Hardware

Social camera

Skyline

I got to handle a Nex-5N yesterday, thanks to Timo, and it felt very good in the hand — lovely size and weight, easy to grip and manipulate. And when kitted out with the beautiful Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 lens it’s still small and nifty — much smaller than the review photos make it look.

What I want out of a camera is something that doesn’t get in my way — as I travel and walk, and as I take photos or shoot video. It also needs to be as inconspicuous as possible. On Thursday, Mads (23 Video) showed me his iPhone 4S video kit, a perfect lightweight assemblage of monopod, iPhone and OWLE:

Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit

Living off the iPhone (4) camera for much of this year has been most interesting, and once again I’ve found myself wondering how long it will be before we see traditional camera manufacturers incorporating the social and contextual into their cameras in imaginative and fulfilling ways. Christian Lindholm wrote last week: ‘Imagine a camera manufacturer turning the camera into … a social app platform for imaging. … who is going to do this. … This is in my mind the future of digital cameras, a social camera. A type of 21st century extension of the Brownie box’. (Of course, it may be all too late for any kind of triumph — skating to where the puck is, not where it’s going to be. I think of John Gruber’s comment on the ‘iPhone 4S Camera Made by Sony’ story.)

I overlooked this interview with Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom in my last post:

“What interests us are the natural limits in terms of how many people are owning these phones, whether that’s Apple, or Android or whatever it is. I don’t foresee a future where people don’t have some sort of phone that’s like a computer. I don’t foresee a future where those phones don’t have cameras in them. That spells a future where smartphones are the status quo. You have to ask yourself how you allow people to communicate what’s in their lives,” says Systrom. “I don’t like the idea of Instagram as a photo sharing service, and I don’t think it is,” says Systrom, “it’s very much a communication tool, it’s a visual communications tool. The printing press did something really big for the world when everyone could get books in their hands and read. I’m not saying we’re a printing press, but I am saying technology pushes people forward in some way and unlocks potential. We’re not focused on how we can make toys, we’re focused on how do we change the world in some real way. Like, how many companies have been handed the opportunity to get 15 million users in the first year? Not many. We want to take this ticket and ride.”

Whatever dedicated camera I buy this year will surely look strangely isolated in just a few years — capable, for sure, of being linked up to the larger world, in which my photos are taken and then shared (made part of conversations), but only by making the tiresome journey from hardware to software to web to social networks, a journey that, increasingly, is just being taken care of by the cameras most of us now carry with us every day: ‘iPhone photography is so much more though. It’s the ability to instantly capture what you see, edit and share it with someone or everyone’. (HT Alex for this link.)

What I want out of a camera is something that doesn’t get in my way. There will be times when I most definitely do not want to go the social, digital route, but I do want the “it just works” option.

Let’s Adore And Endure Each Other


Tower Bridge talking

Exciting times in ICT as its interconnections with other school subjects become clearer and as we build new areas to our curriculum. And some of that really does involve building.

This is a video made by my colleague, Olly Rokison, of his working Tower Bridge model. Both model and video are being used this year in our ICT course for our 13 year-olds as we explore how things are now talking to us.

From our school website (where the full, annotated Arduino code can be downloaded):

At St Paul's, we take a steady interest in new and emerging technologies. We have been experimenting recently with the open source Arduino hardware.

In this project, Oliver Rokison, Technology, ICT and Computing teacher, built a working paper model of Tower Bridge, connected it via Arduino gear to the Tower Bridge Twitter account — and the result is a model that mimics the movements of the real bridge.

The Tower Bridge Twitter account was, of course, set up by Tom Armitage. Tom wrote about putting Tower Bridge on Twitter in February, 2008, in Making Bridges Talk:

I’ve written before about how wonderful Twitter can be as a messaging bus for physical objects. The idea of overhearing machines talking about what they’re doing is, to my mind, quite delightful.


Last words on last year

A few words to add to what I wrote back in January about the first half of last academic year, 2008–9.

This was the second year we’d taught our Year 9 the new ICT course (online here). Now that this body of material is very familiar to us, we can move on with confidence, keeping the old cycle of lessons as a reference for us and for anyone else who wants this level of detail, but producing much cleaner, leaner lesson material for the pupils with more time, now, for hands-on experience both in lessons and beyond. Given the engagement we’re building with professionals based in London, and the inter-disciplinary collaboration now going on at school to make much more of all the considerable areas of overlap between art, ICT, technology, electronics, science, etc, I’m confident that there’s something underway which, properly nurtured and encouraged, could be very exciting and creative.

