Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google Navigator and Physical keyboard prompts switch to Android


Today I read an article by Stacy Johnson entitled "10 Tips for Buying an Android – From an Apple Hater." Source: Money Talks (http://s.tt/14oUY) Although I have never been what you would call an Apple Hater, this year I, too, switched from an iPhone 3GS to a Droid 3.

Two of the most important reasons? - Google's voice prompted Navigator system available and updated free for Android phones and a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard.



Google's Navigator sounds like expensive Garmin voice-prompted systems I have heard before but is based on Google Maps which is updated regularly at no charge.  My brother has a dedicated Garmin GPS and, although he's been quite pleased with its accuracy and convenience, he is not pleased now that it's prompting him to pay for an annual map update at a cost almost equal to the original cost of the hardware.

One caution to potential immigrants who want to switch to an Android-based phone.  I am using Verizon as my cell service provider and they load a "Verizon Navigator" on your phone in addition to the Google Navigator.  Of course, the Verizon Navigator costs you a monthly service fee if you activate it.  I removed the icon for it from my home screen (apparently you can't simply delete it!)  Another confusing aspect to the built-in Navigation system is that you must go into settings and turn on ALL THREE navigation locator options (at least on the Droid 3) - even the one that says use stand alone GPS and the one that says use Verizon location services.  This does NOT cost you anything and if you don't turn them all on the GPS services for the Google Navigator will give you an error message pointing out that you have to turn on GPS for it to function.  A service rep at the local Verizon store showed me how to do this since I went into the store complaining about the GPS error knowing I had turned on the Google GPS location services.  I actually think this is ridiculous.  The location services should all be turned on by default and if you are paranoid about your privacy, you should learn how to turn them off.  I'm sure the vast majority of Android phone users want to use the built-in GPS!

As for onscreen vs. physical keyboards, I have found that I just make too many typing mistakes with an onscreen keyboard.  I don't know if it's my aging vision or my pudgy fingers or that the touchscreen detection sensitivity on smartphones is not precise enough, but it's been very frustrating on the iPhone.  In contrast, although the keys are small on the slide-out keyboard of the Droid 3, I have no problem pressing the right keys and the "click" provides the auditory feedback I need to let me know the key was pressed hard enough.  As Stacy points out, it does add a little heft to your phone but not enough for me to be concerned with it.

I also like the microSD card expansion slot on my Android-driven phone.  With iPhones, you actually have to buy a different phone to gain more capacity if you discover that you wish to capture that spur of the moment video clip.  Now that smartphone cameras have the ability to capture 1080p HD video, you're almost forced to buy the much more expensive iPhone with larger capacity internal storage if you think there's even a remote possibility that you might want to use the video capability of your camera.  And, if you find yourself using that camera more and more, you must get in the habit of downloading those videos and purging the iPhone's internal storage if you want to keep recording more images.  With a smartphone equipped with an expansion slot, you can actually treat the phone like a digital camera and simply remove a full chip and insert an empty one.  Furthermore, if you have another Android device, like a tablet that uses microSD chips, you can swap chips with it if you have files stored on the tablet that you wish to share or edit on your smartphone.

As a photographer, I also like the Droid's 8 Megapixel camera.  It has both flash and zoom and I have even taken indoor shots without flash and the resulting images are sharp with very little noise.  I was also able to buy a lens kit ($49) for it from Photojojo.com that includes a 2X teleconverter, a macro closeup lens and a fisheye special effects lens for times when I don't have my full sized digital camera with me and need just a few more features than the default phone lens capabilities.  The kit lenses are attached via a small thin magnetic ring that is affixed like a sticker around your phone's camera lens so the kit works with just about any model of smartphone.  

From an application viewpoint, the Android operating system has built-in Speech to Text conversion so I can dictate book reviews and blog posts and speak destinations into the Navigator when I'm on the road and can't use the keyboard.

I didn't even have to give up one of my favorite casual games, iFishing.  Despite its name, this game by Rocking Pocket Games has been seamlessly ported to the Android.  I've discovered most of the applications I liked on the iPhone have been ported to the Android so I don't feel giving up the App Store in exchange for the Android Market was a sacrifice either.

