Microsoft files patent for shape-shifting touchscreen

Every now and then a new technology comes about that has the potential to change the way how we interact with computers in a profound manner. The first computer mouse, the first touchscreen display, the first use of multi-touch – all paved the way for a new generation of user interfaces.

I believe we are now witnessing the introduction of the next such new technology. In a new US patent application 20100295820, which was published last week, Microsoft inventor Erez Kikin-Gil proposes a new way to construct a “tactile feedback” touchscreen. According to this new invention, a shape-memory polymer film is placed onto a computer display and UV light is used on a pixel-by-pixel basis to selectively change the topography of the surface.

While tactile feedback displays are nothing new per se, previous approaches by Nokia, Disney, and others had been using voltages of different frequencies to trick fingertips into experiencing some touch sensations. The huge disadvantage of such vibrotacticle displays, however, is the annoying humming sounds they emit. Which might be one reason why they were never widely successful.

The Microsoft invention completely circumvents that problem and proposes a radically different approach using UV lights and a plastic film that is using shape-memory polymer technology. Here is the abstract from the patent application:

A light-induced shape-memory polymer display screen is provided herein. One example display device includes a display screen having a topography-changing layer including a light-induced shape-memory polymer. The display device further includes an imaging engine configured to project visible light onto the display screen, where the visible light may be modulated at a pixel level to form a display image thereon. The display device further includes a topography-changing engine configured to project agitation light of an ultraviolet band towards the display screen, where the agitation light is modulated at a pixel level to selectively change a topography of the topography-changing layer.

And here are some of the drawings attached to the patent application to further illustrate the invention and its use in display technology:

Fig. 2

FIG. 2 schematically shows agitation light projected onto a light-induced shape-memory polymer

Fig. 5

FIG. 5 schematically shows a user interacting with an example display screen having a topography-changing layer

It is widely assumed that such shape-shifting touchscreens would at first be used in surface computing displays, like tabletop computers, but it isn’t impossible to imagine smartphone or tablet computers using such technology, too. How cool would that be!

For further reference, see this article in New Scientist Tech, as well as blog posts on Gizmodo and more via Techmeme.

Communicating more efficiently with E-mail and Social Media

Every now and then – sometimes in response to one of my jubilant “inbox zero” tweets – people ask me for tips on how to communicate more efficiently using E-Mail as well as various social networks. For a long time I have resisted their questions or occasionally simply given people the link to the “Inbox Zero” video by Merlin Mann.

However, over the past year I gradually came to realize that while I initially started out just following the Inbox Zero paradigm in the spring of 2008, my system of dealing with E-Mail and social media interactions has evolved considerably since then.


I am not going to repeat any of the Inbox Zero principles here – for those I recommend the above-mentioned video or getting Merlin’s upcoming book on the subject – but instead will focus on what I do differently and in addition to his principles.


Inbox Zero2

Clearly zero2 is still zero, so take the topic with a grain of salt. My approach to keeping my E-mail inbox cleaned up and down to zero focuses much more on prevention than just managing the incoming flow of E-mail. An E-Mail that you don’t even receive in the first place immediately translates to less work spent on dealing with it.

Step 1

Get the best spam filter you can afford. Some come bundled with anti-virus and security software and those work well. Others are stand-alone products and that is fine, too. The most important thing is to configure it correctly so that all your contacts are white-listed and the spam settings are updated constantly via subscription service. If tuned correctly, a spam filter will virtually eliminate 98% of spam while yielding very little if not even zero false-positives.

Step 2

Once your spam filter is running smoothly, modify the Inbox Zero rules that you are using so that the most desirable action is no longer to delete an e-mail.  Instead, the most desirable action is now to mark an e-mail as junk and block the sender from ever sending you e-mail again. This sounds incredibly brutal, but just think of the countless newsletters, cartoons of the day, or other useless noise you’ve subscribed to at some point in time in the past and then think about how often you actually read them today. Instead of deleting them – which forces to delete them again and again and again week after week – unsubscribe from them if there is a legit unsubscribe-link at the bottom or mark them as junk so that the spam-filter will automatically delete them for you. The one exception is, of course, the Altova Developer Newsletter – that is the one newsletter you should indeed read every month.

Step 3

Whenever you are filling out a web form, placing an order, or requesting a white-paper, take great care in reading all the options and making sure to uncheck the “send me a monthly e-mail” check-box.

Step 4

Don’t hesitate to use the mark e-mail as junk and block the sender function on unsolicited sales messages, out-sourcing offers to India, or uninteresting and irrelevant business-development requests. This may feel a bit impolite at first, but remember: these messages came unsolicited, so there is no need to be polite or even respond at all.

