Subscribe: Future Tech
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
android  dna  flash player  flash  google  mobile  net  new  page  player  question writer  results  search  software  users 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Future Tech

Future Tech

Alexander McCabe on Future Technologies

Published: 2011-05-04T10:48:09+00:00


Question Writer Wins Gold in Brandon Hall Awards



In case you hadn't heard . . . Question Writer is this year's recipient of the Gold medal in the Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Technology Awards in the 'Best Advance in Technology for Testing or Evaluation' category.

The Brandon Hall Group conducts extensive research in the authoring tools market and publishes the widely-consulted guide: 'Authoring Tool KnowledgeBase 2011: A Buyer's Guide to 130+ of the Best E-Learning Content Development Applications'.

I'm delighted that Question Writer has been recognized as this year's best advance in technology for testing or evaluation. Previous Brandon Hall gold award winners have included companies such as Adobe, Articulate, Cisco, IBM and Microsoft.

Why I Love My Netbook


I've been travelling in Thailand this week and my netbook (Acer Aspire One) has been an invaluable companion.

It lets me stay in touch by e-mail, Skype and supports the full internet, so I can respond on forums and keep up with blogs. It runs Windows XP and so I can use all the same software as my desktop PC. I wouldn't want to try to do any serious work on it because of the smaller keyboard and screen - but I can easily review files and make small edits without trying to convert the files to a different format.

I much prefer to use my own hardware when travelling - it's a security concern. It is stupidly easy to add a keylogger (to record keyboard strokes) to public internet terminals and using them is promiscuous internet use - much safer to connect from your own hardware to a wired or wi-fi network and use a secure login form.

Something else I do is pack a monitor cable and a sound cable - I can usually hook the netbook up the TV in hotel room and watch my own media - that's been essential this week for catching those new season six episodes of Lost. :) (I still consider myself to be travelling light, because I haven't got a wireless router and media server packed.)

A friend had commented on my netbook 'You should be able to afford a full-size laptop' - but the low cost and especially the lightweight nature of device is the draw. I can take it travelling easily and not worry about it being lost or stolen because of the low replacement cost. My friend is an iPhone owner and it occurs to me that Apple owners do tend to be more concerned with the appearance and style of devices - while I'm more about the functionality and usefulness. Sometimes I do get gadget lust but always end up with buyer's remorse when I purchase a cool gadget that I really have no use for.

I've been giving this a lot of thought this week because Apple's iPad has been the hot story in the blogosphere. It has being talked about as a netbook replacement or a netbook re-invention. But I think that is a mistake - it simply doesn't support any of tasks that I use a netbook for. I don't know what the iPad is for (aside from conspicious consumption) but I am sure it is not a netbook nor a netbook replacement.

The Google Slap and Resolution


At approximately 5AM on the morning of November 9th, 2009, GoogleBot switched off all of my AdWords advertisements. GoogleBot didn't tell me about his decision - it was a week before I even realised what had happened. I've had a frustrating two weeks working out how to get the ads re-enabled. Here's some advice on steps you can take where you've had the same experience.

First off, there are a lot of reasons why GoogleBot might not be showing your ads - this advice really only applies to a specific situation, Here's how to diagnose it, call it the 'Google Site Slap'

1. All keywords in ad groups with ads that have a landing page on a particular domain have a LPQS (landing page quality score) of 1/10.
2. No ad impressions will be displayed for these ads, for any keywords, at any price.
3. If you create a new Ad Group, with an ad with a landing page on the domain, a few impressions might be served, but as soon as the ad moves from 'Pending Review' to 'Approved', no further impressions will be served.
4. If you create a new Ad Group with an ad for another domain, it may work fine - try creating an ad leading to a Wikipedia page to test.

This happens because there's something about the site that GoogleBot doesn't like. Because he doesn't like the site, he won't send any AdWords visitors to any page on the site. Check Google Webmaster Guidelines for ideas.

There's a lot of ideas there - to narrow it down, have a look at your raw weblogs. Do a text search for 'GoogleBot' - if there's a particular page(s) that GoogleBot is visiting very regularly, the problem may be on that page. For my website, there were three pages that he was visiting every 6 hours and 20 minutes. They all had something in common - I publish quiz software and the pages all had sample quizzes that opened in a new window with the new window being automatically resized. I changed the behaviour on those pages to show those quizzes in the same browser window. Within 24hrs, GoogleBot re-enabled the ads.

