Showing posts from 2004

Idea - Create Your Own Poetry Books

Wouldn't it be cool if you could select what poems you want in a book of poetry, and then have it custom printed and then sent to you? I've been looking for a book of poems that has the following:

W.H. Auden's Stop all the clocks
John Masefield's Sea Fever
Langston Hughes' Let America be America be America, Again
T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland
Walt Whitman's O Me, O Life and O Captain, My Captain
Tennyson's Crossing the Bar
Byron's She Walks in Beauty

and so on and so on. Maybe it would even let you enter in your own poems too, and then send it as a gift to a cared one.

Quote - Food vs Nuclear Power

From NewsScan today...

"A nuclear power plant is infinitely safer than eating, because 300 people choke to death on food every year." (Dixy Lee Ray)

Sometimes you're the dog, sometimes you're the fire hydrant

Funny story told entirely through pictures.

[Just Plain Weird] Dating Design Patterns

It's a bad sign when your friends send you links like this.

The true genius from the Gang of Four was not how to create
elegant enterprise software systems.

It was Trojan Proxy.
It was Encapsulated Big Fat Opening.
It was most definitely Half Bad Boy Plus Protocol.

It was Dating Design Patterns. The ultimate reusable set of solutions for a complex system. The Gang of Four's original and most ingenious work. With assistance from Christopher Alexander, whose personal dating diaries were recently discovered in a garage sale in Poughkeepsie.

[Privacy] [Ubicomp] Personal privacy through understanding and action: five pitfalls for designers

Our article on privacy just got published!

Abstract To participate in meaningful privacy practice in the context of technical systems, people require opportunities to understand the extent of the systemsrsquo alignment with relevant practice and to conduct discernible social action through intuitive or sensible engagement with the system. It is a significant challenge to design for such understanding and action through the feedback and control mechanisms of todayrsquos devices. To help designers meet this challenge, we describe five pitfalls to beware when designing interactive systems—on or off the desktop—with personal privacy implications. These pitfalls are: (1) obscuring potential information flow, (2) obscuring actual information flow, (3) emphasizing configuration over action, (4) lacking coarse-grained control, and (5) inhibiting existing practice. They are based on a review of the literature, on analyses of existing p…

Handling Errors

Good article by a fellow Berkeley alum on user interfaces and systems techniques for preventing and managing human error.


Sci-Fi author Bruce Sterling givess his view on one form of ubicomp.

One thing about makes it very distinct from earlier visions of ubicomp. This is not Microsoft Windows for Housekeeping. This is a hard, tough web that you throw down fast over dire emergencies. The key concept here is that we are finally moving computation out of the ivory tower, for good and all. No more glass boxes of the 1950s, no more clean abstractions of cyberspace. We are deploying computation at unheard-of speed, into the darkest, dirtiest, most dangerous places in the world.

It is a resilient security apparatus for emergencies. That is

Now, you might well argue that ubicomp is very invasive of privacy. That's just what my industrial design pals said about it, immediately, and they were right. It's been hard to find reasonable deployments for ubicomp in peacetime commerce and in private homes, because it is so Orwellian. Howev…

The Persuaders

Damn, missed this series on PBS about advertising and marketing, looks like a very insightful series.

Some good quotes:

Americans will live in different virtual universes. What's wrong with living in different universes? You never confront the other side. You don't have to deal with the uncomfortable facts that go against your worldview….It hardens the partisanship that's been such a feature of recent American politics.

You cannot walk down the street without being bombarded," advertising writer Bob Garfield says. "You go to fill your gas tank and you look at the pump and you're seeing news headlines in advertising. You go into the bathroom and you look in the urinal and you're staring at an ad. You look up at the sky and there's skywriting.

I've interviewed people who are brand loyalists of Saturn Car Company," Atkin says, "and they will use the same vocabulary as someone who is a…

[Ubicomp] [Tech] [Soc] Urban Renewal, the Wireless Way

Very interesting article on urban spaces and wireless connectivity.

Call it the "new new urbanism," a fusion of telecommunications technology and urban design that is at once a 21st century zeitgeist and a familiar riff on the age-old interface between cities and technology. "From an urban design perspective, a lot of technologists are just discovering public space," says Dennis Frenchman, chairman of the master of city planning program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's an old story that goes back hundreds of years." A consultant on Seoul's Digital Media City, Frenchman himself is part of a very new story. The DMC will incorporate all-digital signage, with programming capacity accessible to the public, personal positioning services, intelligent street lamps and transparent storefronts that will reveal a building's inner uses as well as real-time Web feeds from sis…

[Research] Online or Invisible? Publishing Articles Online

Articles freely available online are more highly cited. For greater impact and faster scientific progress, authors and publishers should aim to make research easy to access.

Emergency Response Wishlist

I've noticed that I've been using this blog more and more as one alternative to cool bookmarks. Anyway, here is a list of cool and useful stuff that emergency responders could really use.

[Research] CiteULike citation service

Looks cool, I'll have to try this out to see how well it works.


CiteULike is a free service to help academics to share, store, and organise the academic papers they are reading. When you see a paper on the web that interests you, you can click one button and have it added to your personal library. CiteULike automatically extracts the citation details, so there's no need to type them in yourself. It all works from within your web browser. There's no need to install any special software.

