Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's the Age of Communication

Wayne McPhail came into our class recently to give a talk about the direction things are taking with regards to internet technologies and communitites. It was quite interesting and informative. He talked about Web 2.0 and various emerging social aspects of new web development.

Web 2.0 was a bit of a mystery to me prior to this day. I thought it just referred to the clean designs that used alot of funky reflections that is gaining popularity now. Beyond that it was a haze of uncertainty. Not so now! Wayne revealed to us (or at least me) that Web 2.0 is more than a slick clean design, it's communication and collaboration as well. Often a Web 2.0 site is focused on one single goal that often involves moving applications and data sharing to the internet. Wikipedia for example is an example of web 2.0 - it's a simple design and it's task is purely to share information and offer a collaborative encyclopedia of information.

Tagging is something that is becoming more and more popular. You see it on alot of sites like Flikr and YouTube. They seem to be a very usefull way of helping people find your content. Tags are basically key words that are attatched to content by it's owner. According to Wayne 'tags catch on like fashion' which would further extend their usefullness in helping people find and use data on the internet.

Social bookmarking was something that I had never heard of. It's a simple idea really - basically it's saving your bookmarks on the internet rather than in your personal browser. It makes your bookmarks accessible to the public. It allows you to share things that you find interesting and worthwhile with your peers. It's definitely something I will be looking into. Even on a personal level it would be nice to have one central place to keep your bookmarks. I find it a bit frustrating when I go to use a bookmark I've made only to realize it's on a different computer. Having them all in one centrally accessible location is a great idea.

RSS feeds are something that has been gaining popularity for some time now I think. It's not something particularly new but I think more and more people are making use of them. It's a very convenient way to keep up on the latest news from sites you like or tv shows you watch. Alot of shows are using RSS to disseminate podcasts of their shows to the public. It involves having an RSS reader and simply subscribing to the feeds that you want. I have to admit it's another thing that is 'on my list' of things to set up. Maybe when I'm done my portfolio, web authoring personal project, mulitmedia pioneering prototype, client project and animated short...

I think Embed Code being made available to people on sites like YouTube is great. You see alot of people taking advantage of it. It makes it easy for less tech-savvy people to include interesting things on their own site or facebook or whereever. Why not share it on your site when it's as easy as cutting and pasting the code given on the contents originating site. I think it's great that they are encouraging people to do this rather than trying to keep the content for themselves.

Alot of new social media is coming out now. Facebook is one of the more popular right now though from what they say it may be losing some popularity. It seems to be more and more commercial and alot of people don't like that aspect of it. Personally if it weren't for Scrabulous I'm not sure I'd be using it much anymore. But there are other things out there... Twitter, Utterz... that will be happy to take it's place I'm sure.

The emphasis with web 2.0 is obvious creating a community that collaborates, shares and converses with 0n and other. The world seems to just get smaller and smaller.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fun in TO!

Well I think it's official for me... the funnest Mulitmedia Pioneering events happen in Toronto! This time we had a two-in-one trip. For the first part of the day we traipsed through the snow to the ROM to meet Brian Porter and take a look at some of the digital media they have introduced to their exhibits. The second half involved a memory-filled walk through U of T, ending at the lab of Steve Mann. Steve is U of T's well-known cyborg professor.

The ROM was fun. Brian is the Director of New Media. He has the job of keeping the ROM as up-to-date as possible in terms of technology and media. He was kind enough to show us some of the more interesting additions they have made. The initial segment of our tour involved the Digital Gallery. The Digital Gallery is something designed to give kids a more 'hands-on' experience with the items in their exhibits. I don't mean that they are litterally allowed to touch peices that in some cases are 10s of thousands of years old but they have created 3D digital representations of some key pieces that the kids are able to manipulate on a touch computer monitor. It allows them to get a better look at the items and even allows an element of play that may engender more of an interest in the items and their history. The gallery also included a large screen on which they showed custom in-house created movies that would tell the story of the pieces and the history that they come from. Admittedly it wasn't a particularly high-tech setup but I think it would definitely add some fun to the museum for the kids.

