Monday, November 13, 2006

ReplayTV Returns (and It’s Not Just a Rerun) - New York Times


This definitely has potential! At present I cannot transfer my Dish satellite DVR recordings to my iPod because they equipped it with a proprietary USB connection that will only talk to their own pocket Dish. I also have no way to increase the capacity of the DISH DVR either. At $100 for the software and only $20 per year subscription thereafter, their price point is right too.

ReplayTV Returns (and It’s Not Just a Rerun) - New York Times: "The new incarnation of Replay requires a computer with Windows XP, a Pentium 4 chip that is 1.3 gigahertz or faster, and a fast graphics card with 128 megabytes of video RAM. You also need a video tuner card, which lets the computer receive TV signals from cable, satellite or over the air. (The Replay software is included with some Hauppauge tuner cards.)

As with the old Replay, the new version shows two weeks of TV listings as a grid, or you can search by title, director, actor, genre or special categories like “season premieres.” All navigation can be done by keyboard or with a remote control (not included).

For $100, you get the software and the first year’s subscription; the annual fee is $20 thereafter. The company plans to offer a free 30-day trial through www.replaytv.com starting today. "

Monday, November 06, 2006

For France, Video Games Are as Artful as Cinema - New York Times

I agree with the culture minister of France that video games do reflect substantial creativity and can reflect cultural value. I'm not sure I'd give a creative award to Donkey Kong, however. There are many other games with truly breathtaking graphics and far more intricate game play, often based on historical events, that would be much better candidates.

New York Times: "France is proud of its contribution to culture in such forms as existentialism, Impressionism and auteur films. Now the French culture minister wants to add Donkey Kong to his country’s pantheon of high art.

“Call me the minister of video games if you want — I am proud of this,” the minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, said in an interview last month. “People have looked down on video games for far too long, overlooking their great creativity and cultural value.”

Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres is seeking to have video games recognized as a cultural industry eligible for tax breaks, similar to French cinema.

In March, he pinned medals from the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres — a prize awarded to acknowledge cultural accomplishments — on three prominent video game designers, including Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese creator of Donkey Kong. The game, popularized in the 1980s, stars an Italian plumber called Mario.

Video game creators should receive a tax break of 20 percent, up to a ceiling of 500,000 euros, Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres says.

“Video games are not a mere commercial product,” he insisted. “They are a form of artistic expression involving creation from script writers, designers and directors.”"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mississippi State Develops Effective Campus-wide Podcasting System on a Shoestring

I'm at the national Educause Conference in Dallas, Texas, right now and of course I am looking for innovative web-based applications that we could implement to provide campus-wide services in a number of areas including e-portfolio development, learning object repositories, content publishing and collaboration, etc.

I went to an excellent presentation this afternoon given by the IT group at Mississippi State about their lowcost, automated podcasting system using existing polycom output routed through a relatively inexpensive device (about $350 per lectern) called a Barix instreamer that converts all audio produced during a class presentation to an MP3 format. The MS group wrote a web-based front end for faculty login and input of metadata as well as an automated RSS output that automatically publishes the file to the web through links into their CMS system (they use WebCT but it would probably adapt just as well to Blackboard. The MS folks sounded like they would be willing to share their software if we were interested in developing the service here. I couldn't hardly believe that they built the entire system and rolled it out campus-wide in less than three weeks!

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Chip That Can Transfer Data Using Laser Light

With this new technology, maybe those of us living in more remote locations will finally get high-speed internet at a reasonable cost!

New York Times: "Researchers plan to announce on Monday that they have created a silicon-based chip that can produce laser beams. The advance will make it possible to use laser light rather than wires to send data between chips, removing the most significant bottleneck in computer design.

As a result, chip makers may be able to put the high-speed data communications industry on the same curve of increased processing speed and diminishing costs — the phenomenon known as Moore’s law — that has driven the computer industry for the last four decades.

The development is a result of research at Intel, the world’s largest chip maker, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Commercializing the new technology may not happen before the end of the decade, but the prospect of being able to place hundreds or thousands of data-carrying light beams on standard industry chips is certain to shake up both the communications and computer industries.

Lasers are already used to transmit high volumes of computer data over longer distances — for example, between offices, cities and across oceans — using fiber optic cables. But in computer chips, data moves at great speed over the wires inside, then slows to a snail’s pace when it is sent chip-to-chip inside a computer.

With the barrier removed, computer designers will be able to rethink computers, packing chips more densely both in home systems and in giant data centers. Moreover, the laser-silicon chips — composed of a spider’s web of laser light in addition to metal wires — portend a vastly more powerful and less expensive national computing infrastructure. For a few dollars apiece, such chips could transmit data at 100 times the speed of laser-based communications equipment, called optical transceivers, that typically cost several thousand dollars."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Where oh where has the RSS Link gone on Google?

I am working on a php driven website that displays information about historical figures contained in a Filemaker Pro database. One of the features desired on this website is a list of links to other resources on the web about the figure that is selected. I created a table to contain the links with various fields to relate the links to the figures individually and by group but as the compilation of links would be quite time consuming, I decided that it would be better to embed an RSS feed generated by one of the search engines based on a specifically defined search criteria instead. This would automatically update itself as new resources appear on the web.

I had used a Google-search generated RSS feed in the past so when I went up on Google and performed a search and looked for the RSS feed link I was baffled when I couldn’t find it anymore. Thinking it was just late in the day and I was just somehow overlooking the link, I called JQ and we both hunted all over for it. JQ finally found an article indicating that the feature was removed some time ago. Apparently, Google (and Yahoo) both decided that they didn’t want you to be able to easily create this time saving feature – I’m assuming it’s because RSS feeds do not contain advertising. So, JQ and I set about searching for a work around.

JQ found a blogpost about a tool developed by Ben Hammersley called Google to RSS. I found a tool developed by ResearchBuzz that will create a feed from several different search engines including special science and math search engines called Kebberfegg. Kebberfegg is a tool to help you generate large sets of keyword-based RSS feeds at one time..

With one search you can generate an RSS feed for:

Scientific and Medical: Hubmed, CiteuLike, Connotea, CounsellingResource.com

Multimedia: BigFeeder, Del.icio.us Audio, Del.icio.us Video, BlogDigger Audio, BlogDigger Video and Image, Buzznet, Flickr, Blinkx TV

News: BBC, NewsisFree, FeedsFarm, Google News, IceRocket News, NewsTrove News, RocketNews, Topix.net, FindArticles, Wired, Findory, Yahoo News, MSN News

Press Release Wires: MarketWire and PRWeb via FeedFindings, PR Newswire via Google News, Business Wire via Google News

Tags and Site Submissions: Digg, Del.Icio.Us, IceRocket Tags, Technorati Tags, RawSugar, Ma.gnolia

Technology: PHPDeveloper, Etamp

Web Search Engines: MSN, IceRocket

Weblog Search Engines: Blogdigger, Daypop, Feedster, Google Blog, IceRocket Blog, Findory Blog, RocketNews Blog, Blogpulse, Yahoo Blog Search, Sphere

Other: 43 Places

I decided to use the tool from ResearchBuzz then take the feed it generates and paste it into RSS to Javascript's tool:

http://www.rss-to-javascript.com/p/138.html

and paste the resulting snippet of code in a text field in my database. Then I assigned a Php variable to that text field and call it within my PhP page. Too bad I can't rely on people to have the newest browsers that can display RSS feeds directly but I think that would be too optimistic at this point.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

3D Photo Tourism Project Showcased at SIGGRAPH


Several months ago I was contacted by researchers working on an immersive 3D Photo Tourism project at the Computer Science Department at the University of Washington.

"A central goal of image-based rendering is to evoke a visceral sense of presence based on a collection of photographs of a scene. The last several years have seen signicant progress towards this goal through view synthesis methods in the research community and in commercial products such as panorama tools. One of the dreams
is that these approaches will one day allow virtual tourism of the world's interesting and important sites.

