Sunday, November 25, 2007

Media Development Music Video

The Media Development Authority (MDA), a Singapore government body responsible for everything from film ratings to funding animation projects, has produced a music video of their own. Singapore is a never say die place, and this video seems to say: "if you can't beat em join em".

It's getting lots of attention here in Singapore, both positive and negative, but some of the more interesting comments have compared MDA favorably with the FCC and RIAA. Anyway, I enjoyed the creativity and liveliness of the piece, even if it's a bit overburdoned with "mission statements and action plans". Gotta say that MDA's Communications Director Cassandra Tay, who created it, has some guts.

Inspiration - Music as Communications

"The organ was really the instrument that inspired Bach to be a composer." So says Felix Hell in a new documentary film on Johann Sebastian Bach, to be shown at the Entertainment Gathering in Los Angeles next week. Makes you think about the influence of computers - both instruments and computers help us extend the elegance of mathematics into our consciousness, and ultimately generating our reality.

In his introduction to the YouTube preview clip, presenter Dr. Lewis Thomas intones "We are a jeuvenile species, just beginning to learn how to use our thumbs and how to use language. And considering that, this early on, we managed to turn out Johann Sebastian Bach... I think we've done pretty well."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Marc Cantor on Open Social

Google this week introduced a set of open APIs known as 'Open Social' that allow social media software to interoperate. Specifically, Open Social lets developers create containers and applications that can easily integrate with web sites.

Many have speculated that Open Social is Google's challenge to Facebook, and indeed many partners have immediately embraced the new API, including MySpace, Friendster, hi5, LinkedIn, Ning, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING. But (Macromedia founder and CEO of Broadband Mechanics) Marc Cantor says that Google had nothing to loose (since Orkut wasn't that popular), and everything to gain (by positioning itself as a platform for the socialisation of every application). He also doesn't count Yahoo and Microsoft out of the picture.

Robert Scoble has recorded a 20-minute video interview with Marc Cantor that starts slow but has some amazing insights on the Open Social announcement. And there are a couple follow on clips too.

Finding my Voice

I'm planning to deliver a speech, and I thought it might start like this.

"I want to speak with you today about technology in education. More specifically, about information communications technology as it applies to learning. This is a domain which I describe as 'learning communications'.

Learning communications may be thought of as arising from the eLearning market, which is traditionally segmented into, one the one hand, companies which produce technology solutions like learning management systems, and on the other, companies which produce content. But the learning communications market includes both content and communications, in much the same way as say, interactive digital media.

If we look closely at eLearning content, we can see that even the content courseware, modules, and RLOs (ie- reuseable learning objects) cannot be separated entirely from communications. Each comes with an agenda, protocol, pedagogy and set of desired learning outcomes. It would be nice to think that an RLO is a static, stand-alone piece of content. But it is much like the tree which falls in the woods; if there is no one around, does its falling make any sound?

Thus we must always return, in fact we should begin, from the perspective of communications. We must ask, what is the best medium of communications in order to affect the desired learning outcomes? That is the perspective of learning communications."

Comments welcome.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bewildered in Class

"Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment..." So begins a video called "A Vision of Students Today" produced by students at Kansas State University Digital Ethnography Class. Professor Welch, who leads these students, has a blog with more information about the class and motivations for producing the video. The quote is by (who else) Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

If you think you know something about educational technology, watch this 5 minute clip. If you think you know what learning communications is all about, play it again.

The point is that social media is having a profound affect on the way students see, hear and learn. I've recorded a lot of lectures, and I can tell you that the computers used in classrooms are almost always tuned to another channel. Howard Rheingold calls this the 'back channel', and suggests that unless instructors leverage the back channel, they are failing their students and isolating themselves.

While it may be one of the most blogged about videos on the Internet, I am grateful to Mitch Joel for sharing this gem. I immediately showed it to my 10 year old son Lucas.

Learning from Great Presenters

Recently Garr Reynolds posted an analysis of the presentation styles of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Garr's tone is respectful and yet humorous, with digs about Bill's obsessive use of the word 'rich' and the Steve's theatrics. But there are great insights in this post, including Garr's conclusion that "...the biggest difference is not the fact that Steve's slides are simpler with fewer elements and fewer bullet points, the biggest difference is in the way they are used."

Presentation Zen is one of my favorite blogs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Asus Eee PC Rocks!

Folks in the educational technology community will no doubt be aware of the OLPC project championed by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. Conceptualised as a poverty alleviation scheme, Nick's vision is a US$ 100 sub-notebook to get kids communicating and sharing over Wifi networks. And it's packed with learning oriented software and an innovative user interface.

However, like the X-Prize has spurred low-orbit travel innovation, Nick's cheap laptop has got Chinese and Taiwanese vendors to think differently about how laptops are made (and used). Intel at first disparaged the effort, and then came up with their own 'Edu-wise' subnotebook.

