Showing posts from October, 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 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.

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