Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Googlegrams

June 1, 2009

Friday lunchtime I escaped the shackles of my desk for a rare, UK exhibition of the work of Catalonian artist Joan Fontcuberta at Nottingham’s Djanogly art gallery. According to the curator, Neil Walker, Fontcuberta’s work questions the nature of truth and, in particular, the reliability or otherwise of photographic documentary evidence. The artist’s previous works include a complete portfolio of faked photographs purporting to document a Soviet space mission that went badly wrong in which a cosmonaut was lost in space. However, that’s not the TechLunch link. What interested me was the current display: Googlegrams.

Googlegrams are large photographs (about a metre square) constructed from thousands of small photo ’tiles’ in the style of a mosaic. Each tile consists of a tiny image taken from the Web, sourced from Google’s image search engine. Fontcuberta takes an image from current affairs, for example there is one showing a number of drowned African refugees who have been washed up on a Spanish beach, and replicates it in Google-sourced tiles.

In order to make this work, Fontcuberta has doctored a piece of freeware software, used for what’s called photo mosaic-ing, which selects tiles that correspond to the colour and shading of the large image. The software works out that it needs, say, 80 tiles that overall correspond to a particular shade of light blue and when it finds a tile that fits its requirements it will fill in the image accordingly.

In order to source the tiles, the ‘artist’ has to type in search terms to query Google’s image search engine. In the case of the refugees, Fontcuberta typed in the names of the twenty-five richest men in the world. The images that Google throws up are used by the software to find the right colours and shades to use as tiles.

Walker argued that the artist is setting out to challenge the prevailing view that accurate information is available from the Web. Fontcuberta is sceptical of the idea of a universal, democratic source of truth, exemplified by the work of Wikipedia. The Googlegrams are metaphors for the inherent instability and transient nature of the information and truth on the Web.

The exhibition not only shows various examples of Googlegrams, but there’s also a live demonstration of the software that allows you to construct your own image. The gallery is also right next door to its own eatery – so a bit of tech and a spot of lunch – although I’d advise you to eat before one o’clock as the servery is pretty much stripped bare by then.

The exhibition runs until 14th June, but if you can’t get to Nottingham, the gallery has produced a YouTube video, including an interview with the artist.

G1 spotted in UK

September 29, 2008
Google G1 phone snapped in London

Google G1 phone snapped in London

Whilst enjoying a quick coffee in a public place in central London the other day I noticed that the chap next to me was sporting a Google jacket and playing with a familiar-looking black mobile phone with a slide out keypad.

Putting two and two together I realised that this was possibly the Google G1 phone, launched in the USA earlier last week, and subject to much press excitement over the last few days. This was confirmed when I rudely interrupted his surfing. It turned out that he was an employee of ‘the big G’ and the phone was an early prototype which had been issued to staff to undertake tests in the UK. He kindly let me have a very quick play and snap a photo.

I was quite impressed. The screen is bright, clear and easy to read, and the slide-out keypad keys were reasonably functional for one-fingered typing. Movement around the screen is via a tiny trackerball rather than the touch-screen concept that Apple’s iPhone employs. The phone has handy red and green keys (rather than touch-screen pads) for starting and ending a call and I liked the way you can hit the ‘home’ key at any point to get back to the main menus. I thought it displayed the Web well, although I only had a few seconds of experimentation. On the down-side, it seemed a little heavy, certainly in comparison to my standard issue Nokia.

Although it’s early days it is probably fair to say it doesn’t stand up that well when directly compared with the iPhone, especially on the design side. But as the guy said, the real issue is the open software platform called Android which runs the phone. Google are hoping that thousands of developers will see the opportunity and get coding up a wondrous array of applications for the phone and its subsequent versions.

As ever in this industry the market will decide. But this chance encounter perked up the start of my day.

Vint Cerf in London

September 25, 2008

Vint Cerf, often described as the ‘father’ of the Internet, was the keynote speaker at the Visions of Computer Science conference, which I attended yesterday. Although he doesn’t like this moniker (it implies he did it single-handedly and he’s always keen to stress that he was part of a team) the reason for it is that he co-invented the basic protocol of the Net (TCP/IP) and was there in the early days of the ARPANET, the forerunner to today’s Internet. He is now employed as Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist.

Vint pointed out the enormous growth of the Internet, remarking that there are now half a million computer servers (i.e. hosts that provide some kind of service such as Web or email routing) on the system and a couple of billion ‘terminators’ at the ‘edge’ – the end user devices such as a home PC or a mobile phone.

This enormous growth presents huge challenges and he argued that the next few months are likely to be “dramatic” in the world of the Internet. He then went on to elaborate some of the issues that are coming to the fore, including the problem of network addressing.