Zipf, Power-laws, and Pareto

I've always been somewhat confused by the differences between these, this is a useful link that explains the diffs.

[Privacy] Two Quotes on Privacy

It struck me today that two countervailing trends fighting against privacy are efficiency and security. Here are two quotes that summarize it quite nicely:

"My own hunch is that Big Brother, if he comes to the United States, will turn out to be not a greedy power-seeker but a relentless bureaucrat obsessed with efficiency"

Safety and Security
From Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, in the chapter about The Grand Inquisitor: "Make us your slaves, but feed us."

When Names Become Verbs

I wonder if linguists have studied how some names become verbs, like Google, Photoshop, and Xerox.

Crazy Idea of the Day - Virtual Installations

Here's my crazy idea for the day. It would be nice to be able to "virtually" install an app, say on a remote computer somewhere on the Internet. You could then try out the app on that virtual computer to see if you like it or not. This way, it doesn't screw up your regular settings if you want to uninstall.

Furthermore, you could do cool things on this virtual install, like having features that try to detect spyware (thru network packet analysis or thru an installation of LavaSoft AdAware on the virtual computer) as well as viruses. It could also detect if the app has any deviant behavior, like re-assigning what applications are associated with file extensions. At the end, it could come up with a summary of any deviant behavior.

This service might also be useful for software testers to see what it's like to install on various OS types, like WinXP, Win2K, Win98, etc. Imagine if you could say something like "do a virtual install on a 386 with a SoundBlaster ca…

Penultimate Ubicomp Class

Some quick notes:

Final Project Presentations is next Wednesday.
The project doesn't have to be completed by then,
but the presentation should have enough describing

what the problem is
what your approach is (ie what you've done)
what your results are so far

We have 80 minutes and we have 6 groups, so aim for
about 10 minutes each plus a few minutes for questions.

For this coming Monday, rather than a reading assignment,
the assignment is to do a coherent and lively 5-minute rant.
You can even do interpretive dance or rap if you want.
Bonus points if you make people laugh or start a fight.
Here are some pointers that might help:

"Ubicomp will fail in 10 years because..."
"We should eliminate privacy because..."
"Ubicomp will succeed but b/c of (smart toys / sex / ...)"
"The metric for ubicomp should not be efficiency but (smiles per hour / hugs per hour / quality of life / ...)"
"Areas x, y, and z of ubicomp sho…

Pacing Emails

It would be nice to have an email client that could send emails at a specified time. For example, if you were up at 4AM, you could compose the mail and then have it automatically send out at 7AM, to make it look like you weren't actually up at 4AM. Or you could write a reply to an email now and have it send out a few days later, to pace the rate of email exchange from another person.

The Little Things

Interesting philosophy and design insights behind the makers of Cranium. They intentionally tried to create something of a less combative and adversarial nature, towards something more communal and fun. No losers, everyone shines.

Also amazing is the design rationale, the spirit, and the philosophy embodied in everyday things. I'll have to redouble my efforts when looking at ordinary things.

That proved unexpectedly tricky with Balloon Lagoon, the game for kindergarten-age kids. The designers developed four activities that touched on children's different intelligences -- like the frog flipping, a test of dexterity, or spelling with the letters fished out of the word pond, a linguistic challenge. Each player had 30 seconds to try each activity, to maximize the chance that every child would win -- ''shine'' -- at least once. They set up a sand timer to count down the 30 seconds.

But the timer c…

RoboSapien in the News

Fun article about the RoboSapien toys out. Whenever I saw them in stores I thought that they would be sort of silly, but now I'm intrigued.

Interestingly, there was another article in the NYTimes recently about how kids aren't playing with tinkertoys and all anymore, opting rather for video games. Makes you wonder if programmable toys like this aren't a new third way.

When we spoke, Jacob had just made his Robosapien karate chop his older brother in the head ''to see if it would hurt.'' (Not much.)


Some scientists have predicted that the real advances in robotics will not occur in university or government labs but in entertainment robots like Robosapien, conceived to appeal to consumers. In a remarkable scholarly book, ''The Secret Life of Puppets,'' Victoria Nelson argues that our sense of the supernatural and yearning for immortality has been displaced from religion to…

IM-only gadgets

Interesting trend in gadgets that only do IM.

Zipit Wireless IM

Motorola's IMFree

[Tech] [HCI] Smart Watch for Aiding Memory,1282,65721,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_4

Human memory is imperfect, so an RFID-enabled smartwatch that keeps track of the easily lost items in your world could be a boon. The tricky part is making sure the watch doesn't remember everything.

At his lab in Seattle, Gaetano Borriello and his University of Washington team have built a working prototype of a smartwatch that operates using radio frequency identification tags to help people keep track of their stuff. The device is destined to become an application for the memory-challenged but is being designed with privacy rights in mind.

[HCI] More Cool HCI Videos

Has a bunch of classic HCI vids, including i-Land, Digital Desk, tangible computing, and so on.

