All posts by Matt

Microsoft made something cool: Photosynth

I’ve heard the new Windows phone is awesome, too, but haven’t had a chance to play with it yet.

At first, it seemed strange to me that Photosynth, an incredible and free panorama-snapping iOS app, was developed by Microsoft. But then I began uploading my panoramas to Photosynth.net and happily agreed to share my panoramas on Bing Maps, as well, and I quickly realized that Microsoft did, in fact, have self interest in this endeavor. They’re populating Bing Maps with great 180-360 degree panoramas of famous and beautiful places.


The view from the top of Parque das Ruinas, in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro.

Google added this element to Google Maps years ago when it purchased Panoramio in 2007, but like many Google-acquired start-ups, the service has sort of languished ever since (relative to modern efforts). It’s a good sign for Google Maps that Panoramio photos are no longer a primary feature, but not much has changed about Panoramio itself. There’s a neat API, at least, and a great collection of geo-tagged photos, but Google should probably introduce a competing app to rejuvenate submissions.


El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a former theatre in Buenos Aires, was spared destruction and given new life as the flagship bookstore of El Ateneo.

Anyway, Photosynth is awesome enough to make me re-install Silverlight and dust off my Windows Live (Hotmail) ID. Even though I took panoramas all over South America without 3G or Wifi access, when I went to upload them tonight, the photos’ metadata quickly brought up a list of nearby places to choose from. It was amazing how easy it was to assign each photo to a destination I am now 8,000 miles away from, without even consulting a map.


The Panama City, Panama skyline as seen from the harbor.

I’ve been through every iteration of panoramas in the last 20 years, with varying degrees of pain:

1997: I excitedly purchase a Kodak Advanced Photo System camera for its simple panoramic mode. My parents graciously pay a premium each time get my wide aspect ratio memories developed.
2002: My first Canon Digital Elph doesn’t have a panoramic mode, but I use clunky software programs to digitally stitch and assemble panoramas. The overlapping edges don’t look great.
2004: My next Canon point and shoot has a panoramic mode included in the firm/hardware, which consists of holding your elbows as steady as you can while rotating your torso enough to achieve a 30% overlap. The bundled panorama utility software stitches them together. Again, results are not great.
2005: I see that my friend in Leeds, England simply prints 4x6s and manually arranges them on her wall, as people have done for 150 years. I’m a little depressed how superior the analog treatment is.
2011: Microsoft releases the Photosynth app. It’s simple to use and is yet another smartphone app that makes the iPhone a justifiable replacement for actual cameras with far higher quality components.


Experimenting with a macro shot of my cafe carioca.

Playing with the Boston Seal and Massachusetts Flag

As far as city seals go, Boston’s is pretty behind the times. Founded in 1630, the city’s forefathers didn’t design with vector graphics in mind. I went looking for cool Massachusetts graphic tees recently, and finding little to nothing, decided to play with our seal and state flag a bit. Here’s what I made on a red-eye from Buenos Aires to Washington, DC.

Boston's city seal, updated with a more recent landmark to the skyline: the Citgo sign
Boston's city seal, updated with a more recent landmark to the skyline: the neon Citgo sign
The Massachusetts flag with more Homer Simpson
The Massachusetts flag gets the Homer Simpson treatment

Boston is Titletown
I admit my in-flight flag-drawing skills are pretty weak here, but at least the skyline was updated to reflect the town’s titletown status.

Neon Indian
The Massachusetts state flag features an American Indian. My brother likes the band Neon Indian, so I gave the flag the RGB channels treatment. The band’s website is just as seizure-inducing.

Revenge of the Massachusett
The Massachusett people for which the colony was named were wiped out by European plagues. Here, the Massachusett take revenge, Godzilla-style.

Get the gunk out

Day 2: Environmental Working Group – Americans are gradually waking up to the chemical bath that is their daily existence, and EWG is their greatest ally. EWG helps you find out about the nasty stuff in your moisturizers, toothpaste, deodarant, cleaning products, and food. And they’re starting to turn the tide, as even my father, a man whose foreign policy approach can best be described as “nuke them all”, has switched to a lichen-based deodorant rather than the pore-suffocating aluminum in mainstream brands.
They’ve led the way on toy recalls, Bisphenol A, and agricultural reform. Check out their cosmetics database and guide to saving money on organics.

