Sunday, September 19, 2010

SVG Doodles for Blogging, Micro-blogging and Messaging

(Emerging from mobile hibernation ... :-)

Whilst twitter looks set to support photo micro-blogging in a new design, I still see much room for creative potential if there were new apps and services that support SVG. Now that smartphones and micro-blogging have become immensely popular with the further development of touch screen devices, I thought it would be worth echoing and expanding on some thoughts I had on jotting more than text. I initially conceived this as extending blogs, but with so many communication faclities being mediated primarily through the Web, it could be far more general.

From a cursory glance via Google, it appears there have been some research papers in SVG Web services: for instance, in 2004 there was published Making SVG a Web Service in a Message-based MVC Architecture, but such efforts seem to peter out. Yet, as far as individual applications are concerned, the facilities for creating quick sketches and sharing them are improving; among the iPhone apps there is PMS IT!, though I haven't seen it in action.

The SVG 1.1 standard includes a section on animation, so the process of drawing (the sequence in which strokes are made etc, 'online recording', as it were) as well as the end result ('offline record') can be saved. Then the recipient or viewer of such a drawing can play it back, an effect I think I probably first saw in the children's programme, Rainbow. Furthermore whoever has a copy of the drawing could extend it. A simple example might be a game of Os and Xs.

If you provide a central point for aggregation of such content, you could then have a drawing-based equivalent of Twitter. By allow more than one person to work on a single drawing, you then could have an interesting example of collaboration (technically CSCW).

With the technologies for image recognition, you could also apply pattern matching to the doodles against a database of complex pictures such as photos and works of art. This could even lead to new ideograms. For instance, suppose you want to create a new road sign that represents particular features of a modern landscape. You could take a photo and then try drawing some simple representations until you arrive at the simplest one that returns the desired match.

So another call for doodles!

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Smartboard Demo of my Mobile Life

Towards the end of last month I had an opportunity to offer to about 50 or os graduate students at Oxford some glimpses of how I use mobile computing at the University. As part of a day-long session on using IT in various ways to support postgraduate study, I gave two 15 minute demos under the title of, 'Going mobile: online skills in the palm of your hand.'

I deliberately went for a mobile-oriented setup, which had several considerations. At the core, was my intention to do a live demo of the PDA through a whiteboard - it's very gratifying to demo a small screen on a big screen! The smartphone in question was my HTC P3600 (aka Trinity).

The solution had the following components:

  • PDA phone: HTC P3600
  • ASUS Eee PC running Windows XP Pro
  • Remote PDA controller running on the EEE PC and the phone: MyMobiler
  • Whiteboard Driver (Smartboard Notebook software 10 driver)
  • Smartboard by SMART Technologies - provided in each of the department's 4 lecture rooms.

One of the first things I did was to evaluate some remote PDA control apps, for which I must thank Werner Ruotsalainen for providing technical review details (see one review from early 2008 ). In the end I plumped for MyMobiler, because it did the basics well - in general I could tap on the whiteboard with my finger to replicate the stylus tap on the device, though curiously i couldn't access the cursive drawing function for handwriting recognition. And naturally it helped that it was free!

I first tried out the remote control on my desktop PC, tethered to the mobile and it worked fine. I then tried it on a lecture room PC with the aid of Dave Baker, one of the IT Learning Programme team (who was very patient as I had delayed testing until quite late). In this case I used ActiveSync as a conduit, but there is also the option to use TCP/IP, as with some other programs, but it wasn't inconvenient for me to have the PDA near to the PC and most of these programs are designed to run on Windows anyway. This worked smoothly once we realized that the firewall was initially blocking ActiveSync. Then we configured the whiteboard, running Smartboard, running the orientation setup, ensuring we used a good number of reference points to allow for fine control.

