Google voice search for iPhone

picture of iPhone
picture of iPhone

Google have recently released the voice search application for the iPhone as a free download from the app store (for you non-iPhone users, this is a place where you go to get the latest applications and games… lots of them free, including this one). The promotional video is quite exciting to watch, and the results are simply stunning. Imagine – you speak a search term into the Google search engine and it responds in seconds flat to give you a location aware set of results. Search for films and you get cinema listings for your location. Search for conversions from farenheit to centigrade, and once again the power of Google leaps into action to deliver almost instantaneous results.

So how does it work in practice for those of us not blessed with a North American accent? In a word, poorly!

Ok, to be fair, I am keeping my voice down and probably not speaking too clearly, but even so I searched for ‘Hal MacLean’ three times, and only one returned anything close to what I said. Mostly I get things like ‘how to clean’, ‘How McCain’, ‘Al Mclean’ (the closest), ‘Harold Mclain’ (arguably closer still), ‘How Much Rain’ and goodness knows how many other variations. What I didn’t get, not even once, was the correct results returned. I even tried in an American accent, and Australian, too. Neither seemed to work.

So I tried other people, including Matthew Eaves to get equally odd results (mac tv, macky’s dc, etc).

Not that I am disappointed in any of this.

In fact I rather enjoy using it for the fun it gives, but more importantly for all of the other apps it comes bundled with, including Mail, Calendar, Docs (you can only read, not write them or edit those you have started), RSS Reader, News, Notebook, Photos, Translate, Maps (why??), You Tube (again… why?) and Earth (I say yet again… why…?)

Apart from the fact that the last apps already exist on the phone, and some hae limited functionality, this is a fun collection to have access too.

The only thing I’d say is that you either need to have a north american friend on hand to speak the search terms (I’ve yet to find anyone willing to test this), or you have to accept that you’ll get some wild results and chuckle at what turns up. Just don’t rely on it finding what you want without reverting to typing out the query! I expect in time that this will get more and more refined, and I for one would find it really useful if it worked! C’mon Google… you can do it!

BAFTA Be Very Afraid 5, Trackstick Geomapping, 3D Maker

On Monday Matthew and I worked with City College Norwich RUGRoom students at the ‘Be Very Afraid‘ event at Bafta in Picadilly, London. This annual extravaganza of digital talent showcases to a wide spectrum of visitors some of the many excellent things happening in schools and colleges around the UK. This year was no different with a superb range of digital technologies being used in a variety of creative ways.

City College Norwich have been working with Geo Mapping – using a GPS enabled device (called a ‘Trackstick‘) to log locations every few seconds and enable the user to download the data which can then be added to Google Earth. The result is a path that shows as a line across the map, and which, with careful planning, can be made into all kinds of shapes!

The students from City College Norwich had to plan their routes using maps of the area around Picadilly, and make sure that they created an interesting shape. They then stepped out on the town to walk the walk, returning to download their data. Once they had it in Google Earth they didn’t stop there! They took screen grabs and manipulated the images using ‘3D Maker‘, a small app that makes a number of 3D files, some of which require a pair of 3D glasses to see – you remember the kind, one red lens, one cyan lens…?

The result was a lot of walks in the shape of cup cakes, boats, shoes, geometric designs and all kinds of interesting images. However, of far greater importance was the ability of the students to undertake a considerably complex task (which they did with ease) but also to communicate it to the many visitors who were intrigued as to what was going on. The highly demanding environment of a show such as this really tests the nerve of people who are normally reluctant to talk to people, and I am delighted to say that each of the young people at the event from Norwich were excellent ambassadors for the college.

A quick word about ‘3D Maker’ – it is a superbly simple application and needs no real tuition to use. You simply take your image, scale it to fit on the screen when at 100%, then select the items in the image that are to become foreground in the 3D output. You trace around them and adjust a single slider and the app does the rest! You can set foreground, middle ground and background items pretty easily, adjusting the extent of the ‘3D’ effect. Wearing a pair of 3D glasses really brings the images to life. If you are even remotely interested in tis kind of artistic imagery, go and buy a copy of 3D maker!

