December 10, 2007

Dial DIR-ECT-IONS for exactly that, directions

Note by author: This story was reported and written for a class assignment at the University of Minnesota. The information in this story is based of interviews with the individuals.

When Amit Desai began looking to buy a house late last year in the bay area, the GPS mapping system on his smart phone was frustrating and difficult to use as he went from house to house.

“The map was very small and it was hard to follow and still keep my eyes on the road,? Desai said. “‘There’s gotta be a better option out there,’ I thought to myself, but there wasn’t.?

Desai decided to take it upon himself to create Dial DIR-ECT-IONS, a free service that anyone can use to get directions by dialing the number, speaking their location and destination, and receiving a text message with concise, reformatted Mapquest directions.

With some help from private investors, he began working on the service and the first beta version – only available in the bay area -- was available on July 6. On November 13, the service was launched nationally.

With the growing popularity of text messaging, the service is the first of its kind to utilize text messages to target advertising. But Desai’s boast is that the service can be used by anyone with a cell phone without having to download software and the only cost is that of receiving a text message.

“It’s super simple to use,? Desai said, “and there are about 240 million cell phone users out there that can use it with no charge.?

As far as the target advertising, well that’s the company’s bread and butter.

Too-yen Ho, a Dial DIR-ECT-IONS co-founder, said when a user dials the number, he has three options to select from: directions to an address, business or an event. If the user, for example, is getting directions to a business like Target, a one-line ad for an advertiser two miles within the area of the Target will appear at the bottom of the text message, Ho said.

“It’s a more targeted ad for the consumer,? she said. “They may be more likely to take action and it can be super relevant to advertisers.?

Ho said having geo-specific information like this is attractive for advertisers because they can target people who are within their area. Also, the advertisers pay per text message sent and they know that the text message was received, she said.

John Eighmey, a advertising professor at the University of Minnesota, said this unconventional way to advertise can be very effective.

“By linking the ads to the locations sought by service users, they are increasing the value of the advertisng to both the service users and the advertisers,? Eighmey said.

Although this form of advertising has been very successful for the company, Ho and Desai wouldn’t say how much revenue the ads bring in because the company is private and in its infancy.

“We have been doing well and the number of users keeps growing, which means more ads,? Desai said.

Desai said one of the other reasons why the company has been successful is its accurate speech recognition technology. When a person speaks their location and destination, the service accurately recognizes and interprets what you are saying, he said.

“It’s pretty groundbreaking and to make it accurate is very difficult to do,? he said. But for Desai, whose background is in creating voice recognition software for another company he co-founded called Voxify, creating voice recognition software that is accurate is what he does best, he said.

Scott Jilek, a University of Minnesota marketing junior who recently tried the service, said he was surprised that the voice recognition was as accurate as it was. It reminded him of 411, except the text message part, he said. However, he said the service did have some flaws.

“It kept goofing up though, and wouldn’t give me directions to the closest Starbucks.?

Two shootings in Colorado might be connected

Authorities are suspecting the two shootings that left five dead and took place at Christian religious centers in Colorado Sunday are connected.

One took place at a megachurch in Colorado Springs, the same one that recently faced a scandal with Rev. Ted Haggard, who left last year after a male prostitute alleged that he had a “three-year cash-for-sex relationship? with Haggard, the AP reported.

The other took place outside of a missionary center called Youth With a Mission in nearby Arvada. At the megachurch, the gunman was killed by an armed security guard on staff with the church.

The police chief said the they are trying to figure out how the two are connected, but did not offer anything conclusive.

December 7, 2007

Crime mob figures?

I have never thought about the possibility of organized crime figures inhabiting our very own Minneapolis or surrounding areas, but some incidents appear to be straight from the scene of “American Gangster? or other mob movies.

Police are investigating a home invasion of a Brooklyn Center home Thursday night when five masked “intruders? broke into a home at on the 6700 block of Noble Lane, according to a Star Tribune article. Police are trying to figure out how the intruders and victims are related but it doesn’t appear to be a random break-in.