We were later taken through the museum to the new dinosaur exhibit. Who doesn't like dinosaurs?! It really is crazy to look at these specimens and try to imagine what it was like when there were masses of them walking (or flying) the earth! This exhibit is in the new Crystal section of the gallery. It was my first time seeing this new change to the ROM. My feelings are mixed. I like the way it looks on the inside, but on the outside I think It would seem more crystally to me if it had been made of glass. I like the overall shape of the structure (it reminded me of the fortress of solitude) but somehow the material they used really took away from the idea of crystals. But having said that I guess I can see how it would minimize interior display space if a large percentage of the walls were made of glass. So on that thought I accept the choice of material! I'm digressing a bit from the main purpose of our visit... The Dinosaur exhibit has some interactive kiosks for people to use to learn more about the specimens. Again I think the play factor is definitely a bonus - I saw alot of kids running up to the kiosks to play with them and hey, if they learn a little bit while they play that's never a bad thing! The kiosks displayed some static and video imagery related to nearby specimens. Unlike the Digital Gallery these displays were out-sourced to a mulitmedia company.

The last major segment of the tour was visiting with Zack in the ..... department. He has a pretty amazing job. He basically creates any video and audio content the ROM needs. This job is carried out solely by himself and one other person (who wasn't there unfortunately). You could really tell that he loved his job! He showed us some footage of some digital art that the museum will be displaying soon (for a limited time). The only downside was that he spends his days in a room with no windows. :(

After the ROM we went for lunch and then headed through the core of the city toward Steve Mann. I really had no idea what to expect from this character. I had certainly heard about him while I attended U of T and occassionally caught glimpses of him around the Computer Science/Engineering buildings but I had never had any interactions with him myself. It turns out he is indeed quite a character! I really enjoyed meeting him and hearing his philosophy on technology and what direction it is going in. I was quite surprised to hear him talk about going back to some more basic roots. You would think that a man who walks around every day with various do-dads and gadgets attached to his self would be all about progressing toward the complete cyber-era. But rather he seems to be now looking back to the basics. What he showed us was his newest invention, not a laser that shoots into your brain and gives you voice messages but the hydraulophone called 'Bessie'. And Bessie was awesome! Basically the hydraulophone is a musical instrument powered with water rather than air. This is something I would definitely like to have in my backyard! If only i had thousands of dollars to buy one ;) Steve took us into his back room to show us the prototype for the more esthetically pleasing hydraulophones. It was quite entertaining - some people played, some got soaked! It is quite impressive how it sounds when you get the hang of it. It has an organ type quality to it and you can play any notes you would normally play on say a piano or any other instrument. I'm looking forward to the Spring when I can go see the large installment at the Ontario Science Centre. At the moment it's running on air due to the cold temperatures. Somehow ice isn't as conducive to making music as flowing water or air! Come Spring the water should be turned back on and let the fun with the FUNtain begin! I'm not kidding - they really called it a 'FUNtain', I didn't make that up ;)

All in all it was a fun day. The Open House committe also got to go visit Cossette to check out the space as a possible venue. It is a pretty snazzy place! Looks like we've found our Open House a home!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

James and the Giant Cellphone

Ok... so not a giant cellphone, just an interesting talk about mobile devices and applications. Today James Eberhardt made the trek to Sheridan to talk to us on the topic. It was prettying interesting and informative.

One hugely enlightening thing that came up was that Flash Lite (the Flash Mobile platform) only supports AS2... boo... The upside of this is that it may encourage me to dabble in AS2 which wouldn't be a bad thing.

He showed some interesting things that I didn't know you could do on a cellphone. Some of them involved the use of a somewhat high tech phone (higher tech than mine anyway). One that I thought was kind of fun was the ability to send a picture taken on your phone directly to your Flickr account. If the phone has GPS it will even send the information about where the photo was taken. Flickr uses this information to create a map that shows the location and associates it with the shot. Handy dandy!

Another interesting new (to me) tidbit was the use of 2D barcodes with a cellphone for browsing to a website or maybe even to download information like a new address book entry or maybe some relevant information on a popular tourist attraction. James showed examples of how these barcodes are being places on product labels and posters. People are able to just point their cellphone camera at the barcode, snap a picture and either browse to the product website or have some information downloaded to their phone. I had never heard of this before. I think there could be some very interesting applications for this. I think most people find entering any information into their cellphone to be tedious and inefficient. I love the idea of being able to just point and shoot and voila! Now if only the cost of browsing would go down so that I'd be more willing to use my phone for that task :( It would be great though if someday there were the option to carry around a personal barcode that people can scan when they want your contact information. No more hunting for a pen and paper or taking 10 minutes to enter someones number and email into your phone.

