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Category Archives: Technology

Spring Fling

So last night was girl’s night in. More specifically, three girlfriends came over to cook and eat with me and naturally talk about technology for at least a few minutes since we are all tech geeks who work in the industry. You know. The Industry. Two designers and an Information Architect and a marketing strategist all sitting around a large table, frantically forking together my ravioli concoction, eating humus and carrots (Mallorie’s requirement), and having another look at James’ app. Version 1.1.1.

Caro

Caro, our Information Architect extraordinaire, started off the testing of “Hands Free Browser” – the app I wrote about a week or two back – now that we have the update, it was time to check it out again. I have a few video clips here and there, but since I am not paying WordPress a penny for this blog, I am not allowed to upload video. It would do a better job of conveying the current suggestions and thinking on this version from experts other than myself.

I will confess…you should know that Caro loves to cook and Mallorie…well…Mallorie cooks a bit. But both were a bit stretched to find the *need* for the app. I think Mal captured it most succinctly with the statement: “why do I need this? I would just keep a towel next to the ipad and wipe my hands before I touch it.” Ok. Not incredibly encouraging.

Mal

Other quotes captured during the testing included (we wrote them down on a notepad):

“There’s too much text.” (Opening screen)
“Why did it make a bookmark?”
“It’s looking at my elbow.”
“How do I select something?”
“Come on!” (when nothing happens)
“The camera is too far away….it is capturing my left hand, not my right” (right-handed person).

Yikes. I will stop now. The thing is…the idea remains good. But I think the technology is still too far behind to keep up with the human pace of things. The camera can’t react quickly enough. Samsung’s new phone apparently doesn’t use the camera, but some other kind of sensor. You need to position your hand just so to make it work. The new features (e.g., bookmark!) are not mentioned (I think) on the opening screen with all the text. There is not yet any kind of tutorial/walkthrough.

But…the thing is, the app is free this weekend. Go grab it. Try it out. Tell me what you think. How can we make the app really valuable to a cook? Where’s the magic gonna happen?

I almost forgot…spring fling…was a reference to our heavy-with-spring-vegetables dinner last night. Ricotta/leek ravioli with a truffel butter fava bean scallop sauce and a side of my favorite (although Britta was skeptical about how well it paired with the ravioli), Barba dei Fratti (monk’s beard) – a kind of obscure italian succulent plant/vegetable that tastes like spinach.

Ravioli were good though.

Ricotta Leek Ravioloi with Truffel butter fava bean and scallop sauce

Ricotta Leek Ravioloi with Truffel butter fava bean and scallop sauce

 
 

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My Magic Hands

Any chance you remember seeing this little Korean spot a couple years back? I did, although it took me almost an hour of searching through my facebook links to find the sucker. (FACEBOOK! why can’t I easily see a list of all my links and put a search term in to find what I am looking for? I have only two friends who work for facebook, so I guess this lament is rather worthless. Anyway…)

I remembered it as a Samsung phone, but it wasn’t one. Now it turns out that the new Samsung phone has come out with similar functionality (says James, I haven’t seen it yet). Nonetheless, this kind of gesture-based, eye tracking (the Samsung version) device control technology is all still cutting edge. At least in the mainstream for us common folk.

So it seems that James and I have a similar problem. We both cook, although I guess James favors complicated sweets like Black Forest cakes, and I favor things like Indian curries and folded savory pastries. Egal, as we say in German. The fact is, you’re there in the kitchen, up to your elbows in something sticky or spicy or gooey or just foodish and you are closely following some recipe…some very long recipe…on your iPad…which has become a requisite kitchen tool because you loath printing out every recipe these days….and you need to SCROLL further. The critical next step is below the fold and if you wash your hands just to move the cursor down the screen ONE MORE TIME you will scream.

So James, as a software programmer, decided to DO something about this. He created a gesture-based control layer for a browser. Well, to be fair, for a Google search function.

Ok, it’s very early days. It needs some work. But APPLE accepted it into their store. Which I know is no small feat. If you want to test this thing out, James is even willing to offer it to you for free in the Apple store for a few days – to begin soon…I’ll tell you when I know more. (James…that screenshot on your app page…it’s gotta go. You need screenshots of your APP, not the Wikipedia page you were looking at when you invented the app. And how did your Black Forest Cake come out anyway?)

