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A GUI For Books 115

NASA's Goddard Flight Center has just issued a contract to use Touch User Interface technology from a company called Somatic Digital. Their "TouchBooks" let printed material connect to digital devices via sensors in the covers. (C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.) This page on the vendor's site has videos of a 7-year-old using a TouchBook. Works with XP and OS X.
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A GUI For Books

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  • Ok... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Apocalypse111 ( 597674 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:40PM (#16297247) Journal
    (C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.)

    Ok, I won't tell you that I've never done it.
    • by manastungare ( 596862 ) <.eman.eragnut. .ta. .sanam.> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:01PM (#16297527) Homepage
      Recently, I did glance up at the top-right corner of a book to see what time it was. And was disappointed to see a page number instead.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        I noticed that after extended use of a graphics tablet and Photoshop I would tap two fingers in quick succession on the bottom left corner of the sketch pad to hit ^Z when drawing on paper. Real life needs an undo key sequence, the interface sucks ass.
        • The number of times I've been reading a book and try to find a way to type grep somewhere is untold. Not only do we need undo sequences (I often do the exact same thing as you describe when drawing, by the way) but also a decent search utility. Not just grep (for passages in books) but something like beagle to find that sheet of paper I know I had on my desk somewhere.
          • Okay, I've never TRIED any of these things, but I do agree that grep for books would be awesome.
        • by bodan ( 619290 )
          I noticed that after extended use of Deus Ex I would raise my right hand when trying to check out a chick at a distance. I had my binoculars on '9'.
          • by bodan ( 619290 )
            On the other hand, I have also tried to raise a glass of water with the mouse cursor once. That didn't work any better, either.
        • by Pope ( 17780 )
          It's called an eraser. May I suggest Staedtler Mars Plastic? They're quite good.
          http://www.dickblick.com/zz215/00/ [dickblick.com]

      • I have looked for the 'reply' button so I could go into a mindless flailing rant about how I didn't agree with what the author has said. Damn those authors for not including a click-reply feature.
      • Once, I was reading a book (in the chair I often watch TV in). My wife started talking to me, so I hit the pause button on the nearby Tivo remote before down my book.

        (Pausing the book -- not my wife that is)
    • by cortana ( 588495 )
      I am ashamed to admint that I have caught myself mentally reaching out to run the w(1) command to see who is currently in my house.
      • I've caught myself thinking, "meh, I'll try it, my last quicksave can't be that far back".

        In real life, though.

        Every time, I was goddamn terrified when I realized what I'd been thinking :(

        I've also "mentally reached" for quicksave a couple of times. Thankfully, I've not had to reach for "quickload" yet. Heh.
        • by gkhan1 ( 886823 )

          Yeah, you should always quicksave just before sealing the deal with some hot chick. Then if you fail, you can quickload and try again. If you succeed, you can quickload and try again. And again. And again.

          You'd think real life would have atleast the same features as a SNES :(

      • Damn, I read this, reached forward hit F1 (my shortcut for a terminal) and typed w.
    • by Pxtl ( 151020 )
      Never done that.

      Now, ctrl+F on the other hand...

      And when drawing, I'm always looking for the undo.
      • by Webmoth ( 75878 )
        And when drawing, I'm always looking for the undo.

        That's what that red, rubbery thing on the other end of the pencil is for.
  • OK then... (Score:4, Funny)

    by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:40PM (#16297253)
    (C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.)

    Back slowly away from the psychoactive drugs, these nice men want to have a little talk with you.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by EzraSj ( 993720 )
      Sometimes, when searching for something, I instinctively reach to my upper right and want to type 'socks' into spotlight.
      • by Cctoide ( 923843 )
        This is eerily similar to when I think "damn, there was a passage in this book I liked, I wonder where it is" and instintively look for the Firefox Google bar.
        • by cibyr ( 898667 )
          I find my self trying to use find-as-you-type in all sorts of documents (even hard-copy) then remembering that I'm not using firefox...
  • How sad do you have to be click on a link in a book? And people tell _me_ that I'm addicted to computers. When I read a book (volunteerily) I do it so as preference to reading from a screen.
    • by RingDev ( 879105 )
      True, but I could see this as being useful in an electronic ink/tft solution. The ease of reading ink, the flexibility of a digital display, and the interactivity of a touch screen. It sounds almost (but not quite!) patently original.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      I can think of two good uses.
      1) Click on a word to get it's definition

