Archive for April, 2009

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Grey Screen of Death

28/04/2009

Today I was taking part in an online presentation from Dr. Simon Ball of JISC TechDis; one of his regular HE updates.  They use an online presentation system known as Instant Presenter to deliver the presentations on a roughly quarterly basis and they last for about half an hour.  A genuine whistle-stop tour.

I connected to the specified URL in Firefox as usual and the presentation session kicked into life as usual.  However about three or four minutes from the end my screen went grey.  Totally grey!  I couldn’t Alt-Tab, turn caps lock on, or do anything to get a response out of my PC.  The audio from the presentation however did still continue to come through.  It was this that makes me think that it was probably some flash component having a bit of a panic.

I haven’t been able to reproduce it or find anything in any of the logs, but it certainly made a strange difference to the ususal blue screen of death and at least it was considerate enough to let me listen to the remainder of the presentation.  Unfortunately it meant I had to just cut out at the end and pass on my apologies to Dr. Ball by e-mail from my phone whilst I stared my lovely grey screen of death (gsod) or is it more a grey screen of coma?

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PBWiki Devoured

28/04/2009

When I’m asked about setting up a new wiki for a group, I often recommend PBWiki as it has a number of good features and for education it can be used for free.  Since I work within the HE sector this is a simple and quick solution for many of the cross-institutional groups and many people are familiar with it.

I was surprised a few days ago however that it is changing its name.  Apparently to reflect the fact that it is more than just a wiki.  For more information you can check out the story on the Daily Peanut – PB Wiki’s blog.

There’s a competition to guess the name and as yet I haven’t managed to crack this peanut.  I thought a search of domain names on whois might yield a common address or owner, but no such luck.  My only guess so far is given its wider nature and American source, it might be something like Peanut Butter and Jelly collaboration platform (PBJCP).

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Excel – Dynamic Named Range

27/04/2009

I’ve recently been helping some colleagues develop some reporting templates and they had a very particular requirement around drop down lists (which I’ll probably post about at some point in the future).  One issue that did occur however was that the dynamic lists that were incorporated into the workbook were added to and even though I had mentioned to the users about using Excel’s name manager to redefine the range of cells with that name, they forgot and inevitably the workbook would end up back with me to rectify.

Use name manager to define the dynamic range

Use name manager to define the dynamic range

I decided that I’d try and find a way of defining a range so that it would automatically extend itself when another cell entry was added to the bottom of the list.  It turned out to be more straight forward than I’d initially thought it might be.  The statement below sets a range that will begin at cell “A2” on worksheet “Sheet1” and extend down for the number of cells that contain a text entry.  It assumes that the list is unbroken and that the top cell is the name of the list (hence the -1after the “COUNTA”). Whilst the name is not essential I include it as having the name of the list in the top cell allows me to prgramatically carry out list operations by referencing the top cell in a column.

=OFFSET(Sheet1!$A$2,0,0,COUNTA(Sheet1!$A:$A)-1,1)

Example list

Example list

The screen shot on the right shows a sample list of colours that has a range defined by using the function above.  A drop down list is automatically populated from this list and is shown in cell B2.

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The Gadget Show Live 2009

21/04/2009
The Gadget Show Live 2009

The Gadget Show Live 2009

Unfortunately due to illness it’s taken me a couple of extra days to put this together, but at the weekend I attended The Gadget Show Live (GSL) at the NEC, Birmingham.  The Gadget Show is a UK television programme shown on Channel 5.  Each series has a weekly show and it showcases new technologies and compares leading products against one another.  it’s usually a good watch and the journalistic comparison is presented at a layman level and at the same time tends to offer some insightful points on practicalities of individual items.

Inside GSL

Inside GSL

My expectation of GSL was that I would get to see some of the latest consumer technology and maybe even get a hands on look at some of it.  The reality however did not quite match up to my expectations.  There were some notable exceptions which I’ll come on to, but in the main much of the technology that I saw were things that I could walk into my local electronics store or along the high street and purchase.  It really wasn’t as cutting edge as I’d hoped.

There were some interesting things that I did come across at GSL which I hope to post about at a later date.  But there are a couple of things that I feel deserve a more special and immediate mention.

Sony OLED Details

Sony OLED Details

OLED Screen

OLED Screen

The big thing that people seemed blown away by was in fact something very small.  Sony had a couple of OLED screens on display.  OLED stands for organic light emitting diode and is a technology that is going to lead the way over the next few years in terms of screens.  Apart from producing better colour contrast than LCD with a lower power usage, they can be laid onto a thin surface allowing OLED screens to be placed on materials and surfaces that might not be able to take the weight of an LCD unit or that would simply be impractical (a fabric wrist strap for a watch might be a good example).

