Archive for March, 2009


Royksopp – Remind Me

March 27, 2009

Royksopp is an award-winning, electronic musician duo from Norway that have been around for over a decade.  Their hits have gotten critical acclaim and have been featured in a few different advertisements as well.  The band is an artistic success as well as a commercial one; their songs are pretty good too.


A few months back, we posted about the Kinetic Typography phenomenon: taking a sound file (generally a famous movie clip) and physically representing it over an infinite canvas.  Royksopp’s video for their song Remind Me is very similar, though they have an interesting twist.  The entirety of their video is created out of moving infographics and it uses zoom in an infinite canvas.  My favorite effect is their use of an object on screen as a pivot point to transition to a new scene.  Check out Remind Me and some other videos in this area when you get the chance.

This song and music video were done in 2002, an eternity ago in the software world.  It serves to remind us that we should be looking for software innovation, not in other applications, but in places like video games, movies and music videos.

Kevin Hanes


What We Can Learn From Games

March 25, 2009

Games have long been the source of UI innovation in software, though each new generation of app developers seems to forget it. There are some great recent talks on what application and social media developers can learn from games and game design.

This is especially important for those of us trying to bring the zooming/infinite canvas approach into the mainstream. Zooming spaces are already more immersive (i.e. more game-like) than regular applications, and they work best when they prioritize responsiveness and exploration. While people have been toying with zooming UIs for some time now, it’s only recently that they’re becoming mainstream (along with zooming’s cousin, multi-touch), and there’s still much to sort out in terms of what works and what doesn’t. In this process we have as much, if not more, to learn from games than we do from traditional applications.

Check out The Princess Rescuing Application (Dan Cook) for a look at how game mechanics relate to how users become skilled with your app, and Putting the Fun in Functional (Amy Jo Kim) for a look at how game mechanics drive social media.

Ian Gilman


Deep Zoom Playboy

March 23, 2009

I’ll be honest; I tried for good ten minutes to think of a funny/clever/witty title for this post.  In the end though, I decided that the current iteration said everything I wanted to say better than some pun or double entendre.

It seems the saucy minxes over at Vertigo have been busy cooking up a surprise for us all.  They’ve taken the design know-how and Silverlight expertise they exhibited in the Hardrock Memorabilia Collection and applied it to the Playboy Magazines Archive (NSFW, though thankfully they’ve laid it out so that the articles are easy to read).  

Playboy Archive


They’ve made some interesting design and navigation choices, the scroll wheel doesn’t zoom, for instance.  Navigation is also a little confusing at first (hint: use the breadcrumb in the upper left hand corner).  Also note that the scroll bar on bottom is a bow tie…   For all of that though, once you learn how to get around, the site is a breeze; and of course, content is king (especially with some Seadragon goodness, liberally applied).

First announced at Mix 2009, this site along with the NCAA Basketball Tournament being webcast in Silverlight should garner impressive intstall numbers.  Just check out the buzz on Twitter.

Kevin Hanes


Seadragon Ajax Gets a Little Spit-Shine

March 20, 2009

Here in the Seadragon group (and Live Labs as a whole), we strive to emulate a “startup mentality” for our projects and incubations. Part of what this means is that we produce demos and prototypes and throw them up against the wall, so to speak. Another part of this is the hope to frequently update the projects that we find have value. In that latter attitude, we’ve silently (as in our API won’t change and nothing will break) updated Seadragon Ajax with a few bug fixes. Hopefully these solved a few of your problems, and if not, be sure and let us know. The list of fixed items is as follows:

  • Full page mode sometimes had images shifted far to the right; images will now appropriately appear in the center of the window
  • The delay when the embed opened images has been fixed. This change allows images to open immediately rather than after a page load.
  • CSS neutralized in the “about” screen; explicitly specified default styles to avoid conflicts.
  • Fixed instances of the Viewport’s center being NaN due to precision error in some instances, causing the image to disappear.

It’s worth repeating that this release is entirely silent; It doesn’t change any of our APIs and as such all users will see the benefit immediately (if they’ve been experiencing any of the problems)

Kudos to the test team and of course Aseem, for writing the changes.

Kevin Hanes


Canvas Emulation in IE

March 18, 2009

The <canvas> tag in HTML5 is awesome, plain and simple, and if you’ve ever worked with it, you’re aware.  You also know that there’s one big, glaring, red-light-on-the-nuclear-submarine problem: Internet Explorer doesn’t support <canvas>.  Not in IE 8, and certainly not in 7 or 6; together these browsers make up a sizable chunk of web users.  You can either ignore this population, or not use <canvas>.   In Seadragon Ajax, we’ve utilized <canvas> when we detect Firefox or Opera, and fall back on different methods in other browsers, even those with <canvas> support.  This is because the implementation of <canvas> in the other browsers doesn’t support sub-pixel rendering (we’re looking at you Chrome and Safari); check out the gallery in Firefox and another browser, and you’ll quickly see a difference.

You can also do something a little unorthodox; you can emulate <canvas> functionality using various methods.  ExCanvas is one way to accomplish this, though from searching around, you can see that there are some limitations.  You can also try using Flash to get <canvas> functionality, my favorite write-up being on Aza Raskin’s blog.  It’s fantastic to see smart people working on this problem, so that we can all make use of HTML5 goodness on the next generation of web experiences.

Kevin Hanes


You got your Photosynth all over my iPhone

March 13, 2009

…and its name is iSynth (iTunes link).  As of the March 10th 2009, you can view Photosynth on your iPhone using this delightful little app.  The story behind this app is pretty good too; it was developed by Greg Pascale on an internship with Microsoft, at the end of his internship though, the app hadn’t been finished.  He got permission to finish it and now you can get it in your hot little hands.


TechCrunch has a writeup on the app, though I dig just playing with it; it’s got a few rough edges, but it’s fantastic, by the way.  You can leave your impressions/gripes/forms of digital love/bugs/etc on the app’s GetSatisfaction page, or visit this site for information straight form the horse’s mouth.

Kevin Hanes


Out of the Box Week

March 10, 2009

I haven’t posted for a bit…it’s been Out of the Box Week here at Live Labs. Once a quarter (more or less) we all take a week away from our normal work to pursue whatever interesting ideas we can come up with. We’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, and it’s a great source of innovation, as well as being an opportunity for us to recharge our batteries and collaborate with people on other teams.

A couple of my previous Out of the Box projects have gone on to be published: Seadragon Ajax (after plenty more work by Aseem Kishore) and Infinite Canvas. Seadragon Mobile also started as an Out of the Box project, by Ben Vanik. Jeff Weir’s Colour Picker is another example. Of course some projects simply end up as features within existing products, and some just remain novelties.

We’re not the only ones in the industry doing this sort of thing. Google has their 20% Playtime, and there are lots of examples from smaller companies, such as Meebo’s Hack Day, SharedBook’s Cool Factor Projects, and many others. Even inside Microsoft, other groups, such as Office Labs, are giving it a spin.

Hopefully this is a trend that will continue…I highly recommend it for any team that needs to stay fresh and innovative.

More on OotBW: from Jeff Weir and from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.