The next phase of this revolution is the much anticipated launch of the Asus Eee PC subnotebook. Imagine this: The Asus "Eee PC 8G" is pre-configured with 1GB of RAM, an 8GB SSD, and webcam for US$ 399. And for only US$ 299, you get 4GB SSD, a bit less RAM and no webcam. This little puppy rocks! If nothing else, it will be a wonderful ebook reader.

For more information check out the official Asus Eee PC website, view a recent video review, or discuss it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Facebook as Communications Vehicle

Facebook Page of Founder Mark ZuckerbergFacebook (FB) is expanding its relationship with Microsoft, and proving that its a good investment vehicle. "Facebook and Microsoft Corp. today announced that Microsoft will take a $240 million equity stake in Facebook’s next round of financing at a $15 billion valuation, and the companies will expand their existing advertising partnership. Under the expanded strategic alliance, Microsoft [Adcenter, Google Adwords competitor] will be the exclusive third-party advertising platform partner for Facebook, and will begin to sell advertising for Facebook internationally in addition to the United States."

But is it a good communications vehicle? I personally feel that FB has too much friction to be a good communications medium. I keep it open most of the time, but the messaging is still very much like webmail. The apps are kind of cute but not very useful. I do think it's great for media sharing and building a sense of community, but am already looking for the next generation of social media sites that offer more of a sense of a conversation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore Wins '07 Nobel Peace Prize

Did anyone notice that winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are often also great communicators? Al Gore, whose film Inconvenient Truth and global Live Earth campaign have awakened a nascent environmental movement, has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007. He now joins an illustrious list of peace prize laureates that includes Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandella, Jimmy Carter, and the Dalai Lama.

Gore was tipped for the prize based on his "wide-reaching efforts to draw the world’s attention to the dangers of global warming". He had my vote for what was arguably the best PowerPoint presentation ever delivered.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Remembering Phil Dodds

Philip Dodds, an American engineer long active in multimedia standards efforts dating back to the first MPCs, and widely acknowledged for his contributions to learning communications, passed away on 6 October. Phil is credited with design and development of the SCORM standard for eLearning communications, and he played a bit part as sound engineer in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (center person in the photo).

Phil was founder and CEO of Visage - an pioneering company in interactive media, was later VP of R&D for Kurzweil Music Systems, and his most recent post was chief architect of the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, a project of the US Department of Defense.

When you ask a prospective engineering employee who his/her role models are, and they answer Bill Gates, I suggest your next question should be "Why not Phil Dodds".

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Web 2.0 and Internet Democracy

The Vidfest conference programme took place today. Some of the topics included social media, Web 2.0 and Internet democracy. It was all pretty engaging, but the discussion seemed to dwell on issues of identity and trust. Nothing much on the bigger issues like Net neutrality. In any case, I was most impressed with how the Canadians are moving video and film productions onto the Internet.

Following are video webcasts of the first 5 sessions of the day.

Opening Keynote with Ori Brafman
Wisdom of Crowds: Web 2.0 Democracy or Mob Mentality
MyFace, YourSpace: Maximizing Your Online Identity
Baby, You've Been Branded
Find Some Sanctuary

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sci-Fi in Lo-Fi and HD

Tonight I was fortunate to attend a really special screening of two independent Canadian films.

Infest Wisely was produced by science fiction writer Jim Monroe for only $700. It is a low-budget sci-fi constructed in an unusual and engaging multi-director format. There were 7 episodes, each directed by a different person, but with the same cast acting out segments from the same storyline. And what a story, about a nanotech experiment in behaviour modification, a 'performance enhancer' with unknown side-effects, that begins propogating faster than a computer virus. This film is full of futuristic ideas, and you can watch it online.

Next up was Sanctuary, billed as "the first broadcast quality, High Definition dramatic series designed specifically for the internet". Sanctuary was created by Sci-fi writer/producer Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis). Financially, Sanctuary is the opposite of Infest Wisely. It was awarded a Guinness World Record for "Highest Budget Television Production Direct to the Web".

At the screening were Kindler, director Martin Wood and actresses Amanda Tapping (who plays Helen Magnus) and Emilie Ullerup (as Helen's daughter Ashley Magnus). This richly illustrated series plays like a graphic novel, and is surely headed to cult classic status. You *must* view an episode of this film, which you can buy and download in high res, or view free episodes online in low resolution (Chinese subtitles are available).

From Cinema to Cellphone

I'm attending Vidfest in Vancouver. This is a digital media festival with a difference: the event combines a conference, HD video screening, games showcase, awards ceremony, career fair and business partnering forum. The focus is convergence, and it attracts a broad range of talented game designers, film & television producers and mobile media companies.

That breadth is rare in my experience. In Singapore for example, these are different folks each with their own vertical events. Vidfest is intentionally blurring the lines and creating lots of opportunities for new media content producers, distributors and network operators, from cinema to cellphone.

I am impressed by the quality of the companies who are attending and participating in Vidfest. The PopVox awards held last night attracted lots of entries, most of international standard, and over 500 guests. The winner of the Video Game Competition - MindHabits Trainer - received a (huge) check for $500,000 paid by sponsor Telefilm.