During this same time, digital photography, together with the Internet, have combined to enable sharing of photographs on a truly massive scale. For example, a Google image search on “Notre Dame Cathedral” returns over 15,000 photos, capturing the scene from myriad viewpoints, levels of detail, lighting conditions, seasons, decades, and so forth. Unfortunately, the proliferation of shared photographs has outpaced the technology for browsing such
collections, as tools like Google (www.google.com) and Flickr (www.ickr.com) return pages and pages of thumbnails that the user must comb through.

We present a system for browsing and organizing large photo collections of popular sites which exploits the common 3D geometry of the underlying scene. Our approach is based on
computing, from the images themselves, the photographers' locations and orientations, along with a sparse 3D geometric representation of the scene, using a state-of-the-art image-based modeling system. Our system handles large collections of unorganized photographs
taken by different cameras in widely different conditions.

We show how the inferred camera and scene information enables the following capabilities:

Scene visualization. Fly around popular world sites in 3D by morphing between photos.

Object-based photo browsing. Show me more images that contain this object or part of the scene.

Where was I? Tell me where I was when I took this picture.

What am I looking at? Tell me about objects visible in this image by transferring annotations from similar images." - Photo Tourism: Exploring Photo Collections in 3D

The researchers requested permission to use some of my pictures of Trevi Fountain for a demonstration of their new system for creating an interactive environment for visual exploration of historical sites that have been photographed from many different angles at various times of the year by many different people. The demonstration was presented at Siggraph. You can view the system at:

http://phototour.cs.washington.edu/

I recommend watching the longer movie which explains the interactive features more in depth. I found it to be a fascinating learning environment and feel honored to have had some of my images selected for inclusion in such a cutting edge project. It really motivates me to continue to build my online archive for educational use.

Weighing a Switch to a Mac

I thought this comparison of the new Mac Intel-based platform with existing native Windows machines a thoughtful evaluation but was somewhat disturbed by the "switching experience" case study the article included.

New York Times: "The physical designs of Apple’s desktop and notebook computers are often innovative. The iMac, for example, is a space-saving desktop unit with an all-in-one enclosure that conceals the computer’s components behind the monitor. And the MacBook, a new notebook with a glossy screen, includes a new keyboard layout. This week, the company introduced the Mac Pro, a line of desktops replacing the Power Mac, completing its transition to Intel chips.

But while Apple’s selection covers much ground, it is less diverse than what is available from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sony and Lenovo. For example, Apple does not offer ultraportable notebooks, a tablet design or as wide a choice in processor types and speeds. And when it comes to pricing, Apple no longer offers notebooks in the sub-$1,000 range, or desktop units in the sub-$500 range, as do other makers.

Consideration should also be given to the compatibility of any devices like printers, external hard drives and cellphones that may be connected to a computer. In some instances, only Windows may be supported."

The Switching Experience

Danielle Wang, 26, of Austin, Tex., bought her first Mac six weeks ago. She took the advice of a friend and decided to buy a MacBook to replace her Windows-based laptop, a Sony Vaio, which she said had been stolen.

Early in the transition, Ms. Wang said, it took time to get used to the Mac interface; the menus, the location of buttons and other items were different. “It was difficult,” she said. “The first three days, I was constantly thinking about returning it.”

Ms. Wang uses the MacBook mainly for applications like e-mail, Web browsing, digital music, games and instant messaging; so far, she has not encountered problems finding Mac software, and she still maintains access to Windows-based computers for other programs she prefers to use at home.

In comparing the MacBook and the Vaio, she said the graphics were clearer on the Sony.

“The Sony Vaio is more lively,” she said. But she prefers the look and design of the MacBook."


What I find primarily disturbing about this particular case study is that essentially Ms. Wang opted for a Mac for esthetic reasons not because of product functionality. It reminds me of Steve Jobs boast at Mac World several years ago when the I-Mac was introduced with its unusual shape and color combinations. He essentially said it didn't matter how powerful the machine really is but that it looks "cool". I would like to think computer users are not that shallow.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

New Navigation systems do more than point the way

I found this article in the New York Times describing the latest developments in navigation systems very interesting. I had read that digital cameras would be coming out with built in GPS systems to record the location of photos. This article says navigation systems based on GPS are incorporating cameras so you can snap a picture of a location with no fixed address and your navigation system can then return you to that same place at a future time if you need to go there again.

"The iCN 750 from Navman not only lets users show photos but shoot them — and use them as a navigation aid. Press a button and it shoots a digital picture of the road ahead (it can detach quickly from its suction-cup bracket to shoot other views or even shoot outside the car). There is no zoom, and the camera’s 1.3-megapixel resolution is more like a camera phone’s than a digital camera’s. But the point is not image detail: it is the G.P.S. geocode data the Navman adds to each photo as a record of where it was shot. Store the image on the Navman’s hard drive and it shows a user on a map where it was shot or can navigate back there, which is especially useful for spots that have no street address. Navman users can share their geocoded Navpix via www.navman.com/navpix library, and use tools there to add location codes to other photos."

As someone who loves to travel abroad I was also very pleased to note the new language bank feauture:

"

These navigation systems also work abroad. The satellite network these systems use for positioning is available worldwide, and most cars have lighter sockets. Travelers will need new digital maps, of course, but the major manufacturers have them for Europe, at least, and sometimes other places.

Garmin’s nĂ¼vi 350 and 360 do even more for European travelers, with a world travel clock and foreign currency and measurement converters built in, and language and travel guides available on plug-in SD cards. The language guides, using data from Oxford University Press, include word and phrase banks and bilingual dictionaries for nine languages and dialects (including American and British English, European and Brazilian Portuguese, and European and Latin American Spanish) and will even demonstrate how words are pronounced.

The travel guides, with data from Marco Polo, include information on tourist attractions and reviews of restaurants for all of Western Europe or any of five European regions."

TiVo Is Watching When You Don’t Watch, and It Tattles

I thought it would only be a matter of time before DVR providers started capitalizing on datamining the information stored on all those Digital Video Recorders like Tivo that are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in the homes of the viewing public.

This article also mentions efforts to tailor ads to the viewer's interest profile as noted by the types of programming the viewer chooses to record - sort of like Amazon's personal suggestions based on past purchase history. This may not be a bad thing if it means I won't have to sit through the deluge of Bowflex, Levitra, or Enzyte ads any more. My DVR is presently over half full of such educational programs as "The Crusades: The Crescent and the Cross", "The First Chinese Emperor", "Rome: Engineering an Empire", HBO's "Rome" miniseries (which I can erase when my new DVD First Season set arrives August 16), OPB's "The Madness of Henry VIII", and "Command Decisions: Alesia".

I wonder if they have a way to tell if the DVR controller is a woman or a man?

New York Times: "AS the advertising and television industries debate how to measure viewers of shows watched on digital video recorders, the pioneering maker of the recorders, TiVo, is getting into the argument. It is starting a research division to sell data about how its 4.4 million users watch commercials — or, more often, skip them.

The service is based on an analysis of the second-by-second viewing patterns of a nightly sample of 20,000 TiVo users, whose recorders report back to TiVo on what was watched and when.

On average, TiVo has found that its users spend nearly half of their television time watching programs recorded earlier. And viewers of those recorded shows skip about 70 percent of the commercials, said Todd Juenger, TiVo’s vice president for audience research.

But TiVo says that at a more detailed level there are wide variations in the numbers. The new research service, which is intended mainly for advertisers, could help them understand how to get more people to watch recorded commercials, like changing the content of ads or running them during certain kinds of programming.

For example, one study for a consumer packaged goods company, which Mr. Juenger declined to identify, found that commercials featuring animal characters, when shown on animal-related programs, were skipped less often than usual."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blurb's print on demand model offers low cost, no editing option

I've kept my eye on the "print-on-demand" developments for quite a while so found blurb.com's latest venture interesting. I downloaded the Booksmart software and, after a quick tour of the features, and a few minutes using the software, I found it to have good potential.

Although it appeals to the person looking for a way to produce a highly personalized gift, I think it would also provide the means for communities to acquire truly unique library offerings that reflect the diverse characters and interests of their inhabitants.

New York Times: "The print-on-demand business is gradually moving toward the center of the marketplace. What began as a way for publishers to reduce their inventory and stop wasting paper is becoming a tool for anyone who needs a bound document. Short-run presses can turn out books economically in small quantities or singly, and new software simplifies the process of designing a book.

