The Benetech app

Benetech is a different kind of technology company, where we measure our success not on ROI, but Return to Humanity. Benetech is a non-profit organization that builds software solutions to address large scale and global social needs in literacy, human rights and the environment. Many of our software solutions are delivered via an open source model.

One of our latest literacy projects has been to develop an Android-based book e-reader for people with print disabilities. Print disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis, or dyslexia, effectively prevent a person from reading traditional print books. Many of those people qualify to have free or inexpensive access to books thanks to an exemption in U.S. copyright law called the Chafee Exemption. Bookshare, one of Benetech’s largest solutions, provides over 100,000 e-books in the accessible DAISY format (similar to ePub) to over 130,000 Chafee-qualified people in the U.S. Once downloaded from Bookshare, DAISY books can be consumed using Assistive Technology (AT), which employs Text to Speech technology (TTS), electronic refreshable braille, or large fonts for low vision users. Bookshare was originally built 10 years ago on a PHP architecture, was migrated to a Java/Hibernate/MyBatis framework and we recently migrated the content repository to S3.

Bookshare has a public REST-based API, which enables AT developers to directly integrate their applications with our API. Through the API, an AT application can enable a user to directly search for books, browse books based on category or recently added books and download a book packaged up as either a DAISY file or a BRF file commonly used by an electronic refreshable Braille display, such as HumanWare’s BrailleNote. Being able to directly download from the AT application simplifies the potentially frustrating experience of having to manually transfer the books from a PC to the AT software or device. The API supports anonymous use, which provides access to freely available books and open educational resources that have no copyright restrictions. Only qualified Bookshare members can access the copyrighted books and periodicals. To learn more about the Bookshare API and obtain a developer key, visit http://developer.bookshare.org/.

Recently Benetech challenged a group of volunteers to build a free, open source, mobile and accessible e-reader which leverages the Bookshare API. The volunteers chose to extend FBReaderJ, a popular open source e-reader for Android which leverages Android’s TTS API (android.speech.tts.TextToSpeech). The project is a work in progress, but so far the volunteers have added DAISY format support and Bookshare API integration. They are now working on improving the accessibility of the application and are evaluating different user interaction experiences to making it easy for print disabled users to access books. To learn more about Android accessibility, check out http://eyes-free.googlecode.com/ and to check or contribute to the project visit http://github.com/amahule/fbreaderj.

Ultimately, we believe this Android e-reader could also benefit people who don’t qualify under Chafee, but who have other disabilities, such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which makes it hard for them to enjoy printed or even traditional e-books. Furthermore, TTS technology and the Google Translate API may help us use inexpensive Android devices to distribute valuable knowledge locked up in print to illiterate populations in developing countries. Accessing knowledge for illiterate populations will be critical to the success of emerging democracies.

We welcome ideas you may have about our app or Benetech in general. We particularly welcome anyone interested in contributing product development skills to our Android e-reader project or any other open source projects Benetech is working on regarding literacy, human rights or the environment.

Google I/O winners

It seems like only yesterday that we announced our Last Call for Google I/O contest. We’ve been keeping busy, judging Round 2 submissions for all 10 of our challenges. The winners have been notified via email and will receive a pass to this year’s sold-out Google I/O. Also, all of the Round 1 answers, as well as Round 2 prompts have been posted to the contest site.

We were really impressed with the quality of the submissions–especially with less than 24 hours to turn the code around! Check out screenshots of some of the winning entries below, along with notes from members of each Google Developer Relations group, and stay tuned for more surprises from the I/O team.

Android

Judging was easy for the Android challenge, because our first run through the apps produced a total of exactly 10 places where the reviewer said “Nice!”. Above you see a screenshot of the “Party mode” in Charles Vaughn’s “Bounce Clock”. Read about the details on our Android Developers Blog.

- Tim Bray, Android Developer Advocate

Chrome

(Click a doodle to go to its site and interact.)

We received a lot of nifty doodles and it was tough to pick only ten winners. Some of the particularly fun doodles were interactive or involved a game of some sort (like Pong, or Simon with the Chrome logo). We definitely appreciated being able to view the source code of the web page to see how developers took advantage of the latest HTML, CSS, and JS technologies.

- Jeffrey Chang, Chrome Product Manager

Games

(Click a screen shot to play a game.)

