New Website Maybe Wants to Help You with Life’s Tough Decisions

There’s no denying the power of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Pinterest over modern society. Together, they help represent the core of the social networking society we live in, and the potential for one good idea to take over the world. Because of their success, thousands of sites are pitched and launched all the time with the hope of joining the internet elite and reaping the rewards that come with that.

Newcomer Maybe is one such site, and is based around the simple idea that in a world of potentially unlimited knowledge and information, there’s also too many decisions to make. Maybe combines elements of Pinterest, Facebook and good old Google to allow users to pose a question (current examples include: help choosing wedding shoes, what to do on vacation, and which work of fiction to read next), and use a combination of pictures and polls to let the rest of the world help them decide the answer.

Besides an interesting concept, Maybe also boasts a strong pedigree. Site founder Omar Hamoui made his big break in the online world with the promotional aid website AdMob, which was purchased by Google in 2009 for a princely $750 million. A year later, Hamoui left AdMob to start up Churn Labs, which was treading the waters of the App market until a new idea was birthed by Hamoui while helping his wife shop for a new coffee table. Hamoui says that as he was clicking link after link his wife sent him, he quickly became lost in all of the information and was having a hard time separating one products features and prices from another in order to reach a purchase decision. From there, Maybe was a result of the timeless statement, “There has to be an easier way.”

Maybe is in a preview build right now and sports a pretty simple design and straightforward purpose. However, Hamoui and his team have pledged to expand the website to its full potential, including adding a mobile app where the team feels that Maybe will truly shine. Personally, I feel the site is a great idea, as I count myself among the indecisive masses of the world who often debate over judgments ranging from what movie to watch, to where to go on vacation. If Maybe is able to acquire and maintain an active community of users, we could all be facing a glorious future where we never have to think for ourselves again.

The Nest… Cooler Than You

Growing up in Texas, I can tell you that many of the conceptions about the Lone Star state range from the completely false (everyone rides horses and owns guns…err…maybe just rides horses), to the begrudgingly true (for PR sake, let’s go with everyone drives pickup trucks). The one aspect of the great state of Texas that is undeniable, however, is the intense, blinding heat that they get in the summer. Anywhere from 100 to 110 is considered pretty standard, and you’re pretty much forced to deal with it as complaining about the heat is a surefire way to get a “Hot enough for ya?” out of even the most scholarly of natives.

However, from stocking up on Walmart shorts (what a deal!) to raiding the local HEB for some good ole Blue Bell Ice Cream (sorry, getting nostalgic here), every Texan still desperately looks for ways to try to beat the heat. The most popular answer to this question has long been a good central AC unit, because as they said in “Dogma”:

Yet since my time back home, the one innovation in this field I seemed to miss out on is The Nest. Developed by the ex-senior vice president in charge of the iPod group, Tony Fadell, and former iPod software engineer Matt Rogers, the Nest is a smart thermometer that is capable of learning your heating and cooling needs while providing input on when you are able to save on energy costs via a handy leaf icon that lets you know when you are at an optimal setting. You can also use your smartphone or computer to change the temperature setting while you’re away to adjust for inclimate weather, and also view a readout of your energy settings to learn how your settings effects your energy bill and how you can modify it accordingly to save in the future. And of course, since it was developed by former Apple employees, it’s incredibly sleek. Its look is straight out of a sci-fi movie and has the appearance of the kind of invention a James Bond villain would use to cool down his volcano lair.

The design of The Nest isn’t just for eye candy, but rather is meant to alert you to the fact that while other lesser thermostats may have similar features, the Nest really is the complete package. Texas-based energy company Reliant Energy has apparently realized this also as they recently announced their plans to stock the Nest thermostat and offer it to anyone who signs up for the Reliant Learn and Conserve Two-Year Plan.

While The Nest is available at Lowes, Home Depot, Apple stores and Amazon, there’s no denying the major boost that a direct partnership with one of the nation’s leading energy companies can have for the company, especially one that’s based in one of the most prime markets for central air units.

Also, the fact is that the more you see of The Nest, the more you realize you need one. Sure, it’s another accessory that’s bringing us closer to the Cyberdyne world of machines running everything, but with glowing reviews from publications like The Wall Street Journal (“Suddenly, I can’t imagine my home without a Nest”), to CNET (“The thermostat of the future can restart an industry”), I’ll accept my fate at the hands of technological overlords as long as my last days are spent at an intelligent (and cost-cutting) level of temperate comfort.

i’LL See You in Court

Assuming the Mayan calendar got it all wron, and we’ll all live to see 2013, then Apple’s got a day in court to look forward to.

As ruled by Manhattan judge Denise Cote, on June 3rd, 2013 the tech giant will be called forward to respond to the allegations that it helped to orchestrate a coalition of major book publishers (including MacMillan, Penguin Group, Hachette, HarperCollings and Simon & Schuster) in order to set a mandate that any publisher who sold their books via iTunes would not be able to sell them for a lower price anywhere else.

Where the monopoly accusation gets tricky is the idea that any possible coalition that may have been formed was potentially done with the intention of breaking up the stranglehold monopoly that Amazon held on the eBook industry at the time. Apple’s official statement on the subject treads incredibly close to supporting this theory when spokesperson Tom Neumary said at the time of the accusation:

“The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from eBooks that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore.”

For an official statement, it’s pretty gutsy. In fact, it reads to me more like the title of OJ’s book (“If I Did It“) than it does an outright hands in the air denial.