Step 5

If there are annoying e-mails that you must receive as part of company-internal policies or correspondence that you cannot simply mark as junk e-mail, you may want to consider setting up a special folder for them and using a rule to automatically have those e-mails delivered into that folder. Then you simply make time once a week to read those internal e-mails and scan them for important information before you archive them.

Step 6

Last, but not least, observe your own e-mail behavior and realize that a lot of the e-mail you receive probably is in response to a question you sent. In essence, you are generating your own inbound e-mail flood. Now adjust your own behavior by determining which questions can be better and more efficiently dealt with in a phone call, an IM conversation, a Skype call, or even via social networking tools, like Twitter. You will find that as a result of adjusting your outgoing e-mail practices, your inflow will adjust in a similar fashion.

By adopting these steps and following all the other best practices from Inbox Zero you can develop a habit of reducing the amount of e-mail you have to deal with and keeping your inbox empty, your stress-levels low, and your to-do list nicely organized.


Be Smart. Get a Smartphone.

The second most important productivity increasing tool is the use of a smartphone. I personally prefer to use an iPhone, 4 but it doesn’t really make a difference if you use Android, Windows Phone 7, or the iPhone. The key is to set up your e-mail account in such a way that you can not only read your e-mail on your smartphone, but also process it according to Inbox Zero principles. This means you need to be able to (a) delegate e-mail via forwarding; (b) reply to e-mail quickly; (c) archive it after reading; and (d) delete it if it wasn’t important.

If your smartphone only allows you to read your e-mail, but doesn’t allow for the above processing, it is entirely useless, because now you are wasting time on reading an e-mail which you will have to later read again. If that is the case, you may need to get a better e-mail provider, better smartphone, or just figure out how to use it properly.

In my case we use a Microsoft Exchange server as our e-mail back-end system in the office, and I use an iPhone 4 as my smartphone – and it works like a charm and lets me do all the processing I need to do.

Now why is that important? The answer is quite simple: there are uncountable minutes of “dead time” during a day that you don’t even realize you have or that you are currently wasting. Anything from waiting at a Dr.’s office to an unproductive meeting and from waiting in front of the school to pick up your kids to standing in line at the post office. There are always unused periods of 3-4 minutes each – sometimes even 5-10 minutes – that you can use for reading and processing e-mail.

The Inbox Zero video teaches you to not have Outlook (or your preferred e-mail client) open all the time and instead dedicated specific periods of time during the day for dealing with e-mail. By using a smartphone and processing e-mail during otherwise dead periods of time, you can easily reduce the duration and frequency of your e-mail processing times during your work day and thus gain more productivity.

Once you get good at this, it will also no longer be necessary for you to set up “Out of Office” notifications when you are on a business trip. Instead you will find that you can easily deal with the normal e-mail inflow by using your smartphone during the day and perhaps spending one hour per day on dedicated e-mail processing on your laptop in the morning or evening in your hotel room, during which you reply to those e-mails that cannot be answered with a simple 1-line reply from the smartphone.


Social Media

We’ve already discussed that the Inbox Zero approach teaches us to not have the e-mail client running all day long so that it doesn’t interrupt our work constantly. The same is true – perhaps even more so – for social media. If you keep Facebook open in your browser the entire day, don’t be surprised if you can’t get anything done. The social life of our friends is guaranteed to always be more interesting than your current job or assignment.

I am by no means saying that social media are useless. But you can easily waste a lot of time, if you don’t deal with social media in a carefully measured approach.

My recommendation is to only open Facebook or other social media sites from your computer at home, but not use it at all from your work environment. If you have to check Facebook during the day, do it in your lunch break using your smartphone.

Last, but not least, think about your approach to social media. If you are primarily a consumer and reading what other people post, you are probably wasting a lot of time. Try a different approach and think of social media as your personal broadcasting tool to spread your ideas, amplify your blog, increase interest in your product – and you will find that a lot more productive interactions and real conversations will happen as a result.

At the same time, be careful that you are not getting sucked into over-sharing


Becoming even more efficient

Clearly, this blog post is already way too long. Which brings me to the one problem I haven’t mastered yet in my own communication: to try to keep all e-mail, messages, blog posts, etc. short and sweet. Ideally, I would want to aim at having all my e-mail be less than five sentences. But that is really hard to do…

EOR (End of Recession) and OOW (Oracle Open World)

It is now official. The recession ended over a year ago. That doesn’t necessarily make us all feel better, but seeing the huge number of attendees at Oracle Open World this week and their great interest for all products is certainly a positive sign that the economy is indeed getting better – if only slowly.

Altova Booth at OOW

There are also some rather lavish displays by some of the industry’s biggest companies – it almost feels like the good old pre-recession days of 2007 again.


