Heard of Aardvark? Google recently acquired the company for $50 million and will, no doubt, do something amazing with it. But it really doesn’t have very far to go. Aardvark is already an outstanding service, and I can only imagine what Google will do with it. In my mind, it is a great companion for Google Buzz, on which users can follow each other and share information—and even save their location if they use Buzz on a cell phone with GPS, so “Nearby” users can answer questions from people in their area.

Aardvark is a cross between Google Buzz/Twitter and Google the search engine. It is, in effect, a social search engine. One simply has to ask a question and wait for an answer from a knowledgeable user—or, vice versa, answer a question if he/she knows the answer. Aardvark is a way to search without knowing exactly what to look for (i.e., in Google or some other search engine). Aardvark describes itself as “a new kind of tool that lets you tap into the knowledge and experience of friends and friends-of-friends.” All users have to do is set up their areas of expertise and interest when setting up their accounts. From time to time, depending on their settings, they will receive a question to try to answer if they want to do so, and they can also ask questions to be answered.

I haven’t done the greatest job explaining this, so here’s an example. I used Aardvark the other night while making biscuits from a pre-made batch of baking powder biscuits that I got for Christmas. Previously, when I mixed up some of the batter and baked it, I thought the final product tasted too baking powdery. I thought it could have been that the biscuit mix had too much baking powder in it, but I wondered if there was another reason.

So I asked Aardvark. One can ask a question via the website, the iPhone app, e-mail, Twitter, or even IM (I have my GMail Instant Messaging account set up for Aardvark). This time, I chose the iPhone route, since I was in the kitchen. I got 4 responses within minutes.

I asked, “Is there any way to lessen the taste of baking powder in baking powder biscuits? They also [sic; it’s supposed to say “always”…my bad!] seem kind of…bitter, I guess.

I got the following in response:

1) “Many baking powders contain aluminum, which can give a bitter taste. You might consider trying an aluminum-free baking powder.

You can find a list of aluminum-free baking powders at http://bowlofplenty.blogspot.com/2009/02/baking-powder_16.html#aluminum.” –Jonathan P.

2) “Aluminum-free baking powder http://www.culinate.com/articles/features/baking_powder.” –Timothy N.

3) “The only time I get that problem is when I add too much. Double-check your recipe?” –‘Lin L.

4) “Make sure you are using a baking powder that contains calcium phosphate (like Rumford or Clabber Girl)–they are less bitter. Also, I add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to mine.” –Pamela J.

Granted, not all of this was helpful to me at the time, because the biscuits were pre-mixed, in a jar, but I did try adding a little sugar, and I added a tiny bit more flour as well. When I make my own biscuit mix, in the future, I’ll try to find some aluminum-free baking powder.

Thanks for the tips, Aardvark! 🙂

I also asked about the durability of a TiVo and whether or not it is worth it to buy the lifetime subscription (used to be $200, now it’s $400 because of HD capabilities, I believe). I got several great, objective responses, and now, I’m thinking of buying a TiVo with a lifetime subscription, instead of paying monthly for it. Assuming it lasts longer than about 3 years (most people said they’ve had theirs since 2000 and that they’re still working but that they’ve replaced the hard drive once or twice, which is normal), I’ll end up paying less than if I paid monthly. Plus, it’s possible to transfer the lifetime subscription to a new TiVo in extreme cases. I’ll have to wait a while, but I know now that a TiVo would be a good option for me. Maybe sometime in the next year, I’ll go for it.

I also want to get a new digital camera. I had originally wanted to get the Nikon D5000 with 2 VR lenses, which would be around $800-$900, but since I’m also looking at a TiVo (which would be about $399 for the HD-capable machine with a good-size hard drive plus $399 for the subscription), I’m thinking of going with a point-and-shoot. It would be cheaper and smaller, so I could take it around with me, whereas with the Nikon I’d only use it for special occasions and photography projects since its more cumbersome to carry around. I’m not advanced enough for that yet anyway. The Canon Powershot S90 looks fantastic, and it would help me ease myself into “prosumer” photography. It’s a point-and-shoot/DSLR hybrid. It has manual features but is small and light. I’ve heard great things about it. And it’s only about $400. While I preferred to stick to Nikon for lens compatibility (my current camera, a Coolpix 3200, is Nikon), if I’m getting a camera that can’t even change lenses, I might as well go with the best one I can find. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is buy Nikon for DSLR cameras (the big nice ones with multiple lenses) and Canon for point-and-shoots.

So far, I agree. I’m considering getting the Canon point-and-shoot sometime this year and maybe getting the Nikon in a few years, once I’ve gotten more used to the “prosumer” category and can justify the cost.

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