Friday, December 07, 2007

Tech Gifts A Geek Gives To Family and Friends

Before I took the fateful trip to Naples and wound up in the hospital (I'm there still!) I spent a day selecting presents for my grandsons and other members of my family. I thought some of you would be interested in techcnology gifts a geek like me actually selects for other people.

Grandsons (Ages 4 - 7)

Jakks EyeClops Bionic Eye by Jakks

This product allows children to examine anything with it and the magnified result will display on a television set.

Hasbro FurReal Friends Squawkers McCaw Parrot

* Squawkers McCaw is a witty, energetic, and unpredictable talking parrot
* Interacts in incredibly realistic ways: Repeats words, can be taught to joke and sing, and responds to touch
* Velvety feather coat and vibrant colors resemble those of actual macaw
* Loves to be fed; comes with toy biscuit and perch
* SQUAWKERS McCAW the parrot is a talkin¿, squawkin¿, and totally unpredictable play pal!

My son's oldest boy speaks Japanese (my daughter-in-laaw is Japanese) so I bought the Macaw to help him practice Engllish.

Grandson aged 11+

Land, Sea and Air XTREME Helmet Cam Kit


I wanted to be able to see my grandson and family engaged in various activities since I live so far away, I rarely get a chance to see them.

I also went half on an Apple Nanopod for him.

Also bought him a Flypen to convert notes to computer text. Actually, I consider a shared gift with his mother (my daughter). I explained what a Flypen does and she says it would be perfect for all of the meetings she attends where she takes notes that have to be transcribed later by her assistant. She works for the world's largest supplier of equestrian equipment and is often literally "in the field" evaluating new products where a full sized laptop would be awkward.


Franklin TG-490 Speaking Translator for the traveler in the house!

New Digital Camera - Always popular gift. I'm reviewing stats. Thought I would like to replace Fujifilm Finepix F30 with Finepix F50D but noise issue (as presented in review in DPReview) is concern for low light photography in museums. F50D also lacks image stabilization - my one main criticisim of the F30. Very impressed with colleague's Sony H7 camera performance in low light in Naples. I guess I'll need to think this over more.

Photoshop Elements software - VERY intuitive and featureful and available through for a fraction of the price of its parent product. I've used Elements now for over six months and vastly prefer it to the full version of Photoshop. Only missing features involving CMYK for those doing press work. Also does not have Macro recording feature. I seldom used either of these features so I don't miss them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

DNA Testing and Genealogy - A Dubious Match Made in Cyberspace??

Oh, dear. I read this article almost with a sense of disbelief but people can be quite revealing when it comes to their personal passions! After all of the "boogey man" stories about how nefarious government and corporate agencies (such as insurance companies) would use DNA databases to oppress and discriminate against members of society, people are willingly jumping on the DNA bandwagon in droves because of their passion for genealogy.

"As the internet became an every day tool for millions of people. it changed the way family historians do research. The availability of on-line, easily accessible genealogy and historical information has fueled the phenomenal growth of Genealogy as a hobby... Everywhere we look we see genealogy reported as the fastest growing hobby in the country. Now the internet is the first stop for beginning family historians and is used extensively by experienced researchers." - The USGenWeb Project.

New York Times excerpt: "Men can get a lot more out of DNA testing because they inherit both an X and a Y chromosome, enabling them to identify their paternal haplogroup and easily trace the history of paternal surnames. But women can only identify their maternal haplogroup, unless they use a sample from a close male relative like a brother or father. (Hey, Thanksgiving is coming up!)

Other sites — such as and — offer similar DNA tests that are a reliable way to reveal broad facts like, say, whether you have Native American or Asian ancestors. But scientists warn that it is best to shy away from sites that promise to pinpoint a specific region or country of origin, because in most cases the tests can’t uncover such specific details.

I chose because it already has a user base of 15 million, more than 3 million of whom have posted their searchable family trees at the site. So I’m counting on the network effect.

The more’s users who have their DNA tested, the more results there will be to compare to mine. Genetic matches will be posted on my results page — and then I will be able to e-mail like-minded historians to ask for more help solving the family-tree puzzle — so with luck I won’t have to be a detective alone for long.

Or, as Megan Smolenyak, a spokeswoman for, explained it: “It’s basically a matchmaking game. You get a pile of numbers. I get a pile of numbers. And if they match, those people can become research buddies.”

For now, the database is small, comprising as of last week only 6,500 results from previous tests. So I didn’t really expect to find a long-lost cousin.

At this point, identifying one’s haplogroup, and thus your ancestors’ gradual migration, is the main benefit of the tests (which at cost from $144 to $199)." - Marie Antoinette, Is That You? By MICHELLE SLATALLA.

I see Oxford Ancestry charges from $180 for a single maternal or paternal line analysis to $370 for ONE MatriLine™ analysis, ONE MatriMap™ print, ONE Y-Clan™ analysis and ONE PatriMap™ print. You can also order a smörgåsbord of other options including a "Tribes of Britain" analysis for an extra $25. Hmmm....this looks like it could generate some serious revenue!

National Geographic's "Genographic Project" offers participants a kit for $99.95 that includes:

• Buccal swab kit
• Multimedia DVD
• Exclusive National Geographic
Genographic Map

• "Quick Start" card
• Genographic Project Brochure
• Self-addressed envelope
• Confidential Genographic Project
ID Number (GPID)

However, National Geographic says their results are not genealogical in nature:

"We run ONE test per participation kit. We will test either your mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down each generation from mother to child and reveals your direct maternal ancestry; or your Y chromosome (males only), which is passed down from father to son and reveals your direct paternal ancestry. You choose which test you would like administered.

What to Expect
Your results will reveal your deep ancestry along a single line of direct descent (paternal or maternal) and show the migration paths they followed thousands of years ago. Your results will also place you on a particular branch of the human family tree. Some anthropological stories are more detailed than others, depending upon the lineage you belong to. For example, if you are of African descent, your results will show the initial movements of your ancestors on the African continent, but will not reflect most of the migrations that have occurred within the past 10,000 years. Your individual results may confirm your expectations of what you believe your deep ancestry to be, or you may be surprised to learn a new story about your genetic background.

You will not receive a percentage breakdown of your genetic background by ethnicity, race, or geographic origin. Nor will you receive confirmation of an association with a particular tribe or
ethnic group.

Furthermore, this is not a genealogy study. You will not learn about your great-grandparents or other recent relatives, and your DNA trail will not necessarily lead to your present-day location. Rather, your results will reveal the anthropological story of your direct maternal or paternal ancestors—where they lived and how they migrated around the world many thousands of years ago." - National Geographic Genographic Project.

However, they mention that as research progresses you may be able to obtain more detail:

"Remember, your initial results are just the beginning. They are based on current science and may become more detailed and refined as the ongoing field research yields new information. Be sure to visit this Web site often to follow along as we post new findings and automatically update your results."

