Friday, January 15, 2010

Taking the leap into the 3D world

As many other computer geeks, I’ve always been fascinated by 3D technology and admired the big Silicon Graphics 3D workstations of the early days and saw the early 3D movies with red/blue glasses or the next generation based on polarized glasses in the movie theatre.

This past fall I finally made the leap into the 3D world myself and equipped my computer at home with fully immersive stereoscopic 3D capabilities. I already had the benefit of having a PC equipped with an nVidia geForce-based graphic card, so all I had to do is get the goggles and upgrade my monitor to a model that is capable of 100Hz refresh frequency or more.

As you know, a 50Hz or 60Hz refresh frequency is necessary for a smooth monitor picture, and since the 3D goggles are basically shutter-glasses that alternatingly show one frame to the left eye and one frame to the right eye, you need a monitor capable of doing at least twice the 50Hz for a smooth 3D experience. After checking the 3D system requirements, I decided on the ViewSonic VX2265wm 22” monitor.

But I didn’t want to just watch pre-made 3D content – I wanted to create 3D content myself, so I purchased the Fuji FinePix Real 3D W1 camera that can shoot both 3D photos and make 3D videos.

So my complete 3D setup looks like this:

Since I also wanted to show the 3D photos off in our living room, I added the Fuji FinePix Real 3D V1 viewer (a 3D photo frame) and put it on a countertop to run a slide show of the latest 3D images.

So what can you do with such a 3D setup at home? Essentially there are three main uses:

  • 3D Photography: the Fuji 3D camera is as easy to use as any point&shoot digital camera with one exception – you have to constantly watch where you are putting your fingers, because the camera has two lenses in the front and it is very easy to get your finger showing in one of the two photos. The back of the camera has a 3D display so you can immediately correct for parallax problems if they occur (mostly in close-ups). Just like with any other digital camera you can record photos or movies and then transfer them to your computer. Photos are recorded in the MPO format, so for those of us who like to edit their photos in Photoshop this is presently a problem.
  • 3D Games: most of the modern PC-based games have you walk around in a virtual world as you drive fast cars, shoot zombies, or practice magical spells. As such a large majority of them already support 3D and you can just put on your 3D goggles, push a button, and you are suddenly inside the game in a much more immersive experience. I happen to play World of Warcraft myself, and it is just a lot more fun when my mage faces dragons like Onyxia in immersive stereoscopic 3D vision…
  • 3D Movies: Avatar was just the beginning. There is a whole bunch of movies coming out in 3D in 2010, including Alice in Wonderland, How to train your dragon, Toy Story 3, etc. While Sony and many other TV manufacturers are now gearing up for 3D TVs, I think I’d rather watch 3D movies on my PC…

Of course, one of the problems with 3D photography is that you cannot easily share the 3D photos you produce with other people, unless they have their own 3D display setup at home already. However, as an interim solution, there is a website called Start 3D that lets you turn 3D photos into pictures that wobble left/right to create the illusion of a 3D effect – and those can be embedded in websites or shown on web-based galleries.

As an example, here are just two 3D photos that I took recently and converted into the Start 3D format for inclusion in the blog. This is a meeting with my architects and the builder for our house restoration project:

And secondly we have a 3D photo of my son and wife on the balcony of the new carriage house posing for the special 3D effect:

If you’d like to see more 3D images of our construction site as well as some 3D family photos, those can be found on this 3D image gallery

Monday, January 11, 2010

Altova StyleVision In-Depth Review

Dave Gash published an in-depth review of Altova StyleVision 2010 on the WritersUA website this past week and says in his introduction:

Altova calls StyleVision a "stylesheet designer," but that technically accurate designation doesn't really do the software justice. They could have called it a "schema-based WYSIWYG drag-and-drop XML / XBRL / database visual page editor and XSLT / XSL-FO / HTML / RTF / PDF / Word / e-forms generator," but I'm guessing that wouldn't have made it past the suits in Marketing.

