Archive for the 'Website Review' Category

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:


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!

WikiDashboard from PARC

Since it has become a popular destination for students, Wikipedia has had a special place in the hearts of faculty, and by that I don’t mean a nice and sunny place. It’s often argued that because it is freely editable by anyone and everyone, the overall quality of the articles is suspect. Perhaps this assertion is true, but it’s not one that has been shown conclusively to be true. And there are those that argue the exact opposite is in fact true.

Researchers at PARC have given us all a tool that might help us come to a better conclusion by providing what they call “social transparency” with respect to Wikipedia articles and their editors. Check out their really interesting work on the issue:


They’ve also included a quick start if you’re not exactly sure how it works.

Deep Linking in YouTube Videos

Saw an interesting post on TechCrunch yesterday. YouTube recently rolled out a new feature that is a welcome addition to their toolbox: deep linking to a point inside a video stream. It’s a very easy implementation, as well. All you need to do is add a ‘#’ at the end of the YouTube URL and then reference the time code following the ‘#’ sign. For example:

Very useful!

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.

The Best SIGGRAPH 2008 Overview I’ve Seen Yet

For a fantastic overview of this year’s SIGGRAPH, head on over to Hack a Day and read Eliot Phillips’ post there. Waaaay better than my weak efforts…heheh.

As Eliot points out in his post, most of the papers are online at various locations on the Interwebs and the links are all aggregated at Ke-Sen Huang’s site. Make sure you check out “Finding Paths through the World’s Photos“, especially if you’ve been following Microsoft Labs’ Seadragon implementation Photosynth. Extremely cool.

Tag Galaxy 3D Flickr Visualization

Just heard about a really cool flickr visualization called Tag Galaxy (Thanks, Mike!). When you visit the site you can search flickr for a particular tag and then build a stack of related tags to narrow a search. Related tags are displayed in a 3D visualization in the style of a planet with each related tag displayed as a smaller satellite object orbiting the original “planet.” As you click through each additional tag in the stack, the process repeats narrowing the search. When you are finished narrowing your search, you simply click the central “planet.” Images meeting your search are arranged as the outer surface of the sphere. You can click and drag to rotate the sphere and click on individual images to pull them out and show them in front of the rest on the sphere. Another click brings the full image up and provides some of the flickr metadata and a link to the flickr page for the image.

As a visualization that provides an easy way to browse a large number of related images quickly, this tool is very successful. Often, 3D interfaces do not provide the most efficient means to accessing data. But in this case, there’s and excellent fit. Take a moment to check out the site. It’s definitely worth the bookmark.

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.

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)

Gigapan – Multibillion Pixel Panoramas with Off-the-shelf Cameras

Check out the very cool tech from Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and CharmedLabs. Here’s the press release. The technology includes an inexpensive robotic device that snaps pictures and software for stitching them together and uploading to a community-driven website. In cooperation with Google, a new Gigapan layer is being added to Google Earth to allow fly-throughs of Gigapan-captured environments. Take a look at the Gigapan site and try out some of the shared environments. Very cool.

Resources for Using the Sony Reader System

As promised, I’m going to try to collect in one place all of the resources I have found for dealing with eBooks on the Sony PRS-500 Reader System.

First let me start with a website that is a central clearing house for all things related to eBooks and eBook readers: the MobileRead Forums. If you can’t find it there, it just doesn’t exist. There are separate forums for each type of eBook hardware – here’s the one for the Sony Reader. In addition, most of the software you would need to edit or convert eBooks for the Reader or any other platform can be found there as well.

In working with eBooks that I already have, I have found that several tools have come in handy: BBeBinder and Book Designer. BBeBinder is especially useful for converting HTML documents to the native .lrf eBook format of the Reader System. Book Designer is a much more full-featured tool for converting almost any type of text file or eBook format to .lrf format (and several other formats, as well). Of course, the files need to be DRM-free for the conversion to work.

Because PDF is such a second-class citizen on the Sony reader, one of the steps in my process is to export text from PDFs (when possible) to HTML or RTF. Once I have the text extracted from the PDF, I can use one of the other tools to create an .lrf file.

In future posts, I’ll create some walk-throughs of selected conversions, including some Adobe Captivate animations.

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