As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and others pushed themselves as new models of publishing, with an eye on shaking up the dusty book business. They aimed at authors looking for someone to edit a manuscript, lay out the book and bring it to market.

The newer ventures also produce bound books, but they do not offer the same hand-holding or the same drive for the best-seller list. Blurb’s product will appeal to people searching for a publisher, but its business is aimed at anyone who needs a professional-looking book, from architects with plans to present to clients, to travelers looking to immortalize a trip.

Blurb.com’s design software, which is still in beta testing, comes with a number of templates for different genres like cookbooks, photo collections and poetry books. Once one is chosen, it automatically lays out the page and lets the designer fill in the photographs and text by cutting and pasting. If the designer wants to tweak some details of the template — say, the position of a page number or a background color — the changes affect all the pages.

The software is markedly easier to use — although less capable — than InDesign from Adobe or Quark XPress, professional publishing packages that cost around $700. It is also free because Blurb expects to make money from printing the book. Prices start at $29.95 for books of 1 tto 40 pages and rise to $79.95 for books of 301 to 440 pages."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Downloading Service to Allow Film Watching on TV Screens - New York Times

Downloading Service to Allow Film Watching on TV Screens - New York Times: "The movie industry has been experimenting with ways to rent and sell downloaded movies, but these efforts have been hampered because the movies generally had to be watched on computer screens. The new service allows the movies to be seen on any television set connected to a DVD player.

“People like to watch movies in their living rooms, and this solves their problem,” said Curt Marvis, chief executive of CinemaNow, which is offering the download-to-DVD service. The studios participating include Sony, Disney, Universal, MGM and Lions Gate, which is a major shareholder in CinemaNow.

CinemaNow has been selling downloaded movies since April from these and some other studios, but the movies were restricted to computer viewing, and the downloads included only the film. The new offering also includes the bonus material on DVD discs, like filmmakers’ commentary and extra scenes.

The picture quality of the discs made through the downloading will not be as high as those on commercial DVD’s because the files need to be compressed to reduce the downloading time. Even so, it will take about three hours to download and burn a movie, hardly allowing for impulse purchases.

Mr. Marvis said users would not be inconvenienced by the time. “I was testing the service over the weekend with my family,” he said. “We picked out a movie to see, launched the service, cooked dinner, ate and by the time we washed and put away the dishes, there was the movie.”

And the studios are not yet allowing new releases to be sold in a form that can be copied to DVD’s. Initially, CinemaNow will offer about 100 older titles, including “Scent of a Woman,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Barbershop.” Prices will be about $9 to $15, the same as the films sold in versions that could be downloaded only to computers.

Mr. Marvis said the response to the initial offering had been tepid."

I guess response would be tepid! Why would I pay as much as $15 to wait three hours to download a movie (even with its extra features), that has less than optimum quality, then have to burn it to a DVD that I have paid for???!!! Unless you take extra effort to create a menu, you would also not have the interactive selection capabilities of a DVD either! Come on movie moguls! You can do better than that!!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

SirLook offers free webpage "Live Help" service

Today, I noticed that a company is offering a free online chat support service that can be pasted into any number of websites. Years ago I used to use a similar service called “Human Click” with my tech support website here at the college. It worked quite well but like many good things that start out as an open source project, the service was eventually acquired by a group of capitalists that started charging for the service so I discontinued using it.

I was naturally skeptical about this new service but I read through the user agreement and saw no blatant gotchas. I signed up for the service and was pleased to see that the chat interface is even free from glaring advertisements – just a simple statement Powered by SirLook. It is a totally web-based service so there is nothing to install on the client side and you can load the script on as many web pages as you wish. When you login to their chat management site, you have a window that lists any chat requests by URL of the website where the request was initiated so one person can respond to multiple sites. You can customize the interface and include as many visitor questions to the chat request dialog box as you wish, archive sessions, track visitors, build a library of canned responses for frequently asked questions, and refer visitors to your own contact forms. The full list of features can be seen here:

http://www.sirlook.com/live/features.php

I am testing the service on my Roman Times educational history site. You can try it out by clicking on the Roman Times link below.

http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/%7Emharrsch/romanwonders.html

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Jobs out to sell downloadable movies for $9.99

This time I think Jobs has let the success of iTunes go to his head. I, for one, am not willing to spend $9.99 for a downloadable movie when I can order pay-per-view for $3.99, video-on-demand for $4.99, and sale DVDs for less than $7. You better reconsider your price point Steven!

New York Times: "Consumers have been willing to spend 99 cents to buy Shakira's 'Hips Don't Lie' or $1.99 for an episode of 'Desperate Housewives' from iTunes.

Now Steven P. Jobs is betting they will also pay $9.99 to download 'The Godfather' to play on their iPods.

For weeks, Apple Computer has been talking with executives at all the major studios — including the Walt Disney Company, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Universal Studios — about adding movies to its popular iTunes music store, several people involved in the negotiations said."

Friday, June 16, 2006

New FujiFilm FinePix F30 low light camera a technological miracle!


My new Fujifilm FinePix F30 low-light photography camera arrived yesterday and I tested it out. I turned the lights off in my office, had the blinds closed (the room was quite dark) and took a picture of a vase of roses I have on my desk. The picture looked like I had taken it with a flash. I used the “museum” shooting mode setting (one of the presets) which automatically suppresses the flash and turns off all of the audible sounds of shutter, etc. It automatically adjusted itself to an ISO of 3200 and an aperture setting of 2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/15 and I had zoomed to about 2X. Normally, hand holding at 1/15 second is pretty risky, even with my Panasonic FZ20 and its advanced image stabilization system. But the Fujifilm has an even more advanced image stabilization system and the shot was impressive.

Shooting with its intelligent flash is even better (when you’re permitted). I took a picture of the same vase of roses using the totally automatic setting and the resulting image was evenly exposed (foreground and background), the ISO adjusted automatically to 800, the shutter speed adjusted to 1/90, and I got an aperture setting of F4.

Another thing I like about this camera is the ability to switch from a displayed menu back to shooting mode by just touching the shutter. It also has a one touch Macro mode and a power save LCD adjustment that lets you change from standard LCD viewing to fine detail LCD viewing. Among its preset shooting modes is an underwater setting that I hope to use for aquarium pictures. Although I won’t be physically underwater, I will be shooting through glass at fish underwater so I’m hoping this setting will help to correct the color balance that is usually skewed a bit because of the tint of the glass and the water. It also has a special flower setting that is designed to capture true vivid flower petal colors, a text setting for taking clearer shots of letters, and a color mode menu option that lets you switch from standard contrast and color saturation to F-chrome with contrast and color saturation set to high for landscapes and flowers – sort of like in the old days when you would use Kodachrome film for better color capture instead of Ektachrome that often had a slightly bluish cast to it but was available in faster film speeds.

The camera also has a custom white balance mode where you can take a picture of a white sheet of paper in the existing ambient light and it will autoadjust the white balance setting accordingly. The battery is also recharged inside the camera by way of a very petite AC charger and, in fact, the camera itself fits in the palm of my hand so I can pack it right in the same case as my large Leica lens 12X zoom Panasonic FZ20 so I don’t have to add one more bag to sling over my shoulder. I hope to give it a real field trial over at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art next door before I go up to the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington for a scheduled shoot in August.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Online Video Editing prompting people to switch to still camera video snippets

I found the following article very interesting. I knew that online video editing would soon follow online still image editing and online "photostory" editing but I was intrigued to note the observation that people are tending to switch from camcorders to still cameras capable of recording short video snippets. If you've ever paid close attention to professionally produced video or viewed it frame by frame you will note that it is usually a collage of short video segments switching scenes frequently. People seem to be catching onto this technique and like the more interesting results created by combining short snippets.

New York Times: "While sites like YouTube and Veoh have lately become popular for allowing users to share their self-produced videos, Jumpcut (www.jumpcut.com) is part of a new class of sites that also offer simple tools for stringing together video clips and then adding soundtracks, titles, transitions and unusual visual effects.

All of the sites, which include Jumpcut, Eyespot, Grouper and VideoEgg, have been introduced within the last year. This summer, they will be joined by another site, Motionbox, based in New York.

