The Lost City of Clonmacnoise Now Found on an App

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ozymandias – Percy Byshe Shelley

While the Lost City of Clonmacnoise has not been altogether lost to the sands of time, a new app by RealSIM, the makers of Virtual 3D Galway, has, through a combination of modern technologies, recreated a virtual version of the city to be interacted with on mobile devices. The app gives a visually enhanced, spatially accurate rendering of what it would have looked like at some point in its heyday in the early 12th Century. The Clonmacnoise app can be used either as an on-site guide should you pay a visit or you can take a remote tour regardless of your location.

First, a little history: Clonmacnoise was founded about 1500 years ago on the banks of the River Shannon on the main east-west road that ran through the low-lying bogs of the Irish midlands. By the 9th century it was a thriving city but its ascendancy was only to last another couple of hundred years before the world moved on leaving behind what has come to be the ruins that inhabit present site and an incomplete set of annals that serve to remind us of what once was.

Clonmacnoise is now a major tourist destination and there are a considerable number of things to see in a relatively small area. There are churches, temples, towers, important Celtic crosses and a even a cathedral.

All these structures stand testament to the craftsmanship of old and the good use of the rough, rugged, long-lasting stone. But as redoubtable as these materials are they can only ever tell a partial story of what life was like in Clonmacnoise. We know where people worshipped but where did they live? What did they do? How did they get by? What sort of people were they?

Our available knowledge of societies in the so-called Dark Ages combined with the archaeological record and the events described in the annals does provide us with enough information enough to deduce and infer what life may have been like then with what we believe to be some degree of accuracy.

However, it still remains hard to visualise how life was lived in the mundane, quotidian sense. Away from the monks, priests and High Kings, the minutiae of every day living still had to be handled. How do we begin to compare our daily lives with the daily lives of those who lived back then? Even more interestingly wouldn’t it be fascinating to see the city of Clonmacnoise on something like the scale that it originally had – in three dimensions?

With the Clonmacnoise app Gavin Duffy has just done that. He and his team have combined 3D content with GPS and mobile technology to provide an interactive guide whether the user is on the site or not.

According to Gavin, “Most of the geo-located apps are 2D augmented reality — images super-imposed on the camera view. This is the first app that I am aware of that you can navigate an app which is a full 3D environment just like a game but using your own movement through the real-world scene.”

As the user walks around the iPad (soon to be other devices) uses GPS to locate their position. Because it is connected to the compass as well as the user turns the 12th century version of the scene shown on the device turns with them. The net effect is of the user moving through the 3D environment while simultaneously moving through the location. The image they see on the screen is what they would have seen if they had been standing in the exact same spot more than a thousand years ago.

“The big advantage over traditional 2D augmented reality.” According to Gavin, “Is that you don’t have to be here on site to appreciate it. You can be in Dublin or San Francisco. You can use simple touch-screen movements to look around the environment just as you would in a regular game.”

While Gavin’s background as a geo-physicist went a long way to help him in developing the app there were still a number of major challenges to overcome. “It’s relatively easy to map what exists, photographing and modeling in 3D. It is more challenging to map what does not exist. There are no maps from a thousand years ago so we had to create those maps ourselves with reference to literary information from various annals that survive and archaeological evidence from other sites of the same period.

“From that we were able to establish that there was a blacksmithing industry and a thriving market place, people came from all around. This was a university town — Ireland was one of the bastions of learning. Students came from all over Europe. At the time Europe was in the dark ages and this is a prime example of why Ireland became known as the Land of Saints and Scholars.”

While we can never know what life was really like, especially for the ‘ordinary’ people that have inhabited our history the more we endeavour to seek an understanding of their lives, the more we can, perhaps, gain vital insights into our own.

As Gavin says, “We are all very interested in where we come from. There is a natural, innate, curiosity as to what has made us what we are. What is the fabric of our history makes us who we are today.”

Also, by taking advantage of the technology available to us to render a better of understanding of our own very temporary place in the scheme of things.

“Clonmacnoise is a classic example of things that are great today do and will fall, change and evolve. It’s good to keep in mind that humanity and our values are continually changing. It is an important lesson to communicate that great empires and great cities fall.”

What has gone has gone and there is no likelihood of any app bringing the past to life again. But with carefully applied use of the mobile, mapping and rendering technologies we have at present we can make a decent attempt of envisioning the past.

The Clonmacnoise app is now available for iPhone and iPad. Do have a look at the following video to see how the Clonmacnoise app works in greater detail.

