Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Software old and new 4: Newsmap (and magic wands)

Okay, last of this big blort of online tools.

I spent yesterday afternoon down at a presentation at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, which was talking about the way they're integrating all the cool current software trends into their business. For the most part, this was a misfire -- the thing was more aimed at CEOs and VCs, and I was kind of at sea in all the hob-nobbing. But while poking around in their demo area, I came across Newsmap, which is a neat, useful little application.

Basically, Newsmap is a big Flash app (and I mean physically big: it really wants to be used full-screen, and the bigger the screen the better), which scrapes the Google news feed and represents it as a giant Wall of News. You can select what kinds of news you want, both by geography and topic; it pulls in everything it can find, and splashes up boxes of headlines, grouped and colored topically so you can at a glance get a gestalt idea of what's going on in the world, with each box's size proportional to how many related articles Google is finding.

The best way to describe is in science fiction terms. You know how, in various stories, the bad guy always has this gigantic wall of televisions, turned to many different news stations, so he can keep track of everything that's going on? This is a simplied, practical version of the same idea. On one screen, you can see what's happening in the world, and can quickly and easily drill down into it. It's easy to use, intuitive, and really quite powerful.

So if you have a big monitor (and a reasonably current version of Flash), give it a look. I lost a surprising amount of time just surfing via this thing yesterday: it's a delightful window into the world, and looks useful enough that I've made a donation to the author. (Who is soliciting PayPal donations to "take some time off from work and bring it to the next level".)

Postscript: there was one other thing of note that came out of the FCAT presentation. I spent much of the time kind of disengaged on my own, but at the end, I wound up talking with the "Senior Project Manager" who was doing some of the demos -- who was really their in-house hardware geek, basically a Media Lab type who had somehow landed at Fidelity. He showed me his latest pride and joy. It looks like a small wizard's wand, a la Harry Potter; the neat part was when he picked it up and started using it to control all the TVs in the room. *Flick* up, and that one's volume turns up. *Flick* sideways, and it changes channels. And so on: he could do a surprising amount with the thing.

The neat bit is how simple is actually was: he had apparently just built a pair of accelerometers and an RF projector into the wand, with some software to make it into a gesture-based learning remote. Even I (the pure software guy) can pretty much see what he did, but the thing was elegant as hell, and just plain magical in an Arthur C. Clarke kind of way. Probably the coolest gadget I've seen in years: I find myself not just wanting one, but wanting to rip it apart and start enhancing it. The potential is scary and delightful...
Tags: technology

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