The major downside to mobile applications would by far be the cost for the user. James pointed out that in Canada it can cost the user up to $20.00 just to download 1MB of data to their phone. For example Bell has a data plan that costs you $25/month for a limit of 4MB/month. Any data downloaded above and beyond is $12/MB. Given that a short video can be 50 MB this is not a cheap thing to download on your phone! This is very prohibitive to progress in mobile application development.

All in all there is some potential for interesting new technologies in the mobile field. I think that there are still some things that will need to change for it to really take off however. I'd love to see ActionScript 3.0 for Flash Lite for one. I also feel that the cost of data uploading and downloading would stop a lot of people from taking advantage of the conveniences offered through their mobile devices.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Flash in the Class

A few weeks ago we had Simon Conlan in our class for a talk. Simon is associated with Flash in the Can. I have to admit I don't fully understand in what capacity he is involved but he is. He came in to talk to us about some things going on in the industry that he considered to be interesting and cutting edge. It seems like the big thing right now is motion capture. I'm actually surprised that our first semester of multimedia pioneering seemed to end up being about nothing but motion capture. Don't get me wrong, I do find it interesting and see alot of potential for this technology however I have a hard time believing that this is the only envelope pushing going on in the web/multimedia industry. I'm not saying by any means that Simon didn't show us anything interesting I guess I just feel a bit like I'd like to see something else new and exciting.

I will admit that having seen the videos of the set-up for George Michael's concert looked fantastic. The ultimate light show. I hadn't really thought of the application of this to live concerts. It certainly looked like it would add a new dimension to a live show.

A lot of what he showed us had to do with mulitouch screens and projections. He showed us a video of an interactive cocktail bar. This is something we had been told about when we were on our tour of GestureTek. I'm pretty sure this isn't the one they did but still from what we were told of it it's very very similar.

I think the application of motion capture in art is really fun and interesting. I've always been a bit fan of interactive art exhibits. I was really excited to discover the Tinguely museum when I was in Basel Switzerland. It would have been interesting to see what Jean Tinguely could have accomplished with motion capture technology! Simon showed us some work done by Brian Knep that looked really fascinating. I'd like a chance to see his work in real life, I think interactivity just brings another level to art. Another interesting artistic endeavour he showed us was Mine Control. It's again interactive art with a very strong biology influence.

As I said I truly do find the new advances interesting and important. But I'd really like to see what else is going on that will change the way we do things.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gesturing at GestureTek

GestureTek was a field trip that will be hard to beat! It was very informative and a lot of fun. The technology developed here could affect many areas of our lives, from entertainment, to rehabilitation to consumerism. They have found niches for their products in so many areas. And I’m sure they will find even more.

The engine behind all of their products is their patented ‘video-gesture-control’ system. The main idea behind this is the use of cameras for user input. Using cameras frees the user from having to use a mouse, keyboard, tablet, etc., for input. It allows them instead to use their entire body in some cases as an input device. In some cases the users motion merely affects a visual image that is projected onto a surface, in some the user is able to navigate through and manipulate content and in others the user is immersed in a game and can move around and interact purely through their own body movements.

Pictured here is an advertisement created by GestureTek for, you guessed it, Pepsi. GestureTek refers to this asGroundFX’. This type of advertisement is very eyecatching and interactive. There is a camera above that projects the image onto the ground and also through the use of cameras any motions made over the projection are translated into a change in what is projected. In this case the Pepsi logo is shown in a pool of liquid. When someone waves a hand or foot or whatever over the image it responds by showing the liquid to move according to their motion.

I don't think there are many people out there who can resist a toy like this! I think that we live in such a commercial world and are exposed to ads and billboards so much that most of us have learned to just filter them out. Something like this may get past the filter though. It's eye catching and fun and interactive. Perhaps some day if we are inundated with this form of advertising we will learn to filter it out as well but for now it seems like a great way to catch people's attention. I do wonder what the next step would be after we do get used to this though!

Another interesting piece of technology they have is TableFX. These tables have a screen that, similar to GroundFX, projects a dynamic image that responds to a persons movement. These tables are in use at a restaurant in downtown Toronto called ‘Alice Fazooli’s’. Microsoft has also announced the release of a very similar table called ‘Surface’. Interestingly it would seem that this release may violate the patent held by GestureTek since it uses the same type of technology. When questioned about it we were told that it was something they would have to talk to Microsoft about.

