Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bemoaning the fate of traditional booksellers

In this New York Times article, David Streitfeld blames avid readers like himself for causing the demise of the traditional book industry because he buys bargain books online from either commercial or private resellers.

"Book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them."
I think this is being a bit simplistic. Publishers have complained about used book resellers for years just as the music industry used to complain about used CD shops. If publishers would stop and think about it, its the physical format of a purchased book or CD that actually facilitates its resale by the original consumer. If the e-book industry finally takes off as expected (see my earlier post) with appropriate digital rights management, the resale problem will eventually disappear (except for hard copy "collectors" who can get their fix with print on demand).

However, the loss of the traditional bookstore is not without regret. I must admit that I occasionally enjoy just browsing the aisles of Barnes and Noble. But, when I want to find a particular book and get the best price, I turn to Amazon. It's a simple matter of efficiency and economics.

I also think I have bought a lot more books using online retailers (mostly Amazon) than I would have if I had to physically visit a traditional bookstore and search the aisles myself, because Amazon uses subtle marketing strategies like suggesting other books by the same author, with the same topic, or bought by other customers who also purchased the book you are considering. This process actually makes me aware of other books I may not have heard about and often a $12 purchase from Amazon turns into a $79 purchase by the time I click the check out button. So, I don't think we can blame online sales for upending an industry that, like the music industry, is digging its heels in when it comes to embracing technology advances. Instead, the publishing industry should reexamine its role in the literary process.

I always think about "value added" as a justification for a service to exist. The most valuable service a publishing company can provide is professional editing (something a lot of authors are saying is being neglected by many publishers now), and marketing expertise. However, marketing approaches need to change to take advantage of the new technologically enhanced exposure venues.

Recently, I was asked by Harper/Collins to review Bernard Cornwell's newest novel "Agincourt". The publisher provided me with links to videos they posted on YouTube in which Mr. Cornwell discusses the writer's craft, research, and the history behind "Agincourt". It is these types of marketing efforts that will yield the desired results in the future rather than expecting a traditional bookseller to displace other books to make way for a newly released book. The following video was my favorite:

Visiting with an author in person is always exciting, but even the most avid reader realizes that more people can be reached using online presentations than shuttling an author from bookstore to bookstore. Another online strategy that I recently enjoyed was an author-moderated discussion forum. Sponsored by GoodReads, the forum's featured author was Steven Pressfield, author of the acclaimed novel, "Gates of Fire", who was promoting his latest novel about Rommel. Forum visitors could pose any question they wished and Mr. Pressfield did his best to provide an insightful answer. Several visitors actually became involved in an ongoing dialogue with Mr. Pressfield about the craft of writing or his interpretation of some of his classical resources. These types of discussions would not have been possible in most book signing sessions - at least none that I have ever attended.

News releases and book reviews are also valuable in bringing attention to a new book. But, as Mr. Pressfield pointed out in his discussion forum, traditional media like online newspapers seem to be shying away from including book reviews in their content offerings. Publishers could reverse this trend with targeted marketing campaigns.

So, I wouldn't feel too bad, David, about buying used books. You're actions are serving as the catalyst to get publishers to refocus their business model on the services they should be providing rather than squabbling over who gets the residual value from bits of paper and cardboard. As for publishers like Houghton Miffin Harcourt no longer ordering "fresh meat", in many moments of crisis throughout history there are those who decide to commit suicide rather than face the changes needed to succeed in a newly defined environment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Creating a Holiday Tribute to my Dad for a unique Christmas gift

About a month ago, I was asked by an editor to see if I could find a slide from 1978 that I took of helicopter logging in the Cascade Mountains. While I was looking for that slide I stumbled across a slide of my late father calling a square dance in the living room of their home.

Dad always enjoyed calling square dances and over the holidays we would push all the furniture back after dinner and he would give us a dance lesson. Dad loved music and even after he had to give up square dancing he would play his keyboard for hours. We lost him three years ago after a long battle with Parkinson's disease and miss him a lot especially this time of year. So, I decided to try to give my family the gift of seeing him call one more time.

All I had was a still image but I knew I could animate his face and synchronize his mouth to an audio file of a square dance call using a product called CrazyTalk.

First, I digitized the slide with a Nikon Coolscan slide scanner. Then I discovered his eyes were closed. Dad often called singing calls with his eyes closed. But I knew the CrazyTalk software animated the eyes so I had to give him open eyes. So, I went up on the internet and looked for a suitable pair of hazel eyes that I inserted with Photoshop Elements (I have the full version of Photoshop but find the interface in Elements to be much more intuitive and it performs almost all of the functions I use on a regular basis).

Next I tried to find the Square Dance cue sheet for Jingle Bells out on the web. I found a bunch of them but none with the words I remembered Dad called. So I wrote down the words I remembered as best I could from 30 years ago.

Then I started hunting for an instrumental version of Jingle Bells that would be suitable. I stumbled across a website called Soundsnap that had a database of music loops and sound effects. A free account got me 5 downloads a month. I downloaded the version of Jingle Bells I liked then went up to to customize the song to fit my storyboard. The song started right where Dad would need to start his call but I wanted to a little intro. I selected a few measures of one of the chorus sections for an intro and copied and pasted that to the beginning of the song.

Since I didn't have an audio file of Dad's voice, I decided to use a product called MorphVOXPro to morph my own voice into something more male sounding. So, I hooked up my USB headset and proceeded to experiment with the different male voices that you can download from MorphVOX Pro's website. At first I thought I liked the "old man" voice that was a little higher pitched than the standard male voice. But after making a number of recordings I decided to go with the deeper standard male voice. I must have recorded that audio track 20 times but I still couldn't make it sound quite right. It's hard to carry a tune when your voice is being morphed in real time! (I hope you'll forgive me for that Dad.)

Then I made my first attempt at tying everything together with Microsoft MovieMaker. I did not want to combine the music track and voice during the recording phase because I wanted the music track to play during the introductory graphics & the credits I would add later. But trying to synch the calling and the music separately was not working out. So I downloaded the music to my iPod because I couldn't get my computer to play the song while I attempted to use a mic at the same time. I suppose I could have recorded a karaoke session then split the music track off afterwards but I was in "get-it-done" mode and figured I could get it done faster with my somewhat low tech approach.

So I listened to the song on the iPod through one headset while I recorded the voice through MorphVox Pro with my other headset. Of course then I discovered the morphing software sort of wreaks havoc with someone trying to carry a tune (I really can sing better than that!)

But, after even more recording sessions I finally decided just to go with one of them. I figured Dad would forgive me!

So I launched CrazyTalk and imported the image I had edited and the .wav file I had created with MorphVox pro and it synched everything up. You can go into CrazyTalk and actually tweak the mouth shapes for different words if you don't like the automatic result. But, As the image I was using was not a tight closeup, I figured the automatic result was good enough.

Then I started experimenting with the different video compression schemes to get the best output. I finally settled on Indeo 5.1 with compression filter and a 320X280 frame size since I was using a portrait orientation picture.

Finally, I was ready for MovieMaker. I imported the still image first to serve as the intro and a beginning key frame. Then I added the CrazyTalk video file and the Jingle Bells music track. Then I went up on the web and found a suitable "Happy Holidays" ending graphic. I love puppies so I found one with a little Dalmation. I couldn't find any copyright references so I hope whoever produced it doesn't mind a personal noncommercial use. I added the puppy graphic to the end of the storyboard then used the timeline and playback window to synch up the visuals with the music.

The tempo was right with the voiceover but I had to keep adjusting the duration of the intro graphic to get Dad's calling to match up with the appropriate point in the melody. Then I created a title graphic and ending credits. I liked the animated shadowed Title style best and selected a red background for Xmas. Then I went in and added right wipe transitions between the title and the opening graphic, a heart-shaped transition to the puppy graphic and a fade before the ending credits. That's when I discovered the transitions threw off the music track again so had to go back and readjust Dad's video to the music track again.