If you happen to be in San Francisco this week, please stop by at the Altova booth in the Moscone West hall and say hello. We are demo’ing the latest features of the new MissionKit 2011 as well as all the other awesome database-related functions in our product line, such as:

Looking forward to seeing you at Oracle Open World

Privacy, geo-location, and over-sharing

There has been plenty of discussion already on privacy settings on Facebook and how our approach to sharing personal information on social networking sites has changed over the years – and I’m not going to repeat any of that. However, the recent growth and considerable hype around geo-location, location-based services, and location-sharing on social networks has taken over-sharing to a whole new level.

Applications like FourSquare and Gowalla, who let users earn badges or awards for checking-in when they visit a restaurant or other location are now often linked to Facebook or Twitter. People post their travel plans on services like Dopplr and TripIt. Facebook itself added the Places feature recently. And Twitter has captured the location of each tweet for quite a while already, provided you use a Twitter app on your GPS-enabled smartphone or allow your browser to determine your location based on your IP address.

Now this all sounds really cool and for a while apps like Foursquare are indeed a novelty and fun to use. In fact, I like to experiment with new things myself and will admit to even becoming the mayor of 25 places on Foursquare, before I quit.

The problem with all of that geo-location information is, of course, that it is more widely available than you would imagine – and sometimes it is even publicly available, e.g. when you connect other geo-location services to Twitter, or when you use the geo-tagging of tweets on Twitter itself. Keep in mind that by default all tweets are public, unless you restrict them to only your followers.

PleaseRobMeConcerns about this issue have been voiced by others before, e.g. the web site was launched in early 2010 and displayed aggregate information from Twitter and other sources to publicly show when a person was not at home. It was a stunt to draw attention to this problem, and the site no longer shows that info, but it was an effective theoretical experiment.

This experimental threat has now become reality. Last week, police finally caught up with a burglary gang in New Hampshire that had robbed multiple homes this summer, where the homeowners had announced via Facebook that they were not at home, on a vacation, or provided some other information that could be used to infer that the house was going to be empty.

So what about using privacy settings to make sure only your real friends can see this information? That may sound like a good approach at first, but keep in mind that once you share that information with any app or social networking website, it is stored in a database somewhere – and once it is stored somewhere it can be found and abused by someone. In fact, just this week Google fired one of their engineers for stalking teenagers, whose information he had obtained from the kids’ GMail and chat accounts.

solution_thedevice We use GPS ankle-bracelets to track sex offenders and other criminals in our criminal justice system. As a free citizen, why would we voluntarily want to provide anybody with the same tracking information about our personal life and whereabouts?

So here is what I did this weekend to end my own over-sharing of geo-location information:

  • I deleted my FourSquare account and the FourSquare app from my iPhone
  • I deleted my Gowalla account
  • I deleted the Twitter app from my iPhone
  • I changed my Twitter settings to turn off “TweetLocation” and deleted all location information from my past tweets:
  • I deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone
  • I adjusted my Facebook privacy settings to hide all Places information, to not allow others to check me into Places, and to never include me in “People Here Now”. I also tightened down all the other privacy settings to the maximum.
  • I deleted my Dopplr account
  • I decided to no longer post any messages on Twitter or Facebook that would reveal my travel plans (“flying to Las Vegas tomorrow”), current location (“family dinner at Asahi – awesome sushi here”), or my whereabouts (“I’m on the boat”)

And I’m not even sure I got all the places that I may have signed up for in the past, so cleansing my digital tracks and removing all geo-location information and ending past over-sharing will be an ongoing process…

XBRL Chart Wizard

Now that XBRL has been mandated by the SEC for a while, we have a large collection of financial data publicly available and it is of great interest to both individual savvy investors and institutions to analyze that data. StyleVision has already been great for taking existing XBRL data and turning it into human-readable reports and more specifically extracting some data sets that are not immediately visible in the high-gloss annual reports that companies normally provide.

But the new v2011 of StyleVision takes XBRL analysis to a whole new level! Adding to its XBRL rendering capabilities, StyleVision now allows users to generate charts in their XBRL reports using a comprehensive wizard. This is an enormous benefit to those working with XBRL and can reveal trends that otherwise would remain hidden.

Charts are created by simply dragging a financial statement or other parent node to the design pane and choosing Create XBRL Chart to start the XBRL Chart Wizard.

xbrl chart wizard

Users can customize the data rendered in their charts by selecting the desired category or series values (Concept and Period are default) in the properties dialogs. The screenshot below shows the Concept Properties dialog, where users can select the XBRL concepts they wish to render in their charts.

xbrl charts

The Period Properties dialog gives options on how to handle XBRL periods, which convey the relevant instant or intervals of time for XBRL reporting.

xbrl charts

As with the charting feature mentioned above, chart styles and properties can be controlled using the All settings button in the Chart Wizards and/or by using the StyleVision entry helper windows, where users can select chart type, background color, fonts, alignment, etc.

