Irish Company’s Kickstarter Campaign to “Sling” Cheap Landline Calls to Your Mobile Phone

For anyone who has travelled and encountered exorbitant roaming charges on their mobile phone, the idea that you could magically tap into the cheap calls already bundled into the landline package you are paying for at home may seem dreamy. An Irish company is creating a device to do just that: it’s called CleverCall.

CleverCall is the brainchild of Ronan Murphy, whom I’ve met a number of times over the past two or three years. The idea of CleverCall has intrigued me since I first heard about it – bridging landline and mobile phones – but the roaming element has moved it from a nice-to-have system in your home, to a great-to-have system for when you are traveling.

The SlingBox has made it possible to watch TV from your cable or satellite provider at home wherever you are in the world. Simply put, it is a box that sits on your internet connection at home, compresses the video from your TV connection, and “slings” it to you over the internet so you can watch it on an app on your mobile device or PC.

CleverCall does something similar: the box sits between your landline and the internet, and an app on your mobile phone (wherever you are) connects for free via Wi-Fi to your CleverCall box at home, where it makes a low-cost or possibly free call through your landline phone package.

“We’ve all worked very hard over the past 18 months developing the [CleverCall] product”, says Ronan, adding that their Kickstarter campaign will be used to assist in getting the product to international markets.

An app for the iPhone has already been created, with an Android version in the works. The Kickstarter campaign aims to create a version of the CleverCall box that will work in the US. The company will also apply for FCC certification for its hardware device in the US, and already has a device certified for Europe.

CleverCall’s innovation is in its combination of hardware system and software apps. But one of the other challenging parts of CleverCall appears to be the “Least Cost Routing” algorithm. The idea here is that you would be able to select a contact on your mobile phone, and let the app worry about which is the cheapest option to use (mobile call, landline call) based on the phone packages you are currently subscribed to. The company says they can determine the least cost option to quite a high degree of accuracy.

If you are interested in supporting the CleverCall project, you can pledge via their Kickstarter campaign where there are 44 days to go.

Maxis senior producer Kip Katsarelis talks SimCity


Image via Wikipedia.

With complex simulations delivered by the GlassBox engine SimCIty 2013 goes deeper than ever before but Maxis senior producer Kip Katsarelis demonstrates that the core experience – and passion it inspires – remains the same.

It’s hard to believe that 11 years have passed since SimCity 4 was released. Fans have been waiting for SimCity 2013 (or SimCity 5, or just SimCity because it’s a reboot rather than a new version) for the past year but Katsarelis and co. have been working hard on its development for the last three and a half years.

“We were working on other games like Spore but SimCity is in our DNA; there was always ‘the next SimCity idea’ floating around the office but this particular one took hold,” he explains.

Flipping SImCity on its head

“We looked at 4; at the process, how we built and designed the game, and we really flipped this SimCity on its head.”

The flip that Katsarelis talks about was brought about by the GlassBox simulation engine. SimCity behaves a lot differently to any of its predecessors. In fact, it’s got a lot in common with the AI in The Sims. As Katsarelis says, it’s a different beast: “This SimCity is object-based and designed from the bottom up.”

It’s granular in that each Sim living in your SimCity has a unique name and goes about finding a place to live and a job. Fire engines travel around looking for fires and police car go on patrol. Each object is an agent and has its own logic to it.

Although it’s a city planning game Katsarelis says they wanted to “rip away the glass” and check out the city at street level. If you zoom in each car is different, each house has its own interior, you can go to crimes in progress and see them unfold.

Once we got the simulation engine we wanted to see if we could reproduce SimCity 4; the basics you know and love. With that built relatively quickly we went on to add a lot of new elements.”

Going Deep and Getting Green

One element is how deep SimCity has gone with socio-economic cause and effect. The player, as mayor, will have to deal with the higher crime rates of a profitable city full of casinos or if they choose to use clean tech they’re in for the long play. Homelessness has been introduced to the game for the first time so city planning will involve a responsible housing strategy.