I was just about to call it a wrap when I noticed that the background fill default in MovieMaker was black while in CrazyTalk it was white. The switch from black background around the intro graphic to white background around the video frames was distracting so I went into CrazyTalk and found I could change the background there to black too. Which meant I had to reexport the CrazyTalk video, remove the other video from my Moviemaker project and reimport the new video. Which also meant I had to resynch the music track AGAIN! Finally, after over 8 hours of editing, I produced my little 1 minute video and uploaded it to YouTube.

YouTube had a nice way to embed the video into a greeting card and send it to all my family members. So this is how my family received a gift that couldn't be purchased in any store. I hope they enjoyed the memories. I took a day and went to the local mall and did a little "normal" Christmas shopping just to unwind!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Music Games bring new markets to recording artists

By golly, I think the music industry, like the street wench of "My Fair Lady", is finally starting to "get it!" Unfortunately, I can't get an iPhone with Verizon Wireless, but I see that the iPod Touch can play many of the games designed for an iPhone. My old trusty video iPod can't hold a charge beyond about an hour now anyway and I have to plug it into the computer for a recharge after my morning workout. I know I can buy a third party battery replacement for it but maybe I should be considering an upgrade!

Tap Tap Revenge, a free game that challenges players to keep up with catchy tunes by tapping in the right spots on the phone’s screen, was available in Apple’s iPhone application store when it opened in July.

It quickly climbed the store’s charts, and more than three million downloads later, Apple declared it the most popular free iPhone game of the year.

“We went to No. 1 in three days,” said Bart Decrem, co-founder and chief executive of Tapulous. “Within a week, artists reached out to have their music featured in the game.”

Many software companies have jumped on the iPhone bandwagon, seeing promise in the popularity of the phone and the demand for programs for sale or free download through the App Store. They include Smule, a start-up that created a program that turns iPhones into flutes; and giant game publishers like Electronic Arts, which recently released a version of its classic SimCity game for the iPhone.

Tapulous, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was founded in January after Mr. Decrem, a Belgian software executive, and his business partner, Andrew Lacy, came across an iPhone game called Tap Tap Revolution. They sought out its creator, Nate True, and brought him on board as a developer. (A third co-founder, Mike Lee, was forced out in August after the men disagreed over the company’s direction.)

For Mr. Decrem, who earlier helped create a social Web browser called Flock, the low cost and fast pace of making software for the iPhone made it feasible to create a company that focused exclusively on the device.

“It took two years and north of $5 million to bring Flock to market,” he said. “In this case, the longest you spend building an iPhone application is three months, and it takes four or five people. There’s less risk in terms of betting millions and years on something that might not work.”

To keep its game fresh the company created Tap Tap Thursdays, when it releases new music from artists like Michael Franti and the pop singer Katy Perry. Mr. Decrem said those songs regularly inspire a million game plays — and occasionally a lot of music sales, because players can click to buy the song through Apple. In October, Tap Tap Revenge players bought 50,000 copies of the featured track “Hot N Cold” by Ms. Perry.

The popularity of the game led Tapulous to begin introducing paid versions for $4.99 each, aimed at fans of specific artists or genres of music. In late October it released a Nine Inch Nails edition, followed by a holiday version called Christmas With Weezer, for which that band recorded some carols. Tapulous plans to release one of these each month, including a special edition featuring the Dave Matthews Band.

Tap Tap Revenge is patterned after games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which test players’ abilities to keep rhythm with popular songs. Those games have been hits on consoles like the Xbox 360, and strong sales of music through the games have given some hope to a beleaguered music industry. Harmonix, the creator of Rock Band, said last week that the game’s players had bought 30 million songs.

“The gravy train of the old days of having CD sales buffer you as an artist are gone,” said James L. McQuivey, a principal analyst specializing in media technology at Forrester Research. “Artists recognize that and are trying to be in more places at once.”

The British music label EMI, seeking a new source of revenue, collaborated with Tapulous on a version called Tap Tap Dance that includes tracks by Moby and Daft Punk.

“We absolutely feel these games could be the next big Rock Band or Guitar Hero,” said Cynthia Sexton, a vice president at EMI Music worldwide.

Ms. Sexton said she viewed the expansion into games and other outlets as a natural evolution of the music industry, though that revelation was not necessarily an easy one. “For a moment, we hid our heads in the sand and thought this was the end,” she said. “But it’s not. It’s really the beginning.” [FINALLY!!!]

Mr. Decrem said his company saw the opportunity in music sales. “We’re fortunate to be sitting at the intersection of a couple of powerful forces right now,” he said. “The iPhone is a device that is on fire, and artists are looking for ways to reinvent themselves.” - More, New York Times

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Project Possibility yields admirable results

I'm always excited when I see other people willing to develop technology because its needed not just to make money:

ONE computer program would allow vision-impaired shoppers to point their cellphones at supermarket shelves and hear descriptions of products and prices. Another would allow a physically disabled person to guide a computer mouse using brain waves and eye movements.

The two programs were among those created by eight groups of volunteers at a two-day software-writing competition this fall. The goal of the competition, sponsored by a nonprofit corporation, is to encourage new computer programs that help disabled people expand their capabilities.

The corporation, set up by computer science students and graduates at the University of Southern California, is named Project:Possibility. It grew out of an idea two years ago by Christopher Leung, then a master’s degree candidate in computer science and engineering at the university, who was working on a project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The effort is centered at the University of Southern California and led by volunteers, including Ely Lerner, an information systems developer at Amgen Inc.; Elias Sayfi, a senior software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Stanley Lam, an undergraduate business student at the university.

The project also plans to create a worldwide open-source Web site on which disabled persons and software developers can collaborate on new ideas and add to existing programs.

“Imagine a specialist Facebook or MySpace-type social network in which users would be involved in designing the tools they want and need,” said Stephen A. Lee, a British software developer who operates and is a director of Project:Possibility.- New York Times

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Corporate America spurns user generated content but then can't find the key to advertising on social networking sites

FOR some time, Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, has been dipping its big toes into the vast pool of Facebook, now the world’s largest social network.

Independent experts on Web advertising have been watching, however,
and what they see is a myriad of difficulties in making brand
advertising work on social networking sites. Members of social networks
want to spend time with friends, not brands.

When major brands
place banner advertisements on the side of a member’s home page,
they pay inexpensive prices, but the ads receive little attention. Seth
Goldstein, co-founder of SocialMedia Networks, an online advertising
company, wrote on his Facebook blog that a banner ad “is
universally disregard.

And when they try to take advantage of new “social
advertising,” extending their commercial message to a
member’s friends, their ads will be noticed, all right, but not
necessarily favorably. Members are understandably reluctant to become
shills. IDC, the technology research firm, published a study last month
that reported that just 3 percent of Internet users in the United
States would willingly let publishers use their friends for
advertising. The report described social advertising as
“stillborn.”ed as irrelevant if it’s not ignored

I think the problem is advertisers still consider themselves "above" their intended consumers.  The article included this observation:

"companies generally do not like the idea of their brand sharing space
with unvetted material supplied by users. The IDC report said, “Brand
advertisers largely consider user-generated content as low-quality,
brand-unsafe inventory.”

Social networks are all about user-generated content!  Duh!!  Until the big money boys get their nose out of the air, they aren't going to be able to capitalize on social networks!  The article mentions they disdain contests but an article I read last week said contests soliciting user-generated content are quite successful at increasing product awareness.  Perhaps the marketing folks should pay more attention to some of us in IT.

Will Living Dead 4 Become the Ultimate Zombie Extermination Experience?

I naturally thought of my son when I saw this review of Living Dead 4. I never could understand his fascination with the Resident Evil series. He told me "Hey, Mom, after putting up with jerks at the office all day, there's nothing like it to blow off a little steam!"

