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I Void Warranties

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right? Yeah, sorry, that’s never been my motto and never will be.

I was the kid that took toys apart to see what was inside and to see if I could make them do something other than what the manufacturer intended. In the early 80’s, my brother and I had these little battery powered trucks called Stompers and Rough Riders. They ran on one AAA battery and we spent many hours racing them in the dirt in our backyard. They were fun, but we eventually figured out that there was a small magnet near the motor that acted as a governor, limiting the speed of the trucks. If you cracked the case open and removed that magnet, the trucks almost doubled in speed. Battery life sucked, but damn they were fast!

30-ish years later, I still can’t leave things alone. It’s rare that anything electronic or mechanical stays in it’s stock configuration once I have it for any period of time. If there’s any chance that I can make something faster, louder, brighter, more efficient or whatever, I’m going to give it a shot. My wife regularly lambastes me for  not being satisfied with things the way that they come out of the box.

I Jailbreak iPhones, root Android devices, install amplifiers, cut holes for bigger speakers, put bigger batteries in things, take unnecessary parts out and generally just mess with anything that looks like it needs a good tweaking! Sometimes my efforts reap very little benefit. Sometimes I break stuff. But a lot of times I end up with something that’s better than it was when I got it, or at least a little more customized to my tastes.

It boils down to the fact that I love to figure out how things work. I respect a machine for what it is and for what it can do, but after a while I want to see what’s inside. I want to know what makes it work and see if I can make it work any better. I’m not alone in this. What do you think the Large Hadron Collider is? Scientists are using it to hurl sub-atomic particles at each other at near the speed of light to bust them open and figure out what’s inside!

The bad thing about this practice is that it does tend to result in a feeling of never quite being satisfied with how things are. For me, the fun is in the endless pursuit of, and not necessarily in possessing a perfect toy.

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Course Adjustment

My original concept for Your Family Geek was to translate my knowledge of  all things geeky into something useful to anyone. I even had a pipe-dream that enough people would want what I was writing that I could make a few bucks off of the blog. Writing has been a good creative outlet for me, but I’ve also spent quite a bit of energy trying to come up with posts that people may find useful, like technology tips and such. While I don’t want to get too caught up in numbers, based on the stats, not too many people are reading those posts. Heck, not too many people are reading any of the posts!

With that in mind, I was considering pulling the plug on the blog and allowing it to become another stagnant puddle of information sitting on WordPress like so many other blogs. But instead of
abandoning ship, I’m just going to change course a bit. I’m going to write what I feel like writing, it’s not like anyone will notice. 😉

I’m not sure what that course will look like, probably a jumbled mess but it will be my jumbled mess.

Thanks for reading and thanks to Adam for the advice.

Waze – Crowdsourced Navigation.

Most smartphones have a built-in map or navigation app and most of them work quite well. Some will provide traffic information and show the locations of gas stations, restaurants and other roadside points of interest. A mobile app named Waze adds crowdsourced information in an attempt to make your commute faster and safer.

On its own, Waze is a great navigation app, but that’s not what makes it cool. The cool comes from the crowdsourced information! By leaving the app running (actively navigating or not) you’ll receive alerts on traffic conditions, accidents, construction and even patrolling public service employees. The alerts are generated based on information entered by other users as they drive ahead of you. You can also alert other drivers to road conditions.

The app can also help you find the cheapest gas in the area by using crowdsourced information.

I know what you’re saying. “Enter alerts as they drive, isn’t that dangerous?” In the strictest terms, taking your focus off of the road for any amount of time is dangerous, but Waze makes the process as simple as operating your car’s radio. It takes a total of 3 taps on the screen to enter an alert for a traffic accident. You can enter more data on your alerts, but the app disables the ability to type if you’re in motion. You can also confirm alerts entered by others with a single tap.

The app also gathers information passively as long as it’s open. It monitors your route and the speed you’re travelling together with the data entered by users to draw a bigger picture of road conditions.

Like any app that uses crowdsourced information, it’s only as good as the information that’s put into it. The more people using the app, the more data that’s available. It’s also susceptible to pranksters or other invalid input, thus the inclusion of the ability to confirm other’s entries.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Waze is free!

Download Waze and try it out for a few days on your commute. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the app before you start rolling. Just leave it running for your first couple of trips and see how you like it. If you feel like it’s something of benefit to you, then start contributing by adding your own alerts!

[Note: I’ve only tested on an Android phone.]

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