I've just got back from the Champagne Sports Resort in the Drakensberg which was the location for the South African regional finals for the 2009 Imagine Cup. The global competition is sponsored by Microsoft who very kindly put us up for the 1st - 3rd December at the wonderful Champagne Sports Resort. Many universities from around the country were represented by one or more teams with the final winning team being flown to Egypt in June 2009. With such high stakes, the competition was tough, with every team having an interesting project on display. The entries ranged from Masters theses to 3rd year IS projects. The event seemed to be well run and organized, but I hoped that there would be more public to view the awesome projects. I suppose being in the central Drakensberg, it wasn't unexpected.

Unfortunately, we didn't win, so for us, after a long road the competition is over. But, we did make some contacts in the radio industry and got good feedback regarding our project. After a huge amount of work and finally getting everything running relatively smoothly, it's a bit of an anticlimax just leaving it. I'm hoping to take the project further next year and see how that develops.

So, here goes - the breaking news... The winning project was a Masters project (A collaboration from UCT and Stellenbosch I think) which converted sign language performed by a person standing in front of a camera to text and finally to synthesised speech. Unfortunately I don't remember the guys names, so I can't give credit to them, but I'm sure I'll run into their names pretty soon as blogs/ news sites are updated. They claim that the difficult/ innovative part of the system is that it uses only one camera. This comes into play in that with one camera, depth has to be determined without the use of "bifocal vision". I think that the final aim of this research is to port the technology to cellphones which would allow a dumb person to use their cellphone and "speak" to a hearing person unable to understand sign language via sign language.

From what I've heard, research into this field has been going on for the past few years at UCT and therefore I think that the project has a good chance of doing well overseas. Good luck to the unnamed students - I'll be following your progress. (And updated this blog if I find your names.)

Yay! I’m finally a “serious blogger” according to Paul. (Boost Your Blog Traffic). I've added Feedburner, joined Technorati, del.icio.us etc and submitted my blogs to a couple of other networks. I've been reading for the past day or so on how to increase traffic to blogs and needless to say there are tons of different opinions. But while sifting through all the information out there, I eventually came upon a few people saying roughly the same thing. I'm not going to get into what's been said already except for emphasizing that people ultimately view a site for value. Whether that's entertainment, information, news etc, it doesn't matter - If the blog isn't valuable, it isn't going to be read.

But something that isn't often mentioned is that before somebody even reads a single word on the page, they've already formed a first impression. I.E. the visual impression of a blog is really important. There are billions of web pages out there and if you're so lucky as to have someone land on your page, you've got a really small amount of time to capture their attention. There should be no excuse to using the standard layout when you create your blog account. There are way too many sites that look exactly the same as the next. Finding the correct balance between that garish neon flashing banner advert and plain text can be difficult for non graphic designers but there are so many preexisting templates around that it is not difficult find and apply a nice looking one. And if you're into graphic design, they all enable customization. So, come on - go change that default layout!

Things have been really hectic over the past few weeks but at least I've got time to breathe again. We presented our beta version of the Radio Station System project on Friday which went fairly well. Apart from one problem with reporting all went smoothly and everybody seemed impressed. It never ends though - so now I'm trying to implement dynamically changeable look and feels for the portal component of the system.

That brings me to my biggest problem with C# - Exception handling. Coming from a Java background, I've got so used to the compiler reminding me when I've forgotten to handle an exception somewhere. Now, don't get me wrong - I don't rely solely on the compiler to tell me when I've made a mistake, but it helps in some cases. Being fairly new to C#, there is no way that I know all the exceptions and where they could arise. So, inevitably I miss quite a few and the application (usually at the most inopportune time) bombs out as you're trying to show off some functionality that's taken months to build. Instead of getting some oohs, and aahs, you've got a red face and try to mumble something about the Memory....

From what I've seen, the developers at Microsoft seemed to try to make things as easy as possible with the good tools provided, frameworks, API's etc, whereas Java seems a little "lower-level". I'm sure that the guys had some reason not to build C# with forced exception handling but I can't seem to find it. It just seems contradictory to the assistance everywhere else?

"A 'Frankenrobot' with a biological brain" - They've built a robot that is controlled using a living brain. Amazing! Link

In our quest for maybe the ultimate goal in Computer Science, strong AI, they've wired a living brain to hardware sensors and . I don't know if this will be the start of the biological supercomputer as there are many ethical issues regarding this, but maybe it'll shed some light on the functioning of our own brain. It may also lead to some interesting discoveries or development in the field of Artificial neural networks. This isn't the first time this has been done though but is possibly the most advanced? Very interesting...

"machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do"...
Herbert Simon 1965

So... I'd be vary careful about predicting the future within the Computer Science Realm.