I live alone these days, but my favorite memento of my old roommate is the 2005 headline from The Onion that is still stuck to my refrigerator three years after she put it there: “Study Reveals Pittsburgh Unprepared for Full-Scale Zombie Attack.”

The line makes me smile every day because the concept of zombie apocalypse is so elemental and yet subtly humorous in its repugnance. And where else but a stolid middle-American city like Pittsburgh (or Cleveland or Detroit) would you want to set down your pack of former insurance clerks and housewives turned ravening undead to hunt down a ragged band of survivors?

It’s difficult to imagine that some developer at Turtle Rock Studios (now part of Valve) hasn’t had the same Onion headline pasted by his desk since work began on Left 4 Dead, also in 2005. Left 4 Dead nails just about every part of the classic George A. Romero “Living Dead” zombie genre in what amounts to a glossy and frenetic homage to every shotgun shell that has ever been pumped into the pustulent maw of the ghoul next door.

Internet Filter Proposed by Australian Government A First Step to Censorship

The following article made my skin crawl. We still have far too many theocrats in government positions in this country that would love to latch onto some proposal like this and start dictating their view of the world to the rest of us!!

The Australian government plans to test a nationwide Web filtering system that would force Internet service providers to block access to thousands of sites containing questionable or illegal content, prompting cries of censorship from advocacy groups.

The proposed filter is part of a $82 million “cybersafety plan” started in May with the goals of protecting children online and stopping adults from downloading content that is illegal to possess in information about Australia." Australia, like child pornography or materials related to terrorism.

But the plan has ignited opposition from online advocacy groups and industry specialists who say it would slow browsing speeds and do little to block undesirable content.

Last month, the minister of communications, Stephen Conroy, invited Internet service providers and mobile phone operators to participate in a live trial of the program, which is set to begin this year.

The proposed system consists of two tiers. Under the first, all Australian service providers must block access to around 10,000 Web sites on a list maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the federal monitor that oversees film classifications.

The second tier would require service providers to provide an optional filter that individuals could use to block material deemed unsuitable for children, like pornography or violence.

The government says the list, which is not available to the public, includes only illegal content, mostly child pornography. But critics worry about the lack of transparency and say the filter could be used to block a range of morally hazy topics, like gambling or euthanasia.

“Even if the scheme is introduced with the best of intentions, there will be enormous political pressure on the government to expand the list,” said Colin Jacobs, the vice chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a technology advocacy group. “We worry that the scope of the list would expand at a very rapid rate.”

The proposal has set off a flurry of anxious chatter on social networking sites like Facebook, where thousands of users have announced plans to attend mass protests on Saturday. More than 85,000 users have also signed an online petition created by the left-wing advocacy group GetUp, which calls the mandatory filter “a serious threat to our democratic values.”

Some industry specialists have also criticized the plan.

“Our view is there are some serious shortfalls in what is being proposed,” said Mark White, the chief operating officer at iiNet, Australia’s third-largest service provider, which has applied to take part in the trial.

Mr. White said the mandatory filter was unlikely to work because it would not monitor illegal activity on peer-to-peer or file-sharing networks, where most child pornography and other illegal content is exchanged. The filter would also slow Internet browsing speeds for all regardless of whether they were trying to access forbidden sites, he said.

This concern has been affirmed by the government’s own research. According to a July report by the communications and media authority, the best filter in tests of six unidentified Internet filtering programs slowed browsing speeds by 2 percent; the other five made the Internet run between 22 and 87 percent slower.

The study found that filtering programs were effective at blocking illicit material around 92 percent of the time, but around 3 percent of legitimate sites were mistakenly caught up in the filters. - More: The New York Times
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Eye-Fi cards add WiFi capabilities to your camera!

What’s Eye-Fi?

Eye-Fi makes Wi-Fi-enabled SD memory cards, which are compatible with the vast majority of digital cameras on the market. You put the Eye-Fi Card into your camera, go through a quick setup process, and any photo you take will be wirelessly sent into your Evernote account. No cables. No docks. Just magic.
This changes everything

Think about it, you own a device (camera) that takes high-quality photos incredibly well, and you use a service (Evernote) that’s really good at recognizing text in your photos and organizing your memories. Now with Eye-Fi, your, formerly, once-a-month camera becomes an essential tool to capture all sorts of day-to-day things. Here are some ideas:

* Got back from a conference with a stack of business cards? Snap a photo of them.
* Just finished a big whiteboard session? Don’t copy it into your notebook, snap a photo.
* Just had dinner? Snap a photo of the receipt for your records.
* Doing some comparison shopping? Go to a store and snap a photo of the sales tags.
* Got a billion dollar idea sketched on a napkin? Snap a photo so you’ll never forget it.

Then, as soon as you come into range of an open wireless access point, or one that you’ve configured, the Eye-Fi card will send those photos into Evernote, where they’ll be processed, indexed, and made searchable and available on every platform and device you use. That’s pretty sweet.

Yes that is pretty sweet! I wonder if they work with a Panasonic FZ8? I'll have to check into it!!

Also noticed that some versions of the SD Smart Cards include autogeotagging. Unfortunately they're using the coordinates of the nearest hot spot rather than the GPS satellite info. If you're out in the countryside shooting landscapes, ruins, or architecture, this approach would not really work well. They are also spendy - $129 for 2 Gb for the Explorer format with autogeotagging.

Eye-Fi Explore includes 1 year of Wayport Hotspot Access. Eye-Fi Explore users will be able to renew Hotspot Access for $14.99 per year after the first year. Wayport offers Wi-Fi access at thousands of locations, including most McDonald’s restaurants, major hotels, airports, and other locales.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

UCLA's Borgman contends that scholarly information infrastructure must facilitate collaboration

Recently, a colleague shared an article in which Christine L. Borgman, a professor of information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, contended that the new “scholarly information infrastructure” must be shaped with collaborative, interdisciplinary research in mind.

I pointed out that Amazon's new Astore object is a commercial example that could be adapted for research purposes. My reply:

We are rapidly entering the age where web-based data structures are becoming extremely important to continue leveraging the intellectual capital that has expressed itself on the web. Although a commercial example, Amazon’s new Astore collaborative Associates program is one example of how this is achieved. Each Amazon associate has the ability to configure an Astore that is targeted to a specific visitor demographic. For example, my blogs focus on various aspects of history. I have constructed an Astore that is a linked compendium of resources (products like books and film) that provide further information about history of particular periods that I have further categorized by civilization and topic.


If you click on the link for History-Rome, you will find links to subcategories for

Romans-Julius Caesar
Rome-The Etruscans
Rome-Early Period
Rome-The Republic
Rome-Julio-Claudian Period
Rome-Hadrianic Period
Rome-The Late Empire
Rome-Weapons and Warfare
Rome-Daily Life

Eventually I will populate the other categories in a similar way as time permits. Just think of how a similar concept could be used to facilitate the identification and retrieval of research materials. Amazon has configured the Astore construction tool to combine a search of the product database with a categorization tool that creates folder categories that you can move up or down in the folder list or indent as a subcategory of an existing category. Each category folder is assigned a unique ID that does not change so you can also call each specific folder as the primary display object for web pages with specific topic references. For example, I also constructed an Astore for a nonprofit arts foundation in California. If you select the web page to view their Historical Figures of England group page you will see a display featuring books that focus on English History:

If you choose a particular figure on the Historical Figures of England page, like Henry VIII, the Astore will display books about The Tudor Period:

I accomplish this by placing the Astore permalink information in the foundation’s filemaker database record for the Henry VIII figure. I then call the information with Php via Filemaker’s Php support facility in combination with a third party scripting tool, FX.php.

