Archive | March 2008

Introducing Jott for BlackBerry

I just learned about Jott for BlackBerry:

We have a lot of happy Blackberry customers at Jott, and Jott for BlackBerry is the ultimate BlackBerry download. It is a simple, but very powerful tool that will let you reply to emails on your BlackBerry just using your voice – either speaking directly into your BlackBerry, or while wearing a Bluetooth headset. It is seamlessly integrated into the email application you already use, and is a huge leap forward for BlackBerry lovers in three ways: first, it is 3-5 times faster than ‘thumbing’ text; two, you won’t be known for sending just terse replies because you don’t want to thumb type out a normal email message; and three, you will be safer because you won’t have to take your eyes off the road.*
(*Jott does NOT encourage messaging while driving).

Jott for Blackberry makes an already awesome device even better.

The following is the body of a reply I just created:

Thanks for sharing this interesting service with me. It's definitely something that I'm interested in investigating and it's my intention to follow up very very soon. Thanks very much. Bye for now.

Sent with my voice via Jott for Blackberry ~ http://jott.com/bb

To listen: http://www.jott.com/show.aspx?id=e4eb3151-9007-448c-bd73-7de70ecc4766

In this example, the transcription quality was excellent. Note that the recipient is advised that the response was Jott’ed, and has the option of listening to the original audio recording. Nice!

Although I’m only at the testing stage, I expect to make extensive use of Jott for BlackBerry!

Note to Jott and Google: Please enable Jott for BlackBerry in the GMail for BlackBerry application.

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Book Review: Building Telephony Systems with Asterisk