Head Start statistics

These statistics are incredible, not just because of the fact that they were collected for over 40 years, but also the simple impact of them given the almost trivial cost.

Most remarkably, the impact of those preschool years still persists. By almost any measure we might care about -- education, income, crime, family stability -- the contrast with those who didn't attend Perry is striking. When they were 27, the preschool group scored higher on tests of literacy. Now they are in their 40's, many with children and even grandchildren of their own. Nearly twice as many have earned college degrees (one has a Ph.D.). More of them have jobs: 76 percent versus 62 percent. They are more likely to own their home, own a car and have a savings account. They are less likely to have been on welfare. They earn considerably more -- $20,800 versus $15,300 -- and that difference pushes them well above the pover…


Have to find more uses for WordNet, an amazingly cool data source.


WordNet is an online lexical reference system whose design is inspired by current psycholinguistic theories of human lexical memory. English nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are organized into synonym sets, each representing one underlying lexical concept. Different relations link the synonym sets.

Existential Cocktail

I think just took a triple shot of the Existential Cocktail these past two weeks, consisting of:

Reading Catcher in the Rye and The Myth of Sisyphus

Watching Lost in Translation, After Life, and Last Night

Discovering the sublime music that is Tori Amos' 1000 Oceans, Johnny Cash's cover of U2's song One, and Vince Guaraldi's Cast Your Fate to the Wind

And add on top of that a dash of psychologist / philosopher Erich Fromm:

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.

To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable.

In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead. In the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.

I've clearly got to cut down on the cough syrup when I'm sick.

Neil Postman on Creationism and Evolution

In his book Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, Neil Postman actually has the only good argument I've ever seen for teaching Creationism alongside Evolution in classrooms.

The story told by creationists is also a theory. That a theory
has its origins in a religious metaphor or belief is irrelevant.
Not only was Newton a religious mystic but his conception of
the universe as a kind of mechanical clock contructed and set
in motion by God is about as religious an idea as you can find.
What is relevant is the question, To what extent does a theory
meet scientific criteria of validity? The dispite between
evolutionists and creation scientists offers textbook writers
and teachers a wonderful opportunity to provide students with
insights into the philosophy and methods of science. After all,
what students really need to know is not whether this or that
theory is to believed, but how scientists judge the merit of a
theory. Suppose students were taught the criteria of scientific

[Cool] Sushi Race Game

Drive around a race track as a piece of sushi. Who comes up with this stuff?

[HCI] Cool HCI Videos

Was looking for Wellner's Digital Desk video, found this cool site chock full of HCI videos.

Followup on Natural Programming

Sigh. Slashdot just posted a headline about the Natural Programming article on ACM Queue. And once again, Slashdotters prove that they can't:

Read the article before making inane posts
Distinguish between "Natural programming" and "Natural Language Programming"
Make coherent arguments for or against something
Make jokes that are actually funny
Understand the basics of human-compuer interaction before declaring themselves experts in it

Natural Programming Summary

ACM Queue has a good short summary of the Natural Programming project here at CMU.

It is somewhat surprising that in spite of over 30 years of research in the areas of empirical studies of programmers (ESP) and human-computer interaction (HCI), the designs of new programming languages and debugging tools have generally not taken advantage of what has been discovered. For example, the C#, JavaScript, and Java languages use the same mechanisms for looping, conditionals, and assignments shown to cause many errors for both beginning and expert programmers in the C language. Systems such as MacroMedia's Director and Flash, Microsoft's Visual Basic, and general-purpose programming environments like MetroWerks' CodeWarrior and Microsoft's Visual C++, all provide the same debugging techniques available for 60 years: breakpoints, print statements, and showing the values of variables.

[HCI] NYTimes: Trying to Make the Pen as Mighty as the Keyboard

New York Times article looking at why Tablet PCs haven't really taken off yet.

According to Andy van Dam, a computer science professor and vice president for research at Brown University, who also serves on Microsoft's technical research advisory board, Tablet PC's and other pen-driven computers won't take off until pen gestures provide new ways of interacting with the machines instead of simply substituting for a mouse. Pen computers could find markets in education, architecture, graphic design and user-interface design, he said. "For these people, a pencil and a piece of paper are more natural almost than a computer keyboard on a desktop."

But pen software needs more testing to find out what users really want, he said. "For a relatively pure gesture-driver user interface, it's all research," he said. "None of these have had a field trial with a thousand users, let alone ten thous…

Large Data Collection and HCI

Why is it that economists have so much shared and common data to work with, while we in HCI do not? There is so much raw data out there for economists about the stock market, GNP, GDP, exchange rates, option prices, oil prices, car crashes, sumo wrestling, and so on. Imagine what HCI could be like if we could have that much rich data.

Just off the top of my head, some data sources that I'd love to be able to use:

Google search terms
Orkut and Friendster social network connections
Microsoft Windows crash data, (you know, those popups that appear after a program crashes, asking if you want to send it to MSFT. What programs crash most often? What trends are there over time?)
Yahoo IM, AIM, and MSN Messenger usage trends
ISP usage data (how much traffic is file sharing, web, IM, etc)
Yahoo web page usage trends (What happened when a change was made? What changes have been most popular? Least popular? Which parts of the navigation do people use most, ie nav bar, pictures, text links, e…

[Privacy] More Everyday Ways of Maintaining Privacy

Some more thoughts. Keep in mind that privacy is not necessarily secrecy, but also the persona we want to project to others.