The example below shows XBRL data presented in tabular form and the same data presented as a chart in HTML. The same data can also be instantly rendered in RTF, PDF, or Word 2007+ simply by clicking on the relevant output preview button.

xbrl charts

The XBRL Chart Wizard is just one of the many new features in the Altova MissionKit 2011 that we released last week. Make sure that you download your 30-day free trial to see for yourself how much more powerful the MissionKit 2011 is.

Altova MissionKit v2011 just launched

I’m very excited about all the new features we’ve packed into the 2011 version of the Altova MissionKit that we just launched this week.

The most eye-catching feature certainly is the charting and reporting functionality for analyzing and communicating XML, database, XBRL, EDI – virtually any type of data – and produce the usual Line Chart, Bar Chart, Pie Chart, etc. Charts are created with a few clicks inside the MissionKit tools and can be immediately shared via copy/paste or saved as image files – that’s right, no more exporting to Excel – or integrated in reports or data entry applications designed in Altova StyleVision. Of course, you can also get the XSLT or XQuery code for generating the chart for use in your own apps using AltovaXML. Here is an example of a MapForce data transformation that directly links to a StyleVision output stylesheet, showing the result in tabular form as well as in a chart:


Equally impressive is the new UML database modeling feature in UModel 2011, which allows you to extend software modeling functionality by modeling relational databases along with your Java, C#, and Visual Basic software applications. This high-level modeling of databases nicely complements the existing low-level database structure editing of DatabaseSpy to make the MissionKit a complete solution for all database modeling needs.

UModel2011 database diagram

For people working with XML Schema, we have two exciting new features in XMLSpy: (a) a Schema Subset Generator that allows you to generate subsets of existing XML Schemas, which is extremely useful e.g. for IEPD development for NIEM; and (b) a Schema Flattener that allows you to create a new flat schema in just one file from any complex hierarchy of included or imported schemas.


Last, but not least, we’ve added a complete Authentic Scripting Environment in StyleVision to let you create powerful XML content-editing and data-entry applications – including event-handlers, macros, buttons, toolbars, etc. - based on the Authentic platform.


The Altova MissionKit 2011 is now available in English, German, and Japanese versions and comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions!

So come and check out all the new features, then download your 30-day free trial to see for yourself how much more powerful the MissionKit 2011 is.

Altova and NIEM (the National Information Exchange Model)

In February this year I was invited to give the keynote address at the NIEM Town Hall meeting in Washington, DC, to talk about how Altova tools can support projects that facilitate the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). In particular, I covered the use of Altova tools in the life cycle of developing the Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPD). The slides from that speech are now available on slideshare and a recap of the NIEM town hall meeting is also available on the NIEM website.

Since then we’ve been working with NIEM to add new features to the Altova product line that further support the NIEM development cycle and in particular our recent release of XMLSpy 2010r3 adds two features that are very important for NIEM:

  1. NIEM defines a set of Naming and Design Rules (NDR) that specify how XML Schemas for a NIEM-conformant information exchange have to be constructed. XMLSpy now includes an extended schema validation function that allows a developer to validate a schema against naming and coding conventions, and in particular XMLSpy ships with a set of extended validation rules that allow validation against the NIEM NDR.
  2. Another important step during the development for an IEPD for a NIEM-conformant information exchange is the production of example XML files that demonstrate the data that can be exchanged. To provide better example files, XMLSpy now lets developers specify user-defined example values for each element, attribute, or type in an XML Schema. During the generation of example XML files XMLSpy then uses these user-defined example values to produce meaningful example documents that are immediately suitable for documentation and testing purposes.

Further details about Altova tools for NIEM can be found in the Solutions Center on the Altova website and also in today’s article Altova adds to NIEM support in v2010r3 on the Altova Blog.

