Smartphone apps to make you (Americans) smarter

Hey, America, have you got a second? We need to talk. It turns out we're not doing so well in literacy and math compared with most of the developed countries in the world. We also may not be as knowledgeable about our world as we think we are.

According to this article in the New York Times, a recent study out of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) puts the USA well behind most developed countries in the world in basic math skills, literacy, and working with technology.

Whether the problem is standardized testing, increasing poverty rates, … Read more

Earth now has one of solar system's biggest volcanoes

Scientists have discovered a staggering colossus that once spewed fire but now slumbers deep in the Pacific Ocean. Sadly it's not Godzilla, but it is a volcano with a footprint comparable to Olympus Mons on Mars, the largest volcano in the solar system.

Covering an area of 120,000 square miles, which makes it about the size of New Mexico or the British Isles, the formation dubbed Tamu Massif is one of the biggest ever found, according to a study led by University of Houston professor William Sager.

"We show that the Tamu Massif is a single, immense volcano, constructed from massive lava flows that emanated from the volcano center to form a broad, shield-like shape," Sager and colleagues write in Nature Geoscience (PDF). … Read more

Review: Geography Friendzy makes it easy to test basic geography knowledge

Geography Friendzy is a fun and engaging way to teach children geography, though it has a number of limitations that make it hard to properly match the skill level of the student to the app.

When you first open Geography Friendzy, you can choose to immediately compete against players from around the globe in an answer-first quiz game or you can run through the practice questions provided in a flash card-style interface. There are dozens of questions for each level, and multiple levels to master. Unfortunately, this is one of the app's biggest issues. You cannot unlock higher levels … Read more

Skype breaks records, traffic grows by 44 percent

Microsoft's Skype is making some serious headway into the international phone traffic scene. New data (PDF) from telecom market research firm TeleGeography shows that Skype broke records in 2012 by hosting the same amount of calls as one third of the world's phone traffic.

International phone traffic typically grows slowly, for example in 2012 it increased by 5 percent to 490 billion minutes. However, voice and messaging call apps are growing at a breakneck pace. Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent to 167 billion minutes in 2012. This increase is more than twice that of all … Read more

For stylish storm chasers, a Hurricane T-shirt

Talk about being in eye of the storm. This shirt from Due Fashion sports satellite imagery of a hurricane. Yes, you can wear Hurricane Rick right on your chest.

The printed T-shirt is part of the U.K. company's first collection, called Earth Tops. The line of cotton/polyester tops features dashing digital aerial imagery of weather patterns and geographical terrain like the Sahara desert and Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. … Read more

The cloud cannot ignore geopolitics

Cloud computing is an operations model, not a technology: that critical fact underpins so many of the challenges and advantages that cloud computing models place upon distributed applications.

It is the reason that so many existing application architecture concepts work in the cloud, and it is the reason that so many developers are forced to address aspects of those architectures that they could skimp on or even ignore in the self-contained bubble of traditional IT.

One of the most fascinating aspects of cloud's architectural forcing function is the way it forces developers to acknowledge the difference between two often … Read more

App sneak peek: Accuterra 3.1 topo maps

As a wannabe weekend warrior, I'm happy to see topographical maps for mobile phones gaining ground on decidedly consumer devices. Interactive trail maps like Accuterra for iPhone make a lot of sense, especially with cellular reception and baked-in GPS chips strong enough in so many local hills and national parks that you can actively record your steps, share photos, and track your stats.

At CTIA Fall 2009 (see all stories), we got a sneak peek at the next version of Accuterra that will hit the iPhone app store. Version 3.1, which is expected in a few weeks, doesn'… Read more

Trendsmap maps Twitter trends in real-time

Stateless Systems, the creators of BugMeNot and PDFMeNot, have a new tool called Trendsmap that hasn't been designed to solve any productivity problems. Instead, it does just the opposite and serves as entertainment. It tracks trending Twitter topics by geographical location by combining data from Twitter's API and What The Trend. It then sticks it onto a Google Map where users can sort by city or general region and see trending topics in real time.

All of this information is organized into something resembling a tag cloud, which floats around without any specific, or pinpointed location within each … Read more

Google Earth plug-in now works with Chrome

Google has fixed a disconnect between two of its software products, its Chrome browser and the plug-in version of Google Earth.

"As of ~4 p.m. PST today, Google Chrome 1.0+ on Windows is an officially supported browser," a Google employee said on a Google Earth mailing list on Thursday. "That means Chrome users will no longer get the unsupported browser message, and the plugin and API should work just as they would in other supported browsers."

Google Earth is generally used as standalone software, but the plug-in version can be mashed up with Web … Read more

My Tracks turns Android phone into GPS device

Google on Thursday released an application called My Tracks that turns the T-Mobile G1 Android phone into a full-fledged GPS receiver.

The free software can record tracks showing where you've been, display them on a map, show elevation gains and losses, and share data with various online services.

As a geography buff, I have to confess that this one of the first applications that actually got me excited. I carry a Garmin standalone GPS device so I can geotag my photos and keep track of my trips, but My Tracks one-ups it in several ways.

For one thing, it's a phone and therefore much more likely to be toted at all times, not just on dedicated occasions. But more important, it's an Internet-enabled device, which means it shows my position on Google Maps--either map mode or satellite image mode, not just the feeble and expensive Garmin Maps--as long as it can find the Internet. Track data can be saved not just as a GPX file, but also uploaded and shared with Google Maps. And statistics can be uploaded into Google Docs spreadsheets or even Twittered (for example using the Twidroid application). … Read more