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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

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The fracturing of advertising along media lines and through disruptive technology has created a strange nostalgia in us for the good ol’ days when you could be forced to watch a commercial on television rather than switching to something else or hitting fast forward. It’s not that we want more interruptions, but there was something in that collective, obligatory experience of laboring through advertisements on television that today makes us go all misty-eyed at the thought of “giving the world a Coke.”

The web is a big problem when it comes to emotive advertising. Online ads are functional and easily ignored, most often  search algorithms that return relevant but uninspiring results. Google with Project Re: Brief  is taking on this challenge by retrofitting four classic advertising campaigns for the web: Coke’s “Hilltop,” Volvo’s “Drive it like you hate it,” Alka-Seltzer’s “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” and Avis’ “We try harder.” The whole thing is called accompanied by a documentary, the trailer for which is below:

I don’t know about you, but I am a snoozer. It’s bad. Really, really bad. I hit the snooze button 5 times yesterday.This morning it was 4 times, but I admit, I badly wanted those extra 9 minutes one more snooze would’ve gotten me.

Sadly, for those like me, snoozing has now become expensive, both financially and socially. Two new apps are on the market that will change the way you wake up. The first is Snooze by LetGive, a charitable giving organization that works with charities like DoSomething.org and Action Against Hunger. This app charges you $0.25 every time you hit the snooze button and donates it to a charity. It’ll let you know how much money you’ve sent to these organizations twice a month and I’m sure my bill would be pretty high by the end of the month. At least it’s for a good cause!

The second is OKITE by the Japanese developer Eureka. This app connects with Twitter so that every time you hit snooze a weird and/or embarrassing tweet goes out to your followers. Some examples of tweets it could send include, “Dressed as a sailor now” and “Not enough talented people like me in the world.” Depending on who follows you, this would be a great way to make sure you get up right away. Who knows what looks you’d get if your coworkers saw something like this on Twitter at 730 in the morning.

I, for one, would love to try these apps but temporarily. Let’s be honest, I would most likely have no money to buy groceries and my Twitter Followers would probably unfollow me for being even weirder than usual. For those snoozers out there, would you ever download these apps and do you think they’d be successful at getting you up and out of bed?

More and more often developers are skipping the PC when designing consumer applications. The latest example is Google’s new Flipboard competitor: Google Currents. Like Flipboard, the application is designed to make a tablet or mobile magazine reading experience better and more interactive. The one interesting wrinkle is that it’s also set up to import your Google reader feeds, taking that content and making it beautiful.  It’s good enough that it makes me want to read the content on my phone instead of on my laptop.

Also this week, Twitter released a new version this week.  The trick to get the new look and functionality? You had to download it to your Android or iPhone first.

QR Codes have been around for a while but adoption in the US has been slow. In South Korea, where they’ve caught on, the grocer Tesco has figured out how to combine QR codes, mobile phones, and downtime to make day-to-day lives better. What did they do? Tesco figured out that in the busy lives of Koreans, grocery shopping was a dreaded chore that sucked away their free time. So, by placing QR codes in a previously unproductive space (subway stations) with displays that mirror grocery displays, the retailer was able to grow market share without adding stores.

The brief video below shows how they leveraged a mix of technology, market insights, and strategy to rebrand themselves and provide people with a solution that actually made their lives better.

Two travel brands are essentially telling you to leave your laptop home this summer.  If you use any of the Google services like Gmail you won’t need it. Why?  They’re offering free Chromebooks for their passenger and customer use. Starting July 1, Virgin America and the Ace Hotel will provide the devices to their customers. The idea is that all your information is in the cloud so the device will let you go out and grab it.  The Ace has even created an app for the device that provides a field guide to New York.

The U.S. Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies has long supported (for the past ~5 years) an online system for pulling area-based employment and residence data using a visual map-based selection tool called OnTheMap.  This software is fairly intuitive and fun to use, but can also be quite useful in exploring a specific market or region to understand where workers live and work, and how that has changed over time.

OnTheMap is useful for more than work location, however.  It’s a multi-layered mapping tool, with companion data on demographics, earnings, industry characteristics.  We’ve also used it to identify exact metropolitan statistical areas and radius ranges, to find transportation routes, greenspace, and tribal and military lands, and to simply better understand a physical marketplace.

For years, organizations like the Census Bureau relied heavily on point-in-time estimates, tables of statistics and physical and static maps for data exploration like this. As new systems come online, are developed further, and improved over successive versions, our ability to access information from our desktops is not only facilitated but empowered.