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 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'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.’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:

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.