StreamGlider: More Control Over Managing Content Streams

John Breslin, one of the owners of Technology Voice, along with Nova Spivack and Bill McDaniel launched a new app for the iPad today — StreamGlider. It is a next-generation, multimedia newsreader that sets its stall out in the same corner of the marketplace as the likes of Pulse and Flipboard, but with a difference.

According to John, “We believe that we have something unique here that no other newsreader offers. At the moment you can have a rugby stream or a Formula 1 stream but you can’t mix and match them together. A lot of the readers only allow you to see those streams as single entities. With StreamGlider you can view your content whatever way you want to view it.

“You could compose a sports stream from feeds about GAA, Formula 1 and rugby, and have that gliding alongside a stream made up of computer games, technology and movie content. But you can then share your stream mixes with friends, a bit like the way people shared mix tapes of their favourite songs in the 80’s.”

The team behind StreamGlider, which has been in development for over a year-and-a-half, have also adopted a different philosophy concerning user interaction with the application than is commonly found in other content readers.

“With StreamGlider you can view your content in a grid mode or in a magazine mode,” says John. “Applications like Pulse or Flipboard are very much ‘lean forward.’ You have to interact with them. But StreamGlider can work well in a ‘lean back’ mode. In the grid mode you have a series of streams that are constantly being updated and gliding by in real time. Hence, the name StreamGlider.

“If you want to do the lean forward thing where you want to read the articles, there is a preview and you can tap on that. If you want to have it running on your desk or in your kitchen you can have that mode as well.”

StreamGlider is just for the iPad at the moment, but there are plans for iPhone and Android versions in the near future.

Christmas may turn out to be a very good time to release an app like this. John is hoping that since, “many people are buying iPads for presents we want to be ready to be downloaded on to all those new devices.”

StreamGlider is available in two versions, Lite and Pro, and can be downloaded from the App Store on the iPad, or via www.streamglider.com/download

iPad: The User Experience

With the imminent arrival of iPad 2 into our stores, the team here at Technology Voice began discussing what it is about the iPad that has made it such a success. Despite its perceived flaws (namely the lack of Adobe Flash or a USB port), Apple reports that it sold 7.33 million iPads in the last 3 months of 2010. Why?

In answering this question, the room was divided between those who regard it as merely a scaled up iPod Touch and those who view it as a can’t-live-without device. With this divergence in mind, we decided to investigate how iPad users interact with the tablet and what its true benefits are.

One of the main benefits appears to be the simple user interface which is quick to power up and allows instant access to items including emails, news, pictures or Facebook.

John Breslin sees the iPad as, “a casual device. If I really need to do something serious I’ll do it on the laptop. It’s more for casual browsing or for the kids for playing games. There are great things for kids on it, kind of educational games. My two-year old, you can see her doing puzzles on it that she would never be able to manage on a PC.

“It’s relaxed. When you’re sitting at a PC it’s not relaxed, you’re holding this thing like a book and it’s more casual. You’re not going to be in the same frame of mind doing stuff on a PC than you would be with this device.”

The question of style and marketing is never far from the discussion of an Apple device. Deborah Kemp, an avid Apple fan from Boston says, “There is this weird thing that happens with Apple devices where it’s hard not to want the latest/greatest version even if there’s nothing in the new package you really care that much about.”

Currently, Deborah owns the classic iPod, iPad 3G, MacBook Air, iPhone 4 and counting. Marketing appears to be a significant factor for why some users purchase this tablet device.

But there is more to the succes of the iPad than excellent branding. Lifehacker recently held an ad-hoc Facebook poll which revealed Evernote as a key app for users of the iPad. Evernote allows a user to save ideas, tasks, notes, webpages, photos, view PDFs and more. It can also be installed on other devices to sync content across a number of platforms.

For users who wish to obtain news and information, the iPad and other tablets have been attributed with the ability to provide news content in a more compelling format. It has even been noted that, “publishers hope that tablets will turn out to be the 21st-century equivalent of the printed page.”
  
Public consumption of news and media is expanding and the iPad offers a new platform for a consumer to digest it.

RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster, released a dedicated iPad application last month.

Executive Director of RTÉ Publishing, Múirne Laffan, explains why RTÉ chose to launch a dedicated iPad app, “It’s really not a case of one size fits all. The reason people are buying iPads is they can do something on them that they can’t do on an iPhone.”

“iPhone apps need to be simpler so that people can work their way around them. If you’re trying to touch something on a touch-screen that’s small — so many times you’ll end up hitting the wrong thing. You need something with less clutter. But with the iPad, given the size of the screen, you can get into more detail.”