National Geographic assigns an anonymous ID number to your record in the database to protect your privacy:

"To ensure the privacy of participants, we have built an anonymous analysis process. Your Participation Kit will be mailed with a randomly-generated, non-sequential Genographic Participant ID number (GPID). Although we will have mailed a Participation Kit to your address, we do not know the random code included in the Kit. When you send in your DNA sample with your consent form, they will only be identified by your GPID. Therefore, your cheek cells will be analyzed completely anonymously."

Since most of us working with database technologies know that somewhere there is usually a crosswalk file to match anonymous IDs with real user identification I wondered if this is true with the Genographic kit. Normally, if subsequent login access to a file is supported, this is the case. But, the Genographic Project has addressed this issue:

The kit contains a password for access to the Genographic Project participant web page. YOU MUST RETAIN THIS PASSWORD IN ORDER TO ACCESS YOUR GENETIC MIGRATORY PROFILE. To protect your privacy, National Geographic does not associate any personally identifiable information about you with this randomly assigned password, and if you lose this password we cannot recover it for you or provide you with any other means of accessing the results of your participation."

So, the only other issue would be if National Geographic could be compelled to track this information by some clandestine order of the NSA or other security agency given "special powers" by our current nosey regime.

However, is not following any type of human subject protocol:

" will not share your testing results with other organizations without your consent. In addition, as with all user submitted content gives you control over your privacy settings that determine whether your information is public or anonymous."

In other words, they have a database connecting DNA results with individual user identification.

Oxford Ancestry's tracking system is similar: "
Oxford Ancestors will not use your DNA for any other purpose than for the services you have requested. Your results will be disclosed only to you, unless you specifically instruct us otherwise, and your DNA will be destroyed after your results have been despatched."

Family Tree DNA assigns a kit ID number but is obviously maintaining a crosswalk file between ID numbers and personal contact information:

"Family Tree DNA follows stringent policies for protecting your privacy according to state legislation guidelines. We control the Surname Database Library and genetic testing scores. Both the University of Arizona testing lab and our Genomics Research Center follow strict guidelines to ensure your privacy is maintained. Only limited information is shared with the testing facility.

Family Tree DNA accepts the responsibility to keep your specific data private, at the same time, making enough general information public to allow us to build a Surname Database library to be used for genealogical purposes."

They also offer participation in special projects that begins to share your data with others:

"Family Tree DNA also provides the option to participate in a group project in order to try to learn more by working with others who may share similar ancestry. If you choose to participate in a project the group administrator will be able to view your results and contact information so that he or she may best help members of the project learn about their ancestry. So that members can share information more easily a public website displaying member results is often created. The free website that Family Tree DNA provides to projects allows results to be listed by kit number, computer generated number, oldest known ancestor, or surname. It does not list personally identifying information. You may join or leave projects at any time after your results are posted at no charge. You can view a list of projects here.

Your unique test kit number will accompany your collection tube to the testing lab. The computer-generated number and your surname is the only information about you that the testing facility will see. Once your test has been completed the results of the Y-DNA or mtDNA test will be entered in a secure database. A comparison between your specific genetic results and those of others in the database will then be performed.

If a genetic match is found between you and another person in the database and you have each signed the release form you will be informed via email.

If a genetic match is found between you and another individual who enters the library at some time in the future, both will be given the information that a potential match is in the database provided that BOTH of you have signed the release form. Only if both parties agree will contact information concerning the separate parties be made available to the other party. In this way, all persons in the database will have the right to decide if they want to contact their genetic match(es).

Privacy and confidentiality will be strictly maintained." - Family Tree DNA.

From a security standpoint, two things jump out at me. The first is the reference to state legislation. We all know the federal government can and has trampled on state law at will. The second thing is the "release form". Obviously signing it begins to obviate the other security assurances.

I am beginning to sound like one of my more paranoid colleagues but I'm concerned that people will treat the provision of this very sensitive information as lightly as they treat signing up for an account on many other Web 2.0 social networking sites. If we didn't currently live under such an oppressive regime that has demonstrated its willingness to ignore personal rights to privacy I probably would be at least a little less nervous. But in the existing environment where both government and corporate espionage against our own people is sanctioned as "necessary for Homeland Security" I fear the worst use of this information will be made.

"Way back" in 1997, a movie was released entitled "Gattaca". Unfortunately, it passed through local theaters all too briefly. Perhaps it was released just a little before its time.

"Gattaca Corp. is an aerospace firm in the future. This future society analyzes your DNA at birth and, based upon your projected life expectancy and disease likelihood, determines where you will be assigned in the social order. Ethan Hawke's character, Vincent, conceived naturally without the accepted clinical "quality control", was born with a 95% chance of developing a heart condition - at least according to his DNA sequence - which has relegated him to the society's trash bin. These individuals are assigned menial tasks such as janitorial work that do not require the society's output of resources for education and training. His dream, however, is to explore space.

In desperation, Vincent dives into the world of a genetic black market, assuming the identity of Jerome (played by Jude Law), a physically spectacular athlete who has had the misfortune to be crippled in an accident. By using samples of Jerome's hair, skin, blood and urine, Vincent is accepted by the Gattaca Corporation and selected for a manned mission to Saturn. As Vincent trains for his lifelong dream assignment, he must constantly pass gene tests each day. He must avoid detection by meticulous hygiene to avoid leaving any of the thousands of cells our bodies shed each day behind at his worksite that could be picked up by corporate security sweeps. Then, one day, an errant eyelash escapes him, and it is found when a mission director is killed and police sweep the scene for evidence. Of course they are sure the miscreant who left the eyelash is the guilty party and to make matters worse, the investigative team is led by Vincent's genetically superior brother. As extra security measures are implemented in the search for the "impostor", Vincent's position becomes more and more precarious. I won't provide a spoiler. I would urge you to rent or buy the DVD to learn what happens to Vincent and his "perfect" world.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Berkeley Offers Full Lectures on YouTube

UC Berkeley must have worked out an "iTunes-U" type of agreement with Google and is now featuring their lectures on YouTube. They must have been granted special provider status, though, to get around the current 10-minute video size limit. Anyone can upload larger videos to Google Video, but YouTube really has the name awareness and high traffic volume that is needed to ensure widespread exposure. What is particularly nice about having the lectures on YouTube as opposed to iTunes-U is that you can directly link the video files to other web resources or embed the video inside webpages. With iTunes, you can provide only a link to the Apple introductory site to iTunes-U where visitors click on a link to launch the iTunes Store to browse and find the videos.

"YouTube is now an important teaching tool at UC Berkeley.

The school announced on Wednesday that it has begun posting entire course lectures on the Web's No.1 video-sharing site.

