Next generation image manipulation

August 30, 2007

A picture speaks a thousand words, so the saying goes. Consequently, good quality images are extremely important in supporting our client’s messages and gaining wide media coverage. Alas, getting that great picture can often be fraught with problems, particularly when ( as is often the case) the image supplied was not taken by a professional. We can often correct and enhance images electronically to achieve the desired effect, but this is not always possible. So it was with great interest that we discovered this new technique for image manipulation. As far as we know, it’s not commercially available yet but it’s sure to become a very useful addition to the toolbox when it is.


Two-sided touchscreen

August 28, 2007

A pseudo-transparent screen from Microsoft and Mitsubishi lets people enter data from both sides of a handheld device. Researchers at Microsoft and Mitsubishi are developing a new touch-screen system that lets people type text, click hyperlinks, and navigate maps from both the front and back of a portable device. A semitransparent image of the fingers touching the back of the device is superimposed on the front so that users can see what they’re touching.
The current prototype, which illustrates a concept that the researchers call LucidTouch, is “hacked together” from existing products, says Daniel Wigdor, a researcher at Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. The team started with a seven-inch, commercial, single-input touch screen. To the back of the screen, they glued a touch pad capable of detecting multiple inputs. “This allowed us to have a screen on the front and a gesture pad [on the back] that could have multiple points,” says Wigdor. “But what that didn’t give us was the ability to see the hands.” So, he says, the researchers added a boom with a Web camera to the back of the gadget.
The image from the Web camera and the touch information from the gesture pad are processed by software running on a desktop computer, to which the prototype is connected. The software subtracts the background from the image of the hands, Wigdor explains, and flips it around so that the superimposed image is in the same position as the user’s hands. Additionally, pointers are added to the fingers so that a user can precisely select targets on the touch pad that might be smaller than her finger. In October, a paper describing the research will be presented at the User Interface Software and Technology symposium in Rhode Island. From TechGlobal.com


Plasma to lose to LCD….not right now but shortly according to iSuppli

August 24, 2007

Though revenue from plasma display panels (PDPs) shipments is on an upswing right now, that’s not going to last, according to iSuppli.

It’s been predicted for some time now that liquid crystal display (LCD) panels would eat away at the plasma industry, and now market research indicates that plasma panels–including the kind used in TVs–will reach their revenue-generating peak in the next two years. Plasma makers made $7.7 billion last year, and are on track to make $8.6 billion this year. In 2008, they’ll top out at $10.2 billion, according to iSuppli.It’s all downhill after that, with heavy price competition from the LCD industry to blame. Though this has been predicted for a while now, PDPs have actually enjoyed a slight boost in growth recently because of the competition among all panel makers, more efficient manufacturing processes and lower costs for materials. All these factors have lowered prices and increased sales lately, but it’s not going to last, and revenue will begin to fall, iSuppli says.

For the first quarter of 2007, the world’s largest plasma panel maker, Matsushita, retained its lead with 31.5 percent of the market, followed by LG with 24.7 percent and Samsung SDI with a 22.9 percent share.

In what’s likely related news, Matsushita, which sells plasmas TVs under the Panasonic brand in the U.S., announced today that it would broaden its LCD lineup to include 37-inch TVs.

via [cnet news]


From China, with love

August 20, 2007

The news that Mattel have been forced to recall millions of defective toys marks a significant watershed in the explosive growth of the use of Chinese manufacturing power to underpin Western commercial interests. The implications for Mattel are, of course, extremely serious. But the repercussions will ultimately have far more widespread consequences for business and the economies of MEDC countries which are increasingly reliant on China’s ability to deliver manufacturing capacity at minimal cost. Until the Mattel recall, there seemed to be an accepted mode of thought that it was entirely possible to squeeze Chinese manufacturers to reduce costs to miniscule levels by forcing them to compete with each other, while at the same time demanding the very highest quality. This is clearly a completely illogical strategy:

Just because unit costs are reduced compared to Western levels, does not alter the fact that competition amongst manufacturers locally – and so the temptation to cut corners – is just as great. Just like someone playing Russian roulette, click the trigger often enough and sooner or later you’ll find the chamber with the live bullet. In this case, it was Mattel who pulled the trigger one too many times. It remains to be seen how many other businesses will discover the truth behind the old adage “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. But until business in MEDC’s get more realistic about the pressures they putting their suppliers under, there are sure to be many more.

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LG Philips develops oil and water based flexible display

August 8, 2007

1 08 2007

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LG Philips, known for its nearly constant pursuit of new flexible display solutions, has recently applied for a patent on a bendable OLED screen technology which would use oil and water to produce images. Apparently, current flexible OLED displays are hampered by the fact that the OLEDs get hotter than the plastic substrate, making manufacture difficult and expensive. The new process that the company is developing would circumvent those problems by making pixels out of oil and water connected to plastic electrodes. The opaque oil would float on the water and obscure a colored surface beneath — when an electric charge was applied to the field it would reveal the surface and change the color of the pixel. The process is cheap and simple, which hopefully means a future of reading a completely digital morning paper for all of us.

via [newscientist]


From here to cyberspace

August 6, 2007
Social networking sites are growing up and becoming much more than glorified address books, says Bill Thompson.
About a year ago I asked my daughter, who was 15 at the time, if she would “ADD” me as a friend on MySpace so I could comment on her profile and be part of her online social network.She refused point blank.Not because she wanted to keep things secret, but because it would be unutterably naff to have your dad as a MySpace friend. Recognising that she was right, I didn’t push it. She knows how to look after herself online – she’s a member of the Childnet International children’s’ panel and helps write the guidance for other young people. But yesterday she added me as a friend on Facebook, where she now has a profile too. Not only that, she has admitted in public that she is my daughter.

