Image searching

I was lead to this from Doug Belshaw’s newsletter. The site is called Same Energy. It’s a website devoted to finding images for you.

So, what makes this stand out in an environment full of search engine?

For the most part, search engines accept the descriptors that you send them and does its best to locate images that meet those descriptors. If you’re really good about describing what you want, you have success. If you aren’t that good, you might go back and add a few more terms to tighten up the descriptor. Or, if you’re in a hurry or you’re a student, you take the best fit and move on.

Same Energy works nicely to help you refine your search.

We believe that image search should be visual, using only a minimum of words. And we believe it should integrate a rich visual understanding, capturing the artistic style and overall mood of an image, not just the objects in it.

So, I put it to the test and promptly went down a rabbit hole!

For yucks, I started with the search “Toronto” and got this.

Now, we know that Toronto is more than the CN Tower.

I found a picture of a cute pooch sitting with the City Hall in the background which led me to this.

A few more clicks and I was well off the track from my original search or another way of looking at it was I was refining my search as I went.

Now, a starting point of “Toronto” isn’t the best of starts. Anyone who has ever taught students how to search knows that.

I went back and started with some more specific search terms like “White German Shepherd” and found that I could refine an image search nicely.

I found it responsive and very easy to zero in on things I’m in search of very quickly. Certainly much quicker than trying to describe the item in words.

You can create an account for yourself to download the images or create collections. This is a very interesting refreshing approach to finding images. The author warns that it’s in Beta and will likely change but what online doesn’t these days.

The author is very open about how it works.

The default feeds available on the home page are algorithmically curated: a seed of 5-20 images are selected by hand, then our system builds the feed by scanning millions of images in our index to find good matches for the seed images. You can create feeds in just the same way: save images to create a collection of seed images, then look at the recommended images.

I found the experience fascinating and look forward to hearing more about this search engine as it matures and grows based on feedback from users.

As always, I’d encourage you to take a look and share your thoughts about it in the comments below.

The view from here

As long as there have been computers, there have been desktop background images. Quite frankly, I’ve always kind of thought that it’s dumb because if you’re doing anything with your computer, you shouldn’t be seeing the desktop anyway.

And yet, it’s the very first thing that I do when I get a new computer and something that I change periodically. I guess there’s something impressive when someone looks over your shoulder and is impressed with the image.

With the advent of Apple’s Mojave upgrade, they’ve added the ability to have dynamic images as your background. Now, rotating images isn’t new but it was worth experimenting with anyway. This implementation is different.

Out of the box, Apple gives you a couple to get started. I tried them and they do work and are kind of neat. I’m assuming that it reads your computer clock and adjusts accordingly. But, there has to be more!

Look at my desktop now. This is the image as of 7:00am.

I had to learn about the “High Efficiency Image File Format” in the process but learning is good.

And later at about 8:30, you can see lightness working its way across the planet. (That’s twice in one morning that I’ve looked at my desktop!)

This is part of a collection offered for free – in addition to Earth above, look for HEIFFs of Jupiter, Moon, International Space Station, a City and New Orleans. Instructions about how to make this work are at the bottom of the page.

The page? Well, it’s right here.

Have you upgraded to Mojave and played around with this feature? Do you have a favourite? Please let me know via comment.

A Sad Passing…

…of a product.

Recently, Cisco announced that it would be discontinuing the Flip Video Camera.  I think that’s a shame.  I remember when it was announced that Cisco was purchasing the product.  I thought that with Cisco backing and some energy, real innovation could come with this technology.

Thanks, andyi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I recall my first experiences with this.  It was actually a few years ago.   I had had a number of meetings with my superintendent.  We were both wrestling with the concept of YouTube and what impact it would have on students.  At the time, YouTube was blocked but students were finding all kinds of ways to get around the filters so that they could be entertained.  There’s no sense putting the time and effort into bypassing a filter for the educational value so there was a great deal of “Cat Flushing a Toilet” viewing happening.

At that level of intake, certainly YouTube wasn’t worth the time, effort or bandwidth.  The IT Department had cautioned us that we didn’t have enough bandwidth to open it to the system.  We weren’t terribly excited about just passively watching videos anyway.  We were more interested in the construction of the video.  A few years earlier a large amount of money had been infused into Technology Departments to kick-start the system with the offering of Communications Technology to secondary school students.  After a bumpy start, the program was flourishing.  In fact, some students were doing amazing things with video production.  Shameless family promotion starts here.

Every year, we would purchase a small piece of technology and put it into the hands of our Computers in Education School Contacts for use in the school.  We had experimented with iPods, Palms, and more in the past and so I suggested that we purchase a small digital video camera this year around.  We both quickly brainstormed some ideas and decided that this could be a “YouTube killer”.  After all, we had full day release time with the contacts for five days throughout the year and I would make working with this technology an integral part of it.  So, we decided to make it happen.  I started to do my homework and narrowed the field down to two pieces of technology that fit in this genre – the Flip Camera and the RCA Small Wonder.