Berkeley officials claimed in a statement that the university is the first to make full course lectures available on YouTube. The school said that over 300 hours of videotaped courses will be available at

Berkeley said it will continue to expand the offering. The topics of study found on YouTube included chemistry, physics, biology and even a lecture on search-engine technology given in 2005 by Google cofounder Sergey Brin.

"UC Berkeley on YouTube will provide a public window into university life, academics, events and athletics, which will build on our rich tradition of open educational content for the larger community," said Christina Maslach, UC Berkeley's vice provost for undergraduate education in a statement."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Crazy Talk promising animation tool for web apps

I’ve been having great fun with a new tool called Crazy Talk. It lets you create talking heads for your website that include automatic lip synching by just importing a .wav audio file. I have one on my web page. It does require installing a plugin but I read there is a way to automatically embed the player in the web page so installing a plugin is not necessary. I’m checking into it.:

Here are some others I created:

A Talking Character can be created quite quickly. You simply import the image. Crop it. Then place indicators at the outside corner of each eye and outside corners of the lips. If you want to tweak the mouth shapes during lip synch there is a phoneme editor. You can also apply emotional animations. On the Marc Antony image, I applied an “angry” emotion.

The website where I got it is

I’ve also been working with their machinma software IClone. It’s quite impressive as well. I’ve created a couple of characters so far:

I created the Roman character in iClone using Ciaran Hind’s face (He played Caesar in HBO’s Rome). I used pictures of lorica segmentata I got from a reenactors’ supply website to create the armor using the costume design addin called “Clone Cloth”. The product not only lets you easily create figures with your own imported faces but can import motion capture files from other programs as well. I found a treasure trove of free motion capture files up on a website named iClone includes a BVH motion capture editor so you can match up the joints to the IClone avatars properly. Like Crazy Talk, the product also has a built-in automatic lip synch function so you just have to import a .Wav file and it automatically syncs the characters mouth and teeth to the words. It’s digital studio features are also quite impressive.

Here’s an iClone version of Act 2 scene 1 from Macbeth:

You have complete control of the avatars and their movements, lighting, camera angle, atmospheric effects, etc. There is even a particle generator for fog, lightning, etc.

There’s over 100 iClone films on YouTube that you can find by simply searching for IClone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Google promotes advertising widgets

Google is seizing on the popularity of widgets — small online tools that function like mini-Web sites — for its latest push into advertising.

An ad for Honda Civic was an example of Google’s widget program. Users can give the ad a ubiquitous presence on the Web.

The online giant will announce today a Gadget Ads program that will provide tools for advertisers to run widget ads in Google’s AdSense network.

Marketers can use space within these display ads on Google’s network to show videos, offer chats with celebrities, play host to games or other activities. If consumers like the widget ad, they can save it onto their desktops or on their profile pages online on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The new widget ads represent a more aggressive push by Google to attract big brand advertisers who like flashy ad units rather than the simple text ads commonly run in Google’s ad network.

One big advantage of the technology is that the consumer does not have to click through to a Web site. A weather widget, for example, would constantly update the weather report in a particular area. Similarly, marketers could feature content to attract consumers while constantly updating their own messages.

More than 48 percent of Internet users in the United States — over 87 million people — now use widgets, according to comScore, the online measurement company. Some of the most popular widgets on Facebook, for example, are the “Top Friends” tool, which allows people to go to their best friends’ profiles with a single click, and iLike, which lets users add music to their profiles.

“Consumers are pulling in content from multiple sources” said Christian Oestlien, a business product manager at Google who is overseeing the new ad program. “It is what we are calling the componentization of the Web. The Web is sort of breaking apart into smaller pieces.”

Monday, September 17, 2007

Emusic to challenge iTunes

It finally looks like iTunes is going to get some serious competition. I use iTunes on a daily basis but, even though, their individual song price is reasonable, their video price at $9.99 is way too high. I'm hoping EMusic will be more reasonable with its video offerings. It looks like its audiobook offerings are going to be cheaper than However, since I have an extensive library on, being one of their early members, I won't desert them now.

"The company that has given Apple’s iTunes the most competition in the song-download arena will now compete with it in selling audiobooks, too.

Beginning tomorrow, eMusic, which is second to iTunes in music download sales, will offer more than a thousand books for download, with many of them costing far less than on iTunes. For example, “The Audacity of Hope,” read by author Barack Obama, will cost $9.99 on eMusic compared with $18.95 on iTunes. The retail price for a five-CD version of the same book is $29.95.

The biggest selling point for eMusic is also its biggest point of controversy: the site uses the MP3 format, which works on any digital player but lacks the technology, known as digital rights management, that protects copyrighted material from unlimited duplication.

Some publishers are just dipping in a toe. Random House Audio, for example, will be selling about 500 titles, roughly 20 percent of its catalog, through eMusic. “We’re very interested in testing this, but we didn’t think it was appropriate to put all of our titles in a test program,” said Madeline McIntosh, the group’s publisher.

Like her counterparts in the music business, Ms. McIntosh is concerned about piracy, but doubts it will be as big an issue for audiobooks, which draw an older audience and are unwieldy to circulate. Unabridged audiobooks sold in stores often comprise more than a dozen CDs, and, in digital format, the enormous files cannot be e-mailed as easily as single songs.

Hachette Audio will start by selling only about 15 titles on the site, but that includes bestsellers like “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction” by Jon Stewart.

At the other end of the spectrum is Penguin Audio, which will sell on eMusic all the audiobooks it currently makes available in a digital format on iTunes, about 150 titles. “Publishers have been waiting for other companies to play ball,” said Patti Pirooz, the executive producer.

Most publishers have been playing ball with Audible Inc., which pioneered downloadable audiobooks 12 years ago and sells its wares through iTunes and its own Web site, Audible sells about 15,000 audiobooks and another 20,000 recordings of public radio shows and periodicals like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Audible has its own proprietary digital format, which plays on both iPods and non-Apple devices, but still cannot be duplicated except to copy onto CDs just once. Spokesmen from Audible and Apple declined to comment on eMusic.

Since it was founded in 1995, Audible has grown steadily. It went public in 1999, and its 2006 revenues of $82.2 million were up 30 percent over the previous year."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Will Machinima filmmakers scout locations in Second Life?

Today, I was catching up on some of my reading and came across an article about a class at the University of Kansas called "New Media and Cyber Culture". Film students in this class are using software to shoot films inside computer games using the game engine's assets to provide scenary, characters, animation sequences, sound and visual effects. This activity is called Machinima and, although initially used by hard core gamers to expand their gaming experience, is rapidly becoming a popular art form that has gained international attention and has potential for the production of educational applications and documentaries.

I had watched the History Channel's presentations about famous ancient battles called "Decisive Battles" and knew that they had used the game Rome: Total War to create the visuals. But, things have progressed quite a ways beyond that, now. I went up to to see what's happening.

