Finding songs by humming

Ever went into a record store not knowing the name, artist or title of a song you looking for, and decided to hum to the store staff expecting them to know what song you’re looking for?

Well, the students at New York University may have a solution for record stores around the world.

They have created a system that allow one to hum into a microphone, the computer records it, analyse and extracts the melody and rhythm characteristics, then compares it to its database returning a ranked list of possible songs.

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Finally Google Got It for the Mac Or Did They?


Our counter parts on the Windows platform had been playing with Google Earth for almost a year.

As for Tuesday, January 10, 2006, Google made the Mac version of Google Earth public.

If you do not know or have not seen Google Earth, then I ask you to read Google’s description on the Google Earth home page, rather than me describing it to you. Better yet, download the application and check it out for yourself to see what the Mac community has been missing all this time.

BTW: Google had this well before Microsoft decides to launch their Live Local… Local Live… what is it called??

After playing with it for an hour. I can see that Google still have a long way before they are able to make Killer front end applications. The feel of Google Earth for the Mac is like that of the Windows version. The interface feels awkward and definitely not Mac app like.

I guess this opens up an opportunity for 3rd Party to build something more Mac like, that is if Google would release the API for Google Earth as they did for Goolge Map.

You may say, can you be a bit more specific about the deficiency of Google Earth’s UI? Well I can give you one example, since I do not want to get into the details for obvious reasons. The process of adding a Placemark is a bit cumbersome. It requires the user to bring up a web page (wizard) within the user’s default browser. This web page is simply for Google to ask the user to acknowledge the verification of any previous identical Placemark submitted; a manual and user honest process. The subsequent submission form does not copy the title of the Placemark from Google Earth to the form except for the description.

It is obvious, why Google is advertising for Macintosh Developers.

Please don’t get me wrong, this release of Google Earth is very welcomed, and the application fully capable of demonstrating the power and features of Google Earth. I just wish it was more of a Mac-like appliction. I am sure version 2.0 will be much better.

Discover New Music

Pandora is a new service by Pandora Media Inc.. It is essentially a very smart customized radio station. It is based on the work from the Music Genome Project.

It allows you to specify the music you like and based on the Genome of the music specified it will play other songs that it thinks you will like.

The great thing about this service is that it does not require any download, accept for the FLASH plug-in to be installed on your favorite browser.

Why do I think Pandora is great? Well we have to begin by talking about the problem with many of the current online music stores (iTunes Music Store, Connect, etc.) and similarly the brick and mortar stores (HMV, Best Buy, SAM’s, etc.). The fact that it is difficult to find what you (the individual) like. More importantly, what I may like based on my music preference. Pandora solves this problem by using the Genome of the music you specify to seek out other songs that you may like.

This is similar to the technology applied with Amazon.Com and other online retail, but this is done without other members’ input.

Pandora’s Genome library is built by professional musicians, each with at least 3 years of professional music experience, performing classification of a song.

Each song takes about 3 hours to classify and each musician participating had gone through extensive training on Music Genome.

You can check out My Radio Station at Pandora.

Philips to demo roll-up display at IFA

This Philips technology is exactly the type of device shown in the motion picture “Red Planet“. Remember the electronic roll-up map that the characters use to check their location after they crash on the Red planet?

It is not surprising that motion picture props designers spend so much time researching the technologies demonstrated in the movies, just to add a sense of believability to the movies that they are designing for. While at the same time the designers also offer the audience a bit of imagination for the future by extending these technologies to the edge of realism and practical use.

Similarly in the movie “Minority Report” Tom Cruise was moving objects around on the screen just by waving his hands in front of the screen using gestures.

Here are some photos of the Philips device from Engadget.

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Realistic facial animation

At this year’s SIGGRAPH, SofImage; a subsidiary of Avid, demonstrated their software “Face Robot“, which allows animators to create facial expressions. More on that in The Register.

