Your Phone Can Fly You to the Moon

Ever since my fourth grade teacher explained to me and my classmates that our classroom computer was hundreds of times faster than the computer which sent a man to the moon, I've been fascinated by how NASA has affected technological innovation in the U.S. and the world. Living in DC I have the ability to take a short walk and see the spacecraft which actually orbited the moon and brought our boys safely back to earth, and I'm inspired by it every time. After seeing Apollo 13 again a few weeks ago, I've come to realize that the space program, in particular the Apollo missions, has been a powerful inspiration for me in my pursuit of engineering craft. To put it mildly, I'm a huge fan.

Last month I entered the world of 24/7 internet access by buying a fancy phone, the Motorola Droid. Remembering the words of my fourth grade teacher, I became curious to know how my tiny phone compares with the computer that was used onboard the Apollo 11 moon mission. I knew my phone would be many times more powerful, but the nerd in me wanted to see some actual numbers. So here, for your enjoyment (if you're into this kindof thing), is a comparison of my phone and the Apollo 11 AGC.

Clock Speed
Apollo 11 AGC: 1.024 MHz
Motorola Droid: 600 Mhz
Difference: The Droid has 586 times the clock speed of the Apollo 11 AGC.

Apollo 11 AGC: 72KB ROM / 4KB RAM
Motorola Droid: 512MB ROM / 256MB RAM
Difference: The Motorola Droid has 7,282 times the ROM and 65,536 times the RAM of the Apollo 11 AGC.

Apollo 11 AGC: None
Motorola Droid: 16GB
Difference: The Motorola Droid has 16 Gigabytes of digital storage space. The Apollo 11 AGC had none; everything was stored in ROM.

Power Consumption
Apollo 11 AGC: 70 W
Motorola Droid: 740 mW (roughly, while making a call)
Difference: The Apollo 11 AGC consumed 95 times more power than the Motorola Droid.

Apollo 11 AGC: 70.1 lb
Motorola Droid: 5.96 oz
Difference: The Apollo 11 AGC weighed 188 times more than the Motorola Droid.

By the way don't worry, even if you don't have one of those fancy schmancy phones, you've still got the AGC licked. There's no way the AGC could have handled a phone call.

Motorola Droid Specs
Wikipedia: Apollo Guidance Computer
Download Squad: How Powerful was the Apollo Guidance Computer?
IET: Apollo Guidance Computer Revisited


Top 5 Gmail Tips

Gmail, Google's online email service, is my favorite online app bar none. Before Gmail, email took up a huge chunk of my hard drive, I had to delete old messages to save space, I could only access my old email from one computer, I was deluged with spam, and finding old emails was incredibly difficult. Not anymore. If you're still using Yahoo, Hotmail, or some locally-stored email program like Outlook, I promise you are making life harder than it has to be. If you need convincing, email me. I'd be happy to serve as a Gmail evangelist.

Over the years I've collected quite a few tricks to help make Gmail work even better for me. I thought I'd share them here.

1. Stop using labels and start using search.

For the first year or so after switching to Gmail I meticulously labeled my email just like I had organized it in folders in Outlook Express. Then one day I realized the only reason I label/file email is to help me find it later, and Gmail's search function is a much more powerful way of finding email than searching through labels. Using the "to:" and "from:" search operators I can find anything. If I need to know the details about the Halloween party my friend Adam sent me, I just search "to:me from:adam halloween" and it pops right up. Here is a full list of Gmail search operators for even more advanced searching.

Since my realization I have trashed all my labels except for a few I use for very specific purposes. For instance, it's pretty common these days for folks to email out their new mailing address when they move. I've made a label called "address-book" just for these emails. Now when I need someone's mailing address, I just go to Gmail and search for their name plus "label:address-book." I also have a label called "to-consider" for emails I want to read in-depth later. Whenever I have some free time and I feel like doing some reading, I do a quick "label:to-consider" search and I'm ready to go.

2. Create some creative filters.

Here's some instructions on creating filters. Filters can help you organize email automatically as well as keep unwanted email out of your inbox. It seems everyone has at least one distant family member (we'll call her "Aunt Glenda") who loves to forward annoying chain emails. A great way to avoid these without confrontation is to create a filter that automatically archives email from Aunt Glenda with the subject "FWD:", skipping the inbox. This way you still get Glenda's personal emails to you, but you miss the chains.

A lot of people use Gmail for quick-and-easy online storage by attaching something they want online to an email and sending it to themselves. I do this too, so I have a filter which automatically archives and "marks as read" all email that is from me, to me. When I need it again, I just do a "from:me to:me" search.

3. Create some new email addresses for yourself using the + sign!

Little-known Gmail fact: you can insert "+anything" before the @ symbol in your Gmail address and email sent to this address will go to you. In other words, if your Gmail address is john@gmail.com, then email sent to john+doe@gmail.com, john+table@gmail.com, and john+monkey@gmail.com will all come to you.

