Monday, June 27, 2005

What's on my NGage?

Russell Beattie did this a couple of weeks back, and since I just had someone write me for recommendations for apps for their shiny new Series 60 phone, I did a quick catalog of what's on my phone.

I use a NGage QD. Overall, I like it, but probably not for the reasons that Nokia would like me to like it. As a gaming device, it is not terrible, but suffers in comparison to the Gameboy Advance, DS or PSP. Nintendo's announced Gameboy Advance Micro shows that a cell phone sized gaming system could work -- as long as there are titles to drive it.

As a data-centric phone, though, it has a fairly high bang-for-buck ratio. I bought it because the price was in line with what a student would pay; $99.00 with a one year contract. The screen is nice, the big joypad makes navigating around in web pages really easy. It supports IMAP and POP mail right out of the box. It has support for external memory, which allows you to stick a bunch of applications on the phone. It has bluetooth, and works great with my Mac. It as a lot of application support, since it is a series-60 phone.

I am, however, shopping for a replacement. I will get another series-60 phone, but one with a camera, maybe the N90 or the 6680. I have noticed that prices for used P900's has dropped a bit on ebay as well.

So, here's what's on my phone:

Putty for Series 60 -- just installed this a few days ago. It appears to work quite well.

AgileMessenger -- don't use this much, but it's a free AIM client.

Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard Driver: The best accessory I have bought for my phone. After getting this, I not longer needed a PDA.

NetFront Web Browser -- It is close whether NetFront or Opera is better. It is probably the most often used application on my phone.

PicoDrive Genesis Emulator: No audio, a little slow, but playable, and it's free.

Helix Media Player (RealPlayer): Plays mp3's, some mpeg-4 and 3gpp content. Of particular note is that it supports rtsp: streaming.

PVPlayer: A commercial video player -- little better mpeg-4 support, but 3gpp support is a little buggy, it loses audio sync with longer files (15 minutes or longer).

Nokia's SyncML Client: Just in case we get SyncML running on Oracle Collab server soon.

Salling Clicker: I bought this right after getting the phone, but rarely use it. I was thinking about ways to do room control via a cell phone, and have decided that for my needs a web or flash interface is probably better. The powerpoint presenter mode is pretty cool, though.

: IMAP mail client for Symbian. I am on the fence about paying for it since I can use Pine via Putty. It's quite full featured.

Wideray Jack Browser
: The browser that ships the WideRay. We are in the process of deploying one for testing on campus. It is sort of a a Internet caching applicance; you send content (html, images) and applications to the device via their content manager, where it can be downloaded via bluetooth or IR to PDA's (palm and pocketpc) as well as many cell phones.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

stop yur micronchimps and lurn!

The Chronicle: 6/24/2005: Professors, Stop Your Microchips

We know from talking with k-12 instructors that "computer classrooms" often don't work in the way they are intended to work. I would extend the argument to include "laptop powered initiatives" where the faculty is not prepared to compete with wireless access to the internet. Essentially, an hour in class becomes a channel surfing experience......if what is on in front of me is not interesting, I will "change the channel" to email, surfing the web, etc.

There is quite a bit of research in education on what I call "discontinuous messaging". Essentially, instead of educational elements (talking before the class, using the blackboard/whiteboard/visual presenter, etc) working together to reinforce and build knowledge, these elements actually work as distractors. PowerPoint slides or Instructor? Which is more important? This is what the author is complaining about; that technology integrated poorly acts as a distractor instead of aiding in learning.

Classroom time is not treated as what it really is -- access to an expert that is going to guide the students learning experience. For the student to truly experience learning, it has to be active -- the student has to participate. This does not mean that everyone *must* do buzzword compliant endeavors such as "team learning" or "game theory based learning". It does not mean that every student must have a PDA or Laptop. It does not mean the instructor has to entertain.

Education is tough to quantify, despite our best efforts to apply principles of mass-production to teaching. Teaching doesn't scale. Education is profoundly expensive when done well. It is not necessarily expensive in terms of equipment or software. It is expensive in terms of time -- time that students, staff and faculty must commit to making it a meaningful experience. Money does not mean much when we are talking about hours and days of someone's life they will never get back.

We have tried for the last 150 years to apply the lessons learned in mass production to teaching, and we are finding that it often doesn't work. Given a choice between a computer lab and smaller classes, we opt for the computer lab, reasoning that the computer lab will offer enriched learning opportunities, but will also allow us to teach more students, give us "standards based learning" and "individualized instruction".