Speaking about the development process Katsarelis says: “I guess our team became experts in different areas. We were doing research, reading books, talking to people, understanding city planning and becoming aware of many new social and economic issues.”

“We introduced homelessness because we wanted to bring in and play up social issues. As the player you have an emotional attachment and know that you’re decisions affect the lives of thousands of Sims. They needed an education, a low crime rate, we went deep.”

Social and economic balance in a city environment was a major theme, says Katsarelis, eager for me to know that there were different political and moral views amongst the development team so there was no plan to bias players one way or the other.

“It was important for us to understand both sides. We put those decisions and levers in the player’s hands so they feel the impact when they make those decisions.”

This is interesting because Katsarelis explains the goal isn’t to get every player starting of with some Utopian city full of clean tech and minimal environmental impact. I put it to him that the best way I’ve found to play is to start out cheap and dirty with coal-fueled power plants, only switching to cleaner renewable technologies when my city is in the position financially, something that mirrors the real world to some extent, I add.

He laughs and says that this is the point about SimCity: “As mayor the player learns a little something about themselves. They can get sucked into being an oil baron or try to model clean and green from the real world, or maybe create a picture of perfect Utopia.”

Inspiring Future City Planners

Katsarelis says he loves the fact that high profile professionals including Manzell Blakeley, city planner at the New York City Department of Transportation, and Brent Ryan, assistant professor of urban design and public policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have cited SimSity as an inspiration for their careers.

“That’s always been part of the design philosophy. One of the core values is that we are modelling the real world. It is a game but it’s about urban planning and encompasses wider economic issues,” he explains.

“SimCity inspired me to get into games. It has touched so many people and so many have their own story to tell about how the game influenced them. There are very few games that bring that.”

It has been much publicised that this version of SimCity has built in gameplay that encourages awareness of green technologies and sustainable design. Even if you’re not in the mood for a lesson on the environmental impact of non-renewable energy sources the notion of sustainability is subtly woven into the game, leading to passive learning.

Learning From SimCity

This educational link is nothing new, says Katsarelis: “Every iteration of SimCity has had a teacher’s handbook; it can be used as an educational tool. We’re also working with the Games For Change Festival in New York and the Future City competition. If you go to http://www.simcityedu.org/ there are resources for bringing it into the classroom.

SimCity has sucked me in since then early nineties but won’t children find it a little sedate after blasting their way through Gears of War or Call of Duty?

“We targeted a wide audience. The core is 25 plus but there’s been a whole new audience with younger teens, who never experienced it the first time round, now playing it and loving it.

“One kid from the Future City programme sends me all of his projects of future cities. I think it’s kind of refreshing, a change of pace from first person shooters. It shows that you can have that balance of fun and learning,” he adds.

Breaking Stuff

So what’s the most fun part of SimCity for Katsarelis? “It has to be disasters,” he says, laughing. “Destroying stuff is fun. It’s one thing to build it up but another to unleash Truckasaurus! It’s a bit like building sandcastles as a kid and then getting the joy of kicking them over.”

Destroying building, wreaking havoc and ruining Sims’ lives have always been part of the magic of SimCity, as has breaking anything that can be broken and testing the game to its limits. Katsarelis says that no matter how much testing is done in development the players will break that barrier in no time.

“As soon as it was released players were playing for much longer than we expected, building bigger cities, entire regions of cities. One player found a bug that allowed him to build a bridge network to the sky. There were buses several hundred feet up in the air!”

Another unexpected turn of events at launch was the crippling server problems. Katsarelis says that player feedback is important to them and that they read their forums and have a live team working to improve and update the game.

For now there are no plans to release any tablet or smartphone version while they focus on the Mac release due out on June 11th. In the meantime look out for the tiny llamas.

