Two wonderfully enlightening TED Talks

Over lunch today I found time to watch a couple of amazing TED talks

The first is by Moshe Safdie, an architect who’s work should be an inspiration to us all.

I spent a number of years working for an architect, in fact as a young teenager I had my heart set on becoming an architect, however by the time it came round to choosing a degree I had discovered a new passion. Nevertheless I’ve always been fascinated by buildings and both the science and the art involved in their construction. Moshe Safdie’s work has long been hailed as both innovative and inspirational, as you listen to him describe four of the projects he’s worked on you’ll get a sense of why!

The second talk is by Howard Rheingold, he talks about about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action — and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group.

It’s a fascinating talk that is filled with remarkable sociological, economic and cultural observations about how as a species we have evolved and are continuing to evolve.

id Tech 5 and Safari for Windows announced at WWDC07

There were a lot of announcements during Steve Job’s keynot ate WWDC07 yesterday. There were two that stood out for me.

Firstly, Apple’s Safari browser is now available for Windows. You can download a beta here. I’ve installed it and have been using it to browse around some of my favourite sites. It definitely renders quicker than Firefox or IE, it has a very snappy feel to it. It is a beta however, although I haven’t had any problems, Andrew, who sits opposite me says its crashed for him when he tried to change the default homepage to

Secondly, John Carmack from id Software, the man responsible for creating the gaming engines that completely defined the First Person shooter genre, appeared on stage to announce id Tech 5 to the world. It’s the next generation of id Software’s revolutionary gaming engine, John describes it briefly:

“So the last couple of years at id we’ve been working in secrecy on next-gen tech and a game for it … this is the first time we’re showing anything we’ve done on it publicly. What we’ve got here is the entire world with unique textures, 20GB of textures covering this track. They can go in and look at the world and, say, change the color of the mountaintop, or carve their name into the rock. They can change as much as they want on surfaces with no impact on the game.”

I dont think the images truly do it justice, but its an immense technical achievement especially when you consider that most people are still raving about the id Tech 4, the engine that powers games like Doom 3 and Quake 4, and the about to be released Enemy Territory: QuakeWars. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about this new technology and the new “secret” title they have been building based on it.

The screen shots above are from Engadget who have been providing minute-by-minute coverage of the keynotes at WWDC07, which you can follow here.

PhotoSynth at TED

PhotoSynth is a Microsoft technology that I have talked about before, it’s certainly one of the most impressive visual technologies I have seen.  Here’s a video of Blaise Aguera y Arcas at TED this March presenting PhotoShop to the conference attendees and getting a standing ovation … quite deservedly in my opinion. The video is also a great introduction to the technology and what its capable of doing.

I agree with Blaise when he says Simply put, it could utterly transform the way we experience digital images.

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.

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.

The Role of Testing and QA in Agile Software Development

In our development group at Talis We’ve been thinking a lot about how to test more effectively in an agile environment. One of my colleagues, sent me a link to this excellent talk by Scott Ambler which examines the Role of Testing and QA in Agile Software Development.

Much of the talk is really an introduction to Agile Development which is beneficial to listen to because Scott dispels some of the myths around agile, and offers his own views on best practises using some examples. It does get a bit heated around the 45 minute mark when he’s discussing Database Refactoring, some of the people in the audience were struggling with the idea he was presenting which I felt was fairly simple. If you really want to skip all that try to forward to the 50 minute mark where he starts talking about sandboxes. What I will say is that if your having difficulty getting Agile accepted into your organisation then this might be a video you want to show your managers since it covers all the major issues and benefits.

Here’s some of the tips he has with regard to testing and improving quality:

  • Do Test Driven Development, the unit tests are the detailed design, they force developers to think about the design. Call it Just-in-time design.
  • Use Continuous Integration to build and run unit tests on each check-in to trunk.
  • Acceptance Tests are primary artefacts. Don’t bother with a requirements document simply maintain the acceptance test since the reality is that all testing teams will do is take that requirement and copy it into an acceptance test, so why introduce a traceability issue when you don’t need it.
  • Use Standards and Guidelines to help ensure teams are creating consistent artefacts.
  • Code Reviews and Inspections are not a best practise. They are used to compensate for people working alone, not sharing their work, not communicating, poor teamwork, and poor collaboration. Guru checks output is an anti-pattern. Working together, pairing, good communication, teamwork should negate the need for code reviews and inspections.
  • Short feedback loop is extremely important. The faster you can get testing results and feedback from stakeholders the better.
  • Testers need to be flexible, willing to pick up new skills, need to be able to work with others. They need to be generalising specialists. The trend that is emerging in agile or the emerging belief is that there is no need for traditional testers.