The only thing I would caution a potential immigrant about is that you should first set up a Google Wallet or Checkout account so Google has a way to charge you for applications you select that cost money in the Android Market.  I knew there needed to be a way to connect a credit card with your Google account so the Android Market could function like the Apple App Store but I didn't know how this was accomplished.  I searched the web and found a reference to the Google Checkout account (checkout.google.com/)  then navigated to it and set up an account.  I thought it was strange that Google Checkout was not listed as an available service in my regular Google account profile options.

Monday, October 17, 2011

QR Codes a great way to integrate Wikipedia with physical museum exhibits


Last night I read an article in my local newspaper about the use of QR Codes to access and share a variety of information.  QR Codes are those little square images you see filled with odd shaped rectangles that can be used to launch applications and steer viewers to specific information sources or even input data into a database like your contact information.

They look like this:

The code above when scanned with a QR Code Reader application like RedLaser available for free for Android and iPhones will launch a web browser or (on my Droid 3) a Wikipaedia session and automatically navigate to the Wikipedia article about Attila the Hun.

I generated the code with RedLaser's free QR Code generator: http://redlaser.com/qrcode/.  All I had to do was select the type of information I wished to encode (in this case a web URL) and enter the URL and click generate.  Then I could email the resulting .png image to myself where I could save it and/or print it out.
I am on the board of directors for the Historical Figures Foundation in Ventura, California, a non-profit organization that promotes the exhibit of museum quality historical miniatures created by artist/historian George Stuart.  At the present time, we have an exhibit of sculptures depicting "Really Awful" people at the Ventura County Museum.  Attila the Hun is one of these figures.  We are planning to afix these QR Codes to each figure's display case then provide visitors with a handout that explains how to download a free QR Code reader and scan each code to retrieve additional information about each historical personality in the exhibit during their visit.
QR Code applications can be used to automatically search local vendors for the best price for particular products, greatly enhance a museum experience, facilitate purchasing a product at the best price and exchange rich contact information that includes not only your name, address, phone and email but URLs for your home page, your blog(s), your Flickr photostream, your Twitter and Facebook accounts and even notes about your career specialities, personal favorites, etc. - much more than what you could fit on the typical printed business card!
This video shows how some people are using QR Codes to entice people to seek them out as if they were on a treasure hunt.  It also explains how you can generate a QR Code with Google.



I can't wait to explore this technology further!
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chambers Foundation sponsors dynamite media arts conference

The Chambers Foundation sponsored a fascinating media arts conference at Lane Community College in Eugene last week that brought together animators, screenwriters, producers, musicians and lighting specialists

Each day began with registration, breakfast items and socialization from 8:30 - 9:30 then proceeded with talks and panel discussions that lasted all day through almost 5 o'clock. 

Mark Shapiro, marketing and brand
 manager for Laika Studios discusses 
the challenges "Coraline" presented
 for the Portland animation studio.


On day 1, I attended the opening welcome from 9:30-10:30 then chose "Behind the Scenes: Making Coraline" by Mark Shapiro of Laika Studios in Portland, Oregon.  Although I'm not into the physical tedium of stop-motion animation, it was interesting to see how it is done now (compared to methods used by such early pioneers as Ray Harryhausen) that includes the use of 3D printers to produce removable masks for puppets to facilitate a wide range of facial expression.  He said the main character, Coraline, had over 225,000 facial masks to portray all of her expressions in the film.

Other sessions available were "Formula for Success: The Independent Film World" by producer Jeffrey Cooper of Cut Entertainment Group   and a lighting workshop by Leonard Henderson, Director of Photography for Chambers Communications (the conference sponsor).  The lighting workshop lasted all day each day.
Mark Shapiro demonstrates the use of
the 3D-printed expression masks
Laika Studios produced for the Oscar
nominated film "Coraline"
At 11:30 I attended "Essentials: Storyboard and Story" by Jason Lethcoe, a 2-D animator (has worked for Disney, Dreamworks, etc) and children's storybook author. Jason's pragmatic viewpoint and personal experiences were really interesting.  He submitted his first storyboard to Disney when he was in high school.  Disney Studios actually called him back to tell him not to bother to ever send them another portfolio again as it was terrible!  I know that had to be hard to take for a naive 17-year-old.  But he persevered and kept honing his skills until he finally got a foot in the door.  He cautioned everyone, though, that the days of a secure job with a big studio are over.  Most artists now work project-to-project and it's important to diversify and cultivate your own "tribe" through blogging and social networking referring to "Simon's Cat" as a prime example.