Separate email or IM accounts (one for work, one for home)
Curtains (closing or opening them)
What we wear
Where we sit (ex. sit in the back of a class)

Cool Social Network Viz

Some very clean and impressive social network visualizations.

Engineers and Venture Capitalists

[Privacy] Managing Privacy Today

Interesting point of discussion in the ubicomp class this morning, how do people already manage their privacy today? And how can these be applied to ubicomp systems. Some ideas off the top of my head:

Leaning over and whispering to somebody (or lowering your voice in general, or moving to a separate corner or outside to limit who can hear what you say)
Letting voice mail or answering machine get the phone call
Turning off cell phone
Closing a door to have a private conversation
How we dress (more along Goffman lines of how we present ourselves)
Watching what we say and disclose to others
White lies
Hiding in some cafe
Invisible mode with instant messenger (some of my friends are always in invisible mode these days...)
Sitting in certain places to avoid letting people see what's on your laptop
Avoiding certain places where friends are (or enemies as it may be)
Asking people directly not to disclose something ("Don't tell anyone else, but...")
Not looking people in the eye when wal…

[Ubicomp] [HCI] Principles for Building Ubicomp Systems

Interesting design principles from Adam Greenfield.

Principle 0. First, do no harm
Principle 1. Default to harmlessness.
Principle 2. Be self-disclosing.
Principle 3. Be conservative of face.
Principle 4. Be conservative of time.
Principle 5. Be deniable.

Natural Interactions

Researchers have been doing this kind of work for a while, good to see a product that finally does it.,17863,714638,00.html?cnn=yes

By miming the action of page-turning, users can leaf through documents book-style. Tilt the device or slide it like a mouse and you can roam over webpages without clicking or pushing keys. Simply tip it to zoom in or out.

[Tech] [HCI] Economist: Make it easy

The economic costs of IT complexity are hard to quantify but probably exorbitant. The Standish Group, a research outfit that tracks corporate IT purchases, has found that 66% of all IT projects either fail outright or take much longer to install than expected because of their complexity. Among very big IT projects—those costing over $10m apiece—98% fall short.

Gartner, another research firm, uses other proxies for complexity. An average firm's computer networks are down for an unplanned 175 hours a year, calculates Gartner, causing an average loss of over $7m. On top of that, employees waste an average of one week a year struggling with their recalcitrant PCs. And itinerant employees, such as salesmen, incur an extra $4,400 a year in IT costs, says the firm.


Customers no longer demand “hot” technologies, but instead want “cold” technologies, such as integration software, that help them stitch together and simplify the fancy sy…

[Ubicomp] IFilm Moment of Silence

A pretty good short film about information overload. Good for ubicomp classes.


Latest Communications of the ACM has a short blurb about the escape-a-date package. I wonder what the number of subscribers are.


Cingular Wireless, for example, now offers a phone feature to rescue customers from a bad date, reports the New York Daily News. Subscribers to the scape-a-date package ($4.99 per month) can arrange to be called at a preset time where one of eight scripts is randomly selected and whispered in their ear: "Just repeat after me ad you'll be on your way: 'Not again! Why does that always happen to you?' Tell them your roommate got locked out and you have to go let them in."

[Ubicomp] Talking Points - Ubicomp Interactive Workspaces

Stanford Interactive Workspaces


Everything coordinated thru EventHeap
One EventHeap per physical space
Ubicomp version of EventQueue
Rationale is for decoupling
Same idea as Context Toolkit, done differently
Avoids RPC, decouples components in space and time

Failure is expected
Hence decoupling
Just restart (the reboot design pattern)
As long as EventHeap, ICrafter, and DataHeap don't crash, you're ok
Uses heartbeats for services (periodically refreshes, I'm still alive)

ICrafter service and UI manager
Retrieves predefined UI (if it exists), automatically generates UIs otherwise


Groupware, focused on large display, any device interaction

Three themes: control (ICrafter), coordination (EventHeap), data (DataHeap)
Interoperability is an intrinsic issue here
Still have naming coord problem (another intrinsic interoperability issue)

Large display
Pen interaction
FlowMenu - ideally, speedup as you go (tho only Fr…

TV-B-Gone Zaps Intrusive Broadcasts

From NewsScan...

Inventor Mitch Altman has the answer for people in airports, doctors' offices, restaurants and bars that feature blaring television sets as part of the ambiance. The TV-B-Gone is a universal remote disguised as a tiny keychain fob that works on most televisions and comes in two models geared toward European TV sets or Asian-American ones. When activated by pressing a button, the device runs through about 200 different codes that turn off various TV models, starting with the most popular brands and then moving to the more obscure. One TV-B-Gone enthusiast notes, "You've heard about the battle for eyeballs. They're your eyeballs. You should not have your consciousness constantly invaded. Television people are getting better and
better at finding ways of roping us into TV where we can't get away." Altman says friends who've heard about the device have approached him about other uses, such as one that could jam cell phones or shut down vehic…

Using Games for Good

New article in the Washington Post on using games for good.
There's even a conference on this.

