Archive for June 15, 2009

Gesture control: Is it the next big thing?

Microsoft's new gesture controller for Xbox 360

Microsoft's new gesture controller for the Xbox 360 premiered this month at E3. (flickr:Jake of

More devices are being equipped with what’s technically
known as  “perceptual user
interface,” or PUI — the capacity to recognize and respond to mere human
gestures. Some recent examples are the recent unveiling of motion and gesture
controlled gaming devices by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.

Do those announcements, and others — like the Canesta system that lets you control your television or DVR with the wave of
your hand  — presage an imminent
wave of, well, waving, pointing, and other gesturing to operate the gear in our

Maybe not, according to a panel on new user interfaces at a
Consumer Electronics Association conference last week. The panel spent more time talking about other ways to

Like haptics: the technology where a surface interfaces with
a user through the sense of touch. It’s already available on some touch screens
in the form of vibration feedback. Certain Samsung phones, such as the Memoir
and Impression , for example, offer vibration feedback to help
you locate the keys on its virtual keyboard, and know when you are depressing
them. There is also voice recognition, a recent addition to the upcoming iPhone
 operating system, which the panel agreed, could unleash a host of
third-party apps using voice controls.

The challenge with gesture control, as one panelist put it,
is that we don’t have any universal body language for a lot of the actions we’d
want gesture control to accomplish. For example, there’s no widely shared
gesture that means “turn it off,” so programmers would need to invent one, and
then hope users would be willing to learn it.

Where such a language does exist, though, gesture control has
great potential. Prime example, according to Gabe Zichermann of beamME, a
cell-phone application company: Gesture control aimed at the hearing-impaired,
which has potential to use the universal gestures of sign language to enable a
huge range of applications and functions.

Meantime, it’s unclear how well the gaming-related gesture
announcements, at E3 (The Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, will
work in practice. While the best way to judge any controller or control system
is through personal use, E3 did show what work is being done on the next wave
of user interface, and where video game makers think the market is going.

Sony showcased Playstation's first attempt at a next-gen
motion controller. The demonstration model was an engineering prototype­ —
according to the video reports posted on the GameTrailers website — that looked
more like a stunted lightsaber than a controller, and was still awkward even
for Sony’s user to handle at this early stage. Then there was the new Wii
motion remote by Nintendo, which claims to give gamers a more realistic
experience than the previous generation, but that remains to be seen by

Microsoft’s much-hyped ‘Project Natal’ also premiered at E3.
This is a gesture control system that senses the player’s actual movements, and
then mimics them on screen, making it a true total motion controller — because
the user's body is the control (see the E3 demonstration). What do you think: does gesture control have a future in computers, or would you be more comfortable with touch screens and voice recognition? —Will Dilella and
Paul Reynolds

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DTV transition: Smooth going for most

Digital TV Antenna DTV transition

The transition to digital TV has been relatively tranquil.
[ Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks. ]

Despite some trepidation about how the shut-off of analog TV broadcasts would go, by most accounts the switch to all-digital over-the-air TV broadcasts went fairly smoothly, with no widespread outages reported.

There also appeared to be ample supplies of DTV converters for last-minute shoppers, although the FCC did report that there were some shortages of antennas. It’s recommended that you shop online if you can’t find a converter box or antenna at a local retailer.

Make sure to rescan channels
The FCC, which monitored the DTV switch by 971 full-power stations last Friday, said it received more than 315,000 calls to its toll-free help lines. The most calls came from the Chicago area, followed by Dallas-Ft. Worth, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore markets.

Of those calls, almost 30 percent had to do with digital converter boxes; the FCC reported that most issues were resolved simply by having the callers re-scan their converter-box tuners to receive stations that had moved to new frequencies.

So if you’re still having any problems, try rescanning the channels; also, some stations will be upping the power of their broadcasts, so you might get a channel you previously couldn’t. If problems persist, you can still call the toll-free help line, 1-888-CALL-FCC, or visit the DTV website for more information.

Also, note that 118 stations have agreed to maintain analog “nightlight” broadcasts for up to 30 days after the transition. These stations will continue to broadcast emergency and DTV transition information via analog signals in the evening for those who haven’t been able to successfully make the jump to digital. Here's a list [PDF] of the nightlight stations.

The FCC said it is still continuing some grassroots efforts—both walk-in centers and door-to-door campaigns manned by volunteers from the FCC and others groups, such as AmeriCorps—to ensure no one is left behind. Call the FCC hotline to see where you can find help. And if you still need to get a DTV converter box, there’s still time to apply for a $40 coupon (two per household) to offset the cost of a box. You can either call the FCC hotline, or visit the DTV website.

How did it go for you?
If you’re among those who receive their TV signals via over-the-air broadcasts, we’d like to hear how the transition went for you. So drop us a note and let us know about your experience: did the jump go smoothly with no problems, have a few hiccups that have been resolved, or was it a complete nightmare you’re still trying to unravel? We’d like to hear your story. —James K. Willcox

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Yahoo! App and 360 Importer

We’ve got two Yahoo! related news items today.

The first is that we’ve launched a Yahoo! 360 importer (listed in your admin screens under Tools → Import) to make migration from 360 to super easy. Just upload the Yahoo! 360 export ZIP file, and we’ll do the rest. Yahoo! will be shutting down their 360 service soon, so if you have any friends over there feel free to give them a little help and encouragement to head over to :)

Second is the release of our QuickPress Yahoo! Application. You can post posts and read and moderate your most recent comments straight from My Yahoo!. (Note to any self-hosted folks out there: the app currently only works on We’re working on making it .com/.org universal.)

Thanks to Yahoo! for their help with their Yahoo! Application Platform, and thanks to all of you for the best blogs on the intertubes.

If you need help with either of these new toys (or anything else), please contact our support team.

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The tasty new logo

The tasty new logo

We’ve been busy lately here at — we’ve had an announcement of a new or updated feature for you every day this week. Today, you’re getting a two-fer!

Earlier this week, we announced VideoPress, the great new video feature for Now VideoPress has its own home on the web at We’ve also got a great video introduction created by our company auteur Michael Pick, so be sure to head over and check it out. We’ll be continuing to add features to VideoPress, including support for users, so stay tuned to VideoPress for all the latest.

P.S. If you’re a design geek like me, you might be interested to know that the VideoPress logo (as well as all of is set in the beautiful Museo family of typefaces, designed by your fellow bloggers at the exljbris Font Foundry (

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Comment Reply via Email Improvements

Since opening up the comment reply via email feature to everyone last month we’ve been continuing to improve it. Here are some of changes that have gone in during the last few weeks:

  • Better detection of email auto responders / vacation messages
  • Added a reminder to the bottom of comment notification emails about the reply via email feature
  • Vastly improved support for non-English character sets
  • Fixed a problem that some iPhone users were seeing
  • Improved email address parsing for Blackberry users
  • Fixed cases where signature blocks weren’t being properly removed
  • Better paragraph formatting when parsing comments

And many little tweaks to deal with the oddities of various email clients. You’d be amazed how many email clients have their own little quirky ways of doing things.

For users who don’t include quoted reply text in your emails I do want to point out that you’ll need to end your email comment reply with !END on a line by itself. We’ll detect this in place of quoted reply text and use everything above the !END line as the new comment. This is mentioned on the comment reply via email support page but I wanted to bring specific attention to this to avoid any confusion.

We want to make comment reply via email 100% for every user, so if you have any problems with it at all please contact support. Or, if you just want to hi, that’s okay too :-)

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