Archive for the 'Software Review' Category

Gmote on the MyTouch 3G and an Ubuntu 9.10 HTPC

Finally got a chance to play around with Gmote on my MyTouch 3G running Android 1.6. Installed the Android app a couple of months ago and then never set it up on any of my desktops. This afternoon I installed Gmote server on my custom HTPC hooked up to my Samsung HDTV. It’s running Ubuntu 9.10. I’m writing this post on the beautiful 1080p 42″ screen, as a matter of fact.

I downloaded the server tarball from the Gmote website and ran the shell script to start and setup the server. It didn’t run the first time. Ended up having to install the latest JRE – no big deal. Ran the script again and the server started up prompting for a password to be created and to tell the server where my media files were. The server uses VLC to access and play media files on the host machine. I’m less interested in that functionality. The thing I was interested in is the remote mouse access functionality. Essentially you make the phone touchscreen into a remote touchpad for the server. Sweet.

I turned on wifi on the MyTouch and fired up the Gmote client software. If you’re on the same network the software will go out and find the server on the default port number (8889). If you need to access it across the 3G network you can port forward that port from your router. I’ve already got another PC setup as a DMZ and I’m not doing any other port forwarding. The only downside for the wifi for me is the battery that the wifi radio eats on the phone. Pretty cool little piece of code. Now I can sit in my recliner and control the machine from 10 feet away, which is good, ’cause that’s where I left my Bushmills…

arc90’s Readability Bookmarklet

If you’re like me, you do a lot of reading online. Unfortunately, often much of the page is taken up by superfluous and sometimes distracting clutter. Here’s a simple little tool that works on some (but not all) pages to help make it a bit easier to read:

Readability

Click on the settings in Step 1 on the left side of the page to see which one suits you best in the example text below. Drag the link under Step 2 to your browser link bar or to your bookmarks. The link is a Bookmarklet, a bit of client-side JavaScript that performs a set of operations on the currently viewed page. If you want more information and explanation of this tool, check out arc90’s experiments page on it. Try it out!

The TechCrunch CrunchPad Prototype B

Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch just demoed the second prototype of their custom touchscreen tablet. After reading the article and checking out the videos of the prototype I found myself using Will Smith’s words in Independence Day, “I gotta get me one of these!” The tablet runs Ubuntu and the user interface is essentially a browser OS (it runs a custom version of Webkit). I love that you get a full 1024×768 resolution display, which is well-suited to web browsing. You can access all of your favorite sites including the Google suite of tools, Wikipedia, Hulu.com, and YouTube. The designers think they could produce this thing for about $300. Sign me up! I hope they move forward with production.

Check out the details and demo videos at Tech Crunch.

Adobe Advanced Technologies Lab: Zoetrope

Technology Review has an article about a new tool called Zoetrope developed at Adobe’s Advanced Technologies Lab by Mira Dontcheva. The article includes a video of Zoetrope in action.

Zoetrope gives the user access to a range of data interaction tools that harness snapshots of a web page over time. The user can use the DOM to interact with individual components of a page, especially data driven components. “Lenses” can be place over these data-driven areas and the data can be seen over a temporal period. These changes can be graphed or visualized using Zoetrope and can be linked with other lenses on the same page or even other sites. This is truly incredible software. The web is really becoming a giant database and we are reaching a point where tools are popping up all over the place to harness this data and visualize it so that it becomes meaningful in everyday contexts.

Microsoft Image Composite Editor

Microsoft Research recently released a great little panorama image stitching utility. You can check it out at the Microsoft ICE project site. The utility is a free download.

One of the really nice features of this tool is that it can export to many different image formats. Once exported, one could bring the image into, for example, a video editing package to do pan and zoom effects for video. In addition, there is an export option for Deep Zoom Tileset that creates a series of stitched images and some XML data that allows the image to playback on the web inside of Microsoft’s SliverLight 2 browser plugin. The result is a nice pan and zoom image similar to what one gets with a QuickTime VR movie. You might have seen this in Microsoft’s PhotoSynth tool. And this is all free. Grab the software and have some fun!

I’m hoping to get a couple of experiments up soon, but I’m waiting on a server configuration change for the SilverLight files to run correctly in the browser. I’ll post them when that happens.