There was a special category for British Columbia entries, won by MaidMarion's project Sherwood Dungeon (a MMORPG).

After the awards, I attended a gala cocktail and dinner and ran into old friend Warren Franklin, formerly from Lucasfilm and Collosal Films, but now CEO of Vancouver animation specialist RainMaker. I also ran into Jeremiah Owyang, formerly from, who's here to speak on social media.

More later... going to see some video FX films tonight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

TechCrunch Day 2

Attending the second day of TechCrunch. Looking forward to the Google product launch. It's a full house again today, with many luminaries present, including Esther Dyson. Met Heather Harde, CEO of TechCrunch, in the lobby. She's very nice and seems in charge of all the company and personal networking.

- First presentation in the Productivity and Web Apps session is Xobni (inbox spelled backwards).
- Next is Orgoo, an email collaboration & personal communications cockpit.
- App2You has an authoring tool for quickly creating Web2.0 applications
- Kerpoof has an application and destination site for kids learning, featuring a lovely 3D interface with drag & drop capabilities
- Google's big announcement is the launch of Presentations (a PowerPoint competitor) for Google Docs, that supports collaboration. It's based on technology from the Google acquisition of Tonic Systems
- First presentation in Revenue Model session is Spottt, a free advertising business something like Link Exchange (circa 1998)
- Clickable is a advertising revenue model business based in NYC that helps answer the question, "how are my ads doing?". Much better interface than Google Adwords.
- GotStatus is presenting an application they describe as 'Google Analytics for server backend', solving an important problem for sys admins
- ZocDoc helps you find a doctor nearby, and integrates scheduling and appointments
- The panel on getting funded was very interesting, with luminaries Jay Adelson (Digg), David Sacks (Geni), Roelof Botha (Sequoia), Sumant Mandel (Clearstone), George Zachery (CRV), Hank Barry (Howard Rice), and Jeff Clavier (SoftTechVC). They spoke about how important it is to be located close to Silicon Valley, but also that it's more important to be able to get great engineers (which is difficult in the valley).
- The first presentation from the Rich Media and Mashups session is very impressive. Xtreme Reality presented their 'Wii without a handset' software interface for computers
- BroadClip shows MediaCatcher a Facebook application that searches for and aggregates MP3 files to iTunes
- Two lovely ladies presented mEgo, an application that allows you to create your own avatar, and then use it to post your personal profile in an animated way on any social networking site. It was a very lively presentation, obviously a hit with the judges.
- Wixi users share audio and video. It is designed with a very rich interface. Leave it to the French!
- BeFunky is a company which cartoonizes stills, and animates videos. You can make 'youatars' or personal avatars. Impressive.
- The panel on Rich Media and Mashups (with musician MC Hammer) offered an interesting discussion of the IP issues (and shot down some of the business models). Definitely more edgy than some of the earlier panel discussions.
- The session on Entertainment included Flowplay, MetaPlace, WooMe, Zivity, and an unnamed wildcard company from the demo pit (a competition among companies that didn't get to present)
- Kaltura is the lucky company that won the demo pit competition (voted by the TechCrunch attendees). It's an Israeli company which provides collaborative creation (eg- editing and mashups) of rich media. There are very good community sharing features, that allow building Kaltura media into other sites.
- The overall winner of the TechCrunch 40 competition was Mint, a personal financial application. The winner receives $50,000.

Check out video of the Rich Media & Mashups Session or the Panel on Getting Funded. Both were excellent!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TechCrunch Day 1

Attending TechCrunch in San Francisco. Arrived a bit late (lunchtime) from Singapore, but caught the tail end of an interesting keynote session with David Filo (co-founder Yahoo!), Chad Hurley (co-founder YouTube) and Marc Andressen (founder Netscape and Opsware, co-founder Ning). I am shooting video which I will upload and share at some point.

Met Marissa Mayer (apparently Google is going to present a new product here) and thanked her for her support of iX Conference in Singapore. She had recommended Douglas Merrill as a keynote for iX, and he did a fantastic job.

- Mike Arrington mentioned that Yahoo bought Zimbra today for US$ 350m
- Storyblender and MusicShake are most popular from Session 3, copyright seems to be a big concern for the VCs, there's a lot of interest in video media, some comments about the viability of Flock (in competition with Firefox)
- AOL launches Bluestring, a new site that allows you to "pull in all your image, video, and audio content from across the web and mix them together into a slide show" presentation
- Cake Financial presents a way to share investment information with your community (or benefit from what the people like you are investing in), without disclosing dollars or private financial information
- DocStoc has given a good presentation on their applications that helps users share professional documents, followed by Teach the People, doing the same thing with educational videos that you share with your community (they call it eBay for learning) - get the idea - it's all business ideas targeted at community building online
- during the panel discusion, Yossi Vardi mentioned Teddy Rosevelt's "Man in the Arena" speech at Sorbonne, a sort of ode to the entrepreneur (read the highlighted bit or search for 'arena')
- Mike Arrington interviews Mark Zuckerberg, young CEO of Facebook - which is *THE HOT* community site (70m monthly users, 40m active users, 4x growth in the last year, 50% international)
- there are real 'platform' issues about applications (about 4k apps so far, 80k registered developers), who owns them, whether Facebook will buy them, exploitative hacks, etc
- Mark Zuckerberg announces a US$ 10m fund called FB Fund (backed by Excel and Founders Fund) - they will grant (not invest) 25-250k in companies that are creating applications for the Facebook platform (send email to ''), wow!

