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Technology Untangled: Need parking or eBook? Your phone can help

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technology-bourWith iPhones and Android smartphones, there are plenty of apps to help you navigate to where you want to go – except for that last crucial distance to an open parking spot. One of our topics in this column is a new technology that helps you find a parking spot with your smartphone. I’ll also describe how to download free eBooks.

Last month, the city of Indianapolis announced that it was initiating a new parking service in several areas around town. The free app, Parker, by Streetline.com, can help you find open parking spots on the street. In some cities, it can also help you find and reserve available parking in garages and surface lots. The technology for Streetline’s service is still in the relatively early development stage, but I see this as an application with potential to expand and grow into widespread use. Right now, there are only a handful of cities that are set up for the Parker app – Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles, to name a few. Indianapolis’ recent first step with this system was to add 600 sensors in three areas: near Monument Circle downtown, around Massachusetts Avenue, and in the Broad Ripple area.

The sensors are mounted on the surface of the road at each parking space and they recognize the magnetic signature of a car if one is parked near it. They transmit that information to nearby receivers that ultimately feed that availability information back to your phone in the form of a map overlay. Information also includes the cost of parking and any time restrictions for the spots. The system does not send you to a specific parking spot, but rather breaks down the data to depict the number of available spots on any given nearby stretch of road. The best chance of finding a spot is in areas where the software reports “more than four spots” open. If it reports “less than two spots” then it is unlikely that you will find those spots still open once you come around the block.

The sensors look a bit like surface-mounted street reflectors and are fixed in place with an industrial adhesive. Each sensor contains two AA batteries. I am a bit curious about how well these units will stand up to the weather and how often the batteries will need replaced. If they do work well, guided parking systems like this should become more prevalent. This parking technology is expanding to more cities nationwide, and while it does cost the city money to install, the city benefits by gathering better data about their parking spots. Indianapolis, through its ParkIndy LLC partnership, plans to install many more sensors throughout the city this year.

On a separate subject, I have been intrigued by the continued growth of eReaders and electronic books. I have yet to decide on a specific tablet or eReader for myself, but I have noticed one obvious feature with all of them – they are designed to try to sell you eBooks and make it easy for you to buy them. Free books are a bit harder to come by. The free offerings are usually older classics. To find newer books, I started with my local library.

It turns out that a growing number of books are available in digital formats through many Indiana libraries, thanks to a project called the eIndiana Digital Consortium. Anyone with a library card can log in to their local library’s website and borrow books by downloading them electronically. One nice feature with the library books is that they are available in a format that doesn’t require use of a dedicated eReader; any computer will do. That format is the Adobe Digital Editions EPUB eBook. Adobe’s free reader software must be installed and registered before you can download books.

This format involves some type of digital rights management encoding. This means that you cannot make multiple copies of a book and share it with everyone. However, you can transfer and share your borrowed books simultaneously on several of your own devices and computers by registering those devices under your Adobe Digital Editions software account. The encoding also automatically expires your books at the end of their lending period, so you won’t need to remember to return them. For details on how to browse, check out, and download books from the library, see http://www.overdrive.com/Solutions/Libraries/guidedtour/.

Once your books are downloaded to your computer, it is a fairly simply matter to transfer them to many mobile devices, including your smartphone via USB cable. I did try to read a few chapters using my phone and found it a bit tedious on such a small screen. As much as I like the technical “wow” factor of reading a novel on an electronic device, I still think a standard paperback book is the better choice for wet environments like the beach, pool or bathtub.•

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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