My first install of Ruby on Rails on Linux is now complete.  Would that be RoRoL?

Unlocking the Bank.

The ATM is being serviced, and you are forced to go inside the bank to get cash. You can’t help but marvel at the huge monstrosity of the vault door, swung open during business hours:

Your money isn’t the only thing locked up in that vault. Your data is too.

Look at your current bank.  What can you do with your financial data? You can download it into Quicken to view some pretty reports or review your recent transactions.  Or you could view it on the bank’s own website, where you could transfer money between accounts, setup an alert, or use a bill-pay service to schedule monthly payments.

Or you could connect your account with Mint, where your transactions will be parsed out and categorized for you.  And if you have the extra time, you could tag each transaction into more detailed categories for improved reporting:

But your data is still inert.  Lifeless.  Motionless. And the only entity that has access to it is your bank, who often uses it to cross-sell you insurance, mortgage, loans, and savings accounts.  I know you get those offers in the mail just like I do.

What if that model was turned on its head?  Instead of your data being locked in a vault and being read-only to you, it could be dynamic, movable, and wrapped in a rich set of metadata decorations.

Last week BankSimple revealed that it will be publishing its own API that would let external applications grab that data and do something with it.  Think about that.  What applications could you build on a banking API?

Lets say I eat at Cheesecake Factory once a week and pay with a debit card.  Yet the restaurant knows nothing about me.  They don’t know who I am, how much I spend on each visit, or how often I am there.  But what if they had an application that I permitted secure access my transaction metadata at BankSimple?

Could they automatically take 10% off my check when they ran my card and saw it was me?  Could they send me discount coupons if they noticed I stopped visiting regularly?  A banking API might enable such an application to be built, and I wouldn’t have to remember to carry around another silly reward/membership card!  Wouldn’t that make for a more efficient restaurant loyalty program?

What other applications could you build on a banking API?

Jolicloud: the OS for Grandma?

My mother-in-law lives in a rural home in middle Georgia.  She is 74 and has never used a computer in her life.  When we visit on weekends, we often show her photos on our iPhones.  But somehow that just feels unsatisfying; we wish we could show her full-size versions of our photos, and connect with her via email and instant messenger during the week.

I dug up an old Dell d610 laptop with 1GB of RAM, 100GB hard disk, and a single Pentium mobile processor.  There are not many operating systems made today that can run with such minimal hardware.  I figured a lightweight OS made for the puny hardware of a netbook might fit the bill.  Enter Jolicloud.

Jolicloud is a free, Ubuntu Linux-based OS tweaked for netbooks.  Its user interface is built on the fancy HTML5 standard, and looks gorgeous. Installation is done via a downloadable CDROM, available from the Jolicloud website.  Installation on the Dell took about 30 minutes, and it detected every bit of hardware with no issues.

Once installed, you get a simple black background with large icons and a slim toolbar across the top. Here is what it looks like:

Facebook.  Gmail.  Meebo.  The everyday applications you commonly use, presented in two neat rows.  Would you have any difficulty figuring out this interface?

Now, lets assume you want to access your documents.  Click the folder icon on the top toolbar and get taken to this screen:

Does it get any more intuitive?  You have folders for your documents, music, photos, and videos.  Also notice the inclusion of web-based file storage solutions, neatly presented below your local storage for seamless access.

Or lets say you want to see what this “Twitter” thing is all about, and you want to install a Twitter client.  Click on the “Add” button on the upper left corner of the toolbar, and you can browse installable applications by type. A single click will start the install.  Also notice that currently-installed programs are dimmed to indicate you already have them.

As you can clearly see, my mother-in-law won’t have any problems figuring out how to operate this computer.  And with the stable Linux operating system underneath, I don’t expect to get many support calls either.  Jolicloud is snappy and responsive with only 1GB of RAM, negating the need to purchase a RAM upgrade.  And did I mention Jolicloud is free?

Now if they could only get Internet access…