Scott is a passionate speaker and very convincing, some of the points he makes are quite controversial yet hard to ignore – especially his argument that traditional testers are becoming less necessary. I’m not sure I agree with all his views yet he has succeeded in forcing me to challenge my own views which I need to mull over and for that reason alone watching his talk has been invaluable.

Open Access and an example of how it can work in education

I’ve been thinking a lot about Open Access, Open Content and indeed Open Data for a while, they are all interrelated issues that were thinking about a lot at Talis. It’s true to say that the Open Data issue is probably the one we are focusing on primarily at the moment, in fact one of my colleagues Paul is giving a talk1 on that exact subject at XTech in a couple of weeks, and another of my colleagues, Rob, presented his thoughts2 on Open Data at EUSIDIC last month, and they’ll both be sitting on a panel discussing Open Data at WWW2007 next week in Banff.

Right now though I want to talk about Open Access and a little on Open Content.

Knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use – that’s something I believe.

There has always a been a desire amongst academics, in fact its more of a tradition, to publish their research in journals without payment but rather for sake of inquiry and sharing that knowledge. Is it altruism alone that motives these authors, these researchers? I like to believe that it is the main reason 🙂 . However I recognise that Open Access offers these individuals tangible benefits and advantages3. For one thing studies have shown4 that openly accessible articles and papers are more likely to be cited than those which are locked away behind subscriptions – accessible only to those either willing to pay for that privelege or belonging to a closed community able to gain access to them .

Open Access should make sense because openly accessible article can be harvested and indexed by search engines and can be viewed by anyone, anywhere. If your researching into a subject and come across a text you want to read there isnt a barrier preventing you from gaining access to that item.

Back in 1995 Steve Harnad wrote a seminal piece entitled the “Subversive Proposal”5 which called upon authors of esoteric writings to archive them for free online in anonymous FTP archives or on websites). His belief was that as soon as all research authors publicly self archived their refereed and unrefereed papers online, then research literature would be free and accessible to all. There was great debate around this proposal and at the time it was the commonly held view that what Harnad was asking for was naive and flawed, I managed to find an excellent retrospective piece by Richard Poynder that discusses the impact of the Subversive Proposal6 , and the history that lead up to it.

Over a decade later the Open Access movement has gained a great deal of momentum which is now threatening the entire scholarly publishing industry, there’s numerous Open Access inspired toolkits and services that are enabling authors to self archive content which is then freely available to all. Yet critics of Open Access still maintain that the pay-for-access model is necessary … but I guess when you consider that the scholarly publishing business is worth an estimated $6 billion, it’s not hard to understand why they are so opposed to this.

I felt compelled to share my thoughts today, after watching a TED Talk by Richard Baraniuk7, in which he passionately argues that textbooks and educational materials that are used in schools should be made available to all through a vast interconnected repository – allowing anyone to use the information, improve it, and not only bringing the authors, who are often academics, closer to those using their material but encouraging more people to share their knowledge in this new ecosystem. It’s not hard to see how you could abstract this out further to encompass all scholarly articles and not just textbooks. I guess this is were Open Access and Open Content become a little blurred for me but that’s only because what Richard is proposing is not only allowing people free access to these works but empowering users to mix content together to create customised works made up of different constituent parts whilst crediting the authors of each of those parts – and that’s really interesting!

Richard is the founder of Connexions which is an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web under the Creative Commons8 license. I think it’s a wonderful example of how Open Access and Open Content can be successful. Connexions is focused entirely on developing teaching materials and whilst this is only a small subset of all scholarly publishing it’s still an extremely compelling and inspiring initiative which is gaining pace. Add to this the notion of on-demand publishing where students who want an up to date physical manifestation of a book can purchase one for a significantly cheaper price than they would have paid had the title been produced by a traditional publishing company, since the middle man is effectively cut out of the loop.

When you consider that most academics who write textbooks don’t actually make a significant amount from that it’s understandable why they might wish to participate in initiatives like Connexions, most of these individuals dont write textbooks necessarily for money but to make an impact, and this type of system makes their work accessible to more people thus increasing the potential impact.

Or is my naivety showing?

  1. Opening the Silos: sustainable models for open data[back]
  2. The outlook and the Future [back]
  3. Online or Invisible? [back]
  4. The effect of open access and downloads on citation impact [back]
  5. Subversive Proposal[back]
  6. Ten Years After by Richard Poynder[back]
  7. Goodbye Textbooks; hello, open source learning[back]
  8. Creative Commons[back]