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Technology Watch:

"Flyovers" track building sites

Keyhole Inc. of California has developed on-line software that allows you to "fly" over three-dimensional terrain to familiarize yourself with landmarks, buildings and streets or scout out potential home building sites. The service, recently bought by Google, the giant Internet search engine, so far covers two Canadian cities: Vancouver and Toronto.
In all, more than 100 U.S. and international cities are shown in high resolution, complete with demographic and crime information, and five million business listings.
It is an eye-popping piece of software. Recently, Home BUILDER "flew" over downtown Vancouver and Toronto and, by typing in an address we could zoom in from space to see amazing details. We tested it during a free trial introduction. Now up and running, it offers a $599US version that is aimed at the home building, development and real estate industries.
The photos of Greater Vancouver and Toronto don't appear to be that recent - we checked out familiar construction sites to get a good idea of when the satellite flyover was downloaded. According to Google, the images can be as recent as two months or as old as three years, but it says the research is being updated and may soon be close to within weeks, perhaps even days, of the download.
The real power is that it gives amazing detail of a neighbourhood - you can see swimming pools - with locations of schools, parks, shopping centres and waterfront, for example. You control the speed and direction of flight and can zoom from space to street level. Even the street names are shown on an overlay. The data can be saved for CDs or power point presentations. You can see a demonstration at www.keyhole.com.
While flashy, the information is similar to that provided by major Canadian cities, some of which offer aerial photographs matched to municipal databases covering taxes and traffic counts, for example. HB

Technology Watch:

Cell phones do more and Polaroid challenges digital

Communication technology has become as much a tool on the modern construction site as a hammer is, but the advances must be balanced against real need.
A good example is the digital camera, which is taking over the photographic market, offering the ability to snap and send photos immediately to clients, suppliers and co-workers. But the digital revolution has also meant that many contractors are spending too much time filing, sorting and saving jpeg files. As one Burlington contractor said: "I now have 100 photos of a single project and I don't have a clue what they are without spending 20 minutes at the computer opening the files."
To this end, Polaroid has come somewhat to the rescue with a new digital camera / instant print package: the PP46d, which lets you sort the photos in seconds because you have real, instant photos to work with. It prints impressive 4-by-6-inch glossy photos. The cost per print is higher than having a roll of film developed but, honestly, you probably only need a couple of shots anyway. The PP46d can also be hooked to computers to store and send the digital photos.

Bigger keyboards
Bigger keyboards are, hopefully, an indication of where mobile technology is heading, as manufacturers attempt to bring common sense into the technological playground. An example is cell phones, which offer the ability to send text and surf the net… as long as your fingers are the size of a pencil.
Nokia's 6820 looks like any of the company's other popular cell phones, with tiny keys. But flip the keypad up and it opens with a full QWERTY keyboard. Opening the keyboard automatically flips the screen image sideways, resulting in a small but usable environment for text messaging, e-mail, Web browsing and more. Other features include a combination contact organizer, calendar and to-do list; speakerphone and voice recorder; Bluetooth wireless connectivity; and still and video camera.
Research in Motion's Blackberry's little keyboard make it an awkward phone. But the new 7100 series of Blackberries is different. Rather than cramming in a standard keyboard, each of the 7100's keypad's 20 keys lists two letters plus a punctuation mark, in a standard QWERTY arrangement. The software lets the unit predict the word you're typing and it works pretty well. Other features include speaker phone, e-mail synchronization and attachment viewing, Bluetooth support, and long battery life. It doesn't include a built-in camera.
Motorola's Razr V3 doesn't have any great keyboard features, but flip it open to display a large, bright screen and a big keypad. It includes a VGA-quality camera with 4x zoom, basic e-mail software, AOL messaging and Web browsing. HB

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