06 December, 2012

Coursera hits 2 million users

The MOOC site Coursera has just hit the two million mark, so I guess it's time to say something about it.
There's loads written on the MOOC phenomenon, so I won't go into any detailed explanations.

I'll just add my two cents-worth in a couple of points.

I've tried three different Coursera courses so far, all from renouned American universities (Princeton, Duke and Caltech). They are all very different in the ways they use technology. Obiously some teething problems to sort out. In one case the video of the lecture shows the whiteboard being written. The text appears on the screen in real time as if by magic (or at any rate, technology) while we are actually watching it. You can hear the marker moving over the board. I think it would have been nice to see the lecturer, but this is the world of high tech.
In another case, you see the lecturer on one corner, while the presentation slides accompanying the lecture as well as the web sites and other images are on the rest of the screen. Every now and again the video stops and an interactive multiple-choice questionnaire appears.  A big improvement on the first one, although that too had embedded multiple choice questionnaires.
In the third case, the professor's video image moves all around the screen, to complement the logic propositions the students are examining.

All this is very nifty. But for some reason it needs fairly up-to-date equipment to view the videos. Ironically, the lectures are also available on Youtube, where they can be viewed with much more mundane equipment. There even screen shots of the embedded questionnaires.

I asked about these technical quirks. The response was that the videos had been tested on a wide range of platforms. Ipads and workstations were mentioned, among others. Nothing like starting at the top!

Second point: textbooks.

Third point: certificates

Finally, I' ve just enrolled for a music improvisation course, to start next April. Can't wait to see how they do that on Coursera.

07 November, 2012

Kobo, shame about the web site

The early Kobo reader was a heap of junk. I picked one up during a trip to the UK and came across a branch of WH Smiths selling them off cheap. I didn't get round to writing a review of it at the time, but briefly my gripes are that it takes for ever to turn a page and the procedure to carry out a purchase is rather cumbersome. Added to that, it discharges in a couple of weeks, even if it's not used. Oh, and the fonts do not make for easy reading.

The new Kobo readers are much better from a hardware point of view, with a touch screen and pages that turn instantly. But my gripe is the system for buying ebooks. You can't buy a book directly on the reader, you must first install software on your computer (PC or Mac, no Linux version although you can copy files manually in Linux), create an account, shop on your computer and then transfer your purchase to the reader. A far cry from the Amazon Kindle method.

There's more. The localisation is badly done. Or rather, it's done in a way that leaves you no choice. I set up my purchase in London, created an account and downloaded a couple of books. Then when I got home to Paris and installed the client software on a PC there, I couldn't log onto my account. It turns out the software was trying to log onto the FNAC website, which is Kobo's French agent. I had to route via a UK VPN just so that I could log into my account and retrieve my books.

The poorly done localisation approach also shows if you just type kobo.com or kobobooks.com while in France. Although you can switch the site into English, it keeps reverting to French. More to the point - it tries to sell you books in French! Again, a far cry from other sites which let you browse between different language books. Or event that of its how power rival which has separate .uk, .fr, .de and .com sites. Better separate sites than one which is badly integrated.

26 October, 2012

Alt Minds, living the game

Alt Minds is a new kind of total immersion game. A joint venture between French game developer Lexis Numerique and Orange Valley, the innovation investment arm of the telecoms operator.

The starting point is video footage of five physicists being kidnapped from the university in Belgrade. Then the player has to investigate, or at least help the ongoing investigation. Linked to the game via all possible connected media, she follows the course of the game over an eight week period. For example, an investigator breaks into a suspect's appartment, which the gamer can watch online in real time. But the investigator needs to crack the password on the suspect's laptop; this is where the gamer can step in. And so on. Social networks, web streaming, android and i-phone apps, tablets, and laptops, all are called into play. The first session of Alt-Minds will start on 12 November, in various languages. It will be replayed early next year. The first "chapter" (week) will be free, the subsequent chapters €3 each or €15 for the whole game.

A massive amount of effort is involved. About 100 people working for four years and video shot in five countries. Let's hope it pays off.

24 October, 2012

Yasound, is this the future of web radio?

Yasound launched its French "platform to create your own web radio station"  web site last night at a painful press conference  - for one thing, we were all kept standing for three hours. The i-phone app should follow in a few days as soon as Apple has approved it. A preliminary version has been up since March. UK and US versions of the service are in the pipeline. The different country versions are all kept separate for rights reasons. As the system is closely tied with i-Tunes, I don't think there's much chance of seeing an Android version in the near future.

So, what is Yasound?  How does it let you "create your own web radio station" in just a few clicks. Entirely legally and at no cost. 

Basically, you upload the titles of your personal play-list to Yasound. Their server checks whether it already these songs on its database. If so, it just plays it out in sync with what you are listening to on your i-Phone. There is, naturally, a social networking aspect.

What the whole thing boils down to is that you can now chat with other people who are listening to the same piece of music as you at the same time.

But this is not radio as we know it, with interviews, phone-ins, reports, panel discussions and maybe even advertising.

14 January, 2012

Built-in laptop batteries: buyer beware

A worrying trend has hit recent ranges of laptops: the battery is built in, necessitating a return to the fatory in the event of a change being necessary. There are several culpits. The one that sticks to mind is Sony. The new laptops are sleek, thin and nicely streamlined. The use of ultra thin polymer batteries helps, as it enables the battery to be spread over the whole surface of the base. Great, until the time comes to replace the battery.
In my expeirence, typical battery lifetime is around three years. So, this effectively means that the ultra sleek, and expensive, laptops can now be expected to last just three years.