Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’


Get on the Bus with Microsoft

October 29, 2009

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Windows Mobile Keyboard

March 8, 2009

A little while ago I spent some time outside of work struggling with a particular application on my Samsung Omnia i900 mobile phone.  It seemed like it just didn’t work properly and I almost reported it to the developers as a bug.  Just before I did I came across another piece of mobile software and noted a very similar problem and this time something clicked and I realised what the issue really was.

The problem I was experiencing was that I could navigate within the applications using my physical pointer on the touch screen of the phone, but within some parts of the application there was just no response when tapping (or double tapping).  Using the inbuilt optical mouse button had an identical non-response.  Eventually I realised that the software had been written for Windows mobile devices that had a physical D-pad.

A D-pad (or directional pad) is typically found below the screen on a Windows mobile device and has five physical buttons.  One for return (usually in the centre) and four directional buttons (up, down, left and right).  Since the Omnia has no D-pad my next thought was to have a look through the inbuilt keyboard options for an on screen keyboard with directional buttons.

By default I use the “Samsung Keyboard” which does not have any directional buttons.  A quick search through the options showed that the “MS Keyboard” was the only one to have arrow keys.  I tried using this keyboard and it did indeed resolve the navigation issue in the applications.  the only problem is that whilst I could navigate using the physical pointer and the optical mouse with this keyboard it is slow and fiddly as the keys are simply so small.  I use my fingers to do most of my interaction with my phone so I decided to continue looking for another finger friendly solution.

My first investigation was in trying to find a “virtual” or “on screen” D-pad.  Unfortunately everyone’s favourite font of all knowledge (Google) didn’t yield any usable results and so I took a step back to see if there were any keyboards for Windows mobile that could be configured to have large directional keys.

This time my search was a little more fruitful.  PCM Keyboard is an incredibly flexible keyboard for Windows Mobile devices.  Using the Microsoft emulator for WM6, a base theme package for PCM Keyboard called “dream2“, some rough documentation and several hours of confusion and frustration later and I have managed to configure more than just a simple on screen D-pad.

My solution is “DPress” a theme for PCM Keyboard.  Copy the file to your Windows mobile device and place it into the same directory as your PCM Keyboard installation (check under Program Files on whichever storage area you installed PCM Keyboard to).  Select the options for installed keyboards and the options for the PCM Keyboard.  Select DPress and ensure that you select a keyboard type (qwerty and azerty are included).  Save the changes and then the likelihood is you’ll need to restart your device and reselect the PCM Keyboard as the input option to get the DPress keyboard.

Below are some screen shots on how to access the different displays of the keyboard.  Click on the thumbnail images for larger views.

The Default - lowercaseuppercaselower case keyboard left is the default keyboard view as one might expect. From here the keyboard layout can be changed through a number of key presses. The most obvious one is pressing the shift key. This will change the layout to upper case(shown on the right). Pressing and holding the shift button will enable what is in effect caps lock and the upper case layout will remain until the layout is again changed – e.g. by pressing shift once more.

A number of keys provide quick access to in-situ additional keys.  Pressing and holding vowel keys will give access to extended character sets, similarly pressing and holding space will give access to numbers, the comma button will allow access to emoticons and the return button will give access to some function buttons (options, cut, copy, paste).  Some of these are illustrated in the following screen shots.

quick-numbers quick-extended-characters quick-emoticons

Clicking the “.,123” button swaps to a numeric keypad (left image below).  Clicking and holding the period (“.”) button swaps to a symbolic keypad (middle image below).  Finally (and the one you’ve probably been waiting for) by clicking and holding the “.,123” button a D-pad is displayed (right image below).

numeric-keypad symbolic-keypad d-pad

Quite versatile for one keyboard theme on a mobile device? I think so.

I’ll be blogging about the pieces of software I had the issues with in the not too distant future, but in the meantime enjoy the DPress keyboard. It is provided as is with no guarantees and I’m sure it probably won’t display well on every Windows Mobile device, but if it doesn’t work why not modify it yourself and modify it to suit your purposes. That’s exactly what I did with the “Dream2” theme so ultimately my thanks go to the author of that theme and PCM Keyboard.


Technical Community Event

February 26, 2009

Today the Academy York office hosted an event for the Academy’s technical community.  Staff with ICT interests from York were joined by a range of like minded colleagues from the Academy Subject Centres and some guest speakers from outside of the community – around thirty in total.

The day began with a brief summary of points from each area.  This is a regular starter for these bi-annual gatherings and there were over a dozen updates on various web site updates, new technology implementations and practices.

This was then followed by a presentation from one of the guest presenters from outside of the Academy technical community – Dominic Watts from Microsoft.  Dominic is the Business Manager for Higher Education and he gave an overview of SharePoint and its features more specifically Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) and its implementation within Microsoft itself.  Various customised implementations for other institutions (including a number of Higher Education ones) were also shown though I think the real insight came from the Microsoft in-house implementation as that gave a view from the side of a collaborative user rather than a relatively passive web browser.