I like that new product description. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but certainly brings it to the point. Really, we couldn’t have said it any better…

Dave follows this introduction with a detailed review of the design method, user-interface, formatting, and output options and covers all the exciting new capabilities of version 2010, such as the new blueprint capability.

And after going over all the relevant features Dave comes to the following conclusion:

StyleVision is one of the most interesting software applications I've seen in years. Without question, it offers a new and unique approach to XSLT transform authoring, a skill formerly reserved for beanie-wearing, pocket-protector using, syntax-obsessing code jockeys such as your humble reviewer. It allows more of the tech pubs workforce than ever to transform raw data into aesthetic, useful pages.

While some coders might lament the loss of a previously proprietary skill set to non-programmers, the fact is that spreading knowledge around is a good thing. Make no mistake: as more people use a technology, the better that technology becomes, and StyleVision's application of the WYSIWYG concept to XSLT is a shining example.

We are delighted to hear that! Please check out Dave’s review and then download a free 30-day eval version to see for yourself.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Microsoft e-mail to customers about Word XML patent injunction

I have previously reported on the XML Aficionado blog about Microsoft losing the XML patent appeal in December as well as on the earlier verdict by a Texas court.

Today I received the following e-mail from Microsoft – apparently this is addressed to us since we are using Microsoft Office 2007 as a customer under the volume licensing program:

Dear Alexander Falk,

On December 22, 2009, a United States court of appeals ruled that Microsoft must stop selling versions of Microsoft Word (including Microsoft Office suites) that contain certain functionality that was ruled to infringe on a United States patent.

This injunction only applies to new Microsoft Word and Microsoft Office licenses purchased from Microsoft on or after January 11, 2010 in or for deployment in the United States or its territories. If you are only using licenses acquired prior to January 11, 2010, you do not need to take any action.

Microsoft has updated Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007 to remove the disputed functionality, which pertains to custom XML tagging. Microsoft has also created a software update for Word 2003 and Office 2003. In the vast majority of cases this functionality is not in use and requires development knowledge to implement. To learn more about the specific custom XML elements removed from Microsoft Word 2007 please read Microsoft Knowledge Base article 978951 at the following website http://support.microsoft.com/kb/978951.

In accordance with Microsoft Volume License agreement provisions, we hereby notify you that any future deployment of Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 or Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 purchased after January 10, 2010 for use in the United States or its territories must use updated software.

If you plan future deployments of Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 or Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 based on licenses that you purchase before January 11, 2010, no action is required and you may continue to deploy your existing version of these products. This includes all licenses purchased under any of the Microsoft Volume Licensing programs including all versions of Software Assurance.

Additionally, if you have already deployed licensed copies of these products prior to January 11, 2010, and will be submitting payment later (through the Enterprise Agreement True Up process or the Select process), then you may continue to use those deployed versions. If you are already using copies of these products through a subscription license agreement, then you may continue to use those deployed versions.

Starting January 1, 2010, updated English, Spanish, and French language versions of Microsoft Word 2007 or Microsoft Office 2007 are available for download on the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center. To update other language versions of this software, or to update copies of Microsoft Word 2003 or Microsoft Office 2003, you will find instructions on how to do so on the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center download pages for these products at https://www.microsoft.com/licensing/servicecenter/.

If you require physical media, please order through your normal media fulfillment channel. If you are an Open license customer, you may order media directly from the Volume Licensing Service Center.

If you are running Microsoft Word 2010 beta or Microsoft Office 2010 beta or plan to deploy these products once they are released, no action is required with respect to this notification.

If you have any questions about this information, please contact your Microsoft representative or email msftvl@microsoft.com.

Sincerely,

Microsoft Corporation

No big surprises here. As had been previously discussed on techmeme.com, the preparation for removal of the infringing Custom XML feature had been well underway at Microsoft and this is part of their way of complying with the injunction.