Awesome Siverlight / Photosynth Demo

New Zealand Microsoftie Nigel Parker had a demo slot to fill at the WEB09 event and, after a chat with a colleague, decided to use crowd sourced images tagged as New Zealand to promote our beautiful country. The embedded video is the result of his frantic 3 days work where he used these images to present a truly stunning example of what a mix of Siverlight, Photosynth and SmoothStreaming video can do.

NZsynth Demo shown in the Keynote at WEB09 from Nigel Parker on Vimeo.

You can read more of the detail here on his blog, and he’s certainly worth a follow on twitter or friendfeed.

Mad props Nigel – incredibly awesome stuff.

Can we believe our eyes?

A friend of mine wrote a post pondering the believability of images now that digital capture tools and manipulation programs are so accessible to whomever wants them. Specifically he raised the question also raised by newsweek in this article. Dale went on to ask the question “what about photos of – say – someone committing a crime? Useless in a court of law?”

I think his concerns were addressed by other commenters, but the question got me to thinking, and that started off what ended up being something of an epic comment of my own, which I’ll repost here to remind me to return to this subject later after a bit more research as it’s quite an interesting issue that Dale has raised.

Continue reading “Can we believe our eyes?”

Spending time with my digital memories

I spent the last 3 days at home looking after our youngest son William who had the chicken pox and during that time I did a little bit of a tidy up of our digital photos and, during that time I reminded myself, yet again that we have HEAPS of photos, but finding any particular one, on any particular subject is pretty hard.

This then lodged itself in the back of my head and, as a result – two technologies have jumped out at me since then.

The first concerns the accessibilty and display of this data, and the vapourware representation of Microsoft Surface certainly struck a chord in our house.
“I’ve found our next coffee table” I announced to Amanda, then played her ‘The Power’ section of the demo from the above link.
“Wow, that’s cool – when could we get that?” was the response (and from a non-geek, that was certainly high praise indeed!)

Leveraging the display device of surface (and I’d be interested in open source alternatives I could cobble together earlier than waiting for the official product release), is the technology discussed in the clip below from the recent TED talks (I love the TED inititive)

Check out the presentation below… and imagine what it could mean for your collection of digital memories.

[Edit: Here’s a link via my collegue Justin – nice find, interesting if you want to learn the workings]

Can the end-user be trusted?

One of the undeniable truths of backups is you never really respect their worth, until you lose data that you value(d).

Interestingly enough, as more homes become more digital centric, more forensic data recovery services are cropping up to save people from themselves and that accidential, click happy spree that we’ve all enjoyed (until the sickening reliasation hits that we have deleted the ORIGINAL digital photo / video / document that we’ll never be able to recover  (by ourselves)).

Don’t get me wrong, I love that fact that I have 300+GB of digital memories avalible from a central location in my home, and displayable on a number of screens throughout – but I’m ever mindful of the possibility of hardware failure taking them all away in a heartbeat and so I do have a fairly stringent backup procedure in place. One of these measures is via scheduled backups of my machines to my shared network storage, but that only fires when the machine is left on. Another measure is a Windows Home Server, which I am on the Beta programme for (so I don’t really know how much I can discuss without breaching the NDA). If you are interested, the developers are keeping a blog of their progress prior to launch which makes for interesting reading. My point is this – my memories are no longer kept in an analogue format which I can pickup off the bookshelf as I run, screaming like a little girl, while the house burns down around me. My memories are increasingly being helf on fragile pieces of magnitised material, spinning at ridiculous speeds, and – if it wasn’t for the magic of external hard drives and USB connectors, the only copy of these memories would be held in my home. (Note to self, refresh my offsite backup – and say hi to my folks while I’m picking up/returning the external HDD from their place)

So – what’s the solution to this ‘eggs in one basket’ approach?