Their shared objective, the founders of the sites say, is to reduce the complexity of video editing and to reduce the cost to zero.

'We wanted to make video editing over the Internet faster than desktop editing,' said Jim Kaskade, co-founder and chief executive of Eyespot, based in San Diego. 'We think it will broaden the base of people who are creative, but may not have thought they were, by creating this tool kit for them. Editing video is eventually going to be as simple as sending e-mail.'"

All of the sites, except Grouper, require that video clips be uploaded to their servers before they can be manipulated. That can take a long time, and there are limits to the size of the files that can be sent. (For Jumpcut, the limit is 50 megabytes per clip.)

Users of Grouper (www.grouper.com) must first download a free piece of Windows-only software that works in tandem with the Web site. It permits users to trim and rearrange clips on their computer and upload only the finished product, in compressed form.

The sites make possible new kinds of collaborative editing. A group of parents attending a school play can upload all their video, and then edit a single version of the play that makes use of the best shots.


Many of the earliest users of the online editing services report two changes in the way they capture and assemble video. First, they tend not to use their camcorders as much, because the tendency with a camcorder is to record long, meandering stretches of birthday parties and parades, which are time-consuming to import to a computer and edit. Instead, they record more impressionistic scenes of a few seconds or a few minutes, using a digital still camera or a cellphone.

Second, even if they have experience using more powerful, PC-based editing software, they find themselves using the online services more often when they are working with the shorter snippets — and trying to assemble them quickly for a grandparent in a distant city."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Digital Camera Superheroes

New York Times: "THE SEE-IN-THE-DARK CAM Life is filled with beautiful scenes bathed in natural light — but most cameras muff the job either by blurring the shot (because the shutter must remain open a long time) or by nuking the whole affair with a flash.

Not the Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6.1 megapixels, $400). This camera's sensor is eight times as light-sensitive as most pocket cams. To put it in geek terms, its ISO (light-sensitivity) range goes to 3200 — a first for a consumer camera.

You can turn off the flash and still get amazingly clear, colorful, well-lighted shots, even at twilight, by firelight or indoors. At the highest ISO settings, a few digital colored speckles creep in, but only on shots you'd otherwise have missed.

As a bonus, this camera is an industry leader in battery life (500 shots); the electronics are quick; and the "intelligent flash" attempts to throttle back as necessary to avoid turning your friends' faces into overblasted bleached blobs. There's no eyepiece viewfinder but otherwise, this camera is a photographic knockout."

I was so excited about this camera that would be a perfect companion camera to my Panasonic DMC-FZ20 that I ordered one. I love my Panasonic's Leica lens and 12X zoom but when I am shooting pictures inside museums that are often poorly lit, even the Panasonic's ISO 400 setting is not enough. I also noticed in researching the Fuji camera on other websites that it has garnered a number of awards for innovation and technical excellence. I can hardly wait to try it out! I'm planning a photography shoot up at the Maryhill Museum of Art the second week of August so it should be a perfect opportunity to give it a real workout.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why Web 2.0 will end your privacy

bit-tech.net : "So Murdoch knows everything about MySpace. The financial gurus at Yahoo know all about your personal thoughts, pictures and bookmarks. The guys at Google know everything about your search habits, and you can bet they want to link 'em up to your email and calendar and whatever else you end up using online. How much is that data worth? With marketing spends online going ever upwards, as more and more of the world 'logs on', you can bet that it's only going to get more and more valuable.

And where it's valuable, it will be bought and sold. Our social networks, searching habits, visual identifiers and personal preferences will be mercilessly sold to anyone who wants to get their hands on our particular demographic. And when your photos, your files, your email and your friends are all online, you'll have to be online - and thanks to net everywhere, like the Google San Francisco project, you'll always be able to be online. And as long as you're online, they can market to you.

When the Web 2.0 bubble bursts - when the massive buyouts are done, the millionaires are made and the sites we love today are in the hands of big business - the innovation will grind to a halt, and what's left will be the endless grinding of the marketeering machine.

But hey - at least you'll be closer to your friends. And you'll have free photo hosting, too."

I think this prediction is far too dour. Social computing, like any activity requiring interaction between two or more persons, by definition requires the loss of at least some of your privacy. But I think I would rather focus on the benefits to individuals and the facilitation of creativity than obssess over who may be able to profit from the knowledge of my individual preferences based on my public communications.

As someone who has worked in marketing in previous careers, I am acutely aware of the value of knowing what a customer wants. But as a customer, don't you think I would rather have someone offer me something related to my needs or interests instead of watching countless hours of commercials for products like Bowflex, Cialis, or Lexus automobiles (I find their ridiculous ads during the holidays particularly irritating - as if the average wife could afford to go out and SURPRISE her husband with a $50,000 car for a gift)? I may be a bit strange but I actually appreciate the targeted suggestions of books and movies I receive from Amazon based on my search and purchase history.

I also think the warning that our beloved Web 2.0 services will become stagnant pools of data without the benefit of future innovation is relatively baseless as well. The PC industry has always been user driven and I think the large media companies realize the continuing need to improve their users' experiences to keep them coming back to the wellspring. Articles have already appeared discusing the fact that these same media companies expect users to be a valuable source of creative content in the future. So I doubt that services such as Flickr and YouTube that facilitate content creation and sharing will become viewed as simply a drain on corporate profits.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Shorter, Faster, Cruder, Tinier TV Show - New York Times

I found this article interesting in that it provides helpful insight into producing material for small display devices like cellphones and iPods. I'm in the process of writing a script for my first Podguide and plan to use some of the "Ken Burns" still image panning techniques so it will be interesting to see if slow image panning will be as effective on the small screen as it was on the large screen.

New York Times: "Shooting a show for a cellphone presents all kinds of technical problems for people used to conventional television production. That day in the Warner Brothers offices, I was already familiar with the drill about to follow, one that a producer described to me dourly as 'filming to the phone.' To be intelligible on screens sometimes smaller than 2 inches by 2 inches, most shots must be close-ups. Producers also have to limit zooming, panning and quick movement, which can blur because of slow streaming rates and because cellphones often deliver only 15 frames of video per second, compared with 30 frames per second on regular television."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Interns? No Bloggers Need Apply

Since I have worked in the private sector in several previous careers, I am well aware of tight-lipped corporate policies about sharing your work life with outsiders. But this article makes several important points about young bloggers' tendencies to "bare all" and what the employment consquences might be for doing so.


New York Times: "ON the first day of his internship last year, Andrew McDonald created a Web site for himself. It never occurred to him that his bosses might not like his naming it after the company and writing in it about what went on in their office.

For Mr. McDonald, the Web log he created, 'I'm a Comedy Central Intern,' was merely a way to keep his friends apprised of his activities and to practice his humor writing. For Comedy Central, it was a corporate no-no — especially after it was mentioned on Gawker.com, the gossip Web site, attracting thousands of new readers.

'Not even a newborn puppy on a pink cloud is as cute as a secret work blog!' chirped Gawker, giddily providing the link to its audience.

But Comedy Central disagreed, asking him to change the name (He did, to 'I'm an Intern in New York') and to stop revealing how its brand of comedic sausage is stuffed.

'They said they figured something like this would happen eventually because blogs had become so popular,' said Mr. McDonald, now 23, who kept his internship. 'It caught them off guard. They didn't really like that.'

This is the time of year when thousands of interns and new employees pour into the workplace from college campuses, many bringing with them an innocence and nonchalance about workplace rules and corporate culture.

Most experienced employees know: Thou Shalt Not Blab About the Company's Internal Business. But the line between what is public and what is private is increasingly fuzzy for young people comfortable with broadcasting nearly every aspect of their lives on the Web, posting pictures of their grandmother at graduation next to one of them eating whipped cream off a woman's belly. For them, shifting from a like-minded audience of peers to an intergenerational, hierarchical workplace can be jarring."

I am a staunch supporter of blogging because I believe blogs represent an important information sharing medium but I have never thought it ethical to divulge sensitive work-related information to the public at large. Although some of the bloggers in this article point to the importance of their blogs as a primary communication device for their families and close friends, they should keep in mind that a public blog is just that - public. Would they want their mistakes or lapses in judgment at work exposed to public scrutiny?

