Showing posts from February, 2005

[Cool] NYTimes: Einstein and Pop Culture

Great article on culture's need for the next Einstein. Now that I read this, I wonder if this whole mess with teaching evolution could be simplified if scientists said that Einstein believed in it (the problem being, of course, that this kind of proof by authority is counter to science).

He didn't look like much at first. He was too fat and his head was so big his mother feared it was misshapen or damaged. He didn't speak until he was well past 2, and even then with a strange echolalia that reinforced his parents' fears. He threw a small bowling ball at his little sister and chased his first violin teacher from the house by throwing a chair at her.

There was in short, no sign, other than the patience to build card houses 14 stories high, that little Albert Einstein would grow up to be "the new Copernicus," proclaiming a new theory of nature, in which matter and energy swapped faces, light beams bent, the star…

[Tech] [Ubicomp] Various Location Types

From the GeoPriv RADIUS working standard

| Label | Description | Example |
| country | The country is | US |
| | identified by the | |
| | two-letter ISO 3166 | |
| | code. | |
| | | |
| A1 | national | New York |
| | subdivisions (state, | |
| | region, province, | |
| | prefecture) | |
| …

[Tech] Interesting Mozilla plugins

Some dealing with privacy and security:
A P3P (Platform for Privacy Policies) translator
Secure display of logos, credentials prevent spoofing / phishing

Some are useful for hacking:
Add, Modify and Filter out any HTTP request headers

Some are just cool ideas:
Replaces the throbber with a foreign language/vocabulary builder

And a bunch of ones dealing with maps:
Send highlighted text to various map sites
Obtains a map based on selected text in browser.
Gives you a Google Map of selected text

[Tech] [Ubicomp] Camera phones may make a doctor's house calls

Researchers in Switzerland reported Monday the devices could be used to help diagnose and suggest treatment for some serious wounds in patients in remote locations far removed from a physician.

The report from University Hospital of Geneva looked at leg ulcers in 52 patients that were examined both in person and remotely by doctors in a nearby room who had only pictures of the same wounds taken by a first-generation camera phone.

They found remarkably high agreement between doctors who looked at the wound in person and those who saw the image.

If visiting nurses in remote locations can send such pictures in for consultation, "the transport of the patient ... to the hospital or the physician's office could be replaced, and this approach could potentially save the health care system money," the report said.

[Soc] NYTimes on Craigslist Missed Connections

Categorized under the label Missed Connections, the messages are posted by waitresses longing for patrons, customers lusting after shop clerks and subway passengers pining away for one another. Pessimists see the bulletin board, which gets about 7,000 postings per month, as an online repository for regret. Optimists see it as an opportunity for second chances and serendipity.

You know, I've always wondered how many people found their missed connection. Also interesting is how Craigslist decided to create the Missed Connections group.

Missed Connections was created in 2000 after Craigslist employees noticed "I saw you" messages popping up in the personals section. The name of the category was chosen as a transportation metaphor. "Our motivation is simply that this is something that happened to all of us," said Craig Newmark, an Internet pioneer who started Craigslist in San Francisco.

Of course, he…

[Tech] [Soc] [Ubicomp] NTT DoCoMo Pioneers 'Dark Side' Research On Mobile Phones

Interesting, I wonder what were the behind-the-scenes debate to get this going.

In a "fireside chat" during Tuesday's (Feb. 15) keynote session, NTT DoCoMo President Masao Nakamura cited the Mobile Social Research Institute, founded last year by his company, as a pioneer in measuring and ameliorating the implications for Japanese society of a population in which 85 million (out of 120 million) depend heavily on mobile telephony.

Citing the myriad forms of mobile phone misuse — ranging from bad subway etiquette to the exploitation of prepaid mobiles in criminal, or terrorist, conspiracies — Nakamura said, "Operators shouldn't escape this issue by just laying the blame on society."


