Top 9 Tech Updates: Photosynth, Geocaching, Google Earth, and More

I’ve been writing World Wide Wade for almost a year now; this is the 44th installment. A year is a long time in the technology world—long enough for many of the gadgets, services, and websites I’ve covered in the past to evolve cool new features. So I thought I’d revisit a few of my previous columns and fill you in about what’s changed.

1. Beyond megapixels. In my April 4 and June 6 columns, I wrote about the Gigapan community site, where you can upload super-high-resolution photos stitched together from lots of regular digital shots. In January of this year, a new company called GigaPan Systems introduced a $379 robot camera mount that puts gigapixel imaging within the reach of hobbyists. It takes care of the tedious part of gigapixel imaging by guiding your camera through hundreds or thousands of individually-angled shots, with just enough overlap to give the stitching software something to work with.

2. News aggregators on steroids. Last April 11, I wrote about my favorite news-tracking tools on the Web, including Netvibes and Alltop. Netvibes hasn’t changed much in the last year, but Alltop, a cool aggregator that uses pop-up windows to squeeze a lot of news onto a single page, has exploded beyond all bounds. It had about 55 categories of RSS feeds when I last wrote about it; now there must be well over 500, on everything from Atheism to Zoology. And for tech-news enthusiasts, there’s a site called TechFuga that recently got a nice overhaul that makes it more competitive with the uber-popular but somewhat tired TechMeme. The new features at TechFuga include Twitter searching, reflecting the fact that more and more people are getting their news from each other via the red-hot microblogging service. (Speaking of Twitter, you can follow me there at “wroush“.)

3. Earth as you’ve never seen it. On April 18, I wrote about Google Earth 4.3, which featured improved navigation and a larger crop of 3-D buildings. The latest version of the world’s most popular geo-browser, Google Earth 5.0, came out in the middle of last month. The coolest improvements: a fantastic view of the ocean floor, the ability to delve back in time and see aerial imagery from the 1980s and earlier, and imagery for Mars as well as Earth and the Moon.

4. An art museum in your living room. If you’ve got an HDTV already, there’s no reason to buy one of those expensive digital photo frames. My April 25 column talked about GalleryPlayer, a company that provided software and imagery for turning your TV into a digital art exhibit. Unfortunately, GalleryPlayer went out of business in July (though founder Scott Lipsky, an ex-Amazon exec, hinted that it had merely been sold and might re-emerge). Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to find and display high-resolution images on your big screen. DeviantArt is a great place to browse and download free HD-resolution images created by professional artists and photographers. And if you hook up your computer to your TV, you can use software like Slickr or FlickrFan to display those images—or your own—in the form of animated slide shows.

5. An elephant never forgets. My July 18 column was about Evernote, a fantastic cross-platform system for storing and tracking all the info-flotsam in your life: Web pages, photos, receipts, you name it. I still add material to my Evernote account every day, and the company just keeps making the software better and better. There’s now a version for Android phones (on top of the existing Web, Windows, Mac, Windows Mobile, and iPhone versions). In December, Evernote (whose logo is an elephant) added a file synchronization feature, so you can use it to keep copies of important Word files, PDFs, PowerPoints, and other electronic documents, and more recently, it rolled out a vastly improved version of its Web Clipper, which is the tool I use most often. A feature I plan to try soon is the recently-announced Shoeboxed, a service that will scan that pile of business cards and receipts on your desk and put them right into Evernote. And if you used Google Notebooks—which Google gave up on in January—you can easily import all of your notes to Evernote and pick up where you left off.

6. Cutting the cord. In my July 25 column, I threatened to give up my cable TV subscription and switch to watching my favorite shows online, via video aggregators like Hulu. Well, it took me a while to gather up the courage, but last week I finally made good on the threat, and dropped my $80 digital cable package at Comcast in favor of a $10 lineup of about 23 local channels (which I kept just in case I ever feel the need to watch live news). While I was at it, I canceled … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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