Archive for January, 2010
28 Jan

Testing out iCall – free VoIP iPhone app

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iCall is the new iPhone app that allows you to do Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls over the Web and 3G. VoIP, while much cheaper, is also generally known for low audio quality. Sorry, it’s true.

Well, it’s also true here. The audio quality from my iCall call was pretty bad… but remember you get what you pay for.

Compared to a traditional cell phone or land line, the audio quality is dramatically worse. Granted I was on AT&T’s not-so-great network, but you can’t blame them for everything and you can’t blame them for this.

The audio was slurred coming in when I heard my voicemail greeting and it was stuttered going out when I heard the audio playback.

Compared to Skype, the quality is also worse. But, in a pinch, this may be a cool app to have.

That said, this may happen to be a coincidence, but my battery was drained from 70 percent to 20 percent five minutes after the call.

Verdict: I don’t recommend this app when GoogleVoice is around the corner.

I uploaded my the audio so you can check it out.


28 Jan

Two business card alternatives: Save the trees, embrace the geekiness

My paper contacts in my office.

A few months ago, I uploaded a photo of my trusty, old Rolodex onto Facebook.

Over the years I have met some great people, collected a ton of business cards and attempted to alphabetize them in my Rolodex.

That alphabetizing part only lasted about 20 minutes some ten years ago.

Since then, I have had piles from different conferences strategically growing on my desk, in my backpack and around my Rolodex.

So, if business cards don’t work for me, what would?

Here are two ways I’ve begun sharing my contact info. Both of these I learned from people at I’ve meet at conferences.

The first is the extremely, iPhone-geeky-awesome Bump. This was introduced to me by David Stanton (@gotoplanb), Poynter Institute and University of Florida instructor, and all around cool tech guy. We met at AEJMC and sure, it probably took longer than physically swapping business cards, using the bump was much more fun. More importantly, it gets the contact information into your phone!

Why is it called Bump? To swap info, each iPhone user first loads up the free app, establishes a connection, then does a fist bump. Okay, the fist bump is actually optional… but the gesture/motion between the two iPhones triggers the app to look for a receiver/sender and syncs up the info. [See the video]

The second is simply, simple and I can’t believe it is free. At this year’s CES, I met some great L.A. tech folks, including Lisa Borodkin (@lisaborodkin). She’s an Entertainment + new media law and policy expert that is jumping into Web journalism reporting for LAist.

I didn’t believe her, but she asked me to text her first name to get a text back with her contact info. I did it, it worked. I set mine up.

Contxts is awesome. The downside: it’s in the SMS side of your phone, not contact side. But, it’s in your phone and adding it to your contacts shouldn’t take too long.

How’s it work, exactly? Just have people text your name/code to 50500 and boom, they get your info. I got greedy, so I have two accounts: webjournalist and roberth.

Try ’em out and tell me what you think.

There are TONS of alternatives to business cards swaps, and these are just two I’ve played with. Which ones have you used? What do you recommend we try or try to avoid?

Let’s do what we can to save the trees… and embrace your inner geek.

27 Jan

Apple’s iPad matches hype, but it’s no print industry savior

NYTimes created an iPad app that takes advantage of the new platform.

NYTimes created an iPad app that takes advantage of the new platform.

Well, it surely doesn’t have the best name, but the much anticipated, the much rumored and the much hyped iPad is finally here.

For those in the newspaper and magazine industries, the iPad has been championed as the device that will save them from bankruptcy. For those who knew of Tablets PC from years ago, this was going to be a flop.

My impression: Damn, it’s slick!

First, snap out of it… this will not save the print industry. Stop it. Who are you kidding? Content is, for the most part, the same as a Web site.

What this does do is give the content creators another distribution method to share news and information. Another opportunity to develop a way to deliver engaging content and capture the elusive revenue.

But, like the Democrats’ attempt at overhauling Health Care, the track record and innovation from our industry’s leadership is… well… lacking.

That said, let’s leave the revenue model/funding concerns for another day. Let’s take a closer look at this device and how it can really change how we cover news.

Here’s what it has:
– Incredible price
– Long battery life – allegedly
– An established OS
– WiFi enabled and upgradable to 3G – sadly through AT&T
– Assisted GPS – with 3G
– Translates existing iPhone apps and the established marketplace
– You can buy an adapter to read SD card

Here’s what’s missing:
– Camera
Adobe Flash compatible, although there is a report that this may soon change.
– Wireless charging
– Wireless syncing
– Tethering

There are some significant unknowns:
– How easy is it to type on?
– Is this a truly mobile device? Will we remember to take it with us?
– How durable is that thin screen?
– Will people want this?
– It’s not E Ink (thank goodness), but will you read books on it? Eyes be damned?

In short, it’s a bigger, stronger iPhone – minus the camera.

From my perspective, depending on the keyboard, this could be the device that really allows Mobile Journalists to be be truly mobile. It’s not the *Multimedia* Journalists’ tool yet, but at least you could potentially use this device instead of your phone or laptop to file your story. You can use the SD card reader to transmit your pics and video.

Any way you slice this, Steve Jobs and Apple have really created an impressive product and a new category that can really shake things up. This may not be our industry’s silver bullet, but it is a great opportunity for us to innovate… let’s not screw this up!

15 Jan

Tech & Tools: A collection multimedia tools

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This pages was created some time ago, displaying a collection of tools, including those pictured below. Go here for the complete list or click on the image.

Click on the image to go to the Tech & Tools page.

13 Jan

Web Journalism Roundup: Haitian earthquake coverage

The recent Haitian tragedy has generated coverage from not only the mainstream media but from all over the Web. Taking on different shapes and technologies, here’s a roundup from good friend Mark Luckie and myself. Please send us more!

