Mapping Hacks

I still use MapQuest for all my driving directions because I like the presentation, but for other mapping needs, like finding restaurants in a neighborhood, I waffle between Google Maps and Microsoft's Local Live. Of course, if you're looking for some unique features like finding the perfect neighborhood to rent or buy a house, or get local weather for a micro-region of your city; Google Maps is by far the best solution because the greater community is constantly extending Google Maps with all kinds of cool hacks. For my most recent InformIt column, I review 10 of my favorite Google Maps hacks.

I got a ton of great questions from the Software Celebration. Look for me to announce the recipients of the software later this week. Of course, if you have a question, don't hesitate to submit it either via email or using the online question form. I'm still answering the last batch as quickly as possible. Most of last week was dedicated to digging out from a flood in my basement (and basement office). I live in a house that's probably 80 years old. A crack developed in the foundation and during a heavy rain the crack fed many gallons of water and a bunch of mud into the basement. You can see the resulting sink hole and some of the standing water on Flickr. The only serious water damage came to my UPS, which was too heavy to keep up off the floor. Fortunately it did its job and prevented anything electronic from getting damaged.

One of the things you might notice in the water is a box from an Insignia Surround System. I've been meaning to write this up for awhile and haven't found the time. The sound system includes a 5-disc DVD changer, surround speakers, amplifier and SD card reader all in one package. Surround sound could use a higher granularity of control (especially in adjusting the sub-woofer), but for the price, the sound quality is probably best in class. Viewing images from the SD card reader is certainly better than having the family huddle around a computer screen. Supported digital file formats include MPEG4, MP3, WMA and JPEG. In general, picture quality is great, especially with the component output. If you have the budget to purchase an all-in-one surround system in the $500-1000 range, you will hear an audible difference. In comparing the sound of this system to others priced in the sub $500 range, Insignia is definitely a winner. In reading some online reviews, it looks like the units have a high failure rate, although the one at my house seems to function properly. My biggest complaint is a huge lag in between pushing buttons on the remote and getting a response from the unit. This is great system if you're on a budget or don't want to take up space in an already cramped apartment; just buy the replacement plan.