Jun 15 2010

Tony Allen at Millennium Park

Perhaps not the most exciting video ever, here’s a quick, 45-second look at the environment at Millennium Park yesterday evening, during a free show by legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and his band.

Once again, shot with Motorola Droid phonecam. This one is hosted on Youtube, because I wanted to get an idea of quality differences between the videos that I encode and upload to my own host, and those which are encoded and hosted by YouTube. Consider it an A/B test with the Maifest video below.

May 17 2010

GestureTek Turns You into the Controller

Image Courtesy of: gesturetek.com

(Note – This article was first published by h+ Magazine, on May 12, 2010.  It’s republished here for my own archives.)

Chances are, you’re not using the same computer you were twenty years ago. But chances are, you’re still using the same basic user interface — a mouse for pointing, a keyboard for typing. While generations of hardware and software have come and gone, the paradigm for interacting with our machines has remained pretty much the same. But that’s slowly changing: Nintendo’s Wii system has gotten video gamers off the couch, Apple’s iPhone has acclimated us to using touch to control our devices, and a new generation of user-interface systems are beginning to come to the consumer market which promise more natural, intuitive, and engaging experiences.

Vincent John Vincent, president and co-founder of GestureTek, thinks next-generation user interfaces will be driven by movement. His company makes systems that use cameras and computer vision to watch a user’s movements, and then translate those movements into controls. “As the interfaces that we see on the screen become more dynamic and deep, with 3-D jumping off the screen or deeper into the screen, then the ability to reach out with your hand and manipulate them in that 3-D space is a much more natural way to go than just to have one point of control with the mouse,” Vincent said.

GestureTek has been building equipment and displays that respond to movement since the 1990s, according to Vincent. “We are the inventors and pioneers in this space, and luckily, early enough in it as well that we’ve been able to get a lot of patents on what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re very lucky that we were way ahead of our time for a long time, we sold thousands of installations of that technology, into museums and science centers and retail in various locations.”

“In the early 2000s, we started expanding and we created a number of different technologies that were interactive surfaces like floors and walls and windows and whatnot that would just be reacting to your motion and movement and being able to let people walk over those in front of them and just pick up your general gestures,” Vincent said. “We just found it to be very, not just natural, but engaging. It captures people’s attention, it makes the experience more entertaining and dynamic.”

And gesture controls are coming to a screen near you sooner than you might think — Microsoft’s Project Natal, which was announced at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, is due to be released by Christmas of this year. Project Natal promises a 3-D, depth-sensing camera peripheral for the Xbox 360, which will use software licensed from GestureTek to enable gamers to play without any controller at all, simply by using the movements of their body. Hitachi has demonstrated a prototype HDTV that uses an embedded 3-D camera to replace the traditional remote control. Users simply wave their hand to change the channel or turn down the volume. Mobile phone manufacturers such as DoCoMo have licensed software from GestureTek as well. “We looked at the mobile phone market and said well, there is a processor, a display and a camera, what a perfect product,” said Vincent. “So we took what we had already created and evolved it even more so that we could use a phone in the hand to act like a joystick, and the camera would watch how the phone was moving in relationship to the world, or you could gesture at the phone, etc.”

The availability of depth-sensing cameras is driving the speed with which these innovations are getting into the hands of consumers. “The depth cameras that are coming to the market use infrared light and three depth sensors, so that when an array of light is pulsed out into the environment, much like an ultrasound, it bounces back,” Vincent said. “The sensors can tell how quickly it’s come back and therefore build up a depth perception of the world in front of it. It’s very similar to ultrasound but done with light. Obviously, the lenses that are capturing that information are very sophisticated and that is what has kept them very expensive up till this point in time.”

Of course, those hardware costs will drop over time. And that means one day soon, you might be able to ditch that mouse once and for all.

Mar 19 2010

New host, new version

So I got extremely frustrated by the inability of my previous webhost to provide me with even the most trivial of support, and I decided to change servers.

However, in the process, I got a little ambitious, decided to upgrade WordPress, and I managed to screw a few things up.  Permalinks, for one.  So any links you may have had to my pages are probably borked right now.

I’m working on getting it fixed.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Nov 21 2009

Droid has replaced three gadgets in my gadget bag

I have been on verizon for over a decade now, and honestly, I have been pretty happy with them. Problem is that until now, their phones sucked. I had some thoughts of getting an iphone when they first came out, but they were way too expensive, and besides, AT&T is horrible.