New satellite photos show some devastating comparisons before the major quake rocked Haiti. Wired Magazine compared images:

NYTimes also compared before and after images with their impressive swipe tool:

CNN showcased raw street cam video as the quake hit. (Credited to CBS, but I could not find it on their site.):

A collection of viewer submitted stories looking for missing love ones.

CNN’s iReport was made for a story like this. Knowing they are an international hub, they created a “Looking for loved ones in Haiti” section which is pretty compelling:

Geo information is one of the newest and most powerful tools we now have. The site GeoCommons “delivers visual analytics through maps.” Here’s a map of Haiti earthquake data:

A group called the International Network of Crisis Mappers has paired up with local officials, it seems, to try to map incidents and missing people:

The LATimes has launch its GoogleMap to help cover the story as well:,0,564631.htmlstory. And they also offer a Flash earthquake primer:,0,410617.flash.

AP's earthquake Flash graphic

The Associated Press sent out one of their special Flash graphics that is available to all its members. This one was hosted on

The standard tool when covering breaking news is a photo gallery. This event generated many incredibly moving images that led to several galleries, many starting with a warning. Here’s one by MSNBC:’s Big Picture did what it does best and just let you have it without a warning:

The NYTimes took a slightly different approach to photography with their tool that allowed you to really study an image:

PicFrong is a real time photo search. Here are the Haiti results. Be warned, there are some graphic images flowing in:

BBC offered an aerial view of the scene with its simple, raw video:

Live radio from Haiti:

This piece from the Sydney Morning Herald has some intense video, photos and more as it looks at “how the net revealed Haiti horror”:

Twitter has been an incredible source. Here’s the latest with the hashtag #haiti: But you can also get more detailed with tweets from the ground. Here is a search looking for tweets in a 50-mile radius to Port-au-Prince:

In another GoogleWave experiment, someone launched a public wave to aggregate news and information from mainstream, indie, and live sources:

This public Google Wave has a collection of links submitted by anyone with a Wave account.

Please send in more examples!

10 Jan

CES 2010 debrief: Kid Rock, Intel and batteries

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Kid Rock, Geordi Laforge, great gadgets and great folks… my first CES delivered an impressive experience that made it well worth the trip – even if I stayed at a bad hotel like the Excalibur. (Hey, and no CueCat!)

You’ve heard by now that 3D TVs were the buzz of the conference and that an army of eBook readers are about to swarm the market. There were some impressive booths and demos, especially from Kodak and Intel.

But my take away from CES was the growing technology compensating for the limitations we’ve gotten from crappy battery life.

Here are three devices I recommend checking out:

HyperMac batteries come in all sizes.

HyperMac batteries come in all sizes.

HyperMac is a full-fledged external battery made for all your Apple devices.

Coming in difference sizes, you can lug around a battery the size of your laptop to power your laptop. Or a deck-of-card-sized battery that is great to recharge your iPhone a few times over. It powers your devices through its USB port.

If you are tired of carrying around all your cables to charge your devices, PowerMat has some interesting options. This company launched its first device in October, but they have already developed and improved on their impressive technology.

The truly wireless PowerMat. Coming in Q3.

The truly wireless PowerMat. Coming in Q3.

Later this year that are going to release replacement batteries for your cell phone (and soon for your digital point-and-shoot and video cameras) that will work with their wireless charging mat.

But, for me, the best thing coming out in Q3 is their really wireless, portable charger. This (large) pocket-sized mat holds enough to completely charge your iPhone four times or even give your netbook some extra juice, with an adapter.

This mat is truly wireless. Just place your device on the mat, hear a beep and see it charge. There are several different contenders entering the new wireless-power market, but as of right now these guys are leading the way. Keep an eye on this company.

This little thing can get a charge by wind, solar, hand crank or plug.

This little thing can get a charge by wind, solar, hand crank or plug.

And for those of you concerned about your carbon footprint, MiniWiz has developed a wind, solar and hand-cranked power device. This little device is made to hold you over until you get to the plug.

Sure, you can say it is a gimmick, but it’s a nice device in a pinch. One minute of wind power charges your phone for one minute of voice.

There is a newer, smaller version coming out later this year.

With things like the MiFi and these new batteries, we’re getting closer to being a completely wireless reporter without the need of a plug — well, for at least several hours.

07 Jan

CES 2010: Dreaming of gadets and cats

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I’m on the eve of attending my first CES in Vegas. This is the city’s biggest annual convention and it’s the mecca for techno geeks. I’m heading in — wearing comfortable shoes — with the image of the wonderland filled with shiny chrome gadgets with blinky lights.

I’m going in with a Web Journalist filter looking for devices and technology that will help advance storytelling. It’s going to be a big year for mobile devices for a lot cheaper, hopefully given journalists (paid or unpaid) the ability to cover and interact with their community better than before.

But, I have to admit, there is another image that has popped into my head has I begun to drift to techgeek dreamland. The one device, the one word that will forever live in infamy: CueCut.

[Insert groan here]



For those of you who missed it, be thankful. Basically it was a cat-shaped, scanning device that was a gateway to more information. Rumor had it this little piece of technology was going to revolutionize the print revenue model.

It didn’t. And it was deemed an ultimate failure.

But while it didn’t change the world back in the mid-90s, you have to admit the concept has started to pick up some stream. Sort of.

QR Codes have been big in Asian and for the last couple of years people have been saying they were going to sweep over America as the new way of getting information… like a CueCat! Oh. Nevermind.

WebJournalist QR Code

It hasn’t yet, but don’t rule it out with devices like the iPhone and magazine like Esquire Magazine trying to embrace new technology.

Okay, almost rule it out.

With that, you can also rule out the CueCat making an appearance at CES 2010 and count on some very cool gadgets… like a Parrot!

Did I mention I’m a dog person?