Of course I must admit I am a bit at a loss for understanding this new breed of bloggers that want to share every intimate detail about their lives anyway. Perhaps discretion is just something that a person learns to develop over time, unfortunately ,usually after being burned seriously first.

Friday, May 19, 2006

One-Button Data Backup in a Tiny Package - New York Times


One-Button Data Backup in a Tiny Package - New York Times: Hmmm...This looks promising. Now if I could just get users to store all their data under My documents! Otherwise even a 100 gigabyte version may not be large enough.

"The OneTouch III is less than an inch thick and 5.2 inches long. A 60-gigabyte version of the drive is available at www.maxtor.com and elsewhere online for $150, and a 100-gigabyte version for $200.

The drive comes with an instruction booklet and a U.S.B. cable. For PC users, setup is simple: Maxtor has included a full user's manual and backup software on the disk itself, which is preformatted using the Windows NT file system. Once you plug it in, the installation system asks for a few basic facts about your computer. When you're ready to back up, simply press the glowing white button on the front. (Mac users will have to reformat the drive.)

The drive has a built-in encryption program for protecting data, as well as software that will keep data on a PC and on the drive in sync. "

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Can TV's and PC's Live Together Happily Ever After? - New York Times

New York Times: "David G. Sanderson, who heads the media consulting practice at Bain & Company, offers four reasons most people won't be downloading their favorite shows onto their TV's any time soon: limitations in broadband infrastructure, the degree of readiness among electronics makers to provide a product with mass appeal, the behavior of consumers and the agenda of the players in the TV ecosystem.

Mr. Sanderson's first two points — basically whether the Internet-based network and devices are ready for prime-time — are where most of the action is and where things could change if businesses keep investing and innovating. Still, for now, there are logjams associated with delivering large quantities of video over the Web and the unresolved 'net neutrality' debate over whether heavy users should pay more to telecommunications carriers for the large amount of bandwidth they use.

His second two points — about consumer behavior and the entrenched players — are actually more complex. The consumer question boils down to whether enough people want to give up access to the dozens or hundreds of channels they pay for through their cable providers to buy programs over the Internet. And that is closely related to his point about the industry structure, which is a function of the willingness of cable networks to risk giving up their guaranteed monthly subscription fees in favor of a free-wheeling Internet alternative.

'The reality is that I don't think you're going to see the current cable offering — hundreds of linear channels — replicated on the Internet,' Glenn A. Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, told me recently. 'One reason is the Internet isn't physically capable of handling that volume, but obviously, with a lot of money and time, that can be alleviated. But the second thing is that we actually provide a very important economic function in the TV distribution chain."

CABLE networks are not about to jeopardize the millions they receive from guaranteed subscription fees each month — and it is probably no coincidence that the versions of TV programs sold through iTunes or Google Video are inferior in picture quality to what is offered by cable companies (while the growing popularity of high-definition TV shows that viewers want higher quality). Even Sharp's new Japanese TV, the Internet Aquos, only accesses online video material from a closed-circuit service, and displays it at inferior quality."

As for the public being unwilling to give up the hundreds of channels it receives by subscription to obtain programming from the internet, I think industry analysts may be mistaken or overlooking the potential for a successful hybrid of the two. Instead of asking consumers to pay for numbers of channels (usually ridiculously overstated because they are counting a bunch of shopping channels and other "no cost to them" offerings), providers should offer subscriptions to thematic content libraries.


For example, at present I pay about $85 per month for Dish Network's Top 180 channel pack, local channels, PBS, and HBO/Cinemax including DVR and monthly magazine. Of those more than 180 channels, I watch less than 20, and its not unusual to cruise the guide and find nothing I want to watch at all. I don't listen to the myriad of music channels listed, I don't care to watch sports, and I could care less about home shopping channels or glorified advertising channels.

However, I would happily pay a subscription fee to have access to all programs in the libraries of the Discovery Channel, The History and History International Channels, BBC Channel 4, Canadian History Television, National Geographic, and PBS (both local and East Coast). I would continue to subscribe to HBO for new programming but be willing to pay an extra fee to have access to all existing programs in the HBO archives as well.

I would continue subscribing to local channels for local news and network offerings and would want to continue to subscribe to a news tier that contains CNN and Headline News. Then I would like to be able to pay for programs "a la carte" like you do with iTunes for the occasional program I may wish to see that may appear on a channel I don't currently subscribe to.

I think hybrid arrangements like this may actually result in more revenue opportunities for the providers while resulting in more satisfied customers.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Curiosoft Learning Games examined

I noticed that participants in a K-12 technology summit being held soon at Portland State University would be introduced to learning software from Curiosoft. I hadn't ever seen their software so I checked out their website and downloaded some of their demos. I selected the version for ages 8+. My initial reaction was that these games with their rather primitive animation would not satisfy any eight-year-olds I know who are already playing very graphically sophisticated video games by that age. Although they do include some educational information, I think they are just too basic for ages beyond about 5 - 6. I was also confused why the Jr. Vet demo required the child to engage in an "asteroids"-type arcade game when they selected the antibiotic to clean an animal's wound. It's as if the game developers decided they had better introduce a familiar shooter-style activity to keep the child interested. I realize it has been said that shooters improve eye-hand coordination but the activity seemed totally out of place in the scenario presented.

Then I downloaded one of their "genius" thinking game demos, Think Like Einstein. The trainer level allows you to work with celestial bodies and experiment with moving them around to observe the effect they have on a light beam that you are trying to deflect into a capture box . More objects are introduced as the game progresses although, in the trainer level, the objects are not placed into particularly challenging arrangements. I also didn't take the time to figure out what changed if you put a bowtie on an asteroid. This introduction of an object totally out of context seemed rather strange. I think it would have been more realistic to have piles of different minerals that you could add to an asteroid that the child could then observe changed its behavior. Maybe that would not be fanciful enough. I did like the game's objective to emphasize the observation of cause and effect. I am still doubtful about the use of the game above the age of about 6 however.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Audio in connection installation in your car may be best iPod solution

Well, after talking with other iPod enthusiasts and family members I have just about come to the conclusion that having a simple audio-in jack installed in the factory stereo equipment in my 1995 Ford Explorer may be the best route to take to listen to books on my iPod while I'm commuting. My Ford tape deck with auto-reverse does not work with all the various cassette adapters I have tried and people who have tried the FM transmitters say they are not very reliable if you travel around areas that have lots of nearby FM channels. So I called Soundsations, a custom car stereo shop here in Eugene and they said they could install the jack for about $140.

Some of my electronically gifted friends say that the stereo unit I have probably has an audio-in jack already built into the back of it but the trick is getting to it. It was factory original in the car when it was assembled so you would have to remove it from the dash/console (it is a combination cassette/radio/6-disk CD changer unit with the cassette/radio in the dash and the CD changer in the console) to connect a patch cable. One friend pointed out that the wires to the CD player in the console should be the easiet to get to. So, I'll point this out before I plunk down the deposit and see what the shop says.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ripping DVDs to iPods not foolproof

With the introduction of the video iPod, I have turned my attention to the production of downloadable educational material such as Podguides for museum and educational sites and exhibits that conforms to the iPod format. I began my exploration of the technologies used for iPod content development by familiarizing myself with the iPod itself and content delivery systems such as iTunes. After downloading a trailer for Battlestar Gallactica I was even more excited about the feasibility of video content delivery for this wildly popular device. So, I began investigating conversion tools. I learned that the most popular tool for the Mac was a freeware product called HandBrake. However, I could not find any free Windows utilities. I did find several low cost Windows products and downloaded one with a good review rating.

My first evaluation was a DVD Ripper utility named Jesterware. It was written by developers in the UK for the Windows platform. Installation of the product went well but when I ripped a commercial 2.5 hour DVD I discovered the process took over five hours. I consulted with a Mac-savy friend and he said the Mac tool could rip an entire DVD in a fraction of the time that it takes to actually watch the DVD. So, I continued my search for a comparable product for Windows and discovered Super iPod Video Converter 3.5. I tried using the trial product but it would not rip an entire DVD so I ponied up the $29.95. I was not disappointed. The product was easy to install and easy to use and ripped a 2 hr DVD in about 1.5 hours - much better than 5 hours using Jesterware.

