Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Webcam Accelerated

I have modified our Leeds Met Headingley webcam: the ftp upload now happens every 5 seconds, and the web page with the camera image is refreshed automatically also every 5 seconds. I want to try if the server can handle the increased load. Seems ok so far.

The reason: on Saturday, 10.May, 10:00 GMT, there will be the Carnegie Great Student Run. As it happens, the web cam is directly looking at the Start/Finish. It would be a pity if the web cam would only "stream" once per minute, as it did before...

The camera image is now more "live". For someone who has included the webcam code in their web site, the update will happen automatically, as the loaded IFRAME code will handle the refresh within the loaded document.

One note of caution: on one computer, have only ONE page with the live image open. The IFRAME uses a cookie that stores the name of the image - so that it can be deleted after being shown. If two of windows are open, they will store the cookie information in the same cookie - and naturally the image of one web page will be deleted by the other.

I am working on a tracking system which would use mobile phones carried by some of the runners to "live" track their position on the web. Seems to work ok so far, but I have not yet tested the system under "stress". The web site where some of the runners wil be shown is here: The positions are currently just simulated. I will post news and updates here in this blog as the system becomes more mature.

Monday, April 28, 2008

About Reading and Writing

On Monday, a Professorial Parlay was held at Leeds Met. It had been a while since the last parlay was sometime in summer 2007. The topic of this evening was well suited to the current Leeds Met Festival of Reading and Writing: what we read and write. Everybody was supposed to bring a book and tell what we think about it.

I admit that I almost had forgotten about this parlay, because of lots of work activities. So I did not bring anything, but I still was curious about what the others were reading.

When the turn was at me to talk about reading / writing, I admitted that I was not reading a book, but that instead I am currently in the process of reading mostly articles, e.g. in the Times Higher Education Magazine which provides an excellent overview about news in the education sector and is actually almost an essential reading for any academic. When it came to writing, I mentioned two things: that I write a blog (well, not very active actually, as the long inactive breaks show...), and - that I write software. This is a completely underappreciated creative activity: to be a software author. And I do not mean to be a programmer: those are people who translate specifications into software code. But my role is differently: often I do not have a specification to begin with, and the software project often takes only shape when it evolves over time. It is important for the software author to keep in mind so many things: usability, functionality, the user experience. In designing the software, variables are introduced which take the role of characters in a novel: they experience change, their values get transformed, and they influence others. Writing a software is like writing a novel, with a storyline in mind (which then results in a user experience). I think nobody has looked yet at software development with this view in mind... I believe that software development is a true art.

When the discussion came about the topic if books are still important, my viewpoint was that this depends on the discipline. In some cases books are relevant, as their impact does not rapidly change. But in information technology, books are often already outdated when they are in print. Things change rapidly, and the current technology state of the art can hardly be described in books as it evolves constantly. Much more appropriately than a book (textbook) would be a online repository which can constantly be updated. A great example is in my opinion the PHP reference. It reads like a book, has excellent descriptions, references, examples, and allows user's comments and tips. This is the future of textbooks in the information technology area - my shelves are full with printed books which I do not use anymore, because they contain obsolete information.

When talking about reading, I could have mentioned that I did read a lot 20-30 years ago... and that especially the books by the Swiss author Max Frisch had quite an impact on myself. I still recall the fascination of the diary-like novel "Homo Faber".

When talking about writing, I could have of course mentioned that I am writing currently a novel... which takes place in the 4th century AD which is in my opinion one of the most relevant times in history. But since that is a personal activity, I decided not to bring it into the professional limelight.

I also could have talked about "writing music", as I do have many ideas and plans for this... but due to a lack of concrete composition projects, I too decided to pass on this. So I probably left there the impression that I am a true technocrat who just likes to write software... :)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Meeting my Friend Kevin

Kevin is the first person I knew in Leeds. His photographs about Leeds were the first images I saw from Leeds when I checked out the place on the internet, before my move from the US. I have been friends with him and his family since, and once in a while we meet for a chat in a pub. This happened this Ssturday, in the "Greyhound" in Tong, a nice oldfashioned pub. There was a lot to catch up, as our last meeting had been more than a year ago.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mainstream Meeting at Leeds Met

Every Thursday morning, a group of senior university management people meet in the "Mainstream Meeting", to facilitate discussions about Leeds Met and its initiatives. Today the topic was "The Professoriate", and three Leeds Met professors were invited to give their views: Sue Clegg, Franco Bianchini, and myself. We discussed the topic of what exactly defines a professor, what the specific professorial tasks and roles are, and how this links to Leeds Met's vision and character.

My own opinion here is that a professor is many different things at a time: a researcher, a manager, an expert/specialist, a generalist, a communicator, a coach. The professor needs to link research with teaching and needs to motivate students and staff. The professor also needs to link across faculty boundaries, and across university boundaries into the public, by representing the university and his/her academic expertise. The professor needs to build links between the own research and other research areas, needs to understand links and connections, and needs to build a network of peers.

Quite a lot to do - and the day only has 24 hours... The big problem is: any activity takes away time of other activities... so if too many activities are undertaken, none of them will result in exceptional success but will merely be mediocre. That is why sometimes a professor also needs to say NO to requests for tasks, work, projects, activities, bureaucracy - in order to keep up the level of professional work and results.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Seminar Talk

On Wednesday, 23.4., the weekly staff development session (15:00-17:00) was devoted to research. However, as it happened often, a short half-hour "hijack" took place just before this seminar: there was some important news about marking and plagiarism which needed to be discussed.
Then, at 15:30 I gave an overview over the recent activities in the Centre for Creative Technology. Mostly the web site and the online collaboration tools were discussed, in addition to the partnerships.
This was followed by a talk given by Tony Renshaw about his eye tracking research. Afterwards, Tony Partingtion showed a demonstration of object tracking in the Motion Capture room.

Visit by Krems Students in Leeds

From Monday, 21.4. - Wednesday, 23.4., four PhD students from the Danube University Krems (Monika, Bernd, Martin, Julius) visited Leeds Met. A few meetings with the respective supervisors took place, as well as an evening in the Arcadia Pub.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Webcam Interface - ready to embed in your site!

Finally I implemented a modification in the way how the the Leeds Met Headingley Webcam picture is shown. In the original version, a full 640x480 image has been sent each minute to the sites displaying it, even if the display was then resized in the <img> tag. This meant that more data were transmitted than were required.

I now utilised the hidden capabilities of PHP and the GD2 graphics package to actually resize the image before it is being sent out. Works fine!

For anyone who wants to embed the live updated web cam picture onto their own web page, here is the code:

src=" Met: Headingley Campus" >
<!-- parameters: w=imagewidth, h=imageheight, t=captiontext -->

And this is the picture, resulting from the above code:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Webcam Software

Until now I had run our webcam through two pieces of software: the Easycam software would connect to the USB webcam and display the stream on the monitor. Every 60 seconds it would write a JPG file onto the disc drive. In parallel, my own ftp client software would FTP this file every 60 seconds to the web server. For some strange reason, Easycam did not work, nor did any other webcam software that I had tried: each of them got stuck at the ftp-ing the file out. Some firewall problem... I have no idea.

But now I have combined the image capture with the ftp upload into one piece of software. It runs since Monday afternoon satisfactory. One can recognise if the image is from Easycam or from my own capture: Easycam puts a time stamp onto the image, while my software just shows the plain image without any overlay. I used my old knowledge of VideoForWindows to write a quick capture routine, with preview. The software is not yet easy to use, but I intend to modify it so that I can give it away as freeware. But before I can release the code, I need to "clean" it - is a mess as usual.