 The other presentation was "End of the World As We Know It: Digital Music Distribution" by Dr. Paul Friedlander, a musician and professor at California State University at Chico.

I had lunch with a retired media arts friend from the U of O, a media arts faculty member from LCC and a couple of people from MOPAN.  After lunch I attended "The Big Picture: Film Producing" presented by Jeffrey Cooper who has worked in development, production, sales and distribution for such production companies as Universal Studios, and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment and produced four feature films. He also teaches film studies at a university in California.  Mark Shapiro, from Laika Studios in Portland (It's owned by Phil Knight of Nike) also held a question and answer session.

Then at 2:30 I attended "Idea to Script: The Writing Process" by Sara and Gregory Bernstein, a husband and wife screenwriting team.  They handed out a very helpful checklist for the writing process that included such nuts and bolts as asking yourself "What is the underlying lesson of the film as revealed by the protagonist's journey?"  and "Is the plot's conflict ill-defined, underplayed or too static?".  I think I will use some of their listed problems as references in future book reviews.

The other presentation was "Artist Experience: Working for the Studios", another talk by former Disney animator Jason Lethcoe.

At 3:30 I attended the panel discussion "Career Paths: Getting Your Work Out!" chaired by screenwriters Sarah and Gregory Bernstein, producer Jeffrey Cooper and Mark Shapiro of Laika Studios.  One of the most interesting things that Jeffrey Cooper mentioned was the tasks of a script reader, the beginning position in the film development process.  He said that many production companies are looking for script readers and they pay about $100 per script.  Apparently there is a checklist of things a script reader uses to evaluate submitted scripts and good script readers that recommend work that becomes successful films can advance to assistant story editors, and on up the ladder.  I thought of my sister who loves film and actually used to write film reviews for a newspaper in the SF Bay Area in exchange for movie tickets.  She is looking for something she can do from home to supplement her other freelance graphic design and writing jobs.  So I called her that evening and gave her the information about the Hollywood Creative Directory, that contains contact information for different production companies, the website Entertainmentcareers.net and showbizjobs.com which Cooper recommended when I spoke with him after the presentation concluded.  I also noted that the Bernsteins recommended the books "The Writer's Journey" by Christopher Vogler and "Story" by Robert McKee for those interested in writing screenplays.

On day 2,  I opened the day with "Inside the Studio: How Movies Get Made" by Mark Shapiro.  This time Mark discussed the importance of using film festivals to bring attention to a film, especially independent films not backed by the marketing supplied by major studios.  The other presentations were "It's only Rock and Roll: Rock's Creative Explosions by Paul Friedlander, "Meet the Writers" with Sara and Gregory Berstein and the ongoing all day lighting workshop by Leonard Henderson.

At 10:30 I attended "Meet the Artist" with animator/author Jason Lethcoe.  Jason continued to share his personal experiences in working collaboratively with other artists and the development of professional relationships to advance your career.  Former LCC Media Arts students discussed "Paths to Success".

At 11:30 I attended "Pitching Your Story with Studio Executives" presented by Sara and Greg Bernstein.  Towards the end of a very good nuts and bolts discussion, a couple of people from the audience practiced pitching a story and we all joined in with Sara and Greg with our own observations and opinions.  I would love to have a more extended "real world" session like that.  Elsewhere, a student alumni panel discussed 'School to Industry: What to do now to success later".

After lunch I attended another talk by animator/author Jason Lethcoe, "Industry Directions: The Emerging Independent Scene".  Dr. Friedlander discussed "Going Global: A Case Study in the International Music Industry - Belize Music Project."