Glucoboy, a glucose meter that can be connected to a Nintendo
GameBoy, will be available for kids with diabetes this spring.
SuperCharged!, released last year, helps physics students
understand electromagnetism; Virtual U, released in 2001, lets
players take on the role of a university president.

By the end of next year, the Federal Budget Game -- how do you
solve the deficit? -- will be available to play online.


"Why not have a million people try to figure out how to reduce
CO 2 emissions online?" says David Rejeski, project director
for the Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center,
a nonpartisan think tank here. "Let a million people play it
as a game. Globally. Then see what happens."

[HCI] Emotional Design

Finished reading Don Norman's Emotional Design this weekend. This is less a review, more of things I found interesting and didn't already know.

One interesting project he mentions is HP's Audiophotography. The basic idea is to have photographs that also have an audio track, which records the sounds that take place right before the photo is taken. (p52)

Norman also makes the argument that cupholders are an important aspect of automobile design, claiming that some people purchase particular automobiles because of the cupholders. He also describes how a certain industrial-strengh vacuum cleaner has cupholders built on top of it. Makes you wonder how far you can push this idea. PCs with cupholders (or was that the CDROM drive)? Couches with cupholders? iPods with cupholders? (p72)

An interesting perspective I've never heard before is that professional equipment tends to be far simpler to use than consumer equipment, because professionals know what features are really needed a…

Difficulties with Standards

Gordon Bell has a new article on ACM Queue about the difficulties and advantages of the standards process. Some choice quotes:

"The point here is that, in each of these areas, the right standards adopted at the right time can make an important contribution to technical evolution by applying critical design constraints."

"Indeed, our greatest risk going forward may be that we have far too many standards organizations, each with its own set of internal conflicts and an often inconsistent set of goals. Finally, China has declared that it is creating new standards for telecommunications and home A/V."

"It also bears mention that a standard has a far better chance of making a real impact if no royalty is charged to those who employ it. You’d think this would go without saying, but, sadly, it doesn’t. For example, the fact that Xerox was willing to provide a royalty-free license f…

[Privacy] WashingtonPost: Privacy Eroding, Bit by Byte

"Think about a typical day. An advertising service is notified when you check the sports scores on the Web. The EZ-Pass transponder signals when you go through a toll booth. The pharmacy collects personal medication details and sends them along to data companies for analysis. At work, some employees now use face recognition systems to get in to their offices, or they type on machines that trace every keystroke.

"Every move you make is becoming part of your permanent record," said Peter P. Swire, a privacy expert and law professor at Ohio State University. "The trend is smaller, faster, cheaper." "

KeyHole GIS

"Quickly zoom from space down to street level and combine imagery, 3D geography, maps, and business data to get the total picture in seconds."


Looks sort of cool, I wonder how well it works and what kinds of new interaction techniques are possible here.

Environmental Sounds for Cell Phones

Cute idea...


Dwango have taken the lead in launching ringtones that blend into the aural background (and dispelling at a stroke the image their name conjured up of a fat kid with a propeller cap). So now your phone will ring with the sound of someone coughing, or cutlery jangling together, or a host of other “environmental” sounds.

[Ubicomp] Political Location-based Service

Funny, last week in class I mentioned this as a potentially silly location-based app that could be built.


red | blue (pronounced 'red or blue') is a free Java™ app that figures out where you stand, or perhaps more accurately, where you are standing in our politically polarized country.


By taking your current location, and finding the nearest individual donors of campaign funds from the publicly available data from the Federal Elections Commission, red | blue is able to provide you an accurate reading of the political leanings of your surroundings -- red for Republican or blue for Democrat.

[Ubicomp] Blindspots in Ubiquitous Computing Research?

A while back, I was talking to a student in CMU's Engineering and Public Policy, whose work was on figuring out where the best places to put biosensors are, to protect the water supply. It struck me that, despite the fact that ubiquitous computing was supposed to be about the merging of the physical and the virtual using wireless technologies and sensors, there was absolutely no work I could think of in the ubicomp area that could help her in any way.

Why is this? Here was a real, compelling, and immediate problem that society is facing, but one that no one I know in what is generally considered the ubicomp research community is addressing. Are we too focused on the interactive aspects of ubicomp? Is it because we have a different intellectual heritage? Is it a lack of connections in the social networks of these communities? Or is it just a large blindspot in ubicomp research?

The Psychology of Evil

For some reason, this past week I've been telling people a lot about the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Milgram shock experiments, and to a lesser extent, Arendt's notion of the banality of evil (where she argues that rather than being a radical evil, a great deal of what the Nazis did was bureacratic, sanitized, and frighteningly ordinary).

Eight Fallacies of Distributed Computing

Thought it would be good to copy these elsewhere, in case the original was ever lost.

