For this week's "Awesome Stuff" post I wasn't necessarily planning a "theme," but it seemed to mostly work out as one anyway: it's about three "little" devices that enable you to do more, by changing the way we deal with information in one way or another. This is a pretty exciting space in general, and it's cool to see projects popping up that explore certain areas that make you wonder why no one had done this before -- and then you realize that what's being done wasn't really possible until the tech caught up.
First up, we've got the Automatic Link, a tiny device that plugs into your car's dataport and provides data directly to your smartphone. They even make it into a bit of a game, with a weekly "drive score" that helps you drive smarter to save gas. It has a number of other features as well, including automatically dialing 911 if it senses a serious car accident, and also a car locator feature, so you can always find your car via your smartphone in case you forgot where you parked or if you're sharing your car with someone else.
For quite some time, the car's dataport was solely the domain of mechanics, and they'd use it when you went in to find out what the "check engine" light meant. A few devices have come on the market that you can buy to plug in and see what a check engine light means, but that's their entire purpose, for the most part. The Automatic Link does that too, but it's almost like a minor feature among all of the other features that make it an interesting device.
Next up, we've got the HeatMeter, which is a creatively designed device to measure and track the heating usage in your home. There are tons of electricity meters on the market to measure how you use electricity, but heating is a different realm altogether. Most of the attempts to deal with this have been focused on various smart thermostats like the Nest, but the Heatmeter goes right to the source, by attaching to the outside of your furnace or boiler with magnets, and then its sensors actually can detect when the flame turns on and off, sending this bit of info over your home WiFi system to your phone. And, of course, you can track a bunch of info via your smartphone.
Unfortunately, there are just a few days left on this Kickstarter and it looks like it won't meet its threshold. Looking through the details, this isn't a huge surprise. Even if the concept is cool, there are a few things that might scare people off. The design of the device itself has a bit of an amateurish feel to it, especially compared to many other Kickstarter projects. I wonder if a redesigned, sleeker, more modern version might pick up some more steam (ditto for their intro video). The second red flag for me is the price. $150 seems pretty high for most people to take a chance on something like this, especially if it's not entirely clear that it will help you save money. With the Automatic Link above, it makes a good, strong, easy to understand case as to why you'll save money with the device -- and the device is less than half the cost of this one, and seems at least more likely to be in the "I'll give it a shot" range for many people. And, finally, I wonder if a lot of people wonder how well the Heatmeter actually works. I could see some people wondering just how good a magnetic device you stick to the outside of your furnace will be at accurately tracking heating usage. It may work perfectly, but I could see how skepticism might be an issue, especially at that price (in contrast, again, people understand that the data port in their cars works to provide data).
Finally, we move away from those kinds of sensors to the myIDkey device for tracking all your passwords. This is a little USB dongle that combines voice activation, fingerprint scanning and secure access to all your passwords (it'll even generate secure ones for you). Oh yeah, and it works with your mobile devices via Bluetooth as well. And, if you lose the device, you can quickly deactivate it over the web -- and you can resync a new one via its online storage. The device has an OLED display that will show you the password once you've proven that you're you, and it can include a bit of additional info as well.
The myIDkey has already far surpassed its original funding goal, so this project is definitely moving forward.
There you go. Three interesting new projects that are showing new ways to do more via little devices and information, enabling things that really weren't possible until just recently -- at least not in these kinds of packages.
We've all seen the digital panic that ensues when a massive service like Gmail or Facebook goes down for even a small portion of users. Smaller versions of the same thing take place every day with services that are less widely adopted but just as important to the people who rely on them. It doesn't even take an outage to cause problems — frequent slowdowns and interruptions can quickly cause a massive productivity traffic jam. With the degree to which we live our lives and do our work online, service problems are much more than a minor inconvenience, and at the wrong moment can be a disaster.
So we want to know: how does this impact the way you use the web? Are you prepared for interruptions in the online apps and services you use most? Have you ever abandoned an app for spotty performance, or adopted one specifically for its reliability? We're looking for everything in the way of insights, anecdotes and ideas about performance issues online.
You can share your responses on the Insight Community. Remember, if you have a Techdirt account, then you're already a member and can head on over to the case page to submit your insights.
Reader Ido alerts us to the news coming out of Israel, that the Senate there has moved forward on a bill that would create a huge biometric database including data on all Israelis, and refusing to provide such data could land anyone a year in jail. As the article notes, there's a rather loud uproar about this, as many Israelis fear not only for their own privacy and civil liberties, but wonder just how such a database will be abused -- either by gov't officials or by hackers. It sounds like the bill still has a ways to go before becoming law, but this appears to be yet another move by a government to mistakenly assert that taking away people's privacy somehow makes them more secure.