Friday, December 17, 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.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

[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 privacy-affecting systems, and on our own experiences in designing a prototypical user interface for managing privacy in ubiquitous computing. We illustrate how some existing research and commercial systems—our prototype included—fall into these pitfalls and how some avoid them. We suggest that privacy-affecting systems that heed these pitfalls can help users appropriate and engage them in alignment with relevant privacy practice.

Handling Errors

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

Monday, December 13, 2004


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. However. Under certain circumstances, other social circumstances do trump this issue.

For instance, when you are breathing your last under a pile of earthquake rubble, you don't really care much about privacy under your circumstances. What you really want is a smart bulldozer, a tourniquet, and some direct pressure against your open wounds. And that is what is about – or will be about, should it find its way out of the computer-science talking-shop and into daylight.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

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 cult member of Hare Krishna. They will say that other car users need to be `saved,' or that they are part of the `Saturn family' with no hint of irony. [They] absolutely and completely believe it.

[I guess that's one good thing about Microsoft, I've yet to meet anyone claim complete devotion to them - JIH]

Says author Naomi Klein, "When you listen to brand managers talk, you can get quite carried away in this idea that they actually are fulfilling these needs that we have for community and narrative and transcendence. But in the end it is…a laptop and a pair of running shoes. And they might be great, but they're not actually going to fulfill those needs."

[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 sister cities.

[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.

Monday, December 06, 2004

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.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

[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 card" and see what happens.

I could imagine a variant of this that would actually run on your regular computer. It could take a snapshot of your OS, virtualize it, and then provide you with a sandbox in which it would be ok to screw around with the settings and install things and even run potentially unsafe software, which would all be safely undone when you unvirtualize it. Sort of a variant of that virtualization software company bought by EMC (can't remember the name, the one that lets you run Windows, Mac OS, and Unix simultaneously... I don't know enough about it to tell if it can do this already).

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 should be stopped b/c..."
    • "Lines of research x, y, and z are stupid b/c..."
    • "We should focus more on... (ex. third world computing)"
    • "Ubicomp will be the (worst / best) thing to happen to humanity because..."
    • "The biggest problem ubicomp has today is (programming / ethics / ...)"

  • Here are some links to some example rants by others:

    Bruce Sterling (Sci-Fi Author)
    Grand Challenges
    Argues for,,, So/Ho Ubicomp, etc
    (Two different talks, both funny)

    Stephen Doheny-Farina (Communication Prof)
    The Last Link: Default = Offline Or Why Ubicomp Scares Me
    Argues why ubicomp data should be "off" and "unknown" by default

    Bill Joy (Java guy)
    Why the Future Doesn't Need Us
    Self-replicating nanotech will turn us all into grey goo

  • Last, here was the rap song about tangible UIs I mentioned.
    And you thought I was joking:

Monday, November 29, 2004

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 caused unexpected friction, as Alexander recalls: ''One kid would take on the self-appointed task of being the sand-time watcher. And they'd be sitting there tapping the timer and going: 'Time's almost up! Time's almost up!' The trash-talking would start as soon as the timer went on.'' He watched kids sassing one another in a play-test one day and came out shaking his head. ''I said to the team, 'Well, we've done a great job of making the Your Time Is Almost Up game.'''

Then a designer had a breakthrough idea. If the timekeeping was the problem, he reasoned, then they had to ''hide the time'' -- by making the timekeeping invisible. They got rid of the sand timer and replaced it with a music box that plays a tune for 30 seconds, like musical chairs. Each child would play until the song ends and then stop. It was a neat bit of social engineering: with no clock to watch, the kids shifted allegiance and began rooting for each player as he or she vied to complete the task in 30 seconds. ''It transformed it from this schoolmarmish situation to one where they're all cheering each other on,'' Alexander says, ''and high-fiving.''

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 such expressions of popular culture as superheroes, robots and cyborgs. We want robots that will perform chores for us, but want them for deeper, more mysterious reasons, too.


One and a half million Robosapiens have been sold worldwide -- against original estimates of 50,000 in the first year.

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.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sunday, November 21, 2004

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 poverty line.


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.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Existential Cocktail

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

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
theory evaluation and then were asked to apply these criteria to
the two theories in question. Wouldn't such a task qualify as
authentic science education?


I suspect that when these two theores are put side by side,
and students are given the freedom to judge their merit as
science, creation theory will fail ignominiously (although
natural selection is far from faultless). In any case, we must
take our chances. It is not only bad science to allow disputes
over theory to go unexamined, but also bad education.

