Google Gears – Building Offline Web Applications

Google has released Google Gears, a new technology that is designed to overcome the single major drawback all web based applications suffer from: they don’t work without an internet connection! Google Gears is an Open Source framework, which is essentially a browser extension that is powered by JavaScript API’s that enable data storage, application caching and multi threading technologies for offline browsing and application use.

I don’t find it at all surprising that Google have invested heavily in trying to find a solution to the problem of we can use online web based applications offline. Although they launched Google Apps last year the take up has been quite slow, I read a few months back that the Commonwealth Bank has suspended a trial of Google Apps which it was thinking of rolling out to its 50,000-strong workforce, and many analysts insist that one of the major reasons for this is that there is no offline availability of these applications. Or as Carl Sjogreen, Google Senior Product Manager, sums the problem up when says:

As more and more people are depending on web applications to manage their lives and get information about what’s going on, it becomes and increasing problem when you can’t access those applications when you’re offline.

Enter Google Gears! this new technology certainly strengthens Google’s  position in going after Microsoft’s lucrative Office franchise, which makes commercial sense, More importantly though the technology actually makes the web and browsers a more attractive platform for building applications that can be used anywhere, anytim regardless of whether you have a connection to the internet or not.

Or as Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, put it:

With Google Gears, we’re tackling the key limitation of the browser in order to make it a stronger platform for deploying all types of applications and enabling a better user experience

There decision to Open Source Gears is also quite an important one. By making the technology Open Source from a relatively early stage Google are inviting others to help improve the technology and build a community around it, and move towards developing with others an industry standard for these hybrid programmes that work both online and offline.

This is quite an exciting development.

Microsoft Surface

Rob mentioned Microsoft Surface to me at lunch time, I had seen it on several blogs but   haven’t really had a chance to have a look at it. It’s very impressive technonology. as Rob points out its a combination of many different muli touch techniques that we’ve seen in other demonstrations over the last six or so months. As far as I’m aware this is the first commercial product to enter the market, and they’ve done a great marketing piece on it over at

However if you want to see it an action, I found this product demo on YouTube. I was very impressed with how the surface interacts with real world objects like camera’s, for example, placing a digital camera on the table will automatically grab the photos off it.

Below is another demonstration of Surface, this time over at PopularMechanics

There more I see this in action the more I want one!

Google Launches "Streetside View" and "Mapplets"

Google have revamped their 2D Maps with a new a feature they are calling Street View. When viewing maps of certain cities around the world you’ll get a street side view of the area your currently in, and it isn’t static! You can interact with the image to move along the street it even allows you to change your angle and move in a new direction.  Google have developed this new technology with Immersive Media, and all I can say is, it’s very very impressive.

If you want to try it out here’s a map of San Francisco that has side views, and here’s a map of Las Vegas , I really recommend trying it!

Google have also launched their new Mapplets service. Mapplets are a special kind of XML/Javascript based Google Gadget that you can add directly to Google Maps. Here’s a link to a special preview page where you can try out a handful of Mapplets. The official blurb from Google on this new feature is copied below:

Mapplets enables third party developers to create mini applications that can be displayed on Google Maps, much like Google Gadgets are displayed on iGoogle. These Mapplets contain a variety of information, from housing listings to crime data, and tools like distance measurement. Users can select from a wide range of Google and third party Mapplets to display on the Map, essentially creating their own “mashup of mashups” directly on the Google Maps site, while still enjoying the built-in functionality of Google Maps, such as local search and driving directions. A number of our partners, including WeatherBug, and Platial have already created Mapplets.

UFC 71 – ‘Rampage’ knocks out the Iceman

Managed to watch UFC 71 late last night and was hugely impressed with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. I predicted a few months back that in my opinion he would defeat the reigning champion Chuck Liddell when the two of them finally fought for the title.  Last night rampage proved me right with a devastating first round knockout of Liddell.

You can see highlights from the fight here.