Then I attended "Meet the producer" with Jeffrey Cooper.  Jeffrey gave us real world examples of how producers craft trailers to appeal to a certain demographic or to deliver the widest possible audience to a new film.  Most illuminating was the example he gave for the movie "Se7en".  Even though it starred such A-list actors as Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, he pointed out that the trailer was designed to draw in horror enthusiasts and did not mention the famous stars.  He said that horror films draw from a much younger demographic and it was decided that since Pitt and Freeman did not normally appear in horror films, drawing attention to the stars may bring in older moviegoers who might not be as supportive of the film as younger horror fans would be.  I pointed out that, although this ploy worked well for "Se7en" it backfired for "The Village", an M. Night Shyamalan film about what appears to be a 17th century village surrounded by a forest populated with ferocious creatures.  "The Village" was heavily promoted as a horror film but was really about societal violence and the futility of attempts to escape it.  Therefore, the film, heavily attended by horror fans, was widely dissed because of its lack of horror.  I personally found the film much more interesting as it was presented but I must admit I am not usually a horror enthusiast.



Other conference options were "The Writer's Life" by Sara and Greg Bernstein and another "Paths to Success" panel discussion.

At 3:30 I attended another "Getting Your Work Out" session with Jason Lethcoe, Paul Friedlander, Jeffrey Cooper and Leonard Henderson.  I was pleased to note that most of the presenters have embraced the internet as an emerging platform to showcase their work and develop professional relationships.

In addition to meeting these fascinating presenters I also met some local people very interested in learning how to blog and use social networking tools effectively.  A psychiatrist for the VA was especially interested when I mentioned I had prepared the Wikipedia article for the Vietnam Combat Artists program.  Maybe next year I could participate in the conference as a specialist in social media.

Portland Center for Perfoming ArtsPortland Center for the Performing Arts. Image via WikipediaI also met an aspiring author who has written a novel about ancient Illyria.  I told her I would be interested in reviewing it but my current stack is quite overwhelming so it could take me a while.

All in all, I thought it was a very productive two days and well worth my time.  Apparently I missed the Creative Conference that is held each year up at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.  My friend attended it last weekend.  I told him that I wish they would have advertised it in the Register Guard like they used to.  He said the special effects artist who worked on "Titanic" was the keynote speaker this year.  I saw him back in 1998 right after "Titanic" was released and his presentation was really interesting.  I'll have to keep an eye out for an announcement about the conference next fall.


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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ditto, Steve Jobs

Apple IIe computer (enhanced version)Image via Wikipedia
Even though for many years I worked with (and often preferred) Windows-based computers, it was Steve Jobs' Apple IIe that first inspired me to focus my career on IT.  So, I found his death left a kind of void that I doubt will ever be filled - at least in my lifetime.  I received this email from the president of the Ayn Rand Institute and I thought he voiced what many of us current and former IT people are feeling today.


WASHINGTON--Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged lionizes the great wealth creators--the men and women whose thought, creativity, and drive has lifted mankind from the cave to the glistening skyscrapers of New York City. As the president of the Ayn Rand Institute, I regularly speak about Atlas and there is one living person who, more than anyone else, I reference as embodying those traits: Steve Jobs. The news that Jobs is no longer with us leaves me truly heartbroken. 
What Jobs has always represented to me is someone who devoted his life to creating great values--who pursued his own vision, his own dreams, his own happiness. The results of his life's work are truly astounding: the Apple II, the Macintosh, Pixar, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad, and much, much more. He set out to change the world. He succeeded, and by all accounts took deep joy in his career and his achievements. He deserved it.
Steve Jobs at the WWDC 07Image via Wikipedia
Ever since I heard the news that Steve Jobs died, a certain passage from Atlas Shrugged keeps running through my head, although only readers of the novel will understand the full impact of the scene. 
Toward the end of the novel, when heroine Dagny Taggart is reunited with several men she had thought she would never see again, she says that the meeting is like a childhood dream "when you think that some day, in heaven, you will see those great departed men whom you had not seen on earth, and you choose, from all the past centuries, the great men you would like to meet." 
One of the men replies: "And if you met those great men in heaven . . . There's something you'd want to hear from them. [Y]ou'd want them to look at you and to say, 'Well done.'. . . All right, then. Well done, Dagny!"If there were a heaven, filled with the great men of history, I have no doubt that they would say, "Well done, Steve Jobs." - Yaron Brook, President, Ayn Rand Institute

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Google Chromebook - History repeats itself!