On the whiteboard everything seemed to work well, and the display could be maximised to fill the screen height (in portrait mode) though I noticed that it's a bit unpredictable whether or not mobile video can be displayed on the big screen. Once the process had been established we then decided to swap the lecture room PC for the Asus, allowing a single machine setup for multiple demos (I had to give the demo in two different rooms, one immediately after the other!).

I then had to think about what to demo. I had at most 15 mins, but actually that was to include the setup! I needed to convey quickly that it was more than a gimmick that required uber geek configuration skills. Fortunately, I didn't really have to go far because I realised that I could at least show some Oxford stuff, mainly through the Today screen.

So this is what I picked:

  • Oxford newsfeeds: PocketRSS is a wonderful tool with a lot of configuration options and good standards support. It enables you to insert feeds in the Today screen with [+] expanders to allow you to read titles initially and then drill down for the content. Oxford Uni public affairs has been using RSS for a long time (initially with OXITEMS, which actually was superior in that it allowed the inclusion of images.
  • Oxford Term dates - meetings and other events are often given along the lines of Wednesday Week 4 at 10am, so you have to know the Oxford weeks! I import one of several public Google calendars into Pocket Outlook using Oggsync Mobile.
  • Inbox (Pocket Outlook) for Oxford mail - it provides a compact and useful count of unread messages, with good updating. (I added some basic instructions for IMAP setup on my departmental site). However, I actually prefer QMAIL3, but not so easy to set up.
  • Tomeraider + Wikipedia: anyone who has read my handheld blog is quite likely to have seen me promoting this before!
  • Video (one session): i did manage to show a film (converted from Video CD format to wmv file using Windows Movie Maker) of Pu Tok Rok, a monastery built into a large rock - it is on 7 levels and was constructed by just one monk.

I also offered a little glimpse of the future

  • Pointui interface: the iPhone has wowed many people with its multitouch interface. Other devices, such as those running Windows mobile, haven't yet got this capability, but there are some interesting experiments and this is definitely an interesting one, which allows you to sweep across the screen to move elegantly between functions (pages are seen gliding across). On the Smartboard, this got demonstrated to good effect :-)
  • QuickMark 2d barcode reader: I'm in the process of bidding for funds for a project in the use of this technology to enhance the way visitors interact with exhibition displays. For the demo, I printed out a table containing details of some OUCS talks, which had been tweaked by Barry Corneliius, to include 2d barcodes of type URL generated courtesy of the Kaywa Generator which you can invoke in your own scripts by a suitable call to their PHP script.

    QuickMark uses the built-in camera, but this is something that couldn't (can't?) be rendered on the big screen, so I just lifted up the sheet of paper to show everyone what i was trying to do and took a snap, and let QuickMark generate the URL. I then accessed the URL to launch the built-in web browser (IE) and it duly displayed information about some talks.

Overall, I think both demos went pretty well on the day; I'm still awaiting feedback for the session as a whole, but technically at least I know this works! Just sorry that no photos or videos were taken on the day.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Asus PC arrives: Easy to carry, Easy to use, Easily liked!

Today is a little drum roll day ... as I am pleased to announce the purchase and delivery of an Asus EEE PC mini notebook in a smart 'Pearl White'. :-) I had been reading with interest various reviews (almost invariably positive) and had heard colleagues equally lavishing praise - even to the extent that they have suggested that these machines become standard issue! They described how it would be ideal for taking along to conferences for giving presentations, typing notes, quick access to email etc.

Actually, I had been doing all these things with the HP Jornada 720, which is half the size and weight, is instant-on and has double the battery life. However, much as I am very fond of the handheld PC, there's no doubting its limitations e.g. there's no application that delivers full web support, its screen is 640*240. The Asus is in most operational respects far superior, so I made the investment.

Take a look at the following assorted devices.

The Jornada is on the left, the Asus EEE PC in the middle; to the right is a Toshiba 486 laptop, which is about 3 times as thick as the Asus [not mine, I should add]. Underneath is the HTC P3600.