Book: The Battle for God

The Battle for God, by Karen Amstrong

A friend of mine lent me this book recently, after I lent him Sam Harris The End of Faith, which I’ve talked about before on this blog. Both books deal with analysing the phenomenon of fundamentalism but the two authors deal with the subject in very different ways. Harris’ book is full of vitriol and lacks any real compassion, whilst some of his arguments are interesting this gets lost in his rabidly anti religious stance, his intolerance of faith is as damaging as the very fundamentalism he discusses. Armstrong on the other hand tries to rationalise and understand monotheistic fundamentalism,by examining in detail Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalism. She examines each of them in turn with dignity and depth and amazing richness of detail particularly from a historical point of view

Unlike Harris'(who is so rabidly anti-islam that he’s become the poster child for Islamophobes ), Armstrong’s analysis is very objective, surprisingly so in fact, and I’m very glad I read the book, it taught me a great deal. She tries to understand why fundamentalists believe as they do and behave as they do, but she certainly isn’t afraid of articulating her own feelings about these people.

One of the most interesting arguments (if that’s the right word) she makes is that as scientific rationalism began to “explain away” God, fundamentalism rose up as its “implacable” enemy. It’s fascinating how she explains that before this conflict between scientific theories and literal readings of holy texts everyone embraced the “Independence relationship” between science and religion – a theory ascribed to Ian Barbour. In which he describes science and religion as separate domains of equal value in life since they focus on dealing with separate parts of our existence.

Armstrong tries to de-demonise fundamentalism and I think offers some hope in favouring discussion, dialogue and integration as a way out of the ever increasing conflict between fundamentalists and humanists.

It’s a very well written book and offers a valuable insight into the genesis of the fundamentalist movement and what keeps these movements growing. It’s an insightful read and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interesting the debate around fundamentalism.

Starcraft II … finally!

I loved the original Starcraft games released by Blizzard. I was very pleased to read that they have finally announced the long-awaited sequel. In addition to that they have released a set of trailers which you can view here, that show case the game features and the new units, races etc. The best way to describe Starcraft is, Warcraft in space! and from the trailers you can see that the graphics are absolutely amazing! Whislt retaining its RTS roots.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this game…

Terrorism in SecondLife … and some other thoughts

Came across this article … looks like vandals in Second Life blew up ABC Island. Unlike in the real world, in the virtual world of Second Life, creators Linden Labs, were able to “rollback” the island and restore most of what was destroyed. They aren’t the only commercial organisation that has been targetted in this way.

Whilst these incidents are both amusing and also a tad disturbing what I found was more interesting was this bit of research done by Tateru Nino that provides some numbers for how many SL users actually visit corporate sites created in SL. Perhaps it’s like I said before … people don’t want to visit Dell or Coco Cola in a virtual fantasy world.

Contrary to some people’s opinions I dont hate Second Life … there are some things its very good at …

Whilst I was at Xtech I listened to a very interesting talk by Matt Biddulph who demonstrated, something I’ve mentioned before, which is just how useful Second Life can be as a modelling tool particularly as Matt demonstrated, when you are able to link physical objects in the real world with objects in the virtual world.

Semantic web starting points

I’ve been getting to grips with SPARQL over the last week, probably more so than I have at any time over the last year. SPARQL is an RDF query language and one of the nice things about the Talis Platform is that you dont have to know SPARQL in order to retrieve data. So up until recently I really didnt have much need to write SPARQL queries, I could pretty much do what I wanted with the platform using its other RESTful services.

The platform however has extensive support for SPARQL, so whilst working on a spike this week it was apparant that some of the things I wanted to do would require writing some queries. I used it as an opportunity to brush up on my RDF and SPARQL – it’s amazing how easily we can take things for granted when the tools and services we use on a day to day basis hide us from low level implementation details.

If your anything like me when you want to brush up on something you you tend to scour bookshelves, or google for bits of information, which can be time consuming and sometimes a bit hit and miss. Fortunately Danny came to my rescue, he joined Talis recently and I think he’s a fantastic addition to the team. Danny sent me a link to his Semantic Web Starting Points, a collection of links he’s compiled that provide a great introduction to semantic web technologies, which obviously includes RDF and SPARQL.

Thanks Danny!