Expanding on Nakamura's remarks, NTT DoCoMo spokeswoman Tomoko Homma said mobile phone users who talk too loud represent only the starting point for the Mobile Social Research Institute, whose purpose is &quo…

[HCI] The Future of User Interface Design Tools

Skimming over the papers, lots of interesting ideas. Interesting to consider the deployability issues behind many of these ideas, for example:

80/20 (makes it easy to do the most common things, possible to do the difficult)
kool-aid factor (how much buy-in does it take to get things going?)
understandability and predictability (will UI designers be able to understand what's going on?)

This workshop aims to gather researchers in the field of user interface design tools to identify important themes for the next decade of research. User interface tools aid in the design and development of interactive systems. They include tools for designing the interface, development environments for writing code, and toolkits that provide software architectures and building blocks to aid development.

[Ubicomp] [HCI] The Meeting Machine: interactive workspace support for nomadic users

Meeting Machine = Projector + Media readers (USB, Compact Flash) + interactive workspace software (for connecting personal laptops to)

Saw this at WMCSA2003 a while back, found the reference to it again, it's a great paper.

Barton, J.J.; Hsieh, T.; Johanson, B.; Vijayaraghavan, V.; Fox, A. The meeting machine: interactive workspace support for nomadic users. Proc. IEEE WMCSA 2003. Page(s): 2- 12.

[HCI] List of Open Source Groupware Systems

Long list of open source software for groups. Wish this person also included commercial groupware in a separate page.

[tech] Harnessing the Power of "Really Bored People" [tm]

Just saw an article on Wikipedia about Clickworkers, an app by NASA where anybody could come in and identify craters on Mars:

There are many scientific tasks that require human perception and common sense, but may not require a lot of scientific training. Identifying craters on Mars is something almost anyone can do, and classifying them by age is only a little harder.

Reminds me of the ESP game, where people play a game to label images on the web.

From a research perspective, lots of interesting questions:

What other kinds of apps fall in this design space?
How good are the results (generally speaking)?
Are there areas in ubicomp where we can apply these same techniques?

[HCI] [Tech] Constraint-based systems in Laszlo

Comments from a cool programmer I know (Don Hopkins), on one of my colleagues (Brad Myers) and on constraints in UI programming.

Garnet [] is an advanced user interface development environment written in Common Lisp, developed by Brad Meyers (the author of the article). I worked for Brad on the Garnet project at the CMU CS department back in 1992-3.

One thing I like about Brad Meyers is that he's a strong programmer, as well as an excellent researcher, so he had a first-hand understanding of the real-world issues involved in programming languages and user interface architecture, unlike many academics who talk a lot of theory but never get their hands dirty. Brad Meyers understands where the rubber hits the road, and how important it is to have good tires.

At the time I worked on it, Garnet didn't have pretty graphics like Flash, but the underlying programming system had some advanced features that are sorely lacki…

[Ubicomp] [Tech] WaveMarket Location Services

Interesting stuff, wonder how well it works, in terms of usability, scalability, etc?

Map.Me is a mobile phone map interface that allows users to pan/zoom and experience dynamic mobile city guides. Subscribers can download the application on their mobile phone to locate themselves, find addresses and businesses, and show directory listings on a map. Users can also request driving directions on how to reach their desired destination. is a location-aware mobile social network that allows friends to locate each other as well as share location-tagged blog posts. It turns mobile handsets into location-enabled broadcasting and viewing devices. It is where you go to see postings from anywhere that interests you. The number of posts, pages, and channels we host is unlimited, but it’s all organized by place and time so you get where you want in just seconds.

WaveAlert enables wireless operators to notify you when are near something important to …

[Policy] [Tech] Stallman on Intellectual Property

Richard Stallman makes very intriguing arguments in favor of scaling back copyright protection. It makes sense for the big media companies to keep pushing for stronger copyright protection, because it's in their selfish best interests, but
it's likely this will hinder innovation that would create an even larger pie that more people could partake in (though whether that's true or not, my magic eight-ball can't tell).