Pogue says Fujifilm F60D second only to Canon

I noticed in David Pogue's "Best cameras under $300" article that he ranked the Fujifilm FinePix F60D second only to Canon for overall features and image quality:

"FUJIFILM FINEPIX F60FD ($220). A fast, solid, clearly designed camera. Good exposures, nice work in low light — no doubt because it has the biggest sensor of the contest (0.625 inches diagonally, rather than the usual 0.4). Features you can really use, like one that snaps both a flash and a no-flash picture simultaneously. Manual controls, too. Picture quality very good."

Right after the F60FD was announced I called Fujifilm to find out if the noise reduction capabilities of the F60FD were equal to that of the F31D. I was just told the camera was so new customer service didn't know anything about it !!

I read an article that says the real sequel to the F31D won't be out until Feb 2009 so I'm trying to hold off. I sure would like to take a higher resolution Finepix to Rome with me in March, though, so I hope there's no delay in the scheduled release. I also wish camera manufacturers would keep their product lines consistent. By rights, the F60D should be equal to a F31D with added image stabilization but articles I read said none of the cameras released after the F31D were equal to it in low light performance. Basic features like noise reduction and ISO range should not have decreased in subsequent models. I assume what happened was they simply bumped up the megapixels without incrementally compensating for the resulting increase in noise thus ending up with (IMHO) high resolution cameras with inferior performance in low light situations. At least they're supposed to address this issue with the new model in February

Making Serious Money With YouTube

I found this article particularly interesting. Maybe I should look into it further to supplement my retirement income!

One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site. For some, like Michael Buckley, the self-taught host of a celebrity chatter show, filming funny videos is now a full-time job.

Mr. Buckley quit his day job in September after his online profits had greatly surpassed his salary as an administrative assistant for a music promotion company. His thrice-a-week online show “is silly,” he said, but it has helped him escape his credit-card debt.

Mr. Buckley, 33, was the part-time host of a weekly show on a Connecticut public access channel in the summer of 2006 when his cousin started posting snippets of the show on YouTube. The comical rants about celebrities attracted online viewers, and before long Mr. Buckley was tailoring his segments, called “What the Buck?” for the Web. Mr. Buckley knew that the show was “only going to go so far on public access.”

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why are female Computer Science majors declining?

As someone who has been a rather "rare" female technology professional for over twenty years, I read this article by Professor Randall Stross with interest. Afterwards, I wrote to him to point out something I don't think the article considered, at least, not directly:

Professor Stross, I sometimes think that the reason women are not drawn to a computer science degree is that the discipline deals primarily with the computer as a machine, not as a tool that can be used creatively to solve human problems, enhance human communication, and enrich human lives.

Here is the definition of our Computer Science major from the University of Oregon’s own course catalog:

“Computer science is the study of the computer as a machine, both concrete and abstract; it is the study of the management of information; and it involves the design and analysis of algorithms, programs, systems, and programming languages.”

There is not even a whisper of how the machine is used in a human social context.

Women are still given the primary role of nurturers by our culture and are socialized throughout their education with that overriding expectation. The religious fundamentalism that has dominated society in many parts of the country over the last eight years has further emphasized this cultural stereotype. So it is not surprising that the vast majority of women would find a discipline that approaches computer science as primarily the study of an inhuman machine to be less than satisfying.

Anyway, here's an abstract from the original article.

Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, recalls the mid-1980s, when women made up 40 percent of the students who majored in management computer systems, the second most popular major on campus. But soon after, the number of students majoring in the program had fallen about 75 percent, reflecting a nationwide trend, and the number of women fell even more. “I asked at a department meeting,” he says, “ ‘Where have the women gone?’ It wasn’t clear.” His theory is that young women earlier had felt comfortable pursing the major because the male subculture of action gaming had yet to appear.

Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology & Social Behavior, has written about the efforts in the 1990s to create computer games that would appeal to girls and, ultimately, increase the representation of women in computer science. In commenting as a co-contributor in a new book, “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming,” Ms. Cassell writes of the failure of these efforts, “The girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys’ toys’ and that true girls didn’t play with computers.”

She said last week that some people in the field still believed that the answer to reversing declining enrollment was building the right game. Another school of thought is what she calls the “we won” claim because women have entered computer-related fields like Web site design that are not traditional computer science. Ms. Cassell points out that it’s not much of a victory, however. The pay is considerably less than in software engineering and the work has less influence on how computers are used, and whether this actually accounts for the diminishing numbers of female computer science majors remains unproved. - More (NY Times)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Inspired by interview with Lawrence Lessig

A friend recently sent me a link to Charlie Rose's interview with Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig has written a new book entitled "Remix" about the new hybrid economy between the sharers of the Web 2.0 environment and online commerical interests. He points out how such collaboration can be used to end the dependence of politicians on big corporate lobbyists - much the same way that Barak Obama did in the generation of money for his campaign.

He spoke very admiringly of the value of such resources as Wikipedia and how the energy of sharing economies can be just what is needed to infuse enthusiasm into economic ventures in the online commercial environment. He pointed out, though, that commercial interests need to gain respect for the intelligence and creativity of those engaged in producing user-generated content. He mentioned that people like George Lucas, who created a remix studio with Star Wars images and clips but claims copyright to any material produced by visitors - is an outdated "Hollywood mogul" approach and does not show proper consideration to the collective intelligence of the online community. I, personally, find it ironic that someone who is so adamant about defending their own copyright is so willing to rip off someone else's.

Recently I was reading about YouTube's problems trying to negotiate partnerships with the major studios because the Hollywood studios were disdainful of YouTube's millions of "amateurs" and how their user-generated content is viewed as cluttering up the YouTube site. I had also just read about a new feature YouTube has added called video annotation that includes the ability to link videos into a unique narratives. So, I wrote to YouTube and suggested they approach the studios about offering a remix studio containing clips of Creative Commons noncommerical-licensed clips for use in production of mini-choose-your-own-adventure type videos or alternative trailers using the new video annotation feature. All derivatives would not then compete with the studios commercial offerings, because of the noncommercial rights provisions, but would provide hours of creative enjoyment to site visitors, who in turn would be exposed to studio advertising for much longer periods while working in the remix studio than they would be simply viewing clip after clip of content. This would turn the demographics of typical YouTube site visitors to a definite advantage to the studios and a vibrant alternative to passive viewing of full length features on Besides, I know I would rather watch a full length feature streamed to a Netflix device connected to my big screen TV than slouched in my chair in front of my computer in my home office alone.

You will need some time to watch the interview with Mr. Lessig as its 38 minutes long, but I think it is worth every minute of it!

Pogue says Blackberry Storm a Dud!

David Pogue just saved me a lot of grief. I had just received a flyer from Verizon about their new phone lineup and was looking wistfully at the Blackberry Storm. Cell phones are like cars with me - I seldom get a new one unless my current one quits. In fact, this fall when I was visiting my daughter and her family, my grandson burst out laughing when I pulled out my cell phone to make a call. No, it wasn't one of the big clunky phones from the 80s or 90s, but apparently it wasn't as sleek as the newest phones either so I felt sufficiently chastened - especially being a technology professional. Anyway, I have started keeping my eye out for a new model that has everything on my want list - good camera (I never use it but it is meant to be a backup if my camera battery dies and I have a chance to take a one in a million shot!), GPS with voice navigation (I really want to try this out. My son-in-law has a full sized Garmin GPS navigator for his car and we used it to get to Gettysburg. I was quite impressed but don't see a reason to buy a separate GPS navigator if my cell phone can do the same job - especially if I can pay for it only when I need it) and overseas calling capability, so when I'm traveling I can at least call for a cab if I get hopelessly lost. But, it sounds like the Blackberry folks have suffered a major misfire this time:

Research in Motion (R.I.M.), the company that brought us the BlackBerry, has been on a roll lately. For a couple of years now, it’s delivered a series of gorgeous, functional, supremely reliable smartphones that, to this day, outsell even the much-adored iPhone.

