Multi-touch computing: simply amazing!

I was very excited when I first saw the multi-touch-screen technology demo by Jeff Hans on TED Talks earlier this year. Like Jeff said in his talk, it hinted at what new turns the standard human-computer interaction might take in the near future. A lot of different researchers and companies had been working on it for atleast a decade now but Jeff's demo was the first of its kind that I had seen that delivered such an impressive and seemingly feature-complete product. However, since it was just a technology demo I expected to be left to drool at this marvel till the technology is perfected and hit the market in a few years.

It really didn't occur to me that such products may hit the market as soon as this year. So, I was very surprised when Microsoft recently announced their Surface computing device for release in November! Their "Surface" product delivers the full multi-touch computing experience with an interaction surface area that of a coffee table. Apparently, it can track upto 52 touch points and can even recognize objects placed on it. The product essentially follows similar technology to what was demoed at TED Talks by Jeff. But what really astounded me was the technology demos that Microsoft and technology reviewers have published on the product. Microsoft seems to have done a lot of mock applications to show how the multi-surface interface can be used and exploited towards a radically fresh computing experience. This really is a case of seeing is believing (and being impressed) and requires a look at the demo videos.

Sadly though, with the product's supposed price tag of around US$ 5000, it really packs a blow to the wallet. The price will certainly go down as more multi-touch devices from other companies appear on the market. Apple has already incorporated multi-touch technology on their soon-to-be-released iPhone but will deliver the multi-touch experience at a smaller scale.

Check out the video below of Microsoft's Surface - there's more on YouTube. If anyone would like to give me a spontaneous gift for any reason, I surely wouldn't mind receiving one of these babies! ;-)

Microsoft Photosynth

It was only a few days ago that I raved about Microsoft's Vista and here again I am going to rave about another of Microsoft's latest creations: Microsoft Photosynth. The technology is currently development but Microsoft made a public tecnology preview available on its Live Labs pages late last year.

Photosynth is an application where a pool of photographs of a place are analysed and a 3D view is contructed using the 2D world portrayed in the photos. The photos can be of different sizes, quality and can be one of any of the overall picture. The technology allows the user to "Fly" through the reconstruction, zoom in, walk in all directions and is an as immersive experience as it can get. The technology is pretty innovative because it is able to use normal photographs which may very well be taken by different people at different times and then compile them in such a way that a scene is constructed in 3D.

I was pretty impressed when I saw it around the time it was released but it was only recently that I spent sometime reading the technology behind it. Computer vision algorithms calculate the perspectives, pattern recognition methods indentify and tag images on unique features and then all of it is mashed up together to give a smooth viewing experience. Some things are impressive from looks and some become even more impressive when you learn a bit of how it all works!

- Check out the Photosynth homepage
- View the intro video

Control Room

I just finished watching a documentary film called Control Room. I tell you, it's a must watch! Truly moving and entertaining.

It is a film documenting the events at the media operations center at the US Central Command (CentCom) in Doha, Qatar during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It's been out since 2004 and has been broadcast on a few channels. The film, although made by an independent film maker, has a main focus on Al-Jazeera (the growing and supposedly modern Arab TV network) which paves the way for an alternative perspective on things than which the patriotic US TV networks bombard us all with. It follows through the events with snippets of riveting conversations between people at CentCom. It features interviews with a US Press Officer named Josh Rushing, a senior producer at Al-Jazeera named Samir Khader and journalist Hassan Ibrahim also with Al-Jazeera as the main characters along with minor snippets from a lady producer at Al-Jazeera, a dude at CNN and a few others.

I just took to the bother of naming these fellows because their conversations truly enriched the experience of the film. I especially adore the comments and conversations it showed with the very articulate and intelligent Samir Khader. The US Marine, Josh Rushing, has since left the Marines and joined Al-Jazeera International, which is quite amusing since he is seen making comments throughout much of the film about how detestable the things Al-Jazeera was showing was. However, there is a particular moment later in the film as the war progressed, where he reflects on a moment where he realized that he was offended by the images of dead/injured Americans on Al-Jazeera yet wasn't so much bothered when he saw western media showing equally, if not more horrific, images of Iraqi people. The film also follows the events surrounding the death of a Al-Jazeera reporter in Baghdad due to a direct bombing of the Al-Jazeera office by a US war plane. Lots of tears and anger but all keep calm for the most part despite that they all think it was an intentional attack by the US.