The article misstated my views when it said I am "against intellectual property". That term has no meaning except a confused mishmash of copyright law, patent law, and trademark law, and using the term leads people to simplistic, extreme, confused views. To be either for or against "intellectual property" is equally foolish. We can encourage careful thinking by rejecting that simplitic slogan.

In US law, copyright is a deal between the public and authors: the public sold the freedom to republish, which only publishers could do anyway, and …

[Just Plain Weird] Beer Retrieval Machine

I guess I spoke too soon about the auto-beer application. I forgot that one of the guys down the hall in Berkeley CS made a Universal Planar Manipulator that could send a beer down a table into your hand.

[HCI] [Ubicomp] The Design Challenge of Pervasive Computing

John Thackara was the plenary speaker at CHI2000, lots of interesting thoughts here.

But do all these chips make for better products? Or a better life? Let me tell you a strange thing. Hardly anyone is asking that question. When it comes to innovation, we are looking down the wrong end of the telescope: away from people, toward technology. Industry suffers from a kind of global autism. Autism, as you may know, is a psychological disorder that is characterized by "detachment from other human beings." This autism probably explains the fiasco over third-generation (3G) Internet. In the United Kingdom alone, the auction of radio spectrum raised $25 billion. That's an awful lot of money to pay for fresh air! And what did these companies think they were buying? They thought they were buying the latest technological Holy Grail—the capacity to send broadband "content" to people on their mobile phones. Did these companies talk to …

[Privacy] [Ubicomp] States Mull Taxing Drivers By Mile

Interesting, a dis-incentive to get hybrid cars. But now that I think about it, wouldn't it be far easier just to raise gas prices?

Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."

Seeing tax dollars dwindling, neighboring Oregon has already started road testing the idea.

"Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that," says engineer David Kim.

Kim and his team at Oregon State University equipped a test car with a global positioning device to keep track of its mileage. Eventually, every car would need one.

"So, if you drive 10 miles you will pay a certain fee which will be, let's say, one tenth of what someone pays if they drive 100 miles," says Kim.

The new tax would be charged each time you fill up. A computer ins…

[Cool] NotePad Invaders

[Ubicomp] [Rant] Jason's Rant on Smart (and Not So Smart) Homes

Just presented my rant on smart homes to some faculty and students in architecture here at CMU.

My main points:

Research community should focus less on gizmos, more on existing activities
Child care: getting kids to school, caring for babies
Home maintenance: lights, termites, bills
Family coordination: kids, grandparents, friends

Research community should also remember that houses are part of a bigger picture
Part of the local environment
Part of the local community
Part of larger activities (work, play, health, family)

Think about merging liberal democratic goals with good marketing and good tech
Environmentally “green” houses
Strong vibrant communities
Stronger family interactions

Smart homes aren’t just about the house!

[Web] To Pop-Up, or Not To Pop-Up, That Is the Question


My co-author on The Design of Sites answers about web popups.

Recently, while replying to e-mails from readers of my book, The Design of Sites, I came across a comment from a designer who claimed that my recommendation to use pop-ups was hopelessly out of date.

Did this reader not understand me, my recommendation -- to use pop-ups primarily in situations when people are asking for more information or when trying to better serve customer needs by asking survey questions? Or had I lost touch with reality and slept through a transformation of the industry?

To answer these important questions, I set about re-examining the best practices around the use of pop-ups on the Web.

[Research] U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Findings

LA Times article

More than half of the biologists and other researchers who responded to the survey said they knew of cases in which commercial interests, including timber, grazing, development and energy companies, had applied political pressure to reverse scientific conclusions deemed harmful to their business.


The two groups that circulated the survey also made available memos from Fish and Wildlife officials that instructed employees not to respond to the survey, even if they did so on their own time. Snow said that agency employees could not use work time to respond to outside surveys.