Well, there’s a new one, just out ($200 after rebate, with two-year Verizon contract), officially called the BlackBerry Storm.

But I’ve got a better name for it: the BlackBerry Dud.

The first sign of trouble was the concept: a touch-screen BlackBerry. That’s right — in its zeal to cash in on some of that iPhone touch-screen mania, R.I.M. has created a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

Hello? Isn’t the thumb keyboard the defining feature of a BlackBerry? A BlackBerry without a keyboard is like an iPod without a scroll wheel. A Prius with terrible mileage. Cracker Jack without a prize inside.

R.I.M. hoped to soften the blow by endowing its touch screen with something extra: clickiness. The entire screen acts like a mouse button. Press hard enough, and it actually responds with a little plastic click.

As a result, the Storm offers two degrees of touchiness. You can tap the screen lightly, or you can press firmly to register the palpable click.

It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it ought to make the on-screen keyboard feel more like actual keys. In principle, you could design a brilliant operating system where the two kinds of taps do two different things. Tap lightly to type a letter — click fully to get a pop-up menu of accented characters (é, è, ë and so on). Tap lightly to open something, click fully to open a shortcut menu of options. And so on.

Unfortunately, R.I.M.’s execution is inconsistent and confusing.

Where to begin? Maybe with e-mail, the most important function of a BlackBerry. On the Storm, a light touch highlights the key but doesn’t type anything. It accomplishes nothing — a wasted software-design opportunity. Only by clicking fully do you produce a typed letter.

It’s too much work, like using a manual typewriter. (“I couldn’t send two e-mails on this thing,” said one disappointed veteran.)

It’s no help that the Storm shows you two different keyboards, depending on how you’re holding it (it has a tilt sensor like the iPhone’s).

When you hold it horizontally, you get the full, familiar Qwerty keyboard layout. But when you turn it upright, you get the less accurate SureType keyboard, where two letters appear on each “key,” and the software tries to figure out which word you’re typing.

For example, to type “get,” you press the GH, ER and TY keys. Unfortunately, that’s also “hey.” You can see the problem. And trying to enter Web addresses or unusual last names is utterly hopeless.

Furthermore, despite having had more than a year to study the iPhone, R.I.M. has failed to exploit the virtues of an on-screen keyboard. A virtual keyboard’s keys can change, permitting you to switch languages or even alphabet systems within a single sentence. A virtual keyboard can offer canned blobs of text like “.com” and “.org” when it senses that you’re entering a Web address, or offer an @ key when addressing e-mail.

But not on the Storm.

Incredibly, the Storm even muffs simple navigation tasks. When you open a menu, the commands are too close together; even if your finger seems to be squarely on the proper item, your click often winds up activating something else in the list.

To scroll a list, you’re supposed to flick your finger across the screen, just as on the iPhone. But even this simple act is head-bangingly frustrating; the phone takes far too long to figure out that you’re swiping and not just tapping. It inevitably highlights some random list item when you began to swipe, and then there’s a disorienting delay before the scrolling begins.

There’s no momentum to the scrolling, either, as on the iPhone or a Google phone; you can’t flick faster to scroll farther. Scrolling through a long list of phone numbers or messages, therefore, is exhausting.

Nor is that the Storm’s only delayed reaction. It can take two full seconds for the screen image to change when you turn it 90 degrees, three seconds for a program to appear, five seconds for a button-tap to register. (Remember: To convert seconds into BlackBerry time, multiply by seven.)

In short, trying to navigate this thing isn’t just an exercise in frustration — it’s a marathon of frustration. - More ...David Pogue, The New York Times
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Netflix streaming device could spell the end of DVDs

It's kind of ironic that I saw the following article this morning after ordering my new Netflix streaming video device. HBO sounds totally arrogant but they had better be "newly afraid". Although HBO has made some outstanding miniseries like "Rome" and "Band of Brothers", I, like the man in this article, don't see any reason to pay a hefty subscription fee to have access to a channel that I, otherwise, rarely watch. Ditto for Showtime. I subscribed to Showtime just long enough to watch "The Tudors", then disconnected it as soon as the current season aired. If I don't have any other way to watch Season 3 in March, I will once more subscribe for the 9 or 10 weeks it takes to watch it then unsubscribe again. HBO and Showtime should take notice of Starz recent partnership with Netflix which allows Netflix subscribers (and there are millions of us!) to stream Starz channel movies and programs over our internet ready devices for no extra charge. Such devices include those that many people already have including wireless Blu-Ray DVD players and X-Box game systems. I don't have either one so I bought the basic streaming Netflix player for $99. (I've been thinking about a Wii because I like the movement integration but as of now it is not equipped for internet streaming).

I'd been catching up on "Heroes", watching on my computer, but now I can join the rest of my family in the living room on the big screen TV (no, I haven't coughed up enough for an HD replacement yet). Since I have a Qwest DSL wireless modem, I have wireless coverage in the living room and I was told by Netflix customer service that the player will auto detect it and no extra equipment is needed. I'll report back once it gets here.

As for watching streaming video as opposed to buying a DVD, I have actually lost interest in buying most DVDs. I made an exception for the Oscar-nominated foreign film, "Mongol", that I saw at the local Arts theater and really liked. I wanted to watch it again more carefully now that I have listened to Conn Iggulden's novel "Genghis: Birth of an Empire" that I found to be outstanding. I wanted to study the historical differences between the two films. Conn Iggulden was quite up front in his author's notes about where he diverged from actual history but I thought it would be interesting to see the differences. I am also interested in any supplementary material that was produced for the DVD. Quite honestly, I think it's going to come down to being the extra features as the only reason to buy a DVD in the future. If those are provided online as well, there won't even be that reason left.

MATTHEW BOWERS, of Chicago, has been paying to have HBO piped into his home every month for nearly two decades. He tunes in for the occasional episode of “Entourage” and every couple of months orders a movie on demand. Recently, the whole family watched “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

But when his company laid him off in September, he started to think about the value he was getting out of the premium cable channel. “It’s ridiculous to pay for this service I rarely use when I can get the same stuff online and save a lot of money,” he said. The result? HBO is losing a customer.

Does an economy in tatters slow down or speed up the shift to watching TV shows and movies on the Web and mobile devices? The entertainment industry doesn’t like the answer that is rapidly becoming clear: A global economic crisis almost certainly means a sharp acceleration in the move to new ways of consuming content, setting the stage for a new clash between consumers and studios.

Historically, the movie factories haven’t been terribly afraid of tough economic times. In fact, they have almost welcomed them. During the Great Depression, people continued to turn to the movies for escape. VHS rentals boomed during the recession of the early 1980s, while DVDs got a boost from the downturn earlier this decade.

And an HBO spokesman said he was sorry to see Mr. Bowers go, but he dismissed the notion that many other people would be joining him. “No industry is recession-proof, but pay television has performed very well in previous downturns,” said the spokesman, Jeff Cusson.

But the current gloom has the Hollywood establishment rattled. DVDs are now where the industry makes its money, and Nielsen VideoScan reported a 9 percent drop in DVD sales in the third quarter over the quarter a year earlier — before the economy ran into a buzz saw. In television, crucial car advertising is drying up.

Moreover, consumers now have cheaper ways to see movies and TV shows. Hulu. Vudu. YouTube. Netflix. Amazon Video on Demand. iTunes. Crackle. Movielink. CinemaNow. The list goes on. As a result, movie and television studios seem more intent than ever on protecting their established businesses from cannibalization by new media, which are growing rapidly but still generating very little revenue comparatively.