As part of our continuing exploration of computer games, we were fortunate to have two more visiting speakers of distinction. Ian Livingstone came in May. Eidos hosts a biography. One of the UK’s founding fathers of interactive games and fiction (he co-founded Games Workshop in 1975), at Eidos (the UK's leading developer and publisher of video games) he was instrumental in securing many of the company's major franchises, including Tomb Raider and Hitman. In 2000 he was awarded the BAFTA Special Award for his outstanding contribution to the interactive entertainment industry. In 2003 he was appointed Creative Industries advisor to the British Council and in 2005 he was appointed Chair of the Computer Games Skills Council. He was awarded an OBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List for his contribution to the Computer Games Industry. His talk, Life Is A Game, focused on his many years in games. He spoke about the acute skills shortage in the UK games industry and the urgent need for top quality UK maths/computer science graduates to consider it as a career.

I'm delighted that, again in May, Alice Taylor, Commissioning Editor, Education, at Channel 4 and a renowned gamer, came to talk about her life in gaming (she played Quake for England), what she does now and why she thinks gaming matters. You can read about her work with C4 and what she's up to on her blog. You can also read what Matt Locke at C4 has to say about her (‘she’s one of the most inspiring women I know working in technology at the moment’) and you can read about some of her thinking to do with a game C4 is developing about privacy. (And the game, Smokescreen, is now out.)

In June, we squeezed in another excellent talk — by Graham Cooke, eCommerce Senior Project Manager, EMEA, Google. He spoke about cloud-computing (trends and changes in computing and how cloud-computing is changing the way we work), his own work at Google and website analytics (what it takes to make a website work).

Last term saw us celebrate our 500th anniversary as a school and as part of that my colleague, Olly Rokison, showed off Centograph on our open day (more about our open day and ICT in an earlier post), a piece we’d commissioned from Tinker.it!. We’ve been talking with Alex and others at Tinker.it! for a while now (and Alex spoke at school last September), looking at ways in which we can make more use of Arduino in our teaching and at how we teach about “the internet of things”.

 

From the Tinker.it! post about Centograph:

image

Students in St. Paul’s technology classes are studying the fundamentals and the latest advances in computation, networks, electronics, and physical design. These technologies are increasingly complex and interconnected; this has been reflected in the emergence of fields such as interaction design, human computer interaction, and physical computing.

Centograph, a physical representation of virtual information, uses today’s technologies to encourage viewers to reflect on the past.

When you enter a search term into the computer, Centograph queries the Google News Archive for a list of related news articles over the past 100 years. The archive returns a timeline of articles sorted according to date. The bars on the graph then change height to display a histogram of the relative number of news articles for each decade. This allows you to view the ‘shape’ of the past century in relation to different topics—from progression in computing technology to times of war and peace to changing sources of energy, to name a few possibilities.

Centograph provides viewers with a context for exploration and reflection, and it urges viewers to seek connections between different subjects and evaluate changes in public discourse over time. It also raises questions about how we use technology today. How do we acquire and interpret information, and how do we connect the web of virtual data to our physical lives? Users type a search term into the computer and press enter. The bar graph then changes to display the histogram for the term. You can also browse through words that other people have entered by clicking on a term to see the related graph.

We’re looking forward to doing more with both Arduino and Tinker.it!.

And so, the new school year begins … More about us and AMEE, YouTube/Vimeo, etc as we go.


Mobiles

To get a sense of how rapidly cellphones are penetrating the global marketplace, you need only to look at the sales figures. According to statistics from the market database Wireless Intelligence, it took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide. The second billion sold in four years, and the third billion sold in two. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. And figures from the International Telecommunications Union show that by the end of 2006, 68 percent of the world’s mobile subscriptions were in developing countries.

— from The New York Times article focusing on the work of Jan Chipchase (and colleagues), Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?.

… have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why, regardless of culture, age, gender and increasingly context you're likely to find a mobile phone in the hand, pocket or bag of the person next to you? Put simply - the ability to communicate over distances in a personal convenient manner is universally understood and appreciated, and it's easy enough to get the basics without going to night school or taking a PhD. It certainly helps that, as a functional tool that can be used discreetly or with a flourish, the mobile phone makes an ideal vehicle for projecting one’s status and personal preferences - from the choice of brand, model, ring tone or wallpaper, or simply that (because you're connected) you've arrived.

Today over 3 billion of the world's 6.6 billion people have cellular connectivity and it is expected that another billion will be connected by 2010. But what is often overlooked is the disproportionate impact of mobile phones on different societies, which is one of the reasons why as researchers, we increasingly prefer to spend time in places like Cairo and Kampala: there is simply more to learn. These are places where for many, it's the first time they have the ability to communicate personally and conveniently over distances - without having to worry whether someone can overhear the topic of their conversation - communicate with whom they want, when they want. It makes new businesses viable and creates markets where there was none. For many it's the first time they can provide a stable fixed point of reference to the outside world - a phone number, which in turn creates a new form of identity that in turn enables everything from rudimentary banking to commerce. And not least - each new feature on or accessible through the mobile phone brings new modes of use - unencumbered by my, and probably your entrenched (and increasingly outdated) notions of entertainment, the 'right' way to capture and share experiences, the internet. If you work or study in the mobile space and you're expected to innovate, these are places that bring fresh thinking and new perspectives.