At first I was a bit confused because I thought someone had developed a software package that would allow you to manipulate game assets within just about any game. That would be a great idea but would require standards for object types, file formats, etc. What I learned was that people were using built-in game editors with video capture software and audio editing tools to create short films based on a user-created script. Further digging revealed that such films could also be produced in Second Life. I found a post from Linden Labs whose author recommended a capture utility called Fraps to record action within Second Life. They also recommended a camera control object developed by Alt-Zoom Studios although I shot a test sequence just using the regular Second Life camera control tool and it works too. I requested the tool from Alt-Zoom Studios so it will be interesting to test the output from each one.

I also discovered that the Fraps utility does little compression to the captured video to enable it to capture full screen, high frame rates so you can devour a hard drive in pretty short order. I launched Second Life and turned on the video capture and walked my avatar through a couple of rooms of the Dresden Museum of Art and zoomed in on a painting or two then stopped the capture and just that couple of minutes of capture produced a file over 248 Mb in size! I browsed the FAQs on the Frap online help page and saw that the Frap developers recommend a free tool called VirtualDub to compress your video after capture is complete. Then you can work with smaller files in Windows Movie Maker or any other video editing package you may have. had an interesting article on story and script development using the CQABN technique. An excerpt:

"Step 1 Get a Story Question (Introducing CQABN)

Look at your notes and try to set out the Story Question - the most pressing question posed by your story’s main conflict (sometimes people call this the story arc). It should be as simple and as stark as possible, and should also incorporate an answer. If there isn’t enough material to build a Story Question, make some up!

I use a particular syntax for Story Questions. I call this the CQABN (pronounced "Cabin").

Context, Question, Answer, But, Now... CQANB

Context: ["In"/"When"/"While"/"During"/"After"] [setting/life event/historical movement/etc]
Question: Can [Protagonist] defeat [antagonist*] in order to achieve [goal]? *need not be human.
Answer: ["Yes"/ "No"], [Optional Explanation].
But: ["But"/"However"/"Worse"] [twist].
Now: Now, [consequences].

Here’s an example:

After being abandoned by her husband of 20 years, can Beatrice overcome her inhibitions and find true love in a sleepy New England fishing port? Yes, but it’s with another woman! Now she and her lover must abandon the security of her new home.

Or, since this is Machinma:

In a post-apocalyptic 25th century, can medieval swordmaster Sigmund Ringek rescue his new true love from Crimelord? Yes, but his pragmatic brutality alienates her. Now he is adrift in a new world.

You’ll notice that the Now elements are fairly vague. That’s because they’re looking to the future after the story. We’ll get onto more pressing versions of Now when we get onto Acts and Scenes. But first, some more on the elements of CQABN:

More on CQABN elements


Stories don’t take place in a vacuum (except in SciFi). The setting affects the action. It’s also part of the flavour. It may even be the main interest - perhaps the story exists entirely to enable you to show off the world you’ve created. Also, we’re not playing Snakes & Ladders. We don’t usually join characters on the first square. Sometimes they’re in the middle of something, or reacting to their immediate past – their back story.


This is what keeps the viewer hooked. It has to have a protagonist (the person trying to do something) and an antagonist (the person trying to stop them). The protagonist must have agency, which is a short way of saying "They must be able to do stuff". The protagonist can’t just observe the action, nor can they spend the entire story having things done to them. Actually, they can, but then your story will be somewhat dull. The antagonist doesn’t have to be human, or even animate. But she/he/it absolutely must be named. Typical antagonists include: the Bad Guy; Inner Fears; Angst; Society; the System; the Mountain; the Shark; and Writers Block. The protagonist must have a goal, otherwise the struggle is as meaningless as a drunken bar fight. It must be as tangible as possible; something which we can see them achieve or fail to achieve.


The Story Question needs a clear answer: a Yes or a No. Leaving things hanging may be smart, but - like the end of The Italian Job - it’s ultimately annoying. It’s OK for the answer to be predictable. Let’s face it, in a heroic tale, the bad guy pretty much has to lose. However, the explanation may well be unexpected. An unpredictable answer is also good, as long as you have an effective But and Now.


The answer to the Story Question might be predictable, but serve it with an unexpected twist; something which makes sense in hindsight. A twist can be almost anything: e.g. a change of perspective making the original goal seem pointless, or an unexpected result, such as the protagonist being mortally wounded.


So, we know what happened, including the twist. Now we need to know how the story ends– the consequences. Does the hero ride off into the sunset, older and wiser? Do the couple discard their illusions and renew their love? Does Uzi Girl renounce violence? It’s your story."

The website also contains many posts about producing films using particular game engines. I also discovered that there is commercial machinima software available with its own built in collections of characters, costumes, props, and sets if you want to venture outside specific game environments. One such package is called iClone 2 from Reallusion.

"iClone 2.0 advances the technology of storytelling, introducing entirely new features designed to enhance both film creation and viewing. G2 (Second Generation) characters with 'Clone Cloth' provide natural character movement and creative custom actor clothing and fashions. Command control of Particle SFX with over 40 presets and Special EFX editor provides custom special effects. LivePlants add natural movement for forests and trees, grass, and flowers, providing natural movement, providing professional level productivity tools for iClone users, and a fresh filmmaking experience.

Filmmakers can now direct dynamic films in real-time, allowing anyone to 'cast a movie' with customized avatars, build custom sets, arrange prop placement, control lighting, camera animation, and more. iClone 2.0 lets you film your scenes inside a fully functioning video studio that evolves with the needs of your production.

Simplified timeline control gives users easy access to scene composition and directing with a 'what-you-see-is-what-you-get' real-time camera view and key-frame assignment."

The possibilities for this technology are truly infinite, especially in combination with Second Life. You could have students work as a group to script, film, and act out a drama (or comedy) using the beautifully rendered environments in Second Life and each actor controlling an avatar. You could also produce an online virtual tour where your avatar navigates an environment and discusses the art, history, science, etc. behind a particular painting, statue, plant, building, etc. I suppose someone will create a virtual "back lot" in Second Life and start charging machinima producers to enter their area for filming!

NOT AGAIN! Micropayments resurrected.

I read this article with some trepidation - another push for totally commercializing the net. Although the author makes a point about iTunes sales being a type of micropayment and Google AdSense being another example, I can't help but shudder at the thought that web content should all be viewed as a direct revenue source. And we talk about the digital divide now!

"The idea of micropayments — charging Web users tiny amounts of money for single pieces of online content — was essentially put to sleep toward the end of the dot-com boom. In December 2000, Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program, wrote a manifesto that people still cite whenever someone suggests resurrecting the idea. Micropayments will never work, he wrote, mainly because “users hate them.”

But wait. Amid the disdain, and without many people noticing, micropayments have arrived — just not in the way they were originally envisioned. The 99 cents you pay for a song on iTunes is a micropayment. So are the tiny amounts that some operators of small Web sites earn whenever someone clicks on the ads on their pages. Some stock-photography companies sell pictures for as little as $1 each.