Using the Jornada has proved beneficial because the Asus keyboard is not so much bigger than it, but since I can type almost as quickly on the Jornada as I can on a desktop keyboard, I am quiet comfortable with the Asus.

I've only tried it out for a few hours, so not much to report - first thing I managed to do was connect to the department's Eduroam wireless network and the responsiveness was surprisingly good. However, the battery level was already low and soon was down to 20%, so that was all. Back at home, recharging, I can surf at leisure and once again I compare my experience with the Jornada and naturally find that the screen resolution is generally fine, but the main difference is that this small device is running a full desktop operating system!

It's a case of windows through windows: the screenshot was from the Asus running Windows (!), which I expect more often to run Linux; and the inner screenshot was taken of the Jornada with the Windows CE OS running an X server connecting to a Linux box!

It's reminding me of 'thick' vs 'thin' client discussions, but I won't go into that now.

In the meantime there's quite a bit to explore...

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Introducing OxMobile

I'd like to open 2008 by offering ... a mobile strategy! It's initially for Oxford University, where I work, but in the longer term as a stepping stone for projects and services that will make Oxford's enormous wealth of resources of far wider benefit. It is just a personal document and as such does not in any way reflect official policy. However, as it is a personal creation, it means I can share it freely. :-)

So I am pleased to present:
OxMobile: Towards a Mobile and Ubiquitous Strategy for the University of Oxford

Yes, it is a long document! Why did I go to such lengths? Well, I'm not yet aware of any other explicitly mobile strategy at Oxford; feeling that there really ought to be one I decided to spend time at home writing a document that can move us in that direction. I hope it serves as a basis for various shorter documents that address particular needs such as business case, briefings, project plans etc.

To begin with I suggest just dipping in to the sections that are of interest to you. My core personal interest is in OxPDA and particularly the e-Diary (see sections 5.2 and 5.5), which emerged out of my earlier posts on this blog (parts one, two and three). Since those posts I feel that various factors have ripened to make this really viable.

Any comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome - this is so far only one person's selection, albeit produced over an extended period. I would be particularly pleased if it prompted the development of a variety of mobile and ubiquitous strategies at other academic institutions. Just think how such initiatives might improve education worldwide...


Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking back: 'bread and butter' apps of 2007

Having purchased the HTC P3600 (aka Trinity) earlier this year, I thought now might be a good time to look back and pick out the applications that I’ve found most useful on a regular basis - the handheld ‘bread and butter!’ So here they are listed in no particular order, with some quick summary notes.


I have been using this mail client for several years, initially with the HP Jornada 720 (Handheld PC2000). Now I use it with the Trinity, mainly just to keep informed whilst away; I occasionally compose a few short messages and send attachments, but it’s mainly for reading. It’s very powerful, providing good support for the IMAP server at work (e.g. can sync on any number of folders) and quite a number of configurable options in the interface, including HTML support and message threading, though it is somewhat cramped on the QVGA display.

2. Tomeraider + Wikipedia (snapshot with images)

This was the combination that almost single-handedly removed my dependence on the clamshell form factor. For general facts and figures, Wikipedia is an excellent resource and thanks to Erik Zachte versions of the database have been made available for ready conversion to Tomeraider, an e-book reader whose clever indexing and nifty interface makes accessing and navigating entries a breeze. It usually takes me just a few seconds from switching on the PDA to tapping out the topic under investigation; the version I have also includes small versions of about 2/3 of the original images.

However, the outputs from Wikipedia have been changing from time to time, too much to keep up with, so at present there is not an up-to-date version of the full text that can be read in Wikipedia, certainly not one with images. Alas, the conversion process stalled some while ago. I still hope that some initiative will emerge that enables it to become active again. One area that has been considered is the production of subsets according to particular categories – that at least is an interesting research project!