  • An offsite backup regime like I run (via a USB HDD and infrequent trips to my parents) is fine, but only as long as I remember to do it – and it would really suck if my house burnt down on the night where I was pulling my digital memories backup onto my external HDD, or if that unit also suffered a failure when I needed to restore.
  • Perhaps then a transfer via the network to my parents place? Well – that would work if they had an always on connection, but the initial sync would destroy both of our data caps, and the smarts around historical copies would be hard to implement as well
  • So – what about an online community such as Flicker and/or YouTube where I can upload my stuff? Well – resolution issues aside, if I wanted to share only with a select group – they would need to join that community (who honestly needs yet another identity to remember?) – and, what’s worse – these communities could have the plug pulled at a moments notice (it’s happened before)- and THEN where is your data sitting?

Which brings me back to my original question I posed at the top of this blog (see, I got there eventually) – “Can the end-user be trusted?” My feeling is no, they can’t, or at least I as a sample size of one, who does appreciate the need for backups, form speaking to some of my friends and collegues I can extend this statement to say we (royally, as in ‘most of us’) are bad at doing backups – if we have to think about doing them, then they don’t get done.

So, when the Web 2.0 bust comes along and whole communities of user generated content are lost (as predicted by Laurel in this blog post) there will be crying and gnashing of teeth. And out of the ashes, the phoneix of Web 3.0 will rise blah blah… My question is this – can we as an online community afford to lose this content?, is it an intergral part of the history of how content has grown in the online space?, will any Web 2.0 companies stand up, place their hands on their collective hearts and say “Yes – we believe your content is important, and this is how we plan to protect it should our business model/service fail”

Any takers?? – I’m off to backup my blog database…

Getting High

A few weeks ago, I was transferred to the ‘Video Services’ team while our company-wide restructure continues on into its ninth month. This transfer is part and parcel with the braindump we’re doing after my recent trip to IBC and has the potential to get my darling Wife ‘into’ TV enough to let me finally get that HD Flat Screen mounted on the wall I’ve been looking forward to since running the draw wires during our renovations.

Now – I’ve had my head in the TV space for a number of years, yet – despite broadcasters overseas recognising the benifits of HD to the viewing experience, broadcasters here in New Zealand seem to be playing something of a mexican stand off to see who will run with High Definition (HD) broadcasts first. It’s unlikely to be forced by our government who’s plans are still at a ‘wait and see’ stage, but the emergence of Freeview in New Zealand in 2008 should at least level the playing field for broadcasters who would liketo offer up HD.

I have my own opinions on this, and as some some of them are formed from knowledge of the industry (which obviously I’m not discussing in a public forum), but the up shot it, from overseas trends alone HD is coming, and my next TV will need to support it. (Well, okay it doesn’t need to support it, but my Wife has given it a thumbs up after I explained she could use a new HD screen to run her presentations off for our new business.

So anyway, the next step is to do some research, pick through the Digital Home magazines we subscribe to at work – and buy an HD TV.  I’ll update this entry as I find more information which proves useful in the New Zealand market.

Update 11/12/2006:

Ahh the tyranny of technology – just as you’re almost ready to make the jump into new capabilties – something new and more exciting is ‘just around the corner’. The specs for HDMI 1.3 have just been released and are discussed here. So now I’m torn – should I buy now, or wait for the new features such as:

  • More complete HDCP support (read: compatibility with poorly implemented ‘other’ devices)
  • Double the HDMI bandwidth (new audio formats)
  • Automatic lip-syncing
  • 30-bit colour (less banding between colours/better gradients, better contrast ratio, better ‘shades-of-grey’ representation)

It’s all pretty compelling stuff and gives me even more reason to lurk in the HDTV Discussion forums where I’ve been hanging out for the last month or so (still haven’t caught up but meh… never will). Digital Home - HDTV Resolution / Viewing Distance Chart

One of the best finds from the forum was this chart which shows at what point you actually get benefit (as opposed to bragging rights) from your xx” HD Display. YMMV of course (oh, sorry – that’s Your Mileage May Vary – ref: the L33t Sp34k post) but there’s also threads which I have in favorites on some relevant themes such as a HDTV buying discussion, Which Plasma to Buy, as well as an assortment of threads discussion the pitfalls and virtues of 720p vs 1080i vs 1080p vs Whatever-comes-next.

