May 27, 2013

Leap Motion and Google Earth Experiment: Cute Doggie Photo-globe Mashup

Leap Motion and Google Earth Experiment: Cute Doggie Photo-globe Mashup 

I finally experimented with my Leap Motion controller and Google Earth, using a mashup I created a few years ago with pictures of cute dogs from my Flickr photo-stream.  In the video below, you can see that my gesture navigation skills still need some practice!

I should have watched the following video of Leap Motion in action with Google Earth before trying this experiment at home : )  

I am pretty sure that developers will be able to tweak Leap Motion + Google Earth interaction in the near future.  I'd like to adapt it for use with kids as well as adults who have mild motor impairments.

Cute Doggies Photo-Globe Mash-up using Google Earth and a Flickr Set (How-to)

If you'd like to make your very own photo-globe using Google Earth and Flickr photos, here are the directions, ported and updated from a previous post:

This photo is a screen shot of photos of just about every dog I know, and some that happened to cross my path. In this post, I'll share some information about how to create a photo-globe in Google Earth. 

The first step is to make sure you have lots of pictures related to your theme uploaded to a site such as Flickr.  (You can also create a photo-globe using pictures from your computer's hard drive.)

To get the pictures into Google Earth, I used the Image Overlay feature, and in the "link" textbox, I entered the image URL for each picture that I'd previously loaded as a set in Flickr.

To do prepare for this, make sure you go to "view" tab on the upper left-hand section of your screen, and make sure that "toolbar" is checked. Also make sure that "Grid" is selection, as this will help make it easier to arrange and align your pictures.  You can turn off this feature later. Near the top of the screen, click on the Image Overlay icon. (I've highlighted it in the picture.)

You'll have to enter the URL of the image you'd like to add to the globe in the "Link" textbox, which I've highlighted in the above picture.  In this case, I've used a link to one of my pictures in a Flickr set I created for this project.

One thing to keep in mind is that the picture will take up a much larger space than you might prefer, so you'll have to adjust the size using the green markers:

Positioning the Overlay in the Viewer
The following directions are from the "Positioning the Imagery in the Viewer" section in the help section:

  1. Use the center cross-hair marker to slide the entire overlay on the globe and position it from the center. (Tip: do this first.)
  2. Use the triangle marker to rotate the image for better placement.
  3. Use any of the corner cross-hair markers to stretch or skew the selected corner. If you press the Shift key when selecting this marker, the image is scaled from the center.
  4. Use any of the four side anchors to stretch the image in or out of from the selected side. If you press the Shift key when doing this, the image is scaled from the center.

TIP:  Try positioning the center of the image as a reference point first, and then use the Shift key in combination with one of the anchors to scale the image for best positioning.

Directions updated to reflect latest version of Flickr, as of 5/27/13:

To find the image URL for a photo in Flickr that you wish to link on your photo-globe, select your desired photo and right click "Copy Image URL".

Put your curser in the Link section of  the "New Image Overlay" dialog box in Google Earth, and right click to select "paste" from the drop-down menu

Then repeat the process.  It helps to name each picture so that you can find it easily in Google Earth.

To enhance your mash-up, you can add place-marks that contain URLs that link to additional information about the subject of a picture, such as blog posts with embedded videos and/or text related to a picture, and so forth. Directions can be found in Google Earth's help section.

The process of building a photo-globe in Google Earth is a bit tedious.  If someone has a short-cut to share, please let me know!

Google Earth
Programmable Web (My hunch is that this site might provide some information about shortcuts for creating a photo-globe in Google Earth.)
LEAP Motion

May 24, 2013

Summer of Fun and Game Development with Unity

Summer of Fun and Game Development- Unity

I just downloaded the GameAnalytics Unity Package and plan to spend some of my summer break digging deeper into Unity.  I have been experimenting with Xcode stuff and Leap Motion.  

I want to make the most of my 5 weeks "Summer of Code". Unity fits the bill.  It has offers a wealth of wonderful online  learning resources.  

I've explored Unity in the past and loved it, and am very impressed with how it has evolved over the past few years.

I'll add more to this post later!

May 21, 2013

Xbox One and Kinect 2 for the Playground of the Future

Xbox One and Kinect 2, Playground of the Future

The big news in tech today is the unveiling of the new Xbox One/Kinect 2 system.  For now, the video below might be the closest you'll get to the system.  Wired's senior editor, Peter Rubin had a chance to interview Scott Evans, of Microsoft, as he demonstrated the fascinating technical details in a family-room type setting.

Wired's interview of Scott Evans and demo of the new Xbox One and Kinect 2, using Active IR technology.

From what I learned, the new Kinect sensor has six times the fidelity of the previous version. Paired with the new Xbox One, it can do amazing things.  Engineers from around the world collaborated on this project, providing expertise in facial recognition, digital signal processing, speech recognition, machine learning, and computer vision.  The Xbox One is fueled by an 8-core x86 processor, supported by 8GB of RAM, which is sure to handle the hardest gamer's needs. It also includes a 500GB hard drive and an HD Blu-ray player.