Here's a video recording of Mike Arrington's chat with Mark Zuckerberg. It's in Windows Media, and lasts 40 minutes. The audio quality is a bit poor (no audio feed, just the camera mic).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tsunami Alert

Reuters, Channel News Asia and others are reporting a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Sumatra. BBC has a full writeup. CNA says it is a double quake, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has issued a tsunami alert throughout the Indian Ocean. I felt it in Singapore. Get more on National Geographic Survey website.

Update 12 hours later: Only a minor tsunami. Magnitude revised to 8.4 on Richter Scale, followed by a 7.8 quake a bit further north. It may take days to quantify the damage and loss of life.

The Medium is the Message

Well, we got through September 11th without incident, didn't we? Gotta admit that Al-Qaeda has a good communications department. Slick videos, and they never miss a deadline. Asia Times has a must read (humorous if it wasn't so scary) op-ed piece on the face off between Osama and General Petreaus titled: Sheikh Osama and the iPod General.

For the geeks, there's an absolutely marvelous post on Best Article Every Day about 10 Future Web Trends to watch for. Thanks to Ming Yeow for sharing it with me - it's brief and not too techy. The description of each trend contains well-written insights, but I especially like the one about Online Video & Internet TV. You can be sure that Osama is thinking about how to exploit this particular trend.

Oh yeah, the list of Future Web Trends neglected to include Cyberwar. Cyberwar is in the news a lot lately, with USA, England, France, Germany, and New Zealand all pointing fingers at China for hacking their defence IT systems.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Gone to Melbourne

My dear friend Marc Baptista has moved to Melbourne. It was a big move for Marc and his family, who'd lived in Singapore since around 1991.

Marc is an excellent film maker, videographer, and animator. I will miss him very much but hope to see him in Melbourne one day. If you need someone with his skills for a production in Australia, I highly recommend him!

Internet to be Overwhelmed by Video

USC Professor Paul McCloskey predicts in an article in Campus Technology that the Internet will soon be overwhelmed by video, and calls for quality of service changes. QOS is designed to guarantee delivery of time-based media such as video programmes, delaying less time-critical information like emails.

Apparently, the source of this concern is a white paper by ABI Research. The primary issue raised in the study is the bandwidth consumed by uploading of videos to Youtube and similar hosting providers. Some of these concerns and the role of new IPTV services in driving usage is discussed in another article titled "Web TV sparks bandwidth crisis fears". That article mentions the BBC's iPlayer, an IPTV service only available in the UK due to licensing restrictions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Really Easy Slidecasting Arrives

Slideshare is a site that I just love, especially the way they display a timeline with markers where your slide changes are. Mike Arrington (of TechCrunch) describes Slideshare as "YouTube for PowerPoint". And now, Slideshare has introduced 'Slidecast' - the ability to add narration to your slides. This is a great capability for people in the marcomm area.

I heard about this new feature in a post by Garr Reynolds on Presentation Zen. I follow Garr's blog with interest an occasional side-long look. Sometimes you get a gem like this. And viewing other people's stuff on Slideshare is another great way to stay on top of the presentation game.

Social Media Guru on the Move

Jeremiah Owyang, shown here with TDM folks at the recent iX Conference 2007, is leaving Podtech for Forrester Research. Jeremiah is the web-strategist extraordinaire, and one of the guys doing interesting stuff with live webcasting and social media. In fact, he introduced me to UStream. I have no doubt he'll make a great analyst.

Maybe I'll see him at TechCrunch 2.0 conference, which I'll be attending in San Francisco next month.

Anystream acquires Lectopia

A quiet revolution in the delivery of recorded presentations is allowing students to review lectures on their iPods and mobile phones, in addition to the browser. Given the number of niche players and proprietary technologies, this is a business opportunity which was bound to result in industry consolidation.

It is thus not startling that Anystream, which makes the Apreso presentation recording solution, has announced it paid an undisclosed sum to acquire Australia-based educational software Lectopia from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Lectopia (known as the iLecture System from 1999-mid 2006) was developed by staff at the UWA's Multimedia Centre. It is a first generation tool for presentation recording. Anystream's Apreso is a third generation tool for presentation recording (after products from Accordent, Sonic Foundry and Aculearn), and it excels in automated publishing and distribution. Anystream also pioneered delivery of enhanced podcasts. Perhaps the rationale for this acquisition is for Anystream to expand its international presence, while gaining access to the relatively large installed base (of 500 classrooms) Lectopia has in Australia.