The screens on display looked okay from a distance, but when you got up close the quality was evident.  The colour was really very rich and incredibly clear.  Unfortunately at over £3,000 these are a little too expensive for most consumers, though the price is set to drop dramatically in the next few years and hopefully we’ll start seeing larger screens appearing too.

What will be really interesting to see is how this is utilised for portable touch screens such as those on the iPhone or how about a roll-out mat that you plug into a screenless ultra-mobile device to run Microsoft Surface.  The future is looking cooler and geekier every day.

How-To with TechDigest

How-To with TechDigest

The second thing I thought was particularly noteworthy was the “How-To” sessions run by TechDigest.  I originally dropped by to sit in on a panel discussion around the future of mobile phones but a shuffle in timetabling meant that I also sat in on ‘How to choose and HDTV’ session.  Both sessions were lead by Daniel Sung (TechDigest’s Editor) and were really quite interesting and informative.  The mobile phone session was supposed to have Richard Warmsley of T-mobile, but for an undisclosed reason he didn’t make it – so the panel consisted of Daniel Sung, Duncan Geere (TechDigest Editoral Assistant) and a guy from Geek Squad whose name I unfortunately can’t recall (but he was a good addition).

The general thrust of the future of phones was suggested to be around services and particularly around functionality delivered through application stores.  The arguments for this were well reasoned and the pitch was very much like a round the water cooler discussion which was one of the things that really made this session appeal to me.

I also came away with a 1 GB flash drive with details from all of the how-to sessions.  A nice and much appreciated touch – so thanks to TechDigest for that.

So that’s my uber brief round-up of some of the best and whilst it didn’t live up to my personal expectations, it was certainly a lot more relaxed that the “ICT trade shows” I’ve been to for work.  Hopefully I’ll post a few more bits and pieces about GSL in the not too distant future.

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The TED Interface

16/04/2009

I recently came across a site called TED. It’s a web site for the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference.  The web site itself has a showcase of videos clips from conference speakers and is worth a look.  The thing I want to quickly post about however is something I think is quite innovative … an interface I’ve not seen anywhere else (yet).

TED.COM - Image Cloud

TED.COM - Image Cloud

The TED home page displays a set of images based upon criteria selected in the page’s left hand list.  The images are stills from different videos that are available to view from the site.  The size of the image is relative to the other images and is based upon the selection criteria – e.g. “the most popular technology videos” would have the most popular video identified by the biggest still image.  This is really just like an image version of  a tag cloud (see the categories section in the right column of this blog).  Many tag clouds give a precise indication when hovering on a link (e.g. number of occurrences), but this “image cloud” pops up an information box and displays the image at a standard size in the box – which helps see the smaller images.

I’ve not seen one of these before, but I can imagine that it will become more prevalent in the not so distant future.

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Basic Plain Old Phone Ring Tone

16/04/2009

This post has now been migrated to ThoughtAsylum.com.

Follow this link to go directly to the article
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Download YouTube Video

07/04/2009

youtube-saveI deal with a fair few academics and if there’s one thing they love about the Internet and the World Wide Web it’s YouTube and the vast resources it offers.  Giving multimedia presentations is obviously a great way of getting people engaged, but an issue is that when visiting an institution you can’t always guarantee that you will have access to the Internet so being able to download a video from YouTube is a huge benefit.

I was asked how to do this recently and I directed the user to a bookmark (/’bookmarklet’) I occasionally use for just such a task.  I use it from within Firefox whilst on a YouTube page and then simply click the bookmark on my toolbar to initiate the download.  Unfortunately WordPress doesn’t allow me to embed the Javascript for the bookmark directly into a link in this post, so you’ll either have to copy and paste the following into your bookmark location/URL…

javascript:if(document.location.href.match(/http:\/\/[a-zA-Z\.]*youtube\.com\/watch/)){document.location.href='http://www.youtube.com/get_video?fmt='+(isHDAvailable?'22':'18')+'&video_id='+swfArgs['video_id']+'&t='+swfArgs['t']}

… or visit the original source for this little gem, as the credit for the bokmark wizardry goes to a post on the Google Operating System blog.

I would urge anyone using this to pay attention to the terms and conditions of use of YouTube and at the very least credit YouTube and whoever created the original content in whatever academic presentation it might be used in.