The new system was designed to enhance the gaming/user experience. The 1080p camera provides a field of view that is 60 degrees larger than its  predecessor, and can handle a high level of detail.  It provides a better means of interpreting movement and orientation, and it processes skeleton and hand movements more precisely.  The system features "muscle man", a human-based physics model that is layered over the skeleton and depth map. It senses and calculating the forces the player uses while moving in a game. 

What I find interesting is that the camera can detect the player's pulse by measuring subtle changes of the skin that can't be perceived by the naked eye.  It also can quickly identify each player (it handles up to six), and identify facial expressions.  The active IR (infrared) system provides the system with better accuracy than the original Kinect. 

I wasn't able to find out much information regarding privacy issues with this system.  This is a concern, since it can sense your physiological responses, movement patterns, and facial expressions.  Over time, a good deal of very personal information would be gathered about each user. I shudder to think about the consequences if the data fell into the wrong hands.  

Possibilities for Special Needs Populations

I can see that the Xbox One + Kinect 2 system has the potential for games and other interactive applications for use in physical rehabilitation and fitness.  Since it can interpret facial expressions, it could also provide a way to support social skills learning among children and teens who have autism spectrum disorders.


Microsoft invests a good deal of attention to proof-of-concept projects that may or not become part of a commercial product.  Below is an example of IllumiRoom:

Hrvoje Benko, of Microsoft Research, discusses the IllumiRoom concept during an interview at CHI 2013.

Xbox One Website
The new Xbox One Kinect tracks your heart rate, happiness, hands and hollers
Matthew Panzarino, The Next Web, 5/22/13
Kinect 2 Full Video Walkthrough: The Xbox Sees You Like Never Before
Kyle Wagner, Gizmodo, 5/21/13
Hands-on with prototypes of the Xbox One and New Kinect Sensor
Ben Gilbert, engadget, 5/21/13
Efficient Human Pose Estimation from Single Depth Images
Shotton, J., Girshick, R., Fitzgibbon, A., Sharp, T., Cook, M., Finocchio, M., Moore, R., Kohli, P., Crinisi, A., Kipman, A., Blake, A.   Video
Consumer Depth Cameras for Computer Vision:  Research Topics and Applications
Fossati, A., Gall, J., Grabner, H., Ren, X., Konolige, K. (Eds.)
Xbox One: Microsoft's supergeeks reveal what's inside the hardware
Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat, 5/21/13
Next Xbox Will Face New Array of Rivals
Nick Wingfield, New York Times, 5/21/13

May 17, 2013

Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Awesome Music Video from Space - in case you missed it!

Amazing Music from Space

I finally got around to watching Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's wonderful remake of David Bowie's Space Oddity, created on the International Space Station.  Hadfield makes the music his his own, changing a few words, to share his experience with the world.  

I was impressed with the quality of this video, from the editing to the sound mix.  

Chris Hadfield spent the last several months in space, and during this time, he connected with thousands of people, young and old, around the globe.  Although he is now known for his space music video,  many school children learned before his video went viral. His tweets, pictures, and video clips from space were followed by students in classrooms around the world.  
(See "Related" section at the bottom of this post for links to related information about Chris Hadfield.)

I really liked the images from the video. Below are screen shots of some of my favorite scenes:
:49 Chris Hadfield looking out towards Earth and space

1:12 Guitar floating in space station

2:31 Chris Hadfield playing guitar

2:41 View of Earth and clouds from space

2:47 View of Earth at night

4:10 View of earth and darkness of space from window

John Bowman, CBCNews Your Community Blog, 5/14/13
Kyle Wagner, Gizmodo, 5/13/13

May 12, 2013

Jay Leno's Interactive Pumpcast News: Will and Monifa Sims 15 minutes of Karaoke Fame

"You sir, on pump 16!"

If you haven't seen this video yet, take a look.  It is a great example of interactive TV at the gas station pump!   

Pumpcast News is a segment featured on Jay Leno's Tonight Show that catches people by surprise at the gas pump as they try to ignore the TV blaring away. 

In the following video clip, Pumpcast news anchor Jack Rafferty offers free gas if the customer, Will Sims, will sing karaoke.  Will sings "Living on a Prayer", by Bon Jovi, with all of his heart and soul.  Later,  his wife, Monifa, joins in and belts out Sweet Dreams, by the Eurythmics.

I especially liked Will's "living on a free tank of gas" improvisation at about 2:28.

I don't think this segment was staged,  but even if it was, the interactive TV is a great concept.  It certainly engaged the customers.   

Who knows?  Would you purchase one brand of gas over another if you knew you'd have a random chance to get a free tank of gas and 15 minutes of fame?

Will and Monifa Sims were invited to sing on The Tonight Show:

May 5, 2013

Human-Glass Interaction: SNL Google Glass Parody by Randall Meeks

Do these glasses make me look smart?

Human-Glass Interaction: SNL Weekend Update parody by Randall Meeks, looking full of himself wearing his Google Glasses.  Are we there yet?