Anyway, that is too much of a spoiler. Grab the film at your local video store (unlikely in Male' :p) or scrounge around the net for it. A little birdie tells me its on Rapidshare ;-)

Fetal sentience

An embryo, just a lump of meaningless goo, growing in size as the cells multiply. Few weeks on and there appears something that finally crosses the hazy boundary between weird-goo-clumps and human fetus. Yet as a fetus, it only just vaguely resembles the human form. It does not even have a brain - the brain circuitry develops slowly. Then one day soon the cognitive processes slowly start kicking in despite the senses being not all developed yet. The senses start coming on one by one as the organs develop and the neural pathways to the cerebral cortex become established.

When the sense of touch comes, it feels big! As big as it wishes to perceive. As big as an endless entity. The untuned, uncalibrated sense of touch does not have a set of measuring units developed for defining distances. There is nothing to take as a reference. When the auditory system comes on, it is a confusing jumble of "noise" at first. It is unable to really make out anything intelligible. Nevertheless, as the neural links develop soon it begins to distinguish differences and begin labeling them - diff 1, diff 2... In later life, it adds meaning to these differences: diff 1 may become top and anti-diff 1 becomes bottom, diff 2 may become left... and so on.

The sense of touch and sense of hearing are now both active and the brain is left in a new playground. It shoots off to seek differences and the touch and sounds are unified and relations established. The brain maps the sounds to a projection in "space" in terms of the 3-dimensional space from the sense of touch. However, it may well be that the differences it makes in this primitive step is just another meaningless segmentation and classification of sensory signals...

When the baby is finally born and the seclusion in the womb ends, it sees the light of the world. A whole new and revolutionary change begins. The brain attempts to tie in sights, sounds, touch, odors and taste into a harmonious melody. Locomotion finds new possibilities and the visual system kicks into constant overdrive. As the human grows further, the sensory signal combinations all get attached meaning - direct and/or abstract - till finally, you are able to effectively read the junk I just wrote and (sort of) make sense of it all yet remain in a bewildered state best described with the letters WTF!!


Well, most of the fellow country men/women seem to be too engrossed these days in the political brawl that?s spread throughout the entire Maldives but I think it is an excellent time for us to set aside and recall what happened on these couple of days in the month of November in 1988.

Nov 3/4, 1988 saw all of us waking up to a new, frightening drama playing out in the otherwise peaceful roads in the capital island Male'. Despite being very young then, I still remember snapping out of slumber early morning to find my parents in frenzy. My dad had recognized the sound very much alien to most of us - the sound of gunfire. He was disturbed. I was told to remain indoors and not to go out - not even to the veranda. I remember hearing and seeing an Indian army helicopter land right next to our home at the time. I remember climbing onto the windows to peek out onto the road which was abandoned and not a person to be seen. I remember hearing a car passing by just as I jumped back down. I remember an increase of chatter in the neighborhood as people reconnected to each other, recounted the event, offered support and probably just let it all out. I remember watching telly afterwards - of people on a ship, of people in handcuffs, of blood, of damaged buildings with bullet holes and particularly of the Maldivian flag being raised high, being laid on those coffins of the martyrs and murdered hostages.

Innocent people died that day, in going about their simple life, in attempting to defend themselves and in standing up to defend the nation against a handsomely armed and equipped enemy. Peruse the book detailing the accounts of the day if you haven't already had the chance to. It will certainly leave you with questions and doubts - not of the obvious exaggerations of valour of certain people but of the omissions and the simplicity...

Almost two decades gone and thanks to governmental and social neglect, people now have no heroes to enshrine and idolize. Heroes, especially on a national level, play a great role in promoting unity, strength and purpose. It promotes a common identity - a culture. That is one thing important we can learn from the Americans, even if there is nothing else we'd take from them...


