5 Steps to Faster Mobile Web App Development

New Brunswick start-up Agora Mobile has developed a revolutionary platform for the visual development of mobile web applications.

As we move closer to launch, we are beginning a private beta targeting developers (and other forward-thinking sorts). To kick off this beta, we are beginning a series of webinars which introduce the platform and concepts. The first webinar is this Thursday (June 26).

Register for the webinar at http://developers.vizwik.com – and as a bonus you will become part of the private beta!


Let the Leap Motion Experiments Begin!

Yay! My Leap Motion developer unit arrived at lunch today. Below is a video of my first experiment with getting it working. Unfortunately, I will not have any time to look at it this week, but stay tuned!



EARTH University: 
Learning for a clean future


Interesting and very inspirational article/video about programs at EARTH University in Costa Rica (and in Costa Rica in general), both teaching and implementing environmentally sustainable practices.

Really makes on wonder why countries like Canada cannot do the same – it is almost like our government doesn’t give a shit.



Welcome to The Continuum – Part Two

Earlier today, I began to explain The Continuum as an experiment in Social Brainstorming. But that is only half the story (actually, a third, but we will deal with that later).

Beyond this, The Continuum is meant as a demonstration of a Seamless User Experience.

The Continuum grew out of a very simple exercise in which I was brainstorming a new (for me) subject area. While reading about this topic, I was recording (short) thoughts on PostIt notes, and putting them randomly all over the whiteboards in my office. I was doing this in the hope that patterns would eventually emerge – patterns I would not otherwise see.

While I was doing this, someone came into my office, and over the course of our discussions, the question arose as to why I was not using some computer-based tool to do this (I am, after all, a nerd). The reality is, unfortunately, that no tools exist which would allow me to do this without the technology getting in the way. Any computer-based tool tends to make assumptions about how you work, or worse yet force a pattern of work on you. Or you spend more time playing with the tool than you do capturing ideas. This cognitive friction in software means that I tend to lose ideas while trying to capture them, or at least lose the flow of ideas.

It should all be as simple as scribbling on a PostIt note, and slapping it on a whiteboard.

But it isn’t.

We now live in a world dominated by mobile devices. That said, there are still a few (hundred million) PCs in use. Even more, there are now many large format displays offering rich multi-touch experiences, as well as other modes of interaction including gestures and voice recognition.

The question then arises “What constitutes a great user experience in this new world of multi-modal interactions?” This is often described in terms of a Natural User Interface (NUI), which is unfortunately defined somewhat circularly as an interface which feels natural (ok, not quite that obviously, but nearly).

While this is a question I have been pondering for some time, I do not have an answer, or at very least not the answer (if I did, I would be a lot richer and more famous than I am!)

One aspect of the new user experience that is key to The Continuum experiment is that the user experience should be seamless across all (or at least most) devices. Note that this does not mean that all devices should deliver all of the functionality of the solution. What it does mean is that the solution should exist on all devices, presenting those aspects of the functionality which is appropriate to the device format. Let’s call this Device Appropriateness.

In addition, the user interface should be as transparent as possible. As much as possible, the user should interact directly with content, rather than interacting with content through some artificial UI constructs. Buttons, menus, icons – these are all artificial UI constructs. In a perfect world the UI is completely disappears.

Device Appropriateness.

Cognitive Transparency.

This is The Continuum.

Welcome to The Continuum

So what is The Continuum? Well, at one point Continuum was what we called our solution because all of the names we really wanted to use were taken by other things.

Since I came up with the name, however, I have realized that Continuum really fits what I am trying to do better than any of the other names we had considered. Maybe it was just my subconscious trying to tell me something!

Firstly, The Continuum is an experiment in Social Brainstorming.

But wait, isn’t all brainstorming, by its very nature, social? It is, but in a very limited context. Generally, you and a few others are locked in a room for an hour, or an afternoon, or maybe a day, and asked to be spontaneous brilliant. Maybe there is a facilitator, and maybe even a process, or a game, or something else to help you be brilliant.

Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works. People are not brilliant-on-demand. Yes, some new and interesting ideas arise from these sessions. But more often than not, a few hours or days later, you come up with ideas you wish you had during the brainstorming session. Even if you email the facilitator with your new idea and make sure it gets in the results, you have lost that potential for your idea to trigger other ideas from your colleagues. The value of the group collaboration is lost. For this, and other reason, many thought leaders have come to conclude that group brainstorming is useless.

Enter The Continuum.

Imagine a brainstorming session that is not constrained to a short time-window, or a single location, or a small, defined group of people.

Imagine a whiteboard covered in sticky notes, but visible to users across the organization, or across the web.

Imagine being able to release a question or idea into the cloud (or at least a private cloud), and allow anyone, anywhere in the organization to contribute ideas, look at the collection of notes in a visually stimulating way, to analyse and cluster the notes and share those results.

Imagine being able to participate in this process from anywhere, at any time, using almost any device?

Imagine that all this is as simple as scribbling on a PostIt note and slapping in on a wall, or rearranging notes on a whiteboard?

This is The Continuum.

Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface Receives Best of Innovations Award at CES

The Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface (the Surface 2.0), which was announced at last year’s CES, has been awarded a “Best of Innovations 2012” award (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/surface/archive/2012/01/13/ces-award.aspx).

Compared to the Surface 1 unit we have in T4G’s Moncton office, this is a great step forward. The Surface is a computer vision based system for doing multitouch systems. In Surface 1.0 this meant that the solution relied on a DLP projector, and a set of cameras to detect touches by fingers or objects. This made the Surface 1 large, heavy (around 200 lbs), and limited deployment options (for example, the Surface had to be horizontal.

Surface 2 is still a computer vision based system, but uses a new technology called “PixelSense”, in which there is an IR sensor attached to every pixel. This allows the device to be much thinner than the original (about 4 inches), and weigh less than half as much. It also allows it to be deployed horizontally, vertically, or anywhere in between.

Other specifications have also been greatly improved. The Surface 2 is a FullHD 40 inch LCD, compared to the original unit’s 32 inch, 1024×768 DLP projection. The new Surface also has considerably more processing, video and memory capacity than the original (as it should – the original’s specs were from 2007!)

It is also made of Gorilla glass, making it say to deploy in “uncontrolled” environments. When it was announce last January, it was the largest piece of Gorilla Glass ever produced, but at CES 2012, Perceptive Pixel demonstrated an 82 inch touch display made of Gorilla Glass).

Also improved is the development model. While the original was programmed in .NET using either WPF or XNA, it extended those frameworks in a way very specific to the Surface. In the Surface 2.0 SDK, it builds upon the touch support designed into .NET 4.0, and allows applications to be built to run on either the Surface or Windows 7 touch devices with minimal code changes.

Brainstorming is a bad idea (yet again)?

I love these articles – I blogged about this in response to articles a couple of times (here  and here) and the issue is always the same. They refer to brainstorming as “throwing a bunch of people in a room and letting them come up with ideas”.

Of course this is ineffective. How could it be otherwise? Would you expect to throw a bunch of programmers in a room with no process and expect good results? How about throwing a bunch of kids on a field with no structure and expecting them to be a football team?

Without a process and without structure, any group collaboration will fail.

I maintain, however, that brainstorming can be effective, when done in a structured and facilitated manner. At some point I will have to throw together some references on this, because I have seen them, but I think to say that “brainstorming is a waste of time” just because unstructured brainstorming with no process is ineffective is completely unfounded.