Monday, March 13, 2006

More from the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference

Well, I sat in on some more eye-opening sessions again today. I began my day with a session on making online communities more productive. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting but it was still interesting. The presenter focused on the new emerging phenomenon of microwork and how organizations with online components can tap into this new type of outsourcing to get tasks done. Here at the conference a symbol that has been used over and over again is a device that was invented in the 18th century called the mechanical turk. The mechanical turk was promoted as an automated machine that could beat anyone at chess. The promoter (con artist) would open up the cabinet to the crowd and show an impressive complex array of gears and pulleys then close the doors and challenge all comers to a chess match. The mechanical turk would win every time. However, it was all a sham. Like the cabinet used by magicians for sawing people in half, the mechanical turk actually concealed a re! al human chess master that was secretly manipulating the chess pieces to win the games.

The reason this symbol is so significant is that now Web 2.0 companies are discovering that many tasks that complement their web services are best done by real humans instead of trying to develop pure software solutions to handle all their data needs. In many cases, their own site visitors can supply the labor, either as volunteers or paid "turkers".

One of the tasks that is particularly suitable for human intervention and can be parsed out to thousands of people as small incremental tasks is the categorization and tagging of data to make it more searchable. This is being accomplished by the implementation of tagging features in many Web 2.0 applications like Flickr, Delicious, Wordpress blogs (via Sxore), and social applications developed with such tools as Ning.

Because users of such services as Flickr and Delicious directly derive a benefit from properly categorized images, their microworkers are performing this service as volunteer users of these sites. Although people willingly perform this task as part of their use of these sites, the presenter also explained how a group funded by the National Science Foundation had used an online game tied to its database of images to obtain the free human labor of identification that it needed. In the ESP game, http://www.espgame.org/, players login and are connected to other players (anonymously) and shown images. Each player types in single words to describe the image as fast as they can. When one player enters a word that matches the other player, the match word is assigned as a tag to the image and the players are shown a new image. This simple fun activity has served to tag millions of images to date.

Amazon has implemented a more commercial approach to jobbing out its microtasks. Amazon launched a beta site called Amazon Mechanical Turk (http://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome). There they explain to visitors that they need real people to perform Hits:

"HIT stands for Human Intelligence Task. These are tasks that people are willing to pay you to complete. For example a HIT might ask: "Is there a pizza parlour in this photograph?" Typically these tasks are extraordinarily difficult for computers, but simple for humans to answer.

How do I find HITs to work on?
Just click the "Get Started Now" button to browse thousands of available HITs, without any obligation."

Hits can pay as little as $.01 or $.02 or quite a bit more for more complex tasks.

Here is an example from one HIT request posed by Amazon itself:

"We are developing a new application for bloggers and their readers. For this HIT we want you to simply think about your daily experience as an author and/or reader of blogs. What is most annoying in this experience? What is most lacking? If you were to create the dream feature that would be so cool, and would so improve this experience, that you would use it everyday, what would it be? The successful HIT will describe the feature, the problem it solves, and the circumstances in which it would be used.

Approved answers will receive $0.02. Answers will be rated and the top 70 selected. An answer in the top 70 will receive $5. The top answer will receive $100."

Apparently, some people do these tasks for fun but others are using this new online opportunity to make money to supplement poor job markets in economically depressed areas. The presenter mentioned that some seniors now armed with computers are supplementing their retirement income this way. (Maybe I should write an article about it for Modern Maturity!)

Although at present this new employment model is in its infancy, the presenter said this type of contracting has enormous potential as a huge money saver for the requesting companies. This employment model is particularly suited for such tasks as transcription and translation. Companies are starting to offer a service where a user can request a human translation of a document with a click of an embedded web application for something like $.50. The work is performed by a turker and the web service company gets its share too (naturally). The presenter mentioned an interesting accessability application that would combine cell phone GPS capability with paid turkers. Theoretically, a visually impaired individual could travel around the world and call a turker to obtain a detailed descrption of the site he/she is visiting based on the GPS coordinates relayed by the cell phone - sort of like a cable channel's SAP for the real world.

The next session I attended dovetailed nicely with the previous one. Again, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the title but it was very interesting none the less. The topic of the presentation was pervasive gaming research conducted by the University of California. But pervasive games are not your typical video game. Pervasive games involve using technologies to enhance human interaction with the real physical world. One example is geocaching. However, it was an epiphany to see how this type of gaming could be used to promote a positive behavior to improve the health of children. I don't know whether the product has really been deployed or not or if it is still in development because now that my kids are grown and living clear across the country I don't have too many opportunities anymore to buy happy meals. Anyway, as an experiment to address the problem of the alarming rise in child obesity, a researcher suggested combining a USB-equipped pedometer with!
a virtual pet. The pedometer and special website code to access a specific virtual pet is included with happy meals. The kids then go out with their pedometer and run and play. Then they go home and connect their pedometer to their computer and login to the website to access their virtual pet. The pedometer uploads its accumulated data to the special pet that then grows and gets stronger with the more data it gets from the pedometer with the goal being to produce a pedomonster! I thought it was a wonderfully inspired application!

Another example is a game where players travel around leaving virtual birdseed at different locations based on GPS data from their cellphones. The web service company then sends out a virtual bird that targets different coordinates based on uploaded GPS data. If the bird targets your birdseed, you receive an animated message that you have "captured" a peacock or something. Then, of course, the bird is added to your birder inventory. Remember the power of the human desire to collect things that we learned about in our presentation on using game mechanics to enhance functional websites? Bingo! However, a few alterations could make this a fun educational activity. Instead of leaving your virtual birdseed anywhere, lets say that students study about bird habitat then travel to sites with the proper environment to attract particular bird species and leave their virtual birdseed there. If the students have studied their homework, their efforts will be rewarded by the "capt! ure" of an appropriate bird species.

I was sitting next to a researcher from New York University and he and I were talking about developing these types of experiences to introduce incoming students to particular disciplines either during IntroDucktion or as a freshman seminar. Although SSIL lab has a number of GPS devices, most students will have GPS-equipped cellphones in just a few years. A virtual geocaching exercise could be a fun introduction to GIS and technology literacy.

Next up was a presentation by a Yahoo research team leader on the importance of web-based social applications to promote communication, collaboration (and repeat site visits!). Yahoo jumped into the social web application delivery business just a year ago with its purchase of Flickr - touted at this conference as the model of a useful, valued, and successful social application. This was followed up by the purchase of del.i.cious. Now Yahoo has launched Yahoo answers (http://answers.yahoo.com/) to tap into the vast knowledge base of users around the world to help other users with problems. This is yet another example of microtasks that are being performed by users of the site itself. Yahoo says this is their effort to provide "Better Search through People".

Another presentation I was particularly interested in was delivered by the developers of Ning (http://www.ning.com/). I had tried out their rapid development tool for web social applications as a pre-conference exercise before I flew down here and found it very compelling. Ning has developed a website that provides modularlized tools to quickly develop collaborative web-based social applications like:

* Map Mash-Ups
* Media Sharing Apps
* Marketplaces
* Rating & Reviews
* Lists & Listings
* Social Networking
* Blogging & Discussion
* Fun & Games
* Web Services Skeletons

For example, they have a tool to develop a review site to collaboratively review anything specified by the application developer (you). In less than ten minutes of simply choosing feature options I wanted to include and uploading image and text to customize the look and feel I wanted, I created a website called Mary's Bookshelf (http://marysbooks.ning.com/) where I have begun to input the names of books I have read, the application makes a call to the Amazon API and returns a picture of the book and a synopsis, and provides a radio button for me to rate the book with the appropriate number of stars and enter a comment. I can then send the link to a select group (friends, discussion group members, etc.) who can register their own rating for the book and make a comment if they wish.

