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.