliable or not on 24/7 systems. My planned use of EC2 doesn’t require my server to be running 24/7, so I’m going to use a queue to accumulate jobs to be processed once the server boots up. As soon as all the jobs in the queue are processed, the EC2 server will shut itself down, saving money in the process.

You may ask: “But Kyle, aren’t you just playing with this stuff? Surely you don’t have a real use for it.” Well, yes and no. I’m playing with it because I think its cool, but I’m also busy developing the Gmap Uploader, a service which allows you to upload any image into the Google Maps framework. This means, you can upload pictures, floor plans, campus maps, and a whole bunch of other stuff that isn’t available as a part of the standard Google Maps. The interface allows you to easily pan and zoom in to large maps and images. If you know or can learn Javascript and have your own web space, you can add markers, and info windows on the custom maps as well using the highly popular Google Maps API.

UPDATE: You can hear a lot more practical usage of Amazon’s web services in this podcast from IT Conversations.

Zattoo IPTV Download

Friday, May 4th, 2007

University of Michigan students, staff, and faculty can now download and try Zattoo, a P2P IPTV service within the University of Michigan network. You’ll need a UofM uniqname and password. Check it out:

Zattoo Download

Mobile Grades

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

For those of you who check your grades through Wolverine Access constantly, here’s something you will appreciate. It’s called Mobile Grades, and basically, its a desktop application that checks your grades for you automatically every so often. You can even get them sent to your phone, but that costs money, where as the basic service is free. Scott Goldman is the creator of this service. He is also maintaining Mschedule for me now too. still working

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

It’s only the second day of, but I’m surprised its still working. It was posted on TechCrunch last night. I have a feeling it will get really popular, and they won’t be able to support the amount of traffic they will be getting. Looks like its time for Zattoo to step up and help out, (see previous Zattoo post) assuming they are going to have issues. Who knows maybe they won’t have bandwidth issues and will be just fine. In the style of YouTube, you can embed the live feed right into your blog, but I couldn’t get it to work.

What Makes a Blog Good?

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

Content! Duh! Here’s some blogs with some good content…

Left Behind at the Fishbowl

This anonymous blogger sifts through papers left in the printer just before “the Fishbowl” a University of Michigan computer lab, shuts down for the night. Then, they go and critique the essays, drawings, emails, and other print outs. With their trusty blue pen, creativity, and humor in hand, they proceed to mark all over the print out, scan it back in, and post it on the internet for all to see.


TechCrunch covers mainly news about internet companies, both the big ones and the up and coming ones. So, if you are a Web 2.0 startup, you might want to get on this guy’s good side so that you can get some good traffic from the early adopters like myself.

Google Maps Mania

When the Google Maps API first came out, there were tons of people ready and willing to create mashups. So many in fact, it was difficult to keep track of them all. Google wasn’t keeping track of them, so this blog filled a niche and reports on the new ones as they come out

Gmap Uploader – Custom Google Maps Tiles

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Announcing Gmap Uploader, the easiest way to create custom Google Map tiles. Just upload an image and download a zip file with the tiles. Or, just copy the HTML source, change the API key, and just let Gmap Uploader host the tiles.

Campus Map Example:

Floor Plan Example:

Photo Example:

Online Geographic Location Databases

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Over the past two months or so, I’ve been working on what I like to call a location database. Yea… its a database of locations. I’m codenaming it Empire. I’m calling it Cartiki. I’m not sure if the codename Emprie will stick around or not… we’ll see. So… what’s a location? A location is anything that can be put on a map. It also, can’t move too frequently. For example, your body or your car is not a location because they move very frequently. So… I’m talking things like continents, countries, states, cities, college campuses, buildings, floors, rooms, houses, coffee shops, theaters, computer labs, dorms, etc. What am I storing in this database? I’m storing the name of each location, alternate names, their relationships in a tree structure, the location’s latitude/longitude bounds, and some other stuff that’s not fully fleshed out yet.

