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Not quite a four day week – Weeknote #35 – 8th November 2019

Big Wheel in Cardiff

I was working from home for a lot of the week. I had originally planned to attend Wonkfest, but some administrative technicalities meant I didn’t manage to book a place at the event and I had to glance in remotely.

Following my meeting last week in London at the Office for Students I was interested to see the following press release from them on mental health issues in higher education.

Today the Office for Students has published an Insight brief, Mental health: are all students being properly supported? Our Insight briefs give an overview of current issues and developments in higher education, drawing on the data, knowledge and understanding available to us as the regulator for universities and colleges in England. Mental health is consistently among the top concerns raised by students and the OfS has an important role in identifying systemic gaps in student support or advice. Alongside the Insight brief, we have published an analysis of access and participation data for students with declared mental health conditions.

With the rise in students reporting mental health problems, there is a real challenge in supporting these students. We know that many support service staff are seeing many more mental health emergencies compared to a few years ago. More funding for support services is of course one solution, but there is also the need to consider the well being of students overall and ensuring that those students who are at risk, are supported much earlier. Does the current structure of higher education courses contribute to well being or negatively impact on it?

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Continue reading Not quite a four day week – Weeknote #35 – 8th November 2019

Photosynth – iPhone App of the Week

Photosynth – iPhone App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at various Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.

This week’s App is Photosynth.

Photosynth for iOS is the panorama creation and sharing app that lets you capture more of your world. Now you can capture 360° in all directions (up, down, left, and right) to create spectacular images. Using the latest in computer vision techniques, Photosynth makes it easy and fun to create and share interactive panoramas of wherever you are.

Photosynth can share images and interactive panorama experiences to Facebook (with the included free Photosynth.net service). Integration with Bing Maps means millions of people could see your panoramas on maps and in search results for locations you’ve captured.

Free

This new app from Microsoft for iOS devices now allows you to capture photosynth pictures and display them on your iOS device. Think of stitched panoramas that allow for a full 360° view of a location.

Previously, though it was possible to view Photosynth panoramas on iOS devices, you had to go to a Windows only website to create them. That all changes with this app, you can now create Photosynth panoramas using your iPhone.

It’s very simple to use, but takes a little practice to get a really good panorama.

You move the phone around and the software either automatically takes the photographs or prompts you to do so. It then stitches them together.

You can either then share the completed panorama on Facebook, the Photosynth site or on Bing maps. This is for me one of the downsides of the app, as it isn’t possible to create a private “interactive” Photosynth panorama. Yes taking one of the college library is fine, but imagine wanting to take one of a wedding or a group of learners in the classroom. This may not be a panorama you want to share with the world. Any panorama that you do capture is saved to your Camera Roll and thus can be used by other apps or saved to your Mac when you sync. So for “static” panoramas it is possible to keep them private and that’s what I would use for those panoramas I take of people or weddings… So for taking panoramas of places and great views, yes a great app, for panoramas of groups of people, less useful. The reason is that the interactive version just “feels” better.

I should  point out that the first time I used the app I consistently failed to upload any panoramas to any site. I was able to upload the following day so have put that down to server problems on the day I was using it.

I should also point out that the panoramas in this review are the first ones I created. This one was particularly bad, so do practice with the app to get better results.

I have resized the images to 900 pixels wide, but the app does save them as full size images, so the original image was over 4000 pixels wide.

Compared to other panorama apps, and the fact it is free, this is in fact pretty good and does a reasonable job with the iPhone camera in creating panoramas.

Saving Office Files to Moodle

I have to admit I am not sure if this is a logical next step or a backward one….

The following link was tweeted on Twitter about an Office Add-in for Moodle.

Uploading files to Moodle has never been easier.  The Office Add-in for Moodle (OAM) is an add-in for Microsoft Office (versions 2003 and 2007) that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications.  With the OAM, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications.  You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

So what do you need in order to start using the add-in?  OAM does not require anything to be installed on the Moodle server (but note we only tested against Moodle versions 1.X-1.X).  Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the add-in and access their documents.  Once installed, the add-in adds two menu items to your File menu (Office 2003) or the Office Button menu: Open from Moodle and Save to Moodle.  In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in.  Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in.  Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

This makes it very simple for practitioners to add content to a Moodle course using tools they are familar with. They can  use Office in the usual way, open files…

…and then save those files direct to Moodle.

