Bill Weye

Tag: Technology

How Apple is changing the future of e-Learning

One of the frustrating aspects of supporting people in their e-Learning experience at a university — faculty and students — is that far too often support calls boil down to help with technical issues. They can be Java, browser (Firefox, Safari, and/or Internet Explorer), Flash, Microsoft Word, or PDF issues causing people fits. It’s a drag because we’d rather be helping faculty develop better courses, which means more effectively communicating with students, not tracking down browser incompatibilities with a certain version of Java and Blackboard.

That’s why Apple’s continuing battle against certain technologies that can gum-up the works on the Web is interesting to a guy like me. Because of Apple’s dominant market position in certain sectors — mobile computing, through its iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and laptops — it can turn the Web around to it’s way of thinking.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. In an interview the Starbucks Chief Information Officer, Stephen Gillett said that

iDevices from Apple are used more in its stores than any others. How important is that? Well, Gillett wanted to use Flash on the social network, but there wasn’t any way he could because of Steve Jobs’ refusal to support Flash. Even today Apple is refusing to include Flash in its laptops and desktops.

Apple is trying to transition away from using the Adobe Flash technology because in many instances it slows down the Web experience, and it’s not a very accessible technology for people with disabilities. There are alternatives that Apple does support on it’s iPhones and iPads.

And now the same situation might be happening with Apple’s support of Sun’s Java technology (read here and here for more details and commentary). Until now Apple has included an installation of Java in it’s operating system; Java was distributed and updated along with the Mac OS X operating system. That won’t be happening anymore, according to Steve Jobs, because Sun can spend the money to update Java for the Mac, not Apple.

Getting back to the topic at hand, what does this all mean for the future of e-Learning? There are two forces at hand that will define e-Learning technologies into the future: open, cross platform Web technologies that Apple and others are promoting; and the move towards mobile computing using smart phones and tablet computers. Those forces mean companies like Blackboard will have to eventually transition away from technology like Java that is proprietary and adopt open standards. That’s a good thing because, in time, it could probably lead to many fewer support calls from people pulling their hair out over a Java issue in Blackboard.

Give the Internet a break!

That’s right, please give the Internet a break. Don’t blame it for being slow sometimes, or maybe being broke when you most need it. If you truly understood how the Internet works, I think you’d be amazed that this complex tool actually works.

In today’s podcast I explain why using the Internet is not like turning on the faucet in your home, plus I explain one technical aspect of the Internet that will blow your mind: packets. After listening to the podcast, if you’re looking for a bit more information, here’s a short description of how packets work to deliver information over the Internet.

If you want to learn more about the history of the Internet, here are two books, both of which I’ve read, that should quench your thirst for understanding the Internet.

Have a great day, thanks for listening to the podcast, and take a deep breath the next time the Internet is giving you fits.

The way epic filmmaking was 28 years ago — what happened?

Last night I watched the 28 year-old bio-epic movie, Gandhi (1982), directed by Richard Attenborough. Of course, the story is an inspiring one, about the life long struggle Gandhi fought for human rights through the use of non-violent protest. As a film buff who watches and studies many movies, what shocked me was the grand scale of the film; it was a historical epic film we haven’t seen in decades.

There have been epic films made since Gandhi, but are there any of these films made today without computer generated imagery (CGI)? Since Jurassic Park in 1993, film makers and studios have found using CGI cheaper and more efficient. Too bad, because there’s something awe inspiring about watching the funeral scene in Gandhi that used 400,000 extras. And there are other scenes that probably used just a thousand or two (see the screen capture above, for example).

The same chaotic energy can’t be captured by computer animation; CGI is too controlled, too painterly, too fake no matter how good the technology, because in the back of your mind the thought “this is cool computer work” is always floating around.

The limits of CGI are probably expressed the greatest in epic films, which are a genre all their own. Wikipedia summarizes epic films as

An epic is a genre of film that emphasizes human drama on a grand scale. Epics are more ambitious in scope than other film genres, and their ambitious nature helps to differentiate them from similar genres such as the period piece or adventure film. They typically entail high production values, a sweeping musical score (often by an acclaimed film composer), and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, placing them among the most expensive of films to produce. The term “epic” comes from the poetic genre exemplified by such works as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Ramayan.