Some argue that the schools have neither the time nor the
obligation to take notice of every discarded or disreputable
scientific theory. "If we carried your logic through," a
science professor once said to me, "we would be teaching
post-Copernican astronomy alongside Ptolemaic astronomy."
Exactly. And for two good reasons. The first was succinctly
expressed in an essay George Orwell wrote about George Bernard
Shaw's remark that we are more gullible and superstitious today
than people were in the Middle Ages. Shaw offered as an example
of modern credulity the widespread belief that the Earth is round.
The average man, Shaw said, cannot advance a single reason for
believing this (This, of course, was before we were able to take
pictures of the Earth from space.) Orwell took Shaw's remark to
heart and examined carefully his own reasons for believing the
world to be round. He concluded that Shaw was right: that most
of his scientific beliefs rested solely on the authority of
scientists. In other words, most students have no idea why
Copernicus is to be preferred over Ptolemy. If they know of
Ptolemy at all, they know that he was "wrong" and Copernicus
was "right," but only because their teacher or textbook says so.
This way of believing is what scientists regard as dogmatic and
authoritarian. It is the exact opposite of scientific belief.

A second reason to support this approach is that science, like
any other subject, is distorted if it is not taught from a
historical perspective. Ptolemaic astronomy may be a refuted
scientific theory but, for that very reason, it is useful in
helping students to see that knowledge is a quest, not a
commodity; that what we think we know comes out of what we
once thought we knew; and that we will know in the future may
make hash of what we now believe.

[Cool] Sushi Race Game

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

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.

Friday, November 12, 2004

[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 thousand. Gestures are never going to be for everyone, so I don't want to impose them. But we can make them an option."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

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, etc? Is there a correlation between web page size and traffic?)
  • Ebay usage trends (what factors lead to the most popular sales? What indicators are there of fraud? How have sales changed over time? Is EBay now dominated by power sellers? What product trends are there?)

Unfortunately, these are all corporate secrets, and also have privacy issues involved. But think how much good we could do for everyone if this kind of data were available.

Monday, November 08, 2004

[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)

Monday, November 01, 2004

[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 walking down the street
  • Hiding a diary or other highly personal mementos

[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.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

[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 systems they bought during the boom years.


Moreover, the boundaries between office, car and home will become increasingly blurred and will eventually disappear altogether. In rich countries, virtually the entire population will be expected to be permanently connected to the internet, both as employees and as consumers. This will at last make IT pervasive and ubiquitous, like electricity or telephones before it, so the emphasis will shift towards making gadgets and networks simple to use.

Friday, October 29, 2004

[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."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

[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 Francois)
    ZoomScape - things automatically shrink at the top, big in main area
    PointRight - super-mouse across devices


  • How to get room geometry?
    Layout of room?
    Position of devices?
    Should note that most large devices don't move, so config file ok approach

  • A lot of work, a lot of infrastructure, and a lot of equipment
    Cheaper or smaller versions? Incremental? How much KoolAid buy-in?

  • Are security and privacy that important here?


  • Day to day interactions are in physical spaces
  • Focus is on workspaces, both interaction and physical design (ex. furniture)
  • Goal is to break out of this box of desktop computing

  • DynaWall
    New interaction techniques - Take and Put, Shuffle throw
    Not as sophisticated as Stanford's work (but also not their goal)

  • CommChairs
    Mobile chairs with computers, individuals in each chair

  • InteracTable
    Table with display, multiple people simultaneous
    Rotate window, etc, big influence on MERL's Diamond Touch

  • Passage
    Uses weight to get data quickly
    Often criticized, but gets the dirty job of data xfer done quickly

  • This is the kind of research you can do when you have a TON of money!



  • Why isn't this out already?
    Brad Johanson is doing a startup Tidebreak
    Cost-benefit of this? Equipment not cheap, what portions are best bang for buck?

  • Cheaper, portable versions that don't require large buy-in?
    Ex. USB ports
    Also see Meeting Machine

  • General design of central static parts (wall screen, desks, etc) along
    with ad hoc temporary peripherals (laptops, pdas, mice, etc)

  • Common themes between Interactive Workspaces and Roomware?
    Data transfer (now solved thru USB keyfobs, IR, Bluetooth, and Wireless?)
    Control not as emphasized here

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

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 vehicle subwoofers and car alarms. ( 19 Oct 2004),1284,65392,00.html

Monday, October 18, 2004

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."

