Tag Archives: technology

Google PhotoScan and Google Books

One of the mobile apps I’ve had the most fun with lately is Google’s PhotoScan. Basically, it lets you use your phone’s camera to scan printed pictures rather than take a picture of a picture. Here’s how it’s described on the app page:

Don’t just take a picture of a picture. Create enhanced digital scans, wherever your photos are.

– Get glare-free scans with an easy step-by-step capture flow

– Automatic cropping based on edge detection

– Straight, rectangular scans with perspective correction

– Smart rotation, so your photos stay right-side-up no matter which way you scan them

Scan in seconds

Capture your favorite printed photos quickly and easily, so you can spend less time editing and more time looking at your bad childhood haircut.

The way it works is you fire up the app, make sure the picture you’re scanning is in the “frame” you see on your screen, and then when you tap the shutter button four dots appear on the picture and the app instructs you to move a circle from dot to dot in a certain order. I wondered why the app requires this action, but not enough to acturally research it, but I think I might have stumbled on the answer in this article about Google’s massive book scanning project:

The stations—which didn’t so much scan as photograph books—had been custom-built by Google from the sheet metal up. Each one could digitize books at a rate of 1,000 pages per hour. The book would lie in a specially designed motorized cradle that would adjust to the spine, locking it in place. Above, there was an array of lights and at least $1,000 worth of optics, including four cameras, two pointed at each half of the book, and a range-finding LIDAR that overlaid a three-dimensional laser grid on the book’s surface to capture the curvature of the paper. The human operator would turn pages by hand—no machine could be as quick and gentle—and fire the cameras by pressing a foot pedal, as though playing at a strange piano.

What made the system so efficient is that it left so much of the work to software. Rather than make sure that each page was aligned perfectly, and flattened, before taking a photo, which was a major source of delays in traditional book-scanning systems, cruder images of curved pages were fed to de-warping algorithms, which used the LIDAR data along with some clever mathematics to artificially bend the text back into straight lines.

I don’t know for sure, but it sure sounds like the technology developed for the book scanning project translated nicely to an app that could be used by average people armed with smartphones to scan gazillions of old photos into the great Googleshpere in the sky. Amazing.

Oh, and you should read that article on the book scanning project. It’s a fascinating exploration of a copyright conflict that has resulted in Google having a database of 25 million scanned books that no one is allowed to read.

A Lifetime of Backing the Wrong Player

Sony Betamax PlayerThis story about Sony ending production of Betamax tapes is a reminder that my family has a long history of buying technology products that seem like a winner but end up being an also-ran or downright lemon. Here’s just a small sample:

  • In the mid-70s we had a Ford Pinto (you know, the rolling bomb)
  • Betamax instead of VHS, but it didn’t take us long to convert to VHS
  • I kept my cassette player for years too long because I didn’t want to buy a CD player because I was convinced they’d only be around a couple of years.
  • A few years back my mom was trying to figure out which e-reader to buy for her kids and grandkids. I sagely advised her to go with the Nook.
  • I used Typepad paid service for this blog for almost 10 years before finally moving over to WordPress. Not that Typepad sucked, but it was the Betamax of blog platforms.

Even when I don’t back a total nag, I rarely go for whatever else everyone else is using. To wit:

  • I’ve never had an iPod and have always had generic MP3 players.
  • I’ve never had an iPhone. First it was some Verizon specific bastardization of a smart phone that barely worked, then a Blackberry that I loved and then a series of Droids. My current phone, the LG G4 is da bomb.
  • I’ve never had an iPad. First it was a Samsung Galaxy tablet that I really liked and now a Fire. I’m looking at a Surface for work.
  • Eschewed the Fitbit and went with Garmin’s Vivofit, which I actually think was a winning choice given it’s durability and the fact it works with a standard watch battery – no recharging!

The Week That Spanned a Year: 12/29/13 – 1/4/14

Current Events – Everything you need to know about Obamacare in one place – Probably the best, most easily understood piece about Obamacare and what it means for you…with video!

Oh Shit! Issue of the Week Retirement crisis being brought on by aging boomers who didn’t save squat and fewer young workers to fund the retirement system.

Cutest Video of the Week – A dad, his daughter and a pink plastic ukulele.

Stupid Person of the Week – The man who didn’t bring home the beer.

Technology – Year of the Glasshole – Excerpt – “An anecdote: I wanted to wear Google Glass during the birth of our second child. My wife was extremely unreceptive to this idea when I suggested it. Angry, even. But as we got a bit closer to the date, she began to warm to it and eventually landed somewhere in the neighborhood of bemused hostility.”

History – Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Through the Ages From the printing press to the internet and how pundits of their times thought they’d ruin society.

Marketing – How to make things go viral A must read for anyone in the business of getting attention, whether for themselves or their business.

Small Business – 10 Bold Predictions for 2014 – #9, that Obamacare will be very popular with super-small businesses, is spot on.

Oy of the Week – Meet the people who think the US is 2014 years old

Quote of the Week – “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

Uber Teens

Uber is a service that allows you to use an app on your smartphone to book a ride with a car service. Right now the service is available in several large cities around the country so it's not currently relevant here in small-city North Carolina, but the reason it hit my radar is a blog post a mom wrote about why she signed her teenage daughter up for the service. An excerpt:

When I met the Push Girls last year I noted that four of the five women I met were in wheelchairs because of car accidents. The accidents were all excessive speed or alcohol fueled. If a smart phone app can get my child home without risking dangerous driving conditions I’d be a fool to not use it.

Parents of teens: I’m going to ask you to do something we should all do at least once a day. I want you to be still and quiet and try to remember being 14 or even 17. Now put yourself at your friend’s house and their parents have just left. All of a sudden 5 other kids appear and they’re thinking about drinking a beer and smoking some pot. What does the 14 year old you do?

The only answer I have is that I know the 14 year old you doesn’t call Mommy for a ride home.

Now imagine the same scenario. The 14 year old you pulls out a smart phone (it’s probably already out) and texts for a town car. 14 year old you can hop into the back seat of a limo and get home. My credit card information is already stored in the app, no money changes hands and your private driver gets you home.

Boom. Done. Decision made.

That logic is pretty sound to me. In our household we have a similar rule in that any of our kids can call us for a ride and not risk getting in trouble. Sure we'll have a talk about it the next day and we'll push to make sure they avoid getting themselves in similar situations in the future, but I'd rather get a 12:30 a.m. phone call asking for a ride than risk having them hop in a car with an inexperienced driver who may or may not be inebriated. Still, how many kids actually believe their parents won't come down on them like a ton of bricks if they call for a ride in the middle of the night? Not many, which is why I like the idea of a kid having a tool at their disposal that can help them do the right thing.

There's another part of the blog post that was really horrifying to me as a father and it's about teen girls dealing with other dads who play grab-ass:

Then Laurie and I started talking about why every kid should have Uber on their phone and when we got to the part about being a teenager and on occasion not wanting to get into a car with a Dad who plays grab-ass the new Dad looked at us with horror in his eyes. Even though 100% of the adult women at the party sort of nodded and knew what that felt like I was all, “Oh but times have changed. I’m sure it will never be an issue.”

For the record it's my opinion that while having a service like Uber to get my daughter out of harm's way at that moment would be a good thing, it would also be of utmost importance that she inform me of the offending father's actions and allow me to use another tool at my service: a large can of whoop-ass.

Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic…and Coding

Last week I sent my mom a link to the registration page for TEDxWakeForestU (she's a Wake Forest alumnus) and she and I were discussing it during a visit this past weekend. Others in our group asked what TEDx was, so I tried to describe the TED concept and the TEDx extension of it, but really failed quite miserably. That's one reason I was ecstatic to stumble across this video from TEDxBeaconStreet; it provides a great example of the TEDx format that I can send my mom so she can share it. The other reason is that the presentation is about the intersection of technology and education – something my mom's passionate about and thus I'm guaranteed she'll find the presentation fascinating.

Hopefully you will too:

How to Remove Your Google Search History

You might have heard that Google is changing its privacy policy, and you might have also seen that more than a few people are upset about it. I'm not up on the issue enough to say how bad (or good) a thing it is, but I did like the fact that as a result of all the hullabaloo I learned how to remove my Google web search history.

It took four steps and less than 30 seconds.

I Can Remember When Fax Machines Were Mind Blowing

When I was in college I saw my first fax machine and it literally blew my mind.  I just couldn't wrap my head around the concept of how a physical piece of paper could be copied and reproduced hundreds of miles away via phone. From today's perspective the whole idea of breaking an image into bits of data that are then used to reproduce that image somewhere else is downright pedestrian, and understanding how it works goes a long way to helping me (kind of) understand what's going on in the video below, but I have to tell you that when I watched the video I had the same reaction I had when I watched my first fax transmission.