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Posts Tagged ‘Applications

Warming up for Picnic ’07

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Picnic ’07, Amsterdam’s annual event organized by the Cross Media Week Foundation focusing on creativity in cross media content and technology, is only a month away and the list of speakers is nearly finished. Between the 25th and 29th of September, Amsterdam’s Westergastfabriek will once again host the event after the succes of last year’s edition. But with such a diverse and wide-ranging programme, where will you go? In order to get into the mood and warm up for the event, it is worthwhile to highlight some of the fascinating speakers and take a more in-depth look at what they are all about.

Reuben Steiger (Former Linden Labs Evangelist and founder/CEO Millions of Us)
scion2ndlifeAt Picnic ’06 Philip Rosedale of Linden Labs / Second Life presented his take on ‘the empowerment offered by Second Life of the average citizen to not only create but monetize their own content and design’. This year former Linden Labs Evangelist Reuben Steiger will take the stage at Picnic’s Virtual Worlds, which is all about virtual worlds becoming central to the future of marketing, technology, entertainment and brand-building. After his work at Linden Labs, Steiger founded and became CEO of Millions of Us, a company dedicated to helping businesses understand and harness the power of virtual worlds. An example is the Toyota Scion car in Second Life.

Being an evangelist and clearly someone who believes in the power of virtual worlds, Steiger fights of recent criticism of Second Life as a branding tool at influxinsights.com by saying that ‘some of the criticism is partially warranted, but a lot of it is poorly contextualized and opportunistic, in the sense that pundits love to tear down technologies that have ridden a wave of hype. IT analyst firm Gartner calls this the hype cycle – new technologies spark a wave of initial excitement, expectations inflate, the technology is found to be imperfect in some ways, and there is a backlash – but in the long term, a good technology will overcome the hype cycle and enjoy long-term adoption.’ Are virtual worlds all that Steiger says they are, or just a big bubble? Are you a skeptic or an enthusiast? Not sure? You can find out at Virtual Worlds. In the video below Steiger answers questions on his personal interest in Second Life and if virtual worlds are a response to alienation in real-life.

When? 27th September 14.00 – 17.00
Where? WesterUnie
What? Virtual Worlds at Picnic ’07

Cory Doctorow (SF novelist, blogger, technology activist)
doctorow overclocked Cory Doctorow, co-editor of popular weblog BoingBoing and contributor to the likes of New York Times and Wired, explores the benefits and consequences of online systems in his latest (fictional) book Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (free download). This provocative collection of six previously released stories shows Doctorow extrapolating todays user experiences towards a futuristic vision and creating fascinating stories in doing so. An extensive review can be found at The Uberreview. For his writings, Doctorow has already been compaired to ‘Cyberspace’ godfather William Gibson by Entertainment Weekly. In the Authors@Google series Cory Doctorow himself presents and discusses the book, if any questions remain be sure to go see Doctorow at Fab, or the personal fabrication revolution.

When? 28th September
Where? WesterLiefde
What? FAB, or the personal fabrication revolution

Pablos/Paul Holman (Futurist, IT security expert, notorious hacker)
From an interview with Pablos “Paul” Holman at DLD ’07, shown in video below, comes the following provocative quote on creativity in companies: ‘Especially large companies tend to be poor at doing new things. They have lots of resources, lots of people and a lot of infrastructure . But all that gets in the way of when you’re trying to be creative. […] Ideally for me, I’d be able to wake up in the morning and dream up something I’ve been dreaming about. Then go build it by lunchtime, launch it in the afternoon and see if people like it. And then maybe fix some bugs by dinner.’

hackerbotpablosContrary to Doctorow, Holman does not read science fiction because he doesn’t want to be accused of plagiarism. His views however are, as the Picnic website also mentions, unique. With his design studio Komposite he ‘consults on bizarre invention and design projects that assimilate new technologies’. To give you an idea: Among his projects is the Hackerbot, a WiFi seeking robot that can find you when you’re using a wireless network – and drive up to show you your password on its screen. According to the Hackerbot website, the robot is really quite friendly and tries not to show your passwords to anyone else. Interested? Be sure to check out Holman at Picnic ’07, also if you’re interested in salsa dancing!