But blaming technology misses the point. Blaming the internet misses the point. Blaming a freakin' spell checker misses the point. The world is as it is. Pretending that these technologies don't exist is fruitless. It is akin to complaining about student's handwriting skills diminishing because they have typewriters. Instead of complaining that students don't use the library, spend time teaching students to be critical consumers of information, whether it be in a library, or on the internet at large -- which for many people, is becoming the library's replacement.

I posted a news item to our Mac user's list a few days ago, and challenged people to read it as if it was an assignment for freshmen english. It was because the story was most probably "fake news", something that is becoming quite commonplace, particularly on television, but also in other information channels we used to trust implicitly. If we are not able to teach critical skills required to analyze information, we are hopelessly lost. Fake News is such a big problem that the head of the FCC spoke about it to a room full of broadcasters a while back, warning that the FCC will begin cracking down on the worst offenders (insert your own cynical aside here). I am very much concerned that we are raising a generation of citizens that won't be able to tell Fake News from Real News.

So -- I disagree with the the author's admonition that we turn off our laptops. I say just the opposite -- use them, but use them in ways that challenge students to think. Don't do web quests that end up being a list of links -- have students construct knowledge. They won't like it -- because there are no shortcuts here. There are no tools that can neatly format internalized knowledge. There is only ourselves.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Apple's Accessibility Voice

Just got out of a "Making Your Application Accessible" session here at Apple's WWDC. It was okay, admittedly I am not much of a programmer. I did go to the python session earlier today, and I have to say that I think it would be a good language to teach kids how to program -- which means it might suit me as well ;-)

It's good to see that Apple is addressing accessiblity -- although they use the section 508 stick to motivate -- I prefer the carrot of building a next generation user experience -- where screen dominated interaction may be just one way to work with a device.

Speech synthesis is still one of the weak links in their scheme to make Apple the premiere platform for accessibility. If you don't know what I mean, I suggest seeking out someone who is using JAWS on a PC and spend some time with them. In all the examples Apple shows for accessibility they have the speech sythesis set at a "normal" speed. But that is not how many visually impaired people use a computer -- the speech is typically sped up considerably -- it almost borders on gibberish -- as I dicovered the first time I worked with a student that works for us -- who is a gifted programmer, very computer savvy -- and visually impaired.

Speeding up speech synthesis on a Mac gives you clipped phonemes -- speech gets mangled to the point where you can't understand what is being said. Go try it for yourself -- go to Preferences, go to Speech, and turn speed up to maybe 3/4 to maximum -- and now open some text in text edit and have it read to you. Now, turn it down to midway and play the same text. Now, turn it up to maximum. It clips phonemes.

Cepstral has voices for the Mac that sound much better. I have David installed on my workstation, but unfortunately not on my laptop here. It is not flawless -- but a noticable improvement.

There are open source efforts such as Festival that show some promise. Perhaps it would be good for Apple to get behind one of these and adopt it for the Mac.

I think this illustrates the problem with accessible efforts for programmmers are fresh to the issues of accessibility. I really believe that Apple is intent on doing the right thing, but they simply didn't recognize the way that computer savvy visually impaired folks use a computer. I know that I didn't see Apple speech synthesis as a problem until I actually worked with our student programmer. Now, I am beginning to learn what to look for. It is not enough to just turn off the monitor and try to navigate -- everyone (visually impaired or not) wants a computer interface that is quick, easy to use and just allows them to get their work done.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I just finished lunch at the Moscone center here at Apple's Worldwide Developer's conference in San Francisco. We were given a choice between a bag lunch or a vegetarian hot buffet. Everyone was in a sort of daze, due to either jet lag or the after effects of Steve Jobs reality distortion field, where it is now okay to like Intel processors. The vegetarian fare was a festival of carbohydrates. The bag lunch was a big wad of bread with a wad of meat in the middle. I am unable to find any kind of literary parallel between lunch and the keynote right now.

Before the address, I had talked briefly with someone at Adobe, who had pointed out that it would be great if Apple moved to Intel architecture, as it would help them develop a more common code base for their development. I think there may be a few people who are thinking this way.

Everyone has their own explanation for why Apple is moving to Intel. I think it isn't as simple as one or two bulleted items. There are a lot of little reasons.