Reviewed: Samsung Galaxy S4

There was a point in the late nineties when the shrinking size of mobile phones no longer served as a mark of innovation but pointed towards a bare bones phone that couldn’t serve up those cool WAP webpages. As we head in the other direction some are beginning to debate how big is too big. On paper the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen sounds a bit oversized at 5-inches but in reality it works just fine. Besides, it’s noticeably lighter (3g) and thinner (.7mm) than its predecessor and the screen size is the least innovative aspect of this feature-packed smartphone.

Screen

Before we get to the new additions of Smart Scroll and Air Gesture we’ll take a look at the Super AMOLED display with 1920 x 1080 resolution. For comparison the S3 has a resolution of 720 x 1280 and the iPhone 5 has 1136 x 640 on a 4-inch screen. So it’s big and it displays deep, vivid colours.

The Kindle app rarely gets an outing on my iPhone, however, I couldn’t help but linger over my eBooks on the S4; my actual Kindle device is getting a well-deserved rest. Netflix is another app that showcases the S4’s best asset. You would think that a bigger screen isn’t a game changer, and you’d be right, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive or desirable for media consumption and comfortable web browsing.

It only loses marks for its poor performance in direct sunlight; it’s quite difficult to read text or see pictures clearly. The auto brightness setting is also a bit off; the screen seems dimmer than it should be in certain light conditions.

Camera

The 13-megapixel camera shoots gorgeous images. I tested it out with some foodie shots (below), which demonstrated crisp, clear close-ups due to a good macro function with nice depth of field. The landscape shots (also below) also produced vivid images with stunningly rich blues and greens and nice shadow definition.

There are plenty of clever camera modes: ‘Beauty Face’ sounds cheesy but it detects and focuses on facial features, softening and making more attractive in a Photoshop-lite kind of way. There’s also a group shot one that shots a series of pictures for rearrangement later in order to get one group photo where everyone looks decent! The drama shot is also pretty enticing as it captures movement across the screen and arranges it in a series of still images; a nice way to capture your children playing at the park or a sports event. The video camera holds up well too, with full HD (1080p) playback.

Processor

The S3 has a 1.4GHz quad core processor so the S4 easily outpaces with 1.9GHz. I only had an iPhone 4s to hand to test against the S4 and didn’t find a noticeable difference in terms of loading webpages but there is s difference when it comes to multitasking. Downloading apps, updates, receiving alerts and switching between apps does feel rather zippy, something I didn’t appreciate until I’d swapped back to using the 4S.

US reviews have been talking lots about the Exynos 5 Octa chipset but this isn’t what we’re getting in Ireland and the UK. Whereas the S4 GT-19500 is on sale in the US, what we have is the GT-19505 version with the Snapdragon 600, a quad-core microprocessor. So that whole “fastest smartphone in the world” thing? Yeah, the Americans are getting that, not us. Still though, the Snapdragon is not to be sniffed at. For comparison the iPhone 5 has the A6 – a dual-core 1.3GHz chip (See comparison at CPU Boss).

Design and user interface

Samsung’s smartphones have always been plastic, with a cheaper look and feel than its competitors. The S4 has a lightweight polycarbonate plastic backing so no surprises there. It’s got a slightly better finish with a crosshatched diamond design underneath the smooth plastic finish but you’re essentially looking at the same old approach. I’ve always loved the glass and metal combo that Apple and HTC bring to the table and Samsung continues to lose out in the design stakes. It might be the most beefed up, powerful smartphone out there right now but it’s wearing a cheap suit.

Speaking of cheap suits, the custom TouchWiz UI skinned over Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean is also a little birght and chunky (but a huge improvement on Samsung’s earlier Android skinning). I couldn’t help but be appeased by the beautiful HD screen and found TouchWiz pretty tolerable.