When? TBA
Where? TBA
What? Pablos Holman

Stefan Sagmeister (Graphic designer and typographer)
sagmeisterYou might have seen Stefan Sagmeister‘s design in your local record shop on the covers of Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Talking Heads recordings. The Picnic website mentions that just as film, art, music and literature have the power to move people, Stefan Sagmeister’s innovative work shows that graphic design, too, can cut to the emotional core. An in-depth interview with Sagmeister can found at designboom.com. The image is courtesy of Grafik-freunde Stuttgart.

In 2004 Sagmeister spoke in Monterey, California about how design can make us happy and more specifically design that made him happy on a personal level. Telling stories ranging from billboards and museum exhibitions to pictorial language, Sagmeister is able to show how design can touch a nerve. Design never felt more personal while listening to Sagmeister’s presentation and his words seem far removed from corporate thought. Anyone intested in the emotional side of creativity, and creative industries in general, should see Sagmeister at Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far at Picnic ’07.

When? 27th September 16.50 – 17.20
Where? Zuivering West
What? Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far – Stefan Sagmeister

Various Meetings and (Un)Common Ground
Like last year, Picnic also hosts various meetings such as Virtueel Platform’s (Un)common Ground II: An expert meeting that brings together all the top thinkers in the industry. This year the sub-title is Scale and Intimacy. At the meeting experts will take a close look at the complex issues arising when practices and models of collaboration move across different scales. Like Stefan Sagmeister in his presentation, questions such as ‘how to maintain the emotional connection that people make to the ideas that are promoted or the services or products that it delivered’, are asked. Although the meeting is ‘invitation only’, be sure to check out Virtueel Platform’s publication (Un)common ground. Creative encounters across sectors and disciplines for more information.

For information on all Picnic ’07 events (25th – 29th of September) go to the Picnic network website. Oh… and did I mention Andrew Keen (see my previous post) will also be there?

Google Geoday Benelux 2007 Report

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MarkerWhen the invitation for the Benelux Google Geoday 2007, shaped in the form of the Google Maps marker which has risen to fame in the past years, landed in my mailbox it promised to become an interesting day in Amsterdam’s EXPO XXI this Thursday. With presentations by Bernard Seefeld (Google/Endoxon), Brandon Badger (Google) and Remco Kouwenhoven (Nederkaart) in the morning and workshops on Google Earth and the Google Maps API in the afternoon. With a big thanks to the people at Generation Next who were responsible for my ticket in the first place.

Google’s Geo development (Google Earth and Google Maps) has taken a big step in the previous years, with the coming of Earth and Maps there is a definite focus on adding layer after layer of information on the globe. Like graffiti on a wall everyone can apply meanings to the maps made available by the Google Geo team. As Lev Manovich noticed in The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada when talking about Augmented Space: The 90s were about the virtual, the 2000s will probably be about the physical. Not the infinite Internet, but the finite space of the physical land. And it seems that Google eagerly agrees with this prophecy. Below is my account of the day.

Keynote by Bernard Seefeld
Dangerous dragons were used in the early days of mapping if parts of the map were not known yet to the cartographer. This is one of the examples Seefeld uses from the early mapping practices, which stands for the improving of the image and the filling of the gaps. The early cartographers did not have the information to fill in the holes so they just drew dragons. Another example given is the map of New Holland, or what is now called Australia. The interesting thing is that the Portuguese probably reached this land first, but the Dutch were the first to draw a map of it and therefore being ‘responsible’ for the discovery of the land (a discovery from a Western perspective, anyway, as the Aboriginees were already there).

New HollandSeefeld takes the first example and also the mapping of New Holland, which was not accurate at first to say the least as the shape of the land on this image shows, to the present. He notices that the Google Geo team faces a similar situation in pasting together the best available satellite imagery to create the globe of Google Earth. Sometimes the information is available, sometimes not and in that case lesser detailed imagery has to be used. It is not about drawing dragons, but about improving satellite images.

So now we have an explanation of Google’s basemap philosophy, pasting together a globe in a way that perhaps reminds us of the patched body of Frankenstein. Building on top of that basemap is the next step and this is also the core of the Google Geo team’s stated mission: Organize the world’s geographic information and make it universally accessible and usable. Which is derived from Google’s overall mission statement, which is actually the same but doesn’t include the term geographic.