Nevertheless, as HarperCollings, Simon & Schuster and Hachette have all settled out of court, its down now to MacMillan, Penguin and Apple themselves to face the Deparment of Justice accusation next year.

The ramifications of this future decision will obviously be far-reaching if Apple is found guilty, but even an innocent verdict raises the uncomfortable question of whether or not a tech giant just got away with a business crime under the basis that it was for “the greater good.”

Microsoft’s New Tech Toys Are Not the Coolest Gadgets for This Summer

So, I know that there is a lot of talk going on right now about Microsoft’s big announcements concerning their new tablet and the Windows 8 phone. And why not? They’re both beautiful new machines that are set to not only eat some large holes in wallets worldwide, but maybe even eat the hearts of some Apple owners in the process (though probably not).

In fact, I was ready to add another entry into the hype machine with this article. There I was at my computer going from page to page, report to report, spec listing to spec listing, absorbing every detail along the way and furiously typing up my findings. Then, something quite embarrassing happened. I looked at my shirt and noticed that even in my moderately cool (temperature wise) apartment, I had worked up a case of the sweats. I was so flustered, in fact, that I modified my search to “rapid ways to cool off.”

That’s when I found it. The coolest invention for the summer. And as you may have guessed by the headline, it isn’t the Windows 8 phone. No, instead it comes to us from the island of Japan and is manufactured by a company called Kuchofuku. What does Kuchofuku translate to? Air-conditioned clothing, and that’s what they’re all about. Their bread and butter item is the air conditioned work shirt.

It’s actually been around for a couple of years now, so before anyone else says it, yes, this is old news. However, considering it’s currently 91 degrees in the evening in New York, I think it’s starting to feel surprisingly relevant again. There’s not much to the shirt really. It’s just a couple of AA battery powered (with optional USB charge) fans attached to the back of the shirt that pumps cool air around you while you wear it. It’s made of polyester, comes in a few different colors and sizes, and gives me some very fond memories of Marty Mcfly’s self-drying jacket from “Back to the Future 2.”

Kuchofuku isn’t just a one trick pony, though. That shirt is just one of the offerings in their diverse product line. They also offer a less than stylish air conditioned coat, and the most surprisingly practical item in their arsenal, an air conditioned bed cover that pumps cool air throughout while you sleep and costs a meager 24 cents a month to power for 8 hours a day.

These items aren’t just novelty devices either. ABC News reported that, following the Japanese tsunami disaster, these air conditioned clothes and accessories saw a tremendous spike in sales from citizens left without power who needed to stay cool during the blistering summer months. Not only that, but major companies like Toyota  started ordering these shirts for their employees to stay comfortable at work with, all while cutting down on cooling costs.

Now, there is the slight problem concerning the cost of the clothes. That shirt, for instance, retails for about $183, while the bed cover is going to set you back around $352. However, if you are one of the millions considering spending hundreds of dollars on a new Microsoft product just to look cool, why not take a part of that money and buy some clothes that will actually make you be cool. And if you don’t want to take my word for it (couldn’t blame you), here’s an actual quote from Kuchofuku founder and former Sony engineer Hiroshi Ichigaya on his product:

“People ask me, why would I want to wear a jacket when it’s so hot… I tell them, because it’s cooler than being naked.”

Roqbot Promises to be the Jukebox Reborn

In many ways, the jukebox hasn’t been a relevant or practical item for quite a few years now. Even before the advent of the iPod, many establishments that once used them prominently suddenly started preferring TV sets and house music to stand in for the old nickelodeon. Yet even though time has diminished the prominence of the jukebox, it has only added to the machine’s mystique. When imagining any good old time diner or gin joint, the jukebox is sure to spring to mind in its home right in the corner, as some classic tune frames another undisputed image of Americana.

It was only a matter of time, though, before the idea of a musical public centerpiece entered the digital age in full effect, and now it appears that thanks to a smartphone app called Roqbot, that time has come.

The idea is that a restaurant, bar or other type of patron establishment will register themselves as a Roqbot location and install a corresponding system. You can even help your favorite local joint become a member by recommending them on the Facebook campaign, “Jukebox Reborn,” Then, you can use your smartphone to check in to the affiliated location and see what’s playing, help create set lists, recommend the music, and even check out specials and other information about the place, thus allowing customers to truly set the music selection of their favorite hangouts like never before.

It’s an idea that’s time has come, and depending on the participation of venues and users, is one that could become popular fast. But I can’t help but lament that this is a clear sign the days of jukeboxes are truly done. Yes, their selection is very limited, and they’re extremely bulky and prone to break down, but besides the romantic aspect of seeing one, there is the fun of flipping through the sheets and finding that perfect song, or just knowing the number of your favorite by heart.

Also, the limited selection of a jukebox helps to truly define a good bar. I take comfort in knowing a little hole in the wall whose jukebox is loaded with Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Eric Clapton because I know that for the cost of some quarters, I have found a safe haven from club beats and dance music, and am around common souls whose heads start to nod and feet start to tap as the music fills the room, letting me know it was a good selection. I don’t know if an unlimited public playlist selection can offer that same kind of community.

But hey, maybe I’m just an old fashioned.

Even if the Roqbot is the wave of the future, though, I’m still going to go down to my favorite dives and give a quarter of tribute to one of the most pure fun inventions of all time.