“Micropayments are here,” said Benjamin M. Compaine, a consultant and lecturer at Northeastern University who specializes in media economics, “they just have not evolved in the way that everybody expected.”

From the earliest days of the Web until around the time of Mr. Shirky’s manifesto, the expectation was that a handful of companies would provide platforms — or perhaps a single ubiquitous platform — that would enable Web users to pay a penny, a dime or a dollar for a bit of content such as a newspaper article, a comic strip or a research report. Simply clicking a link would complete the transaction.

Sellers of content — at the time, newspaper companies — were among the most interested in the idea as they looked for revenue that did not depend on advertising...

Bill Densmore, a founder of the payments firm Clickshare, a former newspaper publisher and now a consultant and a director of a citizens’ media project at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has been promoting micropayments from the beginning.

He envisions Web publishers joining with one another and with producers of other content to create huge networks, sharing users and, in effect, revenue.

For example, he said, a large newspaper could sell subscriptions that would allow its readers to download music from iTunes or Rhapsody, read articles from regional papers, and watch movies and TV shows from YouTube or Comedy Central."

Why do we need to reinvent the gatekeepers!!! We have access to all of these things by paying our ISPs. It would be just like the cable companies who "select" what channels we can get at what tier level and you end up paying for a lot of trash just to get a handful of channels that you actually want to watch! NO THANKS!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google turns to overlay advertising to gain ROI on YouTube

I realize nothing in life is really ever free so it was just a matter of time before Google wanted ROI on it's $1.35 billion investment in YouTube. At least these new ad overlays are much less exasperating than "preroll" ads. Preroll ads have gotten totally out of control at movie theaters. This past weekend when I went to "The Last Legion" I had to sit through almost a half hour of ads before finally seeing the feature film (In fact I use the term "feature film" loosely - the film itself was so short it seemed like a made-for-TV movie). At least on a DVD you can fast forward through them. The worst part is I suspect that film editors are apparently slashing content to the point of making the plot seem choppy and disjointed just to accommodate this crass consumerism.

Ever since Google bought YouTube last November, it has avoided cluttering the site and the video clips themselves with ads, for fear of alienating its audience.

A demonstration of an ad for a movie on the bottom of a YouTube video. Real ads would not reflect the content of a video.


Sample Ad Spot Video (

The strategy helped cement YouTube’s position as the largest video Web site but didn’t do much to justify YouTube’s $1.65 billion price tag.

Now Google believes it finally has found the formula to cash in on YouTube’s potential as a magnet for online video advertising and keep its audience loyal at the same time.

The company said late Tuesday that after months of testing various video advertising models, it was ready to introduce a new type of video ad, which it said was unobtrusive and kept users in control of what they saw.

The ads, which appear 15 seconds after a user begins watching a video clip, take the form of an overlay on the bottom fifth of the screen, not unlike the tickers that display headlines during television news programs.

A user can ignore the overlay, which will disappear after about 10 seconds, or close it. But if the user clicks on it, the video they were watching will stop and a video ad will begin playing. Once the ad is over, or if a user clicks on a box to close it, the original video will resume playing from the point where it was stopped.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

HP Introduces mobile printing from cell phones

This development looks like it has potential - especially with the merging of PDA and cellphone. HP says its the result of thinking of ways to capitalize on the introduction of the iPhone but it basically provides usable functionality for any cell phone with Windows mobile installed as well.

"Hoping to alleviate a frustration of mobile computing, Hewlett-Packard has quietly introduced a free service designed to make it possible to print documents on any printer almost anywhere in the world. Cloudprint, which was developed over a period of several months by a small group of H.P. Labs researchers, makes it possible to share, store and print documents using a mobile phone.

The underlying idea is to unhook physical documents from a user’s computer and printer and make it simple for travelers to take their documents with them and use them with no more than a cellphone and access to a local printer.

The service requires users to first “print” their documents to H.P. servers connected to the Internet. The system then assigns them a document code, and transmits that code to a cellphone, making it possible to retrieve and print the documents from any location.

Later, using the SMS message the service has sent to the user’s cellphone, it is possible to retrieve the documents by entering the user’s phone number and a document code on the Cloudprint Web site. The documents can then be retrieved as a PDF, ready to be printed at a nearby printer.

The service will include a directory service that will show the location of publicly available printers on Google Maps. The system currently works with any Windows-connected printer. A Macintosh version is also planned.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dresden State Museum of Art Comes to Second Life

My friend Kent Loobey sent me an article about the new Dresden State Museum of Art in Second Life and, of course, I had to go see it!

"The Dresden State Museum is one of Europe's oldest. Saxon kings began collecting art in the 1560s, but it wasn't until the reign of August the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in the early 1700s that art collection began in earnest. Augustus believed in putting his wealth on display. He and his heirs effectively created the first public museums in an effort to impress their subjects and fellow royals. In 1855, the Zwinger was expanded to create a gallery for the state art collection." - Wired

I launched Second Life and searched on Dresden under Art and Culture and clicked Teleport. In a few seconds my avatar was standing in the beautiful plaza surrounding the gallery. I walked over to the beautiful fountain and sat on the edge to look around and take in the beauty of my surroundings. Of course I couldn't help but have my picture taken there. Although Second Life has an in-world Snapshot tool, I prefer to use a simple Print Screen because the resulting frame is sharper and more detailed.

When I visit museums in real life I like to take pictures of the facade and any interesting architectural details that I see. Second Life's Camera Control tool lets me do the same thing - allowing me to pan and zoom in and zoom out to get a better look at anything that catches my eye.

Camera controls is not normally visible by default but if you click on View -> Camera Controls then you get a small interface that looks like two virtual joystick controllers with a ruler running vertically between them with a + at the top and a - at the bottom. Clicking on the + zooms in. If you reach the maximum zoom, try moving your avatar just a little closer to the object you are examinging to zoom in even more. Then use the joystick on the right to adjust the angle of your camera up, down, left, or right, and the joystick on the left to move the camera itself up, down, left, or right to eliminate any angular distortion.

I entered the main gallery and stopped at the desk and picked up a guest book SDK so I could record my impressions. The reception area is magnificent with its ornate domed ceilings, bas reliefs and sparkling chandeliers. It truly gives you the authentic feeling that you have entered a world-class museum!

Then I walked down the entryway and entered a room that featured some spectacular tapestries. Again I used my Camera Controls and my MouseLook view to pan around the room and zoom in on each piece of art to examine it more closely. The room had chairs arranged in it so you could sit and contemplate the art just like you would in the "real" gallery.