Múirne believes that, “Media consumption isn’t declining, it’s actually growing whereby you were somewhat time-based or place-based with more traditional media in terms of; you read your paper in the morning, you watched television in the evening and you listened to the radio in your car. Now people are consuming media everywhere on the go all the time and that goes for TV, radio and print.”

“In terms of content, I think people are doing more with it, I think they’re engaging more, they’re sharing, they’re saying, ‘I like this article or feature’ and they’re pushing it out to their friends. I think that we’re becoming, not just content savvy, but I think were becoming bigger consumers of content.”

“With regard to how the iPad revolutionizes this, is that it makes up for the shortfalls in a smart phone and I think predominantly that’s size. It found a gap and the gap is that it’s bigger. But it’s still highly portable.”

On reflection, it seems that the success of the iPad is in its delivery of something extremely simple – a larger screen size while retaining portability – allowing for casual interaction with the device. Even if it is just a grander scale iPod Touch, this concept in itself has tapped into the needs of a network of users worldwide.

The iPad and the Advent of Tablet Computing


Reviewing this post while on a break.

In the movie Collateral, Vincent, an assassin played by Tom Cruise hijacks a Los Angeles cab along with kidnapping it’s driver. On his way to various locations through the night to fulfil his murderous remit he manages to rack up a body count in a way that can be only be classified as supernumerary to requirements.

To keep track of his schedule Vincent uses a tablet device. So what? You may ask. After all Apple has shipped 3.9 million ipads in the last quarter. While they are still not machines that you see everyday they are nevertheless relatively common. However, Michael Mann‘s film was released in 2004 some six years before the iPad started shipping. I guess while in pre-production there was an assumption that tablet computing technology would be in some way familiar to the wider viewing audience by the time it would come out. Clearly that wasn’t so then why the delay?

The tablet featured in the film is a HP TC1100 which was discontinued in 2005. Like the iPad it was a far from perfect device but amazing for its time so leaving technical comparisons aside it would according to conventional business wisdom leave inadequate marketing as the probable culprit for it’s failure to capture the public imagination and fly off the shelfs.

But that would be unfair for the iPad to have been as successful as it has been it needed the iPhone to precede it into the market place. It needed the lessons learned in how to build a great user experience through having customers interact with the device by using a touch screen. It needed people to get used to how apps work, It needed, considering it’s still quite high price, trust that the concept of tablet computing was valid before committing to using it. Tablet computing had to be more than a neat idea.

According to Steve Jobs, Apple was actually working on the iPad before the iPhone. However, that all changed when his engineers demonstrated inertial scrolling to him. He decided it seems, pretty much on the spot, to incorporate inertial scrolling into the iPhone and to make that the priority for release. It’s doubtful that anyone will ever know the machinations and calculations that went on in Steve Jobs’ head at that time but the resulting decision was inspired.

Widespread iPhone use and it’s attendant operating system user base made the introduction of the tablet genre of computing devices easier by making touch-screen more acceptable for normal users.

My main use for a computer is for writing. I am writing this blog post on an iPad to maintain a somewhat unnecessary idea of congruity between form and content. However, more than a few of hours of this and it will get old pretty quick. But all in all, for a post of this length it is doable and it is fine. It is also fine because this is clearly not what the iPad is designed to do and I don’t resent the limitations. What it is designed to do is to make accessing texts and images whether on the web or not very easy. Manipulating them is a second order of importance.

One of the most enjoyable things about using the iPad at this early stage is turning on people who would normally consider themselves technophobic to one of the greatest wonders of our age – the Internet. Most people don’t code, don’t build websites or even create content via blogging. They don’t care about any of that at all. All they care is about what the web can do for them in which in most cases is in terms of providing access to information of personal interest. Being able to see the wedding pictures of a long distant nephew is important for example. To be able to do that just by touching or swiping a screen gets past the whole don’t press any buttons or something bad will happen meme that a lot of people have with computers. The touch-screen tablet format goes a long away to reduce reticence and fear about computers and computing and makes accessing the web much easier for more people.

But it is just not for wary and the uninitiated. In a recent interview with Technology Voice Tom Raftery told us,

“iPads are the hottest consumer devices out there and not just for consumers. Businesses are buying them in bulk and distributing them internally. They are a fantastic form factor for consuming internet stuff and they are going to get better. In just a few months the next version of the ipad will be out. You can guess it is going to have a retina display, you can guess it is going to have a front facing camera, you can guess it is going to have Facetime. It’ll have more storage space and a usb or micro-usb port. These are things that are surely going to come to the ipad and they are just going to walk all over that market.