With technology like this, content creators will be empowered to create more and more realistic animations. Although, many in the movie industry believe that such technology may eventually lead to the demise of the actual actors.

I do not think so. Take the case of “The Polar Express”, staring Tom Hanks. Without the amazing acting of Tom Hanks, the animators at Warner Brothers Studios would not have been able to create such believable characters.

So contrary to what most actors think, I believe technology will open up the vast possibilities for actors to express themselves in ways they never before thought possible.

One must remember that technology is a tool. Like any other tool, without creative utilization, any technology will be no different than a single pencil sitting on a table; functional but useless without the writer. Although, how the technology was designed and perceived make a big difference on how useful the technology can be (ie. the Macintosh and Windows platforms. I will leave that to another blog entry).

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Sharing a Monitor

Sharp LCD

Today Sharp announced the plans to mass produce their “dual image” LCD screens. Since I do not read Japanese I cannot tell you too much about what Sharp said in their press release.

NOTE: this technology is out of conceptual phase and will be available in a Sharp or Sharp OEM’d product very soon.

Basically Sharp has developed a technology to allow 2 different source of video to be displayed on a single LCD monitor. This monitors projects a different image to viewer on both: left and right sides, of the monitor.

This technology will allow for some very interesting applications. Particularly in a car, where the driver could be viewing a GPS display and the passenger could be viewing a movie. There are also applications in the kiosk and ATM display area, where privacy is important to the user of the device.

Although, the practicality of using it at home for a TV will be limited, since the TV monitor with this LCD technology will also have to incorporate the MIT technology of “focused ultrasonic”, which MIT and DaimlerChrysler are researching on for in car audio.

The only application that I can think of initially for this technology in a TV monitor at home would be to allow members of the household to watch videos while someone else surf the Internet or work on a computer.

Each time i encounter technologies like this, it reminds me how fast technologies are really leaping forward from all angles (excuse the pun).

More on Convergence

In an blog entry back in January, “Digital Convergence I pointed out some of the trends of converging the functionalities of different technologies into the same digital device.

Well today Samsung has done it also. The maker of various digital devices from LCD TV to mobile phone, cameras to rice cookers, has launched their “SCH-V770” CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) mobile phone with technical specs jealous by most digital camera manufactures at this physical size and (expected) price point.

When I start listing the features you will wonder whether I am describing a digital still camera or a mobile phone, but in this case the answer is both.

The new “SCH-V770” comes with:

  • 1/1.8 inch CCD image sensor
  • digital still camera resolution of 7 megapixels
  • 3x optical / 5x digital zoom
  • auto focus
  • flash
  • focal length off 7.8 to 23.4 mm
  • manual focus
  • shutter speed from 15 seconds to 1/2000th of a second
  • record video at 15 – 30 frames a second
  • 2″ QVGA TFD LCD display that is capable of 16 millions of colours
  • internal memory of 32MB
  • MMC micro media card slot
  • direct connection to a TV for playback of digital images and videos

My readers may notice some obvious omissions for a mobile phone specifications above, these are the number of bands and the typical CDMA functions. All the articles about this phones had been focused on the digital camera features and not the mobile phone part of this device. The only information I have is that it does not support any of the GMS bands in the world.

As most people find that 4 – 5 megapixels is enough for a digital phone, one begs the question if Samsung, LG and the alike have their focus on the appropriate features of their mobile phones.

I guess the consumer will be the final judge when this and other phones become available later this year.

Digital Convergence

In recent years we see many manufactures attempt to come up with the ultimate (“Killer”) product for the inevitable “digital convergence” age.

A few years ago we saw Handspring with their PDA/Phone, which was a case where a company tried to add features and capabilities of a phone into a PDA. In 2003, Palm Inc. either realized they could not do as well or just wanted to be in control, bought Handspring and now Palm combined both companies products under the moniker “Treo”.