The tapestry room also featured a piano with a little script attached that you could click on to "play" it. My sound wasn't working right today but I think normally you would hear it. I crashed the Second Life application because I think I had too many applications open and probably should have rebooted. I'll have to try it again when I get a few spare moments. I had piano lessons when I was a child but haven't played in years. Based on my avatar's motions, the piano must have been magical as she appeared to play as well as a concert pianist!

I moved on to the next room where a number of interesting historical cityscapes captured my attention. I normally prefer images of people, both portraits and paintings of people engaged in interesting activities, but these scenes of 18th century city life were quite colorful and intriguing. I particularly liked this painting of the Marketplace at Pirna by Bernardo Bellotto (nephew of Canaletto) painted from 1753-1754 CE. (This image was taken using the Camera Controls and the PrintScreen key on my computer. Yes, the quality of the experience is that good!)

"Bernardo Bellotto, an Italian painter, was from Venice and the nephew and pupil of Canaletto. He was known for his townscapes (vedute). He is listed in the fraglia (Venetian painters' guild) from 1738 to 1743, by which latter date he had established his reputation. In 1747 he left Venice for Dresden and there in 1748 was appointed court painter to Frederick Augustus 11 of Saxony; in c1758 he was at Vienna working for Empress Maria Theresa; in 1761 he was working in Munich, after which he returned for a while to Dresden, before moving in 1767 to Warsaw to work for King Stanislas Poniatowski, staying there for the remainder of his life." - From "The Bulfinch Guide to Art History".

I then wandered into the next room and was rewarded by the vision of a beautiful portrait of
Princess Lubomirska, one time mistress of Augustus II (The Strong), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, by Louis De Silvestre painted in 1724 CE.

"Louis de Silvestre was the son of Israël Silvestre. He was first apprenticed to his father, going on to study under Charles Le Brun and then Bon Boullogne. In 1694 he competed unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome but left nevertheless for Italy. In Rome he met Carlo Maratti; he also visited Venice and Piedmont. On his return to Paris he was received (reçu) in 1702 into the Académie Royale, presenting the Creation of Man by Prometheus (Montpellier, Mus. Fabre). He embarked on a successful career, earning academic honours (he was appointed an assistant professor in 1704 and a full professor in 1706) and commissions from both the Church and the court. In 1703 he was commissioned by the guild of Paris goldsmiths to execute the May of Notre-Dame (Healing of the Sick, Arras, Mus. B.-A.). In 1709 he painted a Last Supper for the chapel at Versailles (in situ). This was followed by nine scenes from the Life of St Benedict (1709; examples in Paris, Louvre, see fig.; Béziers, Mus. B.-A.; Perpignan, Mus. Rigaud; Brussels, Mus. A. Anc.) for St Martin-des-Champs, and a St Matthew (1710; destr. 1748) for the cupola of St Roch, both in Paris. Among the secular works of his early career are the paintings originally intended for the Pavillon de la Ménagerie at Versailles, including Arion Playing the Lyre (1701; Compiègne, Château), and Hector Taking Leave of Andromache with its pendant Ulysses Taking Astyanax away from Andromache (both untraced), painted in 1708 for Armand-Gaston I de Rohan-Soubise (1674–1749); he also painted contemporary historical subjects (e.g. Battle of Kassel, Siege of Saint Omer; both untraced) for the funeral of Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans (d 1701)." - ArtNet.

I ran out of time for today's visit so I completed my comments statement in the space provided at the bottom of the Guestbook SDK I had received by touching the guest book in the reception area and returned to the guest book and dragged the SDK from my inventory over on top of the Guestbook on the table as instructed. Hopefully my comments were wisked away to the Dresden Gallery developers. I think this 3D experience gives the visitor much more of a feeling of "visiting" the museum than simply browsing through a well-illustrated book about the gallery. I hope other museums will follow Dresden's lead and provide many more such virtual galleries accessible to everyone (with access to a computer somewhere) regardless of their physical or financial ability to travel. I was certainly impressed!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Gartner sees security risks with businesses in virtual worlds like Second Life

I see Gartner is cautioning businesses about potential risks with launching activities in virtual worlds like Second Life. I couldn't help but think about the reports I have heard from colleagues and students that friends and family from other countries are asking what it is like to live under a repressive regime. The last statement in this excerpt really makes it look that way.

"Companies need to think about security and risk management before they get too excited about virtual worlds, according to analyst group Gartner.

The risks businesses face as a result of getting involved in virtual worlds can be significant, according to Gartner vice president Steve Prentice. These risks shouldn't be ignored, he said--but neither should the potential opportunities and benefits that arise from using these new environments for corporate collaboration and communications.

Gartner said the issues facing corporations fall into five categories:

IT risks
According to the analyst group, the IT risks of virtual worlds concern the applications needed to run virtual worlds being downloaded to desktop systems. And while there are no indications that these client applications represent a higher risk than other comparable applications, Gartner said that, at this time, the high frequency of updates makes the control of a large application difficult.

Identity and access management
It's difficult--if not impossible--to ensure that any avatar is an online version of the real-life person it claims to be, according to Garter.

This lack of verifiable identity control or access management is a "major deficiency" in public virtual worlds and is having a significant impact on the potential use of virtual worlds for internal-collaboration purposes, the analyst house said.

As a result, companies should seriously evaluate the availability of private virtual-world environments, hosted internally and existing entirely inside the enterprise firewall.

Discussions involving confidential and commercially sensitive information shouldn't take place inside Second Life or any other virtual world--or in an open, Internet-supported social-networking site, Gartner warned.

But by moving to a private virtual world, the issues of privacy, confidentiality and identity can be controlled. The analyst also says non-U.S. organizations may wish to avoid virtual worlds that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction because this may result in stored information being subject to legal scrutiny."

Photographing Sunrises and Sunsets Tip

I subscribe to an email newsletter published by the Digital Photography School. This week it included an article about photographing sunsets and sunrises. Most of the "12 tips" I was already familiar with (bracketing exposures, using a tripod, rule of thirds, focusing on silhouetted objects, etc) but one little nugget of information struck me as equally important and I hadn't thought about it before.

"Take camera out of Auto White balance mode - when you set your camera to ‘Auto’ in it’s white balance mode you run the risk of losing some of the warm golden tones of a sunrise or sunset. Instead try shooting in ‘cloudy’ or ’shade’ which are usually used in cooler lights and tell your camera to warm things up a little. Alternatively - if you’re shooting a sunrise and DO want a cooler moody shot you can experiment with other white balance settings."

Thanks, DPS!

Photo by Peter Bowers.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Music Publisher Association joins copyright suit against Google

Why am I not surprised???

English soccer's Premier League and music publisher Bourne & Co said Monday that eight more parties have joined their lawsuit charging Google and its YouTube online service with deliberately encouraging copyright infringement.

The new parties include the National Music Publishers' Association, which is the largest U.S. music publishing trade association, the Rugby Football League, the Finnish Football League Association and author Daniel Quinn.