A quick word also about Tracksticks – wonderful little devices that just work as you expect. Turn them on, let them acquire a satellite signal, and go for a walk! When you get back to your computer you’ll need the Trackstick Manager application to download the data to, and then export in the appropriate format. Google ‘.kmz’ files are a snap, and loading them in to Google Earth is a double click away. One slight reservation about the Tracksticks and that is with the software which is PC only right now. A nice and friendly mac version would be the icing on the cake, and really help make the trackstick experience very good indeed.

Engage East England, CMS Made Simple

A recent project required us to create a website for Rochford District Council, Uttlesford District Council and Essex County Council where users would be able to access information relating to public consultations and best practice. Nothing particularly remarkable in that – this is the sort of project that we enjoy doing as it is for a very good purpose and allows a degree of creativity in the design and approach to creating the site.

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Nikon Camera Control Pro Software version 2

Earlier this month I wrote in fairly scathing terms about the previous version of this software, which to all intents and purposes seemed prematurely released. It was slow, clunky, didn’t run well on a Mac (I understand Windows users were more satisfied) and generally wasn’t worth the money. I couldn’t then review version 2 as it didn’t even install for me, so as you can imagine I was less than positive about it all. Read more

Nikon Camera Control Pro Software

Having written in glowing terms about Scott Kelby, who recommended the use of Nikon’s Camera Control Pro software, I now find I am going to speak less favourably about it.

OK, first, it almost works well and certainly I was able to shoot images and see them on my laptop screen, writing direct to hard drive. I could control the camera settings from the laptop and generally not have to touch the camera at all – good if you want to keep things still, certainly.

However, I have some gripes. Chief amongst them is that this software costs money, and it really isn’t all that good as an application on a Mac. In fact, it probably works better on a PC, since the layout of it was pretty counter intuitive. For example, when you use mac software you generally get a very logical experience. So when you take a photo and send it to your computer you’d expect it to appear on screen right away (or as soon as it ‘lands’), right? Well, no… you have to set a preference so that the image can be viewed. This just isn’t right, in my opinion.

Then you get the issue with speed. Resizing the window takes an age, whether you are viewing a RAW file of 15Mb or a JPEG of around 4Mb. There are only two size options pre-set – 100% (way too big for a laptop screen) and 50% – usable, but not great. At 100% you get scroll bars, which do not move. Where is the ability to set the scale exactly as you want it? Or do we rely on the infinitely slow resize the window and click the button that fits to the size you create?

Moving back and forth between images… ? Be prepared for a wait. A long, long wait.

It was excruciatingly slow and I thought there must be an update. There was – I had downloaded and installed version 1.3, and there was a version 2 ‘Pro’ application as a trial, too. The change og didn’t look impressive – basically added some functions for the D300 and D3 cameras. Fair enough, but I wanted to try it all the same. I downloaded it and ran the installer, which kindly informed me that it had to remove the earlier version before it could continue.

And that’s where it all stopped.

Version 2 wouldn’t even install on my system (OSX 10.5 ‘Leopard’) and just sat there eating resources as it did very little of any use. OK – it could be that it isn’t keen on the current flavour of OSX, and to be fair there is a suggestion on Nikon’s web site that hints this might be the case, but again – if it doesn’t work on Leopard, don’t let it start the installer (there’s plenty of apps that check the system before they install)!

So I am left with a great urge to shoot ‘tethered’ and no ability to do so. And the price for this is around $70, so I shan’t be parting with that money just yet, then.

This software really ought to be free. I can’t imagine anyone using this and thinking it was a good experience, and yet the potential for it is simply massive. As a free download I might live with it (and wouldn’t use it much). As a paid download I would feel absolutely cheated. Its a good job there is a trial period!

So come on Nikon – get your act together on this one. Give us the right functionality, get it working in an intuitive way, and get ALL of the features running at the right speed, please! I’d be happy to help you do this if you need someone to act as part of a focus group of testers – but until then I won’t be giving you any more money (well, for software at least).