Network addressing uses something called IPv4. This is the coded address that is given to every single device on the network (even your home PC). When he was helping to create the original designs for the Internet he designed this address to make use of 32-bits of data. This limits the number of devices that can be on the Net to around 4 billion (2 to the power 32). He admits that at the time he didn’t think that this would ever be reached, but we are fast approaching that limit. Vint speculated that we would hit the limit by mid-2010, if not before. The answer is a new addressing system called IPv6 which offers many billions more potential addresses. Internet Service Providers (ISP), network operates and the rest of us need to start moving to IPV6 and he mentioned Google’s efforts in this regard. (See ipv6.google.com).

During the questions and answers section I asked him about the capacity of the existing Internet to cope with heavy data uses like video. There have been many recent reports in the UK press about the Net being close to capacity. Vint agreed that this was an issue, but said he was not overly concerned. The main backbone of the Internet will be fine, since the fibre optics involved have plenty of spare capacity. The problem arises the nearer one gets to the end user (the last mile problem), which is where there may well be an issue. Vint argued that researchers and Internet companies need to rethink the process of distributing video over the Net and rely less on streaming and more on storage and caching locally nearer the actual users. He called this process ‘edge storage’. As I know that Google and Microsoft have been rolling plans out to distribute their data centres nearer to users, I suspect we will hear a lot more about this in coming months.

Google embarks on a second life

July 10, 2008

The concept of alternative reality worlds has been given a significant shot in the virtual arm by the news that Google is entering the field. The Search engine firm announced on Tuesday that it was launching Lively as a beta service through its Google Labs project.

Google has a different twist in that users don’t enter the alternative world through a special (and separate) graphical client. Instead, the Lively service operates through the browser and allows you to create a vast collection of different meeting places, or ‘rooms’, that are embedded in existing Web content like blogs and social networking sites. The company’s goal seems at this stage to be about providing a more dynamic, 3-D way of interacting with other viewers of a particular site’s content.

Google is not alone in trying this idea of embedding virtual rooms in existing content. A start-up company called Vivaty also went live this week with a similar concept.

Virtual worlds or meta-verses like Second Life and Warcraft already have millions of users, but Google’s ability to transfer users in from its various other activities should see it take off. However, not to be outdone, the increasingly venerable Second Life company, Linden Labs, issued a press release to announce that for the first time ever a user’s avatar (character) had been transferred or ‘teleported’ from one virtual world to another, as a result of research work that the company has been undertaking with IBM. You can see a hilarious (although possibly not intentionally) video which breathlessly describes the world’s first-ever inter-VR world teleport as if it were the moon landings.

All in all, the 3-D Web, which we wrote about last July, seems to be coming along nicely. I shall begin work on embedding a restaurant room into this blog as soon as time permits.

A delicate game of chess

June 20, 2008

Within the EU, a delicate game is afoot. A group of MEPs is trying to ascertain if Microsoft can be ruled out of public procurement processes because they’ve been found guilty of serious misconduct through anti-competitive behaviour in the recent past. This is a reference to Microsoft’s recent fine of 1.68 billion euros by the EU for abusing its position in the PC operating systems market place. In the latest move, Green Party MEPs have been attempting to clarify whether, under Article 93 of the EU’s financial regulations, Microsoft should be excluded from current or future public procurement procedures.

In response to the MEPs, the EU commission has equivocated over the public procurement issue and refused to rule out excluding the computer giant from future EU public procurement.

This follows hard on the heels of another move to maintain the EU’s focus on open standards. On 10th June, EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, emphasised the importance of open standards and the need to avoid lock-in to single vendors. Without mentioning Microsoft by name, she reiterated the EU Commission’s commitment to not accepting closed standards, arguing that: “when open alternatives are available, no citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information.”

This last statement got me thinking though. All the media coverage of these developments focuses on Microsoft and the on-going debate about their Office products and open or proprietary document data formats. But, where does Google fit into all this? How do most citizens go about trying to ‘access government information’?

Like chess this is a strategic game, full of slow deliberation and careful moves. But the world of technology is changing rapidly and there is much talk of Microsoft’s dominance coming to a natural end as technology moves away from the era of the PC. At the end of the game the EU’s opponent may not turn out to be who we all thought it was.

Google goes crowdsourcing for an iPhone ‘killer’

November 16, 2007

I recently mentioned the rumours surrounding the possible release of a Google gPhone which would be in competition to the Apple iPhone. It appears that this is not going to happen now, at least not in the sense of a distinct, hold-in-your hand, physical product.

(more…)


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