One scientist working in the Pacific region, which includes California, wrote: "I have been through the reversal of two listing decisions due to political pressure. Science was ignored — and worse, manipulated, to build a bogus rationale for reversal of these listing decisions."

More than 20% of survey responders reported they had been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter …

[HCI] [Ubicomp] Smart Homes? A Stupid Idea.

Thought provoking article.

Based on extensive research by anthropologists watching how people live (not just talking to them about how they say they live), Doblin Group predicts that key areas for innovation will relate to six activities: child care, cooking, group entertaining, family coordination, learning, and home management. This is where the action is for future products and services.

[Cool] Beer and Ben Franklin

Saw a good quote today, wonder if he really said it?

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." (Ben Franklin)

[Ubicomp] [Soc] Smart Homes and Smart Marketing

For the majority of voters...the phrase [energy conservation] conjures "sacrifice, deprivation, Jimmy Carter in a cardigan telling you to turn down the thermostat." ... But they do like to be told they're smart... [P]roducts, programs, and politicians that have substituted "energy efficiency" or "smart shopping" do dramatically better than those urging abstinence. "So the environment is not a primary motivator," she concludes, "but if people can help themselves first and help the environment too, they feel they're being smart shoppers and good citizens."

  — Who's got the power?, Christian Science Monitor Aug 28 2003

From the Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department - When Chat Rooms go Bad

A budding romance between a Jordanian man and woman turned into an ugly public divorce when the couple found out that they were in fact man and wife, state media reported on Sunday. Separated for several months, boredom and chance briefly reunited Bakr Melhem and his wife Sanaa in an internet chat room, the official Petra news agency said. Bakr, who passed himself off as Adnan, fell head over heels for Sanaa, who signed off as Jamila (beautiful) and described herself as a cultured, unmarried woman -- a devout Muslim whose hobby was reading, Petra said. Cyber-love blossomed between the pair for three months and soon they were making wedding plans. To pledge their troth in person, they agreed to meet in the flesh near a bus depot in the town of Zarqa, northeast of Amman. The shock of finding out their true identities was too much for the pair.

[Ubicomp] [Tech] [Privacy] RFIDs in Schools

Same old story with ubicomp technologies:

No real value proposition
Even worse, exposes students to new risks
Probably no real thought on how to protect the data
Very likely little thought on how to scope the system properly
Doubtful if they considered alternative architectures that collect the minimum amount of data to get the desired benefits

"Forcing my child to be tracked with a RFID device – without our consent or knowledge – is a complete invasion of our privacy," said Michael and Dawn Cantrall. "Our 7th grader came home wearing the ID badge prominently displayed around her neck– if a predator wanted to target my child, the mandatory school ID card has just made that task easier." The Cantralls filed a formal complaint against the Brittan Elementary School Board in Sutter, California on January 30th after meeting with several school officials.

"The monitoring of children with RFID tags is comparable to the tracking of cattle, shipment pallets, or very dangerous…

Needs Selling Satisfaction

Have to admit, this is a nice way of communicating a value proposition.
From "Confessions of a Car Salesman"

Roy taught a total system for sales, called "Needs Satisfaction Selling." You found out what the customer's needs were and then you presented the car in such a way as to meet their needs. This meant you needed to know the car's features so well you could present it in a number of different ways. If the customer wanted safety you had to talk about ABS, airbags and crumple zones. If the buyer wanted performance you talked about the V6 engine, the silky-smooth tranny and the platinum-tipped spark plugs.

The selling system was built around a progression of questions we were told to memorize. That night I took these questions home and my 9-year-old, who loves role-playing, helped me practice using them.

I'd shake my son's hand and say, "Welcome to the dealership! And your name is?"


"Good to meet you …

Edmund Burke on Society

Pure genius from Edmund Burke.