Warner Brothers Television, which supplies “The Mentalist” and “Eleventh Hour” to CBS, recently asked the network to pull full-length episodes from its Web site, along with the comedy “Big Bang Theory.” The thinking is that they were potentially too hurtful to old-fashioned syndication sales to television stations down the road.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s recent deal with YouTube to stream full-length movies and TV episodes did not include any of the studio’s prize assets like the James Bond movies or “Rocky.” Instead, MGM is giving YouTube movies like the flop “Bulletproof Monk” and reruns of the original “American Gladiators” series — a safe deal for this stage of the game. (MGM says that more-sought-after content will follow, and notes that it has been one of the more aggressive movie studios when it comes to disseminating content on new platforms.)

Studio experimentation in digital distribution is going by the wayside, too. When DVD sales were booming a couple of years ago, for instance, companies could afford to stream a TV show here and a movie there. But with operating income at 20th Century Fox down 31 percent in the recent quarter over the year-earlier period, and Walt Disney Pictures down 42 percent, studios are newly afraid..." - More at the NY Times

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BBC plan to create regional websites rejected

I found this development strangely disturbing. On the one hand, I can understand the "protectionism" but on the other hand I dislike a government agency interfering with internet content development.

British regulators rejected a plan on Friday to add locally focused
video news to BBC Web sites in Britain, dealing a setback to the
digital ambitions of the BBC, which has expanded aggressively on the

The BBC Trust, which oversees the public
broadcaster, and Ofcom, the British media regulator, said the proposal
would have hurt rivals in the private sector, including the Web sites
of newspapers. Under the plan, the BBC wanted to spend £68
million, or $100 million, and hire 400 people to provide news, sports
and weather for dozens of local BBC Web sites.

Commercial rivals
said the £3 billion in public financing that the BBC receives
each year gave it an unfair advantage. The BBC Trust, which was created
last year, previously approved other contested BBC Internet
initiatives, including the addition of advertising to the BBC News Web
site outside Britain.

The decision on Friday was “the first major example of the trust showing its muscles,”
Roy Greenslade, a British media commentator, said in a blog entry on
the Web site of the newspaper The Guardian. “In that sense, it is
a landmark moment in broadcasting history.”

The move drew
interest across Europe because regulators in several countries,
including Germany, are scrutinizing public broadcasters’ digital
plans. The European Commission, in a proposal published this month, suggests that governments impose stricter conditions on financing for public broadcasters.

“In as far as commercial broadcasters, and indeed publishers and
other media owners, were looking for greater certainty that this kind
of scrutiny can work, this is a very positive step,” Ross Biggam,
the director general of ACT, a lobbying group for commercial
broadcasters that is based in Brussels, said of the British decision.

Ofcom said that if the BBC’s local video plans had gone ahead,
newspapers and other commercial providers of local news would have lost
readers and advertisers. They would have also been discouraged from
starting new services on the Web, the regulator said.

Underlining the challenges facing British newspapers, Enders Analysis,
a research firm, said Friday that their advertising revenue would fall
21 percent next year. Newspapers have been hit particularly hard
because of the migration of classified advertising to the Internet.

The BBC’s local video plans “would have been a
disproportionate step into a market where the private sector was
already active,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of
the European Publishers Council. “Now local publishers can
innovate in this area without the fear of getting squashed by a giant

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finding a Gold Mine in Digital Ditties

I found the following article to be another interesting way people are using YouTube and amateur digital camera skills to launch a totally new career that didn't exist before Web 2.0.

Joel Moss Levinson always knew he had a calling in life. But it took cheap video cameras, YouTube and some desperate corporations to show him what it was.

Mr. Levinson’s skill is turning out homemade corporate commercials — what advertisers call a form of “user-generated content.” Companies, frantic to connect with younger consumers, sponsor contests seeking these commercials to find new ways to advertise their products, often attracting hundreds of entries and lots of attention.

So far, Mr. Levinson, a college dropout with dozens of failed jobs on his résumé, has won 11 contests — earning more than $200,000 in money and prizes. His success has made him into the digital age version of Evelyn Ryan, the woman from Defiance, Ohio, who supported her family by winning commercial jingle contests in the 1950s and ’60s.

While Mrs. Ryan’s talent was in writing, Mr. Levinson’s is in performing. He won $100,000 from Klondike after filming himself in the Arctic singing about Klondike bars. He won four months worth of free hotel stays from Best Western for a song he performed about his water cooler. When Little Penguin wine asked customers to film their best pickup line, Mr. Levinson submitted a video of his efforts to pick up a toy penguin, and won a trip to Australia.

He has won trips to Budapest, Buenos Aires and Copenhagen from Delta Air Lines; an iPod from the American National CattleWomen; and $6,000 from the Israel Project, an advocacy group, after honors in three separate categories — English, German and Russian — and he barely speaks German or Russian.

“It’s so great to have license to be an idiot,” he said.

It is especially great when idiocy is sponsored by corporations. Companies began soliciting these commercials a few years ago after noticing YouTube’s popularity, and wagered that campaigns created by customers might resonate with customers and turn into viral hits.

The initial commercials ran online only, but the fad has grown, and they now regularly run on television. Prizes have grown, too: this year, Doritos intends to run a user-generated commercial during the next Super Bowl, and offering $1 million to the winner.

Mr. Levinson’s gregariousness is an asset in the user-generated content world, as many of these contests are determined by voting. Mr. Levinson has a Facebook group entitled “Yes, Joel, I’ll vote for your newest stupid contest” and he uses Twitter, blogs, e-mail and text messages, asking acquaintances to vote. He even calls 24-hour customer service lines at night, when he thinks the representatives are bored, and asks them to vote for him.

Mr. Levinson is working on his Doritos entry for the Super Bowl but he has not forgotten his roots. He says he will enter any user-generated contest, no matter how small, and is at work on videos for Bush Brothers & Company beans, Home Depot, Contiki vacations, Krazy Glue and a telecommunications company in Kansas. But as a point of professional pride, he refuses to enter sweepstakes or any other game that depends on luck.

“A sweepstakes is like a lottery, right? Everyone’s equal,” he said. “With contests, I feel like I’m able to bring whatever skills I have to the table.” - More

From the corporate side of the contest I found this interesting post up at Click-Z about how to design an effective user-generated contest:


Understand What Motivates Participation

typically fall into three categories: they want to win something, they
want to be recognized for their behavior or efforts, or they truly care
about something. "The more you can tap into those three things, the
more effective any online effort will be," Ghanem says.

Recognize People's Passions

tend to be more passionate about politics, sports, and fashions than
consumer brands and goods. "If I were to run a campaign to get
user-generated content about the war, lots of people would enter that
even if there wasn't a prize," Ghanem says. It's far more difficult to
get people excited about consumer brands, such as dishwashing
detergent. That's where prizes become an incentive for participation.

Pick the Best Format for the Demographic

is better suited for a campaign targeting Gen Y skateboarding men. When
the History Channel targets baby boomer men, a contest that uses text
makes more sense, says Ghanem. A young man is more likely to pick up a
video camera and shoot a friend skateboarding, and a middle-aged
history buff is more likely watching television, reading books, or
writing a blog..."

I found the last observation very insightful. Although I have shot a few videos, I have done so with a still camera and don't even own a camcorder. I related much more to the history buff who reads and writes blogs (I have 15 other blogs besides this one!) If I was going to spend time creating a video I'd rather use shots from favorite films and put together a movie trailer remix to make a point!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sharing creativity key to innovation

I found this article about Mr. Lee's spectacular creativity using the Wiimote extremely interesting. What impressed me most was his willingness to share his ideas. I hope his current employer (Microsoft) does not rein in this enthusiasm.

"IN December, Johnny Chung Lee, then a Ph.D. candidate, posted a five-minute video on YouTube that became an Internet sensation.

To share his innovation, Johnny Chung Lee posted a video on YouTube. In it, he uses a Wii remote controller and “head tracking” glasses to make a screen image come alive.