"Peacock, Peacock, Peacock.... go back, go back, go back....Italian, Italian, Italian"

"See how simple that was!"  "Mute, mute, mute, mute... I have to reboot it. Reboot, reboot, reboot.."

Google Glass
16 Funny Google Glass Comics and Parody Videos
Daniel Zeevi, Dashburst, 3/1/13

Leap Motion Update: Slow-going progress for me, at least for now!

Leap Motion Progress

My Leap Motion dev kit arrived in March. With excitement,   I installed it on my new 27-inch iMac. I decided that this would be the time to take the "leap" into Objective-C and explore the mysteries of Xcode.  I had planned to make a simple  iPad app for my 2-year-old grandson, but this inspired me to change my plans.

Why not learn Objective-C to make a simple music/art/dance Leap Motion app for little ones?  

My progress so far?  Slow.

I updated Xcode. I installed the Leap Motion SDK.  I updated the Leap Motion SDK.  I played with the samples that came with the Leap Motion kit.   

When it came time for me to try something on my own, I thought I had everything set up in Xcode.  I got error messages that I did not understand. My attempt to figure things out led me to the Stack Overflow website, and by then, I had to get back to my paperwork in order to prepare for the next work day.

Today I realized that I missed the link about installing the Leap API docs for Objective-C in XCode.  Other things needed to be updated, so at that point, I decided to write this post....

After writing some code and making repeated errors, I realized how much I had let Microsoft take root in my head.  Until 2003, the coding part of my brain was a pristine slate. It wasn't cluttered with bits and pieces previous coding languages.

Since I tend to be a knowledge junkie, my brain soaked up more than I needed when I was taking computer courses.  If you could peek inside,  you'd see C# code snippets for multi-touch and NUI, a few algorithms for A.I. and data visualization, trivia from MSDN,  and images of the Visual Studio workspace. There would be odds and ends from VB.Net, JavaScript, ActionScript, CSS, Java, C++, and pseudocode for a variety of computational thought experiments.    

A lot of stuff, and for most of it, no place to go, except for an occasional technology dream.

What's ahead?
In the short term, I'll be doing what I always do this time of year.  For many school psychologists, the last couple of months of the school year is sort of like tax season for accountants.  I have lots of students to see, lots of psychological evaluation reports to write, and meetings to attend.  The paperwork will crowd up many evenings and weekends, but  there is an end in sight.   

Summer.  This will be my summer of code.

I'll be in NYC for one week in June, attending the Interactive Design for Children conference (IDC 2013).  Many of the workshops I'd like to attend will be held at the same time.  Take a look at the program and you'll see why!  I

Decisions to be made... 
Although I am pretty good at keeping a lid on my desire to design and code during my day-to-day life as a school psychologist,  I'm finding that it is getting more difficult to ignore. I have some thinking to do. In the not too distant future, it is possible that I'll leap out of my K-12 cocoon.  

I don't think I'll leap too far, because I'd like to focus my work on projects that enhance the lives of children and families.  I will ensure sure that some of my work will benefit people of all ages who have disabilities or encounter barriers in their lives.

Joy of Computing, 1985

My daughter, who was just two years old in the above picture, returned to school to take computer courses after working in the non-profit arts management field.  I'm happy about this, but I know that she'll face many hidden barriers when she starts working in a male-dominated environment. She is not alone.

I'm working on a future post about computer and technology-related careers.  Things have changed rapidly over the past several years and there are many new ways to learn how to code, and over time, more opportunities for creative computational thinkers - male and female, to take the lead.

In Google's Inner Circle, a Falling Number of Women
Claire Cain Miller, NYT, 8/22/13

So You Don't Want to be a Programmer After All
Jeff Attwood, Coding Horror, 4/29/13

StackExchange  (Includes StackOverflow, helpful when I troubleshoot coding problems)

An Overview of HTML 5, PhoneGap, and Mobile Apps: Understanding how web languages are used for apps and how they work with native code
Dan Bricklin

May 3, 2013

Pixel Press: Draw, create, play, and share games, without code, now on Kickstarter

Drawing and Playing with Pixel Press

Pixel Press is an early stage video design platform that supports the creation of DIY video games, without requiring coding skills.  The project was recently approved by Kickstarter, with an initial funding goal of $100,000.00.  The first version targets the iPad. 

Robin Rath, the creator of Pixel Press, was inspired by his memories of creating his own drawings for games when he was a kid in the 1980's, and it shows.  Pixel Press might appeal to gamers across generations, and looks suitable for use in school settings.

According to the Pixel Press website, there are just a few things to learn in order to create a basic video game within the Pixel Press environment, making it an ideal activity for kids and others aspiring game designers:

"You are designing five floors of a video game level.  Your hero will start at the bottom and attempt to overcome the obstacles you create to reach the elevator at the end of each floor to advance up to the next floor.  Your objective is to create a five floor level that is progressively more challenging from top to bottom." 

Pixel Press: Draw your own video game 

Pixel Press: Draw Your Own Video Game from Robin Rath on Vimeo.

The video below provides an overview/tutorial of how it works:

Pixel Press Walkthrough (For Website) from Robin Rath on Vimeo.