Now this is great for those staff who upload Office documents to their Moodle courses, now they don’t even need to use a Web Browser…

However I do wonder if this is a forward step in making it easier to use  VLE or a backward step with a focus on content and Office documents rather than open standards and engaging content.

What’s your verdict?

Microsoft’s Android App

The BBC News reports on Microsoft’s Android App.

Microsoft has made an application that works with Google’s Android phone.

Called Tag, the free software uses a handset’s camera to turn it into a mobile barcode reader.

You can read more about this on the Microsoft Tag Blog.

Last year in January I wrote a blog post about Microsoft Tag.

Back then I said…

Yes Microsoft have developed their own version of mobile phone barcodes, which require their reader and require you to register in order to create them.

It’s all very typical Microsoft.

I concluded back then

Overall I am not sure about this, not sure if it will catch on or whether we should stick with QR Codes.

Nah, stick with QR Codes.

Since then I think I have seen one instance of a Microsoft Tag.

However having said that I haven’t seen many QR Codes in the wild either…

Question is, do mobile phone barcodes have a future, or is augmented reality the real future of mobile phones?

It is interesting that Microsoft have made an App for Android, though they also have readers for Windows Mobile, J2ME, iPhone, Blackberry and Symbian S60 phones, so maybe it isn’t too much of a surprise.

Windows Phone 7 Series

Lots of news coming out of the Mobile World Congress.

Big news from Microsoft is the Windows Phone 7 Series announcement.

Throwing everything that has gone before, everything is brand new, and from first impressions this appears to be a good move from Microsoft and a response to the iPhone (and possibly Google’s Android too).

No more Start button, no more replicating the Windows desktop on a mobile device. I never thought that replicating the desktop on a mobile device was ever a sustainable idea. Yes those familiar with the desktop interface *may* find it comforting, but as I did with previous versions of Windows Mobile, once you get going with the mobile device the limitations of a desktop interface start to annoy you.

Apple decided with their iPhone (and with the new iPad) to specifically not replicate the OS X desktop interface, but use a new interface, one that works well and for most people is pretty intuitive.

So what else does Windows Phone 7 Series offer. It’s interface has many similarities with the Zune (the Microsoft music player that isn’t available in the UK). It’s been kept very simple, no gloss here, no shine, though transitions are smooth and elegant.

The world hasn’t passed Microsoft by, they have realised that the Xbox is popular with gamers and that social networking is quite a big thing. As a result both these features are embedded into the phone.

So how will this fare in the competitive marketplace for modern smartphones? We’ll have to wait and see…

e-Book Readers, are they the future?

On Ollie Bray’s blog a comment was made on Ollie’s post about e-Books.

Neil commenting on the blog said:

I don’t think e-book readers will cut it. They will please a few – gadgeteers and the followers of Oprah (or would that be Jonathan Ross over here?) – but I think they will only be a niche product. After all, you can already read e-books on many phones, netbooks and PCs, so why would you want a specialist device?

Which would you rather spend on – a class set of Kindles (at £175 each) or a set of iPods touches (@£149)? No-brainer really. ANd you are never going to get a head to spend that kind of money twice.

I do agree that in terms of functionality that the iPod touch (currently) is superior to the Kindle, but you do need to ask what functionality are you looking for when purchasing a device.

I am going to disagree with  Neil about the e-Book, personally I think they are going to be one of the next big technologies.

Many negative things were said about early mp3 players and notably the iPod. If you go back to 2001 the following comments were made which are not exactly positive about Apple’s music player.

The iPod does cost considerably more than the nearest competitor with a portable hard drive…

…analyst Tim Deal dinged the $399 price as “a little high.”

“I question the company’s ability to sell into a tight consumer market right now at the iPod’s current price.”

“Apple lacks the richness of Sony’s product offering. And introducing new consumer products right now is risky, especially if they cannot be priced attractively,”

Stephen Baker said that the iPod will likely stand out for its large storage capacity but predicted that the device may have trouble digging out a niche in the market.