GoogleAntInstead of discovering new land, like in the age of navigation and in the second example given above, the user is now able to discover new information, the era of the information age. The emphasis here was especially on the enhanced content applied to the base like web links, reviews of places, photographs and featured content. Seefeld actually went as far as too say that the base is nice and the content makes it great. The base is always the same, just like the physical. But it is information and meanings applied to the physical space that make it what it is. The new idea is that meaning is applied with the use of the virtual, leaving aside the physical. Through the geo applications new discoveries can be done in the physical space, as an example Seefeld showed the Google ant; a species that got discovered with the help of geo applications.

But all this information applied to the surface of the Earth requires a way to search the information. This is the territory of the spatial web, which is all about geotagging, KML and more. Making the meanings applied to the Earth searchable. But nowadays discovering the earth isn’t as dangerous as it used to be. The dragons are gone; discovery has become a safe practice. Boring? Perhaps. You can always try the navigation option in Google Maps and Earth and follow the directions, even if it asks you to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.

Dragon Map

What is fascinating is the applying of so many meanings to the finite globe with the help of this virtual reality. I asked Seefeld the question what his views are on potential conflicting meanings. He emphasized the role of the user and also said that it is important to have access to all opinions. Getting everything 100% true is very difficult but the goal is to fix it again and again until it is good, with the help of user opinions. This really reminded me of the already infamous Wikipedia wars, which is more about events, persons, etc. while Google Earth is about space and meaning. As Dorling & Fairbairn say in the chapter Alternative Views from their book Mapping: Ways of Representing the World: ‘Maps have always presented pictures of ‘truth’ and just as many people have many different truths, so there are many maps to be drawn.’

“From API to mashup” by Brandon Badger
The key to presenting all these various views on planet Earth and what a website developer can show his/her visitor are mashups. Using the base map and applying content, meaning, to it. Badger emphasizes the essential role of the user and giving us a rather simple and commercial equation: Google’s tools + You = Victory. A more convincing model for the concept of the mashup was that the sum of the two parts makes for something more valuable than just the sum of the two parts: 1+1=2,53542. I guess it is a good thing Time magazine named us as persons of the year, but it also makes us a lot busier with supplying content for Web2.0 applications. When will “we” get too busy with supplying content until the point that we don’t want to do it anymore? It will probably mark the end of Web2.0: The death of the user.

Mashups by Remco Kouwenhoven
On his website Nederkaart.nl Remco Kouwenhoven shows lots of examples of mashups with the use of the Google Maps API. He showed us some of these on the screen, but the one that struck me the most was this map about the air traffic above Schiphol. What it intents to show is the high density of airplanes at Schiphol airport paired with complaints about the noise.

Schiphol Noise in Google Earth

This reminded me of a remark by Mark Monmonier in the Dorling & Fairbairn piece I already mentioned above: ‘Cartographic propaganda can be an effective intellectual weapon against an unresponsive, biased, or corrupt bureaucracy.’ These mashups can provide this cartographic propaganda in real-time. Current issues can be addressed with the help of real-time information gathering. On Kouwenhoven’s website a lot more examples can be seen and it is a definitely worth browsing and importing some of the examples into Google Earth.

The Workshops
After a morning of presentations the afternoon was reserved for us, the user, to start creating content using the tools supplied by Google as Badger pointed out. Although I’m not sure for how long these links will be online you can check out the small assignments of the workhops at these links: Google Earth workshop and Google Maps API workshop. More technical info is also available through code.google.com. There was one jawdropping example in the Google Earth workshop that I didn’t know about, which is an incredibly detailed 3D city model of Berlin. Definitely a must-see.

Hauptbahnhof Berlin 3D

After spending two hours being immersed in the representation of the physical space on the screen, the pavement on my way to the train station also had some new meaning applied to it. A strange awareness of how easy meaning can be applied to the physical space we navigate each day, or to the places where we live. Being unaware which meaning has been applied in the virtual to the places we call home. What also struck me after this day is the dependence of Google on the user, who is responsible for supplying the content. It makes you think, but for some reason I’m just feeling lucky right now.

Making presentations using Google Earth

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For the Information Visualization course of the University of Amsterdam fellow student Pepijn and myself made a presentation using Google Earth instead of using the same old Powerpoint again.

In this presentation for the Information Visualization course we experiment how presentations can be given with the use of Google Earth. For every author we discuss we move to the hometown of that author. But lots more options are possible to use Google Earth for presentation purposes and also to show (spatial) examples during a presentation. This is intended as a first try and the idea is open for expansion, we challenge you!