Ning also provides access to the source code to each application so you can custom script new features if you wish. All scripting is standard php. Ning is planning to provide the ability for user-developed additions to basic applications flagged as public to be then made available to other users of the site sort of like Firefox extensions or Greasemonkey scripts.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference Focuses on the Attention Economy

I'm getting some good leads on some new web applications here at O'Reilly's Emerging Technologies Conference in San Diego . I saw a demonstration by Ray Ozzie of Microsoft of a new web app that creates a "clipboard" for use with a web browser so you can copy and paste things like contact information presented on a web page into your Outlook address book or a schedule of events into your calendar of choice. It also has a secured items feature that lets you paste things like your mailing address or credit card information into a web page from your own personalized encrypted object library.

I also saw a demonstration of a touch screen input panel that can use multiple points of stimulation to manipulate objects. For example, you can have a screen full of images and you can rearrange them and size them by grasping the image with both hands and stretching it out to the size that you want. Very intuitive. It had the look and feel of sorting pictures on a real desktop. They also showed a mapping application where you have a globe of the earth and you use your hands to spin the globe around to the point you wish to see then zoom in moving your fingers in a "brushing sand away motion". You can even tilt it by using three fingers so you can get a topographical view.

Another synopsis of the presentation: "Jeff Han, a consulting research scientist, give a demonstration of his Multi-Touch display screen. Developed at NYU's Department of Computer Science as a part time project, this display screen allows users to control the computer by touching the screen. Unlike old single point touch-screens that we know now, the multi-touch interface allows the user to touch the screen at multiple points at the same time. Multiple touch points on the screen surface open up a world of possibilities where the user can manipulate objects with multiple fingers, and these can map to many more operations that a single point interface can. This new interface will require rethinking of many of the common user interface concepts that we all take for granted today.

Supporting multiple points at the same time allows the developers to break out of the current UI box and start thinking in new ways. For instance, using this screen with a new desktop system a user can control the desktop using simple hand motions to pan and zoom. With beautiful and smooth graphics we watched as Jeff dragged and zoomed dozens of pictures on a desktop, as if we were watching Apple's Expose features on steroids. If there wasn't enough space on the desktop, simply zoom out and find more space on the edge of the desktop and then move windows there. " - Robert Kaye

Of course the theme of the conference is the new attention economy so there is a lot of discussion on ways to datamine attention information. One company named lastFM.com offers: "You get your own online music profile that you can fill up with the music you like. This information is used to create a personal radio station and to find users who are similar to you. Last.fm can even play you new artists and songs you might like. It's addictive, it's growing, it's free, it's music." The company's web app actually runs as a background process with API hooks into your audio player (iTunes, RealPlayer, etc.) and invisibly records what songs you are listening to and how many times you listen to a particular song or artist. It not only uses this information to recommend new music but aggregates your information with the data from other lastFM users to provide data on the most popular music, artists, genres, etc.

At a presentation on Greasemonkey, a great Firefox extension that enables you to modify or augment your personal view of existing websites, I learned about another neat Greasemonkey script that automatically links any text on a website that has an entry in Wikipedia to the appropriate Wikipedia article.

I also saw an interesting presentation on a virtual world called SecondLife where users actually buy, develop, and sell virtual land and businesses for real money. I had a bit of trouble understanding what they meant so I went up to my room on the break and logged in and checked it out. Apparently, subscribers are given space on a server and tools to create virtual objects and services in their virtual world. Other users living in the virtual world then pay real money to obtain the virtual objects that have been created. I couldn't believe this would really work but at another presentation I attended, the speaker mentioned that secondary income derived from the sale of objects and services for use in virtual worlds is a multibillion dollar business. I went up on the site and looked at the type of services that are being sold and found things as diverse as a virtual pet groomer, a custom avatar creator, an interior decorator, a fashion designer, etc. What is really amazing is that some of these virtual providers have gone on to sell their creations to real world companies like clothing manufacturers, etc. I can usually get my mind around most concepts but this one is a bit mind boggling so I'm obviously going to have to do some more research.

I went to another presentation about using game theory mechanics to make functional services more engaging and satisfying. One of the strategies recommended is implementing a collection aspect to your online experience. The presenter, Amy Jo Kim, founder of Shufflebrain.com said that one GPS company in Japan has a website feature that enables users to run around Tokyo and "find" virtual objects by uploading their current location to the company website. The web application then populates their virtual collection exhibit with a picture of the virtual object "present" at that location - sort of like virtual geocaching. Another top strategy is to implement a means to rate things and gain points. The points could be redeemed for "easter egg" services that are not normally provided to less frequent visitors/users. One of the most important strategies she mentioned is to use feedback in some form to create positive reinforcement for the use of your web service. She mentioned a game that is extremely popular in Japan called BrainAge. The users login and perform a variety of mental exercises (math problems, etc) that stimulate different parts of your brain. The user has a profile that, based on how many brain exercises they do, keeps track of the age of their brain. The more mental exercises you do the younger your brain supposedly becomes. Health conscious users are now making a visit to the site part of their daily exercise routine!

A really interesting product I checked out at the exhibitors' fair was a free product called RSSBus. The RSSBus engine has the ability to essentially "scrape" XML namespaces for attributes then enable the user to specify search criteria in the attributes and convert the query response to an RSS feed that is then formatted as a constantly updated web page to display the results. For example, the developer demonstrated how to use RSSBus to create a live RSS feed of the traffic conditions for a particular location using Yahoo Traffic. RSSBus can detect the XML attributes of location and route on the Yahoo Traffic website and provides a popup box asking you for your criteria. When you submit your criteria, it performs the query and formats the results as an RSS feed. This feed is then incorporated into your RSS aggregator. Then each day when you get ready to leave work you glance at your news aggregator and quickly check the traffic conditions without having to go to Yahoo traffic and manually conduct a search.

I also learned about a search engine for open source developers named Krugle. "Krugle makes it easy for developers to find source code and technical information—fast! Krugle enables you to quickly find and review source code, find code related technical information, save, annotate and share your search results with others...all from within a single, easy-to-use, web application."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Could I Call You Later? My Trainer's on the Phone - New York Times

Who knows? Maybe we'll start having asynchronous marathons?

The New York Times:"If you have a cellphone with a Global Positioning System receiver, BiM Active, a new service from Bones in Motion, can turn the phone into a pocket-size personal trainer. BiM Active uses data from G.P.S. satellites and local cellphone towers to plot your location during a walk, jog or bicycle ride. With that data, it generates highly accurate route maps, speed calculations, changes in elevation and other information.

The software can also combine elevation data with local weather conditions to calculate the level of difficulty for each trip - enabling competitions among far-flung athletes.

All the data appears on the phone and can be uploaded to a Web site. Athletes can even publish Web logs with detailed statistics on each trip."

From Blogger to Published Author, for $30 and Up - New York Times

Now this is an interesting development in the blogsphere! I doubt at $33 per volume or thereabouts, the average author is going to start using a blog for a novel or textbook development environment to access publication services, however.

New York Times: "Though not all blogs may aspire to literary permanence, they can achieve it through the new Book-Smart software from Blurb, a publish-your-own-book service. The software, which is expected to be available free later this month at www.blurb.com, features a 'Slurper' tool that automatically downloads and reformats the contents of a Web log into a book that bloggers and their admirers can purchase online.

Slurping is not all BookSmart has to offer. It simplifies the layout process by providing design templates for various kinds of books, including cookbooks, photo books, portfolios and volumes dedicated to pets and babies. The software guides users through design decisions like choosing text styles and how many photos will appear on each page.

Pricing for printed versions of your book from Blurb starts at $30 for an 8-by-10-inch full-color hardcover volume with dust jacket and up to 40 pages. A book of up to 80 pages is $3 more. (Blurb plans to eventually offer paperback editions selling for about 30 percent less than hardcover.) Authors will also be able to set up online bookstores through Blurb's Web site."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

ITSC conference packed with ideas and hands-on activities

I just returned from the Instructional Technologies Strategies Conference and it was one of the most productive conferences I have attended in quite some time. Although I am using a number of Web 2.0 emerging technologies such as Flickr, blogging, RSS, etc. I learned about how I could extend the features of these products with a little open-source scripting tool called "Greasemonkey" at the Emerging Technologies Workshop. The feature I was most anxious to learn about was the ability to add geotags to my collection of online images up at Flickr. The researchers working on the Nolli Map Project wish to use a number of my images of Rome for a new image layer they will be adding and it will help them immensely if I have all of my images tagged with map coordinates. Installing Greasemonkey was a snap as it is an extension for Firefox and I only had to select it from the list of extensions up at the Firefox website then click Install Now. Then I had to find the GMIF Greasemonkey script and simply click on its link and Greasemonkey popped up a window and asked if I wanted to install it.