Update: 22/01/2007

Well, I’ve had enough friends and family ask me what kind of screen they should by to warrant another update to this posting. One of the big gotchas about buying a ‘HD’ display is what different manufacturers (and marketers) call High Definition (HD). The difference between true HD (as per the resolutions in the table below), and HD Ready need to be understood and challenged when making your purchase decision as their may be ‘economies of truth’ in the description of the sets capabilties.

Format
Resolution / Scan Type / Aspect Ratio
1080p
1920×1080 / Progressive / 16:9
1080i
1920×1080 / Interlaced / 16:9
720p
1280 x720 / Progressive / 16:9
720p50
1280×720 / Progressive / 16:9
576p
720×576 / Progressive / 16:9 and 4:3
576i
720×576 / Interlaced / 16:9 and 4:3

I’ve also included Standard Definition (SD) in italics for completeness. Obviously there are different scan rates but this is a rough guide, if you’re that keen you’d be checking out the Wikipedia entry wouldn’t you!

Update 13/04/2007

At what distance resolutions matterFollowing my recent discovery of the ‘Coolness Roundup’ podcast, there’s a new graph created by Carlton Bale from his post “1080p Does Matter“ which you may find useful.

I want PRESENCE!!

Why is it that we’re in the bottom half of 2005 and companies STILL continue to ignore the internet as a method of reaching their customers?

We’re due to have a baby in just over 4 weeks and, we need to get our digital camera repaired so we can take some of those new arrival shots that parents love to bore their friends and family with.

I decided to don a ‘user’ hat* and try to find where to get our �Olympus Muju 300� camera repaired, as my fried Sunil would say – “What a mistakea to makea!”

Continue reading “I want PRESENCE!!”

MCE 2005 – Why Media Center will change the way I’m entertained.

I’ve been playing with home theater applications on and off for a few years, I dabbled with MythTV and the ShowShifter type apps, but I’m now a firm believer in Microsoft Media Center 2005 so this entry will serve as a staging point for me to babble on about it…

Like the subject says, Microsoft Media Center has changed the way I am entertained. I’ve been a keen wee techno geek for many years and since purchasing my first VIVO card [archived] back in 2003(?) I’ve been on the lookout for something which can record my TV and let me watch the stuff I want from my PC – this is important given how long I spend in front of it every day.

Things I want to discuss in this post:

  • My history of HTPCs
  • My TiVo experiences
  • Why MCE 2005
  • Ideal setup
  • The media center future

Back in the crazy days of single life, after I’d dropped close to $1000 on a graphics card I was all keen to create an alternative to the TV / Video combination we had in the lounge, after all – my flatmates outnumbered me and often there’d be broadcast conflicts as to what we all wanted to watch – I also was working a lot longer hours including my evenings, so having a TV window on the desktop appealed to me greatly.
The problem with TV cards back then were they were fairly terrible quality, or stupidly expense, so the VIVO option was a good one as I could simple hook off the back of an old VCR I had lying around and use it’s tuner to get my TV signal into the card. The problem with that was I had no IR blaster to change the channel on the VCR and, in conjunction with a lack of an electronic programming guide, the whole operation was very hands on.
Moving forward from there I dabbled with ShowShifter, I looked briefly at some linux distributions which claimed to do all I wanted but, well Linux STILL scares me despite the number of machines I have running it in my home now doing their little things – so Linux was off the cards, aside from a quick dabble with FreeVo and again with KnoppMyth.

I first saw Microsoft Media Center Edition (MCE) back in 2003 when our GM brought a gorgeous Toshiba notebook home from the states with it pre-loaded. It had interface issues which ddn’t quite ‘work’ and of course ran an NTSC tuner so the TV experience was just a fuzzy black and white, but the potential sparked my interest and I’ve kept an eye on the platform ever since.

While I waited for MCE to arrive in New Zealand, I turned to MythTV and, taking a deep breath (and many hours of time from my patient collegues at work) I suceeded in getting a system working… mostly. The main enabler for getting MythTV going for me was a HOWTO by a chap called Jarod Wilson who had documented his experience on his site. In fact, I was so impressed and greatful, that I made an attempt to document my experience and created a page of my own (which seems to get more traffic than anything else on my site, despite it’s now vintage state).

