Notebook > Technology
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

A new travel agent

Technology | Website organizes unwieldy trip information

Issue: "Tilting at turbines," July 17, 2010

Keeping track of travel itineraries can create a headache. The internet has largely replaced travel agents, but this convenience crowds a traveler's email inbox with reservation confirmations for airline tickets, hotel stays, and car rentals. Print them all out and you're stuck carrying a wad of papers.

TripIt (tripit.com) fixes this problem with a staggeringly simple solution. Set up a free account, then forward your emails to that account as they come in. TripIt parses nearly any travel reservation email and puts the pertinent information into one unified itinerary with confirmation and flight numbers, times, and dates. It even includes maps and driving directions for your destination.

Android, iPhone, and Blackberry apps make it possible to look at your itinerary on the fly. You can share your travel plans with friends who also use TripIt and be alerted if your travel plans take you near a friend. A pro account ($69 per year) will automatically forward your information to your assistant or family, track flight changes, and help you make alternate arrangements if necessary. And TripIt keeps track of your travel, so you can see how many miles you've traveled and how many countries you've visited.

Ways to watch

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Today we can legally watch most television shows and movies through the internet. Missed the Lost finale? It's on Hulu.com. Was Ice Age checked out of the library? Just rent it for a few dollars from Amazon and you can watch it immediately. Want to kick back with a mug of tea and an old episode of The Twilight Zone? If you have a Netflix s­ubscription, you don't even need a DVD-just watch it on Netflix's website.

But while digital video is convenient, it's much more fun spending family night snuggled up on the couch than clustered around the laptop. Companies have been slowly rolling out technology enabling your television to play online content. Apple got in the game early, but other devices now also play online video: Netflix's Roku box (which also plays Amazon video), TiVo, and even Wii and PlayStation.

Now, Google is throwing a hat in the ring with the recently announced Google TV, which will use the company's open-platform Android and Chrome technologies to let users search for video from around the internet as well as on channels and recorded DVR content. Users will also be able to browse the internet, play games, and listen to music from their television.

Music makers

In Professor Ajay Kapur's class at California Institute for the Arts, music students create compositions, but not with their usual instruments. Instead, they join in Kapur's "KarmetiK Machine Orchestra" project in which they program robots that play music together. The robots don't look like humans, and they have an unusual skill: They can improvise, and therefore the composition changes with each performance. Some musicians aren't sure that creating musical robots is a good idea, but Kapur argues that robots can play instruments in ways that humans can't-for instance, with extra arms or very rapidly.

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