What I wanna know is: what are these people involved in and who are their accomplices? These seems to be heavy stuff and it seems like the press rarely covers such incidents.

A man shot outside Roosevelt High School

It seems a lot of robberies and shootings have been plaguing the cities lately. Maybe it is just an exaggeration.

A 19-year-old man was shot outside at a Roosevelt High School parking lot Thursday night, Star Tribune reported today.

In regards to this incident, police have not made any arrests and there is no indication that any of the persons involved were Roosevelt students. The incident occurred outside in the parking lot, while a basketball game was being played inside.

The man shot was treated at Hennepin County Medical Center and his condition was not known this morning.

December 4, 2007

Cops and Robbers

Who said money doesn’t grow on trees? For suspects on the loose, it does.

Minneapolis FBI agents are looking for two different suspects that robbed separate TCF Banks around the same time of day, according to a Star Tribune article. One of the banks is inside the Cub Foods in Maplewood, while the other is in Roseville.

However, it wasn’t clear whether the robberies were related. Maplewood suspect was a man and the Roseville suspect was a woman. The robberies bring the yearly total to 62. Who would have thought right?

The story lacks sources and it would have been interesting to get some other voices, perhaps from the witnesses in the banks about what exactly happened. Otherwise, I thought it was very informative.

Budget shortfall and a weakening economy

Apparently the state won’t have any money again.

According to an article in the Star Tribune, state officials announced today that they are expecting a $373 million budget shortfall in the remainder two years of the budget cycle.

The article suggests that officials are blaming a weak U.S. economy and a falling revenue base from corporate income taxes in the state. Before this prediction, the shortfall was at $294 million. The interesting thing is that state spending is supposed to increase by $66 million.

Is the state economy tumbling or what? Last month’s figures for job growth were down as well, and in September they were below the national average.

November 24, 2007

LRT victim named

Gary X. Langlois of Minneapolis was killed after being hit by a light-rail train earlier this week in south Minneapolis, Star Tribune reported.

The accident happened at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday at the 46th Street station. It is the fifth death along the light-rail line since it started operating in 2004. It’s unclear why Langlois was on the track at the time, but Metro Transit Assistant General Manager Julie Johanson said all safety warnings were working properly at the station’s crossings during the time of the accident.

Eden Prairie football empire returns, again

Perhaps I am partially biased. But the Eden Prairie Eagles have got to be one of the better high school football teams the state has ever seen.

In fact, they proved that by being the first team to win the state title back-to-back twice (2006 and 2007; and 1996 and 1997) with their 50-21 win over Cretin-Derham Hall in the state championship game Friday, Star Tribune reported. They also set a bunch of other Prep Bowl records I will save from mentioning.

Cretin-Derham Hall, who came into the game with a 13-0 record, looked good from the start when Marcus Binns returned the opening kickoff for 98 yards. But the Eagles remained unfazed and continued to pound it at the Raiders. The end result was a dominating win for the Eagles, who also set a Prep Bowl record by having 30 first downs for the night, which was 26 before they stepped on the field.

The Eagles, currently ranked No. 9 in the nation (which will probably move up after their state championship win), ended their perfect season with a 14-0 record, and a 28-0 winning streak, according to MaxPreps.com.

John Millea from the Star Tribune said it best in his concluding remarks of the article, “Domination? You can’t spell it without an E and a P.?

November 18, 2007

TCF Bank Stadium name in a pickle?

Despite millions of dollars spent on naming rights to the TCF Bank Stadium, the name of the stadium could be just that in a couple of years — just a name.

According to Jay Weiner, a former Star Tribune writer now a Minnpost contributor, reported that the TCF Bank might not even exist by the time the stadium is open for operations.

Weiner said many reports from banking media speculate that TCF might be bought by a foreign holding company by the time of the opening.

University officials said they are aware that the name could change and have made arrangements with TCF in their $21 million contract with specifications. University officials would have to approve of the name change if it were to happen.

It seems at this point that no one really knows what is going to happen. I suggest the University brings the old school name with a new twist to it. Maybe, “Memorial Bank Stadium.? Who knows, honestly, anything is probably better than the current name.

