I'm a sucker for automation. I'm the perfect storm of impatience, laziness, and sausage fingers, so anything that can save me a step or two qualifies as a must. In fact, there are plenty of things I'd never do if they weren't taken care of in the background (like posting links to my blog entries on FB). IfThisThenThat, which recently opened its doors to the world, wants to streamline our online lives and make it easier to integrate multiple services. In a way, it's like very simple programming using the easy-to-remember format "if this … Read more
Can the merciless resolve of a robot overlord help you shed pounds? A Hong Kong startup is hoping dieters are willing to pony up for a $960 droid instead of just using an app.
The 15-inch talking droid has an LCD touch screen. Users enter data on calories they consume and the exercise they do each day. The robot responds with customized advice and encouragement, and can download new speech patterns from the Internet so the chatter doesn't get too dull.
Developer Cory Kidd says that many dieters have tried phone- or Web-based apps to get rid of excess weight, but there's a "psychological difference" in using a machine with a head, blinking eyes, and body.
Perhaps Autom's face-tracking function and big blue eyes will make users feel guilty about sneaking that pizza slice between meals. Kidd refers to Autom with female pronouns, and says "she" doesn't scold users.
A study by Kidd compared 45 dieters in the Boston area and monitored their calories and exercise by computer, on paper, or with Autom. The results showed the robot helped people stick to their diets for nearly twice as long as the other tracking methods. … Read more
A couple months back I told you about Mr. PhoneTree, an iOS-only app that can automatically call every person in a group and play a recorded message--a huge time-saver for anyone who manages, say, a soccer team or social group.
Although the app came with 25 call credits to get you started, you had to purchase credit bundles after that. If you're looking for a cheaper solution and have minimal automated-call needs, check out DialMyCalls for Android and DialMyCalls for iOS.
The app is buggy and confusing in places, and much more limited than Mr. PhoneTree, but it does have one ace up its sleeve: it allows you one free phone blast per week (up to 30 seconds long and to as many as 25 people).
DialMyCalls comes from the Web-based service of the same name, but obviously it's far more convenient to set up and launch an automated call on your smartphone. The process is fairly straightforward--record your message, choose the recipients, then send the message--but the app suffers from numerous annoying quirks.
For starters, I couldn't create a new account on my iPhone; for some reason the app rejected my Gmail address as "invalid." Fortunately, I was able to set up an account on DialMyCalls.com, then sign into it on my phone. But the app requires your password every time you run it, with no option to remember it.… Read more
By the year after next, we'll buy more consumer devices that connect to the Internet than PCs, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. Wow, more Internet-connected set-top boxes and game consoles than PCs? Actually, no. But there's an exciting story behind the story.
The study puts tablets in the consumer devices category, which is usually limited to devices like TVs, set-top boxes, DVD players, game controllers, and sound systems. IHS iSuppli already counts tablets in the separate category of mobile devices. Counting them again in the consumer devices category is questionable.
Counting tablets, a type of computer, in with devices gives a false impression. According to the study:
Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices... will surge to 503.6 million units in 2013, up from 161 million in 2010. In comparison, PC shipments during the same period will amount to 433.7 million, up from 345.4 million. In 2015, shipments of Internet-enabled consumer devices will [be] 780.8 million units, massively exceeding PC shipments of 479.1 million.
But half of the increase in Internet-enabled consumer device shipments is due to tablets. Put tablets back in mobile devices where they belong, and PC shipments still beat consumer devices--through 2015 anyway.… Read more
LAS VEGAS--Researchers at the Black Hat security conference here showed today how they could disrupt and snoop on home automation networks in residences and offices using devices connected to Ethernet networks that communicate via public power lines.
Dave Kennedy and Rob Simon have created a device that can be plugged in to a power outlet outside a target building or a nearby building and programmed to interfere with the home Ethernet network inside. The X10 Black Out device can be programmed to jam the signals that turn lights on and off and open doors, as well as disable security systems, … Read more
Chris Hoff, a former colleague now at Juniper Systems, and a great blogger in his own right, penned a piece last week about the weak underbelly of automation: our decreased opportunity to react manually to negative situations before they become a crisis. Hoff put the problem extremely well in the opening of the post:
I'm a huge proponent of automation. Taking rote processes from the hands of humans & leveraging machines of all types to enable higher agility, lower cost and increased efficacy is a wonderful thing.
However, there's a trade off; as automation matures and feedback loops … Read more
An emphasis on speed and a lack of security makes automated trading in financial markets ripe for exploitation and fraud, a security researcher warned today.
Most stock trades in the U.S. and many around the world in general are now made by data-crunching computers that buy and sell stocks in microseconds--something that used to take human traders minutes to do. With these algorithm-based, high-frequency trades a fraction of second can be worth millions of dollars for an investor. (See CBS 60 Minutes report on this.)
In the push for greater speed and thus higher profits, security is sacrificed, James … Read more
If you use more than one networked service, the odds are good that at some point you've caught yourself repeating an action one time too many and wishing you could tell the Internet to do it for you. Maybe you want an easier way to import a feed into Facebook, or you want to ping a friend every time you star something in Google Reader, or maybe you want a text reminder to call your mom every Friday at 3 p.m.
IfThisThenThat (IfTTT) lets you create automatically triggered actions based on a wide range of networked services. It … Read more
Are you coaching a soccer team? Hosting a party? Managing a mobile sales fleet? Wouldn't it be fantastic to have a way to quickly and automatically contact everyone involved, without having to make the same phone call over and over?
That's the idea behind Mr. PhoneTree, a new iPhone app that can call, e-mail, and/or text-message as many people as you want--and even request and track responses.
Think about it. You need to remind a dozen parents about soccer practice. You need to tell invited guests that the party has been moved to an indoor location. You want to let friends and family members know that the new baby was born at 8:53 p.m. and she and Mom are doing fine.
Mr. PhoneTree can handle those and other situations in which you don't want to call each and every person yourself. The app supports simple broadcasts, confirmed delivery (in which it keeps trying to connect with each person until it receives a confirmation), and even surveys (like asking people to RSVP for an event).… Read more
A macro is an automated series of computer actions that can save you a lot of time if you find yourself doing the same tasks over and over again. Unfortunately, macros aren't always easy to create, which means that a lot of people who could benefit from them never get the chance. iMacros for Internet Explorer changes this, making it easy even for novices to create and use macros.
This browser extension appears as a small icon on the IE toolbar, and clicking on it opens a sidebar to the left. Here there are tabs for playing, recording, and … Read more