[Society] is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

[Tech] Technology Wishlist for Emergency Response Teams


Personnel locator / monitor
Approaching Traffic Warning Device for Emergency Response Vehicles
Building and Facility Emergency Response Information/Survey Tool
Casualty Locator
Chemical and Biological Contaminants Neutralizer
Colormetric detection capability for all chemicals
Enhanced Multi-mission Structural Firefighting PPE
Enhancement to the Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) to allow for two-way emergency alerting

[Cool] Lego IPods

One artist is selling tiny Lego people carrying ipods. Very stylish.

[Tech] [Ubicomp] How Smart Dust works

A nice, basic explanation of Smart Dust motes from HowStuffWorks.

You could attach motes to the water meters or power meters in a neighborhood. The motes would log power and water consumption for a customer. When a truck drives by, the motes get a signal from the truck and they send their data. This would allow a person to read all the meters in a neighborhood very easily, simply by driving down the street.


Imagine a suburban neighborhood or an apartment complex with motes that monitor the water and power meters (as described in the previous section). Since all of the meters (and motes) in a typical neighborhood are within 100 feet (30 meters) of each other, the attached motes could form an ad hoc network amongst themselves. At one end of the neighborhood is a super-mote with a network connection or a cell-phone link. In this imagined neighborhood, someone doesn't have to drive a truck through the neighborhood each month to read the indi…

[Cool] [Tech] [HCI] Cool InfoViz - State of the Union Parsing Tool

Very cool infoviz tool for seeing the frequency of words in the past few State of the Union Addresses.

The main web site,, also has some other nice visualizations as well.

[Ubicomp] Japanese Smart Home

Sounds very interesting. Of course, the real question is how well it works in practice, and what happens when inevitable errors arise. Though I have to admit I really like the auto-beer application.

# No keys are required to unlock the front door. Instead, the house relies on a fingerprint scanner to identify the person who wants to open the door. In a personal touch, the fingerprint data can also be sent to Aibo, which can perform a unique "welcome dance" to greet different members of the family.

# No more waiting at home for the delivery of a parcel. A box for parcels is located just outside the front door. A family member can check on the arrival of package using a cell phone and open the box remotely.The box is able to recognize the identification of the delivery and issues a signed receipt to the deliverer.

# Everything from opening curtains to turning on lights or the air conditioner can be controlled from the …

[Cool] [Tech] Jiggy Phone

Tired of pushing all those buttons on your cell phone? Some Japanese handsets slated to hit stores next month are designed to solve that problem: They respond to shakes, tilts and jiggles.

The new phones come equipped with a tiny motion-control sensor. Just jerk your cell phone in the air in a variety of two-step patterns -- such as left followed by down -- to program your phone to scroll or jump to e-mail or other features.

[Tech] IP Address Geolocators

Three different online services for doing lookups from IP Address to location information (roughly at the postal code level)

Inspirational Talk by Muhammed Yunus

Dr. Muhammad Yunus is the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, or as he calls it, a bank for the poor. The insight he had was that small micro-loans, less than $100 each, could bring Bangladeshi families out of poverty in an economically sustainable manner. He also has an amazing program for using mobile phones to help improve information and communications as well. Bill Clinton wasn't kidding when he said that this guy deserves the Nobel Prize in Peace.

[Ubicomp] Videos of Ubiquitous Computing

[Ubicomp] Revenge of Geography

Great article in the Economist about location-based services. Talks about uses of location information, geotagging, geoencryption (cool idea, but sounds tough to do well), geomarking ("I'm over here, meet me").

Best quote:

The internet is an open platform, but it lacks ubiquitous wireless coverage and proper positioning technology. Only when openness, ubiquity and GPS-grade positioning are available in the same handset will it be possible to realise the true potential of location-based services.

Wireless Network Visualizations

Cute idea, overlays WiFi signal strengths on top of aerial maps.

[Cool] M&M Sorter

Parallax has an interesting kit called the M-Sorter. It really sorts M&M candies, and even Skittles. The device is incredible and ingenious in it's simplicity and design, in that the whole project runs with only 1 moving part!