Tablet computers, video, HTML5, and the great Flash debate

Even if you are not always plugged into tech blogs or the latest social media networks, I have a short reading list for you for this weekend. There’s just a fascinating combination of interesting stories all happening in the same 48h period:

  1. HP drops the Slate project (=tablet PC running Windows 7 that was announced at CES last year by Steve Ballmer)
  2. Microsoft drops the Courier tablet project (=innovative folding screen tablet computer with both hand and pen input)
  3. HP buys Palm and is rumored to be working on a tablet computer running Palm’s WebOS
  4. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs attacks Flash in an open letter on the Apple website and clearly speaks out in support of HTML5 and the H.264 video standard
  5. Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen (who?) responds to the Steve Jobs letter in a TV interview with the Wall Street Journal (and offers very weak responses only – mostly cookie cutter style)
  6. Microsoft responds to the Apple-Adobe debate on the Internet Explorer Blog and also expresses support for HTML5 and H.264, but – in an attempt to not take sides – also states that “Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web”.
  7. Apple starts shipping the 3G version of the iPad in the US today

To see all these things unfold in such a short period of time is quite fascinating, and thus far Apple and the iPad are the clear winner here…

Talking of which: according to FedEx my two WiFi+3G iPads are already on the delivery truck today and should arrive at my house before 3pm.

Also, if you are interested in following more of these tech stories unfold in real-time, check out

iPad Review

With all the hype surrounding the iPad this weekend, I decided to wait a bit and only write about it on Monday. This was also just a picture-perfect weekend with ideal weather in New England and the Red Sox Opening Day on Sunday, so I spent most of my time outdoors rather than playing with or writing about the iPad.

Being a technology geek I had, of course, pre-ordered my iPad a while ago and so it arrived on Saturday via UPS truck as promised. The truck driver jokingly remarked that he had a full truck of just iPads to deliver and he wished he had bought Apple stock a while ago. The first sales data that Apple reported today does indeed sound promising.

But is the iPad really a new “magical” device as Apple likes to describe it? Or is it the beginning of a dystopian future where Apple controls what we are allowed to see, the apps that are approved, and the end of an open Internet (as some pundits claim)?

I won’t bore you with unboxing details that others have reported before, or give you a detailed guide to the best applications you should download to your new iPad.

Instead, I will distill the benefits of the iPad down to the one product image that explains it all:

Marvel Comics on iPad

Yes, the iPad is a primarily a media consumption device. Think of that cozy armchair in your living room, or the sofa, or the couch, or a bench in your backyard. Anywhere you would sit down with a good book to read. Have you tried using a laptop in any of those spots? It doesn’t quite work. Laptops are – despite their name – really only useful when you put them on a hotel room desk or airplane tray table.

By contrast, the iPad is really made for consuming media wherever and whenever you don’t want to sit at a desk! Now, in addition to reading books from the iBooks or Kindle bookstores, you can also read comics by Marvel (see image above), consume newspapers in digital editions, catch up on TV that you missed, watch movies you buy or rent on iTunes or Netflix, and browse the web. And if you are one of those always-connected people (like me) you can even read your e-mail and respond to the occasional important one, or access one of the many social networking sites or apps.

And it does all of that extremely well – to the point where it is indeed a new class of device and since everything just works and is super fast, it really has a certain “magical” feel to it. In fact, when I showed some of these apps to my family this weekend, I immediately got requests for additional iPads that they now want me to buy…

iBooks on iPad The one iPad app that is of great interest to this XML Aficionado is, of course, the iBooks app, which is both a very pretty e-Book reader and also a bookstore where you can buy these e-Books directly from Apple. The interesting thing about iBooks is that apple decided to support the open ePub file format for e-Books rather than a proprietary format like the Kindle. As you may have guessed already, ePub is XML-based and the content can be provided in either XHTML or DTBook format. The result is that with the launch of the iBooks bookstore there are not only a few publishers who have already signed up, but you also get a ton of works in the public domain, whose copyright has expired, and you can download all of them for free from the iBooks bookstore. 

WolframAlpha on iPad Above and beyond that, the iPad is really a great educational tool. Using WolframAlpha on the iPad is just a joy and there are also new apps, like The Elements: A Visual Exploration that are really beautifully made.

Yes, there are also some business applications, like Keynote for presentation, Pages for word processing, and Numbers for spreadsheet-type work. Those are really very pretty and easy to use and will certainly be useful for some people, but I am guessing these are more attractive for people who don’t have a laptop and, therefore, want to use the iPad for that purpose, too.

Regarding the iPad hardware: the device fits comfortably in your hand and even though it is a bit heavier than the Kindle, it just feels right. The screen is really beautiful and the colors are vibrant. I used the device for several hours on Saturday and Sunday and the battery life was much better than expected. And it is really fast and responsive. I didn’t find any feature or app where I had to “wait for the computer”. Very refreshing, indeed!