The Eight Fallacies of Distributed Computing
Peter Deutsch

Essentially everyone, when they first build a distributed application, makes the following eight assumptions. All prove to be false in the long run and all cause big trouble and painful learning experiences.
1. The network is reliable
2. Latency is zero
3. Bandwidth is infinite
4. The network is secure
5. Topology doesn't change
6. There is one administrator
7. Transport cost is zero
8. The network is homogeneous

[Tech] [Ubicomp] CellSpotting

Cell phone software for determining one's location, similar to Place Lab.

Evolutionarily Stable Strategies

Now here's an interesting story. Reminds me of how China and Taiwan got to the point where China would shell two Taiwanese islands (Quemoy and Matsu) on, say, Mondays and Wednesdays, while Taiwan would shell China on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


The book included two chapters comparing Axelrod's findings to surprising findings in seemingly unrelated fields. In one of these, Axelrod examined spontaneous instances of cooperation during trench warfare in World War I. Troops of one side would shell the other side with mortars, but would often do so on a rigid schedule, and aim for a specific point in the other side's trenches, allowing the other side to minimize casualties. The other side would reciprocate in kind. The generals on both sides were satisfied that shelling was occurring and therefore the war was progressing satisfactorily, while the men in the trenches found a way to cooperatively protect each other.


The Plutonia Dilemma

Since finishing Rheingold's Smart Mobs, I've been delving more into game theory and cooperation. One amusing article I've read is the Plutonia Dilemma. Makes you wonder what possible kinds of implicit and explicit cooperation we can build into next-generation ubicomp systems.


In the plutonia dilemma introduced in Douglas Hofstadter's book Metamagical Themas, an eccentric trillionaire gathers 20 people together, and tells them that if one and only one of them sends him a telegram (reverse charges) by noon the next day, that person will receive a billion dollars. If he receives more than one telegram, or none at all, no one will get any money, and cooperation between players is forbidden. In this situation, the superrational thing to do is to send a telegram with probability 1/20.

A similar game was actually played by the editors of Scientific American in the 1980s. The editor of Mathematical Recreations offered a very la…

Metadata for Photos

I must have mailed this article out to a dozen people, it touches on so many different research ideas I'm working on right now.


"Your hard drive is overflowing with gazillions of digital pics. DSC00234.jpg might as well be labeled DON'T_KNOW_DON'T_CARE.jpg. The quest to build the photo archive of the future."

Another Ubicomp Course

FYI, there's another ubicomp course being taught at UC Irvine this semester. Interesting seeing what similarities and differences there are here. Wish I could see their reading list, though.

Newest FBI Web Tracking Tool

Fundamental Ubicomp Issue #1 - World Models

One cross-cutting aspect common to many ubicomp applications is the need for a world model, some computational representation of the physical world. Some issues here include:

Using sensors and existing data sources to acquire and update the model
The precision and accuracy of that model with ground truth (ie the real world)
Coming up with standard representations that can be shared across multiple apps
Controlling how the world model is shared with others
Mediating the conflict between high-fidelity models with privacy

The last two points are especially interesting ones, and point to a larger question with respect to ubicomp. It seems that the more reliable and more fine-grained ubicomp world models are, the less inherent plausible deniability there is. Imagine if you could no longer tell white lies on the cell phone about where you were or what you were doing. In a perfect system, there is no place to hide.

Of course I'm pushing an extreme case, but here's another way of thin…
I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing egregious uses of location-enabled cell phones.


Earlier this month, mobile tracking firm Xora showed off the latest version of its Nextel GPS (global positioning system) phone software. The company says 1,600 corporate customers have signed up for its services, including "geofences" technology that sets off an alarm at the office when field workers go to preprogrammed off-limits sites, such as a bar or a park.

"There's no electro shock--yet," Xora CEO Sanjay Shirole said.

[Privacy] Some Privacy Quotes

"You know it when you lose it."
-- David Flaherty

"My own hunch is that Big Brother, if he comes to the United States, will
turn out to be not a greedy power-seeker but a relentless bureaucrat
obsessed with efficiency"
-- Vance Packard

Privacy is "ultimately a psychological construct, with malleable ties
to specific objective conditions"
-- Jonathan Grudin, 2001

"Numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that 'what
is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the housetops.'"
-- Brandeis and Warren

Open Video Project

Now this is a very cool resource for finding videos online. Let's you type in keywords, see similar searches, and most importantly, find useful videos. Link goes to a search for videos on "ubiquitous computing".

Are Privacy and Security Vitamins or Aspirins?

Just finished a talk for Topics in Privacy where I was making the case that both privacy and security are vitamins rather than aspirin.

The old saw goes that businesses need to provide aspirin, that is solve an immediate problem, rather than provide vitamins, something that we all know is good for us but we don't do. The observation here is that privacy and security seem to be more of vitamins, something we know we should have in our systems and something we know we should take more care of, but rarely do.

This insight struck me while I was reading the New York Times Magazine, more specifically The Autonomist's Manifesto.

When this experiment began in 1996, some critics said it was unfair to create these ''Lexus lanes.'' But by now, even drivers who won't pay the toll have come to appreciate the lanes because they divert traffic from the regular highway. And while affluent drivers are more likely to pay the bill, surveys have found people of all incomes usi…

Make Your Custom Parts Online

This is pretty amazing, you can design custom physical parts and then have them created and then sent to you. From a research perspective, it would be really interesting if you could add behaviors to them (ie smart objects), or have a rapid prototyping tool that would make it easy to mock up some things before having to endure the cycle of waiting and finding that it wasn't exactly what you wanted.

