A smart Google investment

I just registered my profile at dodgeball.com. It’s a pretty unique service that lets you take the whole online social networking thing offline. You can tell all your friends about your current whereabouts by simply sending a text message from your cellphone to DODGE. Not only that, the service allows you to broadcast simple messages like party reminders/invitations. It is integrated fairly well with Google Maps and Google Local, giving you the option to add reviews about places you go to through your cellphone.

The service is limited to very few cities at present, and luckily Minneapolis/St. Paul is one of them. Not to be taken lightly, the service also offers a romance angle in that you can admit a crush on your friend or even their friends, and then get the option to review their current whereabouts if they so choose to reveal! Everything is handled through text messages. I can finally see myself fully utilizing the monthly text message allowance on my cellphone. All I need is some friends!

The website was started by two graduate students a few years ago, and bought by Google early last year for an undisclosed amount of money. I think this service makes perfect sense for them as it allows them to integrate 4 of their services – Maps, Local, Mobile, and Orkut, to bring out a better user experience.

If you’re in the twin cities and reading this, feel free to send me an email to be added as my friend!

The joy of watching movies at a Drive-In

Last evening, I went to the Vali-Hi Drive-In with a friend to watch 3 new movies, back-to-back! The cost – $7! You just can’t beat that price to watch new movies on the big screen. This was not the first time I had been to a drive-in. The last time I went to one was about 13 years ago in Ahmedabad, India. Things have changed since then, and we now have audio transmitted on a low power FM channel instead of through speakers on poles.

The best part was that I could sit comfortably in my reclined seat, which is a lot better than what you’ll find at many theaters. Not to mention that I didn’t have to stumble over people while I tried to find seats in the dark. The aftermarket speaker system really helped, too, and I was able to enjoy a very good soundtrack. And, this was after receiving an FM reception, which makes me wonder how terrible the sound system is in most movie theaters.

Only mistake on my part – forgetting to bring my warmer wear. It is starting to get cold, and driving around in a short sleeved shirt isn’t a really good idea late at night. I could use the heater but that would cost me in gas. This made me wonder, what if the drive-ins had some sort of AC or DC outlets along the poles at the parking lot so that people could connect their “appliances” for a price. That would be great.

All in all, definitely a lot better experience than going to a regular movie theater.

Bird’s Eye View on Windows Live Local

I am a fan of using Yahoo! Rarely do I ever check any other maps/local information website for my trip planning. Since the Windows Live Writer software uses Windows Live for its maps, I thought about giving it a try, and was truly amazed. Although, I did not spend a lot of time playing around, I was impressed by the interface, and how similar it is to a regular desktop application. In addition, the following capabilties have made me think about switching to Windows Live Local:

  1. Bird’s Eye View: This is phenomenal! Not only can I view satellite images, but MicroSoft has now made it possible to view oblique pictures of any covered location. These pictures are very high quality, and have a resolution of about a couple dozen yards! They’re still working on getting major cities covered. For example, Raleigh, NC still isn’t covered, while I was able to view pictures of my apartment in the Minneapolis suburbs.
  2. Call a business: This is still a beta feature, but basically when you search for a business, you get a link to call them for free. All this does is calls them and forward the call to your phone. So, basically, you hear a ring on your phone, and when you lift it, you’re connected to the business without dialling a number! I think there’s lots of scope for exploitation here as the feature takes in any number you provide.

All in all, I am throughly impressed. And, yet again, good going, Microsoft!

My trip to Winona, MN

MInnesota is a very beautiful state. Even though it lacks a coastline and high mountains, there is still lot of natural beauty to be found. Part of the credit also goes to the way small attractions have been developed. Being a warm in the summer and extremely cold in the winter type of state, Minnesota has a lot to offer for everyone.

I would have never explored Minnesota if not for my parents 2 month long visit. I drove for about 4,000 miles in less than 2 months, to put it into perspective. The day before their scheduled departure, I made up a small plan to visit a city called Winona. The plan was instigated by the fact that Winona was voted as the “Best Day trip” in the local CityPages.

The agenda was to head directly to the Garvin Heights Park. It was here that I discovered that the name Winona actually means “First born daughter”.

 The overlook allows you to catch a glimpse of the entire city as well as the Mississippi river on a clear day. truly exhilarating!

Next on the agenda was a stop over at the visitor center. It is not clearly visible in the picture, but was located directly below the peak on the left bank of the lake!

This is the visitor’s center on the right. I bought a small wooden magnetic memento from here. The staff was friendly and genuinely interested in welcoming tourists. Speaking of tourism, the only other economic contributor in the city is the Winona State University.

Then we headed for a drive on the Lake Drive road where we stopped by the Memorial Park at the lake bank to take some pictures. From here, you could actually see the Sugarloaf Bluff at a peak. It is said that the bluff resembles the shape of the hat worn by the first Indian settler in Winona!

Downtown Winona is also pretty beautiful with lots of restaurants, and a Levee Park at the edge of downtown. We had lunch (soup, hoagies, and pita) at a coffee shop called Acoustic Café, which was recommended by the lady at the visitor’s center. It was here that we decided to skip going to the Winona County Historical Museum due to lack of interest.

We finally came back to Minneapolis, driving through Rochester, MN. And, in the evening, I treated my parents to a nice dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant. They had a flight back to Mumbai the next day.

Here’s a map of the location:

 

My trip to Harmony, MN

I love driving, and living in North Carolina has made me appreciate nature more than/equally to high rise buildings in cities like Chicago. I am also getting used to driving without a GPS with help from AAA maps and their trip planner website.

So, yesterday I drove to a small town in south eastern Minnesota called Harmony, with my parents. On the agenda was a drive on the “Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway“. The plan was to spend a couple hours at “Niagara Cave”, one of the best undergroud caves in the US. The cave has fossils as old as about 400 million years, and huge stalactite formations along its 60 meter depth. It is located about 5 miles from Harmony.

While at Harmony, we decided to take a 2 hour long Amish Country Tour. We hired an 83 year old (!) tour guide, and he sat in our car to expose us to the Amish way of life. Truly spectacular. We drove around Amish schools, houses, farms, bakeries, a cemetry, and even interacted with a few people. They are extremely traditional, and consider themselves German, and everyone else around them “English”. I learned a lot about them, and bought handmade soaps, candles, brownies, and decorative stuff. They live in harmony with their “Englishmen” peers, and it’s amazing how the latter would have electricity and cars at their place while the Amish household neither of those.

It was definitely one of the most memorable day-trips I have made in the US.

Road “signs”

So, I was driving on MN-55 in my lovely car, with my parents with me, when this beat-up Toyota/Honda overtakes us, and the girl waves at me like she’s never gonna see an Indian guy again!

Now, this could mean 3 things:

  1. She was really proud of her beatup car overtaking my Mustang.
  2. She knew me.
  3. My car was blowing deadly black smoke.

Of course, number 2 is the first thing that comes in the mind, and your parents’ mind, but I doubt it. Number 3 is ruled out. My car is awesome!

Now, if only there was a way to reconnect!