If you live in New York City, you most likely have a love/hate relationship with the subway (one that tends to wander toward “hate” more often than not).

Well, Brooklynite, musician and Google Creative Labs employee Alexander Chen has created a little HTML5/Javascript art project that is sure to put a smile on your face next time you’re crammed into a crazy person’s armpit whilst enjoying the eclectic symphony of children crying on your morning commute.

Conductor, Chen’s recently released project, is an interactive subway map that pulls data from the MTA’s public API to illustrate the motions of the New York City transit system.

Colored lines representing each train move across the screen in accordance with the real cars, and every time they intersect, they produce a “twang!” — like a stringed instrument. You can also “play” the map by tugging on a line with your mouse.

“As a viola player, it was interesting territory to try to replicate that feeling of tugging at a string,” says Chen, who lives off of the G line (known as the “Ghost Train” to locals) in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“Once I had that code down, my wife and I were talking about what other things could work, and a subway map came to mind. My friend has a Vignelli map on his wall, and it’s really beautiful.”

“I’ve also always liked the idea of inanimate objects generating music, coming alive,” he adds. “With all of the emphasis on realtime and location-aware technology, I thought it would be interesting to create a website that begins in realtime, but time slowly unravels.”

According to Chen, the map is not wholly accurate — so, New Yorkers, we don’t suggest using it to get to work on time or anything. The train launch time in the lower left is apparently on par with reality, but the map is mostly an exercise in creativity.

“For example, the 8 train and K train, which exist on Vignelli’s map, don’t exist anymore,” Chen says. “So in my world, I run them from 12 a.m. to 2 a.m., like ghost trains.”

You mean like the G?

More About: art, HTML5, javascript, mtv, subway

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Google is certainly no stranger to frequent updates, with their “release early, iterate often” perspective creating both loyal followers and vocal dissidents. However, those updates are often so frequent that average users miss them entirely. That may be the case for Google Docs users, who recently received three updates, according to the Google Docs blog. If these updates flew under the radar, don’t worry: that’s how it was for most of us.

Easy Justification

While your typical “left-justified,” “right-justified,” and “centers” have long been features within Docs, plain old “justified” was a mode hidden within the HTML commands. Now justification has been added to the standard user toolbar.

Simple Starring

Don’t want to go back to your main documents menu just to add a star to the file you’re on? A new star icon has been added to the title section of each loaded document.

Threaded Sharing

As the preeminent source for collaborative document creation, it’s not surprising that Google is adding yet another set of advanced features to doc sharing. This time it’s done by adding the list of collaborators on a project in the invitation email, allowing those users to easily start email conversations in a single thread.

There’s no one in the industry claiming these changes are a big move forward, they’re still useful for most standard users. Further, it shows us that Google is still loyal to its patchwork release system and its focus on collaborative tools, favoring items like “threaded sharing” and “instant updates” to the content of the documents over more document creation oriented options. Sadly, there’s no word yet on when those in-demand individual user experience options might be granted to Google Docs, such as customizable shortcuts, the old Google Labs features, and Google Docs Offline.

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Google Gives Docs “Easy Justification” and More

Google retains a massive vice-grip on the online advertising industry, continuing to grow despite the “threat” of Facebook’s enormous user base. While much of Google’s success can be routed back to their two-thirds majority for search share, there’s little doubt that other Google properties — Blogger, YouTube, Picasa, etc. — are making a valuable contribution. Now Google is encouraging webmasters to get on board with YouTube, one of their most successful advertising arenas, through an online course.

According to the Google Adwords Blog, users will be able to learn the basics of using YouTube to help create “a stronger online brand presence,” boasting that your YouTube ads may receive “millions of ad impressions.” While the exact curriculum hasn’t been specified, it seems Google is taking a broad brush approach, telling users about “a number of ways in which you can raise your profile as an advertiser using YouTube.”

This may mean anything from the basics of integrating your AdWords PPC with the YouTube platform to using YouTube video advertisement with embedded advertisement links back to your site and much, much more. This video will run on February 2nd, 2011, 10am to Noon Eastern Time, and interested users can sign up here. Those who miss the video can still pick it up in the Google Curriculum page; this page can also be used to check out any of the previous AdWords tutorials.

When it comes to methods of advertising, Google’s approach certainly makes sense: users can overcome the initial “learning curve” hurdle for free while learning from the very experts who first created the system. Meanwhile, Google has increased loyalty through both a customer relationship and increased user familiarity with the Google systems. It’s a win-win, so long as we’re not keeping track of outcomes for any of Google’s competitors.

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Google Offers YouTube Advertising Course

There are dozens of different Google product lines — hundreds, if you count products specific to other countries — but we only keep track of a select few. In the last few weeks, one that we’ve kept up with quite fully is Hotpot. There are several reasons for our dedication to coverage. 1) Google has shown major dedication to the project, even violating some of its own rules to advertise the new service. 2) It’s the closest thing Google currently has to a successful social network. And 3) It’s actually kind of neat! One of the things I consider neat, of course, is frequent and valuable updates, like the recent addition of location photo sharing.