Working with this combination has sparked quite a few thoughts aboiut which I'm still pondering – first about PDA clients (thick or thin?) and then using this educational resource as the basis of what might become One PDA [or smartphone] per Child, which prompted thoughts in the sphere of education from Leonard Low - One PDA Per Learner (OPAL). With the iPhone bring handheld devices very firmly out of business confines and the emergence of various initiatives concerning small laptops, this looks increasingly likely in the mid term.

3. ZIP for Pocket PC

A utility to unpack ubiquitous Zip archives is essential for document bundles, installation files etc. HTC’s offering (Version 1.20) is easy to use and quite flexible in the extraction options.

4. Outlook/Google calendar via Oggsync

I have been making daily use of the pocket Outlook client and it works well, obviously has been given a lot of attention for business users. It is a real boon to sync it with Google Calendar – I was hoping for a free client to cover all my needs, but I think for a reasonably reliable and functional product decided it was worth paying for Oggsync, even though I think the licensing model (annual payment) is questionable as it is software that is being provided, not an online service.

I currently sync on 3 calendars: a personal calendar, a work calendar and a public calendar that gives dates of Oxford terms. Google has many public calendars that are worth perusing.

5. Contacts

Similar to the calendar, on using the phone more, I have been storing and updating contacts here.

6. Windows Media Player


One of my Thai friends very kindly scoured Chulalongkorn University bookshop and subsequently presented me with two self-study Thai language courses called ‘Thai for Beginners’ and ‘Thai for Intermediate Learners’ by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. They came with cassette tapes that I’ve digitized into mp3 format [technicalities described in another post]

I still take the physical book with me, but use the phone to listen to the audio. There are better audio players, e.g. GS Player, but WMP does the job okay.


I use Windows Movie Maker on a laptop to transcribe videos produced by the Thai temple that I support (see e.g. DMC TV). They are typically made available as .wmv downloads or if collecting on CD they may be supplied as MPEGs encapsulated in VideoCD format (just rename the DAT file). Transcription is straightforward and the output option of PDA (320*240) produces good results. :-)

7. MS Live Search Mobile

Of the various mapping applications that I’ve tried, I’ve found Live Search to be the most robust. If I’m visiting somewhere I download the tiles in advance. Then, when using that map data, the application works fine and won’t crash when you explore the edges.

8. Camera: pictures and videos

I’m not much of a photographer, but even I find it very easy to take snaps with the Trinity – just switch on and press the camera button twice. A nice feature is that it is integrated with the GPS, so you have the option of recording GPS data in the EXIF file.

Quality is modest, though with the CMOS sensor it works quite reasonably in low light conditions. I’ve uploaded a few to my Flickr space.

9. VisualGPSce

This application is well made. In the absence of any GPS application with the HTC ROM upgrade I use this to establish connections and then switch to other apps, e.g. the camera, knowing that a lock is available immediately.

It introduced me to the fun of GPS and digital maps, including a little detective trail and route animation (not sure about the practical value of that!)

10. Adobe Reader

A lot of documentation, especially work-related is distributed as PDF, so it’s necessary to have a PDF viewer. Adobe’s offering works reasonably well, though unless text flow works, then it’s not very practical to read more than a page or two.


There are other apps that I’ve used occasionally, including:

  • Supersnap: the best tool I’ve found for capturing a sequence of screenshots. The developer was very responsive to comments.
  • Skype: For the Trinity, I needed to download version 2.1 (2.2 doesn’t work), the latest beta version of which I obtained via It works okay, quality fair - I made one overseas call that lasted over an hour and found that although the audio sounded processed, it was clear enough. The main limiting factor is the phone contract, which prohibits its use, along with instant messaging. :-(
  • MS Powerpoint viewer: for presentations that I prepare and similarly from others
  • GS Player: I use it occasionally to listen to streams, as delivered by; can connect the output to the Hi-Fi. It’s a smart application with a very neat and tidy interface.
  • XnView for Pocket PC: it’s a great graphics package, which I use to convert screenshots from BMP to GIF and then can upload to the Web.
  • Word mobile: it’s limited, but sometimes that’s enough :-)
  • Lingvosoft Thai-English dictionary for Pocket PC: I’m just starting to learn to read and write Thai and this is starting to help me more, though I first need to learn the alphabet! It comes with a virtual Thai keyboard and I can copy and paste Thai words to/from Pocket Word, so I hope eventually to be composing blog posts in Thai :-) It is has a large number of entries, more than adequate. The 2006 version that I bought supports speech synthesis, but for English only!