Google Chrome IconImage via Wikipedia
Google Chrome Logo
I never cease to be amazed at how technology often circles back on itself. When distributed computing first b
egan, clients used a terminal with no hard drive. All applications ran on the central mainframe and IT departments were the only ones that had to install applications, worry about hackers and viruses were not even invented yet. Now we have the "new" Chromebook which is essentially a terminal with no hard drive to access applications, documents, etc from "the cloud". The more things change the more things stay the same (or revert back to the same!)

The problem with such devices is that you need to have total faith in your service provider - in this case Google. It puts us back in the situation of having a commercial enterprise that, if used by huge numbers of people, becomes too big to fail. Google would also be in the position to offer the service for free to get it rolling then when the amount of critical data reaches a certain point they could change their policies and begin charging more and more - much like the cell phone companies do now and their users would essentially be held hostage to whatever revenue scheme Google (or another cloud service company) would impose.

Another issue is that these new "dumb" laptops could not be used for anything but a door stop if you live or travel into a geographic area that has no internet connection - I mean NO connection - Wifi or cell.  Yes, there are actually large areas, at least out here in the West, that have huge dead zones!  Although I live less than five miles from the center of a city right on Interstate 5, I cannot get a reliable cell signal in my living room - really frustrating since I'd like to give up my land line.  The construction of cell towers has pretty much followed the main interstate freeways and in states with extended rural areas like my native Oregon there are huge expanses within the state where your cell gets no bars at all.

Also, I doubt if Google's rivals would want to provide a service that can be accessed by someone else's hardware device so we get back to the iPad vs. Google Android marketplace issues again.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is increase in gaming popularity among females and older players attributable to minigames on mobile devices?

I found the following infographic very interesting.  Apparently I am no longer in the minority as an older female who enjoys gaming although I simply don't have the average 18 hours per week to spend gaming.  I think the motion aspect of the Wii accounts for not only the popularity of the Wii but the significant growth in attracting older players like me who are bored with traditional exercise strategies but easily lose ourselves in a game that uses body motion to accomplish game objectives.  This attraction is also reflected in the list of most popular games of all time topped by Wii Sports.

I do wish they would have included smartphones in the mobile analysis though.  I have probably spent more time playing games on my iPhone than on my Wii just because I am often stuck waiting in doctors' offices or similar environments and find the games on my iPhone to be just the ticket to make the time pass.  Although iFishing is one of my favorites, being raised here in the Northwest where I grew up fishing the streams along the Oregon coast and Pacific ocean as a child, I also like history-themed games and have been playing Slitherine's "The Tudors."  I also bought the Sims' World Adventures although I must be honest and say I get really irritated with having to keep track of the Sims needs to go to the bathroom.  I think that level of detail is more tedious than entertaining.  I also like hidden object games in historical environments too.  I love the visuals and the short mini-game nature of the challenge especially since I am using these games to fill a relatively small time slot.

It would be interesting to have a breakdown of the average 18 hours spent gaming to see if the types of games people are playing are more of the short term mini-game variety played intermittently through the week or whether more intricate complex games are being played in longer dedicated sessions.  I think this information coupled with a parallel analysis of age groups would be helpful to game designers wishing to address the maximum target audience.  I'm also curious about whether the introduction of minigames through app stores increasingly available through a plethora of devices is ratcheting up the gaming statistics in both females and the older age groups now.


Videogame Statistics
Source: Online Education
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IE 9 RC still not ready for prime time but Google Chrome is a blast!

Well, I installed the new Internet Explorer 9 release client and, although I loved the "pinning to the taskbar" capability, the ability to designate an entire list of pages to open as default pages and the clean interface that lets you see so much more of each web page you are browsing, I ran into some significant problems using it on my new 64-bit Windows 7 workstation.