Congratulations to everyone who knew the Konami code and somehow managed to recall that Kuribo’s Shoe is only found on one stage of World Five in Super Mario Bros. 3…and after remembering all that, were still able to write a game in only 24 hours. Apparently playing video games as a kid doesn’t rot your brain as much as our moms said it would.

Almost all of our submissions were fun, technically impressive, or both. The judges were video game industry veterans, so we weren’t wowed by flashy graphics alone. We tried to reward a balance of fun gameplay and technical prowess. Some of the games were actually pretty addictive!

- Ian Lewis, Games Developer Advocate

YouTube

We saw some great submissions that put the new iframe Player API through its paces! The winning submissions offered a mix of cross-browser compatibility, stylish user interface, and the ability to reuse the player for arbitrary sequences anywhere on the web.

- Jeffrey Posnick, YouTube Developer Advocate

Apps

Our Google Apps challenge was built around Google Apps Script, a JavaScript cloud scripting language that allows developers to automate tasks across Google products and interact with 3rd-party APIs. In round 1, we asked contestants to find the median stock price of stock symbols. Round 2 was a fairly open challenge, and the winning submissions performed tasks such as predicting future traffic accidents on Google Maps, producing a daily meeting agenda using Google Calendar and LinkedIn, and sharing Flickr pictures via e-mail to friends and family.

- Ryan Boyd, Google Apps Developer Advocate

Accessibility

We enjoyed seeing how much the ten top entries were able to achieve in such a short time in developing a caption rating app for YouTube (at least one dedicated tweeter pulled an all-nighter). Our top picks really impressed us with the accessibility and polish of their UI. All of them have TalkBack speech support through the Android Accessibility API. Most of the winners have already published and open sourced their work. If these apps inspire you, take a look at the source and contribute!

- Naomi Black, Accessibility Technical Program Manager

Commerce

They say that great minds think alike, and in the case of Google Commerce, our developers created similar mashups. A simple store based on Google Product Search and Google Checkout could be a powerful tool for mom and pop shops. We hope our developers had fun learning about the commerce products that Google offers.

- Ossama Alami, Commerce/Geo Developer Relations

Geo

We asked developers to create a mobile web application to discover interesting walks around San Francisco. We had some really impressive entries, especially given they were developed in a very short timeframe.

- Ossama Alami, Commerce/Geo Developer Relations

Google Web Toolkit (GWT)

We were very impressed with the creativity and performance of the I/O countdown entries. All of the submissions were great examples of what is possible with GWT and HTML5/CSS3. It was an extremely tight competition that came down to tough decisions based on originality, visual appeal, and the size of the resulting JavaScript.

- Chris Ramsdale, GWT/Developer Tools Program Engineer

App Engine

Developers submitted a simple Fibonacci web app in Round 1, where the key was to demonstrate that you correctly handled bad input. We were amazed at the apps that were submitted for Round 2, where we asked developers to create an interesting app using one or more of several App Engine APIs. From making book recommendations to visualizing author impact on PubMed (a favorite of mine, my wife being an academic in medicine), we found many apps useful, well designed, and often quite elaborate.

- Patrick Chanezon, App Engine Developer Relations

Congratulations from the entire Google I/O team to the winners of all the challenges. The bar was quite high and even if you didn’t win, we hope you learned something while building your applications. We encourage you to hone your skills for challenges to come!

New SketchUp 8 books from Bonnie Roskes

The shelf of books about SketchUp 8 is getting heavier, I’m happy to say. Bonnie Roskes is the author of the very first SketchUp book, and has now also written the most recent. In fact, no one’s written more publications about SketchUp; if you count her excellent books for kids and educators, there are dozens. I honestly don’t know how she does it.

A lineup of Bonnie Roskes’ newest books

Bonnie’s latest additions to my library include:

  • An update to her popular “Hands On” series that covers version 8
  • A revised edition of her Student Workbook
  • A Delta book to fill you in on the differences between SketchUp 7 and 8
  • An overhauled tome about LayOut 3

All of Bonnie’s books are available as PDFs or printed copies, and they’re all for sale on her 3DVinci website. For students and teachers, she also has a Project of the Month subscription where three fresh, hot projects are delivered monthly to your inbox. I never miss ‘em.

Congrats on your new books, Bonnie. And if you get the chance, do you think I might be able to borrow the keys to the time machine I assume you have parked in your garage?