Virtual Earth, XBox Controller and 100’s of girls at TTYA

TTYAOn the 22nd August John and I participated in Technology Take You Anywhere 2008, an event to help encourage school girls into Technology careers.  We were placed in the Multimedia space up against the dance mats, game bikes etc. We devised a bit of a game where we’d show the girls an image of a famous landmark and they had to find it using Virtual Earth, an XBox controller and help from their school mates.

We haven’t presented or had to deal with children and teenagers before so were a bit concerned they wouldn’t find what we did very interesting.  We’d tested it out on a few adults beforehand but not anyone under the age of 20! Would maps and geography be too boring for them? Are maps so 2001 afterall?

The day went really well and was INTENSE! It was non-stop all day with lots of questions and enthusiasm from all the girls. A tip for the future..if you’re at an all girls event it seems to help to talk a man along.  Check out my crowd versus John’s crowd in the picture as an example.TTYA VE

Somehow I did get a chance to turn on the video camera during the event and put together a bit of a summary package of our day. Look out for my favourite comment of the day at about 1min 30: “This is a game to trick people to learn”. One of the girls told John we should put in out on Playstation and make a fortune.

For me it was interesting to watch how quickly the girls just “got it”. Even if they’d never used an XBox controller or Virtual Earth before, they worked it out fast and saw lots of uses for the technology. It was great to see the girls then pass along their learnings to their friends; explain the game, what to do, why etc. They also don’t miss much. Most of them noticed I had Messenger running and wanted to know why, what I used it for etc. I use it a lot at work to keep in touch and pick people’s brains and the thought that was “cool” and apparently “didn’t realise adults used messenger”.

The organisers got some great feedback including : “Thank you for an awesome day 🙂 PS. This has just made me love computers and IT even more!! Hope I see you guys again in the future! (13yr old)”

Many thanks to Peter Ulm for letting us borrow one of his Virtual Earth banners.

 

DeepZoom, Photosynth or HDView? So many choices for your next photos.

Today we have so many choices for how we are going to share photos on the web, not only a variety of web sites but also many different display technologies. I took the opportunity to try a few of the new Microsoft products out: DeepZoom using Silverlight2, Photosynth, HDView and of course Windows Live Photo Gallery to stitch a panorama. Finally I’ve added a little YouTube video of the event itself.

LadyKnoxGeyser

While in New Zealand for TechEd we took a few extra days to travel down to Rotorua to see the thermal parks. One of the highlights was the Lady Knox Geyser that is triggered off at 10:15am daily, firing super heated water 20m into the air. All the tourists were taking their happy snaps, there were at least 10 people with DSLRs including myself.

DeepZoom

Recently I was browsing some panoramas from the web using the Flash based Zoomify and frankly that experience is rather poor in contrast. DeepZoom is actually the MultiScaleImage control for Silverlight2 and breaks high resolution images, this one is 12,127 x 3,163px, into tile sets using an external tool. In fact all the display technologies including zoomify do this. This allows each technology to limit the bandwidth required to be sent to the browser.

The most common complaint I hear about DeepZoom is that it is a CPU hog. I think of it as a future technology for good hardware, the experience on my dual core laptop with a broadband connection is super smooth and very enjoyable. In comparison I find Zoomify clunky, it was great in its day but now needs some work.

You can use the DeepZoom Composer tool to create the tile set and it even creates a simple Silverlight viewer or use the Plug-in for Photoshop to do the same. Here I used the Photoshop plugin (click on image to see the result):

LadyKnoxGeyserDZ

The basic viewer allows you to scroll the mouse wheel to zoom in and out on your cursor position. The “butter smooth” animation masks the tiles being downloaded to provide the incredible detail on demand. No more waiting for the large image to load and no more limitations on photo size.

 

Photosynth

When I first saw this video from TED I was blown away. I’ve used programs that create 3D models from still photos before and they require much time consuming manual tweaking and trial and error. Photosynth combines the DeepZoom technology with a pseudo 3D point cloud and aligned images. The free tool finds similarities in you photos and aligns them into a basic model. You can explore just the point cloud by press the “p” key to toggle through different modes.

Rather then looking at 37 photos of the same object on a flat webpage, the Photosynth view allows you to navigate between images in a pseudo 3D environment. In this case the Geyser was detected as an object and a “halo” navigation lets you explore from many angles calculated from the photos supplied. (click on the image to explore the photosynth):

LadyKnoxGeyserSynth

Photosynth was only recently released and falls into the Software+Service model from Microsoft. Your Synths are hosted free of charge by Microsoft with each user getting a generous 20GB of storage initially. Currently it is completely automated and a little hit or miss. The aim is to get your photo set to be 100% synthy meaning that all your photo have been matched together.