      2) Technical manuals.
      • by pembo13 ( 770295 )
        Don't get me wrong. I can think of reasons. But currently, the tech hasn't been implemented., so why would someone clcik on a link in a book today?
    • seriously, reading books is a good time for your eyes to be away from the screen, its one reason I really really don't like eBooks.
    • by Asztal_ ( 914605 )
      You think clicking a link is bad? I ticked the "Remember Me" checkbox first. With a pen.
  • I read tfa but for the life of me I can't come up with a useful application of
    this technology. Are there any samples of use out there ? Anybody used this ?
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by symes ( 835608 )
      This could be great for braille readers - the unsighted have a pretty hard time with the net. This technology could at least guide them to suitable media content.
      • that's a good one, as usualy I had not thought outside of my own sensory experiences.

        It's incredibly hard to even try to imagine what it is like to miss a sense, I tried
        walking around blindfolded for a day and I never made it past the 10 minute mark (and
        with a really nice bruise to show for my efforts).

    • by dptalia ( 804960 )
      It'd be great for text books. Want more info on a person place or thing? Plug in your text book and follow the links for more information than you ever wanted! Likewise, my favorite cooking magazine has additional content (side dishes that go with the main meal they featured, for example) online. I'd love to just plug in and go to the relevant information.
      • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
        Likewise, my favorite cooking magazine has additional content . . . online. . .

        More ads. Can you say "CueCat"? I knew ya could.

        • by dptalia ( 804960 )
          Actually, no ads.. At least with this magazine! :) But you're right, that is one horrible use of the technology.
          • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
            Actually, no ads.. At least with this magazine!

            Good Lord! A pig just flew into my picture window. Excuse me while I go clean up the mess.

            • by dptalia ( 804960 )

              I know of at least 3 cooking magazines (I subscribe to two of them) that have NO ads. Which is why they're the only magazines I subscribe to.

    • by bwcarty ( 660606 )

      Companies that still print catalogs could link the items to their website for quick ordering. Magazine ads could link directly to websites.
    • No. Nobody uses them.

      I've been in the book selling business for over 20 years. These thing have come and gone regularly since the 80's. They always fail. After 20 years, I can tell you that people like the sight and the feel - and even smell! - of traditional books.
      For those who really want computerized books, they just seem to be crippled, single use machines.

      It will soon be gone, just like the others.
      • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @07:03PM (#16299055) Homepage Journal
        The technology will be there soon. For instance, 600dpi ePaper with optional (but not necessary) backlighting. A display that looks as good as the output of a decent laser printer will be around in the next decade or so. The capacity to store any amount of reading material you would ever want on a device the size of a pocket paperback is there now.

        The reason it will never take off is because for the same price as a paperback + $1.99, you will get a single eBook that's encrusted with DRM, can't be transferred to a different device and, if the capriciousness of content providers continues on the path it is now, will expire (and self-delete) in a month.

  • by amigabill ( 146897 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:43PM (#16297297)
    This page on the vendor's site has videos of a 7-year-old using a TouchBook.

    OK, but little kids pick up on things pretty well. Like grandma asking little Timmy to open her child-proof medecine bottle for her.

    Show me a video of my grandma using this thing and I'll be impressed.
    • Show me a video of my grandmother (deceased: 1982) using this, and I'll buy stock!
    • Tell me about it, my mum was over the other day and was floored when she saw my 3 year old son surfing the net and solving a sudoku puzzle without any human assistance. And he's hardly even talking yet.
  • Huh? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen

    What kind of dumbass approved that message?
  • If you imagine this as a tablet pc, or electronic book, kids can get pronunciation and other learning information about the words they are reading, or even the content. Imagine HTML being used to its full potential. You get the quarterly report in summary form, and links take you to the additiona information that you wish to see by selecting from the menu presented when you click on a word or link...

    Oh wait...

    Never mind
  • by daenris ( 892027 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:52PM (#16297433)
    tried clicking a link in a book...

    one time in college after several days of no sleep and too much coding, I tried to click on a post-it note that was stuck to the top corner of my monitor.

    And another time at work -- again after too little sleep -- I ctrl-c'd something on one computer, then walked into another room and tried to paste it onto that computer. Twice. Then I actually stopped to think about what I was doing.
  • /[search-pattern] (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:53PM (#16297443) Homepage Journal
    C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.

    I can tell you I've never tried "pressing" a URL on anywhere other than an electronic screen (not even physical hyperlinks (Semacodes [wikipedia.org]).

