Monthly Archives: July 2011

The science behind Bing Vision 2D object recognition

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If you haven’t seen or tried Bing Vision, it’s pretty cool stuff. Even though iPhone users have had the privilege for more than six months now, Windows Phone Mango users (in some regions) will soon too be able to search book, CD and DVDs by just scanning its cover.

In a presentation about computer vision, Rick Szeliski from Microsoft Research’s Interactive Visual Media group talks a lot about the advancements in computer vision technologies MSR has made in the last decade including but not limited to Kinect. One other recent project of note was called “Lincoln”, by Larry Zitnick, which formed the basis for Bing Vision.

Since Rick tries his best to generalize the algorithms involved, I’ve embedded a clipping of the video above if anyone’s curious about the technology behind it all. Apparently it involves “kd-trees”, not magic.

One other interesting tidbit Rick mentions during the presentation is the fact that whilst recognizing people en mass is hard, it’s already viable for smaller groups like families. The fact that he uses the example of logging in a PC in light of the rumors that Windows 8 will support such a feature is at least note-worthy evidence of the feature’s practicality.

Microsoft takes flawless lead in tech company Starcraft 2 tournament

I knew that one day my two obsessions, Microsoft and Starcraft 2, would finally weave together. With the Starcraft 2 After Hours Gaming League, it has and the Microsoft team is competing surprisingly well against the likes of Facebook and Google.

Started earlier this month, the After Hours Gaming League is an eSports spin on the traditional inter-corporate sports competitions with a focus specifically on technology companies. In its first season, eight teams representing Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yelp and Zynga have signed up to compete in Starcraft 2.

The Microsoft team is made up of ten employees including those who work on Windows, Internet Explorer, Bing and Windows Azure. So far they’ve competed against Google, Yelp, Zynga and Amazon with a flawless 4 wins to 0 losses to take the first place rank in the league. With just three matches to go, they are in pretty good shape to win their charity, Amnesty International, the $5,000 prize pool.

Even if you’re slightly interested in watching people play games competitive, you can watch the week 4 (embedded below), week 3, week 2 and week 1 Microsoft matches respectively.

With a witty team slogan of “Macrohard, Microsoft”, it’s hard not to cheer for these guys.

Introducing MetroTwit Show: a visualizer for Twitter

Cross posted from One of the many features we’ve been planning for MetroTwit since day one is the ability to visualize and enjoy tweets in a more casual and interactive format. Today, we’re making available MetroTwit Show, a project that’s been in the oven for a few weeks to make the reading experience for Twitter more vibrant.

To make the experience accessible, MetroTwit Show is a Silverlight 4 out-of-browser application to take advantage of the widespread adoption of Silverlight on both Windows and Macs. Like MetroTwit, it is inspired by Microsoft’s Metro design language and prides itself on beautiful animations and elegant typography.

As a v1 release, the feature set is limited to a simple read-only experience to following searches and trends. We have plans to add many more layers of interactivity and functionality.

As always, we look forward to everyone’s feedback on both MetroTwit Show and MetroTwit as we continue refining and improving the Twitter experience on Windows.

Microsoft quietly testing Zune Music in Australia

Earlier today, an anonymous user pointed out to me that Microsoft appears to have begun discretely testing the Zune Music Marketplace for Australian users. Zune 4.8 users who have their system location set to Australia and/or an Australian Live ID will now see the “Music” tab teasing the goods.

Since this is believed to be just a test, unfortunately it’s just a small and unusual collection of songs. Nevertheless, the test does reveal the pricing for songs and albums Microsoft may have settled on, with beloved Microsoft Points no less. Songs costs 129 Points (AUD$2.13) and albums appear to be priced per song capped at 1299 Points (AUD$21.43).

Even the pricing does seem unfairly high in contrast to the US store with the exchange rate in mind, it’s actually comparable to iTunes’ current pricing of AUD$2.19 per song.

With Windows Phone Mango just around the corner where the availability of Zune Pass subscription is also rumored to be expanding, Zune seems to be finally landing on our shores, somewhat five years later.

Update: Microsoft has also enabled “Podcasts” as we are now a country worthy enough to enjoy them.

Bing Maps: what a difference a little color makes

After I quite bluntly criticized the Bing Maps map style update of 2010, it’s only fair to give praise when changes for the better are made.

As LiveSide reports, Bing has begun rolling out the “July 2011 Maps Style Update” sporting more prominent borders and higher contrast colorset that addresses many of the issues I was concerned with. In addition, there’s also a much more conservative use of the transparent labels in favor of traditional solid labels to reduce clutter.

If you’re somewhat design curious, the PDF guide reveals many more subtle changes in greater depth which all adds up to a more refined look for Bing Maps.

Although the website has already been updated, it appears the mobile tileset for Windows Phone 7 has yet to be refreshed. Hopefully that will come sooner than later.

Update: The web of rivers are gone (for the better) too!

My first WP7 app: Speedo Plus

Since spending quite a bit of time on the roads last week, I was desperate for an aesthetically pleasing speedometer app for Windows Phone 7. After sampling the Marketplace, I realized sometimes you just have to get down and dirty to make an app just the way you want.

Having read, written about and evangelized the WP7 development ecosystem for a while now, it’s always good to walk the walk. With MSDN documentation in one hand and Visual Studio in the other, my first app “Speedo Plus” is now available in the Marketplace.

As anyone who’s seen my code would attest to my amateur C# skills, I make no guarantees on the quality of the code except for the fact that it works, or at least have fooled myself and the Marketplace testers. The design and UX however I do make guarantees about.

The tools were great, documentation was a little patchy but making it was a lot of fun, even though certification was frustratingly unpredictable (i.e. the same app passed and failed on policy 2.7.3).

The app is essentially free. The trial is fully featured and does not display ads. Buy the app for US$0.99 only if you want to support me and I look forward to everyone’s feedback.