Probably the most fun was had playing with their immersive game. While the game itself wasn’t particularly advanced in terms of gameplay and graphics, the method of input was certainly more fun than traditional keyboards, mice or joysticks! Playing the game involved standing in front of a green screen. There is a camera and monitor across from you. The camera picks you up and the program adds you to the scene on the monitor. Then the fun begins! In order to shoot down the targets you simply flicked your wrists in the direction you wanted to aim and in the game it looks like you are casting fiery spells from your hands! How fun is that? It’s much more immersive than traditional games. It could, if used with the right kind of game, even be much more physical exercise than your typical video game. This could be used not just for pure fun but also in rehabilitation. GestureTek has licensed the use of their technology to Microsoft for use in Xbox game development.

One of their other products that I would like to highlight is the projections on glass. Embarrassingly this is something I used to make fun of when watching CSI or Minority Report. Turns out the jokes on me and the technology does exist though I think the visual interface in CSI was a tad more advanced. Basically this is a screen projected on a pane of glass. There is a camera behind that picks up your movements and you can navigate through the interface based on this. Other companies are working on similar multi-touch interfaces. Perceptive Pixel’s main goal appears to be the creation of a multi-touch interface. Unfortunately their website doesn’t really say much about how this works underneath but I think perhaps it may be touch sensitive. While this is a different way of getting things done it is still definitely a gesture based mode of input. And it looks very slick!

Interestingly it is possible to do some of this through Flash as seen here where google earth is being controlled purely through detailed hand gestures. I'm looking forward to learning more about this in the very near future.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Visualization Design Institute and Immersion Studio at Sheridan College

We had our first field-trip at school today! We went to the far off reaches of the fourth floor of our building to the Visualization Design Studio. VDI is a computer visualization and simulation research group at Sheridan College. The two main areas of interest that came out of this trip were the facial recognition and the immersion studios.

The FACE (Facial Animation Communication Engine) research was quite impressive. You can see more detail about this project on the VDI website. In a nutshell the research aims to, using a simple webcam, recognize a face and track and recreate it's movement on a computer generated model. At this point they are able to track only basic head movements but as the research progresses the intention is to add the ability to track finer movements such as lip and eye motion. Having observed the work to date I was impressed with the lack of lag in the program. It appeared to be able to follow the subject without any noticeable delay. This could have use in the field of special effects and animation. It would simplify the motion capture process by eliminating markers and special suits that have to be worn by the actor. If the application is refined enough it could lead to extremely realistic and naturally animated facial motion. There have been some breakthrough’s in markerless motion capture but even this more refined method still involves covering whatever surface is being captured (be it skin or fabric or whatever) in some sort of phosphorescent ‘make-up’ in order for the process to work. The research started with the FACE project may at some point even do away with this requirement as it becomes more sophisticated and polished. I think there is entertainment value potential with this technology as well. From something simple like creating a customizable animated avatar for online VOIP/Webcam chats to a more interactive gaming environment. If this technology at some point is able to read fine and detailed facial movements then I imagine it can be extended to read entire body movements. The type of interaction now offered by the a game console such as the Wii could perhaps be extended even more to allow the user to interact with their entire body.

The now defunct Immersion Studio showed us how user interaction can be used with video branching to enhance the experience of something like a movie. Basically the viewer is given an input device (in this case a tablet PC) and while the movie plays at certain points the user is requested to make a choice that will affect the outcome of the movie. Based on this choice the program selects which branch of video to follow. Essentially it is the "Choose your own adventure" of the movie world. Partially due to the cost of the equipment needed to run this setup it seems to not have caught on. For some reason I keep envisioning this at an amusement park next to the “Action FX Theatre” where your seat moves (in theory) in response to what you see on the movie screen in front of you (frankly my experiences with this ride led more to motion sickness than to any sort of excitement and/or fun). On the less-fun-more-educational side I can see the immersion technology being extremely beneficial. It would be a great way to create tutorials that are more immersive and experiential. Branching the video to show the outcome of the users decisions could make for a very effective learning experience. Some of the potential uses of this technology can be seen here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Would you dress your vacuum?

I found this very interesting...


I'm all for robots... but I don't know if I would dress up my vacuum...