If you are interested in beta testing this location database, contact me via email. check out and fill out the form. Maybe I’ll post a link to the beta here later.

So, you might ask… why am I building a location database? That may or may not be obvious to those people who know me. I’m building a location database because we need it for liveUgli. Right now we have only two buildings on liveUgli, and frankly, people study in more locations than just The UGLi and The Dude. So, I’m looking for an editable database of locations so that we can add locations to liveUgli very quickly and painlessly. Another issue we’ve encountered with liveUgli, is that it takes a lot of time and effort to make floor plans of buildings. So, we’re thinking about moving away from that and just using campus maps, or even Google Maps… or heck, lets scrap the maps all together. When someone tells you where they are, they can usually tell you where they are with enough accuracy to find them without the use of any kind of map whatsoever. So, maybe we can use that fact to our advantage. Combine this with maps, and it becomes very powerful. This assumes that they are a student at the University of Michigan, and have been to the location before. We’re targeting these people right now anyway, so we can make that assumption for now.The other question you might ask is, what’s so special about a location database that you can’t just use an existing solution. Well… I’ve thought about this for a while too. I’ve looked into various Geographic information systems, and they all seem too complicated for me to use. I want this GIS to be dead simple for the user. I don’t want to require people to have a GIS degree to use this thing. Maybe eventually, I will cave in and just use a GIS that is already out there, but maybe this location database thingy is in fact unique and never done before. I doubt it. However, I haven’t found the right thing yet.

There are a few things out there that are similar. For example, PostGIS “spatially enables” a PostgreSQL database server. So… a location database? Maybe. One thing I don’t think this really covers is the hierchy that I wanted to capture. I guess with any relational database its going to be tough to empose a tree structure on your data. Relational databases are simply not meant to store trees. I’m managing to do it, but not in a very elegant way.

Another really cool website that is kinda what I was going for is Wikimapia. They say they were inspired by Google Maps and Wikipedia. Wikimapia allows you to put a bounding box around any part of the earth and add a name, some tags, and a description to it.

Another online location database that I’ve played with only a little bit, is called Platial. This site is actually the most similar to Blue Puddle, a project I worked on last semester with GROCS at the University of Michigan. It doesn’t look like Platial does bounds, or any sort of hierchy of locations, but it allows you to “make your own maps”.

Right now, if I had to choose the largest competitor to liveUgli I would say it would be Plazes. Plazes allows users to upload information about places from their downloadable client called the Plazer. Each “plaze” is centered at a wireless access point or router. So, the software knows which place you are at by the wireless access point or router you are either connected to or, closest to. Or, maybe its any one it can recognise. Overall, Plazes is really cool, but it doesn’t let you get down into much detail, and what about places that don’t have wireless access points? Nope, can’t mark those yet. It uses the Google Maps API along with everyone else, and also the Flickr API for photos, which is really cool.

Wayfaring is a really cool looking site. It’s got a lot of AJAX going on and a nice color scheme. It’s also very feature rich. It allows you to, quote “Create, Share, Explore, and Connect” maps. So, you can create your own maps with waypoints, routes, and notes. You can easily put the map within an iframe on your own page. You can browse maps that other people made in your area.

Another site I just found very recently is Mapfacture. It says its a GeoRSS aggregator. GeoRSS is just a convention to tag RSS items with latitude and longitude coordinates. So, when you write a blog entry about your trip to Paris, you might attach the geo coordinates to the entry.

GeoNames says its a geographical database. “Geonames is integrating geographical data such as names, altitude, population and others from various sources. ” So, basically, they have a lot of data that is all licenced under a Creative Commons licence, specifically Attribution 2.5. They also have a webservice and database dumps so that other pieces of software can access the data easily.

Another site that I think has a great idea, but may not be as useful to me is OpenStreetMap. They aim to make a free wiki world map. You can upload GPS tracks, and view what other people have uploaded. I think this project is focusing on making free street maps, and not really going in the same direction as I want to, but still cool none-the-less.

My final service of the day is Tagzania