While serving in the Navy I learned pretty quick to respect the ocean. Its mood ranges from calm and peaceful to raging tempest. In fact I've seen flat, glassy seas that blend with the horizon and I've spent sleepless nights while enduring typhoons.
Ever the analogist, I see a lot of parallels between the ocean and technology. At times we get smooth, steady growth. But sometimes new gadgets and technologies come flooding into our lives so fast that it's all we can do to keep our head above water.
To avoid getting caught up in the undertow and becoming a technogeek, most of the time I look at new technologies and say "That's nice. Next?" But every once in a while a few waves of cool inventions catch my eye and I stop to check them out. And, if I find something useful, I let others know. So here goes.
First up is answers.com. Actually this one has been around for a while, but it's new to me. It's a free tool that allows you to check definitions, histories, and biographies no matter what program you're using. Answers.com is a combination dictionary, encyclopedia, almanac, glossary, and atlas. And did I mention it's free?
How it works: Say you want information about a particular word. Just press the "alt" key and click the word. Voila, up pops information about that word.
For example, if you're reading up on retirement and you're trying to figure out the difference between a 401k and a 403b, you can either start wondering where that Charles Schwab agent is, or you can use Answers.com and become educated with one click of the mouse. And here's the cool part: You stay on the page you're on. You don't have to open another browser window and search through Google results to do it!
Keep that up and people might think you've been sleeping at a Holiday Inn Express.
Other cool features include a nifty pop-out search bar or an answers.com search box for your browser's toolbar. If you have a website or blog you can add a search box so visitors can use answers.com to gather additional data without having to leave your page. All for the grand old price of zero dollars and zero cents.
Next up is the iPhone. This thing looks to be the first major convergence of "gadget" technologies into one single unit. In my opinion, this has been needed for a long time (I was writing about the need for this six years ago!).
According to press releases, the iPhone will have a 3.5-inch touchscreen and a 2 megapixel camera. Most camera phones today are only 0.3 megapixels, so the 2 megapixel feature should be a home run.
Other pros: The iPhone will handle full Internet searching (with zoom) and email with HTML graphics. It will play MP3's and movies just like an iPod, and it has Quad Band GSM (which means one can use it worldwide), Edge, WiFi, and Bluetooth.
The cons: It will be available (in the U.S, at least) only through Cingular, which limits its market. It doesn't have voice recognition. It's pricey. $499 and $599 for the 4GB and 8GB respectively. And, upon closer examination, it may be more of a consumer phone than a business phone. At $499 each with a two-year contract, that severely limits its market.
So, whether or not the iPhone itself will be practical, sturdy, and successful is yet to be seen, but it's the first cool convergence gadget on an awesome wave of technology we've needed for a long time. If nothing else, the iPhone raises the bar for other phone manufacturers.
Finally, if your organization uses magnetic stripe cards for timekeeping or access control, you might enjoy a visit to itcentral.com and their "BioLife" products. These machines scan fingerprints to grant access or keep track of "punchclock" hours.
What's more, systems can be set up that are fully integrated with video surveillance and are Intranet or Internet controlled. With each machine capable of storing and remembering 50,000 fingerprints, there will be no more need for anyone to say "I got half-way to work and realized I forgot my access card!"
So, these are a few technology waves to consider. I realize some people surf five-foot waves while some prefer twenty-five footers. Still others just like to get their feet wet. Whatever your preference, there's a whole ocean of gadgets and technologies out there. If you find some cool ones, feel free to let me know.