Hands free browser in Itunes store

Hands free browser in Itunes store

Ultimately, this little browser will give you what it gave me. Magic Hands. You wave your hand in front of the camera (a little translucent photo of you in the corner helps you get some orientation on your gesture – check me out…trying to figure this all out, and the screen bumps up or bumps down based on what you are trying to do. In this case, looking for a recipe for tomato, shrimp and vodka pasta. Which is what was for dinner tonight. Except with salmon. And cognac.

Hands Free Browser
Hands Free Browser

Hands Free Browser

As I said, it’s early days and basic. It needs work – James, will send you a bullet point list of where you need to make some changes in my opinion – but it’s pretty impressive for a quick start. Your screen will move without you touching the screen. It’s a bit choppy, and sometimes up can also equal down…if you are too fast or when you run out of space and have to RAISE your hands in order to lower them again…but IT WORKS.

We at diginibble, (me, myself, and I) will keep you up to date as things develop. No need to go out and buy that Korean phone just yet….;-) Just go grab James’ app. Which, in case you’re interested, is available here. And in case you are wondering (cause I did), it is rated 17+ not because there are exciting pictures with naked folks embedded somewhere within, but because Apple makes you rate your app this way if it accesses web pages…anything outside the native app itself.

News alert: I hear that version 1.1 is now available in the app store and that 1.1.1 will be coming in about a week. Also, at the end of April there will be three days of *free.* That’s right, you heard me, you won’t even need to pay the 99 cents, it’ll be FREE. (Don’t tell anyone…April 26 to 29. Oh alright, I take it back…tell everyone.)

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Food + Technology, Technology

 

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Slimkicker and a pinch of salt

About two weeks back, I got a nice comment on this blog from someone who works over at “Slimkicker” – a start-up based out of New York that is offering another variation on health and fitness tracking, a particular interest of mine. I think I last wrote about “The Eatery” – an app that helps you track your diet habits by letting you snap a photo of your food and then have the crowd rate it as healthy or not (fit or fat). The Slimkicker team asked if I would be interested in testing out a new device they are working on, similar to the Fitbit (which I also tried last year when my parents gave me one as a gift), that would pair with its website. I won’t get to try it out until next year sometime, but in the meantime, I felt like it was worth taking a look at the website to see what the offering looks like right now.

Slimkicker takes things further than The Eatery. It helps you track both calories in and calories out (exercise and food consumption) and it adds some serious elements of gamification into its concept.

Slimkicker Profile

Slimkicker Profile

As usual, you create a profile for yourself and immediately find yourself at “Level 1.” The concept is simple: by logging food you eat, exercise you perform, and challenges you complete, you gather points and advance to the next level. For people who are especially driven by gamification like this (and yes, quite often this is me), it’s a nice idea. There are all sorts of sites and services out there that are offering variations of this.

For instance, there’s “Gympact” – you literally get paid if you work out but *you* have to pay if you miss a workout. I don’t need this kind of stress. I manage to work out 5 times a week usually, but what if I have to travel for work and simply can’t make it one week? Not gonna do it.

There’s “Earndit” which I like more as a concept – it gives you discounts on all kinds of stuff to reward you for working out (it connects with Runkeeper and only gives you points for GPS-recorded fitness activities.) I have a million points over there, though, and have yet to cash in on anything. Might have to do with the fact that it is US-based and I can’t easily claim most of the discounts here.

Of course there is “Nikeplus,” which I use almost daily because of my fuelband (yup, Nike replaced the defunct one for me free of charge – awesome of them, I must say.). Nike tracks my movements with the fuelband and the site gives me “fuel points” for activity. I can challenge myself if I want, to a variety of things, and then get tracked on a daily basis. So rewards are more like those of Slimkicker – virtual.

And there is “Runkeeper” – which I also use daily to track activity, and which also offers challenges if I sign up for one. Like I can enter a self-created challenge like “run a half marathon” by a certain date.