From the perspective of an iPhone user it can be difficult to adapt to any new non-Apple designed user interface but a couple of days into testing the S4 and it felt like home. This was for a few reasons, the first being the overall good navigational design and well-laid out interface but most importantly because Google Play has leveled the playing field in terms of the availability of smartphone apps.

It’s now possible to make the transition from Android to iOS and vice versa with the wealth of cloud-based, platform agnostic apps that demonstrate the same high quality user experience no matter what the mobile OS. Despite coming packed with native apps (and widgets galore) I went straight for the familiar Spotify, Evernote, WhatsApp, RunKeeper, Netflix and so on.

Samsung encourages this kind of behavior from the moment you switch on the handset. You’re asked to add your Google, Facebook and Dropbox profiles at set-up, which comprises of the trifecta of mobile computing for the majority of people: finding stuff, communicating with people and storing stuff.

Smart View and Smart Scroll

Smart View and Smart Scroll work by using front facing sensors positioned at the top of the phone. These sensors detect your face (in combination with the natural tilt accompanied by reading text on screen) in order to scroll down through an email or webpage as you read. The result is mixed. Sometimes it doesn’t detect your presence due to lighting conditions and at other times the text whizzes by before you have a chance to read. Like a lot of extras on this device, it might be a feature you slowly get used to and enjoy or simply one you switch off without regret. Unfortunately, there’s no option to train this feature to recognize your face or reading habits. I do, however, like the fact that it recognizes when you’re facing the screen, which prevents auto dimming. This works for when you’re watching video too: if you turn away from the screen it automatically pauses, well, most of the time anyway.

Air Gesture and Air Touch

Air Touch detects your finger hovering over the screen and responds in kind. It can be set to highlight text or act as the hover function of an onscreen cursor and bring up options without actually clicking through. It also leaves a trail of sparkles in its wake on the lockscreen. Pretty!

The Air Gesture (positioned at top of screen) recognises gestures from a distance of under 7cm at normal speed. When it’s working (as with Smart View and Smart Scroll) the icon will appear (and light up) on the status bar. This was particularly useful for flicking through pictures in a photo album with the wave of a hand and also for motioning a webpage up or down. It can be set to answer the phone too: waving a hand back and forth across the screen will automatically answer an incoming call and switch to loudspeaker mode.

Verdict

I suppose there are three main players in the high-end smartphone arena right now: the iPhone 5, the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. I haven’t tested the HTC One, had a brief love affair with a HTC Hero (industrial design heaven!) but I’ve been using the iPhone ever since it first came out and therefore have invested a lot of time and money in apps, integration with my other hardware and so on.

Other than that I don’t see a reason not to pick one device over the other. I would easily recommend the S4 to a first time smartphone user but with one caveat: beware of overload. You won’t need half of the features of this device but it’s nice to see that they are there just in case. It does superbly on the essentials and, lets face it, you won’t regret owning a 13-megapixel camera with a 5-inch HD screen and 1.9GHz processor.

Pricing: From €99 on Three.ie

Episode #2: Back to the Start

Hosts: John Breslin, Marie Boran and Fergal Gallagher.

Social media and the Boston Marathon bombings, “Start” returns to Windows 8, SpamTitan CEO interview, tech grads in Ireland and the US, #ITwomen, Mighty and Napoleon, lenticular ads, Galaxy S4, and more.

Download or subscribe to this show at technologyvoice.com/show.

For additional show notes, visit the full page for this episode.

Technology Voice is brought to you by StreamGlider, the real-time streaming newsreader for iPad. And by Gone Gaming‘s new game “The Jump: Escape the City“, now available on iOS and Android.