Honorable allies: Wired’s “What’s Inside” section, Seventh Generation, the granddaddy of the clean green category (and still the only green brand, I think, that actually lists their ingredients on the back of the bottle).chemicals

A Nonprofit a Day: Getting in the Giving Spirit

It’s December, and just like retailers, countless nonprofits are counting on the donations from this one month to fund them through most of next year. The economy continues to tank, but hopefully that won’t lead to a major decline in giving. Say what you will about Americans, but we give to charity.

I don’t usually donate much to nonprofits…I’m usually the “root silently for their success” type. But this year, I somehow raised $4,600 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and then the President-elect smooth-talked further online transactions out of me.

So now that the floodgates have been opened, I’m going to give to (and feature) 30 cool nonprofits for the next 30 days. I realize those aren’t very exact standards, but they all fit some of these factors:
-not too well known
-offer common sense solutions
-working on unique problems / little overlap

Nominations are welcome. Preferably some obscure nonprofits that don’t get as much attention.

We’re already two days behind, so let’s get started!

Dark Sky Foundation – I read about this one a while ago, but it was also recently featured in a (way too short) National Geographic essay. We city-dwellers like to believe that we’re more advanced than country folk on many issues, but the occasional trip to a dark place with less cellphone service and more intergalactic reception quickly reveals how much of the big picture we’re missing.

DSF focuses on quick fixes, like streetlights that only project light down, as well as long term education. And as a bonus, less light blocking our stars also means less electricity wasted into space.

Some of the effects of light pollution:
-Energy waste, and the air and water pollution caused by energy waste
-Harm to human health
-Harm to nocturnal wildlife and ecosystems
-Reduced safety and security
-Reduced visibility at night
-Poor nighttime ambience

That last one is the least tangible, but in my opinion, potentially the most important. Let’s turn off the opening-night spotlights and reclaim our awe of the universe.

tycho

Picasa 3 released. Only kind of Googley.

I have the highest respect for Google’s products, their usability, and what they’re trying to do as a company. But I’m starting to see some warning signs that as they mature, offering me free, fast, ridiculously useful tools may not always be their number one priority. With that in mind, here’s my review of Picasa 3 and its online photo sharing companion, Picasa Web Albums. I’m only going to talk about the new features, because overall, Picasa is the best free photo program I’ve ever used.

Googley:
-Easy to upload and store full resolution photos to Picasa Web Albums, so that if someday I want to make a print of a friend’s photo, I don’t have to track them down and have them email the high res version, as is the case on Facebook.

-Slick slideshows, great collage templates, and neutral print providers

-LOLcat feature lets you easily add text over images

-magic retouch brush means your friends are about to get prettier

-Picasa already pretty great

Un-Googley:

-Google tries to get you to set Google.com as your default search engine during installation process. They already are my default, but it’s because they provide the best services, not because they pulled Microsoft-like tricks to get me to use their stuff.
They killed Hello, an extremely useful but little known photo sharing tool, to encourage a) more uploads to Picasa Web Albums and b) more upgrades to profit-generating hosting plans. Really? The company that revolutionized web mail with a gigabyte of storage is going to nickel and dime me on uploading full resolution photos?

-the “Download full album” button is excellent and will hopefully spare you the days of going through your parent’s Snapfish albums, right-clicking on each image. But it only works in Internet Explorer on a PC. You have to have Picasa installed, and even then Firefox won’t do the trick. This isn’t very clear in their help files, either.

-They flat out copied Facebook’s face-tagging. It’s a creepy feature on Facebook, which at least gives you granular privacy controls, but I don’t know how I feel about Google itself storing this info directly.

-Still no Mac support! Maybe they’re worried about iPhoto, but they shouldn’t be. Picasa’s way better.

-Picasa Web Albums is the second least inspired name in the Google Universe, trailing only iGoogle.