Video programming owners have teamed up against YouTube, charging the top online video service with encouraging copyright infringement to generate public attention and boost traffic to its site.

Google has said it is abiding by existing law that protect Internet services from being liable for what is on their networks so long as they respond promptly to complaints.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Augmented Reality Project Sounds like a perfect learning activity for Second Life

I’ve been cleaning off my desk in preparation for the move later this month and I came across an article on the Augmented Reality Project that MIT and Harvard are developing. It sounds like a perfect fit for educational activities in Second Life.

“With funding from a U.S. Department of Education Star Schools Program grant, researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the Teacher Education Program at MIT have developed an "augmented reality" game designed to teach math and science literacy skills to middle school students.

The game is played on a Dell Axim handheld computer and uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to correlate the students' real world location to their virtual location in the game's digital world. As the students move around a physical location, such as their school playground or sports fields, a map on their handheld displays digital objects and virtual people who exist in an augmented reality world superimposed on real space. This capability parallels the new means of information gathering, communication, and expression made possible by emerging interactive media (such as Web-enabled, GPS equipped cell phones with text messaging, video, and camera features).”

Although its being developed for high school students, it holds real potential for teaching such college-level subjects as environmental studies, architecture, and anthropology..

Friday, August 03, 2007

Recovering Photos from a Memory Card that claims they are gone.

I found this really great tip on Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection blog:

There's lots of ways you can lose photos on a memory card. The card can malfunction. You might accidentally erase some of your photos. Your kids might accidentally erase some of your photos. You might even accidentally *reformat* your entire card. But don't go too crazy. In general your images are rarely ever truly gone and it's just going to take a bit of work to get them back.

1. Don't panic. Like I said. You will probably be able to get the shots back. Don't let it ruin whatever you are doing or shooting.

2. Once you know that you need to recover photos from a card stop using that card immediately. Don't try to reformat it. Don't reuse it. Put it away and wait until you get home where you can try recovery. If you do keep shooting with the card you might overwrite some of the data and be unable to recover some of your photos.

3. When you get home run DataRescue's PhotoRescue. You can download and run this software for free on your memory card.

4. If PhotoRescue can recover your images they will show you the thumbnails of the images. At this point you will need to buy the software if you want to use it to actually recover your images. The software cost's $29 but usually this is a small price to pay to have all of your images back.

Fujifilm does it again!!!

Just when I thought I should be satisfied with my recent purchase of a Panasonic FZ8, I read an article today about the new Fujifilm Finepix S8000FD. I think I'm in love!!

"Fujiflm has joined the 'big zoom' brigade with a camera designed to go head-to-head with the Olympus SP-550UZ and the new Pansaonic FZ18. Sporting an 18x (27-486mm equiv.) zoom, 8MP sensor and - for the first time in a Fujifilm 'bridge' camera - image stabilization (CCD-shift), the new FinePix S8000fd is Fujifilm's most ambitious S series to date. Other features of note include face detection, 15fps shooting (at reduced resolution) and sensitivity settings of up to ISO 6400 (again, at reduced resolution). Like most recent FinePix digital cameras the new S8000fd accepts both xD and SD/SDHC media."

Not only are they offering even more ISO but finally, Fuji has added the much needed image stabilization. I'm also glad that they now accept either the xD or the SD since SD memory cards are usually about 30% cheaper than the xD. I've always preferred the longer lasting lithium batteries instead of the AA batteries but I know many photographers who like to know they can just pop into the local grocery to pick up more batteries if their battery runs low. I usually just carry three charged lithium batteries with me at a time. I can adjust, though!

I see it isn't available until September so I've marked my calendar to check prices and get one ordered then so I will have it for my Italy trip in October. Hopefully, I'll also see the noise comparison tests by then too.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why Twitter?

A couple of times this week I have encountered references to a new "social community" called Twitter. I see it is even on the board for discussion at the Educause ELI conference in San Antonio in January. So I decided I better go up and see what all the fuss is about.

Perhaps I'm not seeing the big picture here, but it looks like Twitter is designed for those people who must give everyone around them a blow by blow account of their life whether we're interested or not. It reminds me of people with cell phones stuck to their ears in restaurants and grocery stores describing the latest produce to anyone in their calling circle that will listen.

Twitter says its like a mini-blog (posts are limited to 140 characters) but looking at the statements being shared by users of Twitter, I'd have to say I've got better things to do with my time than try to plow through all that drivel looking for something that I may find interesting or useful. Maybe people who have scanners to monitor police and emergency services communications would love it. I see the LA Fire Department posts their response calls to a Twitter account.

I went up and read the official Twitter blog to try to identify the element that would make their service useful or compelling and I'm still at a loss for grasping the potential of their idea. Furthermore, I notice that they attracted venture capital but for the life of me I don't know how they could make a "venture capital level" of ROI with no discernible business model.

I must not be alone in my assessment of Twitter's potential. The Wall Street Journal wrote, "These social-networking services elicit mixed feelings in the technology-savvy people who have been their early adopters. Fans say they are a good way to keep in touch with busy friends. But some users are starting to feel 'too' connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they're having for dinner."[3]

Dealing with Hyphenated Names in Filemaker Pro

I learned something new about text formatting in Filemaker Pro today. One of my database users needed to enter a hyphenated name in our personnel database and I had the field formatted for Title Case to be sure all last names were capitalized. However, title case does not take into account a hyphenated last name and forces the second name to be lowercase.

A quick fix is to change the field back to plain text formatting but a better solution is to highlight the first letter of the second name in BROWSE mode, right click and select "UPPERCASE". Browse mode formatting affects only this entry. The format is stored with the data rather than with the layout as it is when you format a field in Layout Mode. I've used Filemaker for years and didn't know this. Here's the formal support note (although it is written for Filemaker Pro 9 it works with version 8 as well:

Formatting text
You can specify how text (both in and outside of fields) appears on your layout. You control:
the character attributes of the text, including font, font size, style, and color
the paragraph alignment, margins, and line spacing
tab settings
vertical writing (if your operating system supports Japanese text entry)
You can also set conditional formatting options on layout objects, which allows the format of data and fields to change automatically based on conditions you set. (For example, you can automatically display balances that are over 30 days past due in bold, red text.) For information, see Defining conditional formatting for layout objects.
You can format field data in both Layout mode and Browse mode. For example, you can select an Address field in Layout mode and format it to display in a particular font, and you can select and format text within the field in Browse mode (for example, to italicize or underline a word for emphasis). It's possible to create conflicting formats by creating one format for a field object in Layout mode, and a contrasting format for field data in Browse mode. Here is how FileMaker Pro resolves text formatting conflicts:
When you format a field in Layout mode, the formatting affects only the appearance of that particular occurrence of the field object.
When you format field data in Browse mode, this formatting is stored with the data, and you see it in any layout that displays that field. Field data that is formatted in Browse mode takes precedence over data formatting in Layout mode. For example, if you format field text as Bold in Browse mode, then switch to Layout mode and format the same field as Plain Text, the text will continue to display as bold.
Tip To maintain flexibility in formatting the same data on different layouts, use Layout mode to apply the primary font and paragraph settings to field objects on layouts. Use Browse mode to apply bold or italic emphasis to particular words in fields. Do not format the entire contents of a field in Browse mode; instead, reformat its field object in Layout mode.

