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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