How to open it?

  • First download Google Earth
  • Download this file: Presentation Maps and Critique ZIP
  • Unzip it
  • Choose File > Open in Google Earth and click the downloaded file
  • The presentation should appear in the My Places Tab, navigate by clicking the various ‘slides’

Cyberkoelies: Buy World of Warcraft characters or experience straight from China

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Cheating has been around as long as games existed. If you fail at something time after time, you just typed in the code and off you went to the next level. With MMORPG’s and a complete social online community, that way of skipping the hardest part is gone. Players are looking at other possibilities offered. One of them is buying character from eBay, or in some other way.

chinese wow playersMade in China has probably been around for as long as mass produced toys are overflowing the markets. And while the West used to get their cheap toys from China, they now get their experience points straight from China where the young people from the countryside who want to make a carreer in the big city -in this case portrayed Zhengzhou- play World of Warcraft for a living.

The Dutch documentary Cyberkoelies by Floris-Jan van Lyun deals with this sensitive subject. He shows us the lives of Jing and Wang, two Chinese youngsters looking for a way to get out of the seemingly never changing life of the Chinese countryside.

Van Luyn shows us that the life of the farmers and the ‘ore farming’ for other users in World of Warcraft isn’t all that different. What makes it attractive is the virtual world. Jing tells us that there are less boundaries in this world, and when we see her walking down the street -in real life that is- she tells us that she just enjoys watching people walking around.

The employer is also interviewed, and this gives us some insight as to who is behind this business but in the end we don’t really get any more concrete information than ‘a contact in Germany.’ Tracing this line back to the players who actually want these ‘virtual tasks’ done would be a very interesting next step. To track the people who make this whole system of supply-and-demand work.

Besides Jing, Van Luyn also shows us the life of Wang. His family doesn’t really understand what he is doing, his brother thinks he is kind of a failure and his father doesn’t really know what the computergame is as long as it is legal: “Because that is what is important for my generation.” If it is legal or not can be contested. According to Chinese law probably not, but the ‘employers’ from World of Warcraft -I’d call them the cheaters- are not favored in World of Warcraft.

User GijsW posted a comment on the forum of Holland Doc, the program that aired the documentary. He noticed that these practices are not ‘legal’ in World of Warcraft, because one user can only play his own character which would be very hard to check up on. And he also mentions that some parts of the game actually are becoming too time consuming, causing the users to ‘outsource’ their ‘work’ to the Chinese youngsters at a certain cost. Cheating costs money nowadays.

ore mining in WOWThe documentary didn’t really convince that the older generation in China doesn’t know what computergames are, or that World of Warcraft is the same work as working in the ‘real’ fields. Although these things do exist, they are not specific for China. I found that the main argument to go and see the documentary is the outsourcing of work in the virtual. These are the nasty jobs -ore mining, time consuming jobs- the West doesn’t really want to do. The toys we don’t want to make.

Cyberkoelies is not available -yet- with English subtitles, but if you can understand a bit of Dutch or Chinese then this is definitely an interesting documentary. You can view the documentary online at the Cyberkoelies page at VPRO Holland Doc. Dutch newspaper NRC also ran an interesting story on this, which includes an interview with Van Luyn. The first image is courtesy of VPRO.

My solution for quality gaming on a U3 USB stick

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I’ve tried a lot of the games available for the U3 USB stick, but none of them really seemed to give me the relaxation I needed after a lot of hard work at the campus computers of the University of Amsterdam. And since I’m kind of addicted to my ZSNES Super Nintendo Emulator, I decided to use Package Factory to make a U3 install for it.

snesvintage

It’s very simple. Step one: Download ZSNES Windows version. Step two: drag the zsnes.exe into the Package Factory window. Step three: Choose install from your harddrive from the U3 launchpad. Get yourself a couple of roms and put them on the U3 drive -of course only from SNES games you have in your possession- and you’re set to go! I’ve heard that other emulators (for example GBA) also work.

Also a short update on my personal experience with the Smart Drive. I’ve been using it intensively on campus and besides a sometimes long startup period, it has been very ideal for me. Now I don’t have to use that annoying Internet Explorer anymore, I have Firefox always ready with my personal plugins (del.icio.us, wordpress.com) which is a big advantage. Besides that I use it a lot for syndicating content with my home computer.