So should you buy an iPad now? That decision is entirely up to you, but this flowchart might help. All kidding aside, if you are an early adopter, like new technologies, and have the money to spend, I would go for it. Likewise, if you are considering buying a Kindle or a PSP, I would buy an iPad instead. However, if you don’t yet have an iPhone and are trying to decide between iPad and iPhone, I would probably rather go with the iPhone – in my opinion it is the more versatile device.

multi_touch_20100225 There is another group of people, for whom the iPad is probably ideal: those of the older generation, who have not yet bought any computer. The iPad is certainly the most gentle way for a senior to get access to e-mail, web browsing, and sharing photos with the younger generations. If you want your parents or grandparents to finally “get connected”, then a broadband Internet connection with wireless router plus an iPad is probably the best solution out there.

Are there any negative things to say about the iPad? I’m afraid not many. There is, of course, the one issue that developers of applications for the iPad are totally dependent upon Apple with respect to whether the apps can be sold through the app store, since Apple has a mandatory approval process and can reject any app for any reason. Tim Bray, co-author and editor of the XML specification, has been very outspoken about that issue and recently said:

“The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.”

The same is true for the iPad as much as for the iPhone. On the one hand I agree with Tim about freedom not being optional, on the other hand there are very few apps that Apple rejected that I would miss (Google Voice being the only one I can think of right now). The one benefit of Apple’s tight control over the app store is the total lack of viruses and malware on the iPhone/iPad platform. And it adds a layer of QA on top of most applications, so the software you buy in the app store typically works and is useful.

The second issue with the iPad that is worth mentioning is that there are apparently some Wi-Fi issues that people have reported. I haven’t seen any of those problems myself - either at home or in the office - and the iPad has been flawless in its ability to connect to the Internet anywhere I tried.

Finally, for those who are not convinced and would rather want to see the iPad being abused, there are already some interesting videos out there…

Altova unleashes 64-bit power for working with XML

It’s no secret: XML files are getting bigger every day as people devise more ways to utilize XML for real-world applications that involve large amounts of data. Up until now people were limited in the size of XML files that could be comfortably edited or processed due to the 32-bit nature of Windows and the limitations of memory that was available to applications.

Not anymore! I am very excited to announce that Altova today launched version 2010 release 2 of our entire product line and all our applications are now available in both 32-bit and shiny new 64-bit versions. Obviously, the 64-bit versions of our tools require a 64-bit version of Windows Vista or Windows 7 to be installed on your computer. And once you take the leap to 64-bit you will never want to look back.

I’ve personally been using Windows 7 64-bit since the launch of Windows 7 last fall and my computer now has 20GB (!) of RAM and you just won’t believe how super-fast applications like Adobe Photoshop CS4 (which is available in a 64-bit version!) suddenly are in such a configuration.

And now you can add XMLSpy, MapForce, UModel, StyleVision and all the other MissionKit applications to the list of super-fast and efficient 64-bit applications. Here is an example of the 64-bit version of XMLSpy 2010r2 editing a 2.7GB XML file – in this case a Wikipedia abstract dump (i.e. all abstracts for all Wikipedia articles):

XMLSpy 64-bit editing a 2.7GB XML file

You just can’t do that in any other XML editor today. There may be some competitors who want to make you believe that just by running their Java-based editor on a 64-bit version of the JVM you suddenly have a 64-bit app, but if you read their tech support forums you will quickly find that they cannot actually edit any files larger than 2GB. Hmmm, really?

What it boils down to is this: XMLSpy really is the only 64-bit XML Editor you can use today for working with large files without any limitations, provided you have enough RAM in your computer. And “large files” doesn’t necessarily mean GB-sized! You will notice that working even with 100MB files is significantly faster in the 64-bit version.

To ease the transition period from 32-bit to the new 64-bit world for our customers, we have configured all our tools so that you can install both versions in parallel. This might be necessary especially if you are using database drivers that aren’t available in 64-bit versions yet. Read more about the new 64-bit versions here and learn when you may want to use which version. Also, if you are using a Microsoft Access database you might want to read our new TechNote about Using Access Database in a 64-bit world.

In addition to the new 64-bit versions of our applications, we have also added several significant performance improvements that affect both 32-bit and 64-bit applications, such as optimizations upon opening files that result in files sized 10-100MB opening about 15 times faster than before.

And version 2010 release 2 contains tons of other new features, such as SharePoint support, UML 2.3 support, DiffDog integration for Windows Explorer, external C# and Java calls in MapForce mappings, and many more features.

Google’s new Tower of Babel

You have to admire the sheer market power and dominance that Google has these days. They announce speech-to-speech machine translation on future Android-powered phones – and the whole tech blogger universe goes ballistic in talking about it and likening it to the famous Babel fish of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

So why does everybody think machine translation should suddenly work? If you happen to be bi-lingual or even just fluent in more than one language, you know very well that tools like Google Translate can only convey the basic and most rudimentary nuances of any document. Now combine that flawed and unreliable piece of technology with something equally unreliable: speech recognition. What do you get when you mix these two and stir well? Possibly the foundation for a new Tower of Babel, but certainly not the famous Babel fish!


