Google Reader goes dark at mid-year
Google has become like the buddy who promises to help you move your stuff to a new house, only to back out at 10:30 the night before. By offering free services spanning a broad spectrum of wants, they touch on lots of different ways to be enormously helpful. And by offering them all for free, Google can't really be blamed when it stops offering them. But it's just flaky behavior -- and they routinely "cull" enough services from their roster that it's hard to tell which ones are going to stay for the long term and which ones aren't. They're betting the farm on Google Plus, so that one is clearly around for the duration -- but Google Voice could easily be axed once it outlives its usefulness to Google. That usefulness seems driven mainly by its capacity to hone the accuracy of Google's voice-to-text translation algorithms, which still have a way to go before they'll be useful for translating the huge number of video and audio files on the Internet (which is, in turn, essential to making them searchable via Google's core search-engine service). Not knowing whether one's favorite Google product will be around six months into the future makes it hard to rely on the company, even though it's hugely profitable and very good at a lot of what it does. That may, in time, serve to be Google's ultimate downfall. Microsoft may make its old operating systems obsolete every few years, but at least businesses can count on the fact that there will be backwards compatibility to other Windows-based programs from one generation to the next. That kind of reliability makes for a huge competitive advantage in the high-profit commercial computing market, and Google doesn't seem to understand that.
Hashtags on Facebook, maybe?
The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is working on mimicking Twitter's iconic hashtag-based system for organizing updates based on their content
Carnival Cruise Line has some explaining to do
A month after the colossal screw-up that was the Carnival Triumph debacle, now they've had a generator failure on the Carnival Dream. Something clearly needs to get straightened out with their systems. It's almost as though they don't realize the world learns immediately when there's a problem on board a ship, and the first-hand accounts can't be stifled when most passengers are carrying phones equipped with HD video cameras.
Samsung introduces the Galaxy S4
It's supposed to be available in April, featuring a tool that allows the user to scroll through content on the screen by tilting the phone and pause a scroll just by looking away, and another that uses the user-facing camera to take a simultaneous picture with the outward-facing camera is capturing in order to blend them together into a composite. There's no doubt Samsung is trying hard to give Apple an effective run for the money as the "cool" smartphone maker; the Galaxy S3 of 2012 was a very impressive machine to begin with, and the S4 appears to take measurable steps forward from that baseline. There's still room, of course, for a strong third powerhouse in smartphone making, but no strong player seems to have moved in there yet (though LG is trying stunts to get there). One other note on the S4: Its built-in translation tool for both speech and text is as close to the Babel fish as anything we've seen in the mainstream yet.
Coming April 1st: New tornado warnings
The National Weather Service is planning to test an approach to tornado warnings for the central part of the US that would distinguish those times when they think there might be a tornado from those times when they have reliable confirmation that a big killer is making its way through an area. They should be commended for trying to come up with ways to limit the impact of the "boy who cried wolf" problem -- which tends to make too many people too comfortable in the face of high risk. The first major step in this direction was to clarify the warning areas with the storm-based polygons they use now, rather than the old county-based system. This recognition of varying levels of confidence and severity should also help.
New Pope says he doesn't want the Catholic church to become a "compassionate NGO"
Things could get quite interesting under the first Jesuit Pope. He apparently also summoned the head of Vatican Radio for a talk on his first day in office, which apparently is a complete 180 from his predecessor's behavior.
It's really not so hard to collect personal data on high-profile celebrities
Buzzfeed shows how
"Rural-sourcing" as a counter to overseas outsourcing
Technology improvements make it possible for people to live in small towns (at small-town prices) and do global-quality work. That can make jobs in small-town Iowa very competitive with jobs in low-wage countries.