This lead nicely into a demonstration of Microsoft Office Communications Server (MOCS) by James Cummings – a member of the York ICT team.  With assistance from Paul Hayward (another member of the York ICT team) an overview of the communications benefits of the system was presented live using the ICT teams (relatively) new virtualised development environment.  Dominic was also able to support this presentation and identified that multiple sites running Microsoft Exchange could support a federated set-up allowing presence identifiers (i.e. do not disturb, busy, available – status) to be used outside of an organisation.

This was followed by Martin Poulter of Economics presenting on some of the tools and lessons learned from his more recent forays into the use of RSS news feeds.  There were a number of tools such as Yahoo Pipes and xFruits that were demonstrated to show how feeds could be filtered and aggregated and the underlying message was that we could make the feeds work for the Academy (both for the public & media as well as internally) and that agreeing on a standard (RSS 2.0) including publishing date would be a logical step in bringing things in line.

A quick update from Mike Clarke (York) on an internal Academy collaboration project was followed by a chance for interpersonal networking over a spot of lunch.

The afternoon sessions kicked off with a review from Sarah Heaton (York) on the project relating to EvidenceNet (formerly the Research Observatory).  The focus here was very much on bringing everyone up to speed on the phased nature of the work and setting up the type of support required from the Subject Centres and how they could be engaged for the second phase in the future.

The second post lunch presentation was given by staff from Jorum.  The presentation was opened by Nicola Siminson (Community Enhancement Officer) and was generally an overview of the service.  Funded by JISC it is a free online service for staff in UK universities and colleges that allows them to share e-learning/teaching resources.  There was a significant amount of time given to explaining how Jorum is adopting a three tier access system.

  • Jorum Open will give clear access to resources covered by a Creative Commons licence.
  • Jorum Education UK will ensure that resources marked for this level are only available to UK FE & HE institutions as access is provided through a system of federated access management.
  • Jorum Plus is the most restricted access level and is reserved for resources that are specially licensed (e.g. JISC collections).  For this level of access additional institutional authorisation is required.

Matt Ramirez (Training & Support Officer) then picked up the presentation and talked through some of the latest work carried out on Jorum and specifically the Jorum Search Tool.  The big change seemed to be in the speed of the system as the open source search server Apache Solr is now being used as a cache.  Further developments are in the pipeline so everyone will probably be keeping an eye on this.

A brief coffee break later and Martin Poulter was back to the PowerPoint this time giving an insight into his recent experiences with Wikipedia.  After covering off several acronyms Martin showed how several Wikipedia pages were driving traffic to the Economics Subject Centre web site.  The odd thing seemed to be that in order to produce this it was actually done through not setting up the pages himself.  Rather he made ‘specific’ and open contributions as someone with a vested interest at the same time as building up his Wikipedia user profile as a considerate updater who was contributing to the content of Wikipedia in a variety of ways – particularly in managing Wikipedia vandalism.

Wikipedia certainly seems like an area where knowing the territory and community is the key to your own success outside of it.  It may well be something I’ll explore more deeply at a later date.

John McNaught of the National Centre for Text Mining gave an interesting presentation on … text mining.  By using a range of tools (/services) based on natural language processing and significant computing power, text mining analyses large quantities of textual information and attempts to find key words, phrases and even context to allow a user to focus searches, and even potentially develop new hypotheses.  There could well be areas in which to exploit some of the search tools to narrow and contextualise subject/discipline searches as well as even potentially help automatically identify appropriate key words as the basis for meta tagging for respoitories like Jorum and EvidenceNet.

The final presentation came from Paul Harding of York’s Online Services Team.  Paul gave a brief update on the current scale of the Academy’s public facing web site and a view of some of the upcoming sub-sites that were currently in development and that would be appearing in the coming weeks and months.

There were also a few areas where new functionality had been introduced, mainly around RSS feeds (both incoming and outgoing), but also some integration with micro-blogging and social networking sites.  Thematic searching was also something that was coming to the fore and a rating system is felt to be progressing such that it should be deployed in the not too distant future.

Overall this seemed to be the most well attended and agenda packed Academy technical gathering I’ve been to, and I think everyone came away with plenty to think about.


BETT Show 09

January 14, 2009

As anyone who’s been following the RebootIT Twitter feed today will know, I’ve been at the first day of the BETT Show 09. BETT (or British Education and Training Technology) is an education focussed technology event with the global industry giants of IT such as Microsoft right the way down to businesses run by individuals providing specialised learning materials. Whilst the Academy is not dealing directly with educating students, we do work in the HE sector and so the suppliers are often the same. Additionally we do need to train our own staff in technology and so there’s some parallels there too.

I spent a few minutes at one of the two large Microsoft areas watching a demonstration of Microsoft Surface. This has been all over the Internet and in the media in general for some time now but this was the first opportunity I’ve had to see it actually being used. I had expected it to be a bit sluggish or non-responsive, but it was working really smoothly and Microsoft have obviously been investing in developing software specifically for using it in a school environment with a range of demonstrations including – wiping the screen to reveal an underlying image a bit at a time, building a photo collage and interacting with an intricate 3D model of the human heart.