A brave step indeed.

In fact, I’m less concerned with her privacy now than I am with my own. She’s 16 and can look after herself, but now she has access to my online friendship network. Not only will she be able to see who I’m hanging out with, she’ll also be able to send them all messages.

Site seeing

This is one of the big problems with Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and the other social network sites. They bring the many different groups we all belong to into one online space, creating a “social soup” that encourages intermingling when most of us work hard to keep our friends, family and colleagues just a little bit separate, negotiating the boundaries with more or less skill. The tools used to manage privacy and sharing online remain crude and inflexible compared with the nuanced way we handle real-life social networks, and we are going to have to learn to deal with the new modes of social engagement that result.

Although Lili is now on Facebook, she is adamant that she’ll stay on MySpace too, a view that has forced me to revise the model of social network progression I’ve put forward in the past. I used to think that young people would start off in the controlled environment of Penguin World or Habbo Hotel, move to the adolescent chaos that is MySpace and then mature into confident Facebook users. But I suspect it will be a lot less clear cut. For one thing, you can’t pimp your Facebook profile with garish colours, unreadable fonts and appalling backgrounds. And while Facebook offers a “wall” to write comments on, it lacks the directness of a MySpace profile.
Whether or not she abandons MySpace, I do think that Facebook will become more important to her simply because it is rapidly becoming more than just a social network site. Its support for third-party applications and services is turning it into a platform for all other forms of online social activity, from talking about movies via the Flixster application to asking friends questions or “superpoking” them. Facebook may well become the single point of contact with one’s online networks, wherever they may be hosted. I rarely visit Twitter, the site that lets you send short updates about what you’re up to, because it’s easier to post from within Facebook. And as this trend develops, more and more of us will spend more and more time on Facebook instead of elsewhere.Once someone builds “MySpaceBook”, an application that lets you run your MySpace profile from within Facebook, the game will be over. Of course, we need to temper our enthusiasm for this connected world. Google was recently criticised by Privacy Internatonal over its cavalier “trust us, we’re not evil” attitude to personal privacy and user information, and we need to make sure that we are not asking the same questions about Facebook in two years’ time. Yet privacy concerns do not bother most of Google’s hundreds of millions of users, and they are unlikely to stop Facebook’s rapid adoption, so it is worth speculating about where social network sites will go next.

Future first

One thing that may change significantly is the way we interact with the services. At the moment, Facebook and MySpace are page-oriented and text-heavy, but alternatives seem to be emerging. Like many other technology watchers, I’ve been captivated recently by a preview release of a new program called Photosynth, developed at Microsoft Live labs.

This astonishing piece of technology gives the lie to the tale that Microsoft is unable to innovate effectively and could change the way we think about live online. Photosynth takes a large number of photos of a place or an object, analyses them for similarities, and then stitches them together into a three-dimensional space that allows you to move from photo to photo by clicking, scrolling and panning around in a way which is completely captivating. It is the future of user interaction, the way we will manage to take the flat 2D web that we currently experience and turn it into a virtual world. Photosynth works with pictures, but pictures are just data and there is no reason I can see why it could not also work with user profiles, web pages, maps or any other form of semi-structured data.I could navigate my social network as easily as I navigate the collection of photos of the Piazza San Marco in Venice that is provided as one of the demonstrations, or move from web page to web page following a breaking news story.With Facebook as the open social network platform, Google offering search, e-mail and applications, and Photosynth stitching it all together into one graphical 3D space that we navigate with a mouse or a Nintendo Wii-like controller, we are moving closer to the model of cyberspace described by William Gibson in his 1984 novel Neuromancer.

Gibson imagined an online world in which large corporations defined rigid hierarchical structures of data like the “stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority”. By contrast, we could have billions of Flickr photos and Facebook profiles stitched together into an ever-changing quilt, but the end result would be the “graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system” that he described.

We may be watching on screens instead of having a direct neural input allowing us to “jack in” to the matrix, but it will still be a lot more fun than today’s flat web.

Bill Thompson is an independent journalist and regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet.


Surf’s up – Ocean City’s public wireless network

August 1, 2007
The internet is so much part of everyday life for so many people in the developed world, that access to it has arguably become an essential of modern living. The story below is an example of a growing trend around the world for municipalities to provide it as a public service. Certainly a useful development, but perhaps also a significant indicator of the increasing desire of people to use the power of the internet to free them from reliance on specific physical locations in which to work or enjoy online social interaction.  AJ
July 30, 2007 Ocean City, New Jersey, is about to become one of the first American dot com-munities. As part of a $3 million plan to upgrade public services in the popular tourist destination, small wi-fi transmitters are being installed on light posts to drench the city in a wireless internet network. Access to the high speed broadband will be free for the residents and will be available to tourists for a small charge. And with a tourist base that increases the town’s population from 15,000 to 130,000 in the summer, it’s a safe bet the council will more than get their money back. .
30 July 2007, 14:39:09 – Gizmag Emerging Technologies Magazine