Asterisk is a Open Source framework for building feature/functionality-rich telephony solutions. And although it’s able to compete solidly with offerings from commercial providers, the establishment of an Asterisk deployment is involved. Thus D. Gomillion and B. Dempster’s book Building Telephony Systems with Asterisk will be useful to anyone intending to delve into Asterisk. The book is comprised of nine chapters whose content can be summarized as follows:
  • In providing an introduction, Chapter 1 enumerates what Asterisk is and isn’t. Asterisk is a PBX plus IVR, voicemail and VoIP system. Asterisk is not an off-the-shelf phone system, SIP proxy or multi-platform solution. This enumeration leads to a welcome discussion on Asterisk’s fit for your needs. The authors quantify this fit in terms of flexibility vs. ease-of use, configuration-management UI, TCO and ROI. Although the latter to topics are covered briefly, the authors’ coverage will certainly serve to stimulate the right kinds of discussions.
  • Chapter 2 begins by enumerating the ways in which the Asterisk solution might connect to the PSTN. Next, in discussing the four types of terminal equipment (hard phones, soft phone, communications devices and PBXs), the major protocols supported by Asterisk are revealed – namely H.323, SIP and IAX. Whereas H.323 is well known to many of those who’ve delved in videoconferencing, and SIP to anyone who’s done any reading on VoIP, IAX is an interesting addition specific to Asterisk. The Inter-Asterisk eXchange (IAX) protocol attempts to address limitations inherent in H.323 and SIP relating to, e.g., NAT support, configurability, call trunking, sharing information amongst Asterisk servers plus codec support. IAX is not a standard and device support is somewhat limited but on the rise. As of this book’s writing, September 2005, IAX2 had deprecated IAX – and that still appears to be the case. Guidelines for device choice, compatibility with Asterisk, sound quality analysis and usability all receive attention in this chapter. The chapter closes with a useful discussion on the choice of extension length. Highly noteworthy, and already provided as a link above, is the voip-info.org wiki.
  • The installation of Asterisk is the focus of Chapter 3. After reviewing the required prerequisites, none of which are especially obscure, attention shifts to the Asterisk-specific components. In turn Zaptel (device drivers), libpri (PRI libraries) and Asterisk are installed from source. (I expect packaged versions of these components are now available for various Linux distributions.) Asterisk includes a plethora of configuration files, and these are given an overview in this chapter. And although it’s not mentioned, disciplined use of a revision control system like RCS is strongly advised. The chapter concludes with sections on running Asterisk interacting with its CLI to ensure correct operation, start/stop the service and so on.
  • With Asterisk installed, attention shifts to interface configuration in Chapter 4. In working through line and terminal configurations for Zaptel interfaces, one is humbled by the edifice that is the pre-IP world of voice. Our introduction to the intersection between the pre-IP and VoIP universes is completed by consideration of SIP and IAX configuration. Again humbling, the authors’ treatment affords us an appreciation of the application of acknowledged standards like SIP (which is itself based on RTP) through implementation. The final few sections of the chapter further emphasize the convergence capabilities of VoIP platforms by exposing us to voicemail, music-on-hold, message queues and conference rooms.
  • Through the creation of a dialplan, Asterisk’s functionalities and features can be customized for use. Dialplans are illustrated in Chapter 5 by establishing contexts, incoming/outgoing-call extensions, call queues, call parking, direct inward dialing, voicemail, automated phone directory and conference rooms. Customization is involved, and it is in chapters such as this one that the authors deliver significant value in their ability to move us swiftly towards a dialplan solution. Also evident from this chapter, and to paraphrase the authors, is Asterisk’s power and flexibility as a feature/functionality-rich telephony solution.
  • Under Asterisk, calls are tracked with Call Detail Records (CDRs). Data pertaining to each call can be logged locally to a flat file or to a database running on (preferably) a remote server. The database-oriented approach for managing CDR data is more flexible and powerful, even though it takes more effort to set up, as this solution is based on databases such as PostgreSQL or MySQL. CDR comprises the least-invasive approach for quality assurance. The remainder of the content in Chapter 6 focuses on more-invasive approaches such as monitoring and recording calls.
  • Based only on the context provided by this review, it is likely apparent that an Asterisk deployment requires considerable effort. Thus in Chapter 7, the authors introduce us to the turnkey solution known as Asterisk@Home. Asterisk@Home favors convenience at the expense of flexibility – e.g., the flavor of Linux (CentOS) as well as support components such as the database (MySQL) are predetermined. The Asterisk Management Portal (AMP), a key addition in Asterisk@Home, Webifies access to a number of user and administrator features/functionalities – voicemail, CRM, Flash Operator Panel (FOP, a real-time activity monitor), MeetMe control plus AMP (portal and server Asterisk@Home management) itself. Before completing the chapter with an introduction to the powerful SugarCRM component bundled with Asterisk@Home, the authors detail required steps to complete the deployment of Asterisk@Home for a simple use case. It’s chapters like this, that allow us to all-at-once appreciate the potential for the Asterisk platform. (Packt has recently released a book on AsteriskNOW. AsteriskNOW is the new name for Asterisk@Home.)
  • The SOHO, small business and hosted PBX are the three case studies that collectively comprise Chapter 8. Sequentially, the authors present the case-study scenario, some discussion, Asterisk configuration specifics, and conclusions. In taking this approach, the authors make clear the application of Asterisk to real-world scenarios of increasing complexity. In the SOHO case, the SIP shared object (chan_sip.so) is not loaded as this functionality is not required. This is but one example of how the authors attempt to convey best practices in the deployment of a production solution based on Asterisk.
  • Maintenance and security are considered in the final chapter of the book (Chapter 9). The chapter begins with a useful discussion on automating backups and system maintenance plus time synchronization. Those familiar with systems administration can focus on the Asterisk-specific pieces that will require their attention. This focus naturally leads to a discussion of recovering the Asterisk deployment in the event of a disaster. Security gets well-deserved consideration in this chapter from both the server and network perspective. For example, there is very useful and interesting content on securing the protocols used by Asterisk with a firewall. Before closing the chapter by identifying both the Open Source and commercial support offerings for Asterisk, the scalability of Asterisk is given attention.

This book was first published in September 2005 and is based on version 1.2.1 of Asterisk. As of this writing, Asterisk’s production version is 1.4.x, and the version 1.6 beta release is also available (see http://www.asterisk.org/ for more). Even though the book is somewhat dated, it remains useful in acquainting readers with Asterisk, and I have no reservations in strongly recommending it.
Disclaimer: The author was kindly provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

Launch: Silicon Valley – Still Time for Submissions

If you plan on being in The Bay Area early this Summer, you may want to take in Launch: Silicon Valley (L:SV). From the event’s Web site comes the following overview:

In its 3rd year, Launch: Silicon Valley is now firmly established as the premier product launch platform for cash strapped startups. The event, co-presented by SVASE, Garage Technology Ventures and Microsoft, provides the next generation of emerging technology companies with the opportunity to pitch their products to, and network with, an audience of Silicon Valley’s top VCs, Angels, corporate business development executives, prospective customers and partners, bloggers and media.

Launch: Silicon Valley 2008 is designed to uncover and showcase products and services from the most exciting of the newest startups in information technology, mobility, security, digital media, next generation internet, life sciences and clean energy.

