Flight information at your fingertips

Last night my wife was flying back to Boston from Florida on Delta Flight 1994. I was watching the Super Bowl (Go Patriots, naturally), and could only spare a little time away from the game to see if her flight was on time. As I dashed upstairs I wondered to myself, “Do you suppose Google would understand what I meant if I just typed delta 1994?” With winklike quickness, I typed it into Dave’s Quick Search Deskbar, and sure enough, right there at the top of the page was a link to track the status of Delta Air Lines flight 1994. With 11 keystrokes and two mouse clicks I saw a diagram of exactly where her plane was (near Savannah, Georgia) along with the arrival information (13 minutes late). I was impressed. When you get a demo of this sort of thing, it’s interesting. When it magically removes a hassle from your life, it’s something altogether more thrilling.

As a postscript, the number one Google item for “delta 1994” was page from a Russian car dealer for a 1994 Daihatsu Delta. Have they done a sneaky Google boost on their ratings somehow? And if they have, do they really expect people from all over the world to buy used cars from Vladivostok? Nothing wrong with that, but the wired world is a curious place.

Open source TiVo

I like this NY Times article about various hack-your-own-TiVo-for-free solutions that are cropping up on the web: Arts > Television > Steal This Show” href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/30/arts/television/30manl.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5090&en=e82b9db497df2928&ex=1264741200&partner=rssuserland”>Steal This Show. It makes the point rather forcefully that no TV executive is going to be able to stop services like MythTV (an open source TiVo-like program) and Videora from taking off and subsequently putting the hurt on TV’s advertising revenue model. We’ve heard many predictions of TiVo’s imminent demise, and they may yet come true, but who of TiVo’s current for-pay competitors will last much longer? Whatever happens, you can be sure that the pressure from free competitors like MythTV will drive down the price whatever TiVoid commercial solution is left standing. It’s just not that hard to make a digital video recorder service, now that the pioneers have shown us how to do it.

What’s sad is that television content producers (like the NFL for example) insist that products like TiVo be less useful than customers want them to be in order to protect intellectual property. This effectively drives people to free gray-area solutions like MythTV and punishes corporations like TiVo that are trying their hardest to color inside the lines. By punishing the one they have leverage over they eventually lose leverage altogether as the game spins out of their control.

Real world Tron

Kotaku is a game site from the Gawker Media stable. A few days ago while browsing Kotaku I came across this item: GPS Tron. A guy in Germany has written software that lets two people play a real world version of the light cycle game from the movie Tron. The object of the game is to move around a two-dimensional grid leaving a trail behind you that can’t be crossed. Eventually you or your opponent will crash into the boundary wall or one of the trails left behind by your light cycles. And now through the magic of cell phones and cheap GPS receivers, you and a friend can play this game by driving around in real cars. I’m not sure how they enforce the constant speed rule, but still, it’s a pretty cool idea.

Amazing videos

Cheap video cameras bring many things. For all the locker room webcam voyeurism, one of the undeniable benefits of millions of cheap video cameras is that lots of remarkable events now get captured on video that used to be reserved only for eyewitnesses in dangerous or even deadly situations. Dozens of recent tsunami videos fall into this category. I watched all of them that I could find. Gruesome and voyeuristic maybe, but they’re absolutely mesmerizing.

I recently came across a site called Big-Boys.com. It’s a collection of mostly videos with a strong adolescent spin, but there are some amazing videos in there. For example, look at this remarkable shot of a Japanese landslide: Big Landslide.

The segments are all quite short. I don’t know how they pay for the bandwidth. They seem to get a lot of unedited raw video of accidents. Once you start watching, you can’t stop. Here are two different accidents involving military helicopters. For instance, what does it look like when a helicopter tips over too close to the ground? This. And if you’re refueling your helicopter over the desert, don’t do this. It’s a wonder those damn things fly at all.

Not all the videos are violent. Here’s a quiet but surprisingly entertaining puzzle that challenges you to spot the difference between two rural scenes.