Maldives is probably on an all time high on prostitution these days. That, or there simply is more acceptance of the presence of this wider social phenomenon...

Much of this year, media coverage and casual gossip OD'ed on the "Fable of the Massage Parlours and Spas". Folklore has it that this started out when word spread around town that the tsunami that brought much destruction in December 2004 was the result of disobedience to God. The abundance of sinful sexual activity was soon attributed to as being the culprit and somehow massage parlours veered into the limelight. An operation was soon concocted by the religious core who considered the more intimate male to female interaction that occurs in a massage session as acts of utter sin. The operation became much easier when a large chunk of the populace, the all too powerful housewives, sided with them. These house-bound women had been burning with fury and oozing green goo with jealous stares in seeing their husbands transcending the long held taboo of inter-gender physical touch. Of course it helped that they were totally ignorant of what a massage parlour actually is and had no freaking clue as to what a spa is. Ask any odd random housewife even now and one can be assured that their answer will begin with a few strong words as to how "bad" those places are. The whole fiasco turned into the real carnival it was after stories of sexual favours (in return for monetary compensation of course) taking place at some massage parlours moved from gossip and spread into the hands of the newly liberated journalists of the country. They dutifully reported the story, confident of it becoming top story on publication - afterall, the mere presence of the yucky words "sex", "prostitution" and man/woman together in one sentence would stir up a commotion. Massage parlours became the scape goat for the growing promiscuousity seen nation-wide!

However, most importantly, for most people the massage parlour event failed to acknowledge the larger truth. The *cough* brilliant, sane and logical *cough* decision by the government to make massage parlours and spas ILLEGAL in the country from August 2006 onwards managed to garner critical political support and successfully plastered the outrage. The fact that this was a single manifestation of a bigger problem - prostitution and its root causes ? was hushed into silence. Society still resists in fully accepting the reality of the situation. People give a blind eye to the alarming frequency of child molestation. It remains an unspoken topic driving its many victims full on into the psychological trauma that ensues. People also give a blind eye to the growing number of school leavers, many in teens, who turn to prostitution with its lure of better pay than the meager salary in any job in the country ? a fact that the new Minister of Gender and Family recently acknowledged and raised concerns over.

Isn?t it time that society wakes up from its delusional dream and start owning up to its failures? Quite a few people would be quick to blame the President and rant on and on about how he is named after a crustacean but reality is that by squaring the blame on a single person we are encouraging people to believe in the superiority of their own beliefs and actions and thus never participating the common man in the massive failure that left society the way it is now. It is time that sex, child abuse and everything taboo be explored for all the resultant issues stemming from such stifling and indiscriminantly labeling everything as taboo. Everyone can keep hold of their beliefs intact and dandy while addressing the more complex issues that arise as a developing identity-less society. It is time that the shamans of the society be discarded to make way for educated, rational approaches to life and not bask in the glory of ignorance and self-deceit. Then, and only then, might we have a chance of doing more than band-aid fixes?

Enough. I tune out...

Stargate Atlantis

I am a huuuge fan of sci-fi, which is why the StarTrek series and the Stargate series rank as some of my favourites on television. Stargate Atlantis is an offshoot from the original (still ongoing) Stargate SG-1 series and has been going on for a few years now. Sadly, I only had the chance to catch up on the series a few months ago. Season 3 is underway now and I am entirely glued to the story.

It tells the story of a Stargate base that is established in the Pegasus galaxy on an abandoned Ancients outpost that was found in one of the SG-1 missions. The place, known as Atlantis, is an artificial city that resides on the sea and is thought to be have been one of the main bases of the Ancients before they were destroyed by the prevalent enemy in the galaxy, the Wraith. The Ancients were a species much more advanced than humans and had evolved millions of years prior to humans. They were joined in the pursuit of knowledge and "ascension" - a goal that made them both technology and scientifically more advanced than anything else the Stargate mission had encountered. I like the Stargate Atlantis series much more than the original SG-1 series and it definitely trumps the latest StarTrek "Enterprise" series.

Check out the series if you gobble up science fiction, space travel and extra-world exploration as much I do. Drooool :)~