Santa tracked by Google, Microsoft

San Francisco (AFP) – Google and Microsoft had their virtual eyes on Santa Claus and his gift-laden sleigh on Thursday.

Each of the rival technology giants continued their separate Internet holiday traditions that allow children, no matter how grown up they might be, to track Santa online as he makes his way around the world on Christmas Eve.

“Google’s Santa Tracker launches today — And it’s time to follow the jolly man’s sleigh,” the California-based Internet firm said in a blog post playfully penned in rhyme.

“The elves have been working hard for this night, Santa’s village is abuzz — tonight’s the big flight.”

The website includes an animated map and a running tally of the number of gifts delivered.

Microsoft once again partnered with the North American Aerospace Defense Command on an interactive website at where Santa’s reindeer-drawn sleigh can be seen making its way over countries around the world.

NORAD’s involvement began 60 years ago when a wrong telephone number printed in a newspaper advertisement resulted in children calling for Santa.

The commander on duty that day had staff provide callers with updates on Santa’s location and the tradition evolved into the NORAD Santa-tracking website.

“Throughout the year, we can be pretty cynical,” Matthew Quinlan, marketing director for Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, said in a blog post.

“But this is one moment where we can see things again through a child’s eyes, and it gives us a fresh sense of wonder.”

The NORAD Santa-tracking website includes games and allows people to ask Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant software, where Santa is at any given moment.



YouTube Ramps 360-degree Video With ‘Spotlight Stories’

San Francisco (AFP) – YouTube on Tuesday added interactive, 360-degree animation video to its line-up, with help from the makers of “Wallace and Gromit.”

Dubbed “Spotlight Stories,” the new feature will be viewable on the YouTube app of an array of Android-powered smartphones.

Showcasing the technology was a Santa-themed short film from Academy Award-winning studio Aardman Animations, entitled “Special Delivery.”

The animated short centers on a building custodian trying to find a “mysterious stranger” who remains just out of sight but leaves behind a trail of gifts.

Designed by Google as a new form of storytelling, the immersive films allow users to drill down into sub-stories within their plot by moving their phone towards what they want to see.

“The sensors on your phone allow the story to be interactive, so when you move your phone to various scenes, you unlock mini-stories within the story,” technical project lead Rachid El Guerrab said in a blog post.

“Special Delivery” features 10 subplots and three potential endings.

Google Spotlight Stories will be expanded next year to more Android devices as well as a YouTube application for mobile devices powered by Apple software, El Guerrab said.


Gadgets, News

Microsoft is working on a Google Cardboard-rival called VR Kit

Microsoft is currently working on a new Google Cardboard killer, they have named it as the Microsoft VR kit. Microsoft is hosting a Virtual Reality hackathon in Russia, where it will be handing out Microsoft VR headsets to developers.

This is a leaked information and there is no official information about the event as yet.

According to a report by Thurrott, the event will be held next year and that microsoft will aggressively promote this event. However there is no information about when these devices will be available for the general public.

The device is a combo of a lumia device and a cardboard box. It is speculated that Microsoft may release the design for free just as Google did.



The New Google Cardboard Camera App Can Create 3D VR Images

Google recently launched a new mobile app for the Cardboard. The app named as the Cardboard Camera lets you create stunning panoramic virtual reality photos, with 360 degree coverage. The app is available in the Google Play Store for most android devices.

Taking pictures is a breeze with this app, the user simply has to move the camera for a whole 360 degree in a circle take a panoramic photo using this cardboard camera app.This app also has the ability to record audio and the image when seen using the cardboard will appear to be 3D.

Google says VR photos are three-dimensional panoramas that come with slightly different views for each eye. Near things look near and far things look far, and one can look around to explore the image in all directions.

“With Cardboard Camera, anyone can create their own VR experience. So revisit the mountaintop that took hours to hike, or the zoo where you saw (and heard) the monkeys, or your birthday party with the cake out and candles still lit. Capture the moments that matter to you and relive them anytime, from anywhere,” Google further explains in a blogpost.



Google Blackout Clearing Up But Some Still Experiencing Problems With Search Gmail Youtube

This morning’s slowdown with Google services such as search, YouTube, Gmail and mobile apps is largely cleared up, but some users are still experiencing problems, according to growing Twitter posts tagged with#googlefail. ZDNet’s Larry Dignan (whose post also sports a Google Fail Whale, picture, right), has been told its something to do with an AT&T (NYSE: T) routing issue. “Anything that touches Google via AT&T is down,” Dignan reports.

A Google rep told us “We’re aware some users had trouble accessing some Google services. The issue affecting some Google services has been resolved”. However some are still experiencing problems with Search, Gmail and YouTube.



Aardvark: A Better Social Q&A Than Twitter

Aardvark is a neat new service that lives in your IM client and which routes any question you might have to an Aardvark user who has the right expertise to answer your query. In return, Aardvark will also send you a few questions every day that fit your profile. You then decide to either answer the question or refer it to another friend. Of course, you can also always pass if you don’t know the answer.

Aardvark will come out of its private beta during SXSW, but we have a few invites for you if you want to try it out now.

Aardvark was developed by The Mechanical Zoo, a San Francisco-based company that raised $5.25 million from August Capital and Baseline Ventures last October.

When you sign up with Aardvark, you simply add some basic information about your location, the topics you want to answer questions about, and your preferred IM client. Aardvark supports Google Talk, AIM, and Microsoft’s Live Messenger. After this, Aardvark will live in your IM client and you simply ask it whatever question you might have in plain English.



Google Sync Keeps Contacts and Calendars in Sync on Your Mobile Phone

Google has just release a new tool called Google Sync, a service that syncs your Google Contacts and Calendar wirelessly to your iPhone, BlackBerry, Symbian, or Windows Mobile phone.

Google Sync uses a Microsoft Exchange server to keep all of your contact and calendar data in sync over the air. If you’ve added a new calendar appointment from your desktop, Google Sync will push the update to your phone. Likewise, changes you make from your phone are automatically synced to your Google account in the cloud.

Read the full story here.



Obama Gets a Google Vet–But Not for CTO

Barack Obama has yet to announce who his chief technology officer will be. But he has hired a Silicon Valley exec for another role: Google product manager Katie Jacobs Stanton will be the new President’s “director of citizen participation,” starting in March, sources tell me.

What the job entails isn’t completely clear to me, but I gather that she plans on using Web tools to let, well, citizens participate in the Obama White House.

The model: Google’s “Moderator” tool, which let people submit questions for the Presidential debates, and was later used to let them suggest initiatives for the new administration via its site.

Read the full story here.