Final Thoughts
AdWords support reps are well meaning but take 24hrs to respond. My sense is that they don't have any great insight into GoogleBot nor have much influence with him.
My pages are heavily interlinked - it is possible that all the pages with a LQPS were simply linked to a page on the site that GoogleBot didn't like. So it is also possible that linking to a page on another site that GoogleBot doesn't like might cause the same difficulty.

UK to Destroy DNA Samples After Six Months


It's important to understand the distinction between a DNA sample and a DNA profile. In nearly all coverage of the UK DNA Database, the two terms are conflated or used interchangeably.

A DNA sample contains genetic material which contains 3 billion base pairs. That's about 750MB of information.

A DNA profile is a something like a hash code of this information containing 20 points. I don't know the exact data size - but I'd be surprised if it was more that a few kilobytes.

The procedure in UK has been to take a DNA sample, create a profile of it, and then keep both. The profile is stored in a database, and the sample in some kind of laboratory warehouse.

Whether you agree with it or not, there is an argument for keeping all DNA profiles on a database - the database can identify individuals. It's used currently to identify murderers from crime scene DNA, and within about 10 years it'll probably be used to identify householders who haven't sorted their waste into the correct recycling bins ;). That feature creep is inevitable, but it is largely predictable.

The argument for keeping DNA samples is 'We might think of something to do with them in the future.' - That's 750MB of data on each individual. Future developments in DNA analysis mean that data could be used in ways we can't even imagine now. The scope for feature creep is enormous.

That's why it'll be a victory for civil liberties to see DNA samples destroyed six months after collection as proposed in the 2009 crime and security bill. It doesn't look like the goverment will fully comply with European law (deleting all DNA profiles of the innocent), but it is a big improvement on the current situation.

Link - Alan Johnson on the DNA Database (The Guardian commenters seem to have missed the good news about the u-turn on the destruction of the samples)

Free Education Software


Dr. Mike's Education Blog today features a good list of free software tools for use in education. There are lots of lists and sites devoted to free software out there - but this one provides particular value because of the recommendation to use the software in a specific context - the classroom. Each tool has a description and website link.

.NET Penetration


I've updated the final figures for the October .NET Penetration statistics. Turned out to be pretty much the same as the reading taken in the middle of the month, suggesting no large gains for .NET towards the end of October.

.NET Version Penetration


I've run a quick analysis of the Question Writer website logs to try to determine the prevelance and progress of the different .NET runtimes. I've also added some figures published on the Business of Software forum in March 08 by SteG for comparison.


Click here to view the Flash chart

I thought I'd publish this data as there don't seem to be any official numbers available, and there's a real dearth of information on it. (Compare this to the stats for the Flash player made available by Adobe)

Version 3.5 has been making great strides recently.
Right now .NET 3.5 covers 52%, .NET 3.0 covers 59%, .NET 2.0 covers 70%, .NET 1.1/1.0 covers 78%

Possible sources of error:
I'm using the same methodology as describe by SteG in the Bos post mentioned above.
Only Internet Explorer reliably provides .NET version information -

IE users use MS software and so may be more likely to have .NET installed.

IE users may be generally less inclined to install new software, and may be less likely to have .NET installed.

I'm identifying IE users by looking for the string 'MSIE' in the logs - this may be catching other clients which don't report their .NET versions. This may cause the 'Dot Nothing' figure to be artificially high.

Question Writer uses the .NET runtime. Visitors to the website may be more likely to have .NET installed. Particulary version 1.1

October data only covers first 12 days of October - it might be a little less reliable than the previous months.

There were some users of .NET 4.0 but there were so few, I've bundled them in with version 3.5

Note: I'll update the data if I get any good recomendations for improvement in methodology.

Other Sources
The results differ quite a lot from the April 09 data published here. I don't have an explanation for the discrepancies.