The concept that blew me away from the TED presentation was the aggregation of many peoples content. It is very early days for Photosynth but the ability to geo-tag your synth, set copyright and the announcement of the Photosynth team moving in with the Virtual Earth group makes it easy to speculate about what we may see next 🙂

 

HDView

HDView has been around for sometime, I like many made the mistake of thinking it was simply a prerelease of the DeepZoom technology and would become part of Silverlight. How wrong I was! HDView is 3D accelerated and has many awesome features beyond just smooth zooming and browser delivery.

LadyKnoxGeyserHDView

I like the curved effect as you zoom into a panorama, it makes the shot much more realistic and the panning feels much more like rotating around the scene like you are actually there.

HDView also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) Images. Essentially it can provide an adaptive brightness based on the part of the scene you are looking at. It allows panoramas for example to have very dark elements, maybe something in shadow or inside, as well as bright element such as the sky or reflection of the sun. The effect created by the viewer is similar to when you first walk outside from a dark room, you are blinded and then adjust. I first experienced this in Half-Life2 the game from Valve, now you can bring this to your photos.

It is worth a separate post and indeed this sample is not HDR but you simple put your DSLR into bracketing mode taking 3 photos at different exposure levels and then combine these into a HDR image.

YouTube

For ease of upload and super fast render times in the browser YouTube is still the winner for online video. If your interested in the action itself and to compare the still photo technology to that of video have a look:

YouTube now supports a higher resolution of video. This video was taken on a Panasonic camcorder recording directly to a SD card and edited without conversion in Windows Movie Maker in Vista.

Future thoughts – can we combine these into a single viewer experience?

So what is my favourite? None, I like all of them in their own way. Deep Zoom is super smooth and only requires the Silverlight runtime which will be as common as Flash in no time. Photosynth is super cool and does give a great 3D effect, the upload experience needs improvement but for version 1 it is great. HDview has a clear advantage using 3D features and acceleration. For navigating the panorama the curved effect in HDView is far superior then a flat view and gives a sense of being there. And finally video, although not as easy to make beautiful, still adds some significant value with motion and sound. In a recent interview the Photosynth team said video was an obvious feature.

What is truly missing is the ability to showcase all these technologies on a single site. Each technology allows you to embed the object into your HTML page, clearly aimed at your blog, but I don’t recommend more then one of these heavy object per page. What I would love to see is a new browser interface for images and videos that supports all these new formats. CoolIris, formally PicLense, is a great example of escaping from HTML to provide a richer experience for browsing photos and videos, the YouTube search/browse experience from CoolIris is simply amazing.

I would love to see a rich application that allows the viewing of DeepZoom, Photosynth and HDView seamlessly. To go a step further since I geo-tagged my images with their exact location on the Earth, how about a Virtual Earth 3D view that seamlessly integrates these also and provide the navigation between images by location?

If you want to visit the Geyser it is located at the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland south of Rotorua in New Zealand.

See a few more panoramas and photos from our trip here.

Teched NZ vs Aus

A few people have asked me how Teched NZ compares to Teched Aus. The two conferences share most of the big name session speakers. I thought I’d share my observations on the things that were most noticable to me:

  1. “The Bag”
  2. Venue Location
  3. Exhibition Hall
  4. HOLS
  5. The vibe
  6. The food
  7. Locknote

bag“The Bag” – In Aus it’s gotta be one of the most talked about items (other than the sessions). People like to compare each years bag in terms of what they could fit into it, how long it lasted, how it looks etc. There is much discussion and criticism (read whining) about the bag every year. I must say I would not want the job of being the “bag chooser” for Tech Ed. These bags are sponsored by Targus and are really nice laptop backpacks. In NZ, the bags aren’t sponsored so they are the lapsash bag kind. Interestingly I didn’t hear a single person complain about the bagskycity in NZ. So for us Aussies – next year when you think about complaining  about the bag remember you’re v. lucky!