In Layout mode, if you specify text formatting with no text or fields selected, you set default text formats for fields and text that you add later. Similarly, if you've just created a field or typed text and it's still selected, and you specify text formatting, you set default text formats. If you change these default text formats later, FileMaker Pro does not retroactively change previously applied formats.
In Layout mode, you can format text that's part of a grouped object without ungrouping it first.
You can use the Text Formatting toolbar (choose View menu > Toolbars > Text Formatting), the text ruler (choose View menu > Text Ruler), or the shortcut menu for quick access to many text attributes. For more information, see Using toolbars, Specifying paragraph attributes and tab settings, and Using shortcut menus.
To eliminate formatting applied in Browse mode, reformat the text in Browse mode or export and re-import the data.
When you paste text into fields:
unformatted text automatically acquires the default formatting of the existing field text.
text that has the same format as existing field text keeps its formatting.
text that has a different format to existing text keeps its formatting. To change pasted text format to the existing text format, choose Edit > Undo Formatting immediately after pasting the text.
In Browse mode, you can format particular characters in number, date, time, and timestamp fields. For example, you could format only the year of a date to be bold, such as 5/5/1965. However, you can only see and print the special formatting when the field object is formatted with the Leave data formatted as entered option in Layout mode. If you specify any other field formatting options, the special formatting is only visible in Browse mode when the field is active. (Text fields do not have this limitation.) For more information on formatting fields, see Formatting and setting up field objects in Layout mode.

Content Makers Are Accused of Exaggerating Copyright

This is a definite switch in viewpoint. It's particularly ironic since I've had such a struggle getting Corbis (Microsoft) to recognize my right to sell images I have taken of public domain artwork!

"An association of computer and communication companies, including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, on Wednesday accused several professional sports leagues, book publishers and other media companies of misleading and threatening consumers with overstated copyright warnings.

In a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, the group, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said that the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NBC and Universal Studios, DreamWorks, Harcourt and Penguin Group display copyright warnings that are a “systematic misrepresentation of consumers’ rights to use legally acquired content.”

The complaint alleges that the warnings may intimidate consumers from making legal use of copyrighted material, like photocopying a page from a book to use in class.

“It is an attempt to convince Americans that they don’t have rights that they do in fact have,” said Ed Black, the association’s president and chief executive. “This is part of the larger context of what should be and what are proper rules for copyright in an Internet age.”

The complaint asks the Federal Trade Commission to take remedial actions against content owners, like ordering them to provide a more accurate copyright warning, and to assist with efforts to educate the public on their rights."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Canon Powershot S5 vs. Panasonic DMC-FZ8

I've been in a bit of a quandary ever since I went ahead and ordered the Panasonic DMC-FZ8 in time for my first New York trip even though I heard that Canon was coming out with a new Powershot High-Zoom camera soon after I would return. Today, I finally got around to reading Digital Photography's review of the new Canon Powershot S5 paying particular attention to the comparisons of ISO-Sensitivity and noise levels since my most demanding work is produced in museums without the benefit of flash or tripod. DPReview didn't provide a side-by-side comparison of Canon vs. Panasonic so I had to improvise:

My eyes are getting older these days but it looks to me like the Panasonic suffers from less noise than the S5 although there is a slight loss of detail. Actually, to be honest, the Sony DSC-H9 & Sony DSC-H5 seemed to have roughly the equivalent level of noise of the Panasonic with a little more detail than the Panasonic. All three appear to me to outperform the Canon S5 in this category.

As a former financial officer I also can't help but think about bang for the buck. The Panasonic cost me $269 compared to the Sony's $369 and the Canon's $469. The Panasonic is the only one of the three that can output in Raw format, has about twice as many scene modes, and weighs a mere 310 g compared to the Sony's 407 g and the Canon's 450 g. For someone like me with a problem with familial tremor, 100 -150 g can make a big difference especially if you couple that with one of the industry's leading image stabilization systems.

So, I guess I made the right choice for me based on my needs. I just wish Panasonic would be able to approach the High ISO quality output of the Fuji F-30. I have governed the Panasonic down to ISO-800 in my settings because the noise level is just totally unacceptable at the Panasonic's ISO settings higher than that. So, I keep my Fuji F30 with me too for those really dark exhibits.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cable Without a Cable Box, and TV Shows Without a TV - New York Times

This article caught my attention because it discusses the potential for Cable Card integration in internet convergent devices. My DishNetwork DVR comes equipped with a Cable Card. I would love to have it become a way for me to use Amazon UnBox video on demand. Up until now, however, the Dish DVR has been extremely limited to proprietary interconnection. I cannot even use the USB port on it to download a movie I have recorded to my iPod. Dish definitely needs to get with the program!

Cable Without a Cable Box, and TV Shows Without a TV - New York Times: "Cable companies in the United States now have to separate the security functions that prevent you from watching channels you haven’t paid for from the TV tuner box most of us rent.

The practical result of the rule is that cable companies now have to supply set-top boxes that come with a removable CableCard. The cards, which look like the PC Cards used in notebook computers, contain the information necessary to unscramble digital cable channels like HBO.

But they could allow other equipment to become much more versatile. The cards are designed to be inserted into a host of other devices, including TVs, digital video recorders (DVRs) and computers. Companies like Toshiba, Panasonic, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard have sought this breakthrough for years because it opens an array of features for CableCard-equipped devices. Cable companies have resisted the idea, which should surprise no one.

TiVo has just come out with a more affordable HD DVR with two CableCard slots and up to 20 hours of HD recording, for $300.

The TiVo-Amazon service offers cineastes thousands of movies to rent, compared with the scant mainstream-only offerings of cable’s pay-per-view services. TiVo boasts other features that keep it ahead of cable, including the ability to schedule a recording at home over the Internet from, say, your computer at work, or to record videos automatically from Web-based channels. Services like this are encouraging others to begin selling CableCard-ready set-top boxes.

Digeo, which already supplies set-top boxes to cable companies that in turn lease them to subscribers, says it plans to sell a new model in stores this fall. Digeo’s machine, the Moxi Multi-Room HD DMR, not only will include a TiVo-like DVR but also will let owners add more hard disk storage to expand the number of shows owners can record and store. Moxi owners will also be able to use the box to store music and pictures and watch recordings on TVs in other rooms. Prices for the CableCard-ready box have not yet been announced."