All posts filed under “Geeking out

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A week of awesome tech/startup/cool stuff in Cambridge


The week of 25-29 January 2010 is going to be absolutely awesome in Cambridge. There are three great events that you need to attend.

Of these, it’s most important that you come to the Cambridge Tech Meetup. We’ll be kicking the year off with a bang and six “wicked awesome” technology demos, from people/companies based in Cambridge.

Tuesday – January 26th – Enterprise Tuesday

Time: 6:30-7:30pm lecture (registration from 6pm, networking afterward)
Location: Lecture Theatre 0, Engineering Department, Trumpington Street
Speakers: Neil Davidson, Co-Founder and joint CEO, Red Gate Software; Steve Barlow, Co-Founder, Alphamosaic; Alex Mehta, Communications Director, Judicium

Enterprise Tuesday is a great event, and the topic for next week is “Building a Dream Team.” I recommend this specifically because I think incredibly highly of Neil Davidson, who co-founded Red Gate software and continues to serve as co-CEO. (In addition to founding the Business of Software conference, serving as Chairman of the Cambridge Network, and starting the Springboard programme at Red Gate.)


*** Wednesday – January 27th – Cambridge Tech Meetup ***

Time: 6:30pm doors for 7pm start of demos (additional Q&A and discussion afterward)
Location: Lecture Theatre 1, Judge Business School, Trumpington Street

If you have to pick one event, come to the Cambridge Tech Meetup! (Yes, I started it with the help of many, many others.)

Six products will have has seven minutes to demo their technology/product; all of them developed in Cambridge! Everything from new display technology to cool video search technology to audio analysis and 3d model building via webcam will be demo’ed.

Demo companies/technologies are:

Link for info and to RSVP:

(The sharp-eyed among you will notice that this takes place shortly after the big Apple announcement on the 27th. I’ll be sure to have the screen tuned to a live-blog or tweet-stream until the demo’s kick off.)

Thursday – January 28th – Cambridge Business Lecture: Dan Pink

Time: 6pm start (networking afterward)
Location: Robinson College, Grange Road
Speaker: Dan Pink, best-selling author, writer, speaker

This event is a Cambridge Business Lecture, hosted by the Cambridge Network. Dan Pink is a great author/writer, and I think it’s just fantastic he’ll be speaking in Cambridge. If you’re in town, go.


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Location-based apps: Flook, Gowalla, Foursquare

A lot of people have been talking about and playing with location-based applications these days. I wanted to put my two cents into the debate, specifically on Flook, Gowalla, and Foursquare.


Flook is the least-known of these three apps, but potentially the most interesting. Users take photos (which are automatically geo-tagged) and then add captions and information about the photo. What’s cool is that if you go somewhere new, you can quickly pull up the interesting places nearest to you. That might be a pub, a cool shop, or virtually anything else. And of course there’s a comments section around each card, too.

For me, the current downfall of Flook is that it’s iPhone-only, and I’ve recently moved to an Android phone. It’s also difficult to find and follow people you know, unless they’re in the same area and you see their cards normally.

Fundamentally, Flook is a hugely rich source of interesting information, with a *fantastic* user interface. I highly recommend that you download it for your iPhone and try it out. (Disclosure: I know the founders/investors of Flook, and think highly of them.)

PS- They’re currently running a competition to win a MacBook Air by just making cool Flook cards… check it out by clicking here.


Gowalla competes directly with Foursquare, and I have to definitely give the edge to Gowalla. It’s a beautifully made application, and what I love about it is the metaphor that Gowalla uses: a passport. Users are encouraged to get “stamps” in their “passport” for visiting new places. You earn and collect cool items from commissioning/founding new places, and can drop them off and pick up other cool items anywhere you visit. It’s definitely helped me think about new and interesting pubs, restaurants, etc. near me. (And of course see where your friends are checking in, too.)

While Gowalla has an iPhone app, their Android interface is through a web application. ( It has 80% of the functionality; the only major thing it’s missing is the ability to see and drop off your “items”.

[UPDATE]: I forgot this in my original post, but Gowalla lets you add locations anywhere in the world, and not just in particular cities like Foursquare. For example, I was at a conference at a huge convention center in southwest Ireland recently and added that to Gowalla, no problem. (Unlike Foursquare.) Foursquare may be rolling out to new cities all the time, but Gowalla can be used anywhere in the world right now.


Foursquare is bigger (in number of users) than Gowalla and has top-flight investors (Union Square Ventures), but I just don’t care for it. Its design is good, but not beautiful like Gowalla’s. But the biggest thing is the metaphor of points & mayorships that Foursquare uses. Each week a user’s points gets reset, and you have to keep checking into places to get and keep your “mayorship.”