The iPod has “good features, but this is a pretty competitive category,” Baker said. “The question is whether people want that robust of a feature set with that high of a price.”

Look where the iPod is now!

Let’s take Niel’s comment:

After all, you can already read e-books on many phones, netbooks and PCs, so why would you want a specialist device?

If you rewrite this as

After all, you can already listen to mp3s on many phones, netbooks and PCs, so why would you want a specialist device?

That’s what many people said about the iPod and the early mp3 players.

e-Book readers are supplementary to netbooks, iPhones, iPods and PCs, not replacements.

They also have one big advantage over those devices for e-Books and that is battery life.

I have to charge my iPhone on a daily basis, I charge my e-Book reader once a week.

For me the Kindle and Sony Reader are generation one devices, and as the technology matures and changes I expect to see better and smarter products.

The rumours are that Apple and Microsoft will both release an e-Book Reader type product in the next twelve months. These devices will certainly raise the profile of e-Books and the market for devices to read them.

A new kind of barcode….

So what’s this then?

A new kind of barcode....

Any ideas?

If you’re thinking it’s just a abstract graph of some kind, well you’re not quite correct.

Nor is it my new logo!

Neither is it an abstract representation of the readers of this blog.

Well if you’re thinking it must be some kind of mobile phone barcode then you’re going down the right path.

I mentioned QR codes on this blog ages ago… back in September 2007 as it happens and this is not a QR code, but it works in a similar fashion.

It’s a Microsoft Tag.

Yes Microsoft have developed their own version of mobile phone barcodes, which require their reader and require you to register in order to create them.

It’s all very typical Microsoft.

mstagsplash1

You can download a reader for your phone from gettag.mobi and when I did from my Nokia N73 it recogised my phone and I downloaded a .sis file which installed the application onto my phone.

In order to create a barcode (or should I say tag) you need to register and have a Microsoft Live ID.

You can then create a barcode for an URL or text. Though I did see that if you include an URL in your text, when you read the barcode, the reader takes you straight to the URL and you never see the text. So no chance of including your blog address in some biographical text for example. You can have a thousand characters in your text barcode, but I found I needed less for it to work (about 980).

There are only three options for the barcodes in terms of format, pdf, wmf and xps. You can specify the size of the code in terms of inches (no metric measurements here).

There are no web versions available, and on a superficial level you can understand that, why would you need an online version of a mobile phone barcode, just use the computer to access the site.

It did appear to work faster than my Kaywa reader and goes direct to the website rather than through the advertising supported Kaywa site that happens to me when I use a QR Code.

Overall I am not sure about this, not sure if it will catch on or whether we should stick with QR Codes.

Nah, stick with QR Codes.

Windows in the clouds

Windows in the clouds

Microsoft have launched a preview of their new cloud computing service, Azure.

Windows® Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft® data centers.

On demand computing means that you don’t need to download applications to your computer, you can just use them from any computer.

Some of the key features of Azure include:

  • Build, modify, and distribute applications to the Web with minimal on-premises resources.
  • Perform services (large-volume storage, batch processing, intense or large-volume computations, etc.) off premises.
  • Create, test, debug, and distribute Web services quickly and inexpensively.
  • Reduce costs of building and extending on-premises resources.

Well does this mean that now Microsoft has gone into the clouds, that cloud computing is mainstream?

Microsoft to move into social bookmarking

According to Mashable, Microsoft will be moving into social bookmarking.

According to Microsoft Evangalist John Martin, the company is set to release a product called “Social Bookmarks” this week. The product sounds a whole lot like del.icio.us, and will initially be deployed on MSDN and TechNet, so look for it to be mostly hardcore techie bookmarks for now. Features include bookmarking (presumably via a bookmarklet), tagging, and a web-based account where your bookmarks are stored.

Social bookmarking as seen on sites such as Del.icio.us, Digg and Stumbleupon allow users to collect (or bookmark) their favourite sites online and share those bookmarks with their friends and others.Microsoft to move into social bookmarking