    What I miss more in hard copies of books though, is an easy search/grep functionality. Yeah, Indexes and Table of Contents try to achieve this to a certain extent, but that's nothing compared to the search capability in Electronic documents.

    On countless occasions, after a long day of poring over text in vi, and searching for text as easily as "/[search-pattern]", I miss the same capability when I sit down to read a printed book.

    And no, I don't want to go to http://books.google.com/ [google.com] when I want to find the last page I read that I read a Character's name on in my mystery novel.

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:59PM (#16297491)
    C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.

    No, but I do lick my fingertips before I click the "Next" button.
  • Their "TouchBooks" let printed material connect to digital devices via sensors in the covers.

    Oh great. Just wait until the "Catcher in the Rye" crowd gets wind of this.
  • 7 year old! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CaseyB ( 1105 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:01PM (#16297539)
    Wow, it's an interface so simple, a 7 year old can use it!

    I think you're a little out of touch with modern kids. My son would was perfectly comfortable using a mouse, keyboard, and joystick to launch and play his favorite games. At 3. My wife does simple spreadsheets with her grade 1 class.

    • My step-brother has a daughter who is 4 or 5 years old and runs a pretty good Warlock on WoW. She's not a raider (mostly due to very little ability to chat, some people have gotten pissed with her and thank God for the language filter, he dad has to jump in once and a while to explain some things), but she is very good at using the pet system (heck, better than I can run a Hunter/Warlock). Always forgets to repair her items, though.

      And a similar sentament to other comments, if you can get my grandma to us

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:03PM (#16297569)
    C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen

    No, but I have looked for an "UNDO" button when filling out paper forms...
    • by Mercano ( 826132 )
      Spell check would be nice, too. (Thanks, Firefox 2, for adding it to web forms.) And a backspace key is definitely lacking on forms requiring blue or black ink.
  • by lelitsch ( 31136 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:06PM (#16297609)
    Grammar -- F
    Design -- D
    Technical understanding -- F
    Orthography -- D-

    Yeah, that's gonna be a huge success.
  • Will you get electrocuted?
  • by linguizic ( 806996 ) * on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:14PM (#16297715)
    ...does anyone else has the taskbar at the bottom of their dreams from time to time?
  • Isn't this pretty much the same thing as the Leapfrog products? Leapfrog uses a magnetic stylist to monitor where the child is pressing on the page but this is certainly nothing new. And definitely nothing exciting or well done.
    • The most important differences from LeapFrog include:

      1. Price. While the cost of the TouchBook device is about the same as LeapFrog, $40.00, the LeapFrog is essentially a platform that requires you to buy software from the publisher, at about $15 per title. The TouchBook, on the other hand, comes with free authoring software that will allow teachers, or anyone else, to create their own TouchBooks at very low cost.
      2. Connectivity. The LeapFrog is a closed system that only allows you to control the leapfrog d
  • Holy Innovations! (Score:1, Redundant)

    by El_Smack ( 267329 )
    Wow, I have never seen anything like it [leapfrog.com] before!
  • ... first I need to buy books that have a special sensor implanted in the spine. Then I need to be sitting in front of a computer to use it. As I click links in the book, my eyes move back and forth from the book to the screen. Sounds like another worst-of-both-worlds technology to me. Why not just give the kids an eBook and combine all this nonsense into a single, functional unit?
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      because it removes the 'piracy ' issue. That means you have a stronger chance of getting publisher buy in.

      You wuold only need to loko at the computer screen(PDA, Laptop, cellphone?) when you click on the link. Presumably because you need information not in the book. Like a good technical drawing you can zoom in on.

      Lets say this is bluetooth enabled.

      Your reading a good book on 'Cyber Security' and you come across a term that interests you. Click on the link, and more in depth technical information is now on
      • this is interesting, and often times when i'm reading something printed, i want more information. if i were to follow a link everytime this happened, i'd never finish what i started reading in the first place. occasionally, when i look something up on wikipedia, this happens. i get sidetracked by something, then by something else, etc...until i've got 12 tabs open, and i have to work backwards to get back to the original problem. i could see this working if instead of sitting in front of the computer read
  • Never ever under any circumstances ever take a laptop into the bathroom as "something to read".
    If you do have to, make sure you have enough loo roll.
    Computers do not make good replacements they are sharp and don't flush very well.
  • ...How long it'll be until somebody hacks one of these things so they only display goatse, or screamers, no matter what you push?