Any points of critique? Some, because I think development of the applications is still a bit slow. What I would like to see is more use of programs like Package Factory so people can create their own (freeware) programs from existing ones and post them on the web. This would stimulate the community around the medium.

By the way, It’s good to see prices are going down for the U3 sticks with a higher capacity, because more capacity might mean larger applications and I’m anxious to see what that can bring us.

Writely frustrations… and ideas

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In the Masters of Media class we’ve been trying out Writely.com for a couple of assignments in the past weeks. Not so long ago the online word processor was acquired by Google. The idea is very promising: “Share documents instantly & collaborate in realtime.” So we decided to take it for a test-drive, but so far all attempts have failed to create one united, democratic post. Here is my view on why the Web 2.0 application falls short on the collaborative aspects, and causes more frustration than collaboration.

wrlogo

Two cases
First let me start by saying that our group with eight people might be larger than the average Writely collaboration. The first thing we tried to do was set up a few guidelines, or top ten rules, for cooperation on Writely. By using various colors we distinguished ourselves and things seemed to go fluently in the classroom. But when I got back home and got back to the Writely document I was hesitating if I could for example edit, or maybe delete text that was added to my entry. In short: I needed to discuss it instantly.

The second try also suffered from the above problem, but in kind of a different way. We’re now in the proces of -or at least trying to- creating a combined (blog)post on the infamous Shocklogs. There was some writing already in the document and I added some lines, but the main problem with this was that we couldn’t decide anyhing about the form of the document because -again- there was no way to discuss the subject directly. Of course you can use the document like a chatbox, but that messes up your whole layout and with more than two people you get quite a chaotic document.

What would be very useful is a small Writely chatbox so you can chat with your collaborators directly. An instant messaging option would make the program a lot better for use in bigger groups. Or why not a “you decide” button which let’s Writely juggle the text by itself, whatever gets the job done! This second solution might sound a bit over-the-top, but I could imagine an option that lets you put different colors of text together automatically. Or one document which could use a multitude of tabs, one for discussion and one for the actual document. Just some ideas.

Can it be that we are the problem? That we need a more organized approach? Maybe, but the lack of specific collaborative options makes it very hard to actually complete a document with a lot of people. And yes… I do know it’s beta…

Written by newmw

October 9, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Cross Media Week Amsterdam: The future as seen in movies

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This week Amsterdam is all about Cross Media, a mating ritual between all different forms of media: New and old, new and even newer. I (and the Masters of Media) visited the student lectures on Wednesday where five speakers presented their views on the topic. The speakers were:

  • John Underkoffler, Chief Scientist, Treadle & Loam and Co-Founder, G-Speak (United States)
  • Mary Hodder, CEO, Dabble (United States)
  • Gabriele Gresta, Executive Vice Chairman, Digital Magics Group (Italy)
  • Joaquín Alvarado and Sylvia Paull

Picnic06

If you want to read a whole report on the lectures, check out Anne Helmond’s post on the conference. Personally I was most intrigued by John Underkoffler and his views on the convergence of film and (new media) science. He coined a very simple, but very relevant question about the mouse. Everything in computer science has developed, but why are we still stuck with  just the mouse and keyboard? Because it confirmed some thoughts I had floating through my mind a while back, when I was thinking about the science used in movies.

Minority Report and Gestural Interfaces
G-speak is a gestural interface system which Underkoffler is working on, but the original idea was also used in the movie Minority Report where Underkoffler was science and technology advisor. In looking for ways to present a believable future, the idea was brought up to put a gestural interface system in the movie. This system was developed and the actors could also practice with a working G-speak system, so they could mimmick the hand gestures in the movie itself. So you could say it’s kind of a movie and science loop.

The examples that were shown on the Picnic were quite impressive and showed a working system quite similar to the scenes you see in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is working on a crime scene with the help from a very interesting gestural interface. You can watch a short example of that movie sequence below:

I couldn’t find the example of the G-Speak interface which Underkoffler showed, but there is similar research being done by other companies. They work a bit differently, but the gestural idea looks quite the same. This might look quite tiring, waving your hands up an down and all around, Underkoffler mentioned that they could easily test it for 8 hours straight. These are two examples of still developing and very interesting interfaces:

Jeff Han of New York University

EON Touchlight

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