Blind helper app wins Microsoft Imagine Cup

, posted: 1-May-2012 00:56

I was lucky enough to attend the Microsoft Imagine Cup last night on behalf of Geekzone (with fellow moderator Stu Taylor, BigHammer, later joined by Paul Spain the NZ Tech Podcast-er), held at the Auckland Town Hall. 

The Imagine Cup is a global software competition aimed at tertiary students - they create projects which answer the theme of:

Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems

The winner this year was Mobile Eye, with software designed to help the blind.  Their promotional handout states that there are 40 million blind people across the world, with one person going blind every 5 seconds - truly mind boggling numbers for something we all take for granted every day.

It's all based around a mobile app (WP7 or Java for S60).  Once the app is turned on it goes straight to camera mode.  To take a picture tap anywhere in the screen.  Swipe to the right and the picture is sent to their crowd sourced servers, and within 30 seconds an answer is returned and read out to the user.  Swipe to the left and the picture is sent to an algorithm (most blind people know what object they are holding, they just need to know basic things like colour).  The app gives out nice clear audible prompts throughout the whole process.

The most impressive part of the demonstration was when the team took a photo of a half full Coke bottle, and within ten seconds, the phone read out what the photo was.  While it seems basic, the ramifications for someone without sight is life changing.

The other teams who participated should also be commended - some very impressive world changing ideas and unique implementations of technology to achieve them.  We have some very smart up and coming students in ICT.

My congratulations to Aakash, In-Hwan and Jade of team Mobile Eye for their well deserved win. Also thanks to Microsoft for the invite.

Follow MobileEye on Twitter.

Combating the social mob mentality

, posted: 25-Apr-2012 16:58

For anyone involved in dealing with consumers (as opposed to business-to-business), there's the age old idiom which reads:

For every bad experience a customer has, they will tell ten other people about it. But, for every good experience, they will tell one other person.

Nothing could be more truthful.  Add in the explosive power of social media and bad news travels fast. Real fast.

It's with great interest I've been following the two ladies who were kicked out of Public bar in Wellington. The lesbian couple claim they were asked to leave because of their innocent, public display of affection - Public took exception to their sexual orientation and asked them to leave.  The bar says the couple were behaving inappropriately, and when asked to leave they became aggressive, which is when they were escorted out.  My interest in all of this is I also own a hospitality business, but I'll save the shameless self promotion for another time.

This is your classic David vs Goliath battle; add in the perceived persecution of a minority group, and it makes for a story that sells newspapers.

Social media allows information to quickly spread, and like the times of old, get a whole group of people together, the mob mentality kicks in - automatically we side with the David character of the story, and despise the Goliath, even without knowing the full picture. 

As a business that relies on word-of-mouth, whether online or offline, how do you combat this, even before all the information comes to light? The simple answer is you can't - all you can do is go into damage control and try and minimise the fall-out from it. 

Public has tried that, by inviting the media to review the security footage from that night which they say backs them up (as luck would have it, the ladies were off camera for the incriminating moment).  Rebekah and her partner Jennie have withdrawn their complaint, which adds the assumption of further bullying by this story's antagonist.

In my opinion, Public need to do more.  There have been misunderstandings on both sides of this story, however Public has the most to lose out of this.  Invite the couple back, dinner and drinks on the house with the owner.  The cost to the business will be minimal, but it show goodwill and the fact both parties can move on.

I do sympathise with both here.  With my owner's hat on, we put in endless hours and countless amounts of money, trying to turn our businesses into successes, with all sorts of trials along the way.  My other mindset is that no-one likes to mistreated as a minority, let alone humiliated in a public place.

With my opening quote in mind, even if Public do everything in their power to turn this around, this bad experience will still spread quicker and for longer than any good stuff that comes out of it.

ISP Snap lays down the gauntlet

, posted: 20-Apr-2012 22:18

We love data.  Like a fat kid at your local KFC, we'll eat as much as we can, for as little dollars as we can get away with.

Vodafone lead the charge in July last year with doubling their data allowances on fixed line broadband.  This month finally saw NZ's largest ISP play catch-up, with Telecom increasing most of their Total Home packages by 2-3 times. Not to be outdone, Orcon announced boosts to their Genius (their bundled naked DSL + VoIP offering) plan this week, with the biggest being 1TB for $199.

In the unlimited space, Maxnet launched the "exclusive nightclub" of the ISPs - there's a queue and break the rules and the bouncers throw you out.  Slingshot is doing the same, but operating more of a country pub that's over capacity with some unlucky punters leaving due to poor performance (surprise, surprise).

