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You know that scene in Bladerunner where Harrison Ford uses a computer to zoom, refocus and travel in 3D space within a photograph? For years we’ve all thought that would be forever impossible, but new technology from Lytro suggests that this sort of thing may soon be possible.

Their forthcoming light field camera captures not just one perspective of a scene, but uses a lenticular array to capture the entire light field, meaning that the 3D space from which the light originated can be explored after the photo is taken – so you can change which part of the scene is in focus, generate 3D images or even peek “behind” foreground objects.

The Silicon Valley startup clearly faces technical and financial challenges to change their prototypes into an affordable consumer product – but the cat is out of the bag on the idea, and we can expect camera manufacturers to race to catch up and enter this brand new market. This is a disruptive technology with huge potential to change the way we think about photography. Soon we may have a completely new kind of camera, which can truly capture a moment in a way we never thought possible. Some are wondering if it will take the skill out of photography, while others are already speculating about what this might do to re-ignite 3D film-making.

Read more details at AllThingsDigital and try refocussing images for yourself in Lytro’s Picture Gallery.

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Zdenek Kalal, a PhD at the University of Surrey, has developed an impressive real-time system which looks within a live camera feed for an identified object or person, then watches and learns to track that object as it rotates, moves or disappears, reappears. He demonstrates a prototype of the system in the video shown to the right.

The project won him the ICT Pioneer award and has attracted a great deal of attention from press and industry alike, as this could enable a plethora of image-tracking applications, from security systems to video stablization and control systems for the handicapped.

What is remarkable about the system is that it needs no special training (for example learning what a face is), you can simply identify an object on screen and the system will learn to track it. It looks like the stuff of science-fiction, but it’s very real. Read more on his project page.

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Part four: digital classrooms demand a new kind of teacher

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

Tablet computing is the catalyst that can trigger a classroom revolution: the digital classroom, personalized learning, cheap access to content, and a transformation of how we learn. They promise a shift in education that puts the student, not the teacher, at the center of the learning experience. And tablets can capture and analyze everything about how someone learns.

In other words, tablets make teaching accountable, bringing to it the kind of clarity and can’t-argue-with-that science that has transformed online marketing. But as we saw yesterday, there are powerful forces terrified of what the harsh light of accountability will reveal, as we saw yesterday.

Tablets don’t just display, they collect

Tablets are the ultimate analytical tool. They collect copious amounts of data that can be analyzed, letting us crunch all aspects of a learning experience: What was read, touched, and heard; when and where that learning happened; what was read slowly and what was rushed through. Properly instrumented, a tablet is a window into how a student acquires knowledge. It’s the perfect sensor for educational analytics.

And analytics, as anyone who runs a website will tell you, mean accountability. As we saw yesterday, accountability is something that unions have resisted defiantly for decades.

Tablets, and the digital revolution they bring into the classroom, could radically change the way we learn, and with that, the fate of a society. But they’ll be fought every step of the way by teachers who fear for their jobs. If those teachers win, it’ll be another continent’s turn. So convinced of this was the producer of 2 Million Minutes that, when I saw him speak last year, he admitted to buying a condominium in Mumbai for his retirement because he expected India to have the best standard of living.
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Part three: the problem with teachers’ unions

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

At this point in my research, as I explained in yesterday’s post, I’d concluded that learning isn’t a priority in North America — politically, culturally, or economically. It seems to me that tablets — with their access to affordable, tailored education — offer a tantalizing cure to the ills of North American’s classrooms, and a path to the digital classroom that can help us catch up with the rest of the world.

When I started looking into the issue of education in North America, I assumed that military spending outstripped healthcare and education dramatically. That’s how it is in many regions. In San Francisco, for example, 21% of a family’s taxes in 2007 paid for war, while just 5% went to education. Globalissues.org puts military spending — and the financing of past wars — at 44.4% of the US tax haul, with education just under 7%.

In absolute terms, the US pays a tremendous amount for its education (putting aside “special budgets” for specific wars). Universities in the US are the most expensive in the world, and despite spending all that money, the K-12 educational system is dysfunctional.

Comparing standardized test scores, spending on teachers in North America climbed dramatically while performance remained flat.

In other words, despite spending a lot on education, we aren’t seeing good results.