To my mind, the epic film isn’t just about what was captured on the celluloid, but the process of filming too. It’s also about the struggle to corral and capture thousands of extras on film, which then affects the performances of the lead actors. That’s a dynamic that can’t be reproduced in a studio in front of a green screen.

Too bad. Bye, bye epic film.

Cuil is not cool

cuil screen grab of a search for bill weye

cuil screen grab of a search for bill weye

I didn’t find Cuil cool at all. After reading about this new search engine from alumni from Google, I thought I would take Cuil for a spin by searching for my name, Bill Weye. Well, you can see a screen grab of the search results to the right.

The first thing you’ll notice in these search results are the images. How do they get there? Who knows . . . you would think that Cuil has some cool technology to find an image of me, which it places along side the result for my website, which you’re reading, but that image isn’t me! It doesn’t even look like me. And as for those other images, I don’t know anything about them. They don’t make any sense to me.

Besides the images, the search results are pretty much shit. They’ve got some spam blog that steals my content as one of their top results. In no way do their results come close to searching Google, or Yahoo! for me. Which one is better, Google or Yahoo!? I’d say they’re about the same; the resutls are a little different, but either one works pretty well.

New Gmail Features Make Me Happy

gmail screen shotEvery time I login to Gmail and see that new features have been added, most of the time it makes me happy. This time, with the addition of color labels, I’m really happy. I use Gmail to keep track of over 15 different email accounts, and using labels is the best way to keep track of where this email is coming from. At a glance I can recognize what account is getting an email and whether it needs my immediate attention. For those of us who now use Gmail exclusively for our email client, each new feature makes our decision to ditch a traditional desktop client seem more sensible.

There’s a bunch more new features, including a few in the chat category; check out all the latest Gmail features here.

Renewable Energy Makes Money For Smart Businesses

How stupid can one market analyist be? Well, I think you would have ask Jordan Rohan of RBC Capital Markets for that answer. Mr. Rohan, in a NY Times article about Google‘s attempt to push the football forward in the world of renewable energy, says that
“My first reaction when I read about this was, ‘Is this a joke?’” Rohan expands:

“The only positive byproduct of this project that would be anything other than environmental,” he said, “is that it might make Google managers and executives even prouder of the fact that they work there, and it may help retain key employees who think their goal is to do good in the world. But I’m really stretching.”

Mr. Rohan (and others), Google isn’t just an advertising company, it’s a computing company. And to compute, you need computers, and computers need energy, and that energy is an expense that keeps increasing. What if, I don’t know, Google could decrease its energy costs by 30%? Or even 10%? Would that put Google at an even greater competitive advantage, decreasing its fixed costs? What if Google then either sold its excess energy capacity or licensed its renewable energy technology? That might bring in a few bucks!

Hasn’t everyone read this article about the Google data center in The Dalle, Oregon? They sited the data center on the Columbia River, next a hydroelectric power plant, so they could get the cheapest power available. Imagine if Google wasn’t restricted by such considerations and could site data centers wherever they wanted, bringing their own renewable energy creation with them?

Higher resolution Google Maps

Google has increased the resolution on some of their satellite maps, but it’s a little tricky to find. Based on what I’ve found the higher resolution hasn’t been built into the interface yet, so you’ll have to hack the URL a bit. Here’s how to do it:

  1. using Google Maps find the location you want, making sure you are using hybrid or satellite.
  2. click on “Link to this page” on the top right corner of the map (here is the link to my favorite bar in San Francisco, Specs in the North Beach)
  3. In the URL look for this ‘=h&z=19&’ — that number controls the zoom.
  4. Now zoom the map to the max, then start fiddling with the URL, increasing the number.

I found that you can increase the zoom to 20 before it breaks, but your mileage may vary depending on what location you’re looking at. Have at it Google Map geek!

Copyright © 2018 Bill Weye

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