Digital Projection, Spatial Augmented Reality, and Shape Grammar – SIGGRAPH 2008

It’s been an inspiring conference so far. The classes I’ve attended have been excellent. On Monday I attended the half-day course on projectors and spatial augmented reality for (I think) the 4th year running. Ramesh Raskar and Oliver Bimber were fantastic as usual. They were joined this year by Aditi Majumber who spoke about large-format displays and Hendrik Lensch who spoke on computational illumination for 3D scene modeling. One of the things I really get excited about in this class is what Raskar calls RFIG. In essence, this entails adding a photosensor to an RFID tag and then projecting structured light from a handheld projector on the photosensor in order to acquire a relative position for the tagged item. With the unique identifier and the relative position, we can query a database and then project useful information about the identified items directly on the items themselves using our handheld projector. All this is made possible by very small and relatively inexpensive handheld computers with wireless network access and attached projectors. You can check out their work, including the full-text of their book, Spatial Augmented Reality, on the supporting website: SpatialAR.com. Great stuff.
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Collaborative Reading with Book Glutton

I just saw a post on TeleRead that mentioned that Book Glutton is up for a Webby award. I’d heard of Book Glutton before, but I haven’t checked it out until now. It’s a really cool idea for a community website.

The idea is that you create an account on the site and then access public domain works or user contributed texts using a slick little browser-based book reader, called The Unbound Reader. The twist is that you can open a pane on either side of The Unbound Reader that lets you chat with other readers of the current book in real-time or make annotations that are stored for your own access or shared with other users. In addition, the community aspect of the site includes reading groups that share interest in particular topics or authors. You can join already existing groups or create your own group, which might include your friends or colleagues.

The idea reminds me of the WordPress theme called CommentPress. These tools are really exciting from an instructional technology point of view. They really allow people to work together in close collaboration on a shared text. And they both provide a mechanism that brings together the strengths of wikis with the close reading of a shared document. There’s some great potential here from an educational perspective. It’s hard to beat this kind of active engagement.

NMC Symposium on the Evolution of Communication in Second Life

For the last two days, I have been attending a conference sponsored by the New Media Consortium on the Evolution of Communication. The conference is being held wholly in Second Life.

This is the first time I have spent any amount of time in-world and it’s my first real work being done there. I have to say, I have been very skeptical of the use of Second Life for this sort of thing.

But my experience so far has been spectacular. I am using very high-end computers with massive bandwidth, though.
My colleague David Robinson hasn’t had quite as good of an experience going back and forth among different machines, some of which are not the latest hardware.

All things considered, I am more positive about Tulane’s investment of resources in Second Life to build out our island. Participating in a conference like this one has given me some good ideas about how best to use the tool and how not to use it. The conference has been very enlightening and the presentations have been excellent, as is the norm for NMC events.

eBooks: Promise and Reality

Just uploaded a recording of a presentation I did yesterday on eBooks. Here’s the description:

eBooks: Promise and Reality

eBooks have been around for several years and every couple of years the technology is hyped as being ready for mass consumption. We’ll take a look at the current eBook landscape. I’ll demo several hardware solutions, including the Sony PRS-500 Reader System and alternative devices like cell phones and the PlayStation Portable. I’ll demonstrate how to use BookDesigner to convert among formats and other software tools. We’ll talk about sources for eBooks like the Gutenberg Project. We’ll also take a look at newly announced technology, including Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader, Adobe’s new Digital Editions format, and color eInk devices that were shown at SIGGRAPH this summer.

View the Presentation

(Adobe Presenter Flash format)

Using the Samsung Sync for eBook Reading

I received an interesting comment on my post about getting video onto my Samsung Sync mobile phone this morning. In the comment, Matt asks if I’ve ever tried to use the Sync to read eBooks. I hadn’t. But being an eBook user and fan, I took it as a challenge. Matt had already tried copying a text file over using Bluetooth and opened it using the Picsel file viewer. The results are unsatisfactory – clunky zoom and the need to pan all over the place to read because the text does not wrap. I suspect the text is being treated as if it is an image and this makes it impossible for the software to understand the document’s text flow. Matt had been on the right track after this initial attempt. He says he tried to open the browser and could not find any way to use the file:// protocol to call up the file in the web browser.

Here’s how I solved these problems and was able to read text comfortably on the Sync:

I took a Word document (it could have been any text format) and saved the file from Word as HTML Filtered. The “Filtered” option in Word 2007 strips out all the nasty Microsoft specific code that might not render properly in the Sync’s browser. I then copied the file to my MicroSD card and popped it into the phone. I navigated to the file using the “My Stuff” file browser and opened the file. Because it was an HTML file it opened directly in the phone’s browser. This result had two consequences that were an improvement over the Picsel file viewer. First, the text was sized properly for reading on the small screen, and second, the text properly flowed vertically and wrapped nicely so that no side-to-side scrolling was necessary. In addition, the browser allows you to resize the text on the page; there are three text size settings: normal, smaller, and larger. I found the normal sized text to be very much readable on my phone, and scrolling down for more text was not too bad.

Thanks again to Matt for asking this interesting question. I still find it really cool that we have these fantastic computers that we carry around everywhere with us and that fit in the palm of our hands. I feel like I’m in a Star Trek episode sometimes when I think about the ubiquity of this kind of technology.

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