What's more, you can create filters that redirect email coming to these addresses. So let's say you're signing up for a newsletter for people who like cars. You give them the email address yourname+cars@gmail.com, then set up a filter in Gmail so that all email sent to yourname+cars@gmail.com is labeled "Cars Newsletter." If one day you decide you don't want this newsletter anymore, or they sell your email address to a spammer, you can just change your filter to delete all email coming to this address.

Oh and by the way, Gmail completely ignores periods in your email address. Email sent to yourname@gmail.com and y.o.u.r.n.a.m.e@gmail.com all goes to you.

4. Use Gmail labs!

Gmail Labs is set of experimental features for Gmail, most of which are just awesome. Go to Settings>Labs in Gmail to enable them. Here are a few of my favorites:

Forgotten Attachment Detector -- This feature automatically detects when you might have forgotten to attach something to an email and lets you know when you click "Send." It's saved me a significant amount of embarrassment.

Send & Archive -- Most of the time, when I reply to an email, the next thing I do is archive the conversation to clean out my inbox. This feature adds a button to do this all in one click!

Undo Send -- This feature gives you 5 seconds to click "Undo" after you click "Send." Another real face-saver.

5. Stop using the delete button.

Remember that with Gmail's huge, ever-increasing storage space (I started with 1 GB and I currently have 7.4) there's really no need to ever use the delete button. Just archive everything! You never know when you might need a message later, and Gmail's powerful search is always there to help you find it. Email messages take up very little space and digital storage is only going to get cheaper in the future.

Here are a couple extra tips you may enjoy:

How to add a custom 'From' address
How to import old email into Gmail
(This is a tough one but oh so cool - my Gmail messages go back to 2001!)

Image: basajuan


Readability and Bugmenot Make Browsing Better

If you read a lot of online content (blogs, news, etc.) you may have been frustrated by websites which fill the screen with so many ads that the actual content incredibly hard to read - or bloggers who make their text color so close to their background color you have to strain your eyes to make out the words.

Readability is an incredibly useful bookmarklet (a bookmark which performs a function) which solves this problem by removing everything on a webpage but the content you want to read. Click this link - Readability - to check out how how it works on my blog. If you want to use it, drag the link to the bookmarks toolbar in your browser. Now whenever you're on a page you can't read very well, just click the link. If you want to customize it, you can do so on the Readability website.

Another extremely useful bookmarklet is Bugmenot. Bugmenot is a website which provides usernames and passwords for websites which require login information - preventing you from having to go through tedious registrations which many sites require in order to view their content. Just drag this link - Bugmenot - to your bookmarks toolbar and click it whenever you're asked to register for something.

These two simple apps have made browsing so much better for me. Hope you find them helpful!


Top 10 FREE Windows Apps!

In keeping with my desire to become an information maven, here are my top 10 favorite free Windows apps.

1. Firefox (internet browser)

Surprise, surprise. But if you love customization and awesome plugins to help you browse better, there's no better way to experience the internet.

2. iTunes (media organizer/player)

Sure, it's bloated (version 8.1 is 87 meg and this thing hogs memory), but I haven't found a better way to organize and listen to my music library.

3. Foxit Reader (pdf reader)

People, DITCH ADOBE READER NOW. It's bloated, it takes forever to load (why do I need 250 plugins to read a pdf?) and it has nothing on this small, clean, killer app.

4. PSPad Editor (text/code editor)

If you do any HTML or PHP coding, this is a great editor. I am in love with the FTP and "reformat code" features.

5. Zipgenius (zip program)

Simple, clean, free way to handle all kinds of zipped archives. Use this if Windows' built-in zip features won't cut it or if you're getting tired of Winzip (like everyone else).

6. Skype (voice over internet)

This program lets me talk and "video chat" with my overseas friends for free. Amazing.

7. Google Chrome (internet browser)

I tried to resist for months, but Google Chrome's blazing speed is slowly eroding away my Firefox loyalty.

8. Windirstat (hard drive space analyzer)

See what's taking up your hard drive, graphically. The best tool I've found for figuring out what needs to go from my hard drive.

Stupid name, awesome replacement for the Windows calculator. This is basically a graphing calculator, but I turn the graphing features off and use it for its multi-line display.

10. Resizer (bulk image resizer)

Need to resize a ton of images, all at once? My buddy Josh showed me this little app back in 2003 and I've used it ever since. The website which hosted it is gone now, so I uploaded it myself just for you!

Honorable mentions:

Multi-mon taskbar - If you use dual monitors, this creates a taskbar for your second monitor to host only the applications being displayed on that monitor.

PDF creator - An easy-to-use pdf creator. It acts like a printer which you can print to from any program - only the output is a pdf!

Picasa - I don't really use this sort of thing, but if you need to organize and/or share photos, this is the app to do it with.