Running time: 1:30:00

00:30 Introduction by John Breslin @johnbreslin
–:– and Marie Boran @pixievondust
–:– and Fergal Gallagher @gallagherfergal
01:27 Ads
–:– StreamGlider http://streamglider.com/
–:– Gone Gaming: The Jump http://gonegaming.ie/thejump
02:09 Topical news
02:24 Social media and the Boston Marathon bombings http://bit.ly/10piE5j
12:00 “Start” returns to Windows 8 http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/may/07/microsoft-redesign-windows-8
16:08 Interview with Ronan Kavanagh, CEO of SpamTitan http://spamtitan.com/
30:14 Jobs for tech grads in Ireland and the US http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/irelands-skills-mismatch–students-urged-to-reconsider-cao-230541.html
43:00 Interview with Catherine Cronin, #ITwomen http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com/
58:59 Irish startups
–:– Get Organised http://getorganised.co/
–:– ePubDirect http://epubdirect.com/ (via Writing.ie http://writing.ie/)
61:00 Cool tech
–:– Adobe Mighty and Napoleon http://venturebeat.com/2013/05/06/adobes-first-hardware-mighty-napoleon-a-pen-ruler-team-for-touchscreens/
66:08 Lenticular image billboard ads http://gizmodo.com/this-ad-has-a-secret-anti-abuse-message-that-only-kids-493108460
69:42 Samsung Galaxy S4 review, thanks to Three Ireland http://www.three.ie/deals/samsung-galaxy-s4.html
83:09 Upcoming events
–:– Rails Girls Galway http://railsgirls.com/galway
–:– 3DCamp http://3dcamp.barcamp.ie/
–:– Startup Weekend Dublin http://dublin.startupweekend.org/events/dublin-startup-weekend-june-2013/

Special thanks to Flirt FM http://www.flirtfm.ie
Intro/outro music is “Alone But Not Lonely” by Stefan Ternemar http://archive.org/details/mtk121
Queries and suggestions to editor@technologyvoice.com
Visit our website at http://technologyvoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @technologyvoice http://twitter.com/technologyvoice

To EXPLORE staff-student collaborations, to seek out new ideas and new innovations

How does a university promote collaborations between students and staff to stimulate innovation? In a joint effort between the Vice President for Innovation and Performance at NUI Galway and the NUI Galway Students’ Union, the EXPLORE Innovation Initiative at NUI Galway has funded 38 student-staff projects since it began in January 2012. The projects each receive €1000 of funding from the initiative to deliver innovation that will benefit the university or the wider community in the area. Some of these projects include creating a locator app for cardiac defibrillators (AEDs) in the west of Ireland, building bilingual video-based teaching aids for school students, running a regular student-entrepreneur technology meetup in Galway City, and many more.

“There are just under 20,000 staff and students at NUI Galway and students account for 86% of this figure”, says Prof. Chris Curtin, Vice President for Innovation and Performance. “We know that students at all stages of their studies, together with the know-how of staff, can create an innovative culture on campus.

“NUI Galway and the Students’ Union have joined forces to introduce a new model for students and staff to work together to bring about positive and transformative change at the university.”

So what has been the actual impact of EXPLORE? In terms of staff-student involvement, over 215 staff and students have participated in creating and running the projects. As regards impact on the community, the numbers are in their thousands, directly or indirectly.

For example, the Cell Explorers project – run by Dr. Muriel Grenon and nearly 20 student partners at NUI Galway – had 200 children and parents taking part in their show at the Galway Science and Technology Festival, and also had 500 primary school children plus their teachers and parents participating in their biological and biomedical outreach programme.

The Exponential series of tech entrepreneur talks (previously covered on Technology Voice) has given over 300 participants the opportunity to learn from six of Ireland’s top technology leaders in a casual setting. The Video Lab YouTube channel of easy-to-follow chemistry lab demonstrations has had over 2,500 views since it launched in February 2012.

“EXPLORE breaks down traditional hierarchies in the university environment that can stand in the way of innovation and treats the entire campus population as active innovators”, according to Paul Curley, the President of NUI Galway Students’ Union. “We are seeing that when students and staff combine their wealth of expertise in new ways it can have very powerful results.

“EXPLORE’s far-reaching contribution to not only campus life, but also to the wider community, is to be applauded.”