"London - Spending on online ads overtook advertising on mainstream TV in Britain last year, growing 40% to £2.8bn and accounting for 19% of all advertising, UK regulator Ofcom said."

"Online advertising spending was dominated by paid-for search, in which sponsored links appear as internet search results. Paid-for search accounted for £1.6bn pounds, with the rest split equally between display and classified ads. "

"In its annual report on Britain's £51bn communications industry, the watchdog found that Britons spent four times as much time on computers, or 24 minutes a day, and twice as much time on cellphones in 2007 as in 2002. "

There seem to be so many advantages to advertising on the net vs TV mass marketing I'm really not surprised that this has eventually happened. Not only can advertising be directed better (think simple Google Ads), but maybe more importantly, you can measure the effectiveness of your campaign to some degree. With some of the new online tools, you can objectively measure the impact of an advert. Calculating ROI from advertising spending is difficult but these tools at least make a step in the right direction.

Google has some awesome tools available and free for use. Firstly as most people know, there's Gmail - 6GB of space and growing, POP and SMTP access etc. Most importantly for me, unobtrusive advertising. Yahoo on the other hand has tons of irrelevant and annoying advertising. So, Google 1; Yahoo 0. Then there's iGoogle - a nice portal which can be used to house all your bookmarks, email, calendar (another nice product), RSS news feeds etc.

Something that I recently discovered while trying to submit my blog to Google's index was Google Webmaster Tools. You can host your websites with Google pages and use Google Webmaster tools to trace their indexing of your pages. It works by you embedding a randomly generated value within a meta tag on the default page of your site. This functions as an authentication mechanism which verifies you as the owner of the site. Once verified, you can view a number of stats collected while Google's crawls your site such as top search queries, what Googlebot sees, indexing stats subscriber stats etc. All in all, there's a bit of useful information there. Yahoo has a similar process of submitting pages except where Google's verification is instantaneous, Yahoo's takes 48 hours and doesn't seem to give you as much info. (My page hasn't been indexed as yet by Yahoo so I'm not really sure though as there is no data as yet.)

But, the really good one is Google Analytics. It's a tool to "help you learn even more about where your visitors come from and how they interact with your site. The new Google Analytics makes it easy to improve your results online. Write better ads, strengthen your marketing initiatives, and create higher-converting websites. Google Analytics is free to all advertisers, publishers, and site owners." (The first 5 million page hit statistics are recorded for free. I think that you have to pay thereafter.) Analytics works by embedding some Javascript in each page (or an include for dynamic pages) which downloads some other script which then sends data to Google on page load which is then stored. There's tons of data in reports to view - Browser type usage, page visits, unique visitors, benchmarking, average time on site, traffic sources and the geographical distribution of your visitors. Most of the data is presented on graphs, charts, maps or tables. This seems like a really good tool to maximize your site traffic and best of all - free.

It's been a bit crazy over the past two weeks. We presented an Alpha version of our project today. The project is a system which can be used to run and manage an entire radio station. The system includes management of the station's music store, broadcasting, inbound and outbound communication via SMS and email, show recording and a portal. The presentation went well with no bugs appearing and no crashes, which is always great! After the presentation, the comment was made that we had gone beyond the basic Alpha system requirements which to me means that we impressed!

The main system was built in C# and the SMS Gateway in Java. All the different components communicate via web services which makes our life a whole lot more challenging. If we had to split up all the components and run them on different machines, it would take 6 machines to run everything - So needless to say, it's fairly complex! But as was said in the previous post - Visual Studio is a great tool which makes your life pretty easy in building these. But then again, I found that Netbeans 6 was also great in this regard - building a service to get C# and Java talking was really easy!

In the previous post I said that I was going to try out this new library I found for SMS'ing... Well, it didn't work. I eventually resorted, reverting back to the original SMSlib. (SMSlib.org) But I did manage to get a new interface going to BulkSMS. (BulkSMS) They support a basic HTTP interface to send SMS's and they give code samples in various languages which can just be copied and pasted. It all works really simply and they give you 5 free SMS's upon registration. Receiving SMS's via BulkSMS is another story though. It costs a fair bit of money to set up some incoming rules - I didn't look too far into it though.

It's been a while - Much has happened. Well, I've been doing a bit of work in C# . Ughh.... I hate it. Ok, maybe it's a bit too strong, but I can honestly say there are things I don't like about C# (Visual Studio is pretty dam good though.) Well this is maybe for another blog entry.

I'm trying to complete my SMS gateway but I'm stuck with the fact that the library that I was going to use is incompatible with my Samsung phone, and I'm really not going to download the AT command spec for my phone and fix it. So I've found another open source library at SourceForge and will give it a go now. Will post back later on how that goes.

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