But now, there is the Droid.

Just got it this morning, and I love it so far. The camera is better than my dedicated camera, the mp3 player is better than my dedicated mp3 player (pandora!) and the gps is better than my dedicated gps.

In fact, I’m writing this post from the Droid. It’s correcting my capitalization as I go. :)

Good work Google. And Motorola. And Verizon, for once.

Nov 08 2009

The job hunt begins, and I’m offering a cash bounty

Greeting, friends.

Eleven months ago, I left Florida to come to Chicago and work my way through Northwestern’s Master’s of Journalism program.  Since then, I have been gainfully unemployed, focusing all my attention on my studies.

This year-long project has been a success thus far.  I’m now in my fourth quarter, and the end is in sight.  Medill has allowed me to build up a host of skills that I hadn’t yet fully developed, and on balance, I consider it to have been an extremely successful endeavor.

But as I reach the end of the program, I’m confronted with the reality that I’m now headed back into the job market, at a time when jobs seem to be particularly hard to come by.

Thus, I’ve decided to adapt a technique from the open-source software community, and to apply it to my job hunt.  It’s become common among groups that deal in open-source software to offer a cash reward to anyone that can code a particularly useful new feature, or quash some persistent bug.  (Interested in bounties in the open source world? Check out this, this, or this.) So, I’ve decided it would be an intriguing experiment to see if the same technique could be useful in finding my next gig.

I’m offering a $250 cash bounty to the person or persons who can provide me with a tip, lead, or introduction that leads to my next full-time job.

Why am I doing this?  Because I am convinced that the best jobs are not the ones you go and find, but rather the ones that find you. I’m interested in finding out just how useful it is to leverage social networks and personal connections in job hunting, or whether I’m better off going through want-ads and online job sites.  And I want to reward the folks who try to help me do well in life.  After all, it’s only fair, right?

So what kind of job am I looking for?

In short, I’m not sure.  There are lots of things I’m qualified to do, and I have an interesting skill set, combining a variety of expertise which often are not found together.  This makes me uniquely qualified for some kinds of positions which are generally very difficult to recruit for.

First of all, I have more than a decade of experience working with computers in a variety of contexts.  I’ve been a system administrator, a break/fix guy, a programmer and web developer.  I’m comfortable with a wide variety of platforms and technologies, from the executive level down to nuts-and-bolts of  implementation and support.

I’m proficient with a wide variety of media creation applications and production processes, including print, online, audio, video and interactive media.  I have been trained as a journalist at one of the most prestigious J-schools in the United States.  I understand newsroom dynamics and producing content on deadline.  I have good news judgement, and I know how to cultivate sources and story ideas.  My written work has been published in a variety of outlets.

I have excellent communication and problem solving skills.  I have a history of finding creative solutions to complicated problems.  I can translate complex technical information in to everyday language.  I can take creative ideas and translate them into technical specifications.  I’m a good multi-tasker, and can balance several projects simultaneously.

I have worked deeply with new media and social media, and I understand how to leverage new platforms to build audiences and maintain relationships.  I have experience with stuff like online advertising (both from a technical and business point of view), search engine optimization, and the semantic web.

Some possible jobs I’m qualified for:

  • Web Editor
  • Information Technology Manager
  • Content Specialist
  • Science/Technology Reporter
  • User Interface Specialist
  • Web designer/programmer
  • Project manager

This is only a partial list.  Frankly, (and hopefully without sounding too self-aggrandizing) I’m a pretty smart fellow, and I know how to make myself useful in a wide variety of roles.  I’m used to wearing many hats.  I’m flexible, responsive and I bring a good deal of value to my employer.

Here’s my current resume. Of course, I am happy to provide published clips, as well as professional and personal references upon request.

My Job Selection Logic:

  • Really interesting/innovative jobs get first priority in my search, no matter where they may be.
  • Jobs in the Chicagoland area get consideration over jobs that would require relocation.  However, relocation is not off the table for the right opportunity.
  • I’m not averse to traveling as part of my next job, and, in fact, I enjoy a little business travel from time to time.
  • Media-related jobs get consideration over technical-only jobs.
  • Full-time jobs get priority over contract positions.