ZemantaImage via WikipediaFirst, I tried to install Zemanta, a blogging assistant extension, for use with my Blogger accounts under this new browser and, even though Zemanta said it was installed, when I opened one of my Blogs to begin editing, the Z
emanta extension interface would not open.  I tried reinstalling, made sure I had "allowed" Zemanta to make changes on my computer, etc. but no joy.

Then I was up on Amazon looking at the new educational game "Roman Town".  I added it to my cart, went through logging in to my account and setting the shipping address but when it came to loading the screen where I would select my payment options, I got nothing but a white screen with a location bar at the top.  I retried the purchase several times but finally had to give up and use a different browser to complete the transaction.

Next I was reading my Google news alerts and went to "share" an article I had read on one of the web pages I pulled up to read and when IE 9 tried to open the Twitter interface I again got a plain white screen with just a URL and my Twitter icon.  Obviously, it recognized that I was already logged in to Twitter but could not draw up my status page.  Again, multiple attempts to successfully tweet from the web page failed.  I ended up shortening the URL myself with bit.ly and posting it manually to Twitter.

Then I went to read an article on Stacy Johnson's Money Talks News (http://www.moneytalksnews.com) that included a video and saw that the video had a question mark on it.  When I clicked the video I got an error message that the video contained a third party component that I would need to install but it didn't tell me which one.  I had never had a problem with any of Stacy's videos before.  So, I sent an email to Stacy's tech support people and they suggested I contact the tech support for Blip.TV which is the video host they use.  So I emailed Blip.TV and they suggested I install the latest version of Quicktime and try again.  I checked my Quicktime version and compared it with the latest one available and I saw that I already had the latest version.  I told Blip. TV that videos on YouTube seemed to play properly.  They were baffled.

So today I reluctantly gave up using IE and set my browser default to the new version of Google Chrome that I had recently installed.  Like IE 9, I was able to define a list of pages to open by default.  I found that I could still drag a page to my taskbar and "pin" it - apparently a default action allowed by Windows 7, and the interface was as clean as IE 9.

Then I went to Blogger and installed Zemanta and it came up without a hitch.  I went back to Money Talks News and the video I could not view under IE 9 played perfectly in Google Chrome.  Then, I held my breath and logged into my online bank.  I had used an earlier version of Google Chrome at one point but it turned out to be incompatible with my secure banking logins at two different banks.  This time, however, it worked wonderfully.

Then, I remembered a friend of mine had sent me a news article about Google Chrome's new web store so I went up there and found extensions for my Evernote account, bit.ly, Google Translate, Webpage screenshot, Web of Trust search advisor (WOT - a handy tool to avoid websites known for malware, scams, etc), an Internet Movie Database access tool to quickly access the movie database by clicking on a movie title mentioned on a webpage or in a blogpost, my good old "blog this" helper, a Share tool for those websites that  don't have it already built in (like many foreign news websites), and even Chrome for a Cause that records my search clicks and donates to a charity of my choice (from a small but adequate list).  Since I do a lot of research I like the idea that my productivity also serves another worthy purpose.  All of these very useful extensions were found on just the first twenty pages of the Extensions listed on the Chrome Web Store site and there are a total of over 10,000 available.  So, I have been able to regain all the features I liked in IE 9 without all of the technical problems and added some great functionality from the Chrome Web Store too!

Now if I could just get Samsung to add more useful apps to my TV's app store!!
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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Virtual Professors using Conversational Agent Software the Answer for the 3rd Dimension in Online Learning

"Developing that best-in-the-world online course — in which students would learn as much, or more, than in an ordinary classroom or a hybrid online class — requires significant investment. The Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, which has developed about 15 sophisticated online courses, mostly in the sciences, spent $500,000 to $1 million to write software for each. But neither Carnegie Mellon nor other institutions, which are invited to use its online courses, dares to use them without having a human instructor, too..."