The combined entity will be known as Echo360 Inc ( It is not yet clear if the merger involve a technology change or is simply a rebranding of Apreso, but more information is expected to be available in coming months. In any case, the move marks a formal separation of the Apreso division from Anystream's Agility product line under the leadership of recently appointed CEO Fred Singer. Anystream had indicated to customers that its Apreso 2.0 release would be available in the 3rd quarter of 2007, and the acquisition is likely to delay this release. [Disclosure: My company Iterate is a master reseller for Apreso in Singapore.]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Presentation Recordings with Style

Some people still do presentation recordings the old-fashioned way. Reading this article about how one Dartmouth lecturer is doing his own recordings really reminded me of how archaic things can be, and yet still solve the basic requirement of recording presentations.

Apreso is just so much better. Presentation recordings are fully automated, delivered within minutes after a class, and they look great!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Galaxy Zoo the Right Approach?

I've been pondering the premise of Galaxy Zoo, a newly launched astronomy Web site that lets the public contribute to a project that aims to help astronomers understand the large-scale structure of the universe. It adopts the basic model of SETI@home in enlisting volunteers to help analyze huge amounts of data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Today there are more than 85,000 volunteers.

In Galaxy Zoo, participants are called upon to help classify a million or so galaxies based on images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The problem is framed in such manner that participants simply discriminate between a spiral or elliptical shape. But whereas SETI@home is a grid computing project in which computers do the number crunching, Galaxy Zoo participants must devote their eyes and minds to the task of evaluating the galaxies­, pattern-recognition work that (so the organisers believe) people do much better than computers.

Is it true that people are much better than computers at such recognition tasks? Today I had the honor of recording a lecture by Dr. Stanley Osher, an American mathematician who specializes in image recognition. Dr. Osher developed the Level Set method for tracking images and shapes in motion, now widely used in crime detection and animation. After the lecture I asked him about the Galaxy Zoo problem and he assured me that it was a waste of human effort - that computers could do the job more efficiently and accurately.

I buy the basic premise that humans have very well-refined pattern recognition capabilities, but I think the Galaxy Zoo problem is so basic that a machine could easily handle it. This is especially true if the software is as powerful as the various examples Dr. Osher shared in his presentation. The organisers seem to think otherwise, but it is indeed wonderful that they are inspiring so much popular interest in astronomy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Virtual Maps Scam

Recently I received a very legal-looking letter from Virtual Map (S) Pte Ltd, which advised that I am liable for license fees for using a image reproduced from Singapore Street Directory. The image concerned was on the contact page of my company's website, and was acknowledged as supplied by Street Directory.

Recognising that my use of the map was inappropriate, I immediately removed the image, and replaced it with a link to an aerial view of my location using Google Maps (for free). Google Map provides both a physical and map view, with clear labels for surrounding buildings, so it's a better option anyway.

The letter as it turns out, is a marketing scam. The letter did not ask me to cease using the image from Street Directory, but merely to meet the good folks at Virtual Map (VM) "with a view to reaching an amicable settlement". On the Street Directory website, there is a link to estimate the cost of licensing such an image for one's website. I checked and the cost is US$ 2,117.65. It's not clear whether this is a one-time perpetual license, or an annual fee. The license terms state the territory is Singapore, so it's unclear if this is intended to cover international use (which would certainly be needed for an Internet website).

I called and wrote to the folks at VM and informed them that I had removed the image from my website, and had no money to pay for maps. I even offered to link to the map on the Street Directory website - which would bring traffic to their advertisers. Apparently deep linking is also something they want to charge for. They still insisted on a meeting to discuss terms of settlement. My view is that they have not even asked me to cease using the image - they simply want my money! I have informed them that if they want to discuss settlement, I will do so as part of mediation by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

Then, today I spotted an article in the Straits Times which clearly states that Virtual Maps does not even have a clear copyright to the map data. The map data was licensed to them by Singapore Land Authority (SLA), and apparently they have not paid the license fees since 2004. SLA demanded over a year ago that they cease using the data. Yesterday a judge ordered VM to cease "dealing in maps which are reproductions of SLA's street directory vector data", and further ordered an inquiry into damages due to SLA.

Even the Wikipedia entry for Virtual Map has highlighted the disputes between VM and SLA on the one hand, and its users on the other.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Adobe re-energises Captivate

Adobe is set to release v3.0 of the eLearning software Captivate. Captivate is described as "an electronic learning tool designed for training, simulations, and interactive assessments". The new version will add the ability to import PowerPoint presentations and enhanced presentation recording capabilities. This product is likely to blur the lines between converters like Camtasia, which support adding narration to existing presentations, and full presentation recording solutions such as Apreso.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Launching Active Content

Changes in the Internet security landscape in recent years have had an unanticipated impact on developers of content delivered via portable media such as CD-ROMs and flash drives. The problem is that many portable media applications launch in a browser, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer no longer trusts so-called 'active content' on a CD-ROM, flash drive, or even the user's hard disc. This has been the case since an update to IE when XP Service Pack 2 was introduced (in mid-2004).

So what is 'active content' and why is it a problem? According to Webopedia, active content refers to content that is either interactive or dynamic. Examples include JavaScript applications and presentations that rely on Windows Media and Flash player ActiveX objects to embed video in web pages. These are common in eLearning and corporate marketing presentations distributed on portable media. Active content could be a problem if used to transmit software viruses or worms.

Individual users can force their IE browser to allow active content by opening 'Tools, Internet Options', selecting the 'Advanced' tab and scrolling down to the tickbox for 'Allow active content to run files on my computer'. This solution is well-documented, relatively safe, and not very difficult for users.

But there are also some clever tricks that content developers can employ to enhance the user experience, and prevent users from seeing security warnings about untrusted active content. The method I use forces the content to load from a network path. The use of a network path tells IE that the content is on the Internet (rather than in the local file system), and that the content is therefore trustworthy. This is one of many possible workarounds, but I find it is the most elegant.

To implement the solution, I created a batch file which is invoked when the media autoplays. It is lengthy, but how it works is pretty simple. The script uses the command 'net share' to create a network sharename for the current folder (where the content is located). It then tries to open a designated HTML entry page using a UNC path (eg- '\\computername\sharename\index.htm'). If either of these fail, the script simply opens the entry page as a local file, and leaves it to the user to manage their security settings. Typically it would fail if the user does not have rights to create a network share, such as in a secure enterprise network. But in most cases with novice users, the presentation autoruns seamlessly.

Following Microsoft's release of XP SP2, Macromedia also decided that Flash content should not be trusted when run locally. So they implemented a security model that forces users to explicitly allow local Flash content. But there were several problems with the implementation, most notably that one needs an Internet connection to change the settings - a convenience that is not always available for users viewing content on portable media. And Flash developers using CDs to distribute content, such as those producing eLearning modules, were upset because the CDs no longer worked properly after their users upgraded the Flash Player (to version 8 or later).

To implement a solution for a presentation that includes Flash, I created another simple batch file which is invoked when the portable media autoplays. This script creates a 'trust file' containing an entry which states the location of the current folder (where the content is located). The trust file may also include other locations for portable media (eg- 'd' and 'e' drives). The trust file tells the Flash Player plugin that content in these locations and contained subdirectories can be trusted. Once this script executes, any Flash content in the presentation can play seamlessly when launched.

These two batch files have proved handy for me. Please feel free to use and share them, and do comment if you note any problems with the implementations.

[On 16 June 2008, I posted an update to my instructions on launching active content. This post explains how you can replace the Net-Share script with one I call IE-Fix, that directly modifies the registry to tweak IE settings. Please review that post.]

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Leadership Power of Great Public Speaking

For the past two years, I have campaigned to encourage more Singaporeans - at least those in the ICT arena - to speak out. Public speaking is a necessary leadership skill. I created the iX Conference Speak Out oratory contest in order to draw out future ICT leaders from local universities and colleges. And past winners have typically gone on to demonstrate leadership in various ways - so it works.

It was interesting to note that the young lady we chose for two years as moderator of the iX Conference has been selected as valedictorian at SMU's commencement ceremony today. Alvina Teh (pictured above) is a 4.0 GPA business management graduate with poise, smarts and a great speaking voice. She was on the Dean's List for 3 years and participated in an exchange programme with Wharton School. She helped set up the campus radio and television club, which promotes emcee services, and we identified her talent while planning iX Conference 2005. She subsequently authored the successful how-to book "Ace Your Driving Theory Test", and founded her own publishing business.

All of this reinforces what the Rotary Club and ToastMasters have demonstrated for years: good public speakers make great leaders.

Friday, July 13, 2007

LSE's Apreso Case Study wins coveted UCISA award

A project to "develop an integrated, scalable cost effective video lecture capture and podcasting service" won a special commendation in the 2007 UCISA Award for Excellence. The project was submitted by London School of Economics, and is based on Apreso software from Anystream. The Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) is a UK federation of tertiary educational organisations. The award was given on 2 April 2007, and is sponsored by Eduserv.

If you have a few minutes, read the case study, which is well written and highlights the strengths of Apreso over competitive solutions.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

In Case You Live in a Cave

The past two days has seen the world's best and biggest concert, and the reviews are coming in. If you were in a cave, you can pick from any of the 100 artists, and view the performances on demand. Don't miss Madonna, Melissa Ethridge, and of course Linkin Park.

Many reviewers are sceptical of the potential benefits of this event. After all, the concerts are an awareness event with no fundraising, no concrete goals. But I believe this is a worthy event because it has shown a young generation that environmental awareness is hip, relevant and that an individual can make a difference (even if you're not Al Gore). But Mr. Gore certainly is making a difference, and has clearly found his calling. I for one am going to 'answer the call'.

As a communications vehicle, I think the concerts will have a broader impact than Gore's Inconvenient Truth. But both film and music have their place in affecting a change of mindset. They just touch people differently.

I am old enough to have seen Live Aid (heck I'm old enough for Woodstock), and I recall that it really changed perceptions about African famine - which was very much brushed under the carpet before that concert. My friends and I recorded the entire 16-hour concert on highband VHS, and then edited into a 4-hour condensed version. We hired a dance hall and put up two big screens, a dance sound system, and held a charity event to screen the edited concert video. It was a lot of fun and we felt like we were participating in global movement, awakening our friends to the cause.

But Live Earth was high definition, 21st century event, on another scale from Live Aid or even Live Eight, with continuous blogging, and multiple channel choices (courtesy MSN). At one point I was able to switch between 5 countries all presenting excellent bands. Definitely a communications learning event for me!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

An Appeal to Fix Our Broken Planet

This video is making the rounds via Youtube (nearly a million views and counting). It shows a 12-year old addressing the UN in 1992 (15 years ago). Her climate crisis message is personal, powerful, very articulate and compelling. Just seven minutes, worth a look.

Linkin Park Rocks!

Now watching Linkin Park's awesome performance from Japan at Live Earth concert. Streaming is a bit choppy though. Can't wait till this video experience is smoother. Check full schedule for showtimes.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

iLiad eBook Reader

Everyone's talking about the new iPhone, but it doesn't work for me. Since 60% of what I do on the phone is texting and emails, I prefer the full qwerty keypad of my Palm Treo. Oh, and another 10-20% of what I do with my Treo is read eBooks. iPhone doesn't do that either.

I recently learned about the iLiad eBook Reader. Unlike Sony Libre, the iLiad has a wireless connection to automatically download content and updates over the Internet. You can also connect the iLiad directly to any PC with a USB cable.

Tim O'Reilly wants a multifunction device for his eBooks (like my Palm). But I would be perfectly happy with single function reader that had a good screen size, legible print, and the connectivity of an iLiad. If it was flexible like paper, that would be the best.

iX Conference Recap

The recent iX Conference was excellent for many reasons, but especially because it was the most engaging IT conference ever held in Singapore. Here are a few of the high points:

  • The Speak Out oratory competition again floated some terrific talents lurking in the halls of academia. The most distinctive and outstanding was Isabella Chen, who described her 'awakening' to iX Conference and the social media community in Singapore in her brilliant post 'Geek Out Baby'. This post illustrates why we do Speak Out: (1) to bridge the often separate communities of student and working adults interested in IT, and (2) to trainspot talents like Isabella who are not afraid to speak out.

  • The international speakers took a big 'bite of the apple' and were all very interested in Singapore. Noteworthy of this was Douglas Merrill's participation in an impromptu social media cocktail organised by TDM. Douglas said some interesting things over a glass of wine, including his insights on why the Google IPO was different, and why other companies haven't followed the model of share democratisation that Google championed. Mike Downey held a meetup with the Singapore Flash Users Group. Lynda Brown spent weeks here after the conference, and was actively engaged in seeking local partnerships for her association of Canadian digital media companies. But the most engaged by far was social media guru Jeremiah Owyang. He has blogged extensively about his experiences in Singapore, and really put our TDM partners on the world map.

  • The iN2015 Business Forum, despite all the challenges, was a lively and well attended event. IDA Chief Chan Yeng Kit didn't announce anything new, but Danish guest speaker Anders Henton presented a compelling view of the European experience in public-private partnership. The panel discussion which followed raised many issues, including lack of a common bill payment system as part of our NII. Believe it or not, in many EU countries you can receive and pay your bills online at a single site. In the US, this is done through banks and third-party portals like Yodlee. What we need in Singapore is like Tradenet for consumers.

  • The Second Life Experience event was highly interactive, driven by the kiosks and online site created by Figment, a business unit of branding company ICG. Jean Miller, community director of Second Life, was one of the facilitators. The kiosks were strategically placed in the conference hall to engage delegates during tea and lunch breaks.

  • The Academic Forum, co-organised with SMU and TDM, was highly engaging for students and young entrepreneurs. It was widely blogged and there are lots of photos on Flickr. Lynda Brown, Louis Broome, Mike Downey and Jeremiah Owyang all showed innovative ways to use digital media, but Mike's presentation of the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR, formerly Apollo) was certainly the most memorable.

  • The gala dinner party (aka our Leadership Forum) was a full-house event that included production of a webcast recording. The event was awesome and is described more fully in my earlier blog post.

  • The second day consisted of our Congress Plenary and Breakouts. The Congress presentations were formidable. Lynda Brown's curtain raiser "Is Your Enterprise Ready for Rich Media Delivery" set the stage. Mike Downey followed with his tour-de-force demo of AIR and the coming Adobe Media Player. Douglas Merrill described in elegant fashion a 'sea change' towards use of software as a service in enterprise applications, and how this would parallel the rising adoption of enterprise digital media (and he was the best dresser by far). Cory Ondrejka described why businesses should embrace Second Life. Louis Broome described how Microsoft handles enterprise-wide webcasts. And Jeremiah Owyang inspired everyone with his vision of social media in the enterprise. A transcript of sorts was blogged live, but for the folks in the room, they were able to interact continuously with the speakers and each other using the Campfire Chat. This chat feature was terrifically engaging, and offered a new perspective on how conferences should be facilitated.

  • There were breakouts for every delegate, and all were well-attended. The breakouts were organised by SiTF Chapters, and thus mirror their own interests: digital media, e-Government, security, SOA, wireless, and e-Learning. According to attendees, these breakouts lived up to the promise.

  • After the conference, TDM and Jeremiah Owyang organised a Chillout 2.0 event at local microbrewery Paulaner Brauhaus. This was a great opportunity to connect with all the live bloggers and to learn more about Kevin Lim's LIVE video blogging.

Oh, yeah, and a big thrill for me was having my article on enterprise digital media appear in the Business Times on 19 June.

No doubt there are things we could improve, including offering more egalitarian pricing. I would suggest we lower the conference prices as follows:

  • Student Price: $15 (similar to TDM's Nexus price, which drew 700 people)
  • Partner Price: $150 (20% discount from regular price, for association members)
  • Regular Price: $188 (much cheaper than current iX Conference price)
  • VIP Price: $388 (like current iX Conference price, but entitles guest to special meals, backstage access to speakers, preferred seating, LAN points, etc)

But that will have to wait for next year.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

iX Conference 2007

Longtime readers know I organise an annual conference in Singapore modeled on the O'Reilly events like Web 2.0 Conference.

This has been an amazing iX Conference ( I've been doing this (organising the event) for 4 years, and this one is the best by far. I know that Douglas Merrill, Mike Downey and Cory Ondrejka are giants, but to frame them up in a television interview format, and see how they come to life as TV stars is just stunning for me.

It takes a good interviewer to draw people out, and Mark Laudi did a brilliant job. He dodged the dead ends, and ran around to address new subject matter, just when you suspected a slow pause. Awesome, and the product of year's of experience reporting from the Singapore stock exchange and of course a passionate interest in digital media. It was a thinking man's seminar, with video and audio stimulus at peak levels.

Memorable moments.... Douglas is really consumate in describing the financial underpinnings of Google's business, and the concerns of a CIO in respect to Web 2.0. Mike describes why free is good - consumer applications on the Internet just don't take off without free clients. And he positions Apollo (now AIR) without sounding too corporate. His demos are more convincing, but he is a great as an interview subject too. And Cory - how do you explain such 'tour-de-force' of intellectual passion, business acumen and military strategist. Just awesome!

Day one of the conference addressed various audiences, including government, academic and the industry honchos. Tomorrow, day 2, is when we bring it all together in the Congress Plenary, targeted squarely at enterprise buyers. Google, Microsoft and Adobe, will all be sharing their new platforms for Rich Interactive Applications.

Maybe this is a bit off-topic for 'learning communications', but I think what Google, Second Life and Adobe are doing are just fundamental to the communications tools we all come to depend upon. This event has provided wonderful insights.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Live Scribe Smart Pen

In a demo at the recent All Things Digital (the event that brought together Bill Gates and Steve Jobs), Livescribe founder Jim Margraff showed off Smartpen, a fountain-pen-sized computer with audio/visual feedback and memory for handwriting capture, audio recording and applications. Seems like students are going to have lots of ways to capture the classroom experience.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Practical Approach to Live Streaming

Pro AV Magazine has a reasonably good instructional guide on live streaming, created by the guys at Viewcast, who make the popular Osprey video capture cards. While framed around a live webcast done in 2001 and using ISDN for connectivity, most other information contained in the article is contemporary.

Directory of Web TV Channels

Gartner has profiled MeeVee, a company which provides an online TV listings service. MeeVee listings put video content delivered via the Web on the same footing as traditional network content. Described as 'the future of television' this announcement is one of many to highlight the emergence of narrowcast webTV as a business in its own right.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Authoring with DVD Architect

I found an excellent guide to authoring DVDs using the software that comes with Vegas - DVD Architect. A couple of notes that I could add:

  • You can remove the menu entirely if you simply want your video content to play when the disc is inserted. Do this by moving your MPEG2 video file to the base entry in the project overview panel, and deleting the menu folder from the project.
  • If your video file is larger than 4.7GB (around 60 minutes) you can reduce the size by letting the software re-encode your video at a lower rate. Do this by selecting 'Optimise DVD' and on the video tab, enable recompression, and set 'fit to disc'. The re-encoding takes time, and reduces quality, but if the video is shorter than 90 minutes or so, the result is quite acceptable.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Migrated the blog from Blogger 1.0 to Google's Blogger 2.0.