But do not take my word for it. Or rather, please do take my word for it exactly as it is being processed by those two technologies. After drafting this little blog entry I decided to put Google to the test. As a Google Voice user I already get access to their famous speech recognition, so I called my own Google Voice number and recorded this script. I then took the transcription that Google provided and fed it through the Google Translate service twice: once translating it into German, and then translating it back to English for your enjoyment.

Do you now see what I mean… this is the stuff that can start wars…

Transcription of the above text recorded with Google Voice:

You have to. My but she in market power dominance that Google has these days. Again that owns speech touch each machine translations in future, and with Pulte Homes and to hold tech blog universe goes the lease taken talking about it and liking it to the famous people cessation of. Douglas Adams the Hitchhiker's Guide. To, galaxy. Why does everybody think machine translation should probably work. If you happen to be bilingual, or you can just fluent in more than one language. You know very well but tools like Google Translate can only come database. He can mostly. Maintree nuances of any documents and I'll come by and that's log on reliable piece of technology was something equally unreliable speech recognition. Both you get when you mix these two Lindstrom well. Possibly the foundation for a new tell label, but certainly not the same Staples which but then I'll take my word for it. Or rather, please do take my word for exactly as it is being processed by those to Technologies at the draft this little blog entry. I decided to put group of the test, google voice use them. I would get access to the famous Peter deficient. So I called my own voice number and records the script. I didn't took the transcription of Google provided and said he'd through google plates of twice, one is translating it into driving and then translating it back to English for your enjoyment. Do you know see what I mean, this is the stuff, but in stock awards.

Taking the Google Voice transcription and translating it into German produces:

You have to. Meine aber sie der Marktmacht Dominanz, dass Google in diesen Tagen. Auch besitzt die Rede berühren sich maschinelle Übersetzungen in Zukunft und mit Pulte Homes und Tech-Blog-Universum zu halten geht den Mietvertrag aufgenommen, darüber zu sprechen und Zuneigung es zu den berühmten Einstellung der Menschen. Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide. So, Galaxie. Warum alle denken, die maschinelle Übersetzung, sollten Sie vielleicht zu arbeiten. Wenn Sie gerade sind zweisprachig, oder Sie können einfach fließend in mehr als einer Sprache. Sie wissen sehr gut, aber Tools wie Google Translate kann nur Datenbank kommen. Er kann vor allem. Maintree Nuancen von Unterlagen und ich komme vorbei und das ist log auf zuverlässige Teil der Technologie war etwas ebenso unzuverlässig Spracherkennung.Beide erhalten Sie, wenn Sie Mischung dieser beiden Lindstrom gut. Möglicherweise die Grundlage für ein neues Label zu sagen, aber sicherlich nicht die gleiche Staples, die dann aber ich werde mein Wort zu nehmen. Oder besser gesagt, bitte nehmen Sie mich beim Wort genau so, wie es von jenen, die Technologien auf den Entwurf verarbeitet diese kleine Blog-Eintrag. Ich beschloss, Gruppe die Probe gestellt, Google Voice verwenden. Ich möchte Zugang zu dem berühmten Peter mangelhaft. Also rief ich meine eigene Stimme Anzahl und zeichnet das Skript. Ich habe nicht nahm die Transkription von Google zur Verfügung gestellt und sagte, er würde durch google Platten zweimal, ist eine Übersetzung in die Lenk-und übersetzt sie dann wieder auf Englisch für Ihren Genuss. Weißt du was ich meine, das ist der Stoff, sondern in Wertpapieren.

Taking the German translation and translating it back to English yields:

You have to. My but they dominate the market power that Google in those days. The question has come in contact with machine translation in the future, and Pulte Homes, and Tech Blog Universe to hold the lease is taken to talk about it and love it to famous people's attitudes.Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide. Thus, galaxy. Why do all the thinking, machine translation, you might want to work. If you are not bilingual, or you can just fluent in more than one language. You know very well, but tools like Google Translate can only database. He is above all. Maintree nuances of documents and I come by and this is log on reliable piece of technology was something as unreliable speech recognition. Both of you get when you mix these two well Lindstrom. Perhaps to say the basis for a new label, but certainly not the same Staples, which then I shall take my word. Or rather, please take my word for it just like it from those technologies are processed in the draft this little blog entry. I decided to put the sample group to use Google Voice. I want access to the famous Peter deficient. So I called my own voice number and characterized the script. I did not take the transcript made available by Google and said he would be counted twice by google tiles is a translation into driving and then translated back to English for your enjoyment. You know what I mean, this is the substance, but in securities.