— from Jan Chipchase's article, Small Objects, Travelling Further, Faster.

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth. ... we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

"We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. ... "Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious."

"It's the technology most adapted to the essence of the human species -- sociability," says Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "It's the ultimate tool to find each other. It's wonderful technology for being human."

— from The Washington Post, Our Cells, Ourselves.


Post-Platform

Time was (and not long ago) that it seemed like it was Mac vs Windows fanwars all the time. Good to see we're moving on: 'While Windows and Mac users alike get a kick out of making fun of PC, the truth is that both operating systems are useful, and it's extremely useful to be able to use them at the same time, on the same machine' — downloadsquad.

In that spirit, I was pleased to read (via Ian) theAppleblog's post, Windows features OS X should ‘adopt’. (And no, I've not read through the 190 — current count — comments.) If we were enlarging that to consider Windows software you'd like to run on a Mac, Windows Live Writer would come right at the top of my list.

Will Apple ever release their OS to run on non-Apple Intels? Given how we're moving on in the platform debate, it's more than just a pain for the end user that he/she is forced to buy specific hardware in order to experience both platforms on one machine. I'm loathe to do that — and not least because Lenovo ThinkPads are such well made laptops.


Lenovo blogs … and decision time

Currently, the blogs :

The About Lenovo site is here and Lenovo Products is here (both are US).

It's getting to that point in the cycle (2.5 years) where I'm noticing my current ThinkPad's not handling the new demands I'm making of it with quite the same speed and efficiency I expect from it, and I'm beginning to think about upgrading. Mac has such interesting OS/software, but for build there's nothing I know to compete with ThinkPad. (Now, if Apple were ever to release their OS for sale separately from their machines …)

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Cutting loose at last?

Tim Bray:

I was talking with a woman today, a professional writer who works mostly in the health-care technology space. She said “These days, I want to stuff my Dell in the nearest trash compactor and do everything on my Blackberry. The computer, it’s real work to manage, and I can read whatever anyone sends me on the Blackberry, almost.” Is this the future?

Chris Heathcote:

The big question is: do I really need a laptop anymore? Yes, for work, just for Outlook, Visio and mainly Powerpoint (though there is a crazy Powerpoint-esque application installed on the E70). I might feel slightly less tethered though.

Regan Coleman, Forum Nokia:

Our non-developers day-to-day use their laptops and desktops in three main areas 1) accessing the internet,  2) email and 3) office-type functions such as spreadsheets and documents. With smart phones like the Nokia 9300 and 9500, which we use internally, they can do pretty much everything from their phone. It seems inevitable that some day we won't have to all have bulky desktops or laptops - we'll just use our phones. Even more complicated enterprise apps can be hosted on a server and accessed from a browser on the phone. When back in the office, people will just dock their phones. External wireless keyboards for phones are already on the market. It will be interesting to see the development of external monitors for mobile phones.

Antony Pranata (comment to Regan Coleman's post):

Fully agree... In the future, we will be bringing our "laptop" inside our pocket. At home/office, we just attach our "laptop" to a wireless keyboard and big monitor and do normal work. Hope to see this happening in the next couple of years. Btw, don't forget about S60 phones too. S60 is coming to the enterprise world as well, for example with E61.

Insofar as time permits, I'm already getting a lot of mileage out of the E70. More about it soon-ish, I hope.

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GPS puzzle ... cleared up?

I've wondered why GPS isn't embedded in cellphones. Charlie Schick said both there and on his own blog that he couldn't be certain but 'I am sure there is a reason related to size of chip-set, power issues, usability, licensing, pricing, target users'.

David Weinberger's just posted this:

Nikolaj says that it'll be at least five years before we can programmatically and ubiquitously locate someone in terms of latitude.longitude based on their phone positions, but we can already (see Imity) see who is around a particular phone number. GPS will take that long to get put into cellphones because of battery life...

(Nikolaj is Nikolaj Nyholm of Imity — whose app impressed me so much at Reboot.)

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Why not to buy a Mac

An email from Apple just appeared in my Outlook inbox:

'No' to all of those.

I'm drawn to Macs (there are many reasons for considering the Intel Mac as an excellent choice), but adverts like this one just put me off.

Dave Winer:

Every time my Mac crashes in the middle of the night I think of the stupid Apple commercial where they claim that Macs don't do that. It happens about once a week, sometimes every other day.

Apple: "Your toaster doesn't crash. Your kitchen sink doesn't crash. Why should your computer?" 

Good question. The answer is that computers crash, even Macs. In my experience, they crash more than Windows machines. Giving Apple the benefit of the doubt, their marketing people don't understand computers. Better to promise to help users when the computer you sold them crashes, than to promise they don't crash.

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