Microsoft New Zealand finally released (quietly) MCE into the NZ market at the same time that it was launched into Australia, but neither country had an Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) avalible so, it’s adoption to date has been slow to say the least. The good thing however is, that a whole range of communities have sprung up around MCE and extensions to its capabilities, including the ability to ‘modify’ things enough to load your own EPG data. I finally managed to succeed in doing this around the end of 2004 with the help of a number of threads from one of the best communitity sites called The Green Button (it’s a reference to the button on the MCE remote used to launch the app).

Now I’m almost ready to introduce it into my home (which is currently undergoing renovations) and have settled on the following specs which I’ve built up on my desk here at work. This is an excerpt from a response I posted over on The Green Button pertaining to Home Theater PC (HTPC) case recommendations:

I’m currently running a Silverstone ST-LC10B (with the iMon VFD software in conjunction with FrontView for MCE it’s sweet!)

Full specs are:

Mods I’ll probably make are:

  • I’m tempted to dremmel out the fan grills at the back over the twin 60mm fans as they’ve got a bit of turbulence noise coming from them.
  • I’d like to mount the HDD in a housing to eliminate vibration as it’s the noisiest thing in the system.
  • I’d like to crack open my MCE remote and drop the sensor into the front of the VFD for WAF (Wife Approval Factor) reasons alone (less clutter /
    visible wires = less complaints)

The case itself is kinda large, but it’s good for airflow and the ability to select from a wider range of cards and cooling product – and I like having a VFD

So that kind of sums up where I am currently, I’ll update this post in awhile with a bit more detail.

Getting Clicky

How’s this for cool? It seems that now not only can you click your mouse to get to a URL, you can also click your camera phone.

How’s this for cool? It seems that now not only can you click your mouse to get to a URL, you can also click your camera phone.

After reading a notice on the NZ Wireless site that I frequent, I headed off to see what I could find out about Semacode. Wired News wrote this article about the people behind the technology, and being professional journos and all will probably explain it better that I attempt to below.

Simply put, Semacode is a barcode representation of a URL, by taking a photo of a Semacode with your camera equipped phone the image is interpreted by the Semacode software and you are then presented with the URL of the site, accept and away you go. It is the result of about a year of development by a Canadian programmer Simon Woodside and his associate Ming-Yee Iu who, interestingly (?) enough, I’d heard of before I knew of Semacode due to a document on Java UI basics which I read way back when I was pretending I’d have enough time to teach myself some more Java programming stuff – scary place this interwebby thing – almost as scary as the things my brain decided to remember for me (and yet I still can’t remember my wifes mobile phone number!)

Semacode representation of this sites URL.  If you had a compatible phone, had downloaded the software and took a photo of this, you'd be able to visit the homepage of this site!At the time of writing, the only phones supported are the Nokia3650/7650 or 3600/3620/3660 and the Nokia 6600 or 6620 but a note on the website directs the visitor to a hardware page where a range of modern camera phones are listed along with their specific model notes.

Basically it appears that phones running symbian/j2me will be supported and the porting process is an on going one. It’s pretty promising technology and one which I can think of a number of real world applications for, we’ll just have to wait and see how many of those I can help bring to market here in New Zealand.

Speaking of getting clicky, I’m waiting for the wowsers to restart the whole “the Government and Telecom are in cahoots…” malarkey as Paul Swain has today announced in a NZPA report that he will be accepting the recommendation not to unbundle.
I’m not surprised by this decision, given the points I made way back in December 2003 but I’m sure the conspiracy theorists will be baying for blood once again and running up the the elections there may well be some ill founded policy statements made by the opposition to try and latch on to these people.

People… get on with life, by the time a LLU policy was completely implemented, the existing infrastructure that is being contended will be as good as obsolete. There are other technologies out there, start choosing to use those to demonstrate your displeasure if that’s what makes you feel better.

Update 12/2010: (Wow – Six years on!) I have revisited this post as part of a test of QR Code adoption (QR Codes are what these things are called now). The original semacode image is somewhere in the mists of time, so I’ve regenerated it using this tool.