Sunday, October 17, 2004

[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 and which are not. "Tools made by artisans for themselves all have this property. Designers of hiking or mountain climbing equipment may one day find their lives depending upon the quality and behavior of their own
designs." (p82)

Norman also takes a foray into the world of consumer robotics, discussing the need for emotional design here. (Interestingly, I just started reading Dune for the first time, and just read about the Butlerian Jihad, which resulted in the banning of intelligent computers). He also mentions the Mori Valley, which suggests that the closer things are to being lifelike, the more they need to act lifelike, otherwise engendering extremely negative feelings. Or in other words, people seem to be more accepting of non-human robots, but have greater expectations (and stronger potential negative responses) to human-like robots. (p174)

The last point is a humorous take on the common operating system concept of deadlock. Here, you might have a bunch of independent robots that are waiting on one another, stuck in the familiar "deadly embrace". (p182)

I ask the servant orobot to bring me a cup of coffee. Off it goes to the kitchen, only to have the coffee robot explain that it can't give any because it lacks clean cups. Then the coffeemaker might ask the pantry robot for more cups, but suppose that it, too didn't have any...The dishwasher would ask the servant robot to search for dirty cups so that it could wash them, give them to the pantry, which would feed them to the coffeemaker, which in turn would give the coffee to the servant robot. Alas, the servant would have to decline the dishwasher's request to wander about the house: it is still busy at its main task-- waiting for coffee.

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 for its Ethernet technology proved to be a significant factor contributing to the general adoption of 802.11. In contrast, IBM paid an inventor for the Token Ring patent, and ultimately that royalty worked to erode support for the ring’s adoption."

Friday, October 15, 2004

[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." "

Thursday, October 14, 2004

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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

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.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

[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).

Monday, October 04, 2004

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

Sunday, October 03, 2004

[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 question I have is, how did this arrangement occur, especially if there was no pre-arranged cooperation? Also, was this a strategy that saw repeated implementations across the front, ie did it happen just once, or did it happen in lots of places?

(Which reminds me of a similar question I once asked about high schools: why is it that the social structure of high school is so similar across different areas in the United States? Is Hollywood fostering the stereotypical view, or does the stereotypical view drive Hollywood?)

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 large prize, the net worth of the magazine divided by the largest number submitted, to be awarded to the person submitting the largest number.

According to the magazine, the rational thing was for each contestant to roll a simulated die with the number of sides equal to the number of expected responders (about 5% of the readership), and then send "1" if you roll "1". Reputedly the publisher and owners were very concerned about betting the company on a game. Despite publishing this algorithm, one of the contestants submitted an entry consisting of an astronomically large number, googolplex. The owners retained their interest, and the winner received a check for $0.01 - the smallest printable by the accounting system.

Friday, October 01, 2004

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

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 thinking about it. Perhaps we should build ubicomp systems to have some inherent level of ambiguity in them, as one way of managing the privacy issues that will inevitably arise.
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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

[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 using the lanes. Most of the ones I interviewed were budget-conscious, middle-class commuters who used the free lanes when possible. But when the traffic got heavy, they considered the toll a bargain.

''Isn't it worth a couple of dollars to spend an extra half-hour with your family?'' said T.J. Zane, a political consultant who drives a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta. ''That's what I used to spend on a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Now I've started bringing my own coffee and using the money for the toll.''

These toll lanes have become so popular that they're being extended 12 miles farther out of town, and the concept of variable tolls has become highway engineers' favorite solution to traffic jams. After decades of working on technological fixes like beam-control roads, they've turned to basic economics instead. They now see traffic jams as the equivalent of bread lines in the Soviet Union, a consequence of an unimaginative monopoly run by politicians loath to charge the market price for a valuable commodity. To be fair to the Soviet politicians, though, at least they didn't blame the public for the problem that they created. They didn't promote a smart-diet program urging people to eat less bread.

The privacy risks here are in how the monitoring system could be used for purposes beyond congestion control, but interestingly, privacy isn't mentioned at all. Again, vitamins versus aspirin.

It all reminds me of that famous quote by Vance Packard: ""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."

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.

Friday, September 24, 2004

[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."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


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

ACM Transactions on Architecture and Code Optimization (TACO)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

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.

Monday, September 13, 2004

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 losing battle and it will only get more expensive over time."

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 conviction in the US. Whether you think that's a good
idea depends on whether you've ever used an unknown WiFi port to
connect to the Internet, which the US Justice Department seems
to think is a crime

Saturday, September 11, 2004

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.

Friday, September 10, 2004

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."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

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 minimizing the foreseeable risks.

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.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Friday, September 03, 2004

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 of communicating seems to create a network positive effect. In other words, if I send a message, there's a likely expectation to receive a message.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

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 seems to be yet another hidden case of metrics just continuing the status quo.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

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 ponder. But on the plus side, my lack of cell phone didn't prevent me from meeting up with my friends and getting some veggie sushi, something I have been sorely missing in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

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 9-10:30
Place: NSH 3002
Course#: 05899
Pre-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 it is expected to consist primarily of SCS students.

Monday, August 23, 2004

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...