From July 2006

Visual Acuity

All new Intel Macs (with the exception of the mini) come with built in iSight webcams but up until recently the only video conferencing application which supported it properly was iChat. This is all well and good but iChat is only available for Mac OS X so immediately cuts out 95% of the people you might want to use it with!

Skype 1.5 Beta

This was annoying me because it basically rendered a pretty cool part of my MacBook Pro fairly useless (unless you like taking pictures of yourself!). The good news is that both Skype and Yahoo have now released beta versions of their IM clients with webcam support! At last! The new version of Skype is particularly impressive with a new clean and simple interface and excellent audio/video quality.

At the other end of all things cool Digg, the user driven social content website, has released new visualisation tools – Stack & Swarm – to “look beneath the surface of the Digg community’s activities” in real time. Built using flash by Stamen Design, they are very beautifully done even though their everyday utility might be questionable!

Digg Swarm

“Stories come in as circles with the title inside of them, and diggers “swarm” around these stories when they digg them. Every time a story gets dugg, it increases in size – so the bigger the story, the more active it is.”

Digg Stack

“Digg Stack shows diggs occurring in real time on up to 100 stories at once. As stories are dugg, they appear along the bottom of the screen, colored according to how popular they are. Users digging these stories appear as falling blocks that stack up as activity increases.”

Snakes on a Plane

You’ve got to admire Samuel L Jackson – one minute he’s dealing with a bunch of rampant Snakes on a Plane, the next he’s voicing God in a new audio book of the Bible!! Yes, you heard me right; he was “deemed to be the perfect person to play God” with his deep voice apparently. The man is a legend!

Snakes on a Plane safety guide

In a heated arguement, if one cannot sufficiently defend themself, stating “snakes on a plane” automatically wins the arguement no matter what the circumstances.

Irrepressible Info

Adj. 1) Impossible to repress or control.

Irrepressible.Info

“Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression.”

I’m not usually much of a fan of Amnesty International but their initiative to highlight and combat Internet repression seems like a just cause. The whole situation goes beyond just the governments conducting the censorship but also includes the western companies which help build the tools and systems to actually enable this (Cisco, Google etc.). The Internet was designed as a platform without boarders – this is something everyone should be worried about.

Why not get on board and be irrepressible?

Washington DC

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The political capital of the US, as you might imagine, is full of monuments and memorials to the past – whether they be former presidents, wars or fallen heros it’s all here. To me Washington had an almost sanitized feeling, it was clean, tidy and on the whole pretty efficient. Thats not to say I didn’t like it, it was just rather manicured!

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I arrived in Washington by train from Boston which was about a 7 hour journey. One thing to note is that from my experiences the US Amtrak trains were very good – plenty of space, comfortable seats, and as with everywhere else, air conditioned. A far cry from what we put up with in the UK…!

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Most of the sights in lie around the center of the city, focused around the Washington Monument. Starting from the White House (it’s smaller than it looks on TV!) I headed anti-clockwise from the monument down past the World War II Memorial, along side the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial from where you can get a good view all the way back. From here I walked over the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Arlington National Cemetery where over 290,000 servicemen and women are buried. The scale of it is quite staggering – over 600 acres of white granite graves protruding from the grassy hills.

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I then headed down to The Pentagon, home of DOD. Unfortunately because the building is so huge you don’t really get much sense of its shape at ground level! back over the Potomac River I ended up at the U.S. Capitol building which lies impressively at the east end of The Mall. Along The Mall are the various Smithsonian museums and galleries which are well worth a visit if you have time, especially as they are free!

More pics here!

Boston

The second stop on my US east-coast trip was Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is probably most famous for its historic sites, being the oldest city in America and home of the revolution which secured independence from the British!

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Boston has is fair share of skyscrapers but there any comparisons with New York end. Its leafy parks lofty academics (Harvard & MIT nearby) give it a very ‘middle class’ feeling, a world away from the hustle and bustle of NY. You can see all the historic sites on foot by way of the 4.8km Freedom Trail and a well clued-up traveller can explore Boston quite comfortably in a day.

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For cheap eats and wide variety make sure you drop by Quincy Market where you can find just about anything your stomach desires!!

More photos here!

NYC

Empire State Building at Dusk

Sufficed to say I had a great time in the US! My first stop was New York – it’s a pretty amazing city and certainly lives up to the stereotypes presented in many a film. Being submersed and surrounded by huge rectilinear buildings everywhere you go is such a different feeling to being somewhere like London. As the saying goes NY is truly “the city that never sleeps“.

Times Square

The weather was intensely hot during my stay but conversely I also experienced some of the most torrential (but brief) rain I have ever seen, luckily only for one morning! Because of its culturally diverse population, food wise, you can find just about anything from any cuisine (and budget) you fancy in NY. I tried quite a lot of different stuff but especially liked the US style sandwiches which you can get made to order cheaply and will fill a sizable hole at any time!

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Of course I did all the usual touristy stuff – went up the Empire State Building, visited the Statue of Liberty, walked around Central Park, etc. but one of the highlights had to be the 4th of July fireworks to mark Independence Day. A spectacular display was held on the East River which together with most of the population of Manhattan turning up made for a very special event!

NYPD Cops

Update (15/7): Photos now online, all 415 of them in glorious high resolution! Find them on my Flickr stream – go eat some bandwidth 😀

Au revoir

In a few hours I’ll be on a Boeing 777 bound for the Big Apple 😀

I’ll be offline till the 11th but be sure check back in around then for a tonne of pics (it’s about time I updated Photo.Wire) and irrelevant anecdotes! See you on the other side!

Update (8/7): I’m in Boston now – NY was great, off to Washington DC later today!

Update (11/7): Back home now – very tired but great holiday! Now sifting through 600 odd photos!