As this year draws to a close, I'd just like to say thanks for reading - I hope there's been something worthwhile for you. More thoughts in 2008...

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Watching BBC Videos on Windows Mobile

Futurologists often mention that videos are coming to the phone. Actually, the technology is already in place and I've already tuned in a few times to DMC TV (Dhamma Media Channel), as reported for the Earth Day 2007.

The BBC and other broadcast media are thinking hard about how to embrace Internet-based video and maintain themselves as a going concern. At the moment, they make available to the general public selected archives. I found that if I access the BBC site with my mobile phone running Windows Mobile 5, then it redirects me to pages specifically designed for mobile devices (addresses like and makes available a few videos, including a news summary. However, the choice is limited and the bandwidth quite low.

Actually, many PDAs nowadays are powerful enough to cope with the same levels of streaming as those aimed at desktop machines. Versions of Windows Mobile and Real Player are available for the mobile platform, so are they able to handle the streams? Could I find the streams in the first place? In true journalistic style... "I decided to investigate!"

[I used my HTC P3600 PDA Phone, with ROM upgrade, running Windows Mobile 5 AKU3.3.1. All screenshots were captured using SuperSnap 1.5 Auto mode, apart from the Windows Media sceenshot, for which I happened to use Pocket Screen Capture from CEToolbox.]

The first aim was to work out how to locate the Beeb videos from the mobile device. There are probably many ways of going about this, but I was just looking for a simple way to navigate: after manually setting URLs it became evident that only on a few pages are you automatically redirected to mobile equivalents. To avoid having to type URLs, you can start by using a search engine like Google:

Searching for the BBC News World edition in Google Mobile

And that's accurate enough to bring up the desired match without having to scroll :-)

Searching for the BBC News World edition in Google Mobile

The BBC News World page duly loads in full (note that I had opted to select 'desktop view') but renders differently from desktop machines because there is still some browser detection that decides that Pocket IE needs a bit of extra assistance!

BBC News web site loaded under Pocket IE

Scrolling down the page, you come across the selection of videos available:

Browsing videos from the BBC News Web site Selecting a video from the BBC News Web site

Click on the video of your choosing...

BBC Video: page as viewed in Pocket Internet Explorer

On desktops, you get a picture frame with a video loading in the middle of it, but here on scrolling down the page I got:

BBC Web site: inline video (empty)

Not so interesting! However, we haven't yet defined our video preferences...

Selecting preferences for viewing BBC News videos

Clicking on the preferences link enables you to select the quality (connection speed) and which player:

BBC Website: select high quality video stream BBC Website: select video player

So which player to choose? As the BBC states that Realplayer is the preferred player (more cross-platform, I presume), I initially tried RealPlayer for Pocket PC 1.1 Preview Release available from RealPlayer's Mobile area. However, it didn't work.

So I opted for Windows Media Player, clicked the [OK] button and was returned to the video page via a confirmation screen.

BBC Website: video preferences saved Launching video in external player from BBC News site

[Incidental techie point: the use of Perl reminded me of a presentation at the 2002 Oxford IT Support Staff conference on the subject of Content production at the BBC - the presenter related how there was not one supersystem, but rather a lot of little custom Perl scripts, with a lot of home crafting. Evidently, they're still using these "down to earth tools" for the video configurations and they work well) :-) ].

Now was the time to test - I clicked on the link to launch the player...