Before Handspring Nokia and the alike (Motorola) tried to do what Handspring did, but their own area of expertise. Nokia had their Communicator products, which they still “insist” on selling an updated version of, is a mobile phone with a physical size dating back to the 80s when most people didn’t mind carrying a small paperback size mobile phone.

Both of these manufactures [Nokia and Handspring] wet their feet in “digital convergence” but did not follow the design principle of most successful manufactures who create great products. That is to “step back and look at the problem at hand” before designing.

Later the term “Smartphone” was coined with devices running different mobile OSes (Operating Systems) from competing and non-compatible manufactures: Microsoft (Windows Mobile OS), Symbian (Symbian OS) and Linux. The Symbian OS gained the most acceptance by the mobile phone handset manufactures: Nokia and Sony Ericsson, with Motorola going with Microsoft. Which Motorola later found out the hard way that Microsoft is never the right company to bet on when you want ease of use and good design.

The success of the Symbian OS is again the way in which Symbian followed the simple principle of “stepping back and looking at the problem at hand”. They took the functionalities of a mobile phone and a PDA (in particular the PIM, Personal Information Management) and then come up with the best way to integrate them into a cohesive and integrated platform.

Even with a well designed OS and platform it still requires the handset manufacture to execute it correctly and Nokia again fell short with their device, fortunately Sony Ericsson came with a successful execution in the form of their Smartphone P800 in 2002, and has since enhanced it again and again up to just last year.

Now one of Sony Ericsson’s two partner companies is trying again, after failing, to take back control of the mobile music market from the likes of Apple Computers Inc., Sony has released yet another online music store to allow its PSP to download and listen to music on their PSP game console. I do not see success in Sony’s latest attempts since I do share the believes that gamers who purchase the PSP console will likely take the time to download music onto the device or to listen to songs while they play games on the PSP console.

Another manufacture who recently joins the many who attempt to exploit their strength to move into the age of Digital Convergence is Olympus, the company who has been most successful in the digital camera market. They released a product called “m:robe MR-500i”, which is a device with a 20GB hard drive that plays MP3 and WMA music, but with Olympus’ background they also included a 1.2 Megapixel digital camera and a 3.7″ colour (VGA) LCD display.

All in all with so many companies trying their hands in Digital Convergence, making the mistakes as they do, eventually they will figure this out and the ultimate benefactor will be the end users of these devices. Until then you and I will have to suffer through these mediocre devices.

Although I for one will not give much time and most importantly my money to any that I do not feel have a good enough design or user interface.

So buyers beware!

Alpine’s Solution for iPod Owners

A month and a half ago I told you about Dension’s “Ice>Link:iPod” and now Alpine has announced its own integrated solution for its line of audio head units.

Unlike the Dension solution, Alpine’s solution will only be compatible with Apline head units.

It will be available through Apline resellers in September 2004.

Technology As The Solution

I was forwarded an article (“How has information technology changed your life?“) from the BBC.Com web site a few days ago.

The following is a quote from the article

Technology can improve the lives of millions of the Earth’s poorest people, according to UN chief Kofi Annan

Sometimes people do not understand that technology are not always appropriate and it is not the solution to all problems. Being a futurist/technologist, you must be surprise to hear me say that. Although, in my opinion, knowing this fact is the first step of being a good technologist.

Indeed information is one way to empower individuals who may not know better; case in point the many of the people in the rural area of China. These information may not need to be delivered using technology at all. There is also the issue with government policies in these countries which prevents the free flow of information. It is in the advantage of the individuals in power to keep their people (citizens) in the dark; one way to keep control. The are also many human rights violations and massive disease control problems at these countries that the article is referring to.

The UN and the various [technology] companies who want to help; if that is what they really want to do, should gather together and focus on these issues first, before shoving new technology down the throats of the “so-called poor people of the world”.

This sort of approach is very common among Asian companies, from my experience. They would come up with the products or services first and sell (market) them to the people (in the best of cases; the “target audience”), instead of figuring out what the “people (the target audience)” really need.