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.

Dpreview.com 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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