TechEd Aus tends to be in a different city every year (or the last few years goes between the Gold Coast and Sydney). This has some nice benefits as it gives different local companies the opportunity to send their employees based on saving in T&E. It also means you potentially get to visit different cities and have different party opportunities. NZ is always in Auckland as it’s the only suitable venue. The venue is a lot smaller than the TechEd venues in Australia.  I think the SkyCity venue in Auckland is in a nice location especially if you want a good view of the city.

marketplace3 Exhibition Hall – In Aus this is filled with exhibitors, the Dev Garden, MVP stand, computers with access to comnet to select and evaluate sessions and lots of space to hang out. NZ Market place is a lot smaller. There’s still a number of exhibitors but no room for Dev Garden, MVP stand, comnet access etc. Evals are all paper-based and prizes aren’t awarded for just filling in evals. I think the layout in NZ meant there were always people everywhere and felt very full. A few commented on the fact the paper evals gave them confidence to write what they really thought without someone knowing who they were. These guys have obviously never been speakers and read some of the comments…ppl don’t seem to hold back when it’s electronic either!  I think the missing comnet etc. makes you go to more sessions or hang around and talk to people rather than hide on your computer.

 intergen

HOLS in Aus are manned by many MCTs an d MVPs volunteers. NZ was completely run by Intergen who were very well organised and well staffed. You also couldn’t miss these guys…bright yellow shirts with yellow/black khaki pants. 

marketplace1NZ seemed to have a more friendly, chatty vibe. Maybe the smaller venue forced people into the same space or maybe this was because lots of what were complete strangers to me came up and starting chatting throughout the conference.

foodThe food – The one thing that stood out in NZ was the lack of softdrink fridges. There were lots of cold water fountains instead.

guitarheroAus has a locknote and exhibitor prizes are usually given away at lunch on the last day. There is no Locknote in NZ. Instead there are farewell drinks and this is where the exhibitors give out their prizes.

 

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3 September – Final day of TechEd NZ

Today was the final day of TechEd NZ. We did our session on our favourite bits of Windows Live. Unfortunatly for me, the internet crashed and burned which 1. makes it hard to show things and 2. Doesn’t give a nice story when everything grinds to a holt. Luckily I’d cached up lots of Virtual Earth tiles so that still worked but a lot of other services i.e. showing the IM control just wasn’t going to play ball.

Luckily the final prize draws weren’t till the closing party so other than food we only had 3 other v. interesting sessions to compete against i.e. Mobility smackdown giving away fancy phones. I counted 37 people in the room which I thought wasn’t too bad for lunch time.

Went to a bunch of sessions and it’s interesting to see who well the crowd here gets behind the local speakers!

Closing drinks was packed as everyone gathered to keep within earshot of each of the prize draws. One of the delegates won a second XBox and graciously told them to redraw – what a nice guy!

We ran into quite a few people we’d met at the Girl Geek Dinner and the Blogger’s Dinner. In a way I’m surprised how many people I keep seeing that I’ve spoken to over the last few days seeing there’s over 2000 people here.

It’s been a fun Tech Ed for us, thanks to Darryl for inviting us along. Without him, we would most likely missed out on TechEd altogether.

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2 Sept – Teched NZ Day 2

Day 2 of TechEd NZ was pretty busy. For some reason at events we seem to present on the last session or near the end of the day so usually nobody knows who we are. Because I spoke at the Girl Geek Dinner on Monday night things were really different today. I ran into lots of people that had been at the dinner and had lots of good conversations which was very cool.

Went to a bunch of sessions today. Scott Hanselman’s lunch session on making your blog suck less was really good..but it was only 30 mins…I just wish I had seen the 2 hour version John got to see at the blogger's dinner.  Unfortunately I haven’t worked out how to be in two places at once yet.

Tomorrow we’re doing our session. We’ve got a lunch time spot competing against the Mobility Smackdown AND the marketplace prize giveaways for all the exhibitors so we may end up with a very small audience.

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1 Sep – Teched NZ – Day 1

Today was a big day..Opening day – Keynote, lots of Scott Hanselman talks, Ask the Experts, and of course the Girl Geek Dinner.

The NZ keynote started with current and opposition parties talking about their broadband plan which were both well prepared and presented (and i’m not usually into watching political speeches). I must admit I was expecting to see a cool Live Mesh demo so was a little disappointed 🙁

I went to a bunch of sessions a couple of the “big ticket” ones –  MVC and Astoria – Scott Hanselman – both were well attended and went over very well.

Also went to Software as a Service – Anna Liu – I’ve not seen Anna present before and it surprises me because she is a REALLY good presenter.

I kept ending up in the marketplace and playing Guitar Hero. They are giving a way the xbox, game, guitars etc. I’m wondering if i can fit them in my luggage 🙂

Highlight of the night was the Girl Geek Dinner. We had 160 people register which i think is an awesome turnout! Johanna did a really interesting, and amusing talk about female personas in games. The girls organised some great shirts that I’m looking forward to see walking around on people’s back at Tech Ed. When I get hold of some pics I’ll be sure to put them up.