The Rules:

  • I will pay $250 USD, via cash, check or Paypal to the individual that can provide me with a tip, introduction, or lead that translates into my next full-time job.
  • The bounty is payable upon my first day of employment.
  • Employment at this job must begin between December 14, 2009 and January 11, 2010.
  • Tips must be submitted via email. Send the email to: jobtip@ianmonroe.com.  If more than one person submits the same winning job tip, the winner of the bounty will be determined by timestamp on the email.
  • Professional recruiters may not win the bounty (but don’t let that stop you from getting in touch about potentially interesting positions).

So, do you know of a job for which I might be qualified?  Don’t hesitate — email me today and let me know.

Finally, even if you don’t have a tip that is immediately relevant, please consider that you might know someone who does.  So feel free to pass this offer along to anyone you think might be able to point me in the right direction.

PS – I will update this post with the results of the experiment as they become known.

UPDATE (11/19/2009):

World-renowned DJ and producer Q-Burns Abstract Message has decided to try out the job bounty idea as well.  He’s offering a 10% cut of his fee for anyone that can provide tips or contacts which end up turning into a live show.  Read the post about his variant here. Also, he’s posted some sweet DJ sets to provide a sample for the uninitiated.  Know a club or promoter that might be interested?  You should get in touch with him.


Jul 24 2009

It’s like the Mark Twain story about the cat and the stove, you see.

What separates the mind of a scientist (or, more generally, a rationalist) from the average person?  Sent my way by Brother Doug.

xkcd – A Webcomic – The Difference.

Jul 22 2009

Windows 7 upgrade path — if you use XP, you must wipe and reload.

Oh, man.  This is a really, really bad idea from Microsoft.  On the other hand, it’s going to mean some easy money for me.  Let me remind you, my friend, that my computer-fixin’ rates are quite reasonable.

“…Windows XP users, including the millions who have recently snapped up cheap, XP-powered netbooks, will first have to wipe out everything on their hard disks in order to install Windows 7. on their current machines. In fact, Microsoft doesn’t even call migrating to Windows 7 from XP an “upgrade.” It refers to it as a “clean install,” or a “custom installation.” This disk wipeout can be performed manually, or automatically during the Windows 7 installation process.

If you’re an XP user, the disk-wiping will cause you to lose your current file and folder organization, and all your programs, though not necessarily your personal data files themselves.

via Replacing Windows – WSJ.com.

May 18 2009

Nano-writing technique leaves a very small impression

[video src="http://www.ianmonroe.com/flash_video/NANOFAB.flv" width="400" height="300" ]

In April, scientists from Northwestern University published a new technique for drawing nano-scale structures on a surface, using an atomic force microscope.  In this video, the authors of the paper demonstrate and explain the technique and some of it’s potential applications.

 

| Open Player in New Window

Note: This story was first published on the Medill Reports website, on 5/14/2009.  It’s re-published here for my own archives.

Apr 22 2009

Digital media competition encourages educational experiments

Author Howard Rheingold demonstrates his Social Media Classroom project on Friday.  Photo: Kathryn Murphy/Medill

Author Howard Rheingold demonstrates his Social Media Classroom project on Friday. Photo: Kathryn Murphy/Medill

Whether it’s mapping an ancient Roman burial route over time, constructing a homemade flashlight or learning how to make art from recycled materials, HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation are helping fund the digital media experiments that could provide innovative learning opportunities for youngsters.

In an effort to bring education up to speed with the digital era, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation along with HASTAC, a consortium of humanities, arts and science professionals, awarded $2 million dollars in grants in the second annual Digital Media and Learning Competition on Thursday.

Howard Rheingold, futurist and author of the book “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution“ was a winner in last year’s competition, and served as a judge for this year’s applicants. “The educational model that is 1,000 years old, that is based on handwritten books that are chained down to lecterns that some old guy stands up and reads to you, is severely challenged when all the students in the room are online and you’re competing with the rest of the internet,” Rheingold said.

“Young people are changing as a result of digital media,” said Julia Stasch, the vice president of human and community development at the MacArthur Foundation, “This has huge implications for teaching and learning.”

To celebrate the announcement of the winners of this year’s grants, HASTAC brought together 17 of last year’s winners to demonstrate what kinds of projects the grant money helped produce, develop and expand. The event kicked off with a reception and performance by PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra at the Newberry Library and concluded with an expo Friday afternoon at the Palmer House.