“I use the iPad as a laptop replacement for conferences. A big issue bringing a laptop to a conference is that you’re always looking for power. The battery will run out after two or three hours whereas the iPad will still have plenty of power after eight hours of use.”

When i am not in need of a keyboard to write at a comfortable speed my preferred method of accessing the Web, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Tracked.com and checking in on the Technology Voice site is by using the iPad. The on-screen keyboard is just fine for dealing with emails, tweets and status updates. But the one feature that I appreciate above else is being able to go all day without having to hunt for a power point, That alone makes it worth having in my book.

However, not being a total Apple fanboy, there are things that do need to be improved and I do hope that despite Apple’s massive head start other manufacturers could at least come up with something significantly cheaper. Then, perhaps, seeing tablet computers in movies won’t be such an anachronistic experience.

Pocket Body: A Google Earth of the Human Body


Click on image for video

Pocket Body for the ipad is a new addition to the suite of products being planned under the series title of Pocket Anatomy by Mark Campbell. The app was designed using feedback from, amongst others, six medical students and an anatomy lecturer, Dr. Brendan Wilkins from the The College of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences, NUI Galway.

Twixt ‘pencil and pixel’ there were at least eighteen iterations of the product before initial release. Mark attributes his thorough and rigorous approach to what he learned from his MA in Interactive Design, course at the University of Limerick, (UL.)

“There was a lot gained from my time in UL’s Interaction Design Centre. At each stage we brought in the users and carried out usability testing. That would have gone back to my Masters where we used ‘think aloud’ protocols where you ask the user to verbalise their thoughts when they use a piece of software.”

Up until recently nearly all medical students around the world used anatomy diagrams represented in two dimensions in their textbooks. Mark and his colleagues thought it would be a tremendous advantage for the students to have the ability to move around the human body in three dimensions in order to obtain a better understanding of the spatial relationships between the different anatomical parts.

They saw that there was a better way of showing how the body works rather than just in a book or in a 2D slideshow.

“The ideal was to create a Google Earth of the human body. Nothing exists out there. We have Google Maps and Google Earth Apps, and we wanted to create a Google Body type app!”

Mark is a native of Galway and finds there is no problem in operating his business from the City apart from the inconvenience of readily meeting clients and interested parties face to face.

To overcome that Mark says, “We pick up the phone, we engage with them. We use Skype and video-conferencing or if needs be, hop on a plane. We do get asked if we outsource development but so far we have developed everything in-house. There’s no handicap in being based in North West Europe.

It’s about building relationships with our customers. There’s a lot of people interested in our product and they want to feel that they’re not just another number. The market place can be thought of in crude economic terms or it can be thought of as being made up of individuals with names and needs, who regularly contact us with requests to become involved in the Pocket Anatomy project, and for us to engage with them. This is the start of what we see as a global community of people with an interest in medical education. It’s great for the team in Pocket anatomy to be involved in something worthwhile and innovative like this.”

Pocket Body was released in September 2010 and has climbed into the Top Ten in six different itunes stores around the world in the Medical iPad downloads section. You can read more about the app at the Pocket Anatomy site.

Flipboard: A Quick Demonstration


Click on image to view video.

We made the short video above to demonstrate the wonders of Flipboard, a free app for the iPad. It has revolutionised the way I gain access to my social media channels to the point that if Flipboard isn’t to hand I simply don’t bother. Normal apps like TweetDeck and Nambu now seem so utilitarian and dull in comparison.

Apart from being very beautiful and extraordinarily elegant to use, it has added an entirely new dimension of relevance to my Twitter stream and status updates. It opens the links that are contained in the timelines I follow and renders them, text and images, onto a page in a very newspaper-like style. As you browse through the pages, the layouts vary so you never get bored with the sameness of a given pagination.

You can skip and skim topics or you can go right down to the original linking site itself.

It is one of the most workable apps that I have ever come across, and I so wish others would put this much attention to detail into their work and make using the actual application itself so enjoyable.

The publicity describes it as a “personalised social magazine” and that is a fairly accurate description. But it doesn’t capture the living dynamic of the form. Everytime you access Flipboard, you access a world different to the one previously visited. When you have been reading a while and flip back to the front, it is as though a new adventure has started all over again right in front of your eyes.

Worth robbing banks for.