As announced on the Google Hotpot Blog, the “Place photo viewer” is being expanded to allow users to contribute to the pictures for any given location. The process will be simple, requiring only that users go to the “Photos” segment and click the all-too-obvious “Upload a photo” option. These photos will then be certain that the content meets both obvious standards (it can’t violate trademarks, contain illegal content, be pornographic, etc.) and more subtle ones (the images must be primarily of the business in question, and it can’t “violate privacy,” which may be construed to mean no people are allowed to be highly visible in the image).

Google suggests using pictures of the business’s decor, dish presentation, or exterior design. However, it clarifies that any images that meet the company standards will be available for browsing both in Hotpot and Google Maps.

While it may seem like a small and obvious item to add, this move presents Google with two major advantages.

  1. Google no longer has to rely on a business representative to supply images, or updates to images, for their company.
  2. Google has begun a “photo sharing” service within their pseudo social-network.

Well played, Google. Well played.

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Hotpot Adds Location Photo Sharing

When it comes to security, Google Android has long been the weaker contestant. After all, the simple availability of the code through the open source community also means that malicious coders will have the opportunity to exploit any and all weaknesses. By that same token, however, this means that Android must quickly resolve any issues that are made known to the public — as that public includes those who will quickly leap through any security hole.

As reported on Engadget, this particular issue was initially discovered by Xuxian Jiang of NCSU (North Carolina State University), who announced that the newest version of Android (2.3, aka “Gingerbread”) has a glaring microSD card flaw. What is that flaw exactly? Malicious websites may be able to tap into your microSD card as a platform through which it can transmit private data — everything from your voicemails to your online banking login info — to a third party.

This isn’t a brand new issue; it’s something Google struggled with in earlier versions of Android development, but which the company fixed prior to the 2.3 release. However, Jiang says that fix is simple to step around for anyone who understands the system. It is reported that Google is looking at the issue and plans on putting out another fix, but there’s no more specific data on the what or when.

This isn’t the first bump Gingerbread has run across, either. The THVB text bug, the SMS messaging glitch would would re-route text messages to unintended recipients without even notifying the sender who the message was heading to, was a glaring issue from day one that saw resolution only after a mass surge of attention to the issue. While Gingerbread remains an appealing OS, it’s hard to say whether it will be truly debugged before its successor, Ice Cream Sandwich, takes the scene.

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Another Security Hole Found in Android

Google’s initial concept for search and content advertising was simple but brilliant: to display highly relevant but non-intrusive ads to their users. But, oh how the mighty have fallen! Google’s precepts of non-interference have dwindled gradually over time as display ads were offered in the content network. However, the last several months have shown a new and ugly face from Google: video ads on YouTube and, now, display ads inside your Gmail account.

That’s right. Google’s advertisements in Gmail, once some of their least intrusive (and a good thing, too, lest we get even more distracted while in our inboxes), may be featuring display ads in the near future. According to Engadget, this is part of a test run for Google and will be happening only in select inboxes — although selection is randomized rather than volunteer-based, so don’t be surprised if you see some bright new advertisements. Further, Google claims these images will only show when you’re looking at an email that already has heavy image content.

The images are found in the right-hand column and feature the full color and giant square size we’ve come to expect from content network display ads. While there’s little word back yet (after all, it’s quite a limited test pilot sort of program), most analysts are predicting outrage from Gmail users.

When you couple this with the mandatory video advertising in YouTube, a huge and enraging step away from its previous unobtrusive advertising approach, it’s clear that Google is getting more comfortable getting into the faces — and eyes — of its users. This may be good news for advertisers using the content network, but for Google on the whole the approach also serves as a thorn in a primarily positive reputation.

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Google’s Intrusive Advertising March Continues

Like a parent who takes their child out for ice cream after a doctor’s visit, Google has paired its “display ad experiment” in Gmail with some appealing new features. While there has been plenty to talk about over the last few weeks when it comes to minor extras, these two features will serve as great news for both personal and professional Gmail users.

Unread Message Active Favicon

Your favicon, that little icon that shows the website logo and is attached to your tabs and bookmarks, has previously displayed the recognizable “Gmail M” in the past. Now that enveloped M can get a beautiful addition with a new Gmail lab. That lab, titled “Unread message icon,” attached the number of unread emails to the favicon. Further, rather than requiring a refresh of your browser page to give a new number, this favicon will update actively each time a new message comes in.

Perfect for obsessively tabbing browsers like myself, this feature is still in beta and can be enabled in the Google Labs section of Gmail.

New Mail and Chat Notifications

Want to see new chat messages even when you’re not in the Gmail page? Want to get a desktop notification when a new email comes in? Now you can. This simple desktop notification feature shows us what HTML5 can do by allowing a purely web-based application to communicate with you even if you’ve minimized the entire browser.