The project areas for EXPLORE projects are wide ranging, including technology, science outreach, the arts, environment, health, employability and mentoring, teaching and learning, and skills development.

“Staff and students are equally enthusiastic about their involvement in EXPLORE”, says Amber Walsh Olesen, EXPLORE coordinator. “Student participants have developed valuable transferable skills within the areas of teamwork, leadership, project management and communication capabilities, and have bolstered their CVs with hands-on experience. In fact, some students have already secured jobs and summer internships as a result of their EXPLORE projects.

“Staff see EXPLORE as a way to pilot new ideas in a low-risk environment, to collaborate with undergraduate students, and obtain new skills, particularly within the area of digital media.”

A current EXPLORE project aims to build a high-performance computing cluster from used laptops. According to student partner Finn Krewer, “Supercomputers are big, expensive and need a lot of electricity. With this project we aim to acquire used laptops from students who are upgrading their laptops. We will then connect between 10 and 30 laptops together to form a small low energy computing cluster.”

EXPLORE is a first for Irish universities and has been inspired by similar efforts abroad. The goal is to establish a permanent fund for this initiative beyond 2013. To boldly go where no one has gone before.

Eurapp: A Study Underway to Measure the Impact of the App Economy

With almost a million apps now available worldwide, a new project has begun to measure the app economy in Europe and help guide stakeholders towards success. The ‘Eurapp’ project was launched by the European Commission, and is being run by the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI Galway in conjunction with leading tech industry analyst firm GigaOM Research. The project kicks off with a working workshop in Brussels on 14 June, “Shape the Future App Economy of Europe”, featuring leaders from the app industry.

Eurapp is part of the Startup Europe initiative of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, which aims to help tech entrepreneurs start, maintain and grow their businesses in Europe. The project will carry out interviews and surveys with various players in the app economy to determine its characteristics. It will also use a series of workshops and innovation challenges to crowdsource proposals for how growth can be stimulated in the future.

The workshop will bring together stakeholders and experts to brainstorm how the ecosystem of developers, platform providers, regulators and other participants in the European app economy can grow in the future. It will also consider how companies can succeed in the app “aftermarket’.

“Recent studies on the app economy in the US estimate that it was responsible for the creation of nearly 500,000 jobs. In Europe, we don’t have the same kind of data just yet, but the region is a strong player in the global app economy, with companies like Rovio, SoundCloud and SwiftKey leading the way,” said NUI Galway’s Dr John Breslin, who is leading the Eurapp project at DERI.

The Shape the Future workshop in June will have invited speakers from the apps industry, including Samsung, SwiftKey and Betapond. The format will be a series of lightning talks featuring experts in the space, followed by mapping sessions to probe attendees’ collective thinking and examine some of the issues to be tackled in growing the app economy in Europe.

“Some of the key talking points will include identifying the bottlenecks which are experienced by app developers – environmental, technical, or financial – so that the EU could develop policies to overcome or mitigate them. We also want to map out the best measures of success for an app company, such that they can be guided towards successful business outcomes.”

After the workshop, solutions to address bottlenecks and to suggest potential success strategies will be crowdsourced in two innovation challenges via the Innocentive platform.

Attendees at the event include: Peter Elger, CTO of Betapond; Kumardev Chatterjee, founder of the European Young Innovators Forum; David Card, Vice President of GigaOM Research; Kevin Mobbs, Director of Innovation Programs EMEA at Innocentive; and Eurapp project lead John Breslin, who is also co-founder of boards.ie and the app company StreamGlider.

According to Breslin, “The aim of this effort is to not just review the size of the app economy in Europe, but also to guide future app companies to success as per the aims of the Digital Agenda for Europe’s Startup Europe initiative.”

The workshop will be held in BU33, Auderghem in Brussels on 14th June 2013. There are very limited places available for the workshop, but you can apply to attend at http://eurapp.eu/