A Froogle success story

I own a Zire, the low-end PDA from Palm. I’m very happy with it, but my last PDA (a Visor Edge from Handspring) had a synching cradle for my work computer and my home computer. I found this very convenient for managing my data at home in the evening as well at work. So I wanted to get a Zire synch cable for home. Most PDAs use a special custom cradle for synching, but the Zire uses only a simple cable with a USB jack on one side. The other side fits into the Zire. Was the other jack customized for the Zire? I wasn’t sure. This seemed like a good task for Froogle.

I started by searching Froogle with “zire hotsync cable“. I found a kit that included the cable and a charger for $25, but since I only wanted the cable, I was sure I could find something lower, so I went to Google and typed in the same query. From a review on one of the linked sites, I discovered that what I needed was a USB-to-Mini-USB cable. Once you have the right search words, you’re home free. Froogle found me the cable I wanted, and once I narrowed the category to Connectors & Cables and the price to less than $5, I quickly converged on a $3.25 cable
(not including shipping) at PCTek Online. Radio Shack wants $15 for the same thing. Radio Shack did a clever thing, though: they showed that the product was available in stores near me. Given that shipping brought my online purchase to $10, I might conceivably be willing to pay a “have it now” premium of $5 and just drive to Radio Shack.

Before placing my order with PCTek Online, I wanted to see if they were a credible operation. So I went (where else?) to Google searching for ratings of PCTek Online. I found this site which gave me enough confidence to place the order. I’ll let you know if it all works.

The other Mr. Potter

My sister-in-law went on a trip to England a few years ago, and her favorite stop on the whole trip was not the Tower of London, or the British Museum, or the Houses of Parliament. It was Mr. Potter’s Museum of Curiosities in Bolventor, Cornwall. Keep in mind that my sister-in-law took her hamster Frederick to the taxidermist; Frederick is now enshrined on her mantel. Walter Potter was a Victorian eccentric who liked to stuff small animals and make eloborate tableaux, like the tea party of euthanized kittens and the Rabbits Village School, “containing 48 young rabbits, mostly provided by Mr. Feast, a rabbit breeder in Beeding.” Don’t miss the photo-postcard of the monkey riding a goat.

Moved by Movable

I’m being sorely tempted to make the jump from Blogger as my blog service provider to Movable Type. Blogger is a great service, but there are a few features that I am pining for over on the other side of the fence. For example, look at Steven Johnson’s site or Matt Simoneau’s site. After every entry any reader can enter their own comments. I want that. Cooler still is the TrackBack feature. Take a look at Steven’s entry for December 12. It’s about the Google 2002 Zeitgeist page, and several people have added their own thoughts. Matt wrote about the Zeitgeist page too. If, as he talked about it, he referenced Steven’s site, then Steven’s site would automatically be updated. Look at the TrackBack log for Steven’s next entry on the LazyWeb. Nice feature.

Data weather: a tempest for your teapot

The New York Times Magazine, came out with its 2nd Annual Ideas of the Year issue. There’s lots of good stuff here, from botox parties (originally blogged here way back last April) to haunting more-real-than-real flower/scanner art. One item that jumped out at me was
News That Glows, about a simple ornamental desktop orb that changes color as, for instance, the stock market goes up and down. Green means that stocks are up, yellow means nada mucho, and red means stocks are headed down. Millions of people have trained themselves to squint at tiny numbers scrolling by on the TV or computer screen. Why not make the same information a pleasant part of your office landscape? I think this is a wonderfully sensible idea. You can think of it as “data weather” in the sense that, as important as weather is, a glance out the window is enough to see if you need an umbrella. Ambient Devices, the manufacturer of the glowing orb, has a nice description of the philosophy behind ambient displays on their website.
The late Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC fame was a longtime proponent of ubiquitous computing, ambient displays, and so-called “calm technology.” As the article says

Consider how counterintuitive this is. We’ve been cramming stock tips, horoscopes and news items onto our computers and cellphones — forcing us to peer constantly at little screens. What if we’ve been precisely wrong? It’s the new paradox of our data world. ”The way to become attuned to more information,” Weiser and Brown noted, ”is to attend to it less.”

One of the first ambient displays to receive wide notice was the
Dangling String, an artwork at PARC that showed how busy the local network was by twirling a piece of string. A quick look would reveal a whirling blur (a busy network) or a twitching but mostly limp string (light activity). It was a useful and entertaining barometer of activity in the building. Given the galloping improvements occurring in cheap display technology and wireless networking, you can expect to see ambient displays of data weather coming soon to a desktop near you.

Flash for the masses

MikeyO, the Mad Scientist and Super Genius behind Industry! pointed me to AlbinoBlackSheep, a bizarre and badly organized mess of various (mostly silly) animations. Some of the are very good though. I found this clever spoof of left-wing politics gone astray: Anthrax, The Invisible Victim. As the anthrax ambassador says, “Anthrax not responsible for death of those people. They probably ate bad McDonald’s food.”

Flash animation has put Terry Gilliam/South Park style animation into the hands of the masses.