Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Picasa Facial Recognition

Image representing Picasa as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

After getting back from my trip to India, I was uploading photos of my trip where I generally use the Picasa desktop application.  What I didn’t know existed was the way that Picasa employs a facial recognition component to crop out faces and tag them, in some cases automatically once it learns the faces of people you know.  In about an hour I had added names for over 100 of my contacts to hundreds of photos.  Once I had the tags, I can easily see all the photos of my wife or kids with a few short clicks.  It also thumbnails all of the headshots giving me tons of poses I didn’t realize I had.

The feature is available in both the desktop and web versions of Picasa, but the interface is a bit different for each.

In Picasa desktop, click on the ‘People’ tab to get started and it will immediately begin to clip faces from all your photos and put them in the ‘unknown’ list.  Then you just click to ‘add a name’ and it will search your contact list or allow you to create a new person if one doesn’t exist.  The web version works very similar, but you just click the link on the right hand side of the page to get started.

Is this a facebook killer do you think?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Google Calendar Sync

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Like most people, I have a work schedule to keep as well as a personal schedule.  Managing two calendars invariably causes conflicts and over commitment, so lots of people manage their personal schedules in their office scheduling environment.  I see lots of problems with this, since I try to keep my personal life and my professional life as separate as possible.

Google to the rescue.  I keep my personal calendar in my Gmail account and I sync that to my iPod over the air.  Using Google Calendar sync, I can publish my Outlook calendar from work to my Gmail account so I have all my appointments in one spot.

calendar_sync This little app runs in your system tray and pushes your calendar items to your Google calendar on a scheduled basis.  This way, my work appointments are in Outlook and my personal appointments aren’t.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Media: You’re not the client, you’re the product…

In the Modern world, studying is considered to...

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I had a conversation with my wife the other day about the fact that she had recently renewed her subscription to one of the magazines that stack up in our bathroom.  What was interesting was that she found that she could go on-line and read the exact same content without paying anything for it.  She looked at it and wondered how the magazine could afford to do this…

The answer is simple in my mind…you (the reader) aren’t the client…the subscription fee is something you pay enable the publisher to produce the medium so that they can send you all those ads.  The content around the ads…well, that’s the fertilizer for the garden (yes, the reader is the garden) The guys that pay for those ads…that’s the client.  Just think, my cost to distribute over the internet is very small, I can now send you ads ALL THE TIME, think of how much I can sell that for to my client.

Makes me think that the message is the medium…not the other way around.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Link to a point in a YouTube Video

Hey, did you know you can link to a specific point in a YouTube video by simply appending the time to start at the end of the URL? Something like #t=0m00s



Monday, May 31, 2010

Instant Two Way Communication

I love social media…twitter to be exact…the fact that I can take 10 seconds and write a thought about a product and within 48 hours, I open a dialog with a vendor is what is going to replace that glossy ad we’ve seen for years in the dentist office waiting room.

Last week, TweetDeck launched its newest version of its desktop twitter application.  As usual, I gave it a try since I had switched from TweetDeck to YooNo a little while back.  I use a number of Twitter clients including the plain old twitter web page when I need to and some for my iPod…truth is, I’m not religious about any of them, I swap them pretty much at will seeing as how most configuration for Twitter is in the cloud anyway.  Anyway, long story short, on Monday morning, I get a reply from someone at TweetDeck (image below) CaptureBTW, the screen cap is from TweetDeck 0.34.2 since @RichardBarley was kind enough to engage me and my feature gripe…

Since there are a few things that I think are missing from TweetDeck, I thought it would be better to respond to Richard here on my blog instead of in a series of 140 character tweets.  Welcome Richard!.

I like TweetDeck alot, I have it installed on both my desktop (home and work) and on my iPod as well.  I like the fact that you can display multiple columns from different accounts, I like that you can reply all (although finding the reply all option is not intuitive), I like that it keeps a list of recent hashtags (although I’m not sure why a handy typedown feature for this isn’t available) and I like that it stores my searches and settings in an account that I can synchronize with my iPod.

What I think is missing, aside from the points that I mentioned already, is:

  • An easy way to insert an @contact from list of friends.
  • In-line image display from twitpic, yfrog, etc rather than having to click the image url.
  • Facebook status updates are weird, sometimes they change my status, other times they just post to my wall…I would like it to always update my status or at least have some way to configure it that I can understand.
  • I’d like to be able to combine multiple accounts into a single stream, facebook, LinkedIn, twitter all in one column if I like, or one at a time if the need arises…
  • Conversations should be easier to view…this does an ugly column popup in TweetDeck that I’m not fond of, much better to just expand below the tweet.
  • Automatic typedowns for contacts and hashtags.  I have this in EchoFon on my iPod, but nobody else seems to have this.