The reaction from the audience was verfy positive and the people around me were audibly impressed with it. This became particularly so as small groups were invited up to have a go themselves with some of the software and they all had no difficulty with it finding the interface very naturalo and fluid to work with. It was interesting to note that Microsoft had adopted the use of some finger based pinching gestures that Apple have used on the iPhone … but these gestures seem to be appearing on many of the laptops these days as “gesture enabled glide pads”.

I had been looking forward to looking at some of the latest offerings from ASUS that might be useful for the Academy’s mobile workers. Unfortunately the tempting news item on the BETT web site about the new EEE tablet was a bit of a let down as there wasn’t one available at either of the ASUS stands. There were a variety of other ultra mobile laptop developers showing off their latest and greatest including Dell, HP and MSI.  I also got a close look at the Sony TT Series laptop.  Whilst the integrated web cam was not the best I’ve come across it is dockable and has the most amazing flexible screen I’ve seen – it looks much more durable than past Vaio machines.

I revisited a couple of suppliers who I spoke to last year to see what updates they had. The first was a supplier for AceCad DigiMemo a clipboard that acts as a real time scanner and captures whatever you draw or write. This can later be exported or even OCR’d (handwriting recognition). Their update was a plugin Bluetooth module for the clipboard, but at significantly over sixty pounds (+ VAT) I think most people would stick with the ubiquitous mini-USB cable that comes with the clipboard.

My other visit was to Mimio. They now provide a portable tablet device to remote control this portable interactive whiteboard and data capture system. This probably won’t be of much use in the Academy, but I can see how this would free a classroom teacher to be able to walk amongst the class whilst teaching and also allow children who maybe aren’t confident enough or are unable to stand in front of a class to use the system without leaving their desk. What I did discover however was that there has been a significant update to the Mimio Studio software and this is available from the Mimio web site as a free upgrade for existing customers.

The Academy York office has both of these technologies available for staff to make use of, but I’m hoping to run some sort of show, tell and use session in the not too distant future to highlight some of the underused and unknown technologies that the ICT stores have to offer.

BETT has a whole section on assistive technologies and since the Academy hosts and provides ICT support for JISC TechDis I also had a chat to some of the suppliers. One of particular note was HumanWare who provide a number of products for supporting people with visual impairments and visually related learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The item I found most interesting was an item called the BrailleNote – a kind of Braille laptop. It features WiFi, a Braille output, text to speech, and text entry for the onboard applications (word processor, e-mail, etc.). At the same sort of price as a low end laptop or a netbook this appeared to be a very functional and versatile device. Apparently there are cases that allow it to be worn at the waist and “used on the move” … but I’m not exactly sure how safe that is whether your sight impaired or not.

Specifically in relation to events I had a chat to some guys from TxtTools about their SMS system for use by the Academy at the larger events such as the Annual Conference or Academy Away Day. The system essentially allows the routing and collating of text messages for groups. This allows an events team to text delegates reminders or changes to an event schedule and delegates to text in responses for evaluation of a session or questions for a live debate. Whilst I think that an RF based remote control system would be good for a consolidated session such as a main presentations (allowing for instantaneous responses, feedback in zero cell reception areas and typically more sophisticated data collection), the SMS approach allows people who are spread across a site to have simple, direct and personal interaction with the event when it suits them. So if you’re attending one of the aforementioned Academy events in the furture it may well be worth ensuring you have your mobile phone with you to take advantage of this sort of offering.

An interesting theme throughout the event was that of robotics. Whilst not relating to the work of the Academy it was something you couldn’t really help but notice. As usual LEGO Mindstorms had a popular demonstration though they were having trouble with their coloured brick sorter when I wandered past – red and blue were good but yellow proved a bit of an issue for the new colour recognition sensor. There were also a couple of Wow Wee robots (such as Robosapien) suppliers providing programming software and another one from the Far East (probably Japan) that I’m sure was aimed at encourging kids to build little robots for the next series of Robot Wars. Finally Dell had brought along their robotic salesman.

I was hoping to get some information at BETT around Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), remote and self-supported computer based training systems (CBT) and services for broadcasting and arranging online learning sessions.

Most of the VLEs were heavily focussed on fulfilling the needs of primary or secondary education which was not surprising but I hadn’t expected the focus to be such that it really didn’t look professional enough to be used in a progressive corporate HE environment (for supporting the training of Academy staff). There was an organisation who support the leading open source VLE of Moodle, but I was amazed that there was no representative for Blackboard – the leading commercial package.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any CBT or broadcast based products to examine and talk to someone about. There were plenty of course materials bundled with the VLE packages on offer and also various video recording systems with online functionality, but there was nothing for really allowing the sort of CBT functionality and webcast/webinar functionality I was really looking for.

I came across many others at my day in BETT and apologies if you didn’t make it to my blog post … but from my point of view you just weren’t quite interesting enough for me to blog to the masses about – so please don’t take offence. Hopefully I’ll be able to use some of the informaiton and contacts I made to good use and progress the efficiency and effectiveness of the Academy’s ICT services.