To me, the metaphor of “mayorship” is a recipe for stagnation. It encourages users to go back to the same places over and over, and the mayorship will likely only rotate amongst a small number of regulars. For me, I quickly became the mayor of places where few other people checked in, and was out of the running for mayor-ships where I went regularly but where others checked in far more frequently. In both cases, my incentives were to stop using it.

Now, Foursquare does have a native application for both iPhone and Android, and it has excellent advisors. The founders previously started Dodgeball, a similar application which was bought by Google (where it stagnated) a couple years ago. It will need some better execution to get over its current problems. While Foursquare might be popular now with early adopters, I think it will have serious problems if/when it goes mainstream.


So I’m a Flook user when I have my iPhone handy, and I’m definitely a Gowalla user. Gowalla is great to track cool places I’ve been and where my friends go, and Flook is great to find interesting stuff that I might otherwise miss. Definitely give both a try.

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Three quick notes…

Note 1 – A VERY local Failblog

If you haven’t ever heard of Failblog, it’s simply hilarious. Every day there are a ton of photos and videos that can only be described as “FAIL.”

But Thursday there was a post called “Bus Driver Fail“. What’s great about this is that the video was taken at my local bus stop! It’s literally just a couple hundred meters from home.

Just check out the video here:

[If you can’t see the video, just click here.]

Note 2 – A Wikipedia entry for a 500-person town

When I was very young, I grew up in the rural Minnesota town of Danube, Minnesota. The other day I just happened to look it up on Wikipedia, and found the entry hilarious. Clearly some local has turned it into a bit of a brochure for small-town America. Examples include:

Danube Pride

While the people of Danube may appear to be normal small-town dwellers, they in fact have a very rare and highly regarded sense of pride for their quaint city in Minnesota. Many residents have been noted as saying proudly, “Danube is the heart of God’s Country.” or a blunt reply, “This is Danube, of course it’s awesome.” This is most evident in the people who were born and raised in or near Danube. This sense of pride typically continues into adulthood and in many cases it continues even after they have moved away from their hometown.



The youth of Danube enjoy some unique activities that help to keep Danube special. The youth ride bicycles as their way of getting around, and typically have ridden their bikes through the streets and sidewalks of Danube enough to accumulate 5,000 miles (unofficially). Skinned knees are an epidemic with these youth. […]
In their teenage years, residents will typically discover that the Danube water tower can be climbed (much to the chagrin of the city maintenance workers and the lone police officer) for a great view of the city and the surrounding area. […]
Adult activities include “going up town” for lunch at the cafe, catching up with the gossip at “The 1-Stop”, “going up town” to get the mail, or attending the high school’s various sporting events. Nightlife is monopolized by Miller’s on Main – the residents’ only choice for a place to sing some karaoke.

On a side note, my mother used to own the cafe mentioned above…

As a former resident of Danube, I suppose I have to have that “Danube Pride” described above. And to be fair, I do have fond memories of the town, though generally through visits with family friends after we moved away…

Note 3 – Google Waving

If you haven’t heard of Google Wave, it’s a new tool for collaborating that Google announced earlier this year. I recently got an invite and have been playing around with it. (If you’d like an invite yourself, just let me know.)

But here’s a video of Google Wave, um… “simulating” the movie Pulp Fiction. It’s pretty funny. Check it out here: (Not safe for work)

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More on SpaceX…

So I’m an aero geek; always have been, always will be. But with SpaceX’s latest big update, I have to say that I absolutely can’t wait to see the first Falcon9 launch.

(See an earlier post on SpaceX and Falcon 9 here.)

For background, Falcon 9 can lift just over 10,000kg to Low Earth Orbit. The future Falcon 9 Heavy (which is the standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 1st stages bolted on for a total of 27 engines at the start) will be able to lift 29,610kg to Low Earth Orbit!

To put that in relative terms, here is what other rockets/systems can lift to LEO:

  • Apollo: 118,000kg
  • Space Shuttle: 24,400kg
  • Delta IV Heavy: 22,950kg

In other words, this small, entrepreneurial rocket company that was founded less than ten years ago is building some of the biggest rockets around.

But enough of that… let’s get to the pictures! (Which are all from the SpaceX updates page here.)

The nine engines of the Falcon 9 first stage:


The assembled Falcon 9 first stage engines & thrust assembly (at 17,000lbs this is over half the weight of the unfueled rocket):


The first stage engines getting ready for shipping:


The Dragon capsule, which sits at the top of the rocket for Space Station resupply missions:


The full rocket, on the launch platform at Cape Canaveral: