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.