Windows Media Player and BBC News video (screenshot)

It worked fine, streaming at around 230kb/s and I was also able to click on the 'full screen' button. The picture quality was quite good, though sound was a little bit out of sync with lip movement and the audio controls seemed to have limited control over volume.

I've managed to watch a number of videos this way and generally it works well. However, if my PDA is doing something else at the same time, then the streaming reverts to a very low rate and I might not even get any pictures. So performance is an issue. Nevertheless, I'm happy to report it works well on a variety of videos, meaning you can keep informed and be entertained wherever there is WiFi or high-speed phone network connection.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Figuring out mobile data tariffs

I'm generally a very light user of a phone for ordinary calls (voice), so have only ever made use of 'Pay as you go' SIM cards. The exception is when I'm in Thailand, where I find myself making and receiving more calls than I would in the UK during the course of a year! (I have lots of relatives there :-)

Since a few years ago, I was interested in data access and I ran some notional tests using GSM on my Nokia 8210 communicating with HP Jornada 720 via Infrared, but reaching 700bits per second at a cost of several pence per minute wasn't of much practical benefit. But now the landscape has changed, or at least it should have: I have the HTC Trinity with support for 3G and HSDPA and generally there's been a fair amount of momentum, not least because we are getting used to having the Internet 'on tap' with always on broadband connections.

Since buying the Nokia phone, I have stuck with the Vodafone 'Pay as you go' SIM, but when I looked at the data options, it seemed sadly lacking. My phone was indicating 3G receptivity, so that looked promising and I downloaded and installed the Network Settings Wizard off the HTC Europe site. However, I was unable to make a connection. I popped into a local Vodafone store and the staff were friendly, but all they did was give me a printout of settings that I also failed to get working.

Actually I had already heard from a colleague about T-Mobile's 'Web n Walk' day pass and mentioned this in the shop. The sales staff could only say that there would be something to match it, but he didn't know what it would be and I'd have to wait until June. Well, June is almost here and details have been made available - drawn by an article on the Register, I read about the new offer.

However, I had already sent off for a free T-Mobile SIM and have been using it for about 3 weeks, having used the Network Settings Wizard above to connect almost immediately. The basic terms on traffic are: 0.73p per KB, with £1 cap; a 'fair usage' allowance of 40MB per day - see the full terms. That's quite clever, because it seems very generous, but using HSDPA (which is available in Oxford, though Windows Mobile 5 doesn't have an 'H' icon), you can reach the cap in half a second! Furthermore, 40MB is not that much, really. Today I was tuning into a live stream from DMC TV to celebrate Vesak. The ceremony took place throughout the day and during lunchtime I showed some friends on the phone (with a similar display to what I had found for Earth Day). In just a couple of minutes I had consumed more than 1MB, yet I was not using a particularly high bandwidth stream.

Even though the Vodafone has introduced its offer with the benefit of being able to observe the popularity of T-Mobile, it appears to me only marginally better in one respect: you don't reach the £1 cap so quickly - only after 0.5MB as opposed to 73K. If your use is just for checking email selectively (e.g. you download only message headers and then manually pick and choose which text bodies to download) or perhaps a few mobile-optimised web sites, then it may prove a bit cheaper, but with broadband connections I expect most people will be looking to replicate what they do at home and in the office whilst on the move, so 1MB will be gobbled up very quickly and you'll be looking at 15MB for £1, followed by £2 per MB, which is an inferior offer :-(

So T-Mobile's 'Web n Walk' day pass still seems the best deal for users wanting to make more than token use of the Net where you need the phone network for connectivity. Yet it's quite restrictive in the amount of data you can transfer and cleverly imposes other restrictions in terms of applications you can use - it excludes instant messaging and VoIP - and further you're not even allowed to connect it to a laptop: "We do not permit use of this service to provide modem access for a computer." These facilities are allowed, if at all, only for the more expensive plans.

In the UK, the telecoms companies not surprisingly need some means of recouping the considerable costs of buying licenses for the 3G and other radio spectrums...