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Part two: Tablets could change the fate of the Western World

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

Yesterday, we looked at the sorry state of Western education. Now we’re going to consider the ways in which a digital classroom — made manifest by the modern tablet — could reverse the decline.

Digital education isn’t a new idea. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project started shipping cheap, reliable computers to students years ago, and the Web has been a critical resource for many rural and remote schools. But it’s the arrival of ubiquitous tablet computing that can really transform the modern classroom.

If students have their own tablets, they’re equipped with a powerful platform for learning. Here’s why:

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Part one: The state of education

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

In his novel The Diamond Age, author Neal Stephenson describes a digital book his heroine carries with her. Dubbed the Young Lady’s Interactive Primer, this device is part guidebook, part tablet, and part personal guardian. It’s interactive, changing stories and allegories based on the predicaments our heroine faces. Some of its content is recorded; much of it is prepared, on the fly, by actors thousands of miles away.

Much as he colored in the picture of virtual reality — Stephenson coined the term Avatar as a representation of a virtual self, and his novel Snow Crash is the inspiration for Second Life — he may have nailed tablet computing. With the release of Apple’s iPad, we’re finding dozens of uses for a device we didn’t know we needed. It’s a console, a reader, a movie screen, a musical instrument, a game board, and a window into other worlds.

Beyond all these uses, however, the killer app for tablets could be education. Done right, personal tablets can reverse the precipitous decline of learning in much of the Western world. By putting the world’s knowledge at a student’s fingertips virtually for free, making it interactive, and tailoring it to each student’s abilities and interests, tablets could completely alter the way we teach and learn.

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Bitnorth 2010: The Human 2.0 Weekend

In late August, CAMMAC (a music camp north of Montreal) hosted the third annual Bitnorth conference. This year the theme was Human 2.0. Attendees presented a 5 minute “short bit” on a topic of their choice, which inspired many lively debates. Slides and recordings will be online soon but in the meantime, here are some of the interesting Human 2.0 ideas and questions that emerged over the course of the weekend: Read more »

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Visa's payWave contactless payment system, soon to be challenged by AT&T and Verizon

The two biggest mobile companies in the US, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, are teaming up to launch a new financial venture, which will allow consumers to pay for goods with a swipe of their smartphone – in effect forming a new banking entity and putting them in direct competition with the likes of Mastercard and Visa (who already have contactless payment methods called “payPass” and “payWave”).

What’s interesting about this development is that it uses something most of us already have – a smartphone – so the barrier to entry will be much lower. And as one expert put it, “The mobile carriers are the biggest recurring billers in every market. They are experts at processing payments.”

Perhaps in the future our banks won’t be banks, but phone companies.

Read more at Bloomberg, or Mobile Beat.

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An Atari 130XE, one of the more obscure 80s home computers

For a while, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the computing landscape was simple: Everyone used Windows. The Windows PC had become the dominant computer, supplanting the myriad platforms of the 80s: Acorn, Amiga, Atari, Commodore, Sinclair and others, which caused everyone no end of headaches with incompatibilities. Developers had to choose which platforms to support, as there were too many to support them all, and consumers were left with a difficult choice about which to buy, and often ended up regretting their decisions.

This article by Ben Werdmuller reminds us that we may now be entering a similar age of chaos. We have Windows, OSX and Linux on the desktop, HTML5, Flash and Silverlight in the browser, and Android, Blackberry, iPhone OS, Symbian (Nokia’s platform), Windows Mobile, and many others on the smartphone, not to mention new devices like the iPad or Microsoft Surface and new operating systems like Google’s Chrome Web OS.  Ben argues that the most likely outcome is to standardize on the Web, regardless of device, as we did on Windows in the 80s.

Myself, I’m not so sure, at least not until we have web standards for features like multi-touch, location awareness and 3D navigation. But it’s certainly true that we now face those same difficult choices as consumers or developers that we did in the ’80s.

Read the full article

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We’ve written previously about the benefits of bringing Internet-enabled screens to different parts of the home. This video from Jesse Rosten shows how with a couple of packets of Velcro and an iPad, you can change the iPad from a handheld Internet device into a way of putting information exactly where you need it, hands free.

In the future, perhaps iPad-like Internet touchscreens will become so cheap we can just install these permanently on our walls and into our appliances.

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