Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hi-Def video from the edge of space (Motion sickness bag not included)

High altitude balloons have been used to perform experiments and collect data from the earth's stratosphere for over 200 years now, but recently with the availability of cheap consumer electronics some universities and amateur radio groups have started using them to take pictures or videos at "near space" altitudes. For about $150 you can assemble a balloon, prepaid cell phone with GPS, and a used camera to take some pretty cool pictures from pretty high up. If you want better tracking and the ability to shoot video you can spend a bit more to get some truly amazing pictures and awesome videos, not to mention gobs of data that would make even the Mythbusters jealous.

Some balloon projects use multiple cameras so that they can take pictures both downwards towards the ground and sideways to see the curvature of the earth. Last month the Balloon Experiments with Amateur Radio group launched their BEAR-4 balloon with an Hi-Def camera. They got over 4 hours worth of wicked cool video, even though the camera was spinning like a top over Canada half the time. Check out the highlights:


The only thing cooler than seeing one of these things rise and then drop from the sky would be to see the Entry, Descent and Landing of a rover on Mars :-P

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Microsoft Translator throws it’s hat into the ring!

Microsoft is stepping up their game in the translation market with the new Microsoft Translator service. While it does not have the community feedback system like the Google Translator Toolkit, it does offer the ability to translate documents directly in Microsoft Word or a webpage in Internet Explorer 8 and display the documents side by side. The JavaScript widget also lets you embed the translator directly onto a webpage so that users can view the content in different languages. Checkout this short video from Office Casual that outlines the new features. As a plus, it includes silly hats!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How to be number one: Make people happy, Make it pretty, Make it cool

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are just a few of our "inalienable rights”, but if you are anything like me then you probably focus the majority of your time on pursuing happiness while letting your elected officials manage your liberties and your subconsciousness manage keeping you alive. If you are an entrepreneur or master of marketing then you might have come to realize that the success of your product may be directly related to the happiness that it subconsciously brings to your users. No matter how far we have evolved, we are still but simple creatures.

Today Joel Spolsky released a video of his talk at the 2008 Business of Software conference, in which he discusses what it takes to become a market leader. He recognizes that it takes more than simple technical superiority to become number one, which is an issue that has baffled me many times. I personally dislike the iPhone, but I do have to admit that Apple does a very good job at paying attention to all the little details that make the overall use of a device more appealing to their users (thereby Apple-ing the user :-P). By spending extra time on the aethstetics and appearance of a device and building an aura “coolness” that the community associates with them Apple is able to consistently deliver products that become market leaders even if there are other devices with more power for less price. The video of the talk is about 46 minutes and is a great example of how to keep people interested during a long presentation:



The 2009 Business of Software conference is coming up on November 9th and I really wish that I could go if only to see Don Norman’s talk. He wrote The Design of Everyday Things, which is an excellent book about the functional and visual importance of design that I would highly recommend to anyone designing a building, writing software, or trying to create the next cool gizmo. Reading a book that was written in 1988 but still very applicable in the age of Web 2.0 gave me a new respect for the design process. He also has other books on the topic of design, and I would love to hear his advice applied directly to the design of software.