Chart Data in XML
Java log analysis code

Flash Quiz on the HTC Hero


I wanted to show you this video of a Question Writer Flash Quiz running on the HTC Hero smartphone. The Hero runs Google's Android operating system and also includes the Flash plugin.

(object) (embed)

This quiz is running through the Hero's browser in the video, but I suspect it won't be long before you'll be able to convert a piece of Flash into an Android App. It's exciting because mobile apps are going to be a big growth area in the next 2-3 years, and a good Flash player on Android is going to allow Flash developers to compete. (Some estimates of Flash developers run into the millions)

Also even non-technical users will be able to turn their Flash content into Apps - For example, I'm hoping to have a 'Publish as an Android App' in the Question Writer publish menu, so that users can sell the content they create in the Android Market without having to get bogged down with all the technical details that usually go with creating a mobile app.

Some interesting technical details for you Flash geeks -

The plugin identifies itself as AFL 9,1,122,0 - I'm guessing this stands for 'Android Flash Lite'. However, this is the most powerful Flash player I've ever seen on a mobile device - I've seen Flash Lite 3 running on Nokia phones, and this is in a totally different league. This player seems to have the full memory and processor of the phone available to it.

The screen resolution from the quiz is returned as 314x480 - I'm not sure if that's accurate as it seems to take up the whole screen without any borders on the side.

The directional control on the Hero doesn't affect the focus - I hope it will when Flash 10 is released for Android in October, I know a lot of Flash games rely on this kind of directional control.

If you'd like to get started making mobile quizzes in Question Writer, you can download the mobile theme here, which is a variation on the Information Technology template at a 320x480 size. You'll also need the Nokia pixel font or another pixel font for best results.

Windows 7 mini Boom for Tech and IT



"Wait for Windows 7!" is what I've been telling anyone considering a computer purchase in the past few months. The beta of Windows 7 was already better than Vista months ago. Even the promise of a free upgrade with a purchase today doesn't make it a good idea - nobody wants to install a fresh operating system in 2 months time. Better just to wait.

And there are other two types of users/businesses waiting too - those frustrated with Vista, and those on the now 8-year-old XP. There's a lot of pent up demand. You'd expect to see a dearth of purchases now, and a flood on the October 22nd release date.

This Dearth/Flood affects the whole tech and IT industry - there are a lot of complimentary products and services for a new operating system. Computer hardware is the big one, and this itself has a host of complimentary products. A user buying a new computer/os combo might buy a few additional peripherals with it and a few new software packages. A business migrating to a new OS may require help from IT services firms to keep everything running smoothly. Virtually every hardware, software and IT services outfit with exposure to Windows should see more business in the months following the Windows 7 release.

On2 No Shop Clause


I was Interested to read that the On2 acquisition deal included a 'No Shop' clause to preclude On2 from soliciting other offers or starting a bidding war. I wonder who might have been interested in putting in a better offer having heard the proposed Google $106 million takeover.
Maybe one of their big customers, already using their technology Adobe, Skype, Nokia or Sony? Or maybe Apple or Microsoft. The value is not just in the technology, but the ability to shape the video standards used in the future by either adding or removing restrictions on the use of the technology and patents.
I've seen a number of suggestions as to how Google intend to proceed - many suggesting that Google will free some or all of the codecs and use it to reduce bandwidth costs for YouTube. Another interesting idea is that Google will use the encoders to help users upload their vidoes. It's nice for YouTube to have the highest quality upload, but processing and storage must be expensie. Most broadband users have much smaller upload connections than download ones - better compression would allow for faster upload times, and higher resolution for live streaming from say an Android mobile device with limited bandwidth.

Google's On2 Move Will Pressure Adobe To Open Source Flash Player


This is what the Android's desktop looks like -


If you study it very carefully, you'll notice some subtle integration with Google's web search service.

It's a straightforward plan.

1. Bake Google services into Android (and Chrome OS)
2. Make it not just free, but fully open source
3. Become dominant OS in mobile devices
4. Gain more users for Google services

Online video is a problem though - YouTube is Google's own service, and yet you can't use it on a pure Android phone because of the lack of a suitable open source video codec. This will hamper adoption for Android. The new HTC Hero phone includes a Flash Player atop Android to address this issue, but they will have done their own integration, and negotiation with Adobe.