[Just Plain Weird] If Chewbacca Wore Pants

And now, something completely off-topic...


"I remember the memos from 20th Century Fox," Hamill said. " 'Can you put a pair of lederhosen on the Wookie?' All they could think of was, 'This character has no pants on!' This went back and forth. They did sketches of him in culottes and baggy shorts."

What a Difference 6 Years Make

Amazing, if you think about it, how Google has become so pervasive that almost everyone uses it as a verb, ie "to Google". Even more amazing was that it didn't exist 6 years ago. I think WiFi is the only thing that belongs in this category.


Google began in 1998 as an academic research project by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, who were then graduate students at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.


Interesting continuation of the smart mobs idea expounded by Rheingold.


Wireless dating or Bluedating (from Bluetooth) is a form of dating which makes use of mobile phone and bluetooth technologies. Subscribers to the service enter details about themselves and about their ideal partner, as they would for other on-line dating services. When their mobile phone comes in the vicinity of that of another subscriber (a radius of about 10 meters) the phones exchange details of the two people (the vicinity can be a public and populated space too, like a pub, a street, plaza and so on). If there is a match then they are alerted and can seek each other out and directly chat using text bluetooth (bluechat). Settings can include an option which restricts alerts to subscribers who have a friend in common.

Not so promising results for Pittsburgh WiFi Wardriving

Data looks sparse, doesn't look good for PlaceLab support. Surely there must be more people here in Pittsburgh using WiFi.

[Research] Coolest Journal Name Ever

Smart Dust on Sale

For almost $5K, you can get about a dozen smart dust motes and a development environment.

Home Computer in Year 2004

I have to admit, it has a retro cool feeling to it.

News of the Weird - The Data Nouse

"A Canadian inventor has designed a computer mouse steered by movements of the nose and eyelids. The invention, dubbed a "Nouse," is meant to help people with a disability use a computer."


I hope the inventor didn't get inspiration from this paper...

A Nose Gesture Interface Device: Extending Virtual Realities

This paper reports on the development of a nose-machine interface device that provides real-time gesture, position, smell and facial expression information. The DATA NOSETM — Data AtomaTa CORNUCOPIA pNeumatic Olfactory I/O-deviSE Tactile Manipulation[Olsen86, Myers91] — allows novice users without any formal nose training to perform complex interactive tasks.

The Most Sobering Statement Ever Made

"Sometimes, I say it this way -- it's kind of a tag line -- but I think it's not incorrect to say that there are at least three and a half or four billion people on this planet who believe that they have nothing to lose from the decline of the West...

Now is the time at which we need to stand up and say what we think that world ought to look like for all those other people, as well as ourselves, five or seven years out, and start building institutions that move things in that direction in a way that people see as being honest, an honest effort and a willingness to experiment, and a willingness to bear costs for those experiments, because most of them will fail. And a willingness to call them a failure and move on to the next experiment, in which case we can probably maintain some hope for ourselves and everyone else. But if we don't do that, if we keep postponing that vision, then we're fighting a losi…

106 mobile phones per 100 people in Taiwan

"Asia/Middle East averaged only 12 per 100, but Taiwan's national rate was the highest in the world, at 106 mobile phones per 100 persons."

Sort of makes you wonder what one does with the extra phones.

First Federal Conviction for Wardriving

Interesting article, though unfortunately confuses the term "wardriving" with
actually using an open WiFi port.


WiFi - Was That Wardriving or Joyriding?

Wardriving. Even if you don't know what it is, you know that it
must be illegal. And if you have any doubts, federal prosecutors
don't. On August 3, they announced that Paul Timmins had pleaded
guilty to a single count of fraudulent and unauthorized WiFi access
to the private corporate network of a Lowe's store.

Timmins stumbled on the network while engaged in "wardriving" -
the practice of driving around with a laptop computer while
looking for open wireless connections. In this case, he found one -
in the parking lot of a Lowe's store in suburban Detroit.
Timmins' guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the Western
District of North Carolina marks what is believed to be the first wardriving co…

In Memoriam

On this third anniversary of a great loss, I hope some important words from the past will help guide our way into what will be a very difficult future:

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
- Abraham Lincoln

Tidbit of the Day - PhDComics

I was flipping through an old Georgia Tech yearbook, and saw that Jorge Cham, the creator of PhD Comics, was an undergrad there the same time I was. Small world.

Broken Error Message

So I'm doing remote login to a machine to copy some web files, and I accidentally try to login as EECS Administrator (the administrator for the entire domain) rather than the local machine Administrator. This is a easy mistake to make, since you specify the domain separately from the user name.

An error is returned, stating that the EECS Administrator account has expired, go see the Administrator.

Good Quote about Cats and Dogs

A friend of mine was at my house the other day when one of my cats jumped in his lap. "I love cats," he said, "I just wish they would come when you call them." I said, "They have those. They're called dogs."