Then I logged in to Flickr and selected an image and a new action button appeared to the right of the regular Flickr command buttons named GMap. I click on it and it takes me to Google Map where I can zoom, scroll, and place a stick pin in the location where I took the picture. Then I can right-click on the stick pin and select Add Geotags. The latitude, longitude and geotagged tags are then added to my picture's list of tags.

For countries outside the US, I found I could use Multimap. I also installed a Greasemonkey script for Multimap but it cannot run while the GoogleMap script is enabled. So, I simply used Multimap to locate the coordinates of my picture location then copy and pasted their Latitude, Longitude and geotagged tags that are listed under the map where you have placed your stickpin into the tag field on the photo's Flickr page.

Another easy to use product I saw demonstrated at the conference was Microsoft's Photostory 3. I was particularly interested in it because it could be used to make the video podguides I would like to produce. It's also a free download from Microsoft so the price is certainly right. Photostory has the capability to import still images, arrange their sequence, attach transitions including the panning effect that you see on the History Channel all the time, overlay music, and add voice narration to produce a Windows Media file. Although I will have to use a utility to convert the Windows Media file to a file that can be viewed on a Video iPod, Photostory has all the basic functionality I need to produce a nice presentation. My first project is a non-gambler's Guide to Las Vegas! I've been there four times attending Comdex and have a wealth of images of educational activities to do when you don't like to gamble and end up in Las Vegas for a conference.

The presenters demonstrating Photostory also conduct a Tech Camp for Middle and High School students each summer and it was quite interesting to see some of the projects the kids have produced. They passed around quilts, pillows, lampshades, pamphlets, and framed three-dimensional art produced by printing images four and five times then cutting out sections of the images and layering them on top of the original image with little spacers available at craft stores. The result is a very sophisticated, professional-looking piece of art. I'm going to have to give that one a try myself.

I also attended a presentation about Moodle. I thought Moodle might be related to text-based gaming environments (Moos) but I learned that it is an open-source content management system that was created to provide a free alternative to WebCT and Blackboard. In addition to the usual CMS tools like assignments, discussion forums, basic quizzes, gradebook, and chat, Moodle incorporates

Choices:
Here a teacher asks a question and specifies a choice of multiple responses. This can be useful as a quick poll to stimulate thinking about a topic; to allow the class to vote on a direction for the course; or to gather research consent.
Choice A Choice with anonymous results
Choice A Choice with non-anonymous results
Choice A Choice that allows you to update anytime
Choice A Choice with a limited number of responses allowed

Glossaries

This activity allows participants to create and maintain a list of definitions, like a dictionary.The entries can be searched or browsed in many different formats.
Glossary Teacher-Defined Glossary
Glossary Learner-Defined Glossary
Glossary A glossary of common terms

HotPot

This module allows teachers to create multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill quizzes using Hot Potatoes software.
Hot Potatoes Quiz Newton's 2nd and 3rd Laws Quiz
Hot Potatoes Quiz Crossword Puzzle with Timer

Lessons

A lesson delivers content in an interesting and flexible way. It consists of a number of pages. Each page normally ends with a multiple choice question. Navigation through the lesson can be straight forward or complex.
Lesson How to use the Lesson Module

Surveys

The Survey module provides a number of verified survey instruments that have been found useful in assessing and stimulating learning in online environments.
Survey Critical Incident Survey
Survey Constructivist On-line Learning Environment Survey
Survey Attitudes to Thinking and Learning Survey

Wiki

A wiki is a web page that anyone can add to or edit. It enables documents to be authored collectively and supports collaborative learning. Old versions are not deleted and may be restored if required.

Workshops

A Workshop is a peer assessment activity with a huge array of options. It allows participants to assess each other's projects, as well as exemplar projects, in a number of ways.

Our university is heavily invested in Blackboard already so I doubt that the course management folks here would consider a different product at this late date but Moodle seemed very powerful and flexible.

The best part of the conference was talking with other educators who are as excited as I am about instructional uses of technology!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Students use claymation to bring Greek mythology to life

"Here's an interesting juxtaposition of ancient history and modern technology going on in Deb Canton's sixth-grade classroom at South Middle School, where students are telling mythology stories using clay figures, cameras and computers.

So, where 3,000 years ago the poet Homer wandered from city to city to tell the story of the Trojan War, today Canton's students are making clay animation movies (sometimes called Claymation) to do the same thing.

Of course, Homer never had to worry about the clay arms and legs and heads of his figures falling off between shots. Students Briana Bridgeford, Chad Loeffler and Joshua Saunders said they struggled to keep their clay figure of Hera, queen of the gods, intact as they posed her to bend over and pick up an apple.

'It was really hard because Hera's back kept breaking in half,' Loeffler said.

The sixth-graders venture into Greek mythology began in the library, Canton said, where they read stories like the one about the Greek prince Theseus, who braved the labyrinth to kill the half-man, half-bull minotaur, and about the fabled musician Orpheus and his trip to the underworld to rescue his beloved wife, Eurydice.

Carla DeHaaven, South's curriculum technology partner, had received two grants $180.60 from North Dakota Arts Council and $405 for Grand Forks Foundation for Education to purchase clay and a camera and other equipment to make the movies.

From there, the class was split into groups of three to four students. Each chose a story to tell. They wrote a script, made a story board, designed clay figures, built sets of cardboard boxes and then starting taking the still photos they needed to make their movies.

'We've kind of run the gamut from ancient history to modern technology,' Canton said Thursday as the students kept rearranging their clay figures and shooting photos with small digital cameras perched on six-inch tripods. '"They like it."

The next step will be the computer work of using the still photos to make animated iMovies and adding dialogue and voices.

In addition to the stories of the Trojan war, Theseus and Orpheus, students were making movies about Phaethon and the horses of the sun and the tragic nymph Callisto and her son Arcas.

Through their work, the students are learning about history, mythology, art, technology and storytelling, and about collaborating and problem solving, their teachers said. And they're learning about how the lives of the ancient Greeks, their politics and stories, remain relevant today."


Of course, once they have an iMovie they can easily create a podcast as well and share their efforts with other history enthusiasts all over the world!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

iPods offer way more than just music

I stopped by the University bookstore last Friday and they had a previously opened 60GB video iPod for 20% off. So, I couldn't pass up a deal like that. Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time getting to know my new iPod. It was recognized by my Windows workstation as soon as I plugged it in and I could see the iPod's drive from "My Computer" but it did not show up in my latest version of iTunes. A call to Apple tech support resolved the issue. Apparently, in Windows 2000 and Windows XP, there is sometimes a problem with iTunes recognizing an iPod that has mapped itself to a drive letter adjacent to a mapped network drive. The Apple technician had me remap the iPod to another drive letter and soon had me downloading files without a problem.

Then I set about downloading the Rome travel guides I had found on the web. I have a PDA so I was used to simply creating a folder on the PDA's hard drive and dragging files into it. However, even though I could access the iPod's hard drive in the same way and create a folder and drag a file into it, I could not access the file from the available menu folders using the iPod's built-in interface. Another call to tech support confirmed that, although the iPod allows you to copy files to its drive using this method, the files cannot be browsed by the iPod once they are copied to it. I learned that I really need to unzip the files onto my hard drive, then import them into iTunes and use it to transfer them to my iPod. Apparently, sometimes having knowledge of similar devices is not necessarily helpful.

I also learned that the hold button controls the use of the smartwheel. At first I couldn't figure out why I couldn't navigate the menu but the hold button was in the locked position. Just a few minor technicalities!

After downloading the guides to Rome, I discovered that these guides were audio only. As I have thousands of pictures that I took when I visited Italy last spring, I called to see if there was a way I could take an existing audio guide and add images to it.