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."