November 11, 2007

Parking lot attendant robbed, police looking for suspect

A parking lot attendant on the West Bank was robbed by a “lone? male Friday afternoon, according to a recent public safety alert.

The attendant, who has not been named, was not injured during the robbery.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said no arrests have been made and the police are continuing to search for a male suspect.

According to the alert, the suspect displayed a knife and took an undisclosed amount of cash from the parking booth. The suspect is described as being 28 to 32 years old, about 6 feet tall with a medium build, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, dark blue gloves and blue jeans.

Hestness said police are checking camera footage within the area to get some leads on the suspect.

If anyone has information on the incident is encouraged to contact the University Police at 612-624-COPS or the anonymous tip line at 612-626-TIPS.

November 7, 2007

Stocks fall sharply, again

What is the world coming to? First job, loss in Minnesota, now this?

The AP reported that Wall Street suffered its second big drop within a week, and the dollar keeps declining in value. All this has investors pretty worried.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 360 points, almost as big as last Thursday’s drop.

The decline of the dollar has been pushed by the rising euro, which hit a $1.4729 record against the dollar.

Next thing you know, our leaders are going to be telling us to donate metal that will be used to create new tanks. Again, what is the world coming to?

State senator announces Congressional campaign

DFL state senator Terri Bonoff announced her campaign for Congress on Monday describing herself as a good replacement to Republican Jim Ramstad, who is retiring, Star Tribune announced.

Bonoff, 50, made the announcement in front of supporters at Hopkins High School. She is the second DFLer to announce candidacy for the Third Congressional District. Ashwin Madia, a University of Minnesota alumnus and Iraq war veteran, was the first to announce his candidacy for the district that has been held by Republicans for 1961.

According to the Pioneer Press, Bonoff's biggest concern and goal is for improving public education. She said that is why she announced her campaign at Hopkins High School, where her kids attended and she was heavily involved in.

Bonoff is a former business executive of Tonka Toys and Navarre Corp. and was the first DFLer to win her state Senate district in 20 years.

In a press release, Bonoff said, "This is a critical time for us as Minnesotans and Americans: an unending war, a healthcare crisis and a transportation system that has been starved of necessary resources for even the most basic construction and repairs. We need strong voices in Washington."

From the press release, it looks like the Star Tribune reported got a lot of his reporting from the release and going to the announcement. I think the article would have been much better if he had actually talked to her himself.

Terri Bonoff didn't have much to say about the article, only that she didn't see anything wrong with the article and that it was reported fairly.

November 4, 2007

Let's bury CO2 underground?

A new project could potentially reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by pumping it deep into the ground in North Dakota, Star Tribune reported.

A partnership that is established by many Minnesota corporations and state agencies is attempting to see whether it is possible to pump carbon dioxide deep into the ground. This would not only clean up the air, but also free up oil and gas deposits that are inaccessible right now.

This is the largest experiment attempting to capture carbon dioxide and store it deep underground for thousands of years.

The article goes very in depth about the process and provides interesting context about why this is important. Very well written, I especially liked the lede.

November 2, 2007

Missing Edina man found

What once was lost has now been found.

A missing Edina man was found sleeping in a truck this morning at a rest stop near Menomonie, Wis., Star Tribune reported.

Scott Tridgell, 23, who had been missing for three weeks, was found by an alert couple. Tridgell might have been suffering from amnesia after a head injury.

October 26, 2007

Craig to argue state disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional

Just when everyone thought it was over, Sen. Larry Craig has done it again.

Sen. Larry Craig is going to argue that Minnesota’s disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional as it was applied in his conviction, Associated Press reported.

Craig’s attorneys will argue this for the first time to state Court of Appeals. He had tried to withdraw his guilty plea to the disorderly conduct for some time, but a judge ruled against Craig earlier this month.

Craig was arrested in an airport bathroom by an undercover police officer who said that Craig’s tapping of his foot next to the officer’s stall indicated he was soliciting sex. The bathroom in the airport was rumored to have sex problems. Craig said the officer was wrong in his interpretation of the acts.