An apple engineer yesterday belabored the megahertz myth scenario, where people were still picking computers based on the clock speed. Apple has yet to break 3 ghz in a desktop machine. I believe that people are becoming savvy enough that they understand themselves that there are other things as important as the clock speed of the machine. Features, aesthetics, size, cost. These are all things that are important as we quit thinking of desktop computers as calculation engines and more as appliances that do stuff.

While high-end processing can give you chest thumping rights, the reality is that the majority of Apple's sales are in the laptop market, and this is where the gap is really showing. Apple's laptops are not just being surpassed in terms of processor performance, but in a much more important area -- power consumption.

While Apple makes very nice laptops, there are even nicer ones out there. Everyone is coming out with sub-3 pound laptops, but Apple. Apple can't because they do not have a processor that can compete in that arena. Now they do.

That is the numero uno reason I can think of at the moment. Steve Jobs even had a slide illustrating the ratio of power consumption to performance between the PowerPC and Intel line. I know this has some impact on the desktop market, but the desktop market is shrinking.

Everette and I are speculating what the first Apple intel box will be . He thinks it will be the Mac mini. I think it will be a desktop, followed quickly (if not simultaneously) by a Intel powered laptop. This will happen very quickly. The intent is to migrate over a two year period, but I think we will see Intel powered Macs for the masses somewhere around MacWorld 2006 in San Francisco.

Apple's fortunes have been on a slow climb over the last two years. I think they actually have a chance to double their market share. Keep in mind though, in the grand scheme of things, Apple and Microsoft are battling for a market that is in itself going to be challenged by the rise of cheap information appliances -- ie cell phones, Tivo, game systems etc. But again, this announcement paves the way for Apple to be completely free of attachment to a single line of processor, whether is be Intel, IBM, AMD or whatever.

Friday, June 03, 2005

browse Live_ASCII_Streaming

Read about Ascii Streaming

It's Friday, I am trying to finish up a million things before going to San Fransciso and Apple's WWDC. I have the schedule here somewhere and it looks like there are a few sessions on mobile development with Apple's tools.

I ran across this while looking for something else, as is always the case. I know it is really old news, but again, it's Friday, and I haven't posted anything in a week.

Note in the last paragraph the "portability and playing on handheld devices". Using a Dynebolic selfboot CD, you could turn any PC with a WinTV card into a little streaming server. Yes, it is streaming ACSII, so any browser can see it, including a cell phone browser. It is cruddy resolution, but that may be it's charm.

It did get me to thinking, though. I just bought a Vbrick mpeg-4 encoder, which is essentially a Un*X flavor box with video encoding hardware, which is remotely manageable. I have seen Linux distributions that turn a PC into a HTPC, but I have not seen one yet that turn a PC into a remotely manageable (complete with web interface) video encoder, or video streaming server. What a handy thing this would be.

VideoLan client can utilize the mpeg-1 and 2 hardware encoder in the Hauppauge PVR series of cards, so this might be a place to start. This would allow the actual encoding box to be fairly lightweight -- you may even be able to use a fairly low-power ViA processor based motherboard. Or perhaps something could be built around the Plextor box that can encode MPEG-4 and Divx.

The problem is that the pieces are out there -- but it still takes expertise to make it happen. I certainly don't have the expertise to build a Linux distro that would do all this, but it sure would be cool.

CyTV will almost do what I want. I use it at home now with my Mac Mini in the living room to record programs that I can watch elsewhere in the house. It is servicable, and you can't argue with the price. It will transcode video into mpeg-4 in software from an EyeTV box, and is remotely manageable. However, it can't currently talk to a streaming server -- such as Darwin Streaming server, but who knows?

The nice thing is that it would not be hard to transcode into .3gp on the fly, which would then allow me to watch TV programming from my home on my cell phone, simply and easily. There are of course other things that will do this for you, but most are centered around the Windows platform. I ran a PC using Snapstream in my livingroom for almost a year, and dismantled it after it became apparent that they would never fix browser compatibility issues with their remote management interface (it requires IE). In addition, there was no simple way to archive shows I have recorded directly to DVD (I ended up using Nero to burn stuff, but there were too many steps). In contrast, while the EyeTV I am using now does not have a remote interface (but now has, thanks to CyTV), it will work with pretty much everything I have (including my PC). Putting shows on DVD is simple. It saves in a bunch of formats, including 3gp.

I like this approach because I don't screw with things, and it works. I do wish that the EyeTV software could control my DirectTV box. If that happened, my Tivo would be gone.