Quite frankly, I didn’t think there was a bad choice to be made.  I liked the technology and I liked the potential.  We ended up purchasing the Small Wonder camera.  I liked the larger screen and the lack of a flip out screen for durability.  It was quite an event when 80 of them, one for each school, arrived on our doorstep.  Our inventory control involved my secretary labelling the boxes so that we could ensure that every school got one and the technology was distributed at the first meeting of the year to quite a mixed response.  The elementary school contacts loved them and had them unpacked and looking for the power switch immediately.  A couple of the secondary school contacts were Communication Technology teachers and saw them as toys and could never produce the same results that they could with professional quality equipment.  I even had a colleague in another board ask me “Can they do this? as he pulled out his dynamite high-end camera.  No, but does every school have one of those?  Well, no….”

All of these groups were right.

We stayed the course and it was great.  The intent was never that they would contend for status in a Communications Technology course.  In fact, it could be argued that they would seed student interest in video production to the point that they would choose this as an option.  They were designed as a “first person shooter” for students to just be able to shoot and tell a story.  They weren’t “cheap” but if one got dropped and broken, it wouldn’t break the bank to replace it.  With replaceable batteries, there should never be a reason for no power again.  Since it contained a memory chip, you could replace memory in a moment rather than scrambling for a video cassette.  Or, just plug the device into the USB port of your computer and pull the video or images from the camera to your desktop.  The uptake everywhere was so successful that we quickly had schools wanting to know how to purchase more – my science colleague wanted to document science experiments – and even the Communications Technology folks wanted more because of the portability.

We started to see:

  • videos of school productions on websites;
  • green screen video productions; (just set your computer to a green background colour and display it on your SMART Board)
  • public service announcements from the child on the street;
  • three word stories;
  • parts dropped overboard on a trip to Pelee Island on the Jiimaan;
  • earth day videos;
  • birthday party celebrations;
  • graduation videos;
  • video book reviews;
  • videos created for every type of project imaginable;
  • video from angles like lying on the floor looking up that would normally cause one to shudder with an expensive camera;
  • special education students using new words in a sentence with immediate feedback of their performance for self evaluation;
  • and so much more.

As a Windows Board, we used Microsoft’s Photo Story and Movie Maker to edit and assemble our stories.  They were absolutely awesome.  I was recently at David Suzuki Public School to help out with a Grade 1 class for a Reading Project and part of our multimedia production involved recording a rap.  Guess how it was recorded?  I can’t speak highly enough for how much of an impact this sort of technology provided us.

While we used the Small Wonder, the Flip Video has as many or more success stories.  It’s a shame that Cisco couldn’t find a way to financially keep the product alive, or at least, sell the division to someone else who could.

There is a lot of speculation as to why this happen – including the use of the Smart Phone for video production instead.  Definitely the functionality for creating short videos is there but at a different price point; different level of durability; and without the potential of putting it in the hands of all students to tell their story.

It is sad to read this about the Flip Video camera.  The devices are so strong and durable that they’ll be around and used for a long time yet.  Perhaps we’ll see another life breathed into it or a subsequent technology.  It seems to me the next step would have been to add wifi capabilities and some simple in camera editing.  The Flip Camera will really be missed.  Witness the response so far…

Cobra in the News

For the past while, the cobra that went missing from the Bronx Zoo has been in the media. Everywhere in the media!  It makes sense that the New York media covered it but the story even made it to our local Windsor Star in the form of a collection of pictures that documented where the cobra reported her travels.

How did she report? With her own Twitter account, of course.

In tribute to all this media, I decided to create a little media of my own. I put this all together solely on the iPad. I’m writing this on BlogPress. The media is assembled in the fabulous Strip Designer application. The content was retrieved from my Diigo account and Amplify links and added after editing by the Photoshop Express application.

Here goes….

I learned a great deal about the software putting this post together.  It is a powerful suite of tools and certainly replicable in the classroom.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Power of Images

We all know of the power of images.  They bring forth human emotions stronger than mere words.  It’s part of the reason why so many use cameras and images so effectively in the classroom.

One of my favourite applications that use the power of images so strongly is PicLits.   Using it is pretty easy – just click on an image from the gallery, and in one mode just drag and drop nouns, verbs,  adjectives, etc. onto the image to tell the story behind the image.  In the freestyle mode, you have the ability to write your story in a little text editor.  The program can be very effective for use in the classroom.

Watching students motivated by the image has convince me that this application is a real “keeper” for primary and some junior classes.

I’ve been looking for a similar way to inspire research and writing in older students.  The game changes there and you can make things more authentic by providing real-world problems and situations for deeper comment and proposals for solution.  This morning, I ran into an absolutely incredible website for setting the stage to some thoughtful writing.

Amusing Planet wrote a book review with some imagery that is absolutely powerful.  The book is entitled “Where Children Sleep“.  It’s a collection of images and short stores from students around the world.  The common denominator in all of this is that a picture of each of the children’s “bedroom” is shown along with a short biography of each child.

When you read the stories behind each of the children, you can’t help but get a sense as to what life must be like in each of their realities.  I can’t help but think that this readings would serve to inspire some insightful research and writing by students old enough to understand things.  Even an activity where you choose two of the children and compare their realities would serve as a starter that would undoubtedly inspire the students to read and try to understand all of students in the article.

Beyond that, I would think that copies of this book should find a welcome home in school libraries everywhere.

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