Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Clay modeling on the computer

There has been tremendous advance in computing power and computer technology but not a lot has changed with the way we interact with the computing devices.  Lots of companies have created Natural User Interfaces and tried to make our interactions with the computer seamless.  I have played with 3D mice and haptic devices like Phantom.  But, none of them have really replaced the mouse. 

Recently, LEAP Motion introduced a new device called Leap.  Leap is like Kinect but in a much smaller scale.  Microsoft has plans of bringing Kinect interface to the laptop, but LEAP Motion beat them to it.  This is very exciting technology and based on the claims Leap is going to be very sensitive and able to capture minute gestures.  This is a breakthrough in natural user interfaces in many areas. 

I have used 3D mice in the past and they are good for controlling a cursor in 3D (duh), but can be clumsy.  They are great for traversing 3D spaces and for CAD modeling, but do not provide any haptic feedback.  What I like about the Phantom is the haptic feedback, which is invaluable when you are modeling art in 3D or when you are simulating a surgery.  Phantom simulates a pen in a 3D space.  The only dis-advantage of the Phantom is that it just simulates one point in space.  This is where Kinetc/Leap comes in.  It can detect multiple input points and hence can detect your whole hand and all its fingers.  What is lacking, though is the haptic feedback.

Imagine building a clay sculpture on your computer.  You can do it with Leap using your hands just the way you would in real life.  I have done it with Phantom, but it is not natural.  You don't use a pen to sculpt in clay.  You do use some tools, but most of the modeling is done with bare hands.  But, Phantom does offer awesome feedback. 

Wii controllers provided some tactile feedback (vibration) whereas Kinect [controller] provides none.  I have played with both the controllers and since the feedback from Wii is not realistic, I don't miss it in the Kinect at all.  So, we will get used to natural user interfaces which provide no tactile feedback and Kinect/Leap may become second nature.

Leap is exciting technology with unlimited uses in a variety of areas.  I have already pre-ordered (at $60, it is a no brainer) the Leap and cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Android TouchPad

I was one of the lucky few to bag a TouchPad during the fire sale, thanks to a friend at HP.  I have installed a few of the available apps for WebOS and have been playing with it on and off.  Not as much as I play with my iPad though.  The limited app availability made me wonder if I should continue to keep the TouchPad, especially with the advent of the shiny new Android tablets.  But, the new tablets have a smaller form factor and I was not too keen on getting a tablet the size of my Kindle.

So, I decided to keep my TouchPad and breath new life into it.

I installed Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, to be precise.  Until the beginning of the year, only Gingerbread was available for the tablet, but then the CyanogenMod team released CyanogenMod 9 (CM9) built on Ice Cream Sandwich and I knew it was time to jump ship.  There are several sites that take you through the process of installing Android 4.0 on the TouchPad and I won't go through the details here.  The installation can be tricky from what I hear, but mine went smooth but for some starting trouble.

The only issue I had was with the Universal Novacom Installer.  I was installing it on my Win 7 64-bit machine and it would just hang trying to initialize the installer.  Then, I found out that you can download the webosdoctor file from Palm (found here) and point the installer to use this file instead.  From here onwards, the installation went flawlessly.

I now have an Android tablet with all my favorite apps installed on it.  I didn't delete WebOS so I actually have a dual boot.  I can switch over to WebOS whenever I want with just a reboot.  The only dis-advantage of installing CM9 is that it renders the camera useless.  If you want to use the camera, you will have to boot the tablet to WebOS.  I am waiting for the build with a fix to the camera so I can use Skype on the tablet.

If you are one of those people wondering what to do with the TouchPad, this is a great alternative which will open up the app world for you.