In my mind, Snap is leading the charge with the data add-ons announced on Wednesday - $70 used to buy an extra 100GB, now it buys a ridiculous 550GB (that's $0.13/GB).  One could argue that their base naked-DSL offering of $60 for a paltry 10GB is pathetic, but combined with their biggest data add-on, 560GB for $130 isn't too bad.  I'm not so sure if Snap are proud of this announcement as it's buried deep within their site, on their news page (one would thing they'd be singing it from the mountain tops).

I am curious as to what's triggered all these big jumps in data all around the same time - have all the ISPs renegotiated their contracts with the Southern Cross cable or just a big strange coincidence? 

Absent in all of this is TelstraClear, with their camp being strangely silent - they are either working on something massive, or have nothing planned (I am confident of the latter).

For those of us on a diet, and care about our online carbon footprint, there's always pay-as-you-use provider Xnet - $1.30/GB - 10x more expensive than the fatties on Snap but better for the waistline.

Toll road disaster - time for a new provider.

, posted: 5-Apr-2012 15:16

Yesterday's NZ Herald outlines how 1,000 email addresses have been leaked by the NZTA - the data is motorist's personal email addresses who have had their credit cards fail when paying for tolls.

Initially reading the article, one would blame the NZTA.  I blame their Swedish supplier.

This isn't the first blunder with the tolls; it's been plagued with issues from day one.

January 09 had the payment section of the site shut down while "internet security flaws" were quickly fixed up - that same month, the kiosks broke down on the weekend, with the call-centre shut at the same time. In March, $200k was refunded to 424 motorists who were overcharged 23 times each.  A week later, 2,000 motorists were overcharged by $45k.  At that same time, it was discovered that the system didn't support overseas credit cards.

Sound ridiculous? It sure is.

NZTA gently encourages motorists to use their online system, as if you use their kiosk you are stung with a $0.40 admin fee - use the phone, and it's even higher: $3.70.

This mistake by a staff member really is gross incompetence from their provider.  Why would you even suggest for them to send an email to everyone who is overdue? Why does the software not handle this internally? Any developer with any clue would advise you that using BCC is just asking for trouble.

NZTA: fire the Swedes and find a local company who actually knows what they're doing.

Why are artists now more successful in music?

, posted: 22-Mar-2012 12:44

Stuff has an article about how One Direction have made music history:

One Direction have made music history by becoming the first British group to top the US charts with their debut album.

The boyband - comprising of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson - have been making waves in America with their first album Up All Night, which recently claimed the top spot on iTunes in the country.

One Direction have now seen their popularity rise and have made musical history with their Billboard chart success.

(One Direction came about from X-Factor 2010)

This news, which was announced yesterday in the States, reminds me of the blog post 12 extremely disappointing facts about music - it outlines what some of today's artists have achieved when compared to artists from the past.  My favourites include:

  • Ke$ha's "Tik-Tok" sold more copies than ANY Beatles single
  • Flo Rida's "Low" has sold 8 million copies - the same as The Beatles' "Hey Jude"
  • The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" is more popular than any Elvis or Simon & Garfunkel song
  • Katy Perry holds the same record as Michael Jackson for most number one singles from an album
  • The cast of Glee has had more songs chart than the Beatles

Depressing huh?

Why is it so easy for artists today to break music records?  I think it comes down to two main points:

  • Ease of distribution - never before have we had the internet on more devices (smart phones, iPads for example) and we are able to easily view, listen, buy and download music in more places (iTunes, YouTube).  Add to this, all the reality TV shows (X-Factor, American Idol, America's Got Talent) which are all advertising platforms for the music labels, you can reach a wider audience, and get music to them quicker.
  • Music formulas - labels know what makes a successful song, and they are now applying it harder than ever.  Don't believe me? Ask yourself, why do popular songs last around 3.5 minutes, only consist of four chords, and have the same basic structure (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge/rap, chorus).  Ever notice how popular dance/dub step is now? The labels do, and that's why it's being included (for example, see Nicki Minaj's latest song, Starships).

My test for a "real" artist is someone who sounds live exactly as they do on their recordings - very hard to apply digital tweaking (think airbrushing in Photoshop) in a live environment.

(Had to admit it, but I'll still happily rock out to one of these crappy pop song.)

Look forward to your thoughts in the comments below.

nate's profile

New Zealand

I'm Nate Dunn, and I work for 3Bit, and am a moderator here at Geekzone.

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The views and opinions represented on this blog are personal and belong solely to the blogger and do not represent in anyway those of 3Bit Solutions Limited or any other company.

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