Google's solution is to buy On2 and open source a player with a more advanced codec. YouTube can then publish video without the Flash player, and Android will display it. YouTube won't remove the Flash player any time soon because it offers compatibility for a huge range of desktops, but it relegates it to being the legacy desktop player, rather than the cutting edge mobile one.

All this adds pressure for Adobe to find a way to provide an open source Flash player for distribution with Android. Adobe doesn't have its own mobile platform or devices. Apple has been resisting it for 2 years. Android is its big chance to take Flash mobile.

Local Websites Provided By Wi-Fi


I've been wondering why businesses haven't been using Wi-Fi hotspots to connect more with their customers.

Many Wi-Fi hotspots start with a 'Captive Portal' mode . . . this allows the hotspot owner to redirect the user to a webpage when he first connects. This is usually a terms and conditions of use, or a sign-in page for subscribers . . after which the user connects to the internet as you know it.

This first webpage could equally well be offers from local businesses, or a message board or social networking services specific to that location.

There were a number of ideas like this floating around a few years ago when Wi-Fi was 'Hot' (2002/2006). (Neigbornode, now defunct, and Place Site, no activity since 2006). I wonder if they might have been a little bit before their time - Wi-fi access back then meant a large laptop with short battery life. In 2009, there are netbooks a plenty, iPhones and Android phones, all with Wi-Fi and browsers.

If this sounds a bit theoretical - here's a concrete commercial example. You're running a small restaurant near a busy bar . . . you set up a Wi-Fi hotspot. A patron of the bar connects to tweet or check their facebook . . . but the first page the user sees is a review of your restaurant or the night's specials. Direct, relevant, location based advertising to a qualified prospect!

This is a kind of 'Wi-fi sponsorship' model - but there's been an explosion of interest in social networking. Local websites with users linked to facebook profiles and twitter could add a new communication channel to a location or an event.

I'm in Manchester (UK) and I'm intested in experimenting with this in different locations. I'm not sure there's a big Web 2.0 IPO in this . . . but I'm sure there's hundreds of ways it could be use to good effect, creating a huge amount of value locally.

Accents Quiz (Flash Audio Quiz)


How well can you tell someone's nationality or linguistic origin from their accent? Here's a quiz that helps you find out. Accents Quiz. It uses Question Writer's capability to embed Flash files to associate the audio with each question. There's a tutorial on how to do this too.

Google Wins. Wikipedia Wins.


I'm at the end of my informal one-week search engine comparison. My conclusion? Google wins. Overall, it provided more relevant links, higher up the search page than did Microsoft. I'd approximate that for about 60% of searches the quality of the results were equivalent, Google provided better results in 30% of cases and 10% went to Microsoft.

Google was also more likely to provide relevant advertisements and only to provide them when they were useful - Microsoft placed ads directly above the search results nearly always, and they were of lower relevancy.

The other thing I noticed was the 'Wikipedia' effect. For a lot of my more general searches, the search engine that placed the Wikipedia link higher in their search result was the one that provided the better result for that search. Sometimes I find myself adding '+wikipedia' to my searches - and I notice Wikipedia ranking highly for many searches irrespective.

For technical information, I think I'll always want a full web search - but I wonder if a general search for me will gradually evolve into the best way to find what I'm looking for on Wikipedia.

Search Engine Taste Test


I changed my homepage from Google to Microsoft last week. I've been thinking about the Microsoft-Yahoo deal and I wanted to test my contrarian hypothesis that there's not much difference in the quality of search between Google/Microsoft.

I tried first - this seems to be the page that Microsoft suggests as a homepage - but it's unusable. There are too many distractions and the seach box actually moves as the page loads in. is a much better for direct comparison.

I found out that I prefered the interface for Live image search, and that the search results for 'Flash Player' from Live are suspiciously bad. I didn't find out much more. Mostly I was wondering if the results from Google would have been any better without bothering to find out.


This week I've used my HTML and Javascript skills (circa 1998) to put together a search page that loads up results from both searches side by side. For every search I do for the next week - I'll see both sets of results and get a general idea of which is producing better results for me. You can play along too if your monitor is wide enough!