“[PLOrk] was one of the winners last year,” said Cathy Davidson, professor of interdisciplinary studies at John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute and co-founder of HASTAC. “And they’re not only a performing orchestra. When they teach students, they’re teaching students everything from computer music to atonal music to signal processing.”

Both creativity and user-involvement are key factors in determining winners for the competition. The winners of this year’s grants will display the results of their projects at next year’s reception.

“We were looking for things that were not one-off’s, that can replicate and influence,” Rheingold said. “We’re looking at projects that have some degree of ingenuity regarding the technology and particularly projects that are centered on participatory learning.”

Some of this year’s grant recipients included: DigitalOcean, which will connect 200 classrooms worldwide to help observe and monitor declining fish populations; PlayPower, which will use an inexpensive ($12) TV-computer for interactive design of learning games; and Global Challenge, an online competition using media and social networking tools to develop and propose solutions to problems such as global warming and the future of energy.

The emphasis on interactive learning was evident in last year’s winning projects on display at Friday’s expo.

LEDs, resistors, and origami illustrated Ohmwork's winning entry in last year's Digital Media and Learning Competition.  Photo: Ian Monroe/Medill

LEDs, resistors, and origami illustrated Ohmwork's winning entry in last year's Digital Media and Learning Competition. Photo: Ian Monroe/Medill

Hypercities, scheduled to publicly launch this summer, allows users to take real maps of cities and overlay both geographical and time-based information. A HyperCity can include everything from its architectural history to the stories of residents past and present.

This has uses in both general education and for high-end research, according to Diane Favro, director of the UCLA Experiential Technologies Center.

“You can go through time and see the different maps and add your own content,” she said. “So you could add somebody’s trip through the city, or where riots had occurred in a particular historical time, or other events, and link that with music or pictures or, as we did with the Rome one, with 3-d models, so it just depends on what your goal is. It’s going to be open for everyone to use, and serve as a platform where everything gets geo-temporally tagged.”

Some of the projects, like Ohmwork, brought students in to help develop the projects. Ohmwork is a social networking site centered on do-it-yourself science and technology projects.

“About 70 kids helped develop the prototype, start and run the project,” said Corbett Beder, director of high school programs at Vision Education and Media. “We let them run wild with it.”

The site, directed primarily towards middle-school-aged kids, offers podcasts about experiments kids can try on their own, as well as the ability to comment on and contribute to the experiments of others.

The grants awarded in last year’s competition were also used to expand projects already in place. The Global Fund for Children created a hub for information and story exchange between grassroots organizations and vulnerable children.

“The grant allowed us to buy flip cameras to send to our partners,” said Monica Grover, a digital media projects manager for the fund. “It helped build this hub and post training in digital storytelling, so these people can share their stories, get their voices heard and help empower them.”

These stories can inspire additional learning, Grover said. People in India can learn from people in Honduras about how to cope in a food crisis, for example.

The MacArthur Foundation’s Stasch was confident the digital media competition would continue to produce innovative opportunities for learning.

“We’re looking around the corner at the best ideas of tomorrow,” she said.

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

An audio slideshow illustrating the concert by the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) on Thursday.  The performance was to celebrate the winners of the Digital Media and Learning Competition.  PLOrk was a winner in last year’s contest.

Note:  Kathryn Murphy and I co-wrote this piece.  It was first published on the Medill News Service website on 4/21/2009, and is republished here for my own archives.

Apr 19 2009

Chicago entrepreneur wants to change the way you watch TV

Joe Born, CEO of Chicago-based Neuros Technology, discusses the new Neuros LINK device.  Photo credit: Ian Monroe/Medill

Joe Born, CEO of Chicago-based Neuros Technology, discusses the new Neuros LINK device. Photo credit: Ian Monroe/Medill

Joe Born wants to change the way you use your television.

Born, chief executive officer, of Neuros Technology International, is an entrepreneur in the classic sense. He got his start in the 1990s with a patent on a device for repairing damaged CDs. Then in 2001, he started Chicago-based Neuros Technologies, which started out making portable digital audio products, much like Apple’s ubiquitous iPod.