But this isn’t limited to just English>German>English translations. You can have as much fun going via a detour into Japanese. Taking the Google Voice transcription in translating it into Japanese results in:

あなたがしなければならない。私が、彼女は市場の力を支配するには、Google、これらの日があります。もう一度、音声将来的に各マシンの翻訳を触れると、所有しているとPulteホームズとハイテクのブログ宇宙保持するためには、リースはそれについての有名な人が停止することand liking話して撮影だ。ダグラスアダムズヒッチハイクガイド』。 、銀河する。なぜ誰もが機械翻訳はおそらく動作するはずだと思う。もしあなたがバイリンガルにするか、またはだけで、複数の言語に堪能することができます。 You know非常によくしかし、ツールGoogle翻訳のような専用のデータベース来ることができます。彼がほとんど。任意のドキュメントのMaintreeニュアンスと私が来るから、技術の信頼性の高い作品には、そのログ何か同じように信頼性の音声認識された。 Both youするときにも、これらの2つのリンドストロムミックスを取得します。新しいが、確かに同じステープルズは、しかし、私はそれを私の言葉を取るよていないラベルを伝えるためのおそらく基盤。というか、してください正確には、ドラフト、この小さなブログのエントリでこれらのtoTechnologiesによって処理されている私の言葉を取るか。私は、テストのグループに配置することを決定、Googleの音声を使用します。私は、有名なピーター欠乏へのアクセスになるだろう。だから、私は自分の声を数と呼ばれるスクリプトを記録します。私は提供される転写of Googleしたことはなく、彼を2回、1つして運転英語を楽しむために戻すの翻訳には翻訳さのプレートのGoogleのだという。私の言いたいことを知って、このものですが、在庫あり賞を受賞した。

Last, but not least, taking the Japanese translation and translating it back to English yields:

You have to do. I, her ability to dominate the market, Google, these days there. Again, and touch each machine in the future translation of speech, and owns space to hold Pulte Holmes and tech blogs, the lease is known to stop people talking about it, shooting it and liking. Dagurasuadamuzuhitchihaikugaido 』. To galaxy. Why Machine Translation I think everyone should probably work. If you or a bilingual, or just can be fluent in several languages. You know But very often, you can get Google tools such as a dedicated database of translations. Most of him. Any documents and I'll come Maintree nuances, reliable technology work is recognized as a reliable voice something that log. Both you even when these two get one Rindosutoromumikkusu. The new Staples is certainly the same, but I was probably based on a label to tell I do not take my word for it. I mean, exactly please the draft, those in this little blog entry to Technologies take my word for it or being handled by. I decided to put to the test group, Google will use the voice. I would want access to the famous Peter. So, I called the script logs the number of your voice. Of Google I never provided a transcript, he twice returned for one to enjoy the English translation of the two drivers is that Google's translation of the plate. You know what I mean, that is, the award-winning stock.

Now imagine any of the above translations being read back to you with text-to-speech synthesis...

And that is why I’m very skeptical about such announcements of speech-to-speech machine translation – even when they come from Google.

Hubble photo showing Klingon Bird of Prey?

OK, is it just me, or does the Hubble image that NASA published today reveal a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey in our asteroid belt? Here is the close-up of what NASA calls a “suspected asteroid collision”:


This is an excerpt from NASA’s press release today:

“NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust that suggest a head-on collision between two asteroids. Astronomers have long thought the asteroid belt is being ground down through collisions, but such a smashup has never been seen before.

Asteroid collisions are energetic, with an average impact speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, or five times faster than a rifle bullet. The comet-like object imaged by Hubble, called P/2010 A2, was first discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research, or LINEAR, program sky survey on Jan. 6. New Hubble images taken on Jan. 25 and 29 show a complex X-pattern of filamentary structures near the nucleus.

"This is quite different from the smooth dust envelopes of normal comets," said principal investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles. "The filaments are made of dust and gravel, presumably recently thrown out of the nucleus. Some are swept back by radiation pressure from sunlight to create straight dust streaks. Embedded in the filaments are co-moving blobs of dust that likely originated from tiny unseen parent bodies."

Hubble shows the main nucleus of P/2010 A2 lies outside its own halo of dust. This has never been seen before in a comet-like object. The nucleus is estimated to be 460 feet in diameter.”

Sounds plausible, but as a Star Trek fan I still see a Klingon Bird of Prey that is about to decloak. Don’t believe me? Look at the picture again, but this time look more closely:


Live long and prosper…

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

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.

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

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

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


Microsoft Corporation

No big surprises here. As had been previously discussed on, 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.