Catching up and moving on

Ok, I think I can manage to have a blog now that I have the rest of my life a little better organized now.  Things got busy in the last few years - I got a new job with a company in Amsterdam, dealt with the stresses of living in my second foreign country and stuff, etc.

Mobile phones have reached the point where screen real estate is the only thing really holding them back. Barcodes are everywhere, and artistic embellishment has risen to a true art - I've seen a lot of cool examples, such as the Takashi Murakami and Marc Jacobs as well as the Wired Pac-Man themed code are all nicely done and use some cool techniques.  Now there are a lot of people getting creative with barcodes and markers - integrating AR and innovating new uses and applications.  The nerd in me can't stay away.  Since the nerd in me accounts for about 90% of me - I'm gonna try picking this up again.

I was trying to put something like the kinect together for a few months using two webcams, opencv and opengazer using a couple of markers for calibration - luckily I didn't go through with it.  I'd much rather just buy a better one than I could make - and it comes with an X-box and a big development community ;).  I just managed to get some libraries installed and start checking out demo code with freenect, OpenNI, PrimeSense, ofxKinect, etc.  People are doing super-cool stuff with it on You-Tube/Vimeo/Google and I got inspired.  Looking forward to tinkering around with it and hopefully coming up with something cool that kinda works the way I hoped.  If I can manage it, I want to do something like Johnny Lee's wii hack simulating 3D perspective but without the IR leds since I should be able to do some head orientation and position tracking. Big talk for a non-programmer.  Yes it will only work with one head at a time (for now...), but still fun to try. I also want to get my hands on finger-detection with multi-touch gestures code and mess around.

About head-tracking and eye/gaze-tracking.  Eye-tracking with a webcam requires some aggressive jitter-reduction (at least for my shifty eyes). I tried using my gaze as a mouse and realized that I was unable to control my gaze without occasionally looking around.  Head-tracking seems a little more deliberately controllable since you are still free to move your eyes around, allowing you to multi-task a bit more gracefully.

I already had some interesting experiences with the kinect - I realized I can't easily sneak a sip of coffee or smoke a cigarette during gameplay without pausing as everything I do is picked up by the kinect.  I had to become more aware of what my body was doing and more deliberate in what I did.

Anyways, I got other stuff to do so that's all for now.


Het Nieuwe Eten - Dutch QR Goodness

It's been a long time since I posted. Things have been hectic over the past year in Tokyo and Amsterdam, but the dust is finally starting to settle.

While waiting for the tram this morning to go to work at my new job, I noticed a new ad at the tram stop featuring a qr-code for Voedingscentrum (Nutrition Center), a site promoting healthy foods and encouraging people with their "kies ik gezond" ("I choose to be healthy") message, along with various tools and resources on their site. Use Google translate to check it out if you are not one of the 20 million people on this planet that speak Dutch ;). These codes contain a web link and are now on over 1,500 billboards in The Netherlands. Don't have a barcode reader on your phone? They have you covered: just SMS GEZOND to 3669 to receive a free SMS with a link to the mobile site.

I noticed that the broodjes with and without cheese in the background also formed a QR-code :). Actually there are several designs around the city using food to create a QR-code pattern in the background. Props to SPRXMobile for putting this together. I have been involved with a few projects that used 2D codes here in Europe and this is among the more creative ones I have seen. I am very happy to see this kind of initiative and smooth execution to bring mobile to a marketing campaign, turning what could have been "just a poster" into a multi-channel call-to-action, giving me something to do while I scoff at the never-correct tram schedules. It is especially cool to see it here in Amsterdam where I live, rather than just reading about it happening elsewhere.

By the way, I am still working in the mobile space here in Amsterdam, though my focus is now on LBS and navigation services. I will still be all up in the barcode and NFC space in my own time.



Nice community-building marketing idea that may be the gentle introduction to 2D codes the West needs. For me though, the real treat is the "Find a reader for your phone" form. Select your make and model and it will list any known compatible reader software and give you links to download them. It's so easy to find at least one reader for your phone. By promoting the reader apps out there and giving people a fun way to use the codes Augme is educating the public about their use and helping open the door for mobile campaigns and creative applications that make use of 2D bar codes.


Jaxo: nice barcode generator

Very cool online bar code generator that lets you create QR-codes, Datamatrix, Aztec and PDF 417. You can switch between codes to compare them and technical information about the code is also displayed. There are even some simple drawing tools to let you customize you code with color.

You can try it out online or download a standalone Java application. They also make a reader for phones, but I prefer i-nigma and Kaywa over this one. Still, the generator apps are definitely worth a look.


Nokia Point & Find

Very cool concept, but their press release is all spin (I know, big suprise).

(Blogger wont let me link a URL with an ampersand in it so here it is.)

"The solution is able to distinguish objects – indoors and outdoors and even when they are very small or are moved from an original location – without the need for barcodes, RFID (radio-frequency identification) or other physical identifiers."
Somehow I bet making a 2D code is easier, faster and cheaper than registering an image with Nokia. I also expect that without a marker of some sort, how will you know what will work and what will not? The nice thing about codes is that educating users to use an easily identifiable tool is easier than showing them how to use an invisible one. Users outside Asia are just starting to understand the potential of proximity marketing with Bluetooth, RFID and 2D bar codes.
"Bored on a train, a traveller sees a photo of a beautiful island in an advertising poster. Later, once home, the image is already forgotten. But ‘Point [and] Find’ can instantly link our traveller – and potential visitor – with information about the destination, from tourist notes to special offers on flights, accommodation and excursions."


"Point the camera phone at a poster for a new movie to watch the trailer, buy tickets, find screening times or read reviews, or point the phone at a famous landmark to be put in touch with historical and architectural details or tourist information."


"...it can do this on existing camera phones, without needing hardware upgrades, and does not require costly infrastructure modifications."


"While capturing the image of an object is something every camera phone user knows how to do, ‘Point [and] Find’ is able to use this image to take people instantly to the content they want, with one – or maybe zero – further clicks."
So can bar codes, nothing new here.
"The benefits offered to content providers and developers by Point [and] Find are great, because they capitalise on the immediacy of the situation."
On trains and metros you cannot always depend on a good network connection. Also, I believe the tech works by having the phone send the image to Nokia for processing and response. I would bet this is not even close to instant, and definitely much slower than a code scan.

I wonder how well it will hold up against look-alikes, spoofs and other copies. It sounds like the technological gap between 2D code to image recognition is still a bit larger than the value it adds for marketing at this time. I also dislike the need for network connectivity. You may as well send an SMS instead of sending an image file from your phone to Nokia's servers so you can wait for them to tell you that you are standing in front of a 2003 Ford Bronco and maybe you would like to rent a car. Codes are (the good ones, anyway;)) are interpreted on the device, require no connectivity and can be used to trigger a wide variety of actions such as going to a URL, sending an SMS, making a phone call, saving an event to your calendar, recording a contact in your phone book, making a web bookmark, etc. Psytec's QR-code creator tool also lets you password protect them (though this is not well supported).

Anyway, maybe I am cranky today. I think this could be big in a few years, but at the moment it seems to offer little advantage over bar codes for a large cost.