You can enable the notifications for chat, email messages, or both in the Settings > General > Desktop Notifications section.

These features are still early phase releases, so glitches and upcoming tweaks are a part of the game. However, both features have been reported as running smoothly by users so far, and the options are even enabled in Google Apps.

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Two Neat New Gmail Features

Bing may not have the biggest portion of the market (in fact, being generous, they have about 10%), but the group they have is fiercely loyal. Why? Is it the National Geographic images on the home page? Is it the dedicated loyalty to any Microsoft product? Is it how memorable the name “Bing” is? We think not. Rather, it’s all because Bing has done an excellent job at branding itself for several key niches. Furthering its position in the travel search niche, Bing has added a “destination comparison” tool.

Bing only introduced “destination pages” in the last few weeks, but their Bing blog is already excitedly discussing new user-end abilities to interact with the page. More specifically, users can compare various destinations by showing flights, weather, events, videos, attractions, hotels, and more for each, all in a sleek side-by-side display. The feature will also suggest new, similar comparisons for you to add in case you want to make your decision any more complex.

Want to do your own search? Here’s how:

  1. Go to the “Travel” page of Bing.
  2. Go to the “Destinations” section.
  3. Hover over the visual image display. A new “compare” option should appear.
  4. Click on the check-box next to “compare.”
  5. Rinse and repeat for any other possible destinations.
  6. Click the “Compare X items” button that has appeared in the top-right of your screen.

Bing’s feature update doesn’t end there, however. Aiming to make Bing the “travel search of choice” for users, Microsoft has added in an enhanced hotel information search in both the destination comparison and other travel sections of Bing. New information will include more images, detailed descriptions, user reviews, and more.

While Bing has fallen behind Google in most areas of the search engine battlefield, their search features continue to thrive; there’s no shame in doing your travel searches on Bing.

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Bing Adds a Destination Comparison in Travel Search

Google has been the voice for an open internet, at least as long as the open internet benefits them (you know — like they pretty obvious did with the net neutrality laws and Android?). Partially due to Google’s reputation, and also simply due to frustration at the power plays, users on the hunt for specific internet goodies have been outraged at Google’s most recent move: censoring searches that clearly related to internet piracy.

According to Unite the Cows, Google is now censoring any searches that are “closely associated with piracy” from its primary search results pages (the “Instant” and “Auto Complete” services, specifically; non-instant searches, real-time searches, and so forth are being left alone). This move is simply the fulfillment of a promise for Google, however, since the company told the U.S. Government that it would comply with rulings to block these results.

What exactly determines “closely associated with piracy,” though? It seems that Google has taken it upon themselves to create a behemoth of a blacklist that includes various search terms associated with torrenting, major torrenting sites, and torrenting software, rapid sharing terms, rapid sharing sites, and rapid sharing software.

As previously mentioned, there’s an established work-around; since this doesn’t apply to the non-instant SERP from Google, users can simply disable this by clicking the “Instant is on” text to the right of the “search” button on any search engine result page. The non-instant results will give uncensored, unfiltered content that will include the less than legally spotless sites. Further, while the auto-population and instant results for the searches don’t yield full results (or any at all with some searches), the completed SERP (the one achieved through hitting ENTER) will show at least a more complete list even with Instant enabled.

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Google Censors “Piratey” Searches

While the competition is a little harder to distinguish on web platforms (especially with the broad and somewhat muddled “online advertising” category), Google’s competition in the world of mobile is quite clear. While RIM and other “old age” platforms are declining, and the Windows 7 platforms excitedly enters kindergarten, Apple and Google are duking it out for supremacy. Now, the war has become more intense and direct, with Google announcing a Honeycomb press conference that directly overlaps with Android’s iPad-exclusive app press release.

According to TechCrunch, the first to make their way to the scene was Apple, who sent out a huge bundle of press invitations for their “Daily News” application, an exclusive to the iPad that sets them even further ahead of Android tablets. However, not to be outdone, Google sent out an invitation for the press to take a good hard look at Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the “operating system built for a tablet” that’s meant to change the entire battle between the mobile platform giants.

It seems that many press agencies will have to choose a priority. After all, beyond choosing who gets the top tech news slot, companies will have to select where resources are sent; the two events are on different sides of North America and in nearly identical time slots. Independent journalists and smaller press agencies may even have to choose one or the other to discuss.

This isn’t the only war-torn territory for Google and Apple, of course. The companies have been battling it out with tactically placed release dates on smartphone devices, major press announcements, feature points, and advertising campaigns for months now. It’s only likely that this battle will intensify over the remainder of 2011 as we get a chance to see how the Honeycomb tablets really fare against the reigning champion.

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Google Goes Toe-to-Toe with Apple’s “Daily News” Release