The video showed how, in a few easy steps, the Nintendo Wii remote controller — or “Wiimote” — could transform a normal video screen into a virtual reality display, with graphics that seemed to pop through the screen and into the living room. So far, the video has been seen more than six million times.

Contrast this with what might have followed from other options Mr. Lee considered for communicating his ideas. He might have published a paper that only a few dozen specialists would have read. A talk at a conference would have brought a slightly larger audience. In either case, it would have taken months for his ideas to reach others.

Small wonder, then, that he maintains that posting to YouTube has been an essential part of his success as an inventor. “Sharing an idea the right way is just as important as doing the work itself,” he says. “If you create something but nobody knows, it’s as if it never happened.” - More

Although I have much more affinity for software applications than hardware applications, I couldn't help but admire the Wiimote VR project and hope Nintendo (or Microsoft) moves forward with its development. Some years ago at Comdex I evaluated several different VR headsets and most of them depended on manipulating the color spectrum in a way similar to the classic 3D glasses of the 50s did. Mr. Lee's approach is quite revolutionary. I wonder if the wearer experiences headaches or nausea like the old-style approach?

I also visited Mr. Lee's Wiimote Project discussion forum and watched a fascinating video about a guitarist using a Wiimote strapped to a guitar to create an instrument that uses the player's movement to modulate the frequency of the notes generated when the strings are plucked. If amateurs are coming up with these kinds of applications, I wonder what the pros at Nintendo have in store for all of us?

Wii Hackers offer fascinating uses for innovative game system

I found this article about Mr. Lee's spectacular creativity using the Wiimote extremely interesting.

IN December, Johnny Chung Lee, then a Ph.D. candidate, posted a five-minute video on YouTube that became an Internet sensation.

To share his innovation, Johnny Chung Lee posted a video on YouTube. In it, he uses a Wii remote controller and “head tracking” glasses to make a screen image come alive.

The video showed how, in a few easy steps, the Nintendo Wii remote controller — or “Wiimote” — could transform a normal video screen into a virtual reality display, with graphics that seemed to pop through the screen and into the living room. So far, the video has been seen more than six million times.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Looks like we are a step closer to creating a real Holodeck

Dude, Where's My Holodeck?Scientists in the United States on Wednesday unveiled next-generation 3-D technology that they said provided realistic, updatable holograms in nearly real time.

The innovation could one day lead to 3-D holographic movies, enabling cinema-goers to feel they are "inside" a movie yet not have to wear cumbersome, headache-inducing spectacles with polarizing or colored lenses, the inventors hope.

Other beneficiaries include military commanders, who could gain a three-dimensional picture of a battlefield, and surgeons performing complex micro-surgery inside a patient.

In a paper released by the British journal Nature, Nasser Peyghambarian of the University of Arizona and colleagues reported how they recorded, displayed and updated images on a palm-sized screen measuring just four inches by four inches.

Holograms are created by shining a laser on an object, whose image falls onto a photosensitive screen. At the same time, a second laser beam falls on the screen, creating an "interference pattern" -- in essence, the condensed contours of the object, which are embedded in the film.

It takes a third laser, called the reading beam, to be directed onto the screen for the interference pattern to be resurrected. To a person in front of the screen, this creates an image in three dimensions that appears in mid-air behind the screen.

The secret lies in films called photorefractive polymers which contain molecules of dye that respond to light and rotate and line up in response to an applied electrical field.

On their small display, Peyghambarian's team were able to update the image in about three minutes and hold it there for up to three hours.

Anyone hoping for a zappy "Star Wars"-style hologram that can be viewed from any point in the room would be disappointed, though.

The parallax, or 3D effect, still can only be seen within a given angle by a person in front of the screen. Move too far to the right or left or up or down, and the effect is lost.

Joseph Perry of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, in a commentary published by Nature, said the innovation was extraordinarily promising, not least because the polymers were potentially cheap and easy to produce.

It was only a matter of time before higher-powered lasers and more sensitive photorefractive polymers ushered in larger and faster 3-D displays, he predicted.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Google Customer Service for GMail Appalling

I almost didn't read this article because my primary email address is serviced by the University's Information Services department and I know the people there personally so assistance with a locked email account is just a phone call away. But, I recently switched my personal business ISP from a local provider to Qwest when I was finally offered DSL in my neighborhood two weeks ago. I already had a Gmail account so I simply changed all of my Paypal widgets to email me at my Gmail address and didn't bother to set up my email account through Windows Live - Qwest's email provider.

However, after reading this article, I guess I better get my email account through Qwest set up after all. Quite honestly, I had never given it much thought as to how to resolve a locked account with Goggle before although their policy of no live support does not surprise me. Customer service is an area that technology companies have had a cavalier attitude about for years although it was not always so. Somehow, they don't see the disconnect between shipping buggy products to market then refusing to put tools in place to assist customers who have problems with these products. This trend became even more pronounced when products went from desk top applications to online applications. No one, it seems, wants to really talk to their customers - they just want a valid credit card number. But, I would expect more from Google. Google has really deep pockets - thanks to millions of us customers - and surely can afford to offer live support for account access problems. After all, having a problem with your email access has a cascading effect with all of your other online activities. If you can't login to one of your other services and request a password reset, they mail it to your email address!

LOGGING on to Gmail or other e-mail service has become a routine of daily life, completed without a thought. What would you do, however, if you woke up tomorrow, plugged in your user name and password as you always do, but then received an unfamiliar message: “User name and password do not match”?

If you’re a Gmail user, what you’ll want to do after a few more unsuccessful, increasingly frantic attempts is to speak with a Google customer support representative, post haste. But that’s not an option. Google doesn’t offer a toll-free number and a live person to resolve the ordinary user’s problems.

Discussion forums abound with tales of woe from Gmail customers who have found themselves locked out of their account for days or even weeks. They were innocent victims of security measures, which automatically suspend access if someone tries unsuccessfully to log on repeatedly to an account. The customers express frustration that they can’t speak with anyone at Google after filling out the company’s online forms and waiting in vain for Google to restore access to their accounts.

Tom Lynch, a software entrepreneur who lives near Austin, Tex., discovered early last month that he had been locked out of both Gmail accounts he used; he had no idea why. He received boilerplate instructions for recovering his accounts that did not apply to his particular circumstances, which included his failing to maintain a non-Gmail e-mail account as a back-up. He said it took him four weeks, including the use of a business directory and talking with anyone he could find at Google, before he succeeded in having service restored.

A Google spokesman placed the blame on Mr. Lynch, saying he did not follow Google’s guidelines. The spokesman characterized Mr. Lynch’s ordeal as a praiseworthy illustration of Google’s tough security: “We have had no cases of falsely recovered accounts.”

Google does provide phone support to Gmail customers who subscribe to Google Apps Premier Edition, which costs $50 annually and includes larger storage quotas and other benefits. Customers who use the advertising-supported version of Gmail, however, must rely solely on what Google calls “self-service online support.” - NY Times

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fuji promises High ISO Low Noise Compact Camera that exceeds F31D performance in Spring 2009

I'm so excited to read about the new technology Fuji has developed to reduce noise even further under low light conditions than the excellent results I have seen with my High ISO Fujifilm F30D. The F30D has been my low light workhorse for the past three years but I have been yearning for a replacement camera with higher resolution. It looks like my dream will come true next Spring!

Fujifilm says its new Super CCD EXR technology will allow its next generation of premium compacts to produce high-ISO images "superior to the F31fd," while also offering improved dynamic range in other shooting conditions. The technology is already fully developed and will be integrated into the first camera in time for a spring 2009 launch. spoke to three senior product research and development managers at Photokina, to find out the company's ambitions for its new technology.

Super CCD EXR will initially appear in a 12 megapixel 1/1.6" sensor premium compact camera, due for launch in Spring 2009, they said. "The development of the technology is finished," said Toru Nishimura, divisional manager, electronic imaging products development center: "The integration of the technology into a camera is still being completed."