  • What it the purpose of the book here? Watching the video demo, the interface is mechanically awkward, and you need the computer hooked up to the book anyway.

    Compared to a touch screen you have:
    1. Two fundamentally different displays: paper and screen
    2. Two fundamentally different navigation tools: press on paper and use mouse on screen

    My 4 year old uses a touch screen just fine. It appears you have to be older to use this contraption.
    • by E++99 ( 880734 )

      2. Two fundamentally different navigation tools: press on paper and use mouse on screen

      Some random tips:

      1) Try lifting the page rather than pressing on it.
      2) Try placing the mouse flat on the desk rather than on the screen. ;-)
  • Didn't I see this technology in Toys R Us about 10 years ago sold as a leap pad? http://www.leapfrog.com/do/findproduct?key=leappad plus&ageGroupKey=grade [leapfrog.com]
  • (C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.)

    No, I haven't. But then, I've been outside in the last five years, so I may not be the intended audience for that remark.
  • by Cesa ( 972909 ) <cesa37&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:41PM (#16298073)
    (C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.)

    Back in high school my chemistry teacher once started wiping the white board before everyone had finished taking notes. A girl in class said "No, wait", the teacher stopped halfway through and said "Oh, sorry". Then he drew an undo button (like the one in, for example, MS Word) on the board and pushed it with his hand and said "Well it didn't work, maybe you could just copy someone elses notes".
    • by kylben ( 1008989 )
      Wow, they use white boards in school now?
      • by Cesa ( 972909 )
        I'm from Sweden and I actually haven't seen a single black board since the 80s, there are probably a few still around, though most have been replaced by white boards. We actually call them "white board" using english and not swedish even though we used to call the black boards "svarta tavlan" (swedish for "the black board")
        • by kylben ( 1008989 )
          At my last job, they gave me a whiteboard, and I asked them if I could order a black board instead. They said OK, and so I also ordered two erasers (can't clap just one). Old school, but at least you can get a blackboard completely clean, and the chalk doesn't smell like p*ss.
          • Whiteboard markers don't smell like piss! There are entire clubs dedicated to people who get high on whiteboard markers. Don't tell me you've never sniffed one before, y'old wanker. I know you have.

            This whole "old-school blackboard thing" is a cover up for whiteboard marker junkies.
      • by cliath ( 978599 )
    • by cwgmpls ( 853876 )
      Actually, while funny, your story is becoming a reality today. Many, many schools are starting to move beyond the whitboards of yesterday and are starting to implement SMART Boards [smarttech.com], which actually do have an "undo button".
  • on the screen and expect a url to showup somewhere like it does in the browser status bar.
  • Almost as big as :CueCat, I'll bet. And almost as useful.
  • and a clever looking barcode scanner which can read the barcode and bring you to some predetermined content! or using ultra-high-powered computers, digitize the book, eliminating the need for printed materials and sensors altogether! the future never looked better. im so happy to be alive!
  • Works with XP and OS X.
    we have BOTH kinds of music - country AND western
    - blues brothers
  • Jeez, the least they could do is just launch the audio from Braiile - at least spare the sight-impaired from the chorus of "Duuuude, did you see that?!" from the other kids.
    One of the schools I work with has braille directory signs. They're 25 ft deep into the foyer, past several other hallways. Nice work.
  • C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.

    Hell, I can't remember the last time I looked at a printed page.
  • C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.

    Absolutely. Worked OK back in the old days: DigitalDesk [google.com].

  • Clicking on nothing isnt that bad, yet when your trying to find the USB drive in your book is when you need to see a psychoanalyst.
  • (C'mon, don't tell me you've never pressed on a URL on a printed page and expected something to happen.)

    There was this time when I wasn't smokin something, I jokingly poked a URL in a book to demonstrate how people in the future might react when they come across one of those antique artifacts of history made of ink and dead trees sandwiched between two flat, hard, rectangular plates
  • ...computer reads book about you!
  • While the "ooooh aaaaaah" factor is there, I don't see this technology as being particularly promising. It wouldn't be useful in schools because with the amount of wear and tear that school textbooks go through kids would constantly be going up to the teacher complaining that their textbook is broken. Also, having to carry a power brick around (did you see the size of that thing in the video??) for any textbook would seem to be contraindicated. And finally, if you look at the website you will see this para
  • Why wasn't there an icon for the DRM? A big frowning face or a picture of a crying baby would be a perfect fit!

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. -- Thomas Alva Edison