I’ve found that in order to “play,” I have some minimum requirements:

It has to be painless. I don’t want the hassle of having to enter stuff constantly. That’s what I love about Runkeeper and Nikeplus. Runkeeper – just have to turn on the app and press go, and when I am done with my run, press stop, and that’s it. Everything recorded. Nikeplus, same thing, even less painless – I wear the fuelband and all activity is recorded (Ok, the fuelband is not perfect, it doesn’t track biking or elliptical machine activity, which is annoying, but it gets most of the rest of my activity.)
Slimkicker has some work to do here. I imagine when they get their device out, things will get easier, but check this out: for now, you need to go to their site and enter your activity. I put in “run” and got a long long list of possible activities to choose from. It’s super awkward. I should be able to select using drop down selectors, I should be able to specify in miles or kilometers, i should be able to track with my phone with an app. Needs work.

Enter "run"

Enter “run”

Naturally I had to also try out food entry. More problems. Two examples: 1) what if you like to cook exotic stuff? I do. Or let’s just say you like to cook, nothing exotic. Try a spinach pie, which was the best equivalent I could find to what I was eating. Similar experience to the exercise entry. Very limited ability to be precise.

Enter "Spinach Pie"

Enter “Spinach Pie”

I’m confronted with store-brand spinach pie. And that’s it if I remember. Not good.

2) I went out to dinner and had chicken enchiladas. Here’s what I got when I tried to enter them:

Enter "Chicken Enchilada"

Enter “Chicken Enchilada”

The site automatically assumes I am eating crap (fast food) when I eat a chicken enchilada. I think the warning is not necessarily bad, but the wording really needs to change to reflect what could be my reality: high quality food at a restaurant, not taco-bell quality high-sodium loaded food.

I won’t rant on further because Slimkicker does have some nice features (calorie database, you can log your own exercises rather than choose from their lists, recipe databases – also for a variety of diets, etc.), I’m curious to hear if anyone else would use something like Slimkicker and what kind of minimum requirements they might have.

And that pinch of salt? (see title of blog…) Just trying out this recipe for “Halva Toffee” from the Beirut blogger I read all the time. It’s easy and fast to throw together. Only thing I think it needs is a sprinkle of pistachios on top along with a sprinkle of salt. Waiting for it to cool and harden to have a bite. Going to run shortly…because calories in must equal calories out…

Halvah Toffee

Halvah Toffee

 

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Cooking/Eating Geekery

Chef Hangout

Chef Hangout

I’m not afraid to qualify myself as a techie geek. And certainly since the invention of the iphone, my geekery has occasionally gotten a little out of control. It used to be that I *might* come home with a pair of shoes or boots, purchased during a moment of spontaneous weekend splurging, and my husband would say, “if you want to bring those in here, you have to throw out a pair.” (So I would throw out a pair of flip flops or something like that…or I would pretend to throw out a pair…or if necessary I would ignore him.) But now this trading game has been self-applied to iphone apps. I’ll come across a review of something and want to install it and try it out immediately. But now there are so many damn apps on my phone that I try to force myself to throw out one that I know I am not using for every new one that I put on the phone.

So yesterday I went through a whole bunch of PSFK reviews (a self-described “go-to source for new ideas and inspiration), and was a little overwhelmed with the number of foodie apps/sites. Seems like things are getting pretty interesting out there. It used to be that what you could find out there were mostly recipe database apps – admittedly some good ones (epicurious, jamie oliver, big oven), but these days the types of foodie apps have gotten really interesting and venture far beyond mere databases. (Actually, Jamie Oliver’s apps are far more than recipes…)

There is, for instance, “Caffeine Zone.

Caffeine Zone graph

Caffeine Zone graph

Simple idea – you tell the app when you drink a cup of coffee or tea and it tells you when you can/should drink another cup based upon calculations of how much caffeine is in your system. Idea is that you shouldn’t over-do it on caffeine and this app should help you regulate yourself. Not really an app for me, as i only drink a cup or two in the morning, but I can imagine interesting for someone who is worried about drinking too much.

And then there was The Eatery.

The Eatery - how healthy is your meal?

The Eatery - how healthy is your meal?

Leveraging the power/knowledge of “The Crowd,” here you get crowd-sourced opinion on the healthiness of what you are eating. The idea is simple – snap a photo of what you eat, upload it, rate how healthy *you* think it is and see what others out there think of what you’re eating. Ideally, this is a tool that is going to help you curb your urges to eat junk and/or tell you what is really not good for you. Obviously there are weaknesses in the app – it doesn’t have any context about you whatsoever (your physical fitness, the amount of exercise you do, what else you ate during the day – some junk is ok, just not a lot of it), but still an interesting idea for some users.