There’s no question that TweetDeck is feature rich and robust, but some of the features appear more ‘tech’ focused than they are ‘user’ focused.  I like apps like YooNo because they are very intuitive and focus on the user experience.  I don’t get the same feeling from TweetDeck (IMHO).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Social Media in a Nutshell…

I thought I would write a quick word about this new service for keeping up on all these social media channels that are such a big part of everyone’s world these days.  Like many, I’ve grown fond of checking my twitter, facebook and LinkedIn status updates throughout the day.  I have accounts in all of these for different reasons and I spend lots of time searching through timelines to see where I left off and then scanning everyone’s update.  The downside to this is twofold; first it’s time consuming and secondly, it’s extremely addictive.  A combination that will no doubt catch up with you at some point and leave you scrambling to finish all the other things that you have to deal with.

I’ve found this little site called NutshellMail which you can sign up for and have it monitor your social media accounts and send you an update a couple times per day.  It lays out the report in a really nice format that allows you to see the latest status updates, events like birthdays in facebook and LinkedIn updates.

Aside from this, you get added features of getting a list of your ‘latest followers’ and your ‘latest quitters’ which is information that is hard to get through normal channels.

If you have some social media sites to keep up on, I recommend setting up an account in NutshellMail right now.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Driving Election Participation

Recently I was following coverage of a symposium on electronic voting in Canada “What can Canada Learn?” was the question.  Let me start by saying that I am far from impartial on this topic; I work for an electronic voting company that provides and Internet and Telephone voting system.  That said, these are my thoughts and do not necessarily represent those of my employer or any of their partners, employees or affiliates. (//end disclaimer)

In my world, I see lots of these types of discussions, and what seems to be the common expectation is that somehow electronic voting will improve voter participation and be the savior of democracy.  I’d like to think that were true, but I think it may be overstating the potential of Internet voting by saying that it has such power.

Voting participation at all levels of government is horrible.  On average, I think most elections get somewhere around 30% participation on a municipal level and up near 50% at a federal level.  When I talk to friends and family about voting, it is quite common to hear that they have no intention of EVER voting in an election…electronic or otherwise.  Why is this?  Certainly this doesn’t indicate a question of convenience, it seems more like a question of engagement.  People feel that they have nothing to gain by voting and moreover, they feel that voting is almost akin to being played the fool by a corrupt and manipulative system.

In some cases, maybe I’m a bit old school.  I believe strongly that it is more than just my right to vote, I think that it is my responsibility or even my duty to vote at every opportunity as a citizen of a free and democratic society.  Other societies have decisions made other, more violent ways, but I want to make sure that I do my part to keep the idea of government by the people from becoming an extinct notion made irrelevant by an apathetic society.

There are some cynics that believe that a corrupt political process doesn’t really want to have increased engagement in the the political process; that the voter apathy that exists is actually engineered by incumbent politicians because as the voting population grows it becomes more difficult to control and manipulate.  I think there may be some vague truth to this, but not to the point where a small group of people can manipulate two thirds of the population to just not care.  Politicians are interested in influencing those who are likely to vote to vote for them, there is very little to be gained by attempting to influence anyone else to do anything from their perspective.

So what role does technology play?

I’m a software developer, and as developers we are constantly reminded that technology does not drive anything.  People do what people do; if they can find an easier way, then they may or may not adopt it.  Technology will never be more than an enabler because it makes it easier for those who drive processes and drive change to do so.  I think that electronic voting does two things: 1) it allows for choice by giving people the opportunity to perform the task of voting using their preferred method, and 2) it logistically provides the ability to engage a larger population.

I think the choice part is obvious.  Electronic voting allows people to vote in the comfort of their living room, on a bus or even in the supermarket if they want.  There are a ton of arguments that usually stem from coercion or vote buying, but the reality is, at least here in Canada, this isn’t really at issue.  The last thing a politician ever wants is for their mandate to come into question.

On the logistical side of things, you have to think about what higher participation percentages would do to a paper based voting system.  Election staff are usually pretty busy people.  It takes a great deal of planning to perform a high volume event that will take place over what is usually measured in hours and not days.  Longer lineups, slower results and increased human error is what is waiting for increased voter participation in a paper based voting process.  These are things that kill participation in the elections that follow.  People and the media tend to remember things that don’t run smoothly for a very long time.

The truth is, in every election where on-line voting was used (at least in my experience) participation has increased to some degree.  I can’t say that the mere presence of Internet Voting was responsible for this increase, in fact, I would say that candidates, media and election officials used electronic voting as a tool to drive participation.  Democracy is not something that just happens.  If you put a ballot box in the middle of the street and expect people to do something with it without engaging people by telling them what they are voting for, then NOTHING will happen.

Electronic voting is the tool, democracy is driven by people.