On Wednesday at the Neuros headquarters downtown, Born showed off his company’s newest innovations. In a small conference room with whiteboards scrawled with notes and flowcharts mounted on exposed brick walls, he walked through the operation of the Neuros LINK, a device that is known in technical circles as a “media extender.” A media extender enables users to access digital media such as MP3s and movies stored on a home computer, and then watch or listen to them on a television or living room stereo.

“Joe Born is an important pillar of Chicago’s technology community,” said Michael Krauss, co-chair of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Council of Technology Advisors. “He’s a true entrepreneur and inventor that has succeeded more than once, and is challenging convention with his Neuros products.”

The thing that sets Neuros’ products apart from many of their competitors is the emphasis the developers put on using open hardware and software systems as much as possible, instead of building proprietary, closed systems that leave the user at the mercy of the company that built them. “These products are all open source, all the source code is out there,” Born said.

He added that the LINK was Neuros’ most open device to date, and it relies heavily on community-driven development and open software.

The Neuros LINK device, photo courtesy of Neuros Technology

The Neuros LINK device, photo courtesy of Neuros Technology

The Neuros LINK is basically a PC designed to be the “brain” of the entertainment center in the living room. It’s a full-featured machine that is specially designed for audio and video applications. It runs on open-source Ubuntu Linux and uses open-source XBMC as media center software.

The device streams video from a home server or network attached storage, and supports a wide variety of video and audio formats. It sports high-speed ethernet and wireless connectivity, and will play back web video from sources, such as Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube.

Soon Neuros LINK will support Netflix Instant Viewing streams as well. It outputs video and audio over HDMI, meaning it plugs  directly to a high-definition television with a minimum of hassles. It also supports six-channel audio and optical audio outputs.

Born says that the LINK fills a void in the current living-room electronics market. “On one end, there’s a full-fledged home theater PC, of whatever stripe or variety you want,” Born said. “Apple has the Mini, which is sort of in the low end of that vein … and then it goes all the way up to $2,000 or $3,000 machines, generally big, noisy, full keyboard, but no real navigation. On the other end you have AppleTV, Tivo, Roku [a device that streams movies from Netflix], a whole host of embedded devices, but each of those is very limited, it’s a cross section, and it doesn’t have that comprehensiveness. So the LINK [is] a box that is slimmer and has more friendly navigation, but gives you the comprehensiveness of the Internet.”

Neuros.tv is a website designed to complement the Neuro LINK home theater PC. It aggregates online video sources, and sorts videos in an intuitive way. Search for ABC’s “Lost” for instance, and Neuros.TV will return the results sorted by season, with the newest episodes first.

Born said the final version will remember which episodes you’ve already watched, and will highlight the ones you have yet to see. Because it pulls in results from other video services, such as Joost, Hulu, YouTube and FanCast, hundreds of shows are available immediately, on demand. The Neuros.TV site works on any computer, but also has an interface optimized for viewing directly on your television via the Neuros LINK hardware.

The Neuros LINK is currently in what the creators are calling the “Gamma Program,” a sort of public beta testing phase. The software and interface are still undergoing substantial development, but the device is available for sale at a small number of retailers, mostly to early-adopters and hackers that want to try out the platform and contribute to the development efforts.  The LINK is priced at $299, about the same as an Xbox 360.  Born said that this testing phase is essential to get the system refined to the point that everyday users can feel comfortable with the device.

“Having stuff that works, and the details ironed out is vitally important,” Born said. “You can look at doing this yourself, and you can get it 90 percent of the way there, but if you really expect it to be a consumer product that you can sell and someone can just drop in their house, then 90 percent  is not nearly good enough.”

Technology writer Ryan Paul previewed the LINK on the Web site ArsTechnica.com, and wrote, “for experienced Linux users, it just takes a little bit of the usual tweaking to get everything working just right. After that initial time investment, I haven’t had any trouble with it at all. It gives me everything I want in an Ubuntu-based set-top box, and it offers a broad assortment of options for third-party media center software.”

Born is confident that devices such  the LINK constitute an important next step in the evolving media environment. “It’s a very, very exciting and disruptive time; predicting the exact winners and losers and the exact time line is very difficult, but you can’t help but look at this and say, this is going to change everything.”

Note: This article was first published on the Medill Reports website on 4/15/2009.  Some edits were made for this version, now posted for my own archives.