Super CCD EXR is a combination of a re-arranged color filter array and data readout design that allows the sensor to offer high dynamic range or improved high-ISO performance for relevant shooting conditions. Its design allows it to operate in three modes - high resolution, high dynamic range or high ISO, low noise - depending on the shooting conditions.

The new color filter array is designed so that there are always adjacent pixels recording the same color. This allows pixel binning (the combination of information from adjacent pixels to make larger effective pixels and help reduce noise), of pixels recording the same color. The result should be 6 megapixel images with none of the false color that can appear in existing pixel-binning modes which combine information from different colored pixels. "We think the signal-to-noise ratio of the sensor means pixel quality in dark regions is superior to the F31fd," Nishimura.

A dual readout system on the chip allows alternate pixels to be read-out part-way through the exposure. This means that half of the photodiodes are only exposed for a short period of time. These reduced-exposure pixels are less likely to become saturated and hence will retain highlight detail. This allows the sensor to record in up to an 800% dynamic range expansion mode even at its base sensitivity setting.

The premium-grade compact that will first use the technology will let users choose which mode the sensor operates in, though there will also be an automated mode that predicts which mode is needed, when the shutter is half-pressed. Future cameras may offer only the automated mode: "It will depend on the target user. Some users like their camera to be automatic," said Hiroshi Kawahara, operations manager, product planning and technical service division.

Fujifilm will not be applying the technology to larger chips, though. "From a business point of view, compacts are most important to us," said Nishimura: "and the technology is designed to address the challenges faced by small sensors. It could, technically be scaled up to APS-C size but the large pixels of those chips already have good performance." It's also unlikely that the technology will appear in other manufacturers' products, he said: "For someone else to use this technology they'd have to use our sensor, our digital signal processor and our software, because it's so different to conventional Bayer sensors. We can't imagine others wanting to do that."

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Project-based learning not particularly new

The snail's pace that education uses to transform the learning process with technology never ceases to amaze me. This week an article in the New York Times touts technology-supported "project-based learning" as the new "silver bullet" that will finally revolutionize education. "Project-based learning has been around for decades. The only thing technology really adds to the process is collaborative support through a social networking portal. Once again, the computer's true strength, simulation, is left out of the equation.

The project example given is designed around a letter from the White House bemoaning high oil prices, a faltering economy, and falling popularity polls:

"The new Web education networks can open the door to broader changes. Parents become more engaged because they can monitor their children’s attendance, punctuality, homework and performance, and can get tips for helping them at home. Teachers can share methods, lesson plans and online curriculum materials.

In the classroom, the emphasis can shift to project-based learning, a real break with the textbook-and-lecture model of education. In a high school class, a project might begin with a hypothetical letter from the White House that says oil prices are spiking, the economy is faltering and the president’s poll numbers are falling. The assignment would be to devise a new energy policy in two weeks. The shared Web space for the project, for example, would include the White House letter, the sources the students must consult, their work plan and timetable, assignments for each student, the assessment criteria for their grades and, eventually, the paper the team delivers. Oral presentations would be required."

But where is the program that can take solutions offered by the students and project the historical outcomes - the fertile soil in which many fruitful discussions can take root?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Steve Jobs not ALWAYS a marketing genius!

I noticed this quote on one of my discussion groups:

"When asked about the new Amazon Kindle product, Steve Jobs CEO of Apple computer had this to say:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Apparently there must be some other reason my eyes are so tired when I get home from work!!

This reminds me of the ridiculous comment he made a number of years ago about his colorful new line of Macs (when they came out with the lime green, etc.) saying essentially that it doesn't matter what's under the hood - what matters is how cool your computer looks! Give me a break!!!

Dragon Naturally Speaking Enhances Road Trips for the Deaf

I saw this very innovative application of Naturally Speaking in David Pogue's column highlighting some of the email he has received:

"My wife and I discovered Dragon NaturallySpeaking about 8 years ago, and have been using it successfully ever since-- not for dictation, but as a communication aid. My wife is deaf; her hearing loss began about 25 years ago (we are in our late 60's) and she has become a skillful lip reader to compensate. That works pretty well in face-to-face communication, but is not helpful in many other situations, such as when we are driving; when I drive, I give her a side view, which isn't clear enough.

I've made brackets to hold a laptop both in our car and motor home. I use a lapel mike to speak; NaturallySpeaking transcribes what I say. She reads what I'm saying, and then responds by voice. When we got this working, it was the first time in 15 years that we could converse on the road. We are now using version 9, having upgraded several times, and based on your report, we will watch for version 11!"

This is an excellent example of "thinking outside the box" when trying to develop adaptive technology applications for the physically challenged. I join David in saying "Holy cow. That is truly an ingenious solution! Congratulations, and best wishes to you both!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ikan High-priced kitchen scanner not quite the needed solution

When I read the review of the Ikan by David Pogue, it made me wonder why such a large, expensive kind of aesthetically clunky device was needed to address a relatively simple problem of automating the development of the weekly shopping list. USB hand-held barcode scanners (even wireless ones!) have been around for a number of years. It looks to me like it should be just a matter of developing the software for a hand-held (and small by comparison) scanner to lookup an item's scanned UPC code in an online database then add the item to a temporary grocery shopping list file. The file could then be sent to a selected online grocery supplier with billing accomplished by a homeowner's user profile. In fact, I would be surprised if such a device didn't already exist and as it turns out it already does and has since 2005 - the Intelliscanner Kitchen companion:

"Introducing the ultra-portable scanner that keeps track of everything in your home with barcode technology.
IntelliScanner mini is everything you need to organize, track, and share your collections. IntelliScanner mini automatically keeps track of books, wine, groceries, comics, DVDs, CDs, games, and other home assets. Just scan the barcodes, plug it in to download, and start getting organized. It's a whole home organization package in one box, for your PC or Mac.

Scan items in your home or around town, then plug it in to organize:

MEDIA (books, DVDs, CDs, and games – just scan for details and cover art)
ASSETS (keep track of important assets, build detailed insurance reports)
WINE (know the details, automatically; track locations, tasting notes, and maturity)
GROCERIES (create shopping lists, track nutrition and what’s in your pantry)
MICS (intuitive comic book collection management, enhanced with barcodes)
SHARE ONLINE (Web 2.0 Publishing and iPhone Sharing lets you browse anywhere)

Smart scanner, smart software, smart organization.
IntelliScanner mini is tiny, portable, and built to travel. With an
included neck lanyard and keychain clip, you can put it on and scan items anywhere -- in your home or around town -- then just plug it in to download.

IntelliScanner mini includes everything you need to scan, organize, and share, now available worldwide at a breakthrough price of just $299.00. [tell me more]"

As you can see, it can also be used to organize a number of other household collections as well. I think this is a far better solution (and much more portable, compact, and affordable) than the solution David reviewed below:

"The mission of this $400 device is to eliminate trips to the grocery store. The hardware component is a bulbous bar code scanner, dressed up in Any-Décor White and mounted on a countertop stand, an undercabinet bracket or a wall mount. It offers a color screen on the front, a laser scanner underneath and a Wi-Fi antenna inside that connects to your home wireless network.

Each time you’re about to throw away an empty container — for ketchup, cereal, pickles, milk, macaroni, paper towels, dog food or whatever — you just pass its bar code under the scanner. With amazing speed and accuracy, the Ikan beeps, consults its online database of one million products, and displays the full name and description.

In a clear, friendly font, the screen might say: “Nabisco Reduced Fat Ritz Crackers 14.5 Oz.,” for example. Now you can toss the box, content that its replacement has been added to your shopping list.

After a few days of this, you can review the list online at — and if everything looks good, click once to have everything delivered to your house at a time you specify.

Maybe it’s not exactly a Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle. But at least it’s the Netflix of groceries."