And finally, an example that is not yet an app, but at this point a simple website: “Chef Hangout.” (I’m sure they’ll come out with related apps in the near future.) This is a really interesting project. Don’t know how to cook or want to learn something new? Don’t want to take a cooking class in a retail environment with a bunch of people you don’t know? Try “Chef Hangout.” Very simply: online cooking classes. Various chefs now offer web-based video training. You sign up for a pre-determined time to learn a pre-determined thing. They seem to have a nice variety of classes – learn to make Chinese dumplings, or an Italian tomato sauce, pick up some knife skills, or even learn how to smoke food. Once you pay, they send you a list of ingredients to collect before the class. Then you go online and cook with the chef when your lesson is on. You can do it with a bunch of friends or join others who have also signed up. Pricing seems a bit high to me in some cases ($50 to learn an Italian tomato sauce?) and low in others ($20 for a 3-hour dumpling training session) and just plain weird in others ($1 to ask a chef a cooking question).

Learn to make Chinese Dumplings

Learn to make Chinese Dumplings

But I guess pricing is set by the chef who’s doing the teaching, and over time the market will determine the value. I clicked the application to be a chef button…just out of curiosity…but didn’t take it any further than that for the moment. It’s a US-based company, and times for classes offered are US-timezone based. Not really convenient for me and I am guessing the European crowd doesn’t know about this site yet. I’ll wait and see if it gets popular over here. Language is also obviously a consideration. Right now all the chefs are teaching in English, but this certainly limits things. The website uses Google+’s “Hangout” functionality (group video chat), but Google could obviously do so much more to make the site robust – pair it with Google’s translate functionality (although it’s voice recognition software is only so-so), calendar app, etc.

Happy Cooking Geekery!

 

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Swallow your perfume

Just came across this site that briefly describes some research being done to create a perfume which is uniquely you because you swallow it and it is exuded through your skin as you sweat. What the site doesn’t do yet is describe in any way what it smells like – at least sort of – is it like a typical perfume, if there is such a thing? Is it flowery? Woody-scented? Musky?

Here’s what it does say: “Once absorbed, the capsule enables the skin to become a platform, an atomizer; A biologically enhanced second skin synthesized directly from the natural processes of the body. Fragrance molecules are excreted through the skins surface during perspiration, leaving tiny droplets on the skin that emanate a unique odor. The potency of scent is determined by each individualโ€™s acclimatization to temperature, stress, exercise, or sexual arousal.

Swallowable Parfum is a capsule that enables human skin to emit a genetically unique scent
about who we are, and how we perform our identities.”

I tend to believe that something like this is possible…simply because of evidence we all collect that demonstrates that some foods can indeed affect how you (or your excretions…eeeewww) smell. Read: asparagus. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I would try it. Would you?

 

Shower Power

This horrible little machine came to live in the apartment yesterday morning.

Hot Water Heater - Digital Display

Yes, of course you don’t think it looks that horrible. It’s not in your shower.

Before….I mean before the 20-year old hot water heater gasped its last gasp…we had an “analog” display on the thing. It was a little knob that was a pain in the ass to turn, and sort of vaguely suggested how much hot water you might get if you turned it. It took a day or two to understand how far to turn, but now that I have been here a few years, I had it down to an art. And then the old heater had to go and die.

Just so you understand: I have a standard practice in the shower – I guess like most people. Get in, lather up hair with shampoo. Scrub scrub, rinse. Apply hair conditioner. Multitask while the conditioner works on the hair – shave legs, etc. and then scrub body and face. Rinse off everything. Get out. Process takes…I don’t know…7 minutes or so. Maybe 8? By my calculation…a very reasonable time. I like nice HOT water, except if I have just worked out and am hot as it is….

So the thing is…this little innocent digital display tells me exactly how many liters of water I have consumed (at a certain temperature.) And it is one thing to take an 8 minute shower and NOT TO KNOW. It is another thing completely to take an 8 minute show and to know you have consumed 65 LITERS of water in that 8 minutes. Damn thing probably needs some calibration.

So terrible. I don’t know what I will do. I don’t really want to take a shorter shower. I DO NOT DRIVE A CAR. I RECYCLE. Argh!

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Technology

 

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