Privacy - RFID Tech solutions

After seeing a public policy talk on RFIDs, I can't help but wonder if we're headed for a very difficult and muddled situation with respect to privacy.

One reason for this is that there is already a large base of RFIDs out there. Couple this with the expected wide deployment due to WalMart and the Department of Defense, the lack of any kind of meaningful control and feedback over disclosures, and the lack of coherent policy, and you've got a potentially bad situation coming in under the radar, despite the efforts of researchers, watch dog groups, and public policy makers to the contrary.

It seems that one fundamental problem here is that RFIDs can be used for so many different things. They can be used as keys (think cardkeys), financial payments (think FastTrak tolls or gas station key fobs), inventory trackers, as well as anti-theft devices. This one-size-fits-all approach makes it difficult to come up with meaningful solutions that maximize the real benefit while minimiz…

Crazy, Drunk, or Phone?

A little game I play is, whenever I see someone talking to themselves, try to guess whether they are crazy, drunk, or on the phone. I used to be pretty accurate, but I've noticed that it's been getting harder. For example, a while back, I thought this fairly well-dressed person in Berkeley was talking to someone on the phone, but I saw him the very next day standing on the same curb still chatting away, with wires near his ears or mouth.

I suspect with current technology trends, this game will be more interesting to play in the near future.

[Just Plain Weird] Kiss This Guy

Best site I've seen for misheard lyrics. Now I no longer have to wonder if I was the only one...

Communication as the Killer App for Ubicomp?

I've been slowly becoming convinced that communication is the killer app for ubicomp. There's actually more to this statement than is immediately obvious, because researchers have been talking about ubicomp for nearly 15 years, and have come up with lots of applications, very few of which are compelling. Seriously, does anyone really want their refrigerator to tell them to buy more milk?

Communication seems to be the key in many past applications, ranging from email to instant messenger to cell phones. By mixing location technologies, wireless communications, and multiple modes of input and output, ubicomp might be able to make new strides in this area, lowering barriers to entry and increasing the richness of communication with others.

Apparently, this is something that some social scientists have been arguing for a while (so my colleagues say), but only recently have tech researchers started thinking along these lines. Besides the basic human need for communication, the act …

Interesting Insights on B-Schools

Had lunch with a faculty member today, and he had this incredible insight into business schools.

Having went through Berkeley computer science PhD program, I had somewhat of an idea on how influential US News and World Reports was in terms of their rankings of grad programs. However, things seem far worse with business schools.

The basic issue here is that all business schools want to be in the top ten. However, one of the factors influencing rankings is how much money people make after they finish business school. Given this, what motivation do business schools have to really emphasize ethics? To encourage people to go into non-profits (who probably really could use the help of MBAs in developing feasible strategies)? To support people in going overseas and make a real difference in developing countries? Very little, because it would likely hurt their overall rankings.

I remember David Patterson once said in class, "For better or for worse, metrics define a field." This se…

Rich's Wedding

In Berkeley right now, hanging out until Rich and Agata's wedding tomorrow evening. Unfortunately, I left my cell phone in Pittsburgh. I think that Andy Clark's thesis in Natural Born Cyborgs might be right, that people adapt to technology and turn them into extensions of themselves, is on the mark. His book definitely went off in lots of odd tangents, but the overall premise is quite an interesting one.

One serious problem with Clark's book, however, is that it doesn't go into enough depth on any single topic. What exactly are the mechanisms for extension? Why does the human brain do that? Is this something that other animals can do too (like those African Gray Parrots)? How does Clark's theory relate to McLuhan's theory of media as an extension of man? Or Cziksentmihalyi's theory on flow?

And, the most important question from my perspective, how do we build applications and tools that fit more naturally as extensions of the human mind?

Well, lots to pond…

Course Announcement: Research Topics in Ubiquitous Computing

I'm teaching a grad-level course on ubiquitous computing.

Instructor: Jason Hong (Office NSH3613, send email to jasonh at cs cmu edu)Times:MW 9-10:30Place:NSH 3002Course#:05899Pre-requisites: This class is a combination of topics covering a wide variety of disciplines that impact ubiquitous computing. These include human-computer interaction, distributed systems, databases, machine learning, security, sensors, with a touch of public policy. While there is no explicit set of pre-requisite courses for this course, the more of a basic introduction you have to these various disciplines, the more you will get out of the class (in other words, you are not expected to be experts in all of these areas, and there are several overview readings to help bring you up to speed). If you are unsure about your background feel free to come and talk to me. This course is open to students from across campus, although …

New Blog

Starting out a new blog here, just to see what it's like. Interestingly, I discovered that there is a blog for a newborn with the same name as me (Jason Hong), so I decided to name my blog something different.

Today is my first real day here as an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in the Human Computer Interaction Institute, and I thought it would be interesting to keep a record of odds and ends of research, interaction design, news of the weird, and just what it's like living in Pittsburgh.

And speaking of news of the weird, while flipping through channels yesterday, I saw that Bill O'Reilly was interviewing Triumph the Insult Dog. On top of that, Bill O'Reilly actually said he liked John Kerry's speech at the Democratic Convention. Maybe there's something in the water here in Pittsburgh that is making me hallucinate...