If you are a startup, you have until May 9, 2008, to submit an executive summary relating to your product offering.
Having never attended L:SV, I can only state that this looks like an excellent opportunity for all stakeholders.
(Thanks to the organizers for making me aware of their event.)

Annotation Modeling: To Appear in Comp & Geosci

What a difference a day makes!
Yesterday I learned that my paper on semantic platforms was rejected.
Today, however, the news was better as a manuscript on annotation modeling was
accepted for publication.
It’s been a long road for this paper:

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Annotation Modeling with Formal Ontologies:
Implications for Informal Ontologies

L. I. Lumb[1], J. R. Freemantle[2], J. I. Lederman[2] & K. D.
Aldridge[2]
[1] Computing and Network Services, York University, 4700 Keele Street,
Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3, Canada
[2] Earth & Space Science and Engineering, York University, 4700 Keele
Street, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3, Canada
Knowledge representation is increasingly recognized as an important component of any cyberinfrastructure (CI). In order to expediently address scientific needs, geoscientists continue to leverage the standards and implementations emerging from the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Semantic Web effort. In an ongoing investigation, previous efforts have been aimed towards the development of a semantic framework for the Global Geodynamics Project (GGP). In contrast to other efforts, the approach taken has emphasized the development of informal ontologies, i.e., ontologies that are derived from the successive extraction of Resource Description Format (RDF) representations from eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and then Web Ontology Language (OWL) from RDF. To better understand the challenges and opportunities for incorporating annotations into the emerging semantic framework, the present effort focuses on knowledge-representation modeling involving formal ontologies. Although OWL’s internal mechanism for annotation is constrained to ensure computational completeness and decidability, externally originating annotations based on the XML Pointer Language (XPointer) can easily violate these constraints. Thus the effort of modeling with formal ontologies allows for recommendations applicable to the case of incorporating annotations into informal ontologies.

I expect the whole paper will be made available in the not-too-distant future …

Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Platforms: Unpublished ms.

I learned yesterday that the manuscript I submitted to HPCS 2008 was not accepted 😦
It may take my co-authors and I some time before this manuscript is revised and re-submitted.
This anticipated re-submission latency, along with the fact that we believe the content needs to be shared in a timely fashion, provides the motivation for sharing the manuscript online.
To whet your appetite, the abstract is as follows:

Evolving a Semantic Framework into a Network-Enabled Semantic Platform
A data-oriented semantic framework has been developed previously for a project involving a network of globally distributed scientific instruments. Through the use of this framework, the semantic expressivity and richness of the project’s ASCII data is systematically enhanced as it is successively represented in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), RDF (Resource Description Formal) and finally as an informal ontology in OWL (Web Ontology Language). In addition to this representational transformation, there is a corresponding transformation from data into information into knowledge. Because this framework is broadly applicable to ASCII and binary data of any origin, it is appropriate to develop a network-enabled semantic platform that identifies the enabling semantic components and interfaces that already exist, as well as the key gaps that need to be addressed to completely implement the platform. After briefly reviewing the semantic framework, a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) based implementation for a network-enabled semantic platform is provided. And although the platform is in principle usable, ongoing adoption suggests that strategies aimed at processing XML via parallel I/O techniques are likely an increasingly pressing requirement.

The MFA is the New MBA: Illustrations by Steve Jobs and Apple

In March 2005, Dan Pink asserted “… the MFA is the new MBA”.
Why?

… businesses are realizing that the only way to differentiate their goods and services in today’s overstocked marketplace is to make their offerings physically beautiful and emotionally compelling. Thus the high-concept abilities of an artist are often more valuable than the easily replicated L-Directed skills of an entry-level business graduate.

I can’t think of a better illustration than Steve Jobs’ story of how the Mac became the first computer with beautiful typography.
And of course, true to form, Jobs illustrated Pink’s assertion more than two decades ago.
And since 1984, Jobs and Apple have made the illustration even more compelling with the current generation of Macs, the iPod, and most recently the iPhone.
Note-to-self: Look into MFA programs!

Aside: I’ve blogged previously about Pink’s book and its implications for displacing knowledge workers.

On Discovering Steve Jobs’ June 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford

If you haven’t already read the commencement address that Steve Jobs gave to Stanford graduates in June 2005 I strongly suggest you do read it.
I was only made aware of this address earlier today. And although I already admire the man as one of the key people that has brought me the technology I embrace the most, after reading this speech my admiration of Jobs has escalated a few quantum levels.
For example, much is rightly made of Apple’s user interfaces. In this speech, Jobs provides some insight on how this came about:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

What a wonderful way to, as Jobs describes it, connect the dots.