"...But even when lectures are accompanied with syllabuses, handouts, sample problem sets and other aids that Academic Earth has for some of its courses, is the experience really complete? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also shares the raw materials of courses in its OpenCourseWare program. For the benefit of autodidacts who aren’t M.I.T. students, it strives to publish materials online for every M.I.T. course. But students cannot interact and do not receive vital feedback about their own progress that an instructor or software provides."- Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension, Randall Stross, The New York Times

Way back in 1995, I became intrigued with developing conversational agents using software that was the descendant of "Eliza", software written at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum between 1964 to 1966 to simulate a a Rogerian psychotherapist.  I wrote a script and adapted images of a bust of Julius Caesar to create an online "virtual" Julius Caesar that a web visitor could converse with and ask whatever they wanted to know about Caesar's life and times.

Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar in the National Ar...Image via Wikipedia
Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar in the National
Archaeological Museum of Naples.
I received e-mail from history teachers across the United States who actually started using my "virtual" Caesar in their classes and found it to be a dynamic learning tool that kept kids intrigued.

Then I tried to convince professors I worked with to consider letting me develop a "virtual" professor for each one to provide online office hours 24/7 for each of their courses. After all, professors, especially those that have taught the same class for years, obviously had a wealth of answers to course FAQs.  To make the agent more interesting, I explained to the professor that we needed to try to impart each professor's unique personality into the agent so conversing online with the agent would feel like talking with the real professor for the project to be a success.  For example, one professor enjoyed sea kayaking.  I told him that I would like him to talk about sea kayaking with me.  I also liked to include answers to questions about favorite books, movies, food, etc.

But, although I got a couple of professors intrigued, they were always too busy to spend the quality time that is needed to produce a truly convincing agent.  Maybe if institutions would consider paying instructors royalties for the use of their knowledge in the development of "virtual professors", more progress could be made in the production of such online learning environments.

 
Embodied Conversational Agents
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Magazine publishers need to think beyond just issue sales or subscriptions to capture the digital market

I didn't realize that magazine publishers could not sell subscriptions directly on the iPad but were limited to single issue downloads and a ridiculous pricing structure to match until I read this article in the New York Times.  I did see that magazines selling subscriptions on android tablets like the Color Nook I received for Christmas from my daughter are trying to charge as much for a digital subscription there as they do for a printed and mailed edition which is also outrageous.

It never ceases to amaze me that after all this time, major content providers still don't try to innovate when they redesign their business models for the digital marketplace.  I also don't understand why they still haven't learned the lucrative lesson of offering content via micropayments either.

I severely reduced the number of magazine subscriptions I maintained long before the internet began supplying the lion's share of my reading content because I found bundled content to contain too many articles that offered little interest to me.  I don't mean to pick on National Geographic because it is a quality magazine but in the last ten years or so it got to the point that I was reading only one article per issue if that much even though I had subscribed to National Geographic for years.  Their content focus was changed by a new editorial staff away from archaeological exploration to regional travel/culture pieces that I really didn't care that much about.and it finally reached the point that I discontinued my subscription because I saw no reason to pay over $20 per year for five or six articles.

Having an editor/gatekeeper determine what I would receive is as galling as having to purchase television programming by channel or by satellite tier or having to purchase music by album or CD.  I realize the subscription model offers the most reliable revenue stream for publishers.  But how about marketing written content on the Netflix model?  A subscription across a collection of magazines that would entitle me to download and view content up to a certain number of articles or Mb of data per year.  Many publishing companies produce an entire stable of magazines including constellations of magazines around similar topics.  But publishers should also consider collaborative groupings with other publishing companies as well.  This could provide more attractive packages to niche readers like me.


Of course ala carte article purchase could also be offered for a reasonable sum of say 50 cents for an article up to 3,500 words or so.  I realize ala carte article purchase has not proven successful in the past, mostly because ala carte pricing has been so ridiculously high like $2.50 per article - the price of an entire printed edition in some cases.  Publishers should take note of the lessons learned about micropayments from the "app" market.  If you make the payment amount seem small and insignificant enough, even browsers with a casual interest are often lulled into making a purchase. 

Consider the recent article about the 14-year-old boy who taught himself to develop an iPhone app that has become the most popular app at the moment, being downloaded over 4 million times.  As one of the news anchors pointed out, if the boy had charged as little as 99 cents for the app instead of offering it for free, he could have been a millionaire.  I firmly believe micropayments and ala carte choice options are the key to a bright online publishing future!
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