October 31, 2003
end of the world
Here's a fun distraction for you all on Halloween. WTF, mates?
(passed on to me by the Rookie)
October 30, 2003
book: where the action is
I just finished possibly the best treatise on HCI I've read in a good long while -- Paul Dourish's Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. ... (yes, Amanda, it's even better than Hiroshi's)
Half HCI design and half philosophy class, Dourish's book attempts to unify recent research in tangible and social computing into a broader paradigm of "embodied interaction." Breaking with previous approaches steeped in Cartesian dualism and information processing cognitive psychology, embodied interaction is an extension of the phenomenology school of modern philosophy, as articulated by Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, and others. It concerns engagement with the physical and social world, and recognizes that humans don't just follow set plans of action, but rather engage in a continuous improvisation in response to their surrounding contexts as they pursue goals and activities. Despite the strong philosophical slant, the book is very readable and in my opinion lays a nice foundation for both designing and interpreting interactive technologies. You won't find design guidelines or rules of thumb in this book, but you will find a useful perspective in which to frame your own analyses and ideas.
Having not read Heidegger before, I was particularly interested in the concepts of "ready-to-hand" (zuhanden) and "present-at-hand" (vorhanden) to describe our engaged status with an artifact. For example, when a skilled carpenter uses a hammer to drive a nail, the hammer is "ready-to-hand" -- the carpenter doesn't have to think about the fact that he is using a hammer, it cognitively becomes an extension of himself. That doesn't mean the carpenter can't also accidently smash his thumb, at which point he becomes keenly aware of the fact that he is wielding a hammer physically distinct from himself -- at this point the hammer becomes "present-at-hand." Apparently these concepts were introduced to the HCI community as early as 1986 by another book I need to read. Surprisingly, I haven't seen these concepts in the ubicomp literature, where they could help tease apart the oft-confused metaphors of "invisible" computing that are touted as ubicomp's ultimate goal.
The only thing I felt was noticably lacking from this book was a discussion of learning. Even embodied tasks often require some phase of learning, training, and familiarity gained through experience. I'd have loved to see an exposition of some of the features of such learning requirements as befits tangible and social computing applications. But as Dourish himself states, this book isn't intended to have all the answers. It is intended to be a beginning, to open a door into a new paradigm of interface research and development that "emphasizes the primacy of natural practice over abstract cognition." And that it most certainly does.
Have a blog? Interested at all in blogs? Then read this: PressThink: Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds. (via DocSearls)
Just my own inactive passing along of the most interesting info :)
October 29, 2003
fun with spambots
Over the last month or so, I've noticed all sorts of spam comments getting posted to my blog. My favorite so far read something along the lines of:
Great blog! Fascinating, relevant posts. Check out http://somesite.com for penis enlargement solutions.
Of course the release of MT-Blacklist can help us MovableType users manage this nonsense, but why not have more fun with it? I propose that we co-opt spambots for our own purposes. Through a combination of automatic and manual detection, we can remove spam postings from the comments listings and instead, for each entry, post a "spambot score." We could even have a spambot-honeypot design contest to see who can snare the most spambots. I may even come to regret having so callously deleted those penis enlargement ads before they could be added to my tally. Or, better yet, can we create "spamback" mechanisms and leverage the blogging community + the wonderful world of web services to have some fun at the spammer's expense?
So who wants to write Movable Type modules to do this? Any takers? :)
October 28, 2003
October 27, 2003
book: philosophy of punk
First things first, let's just be clear that when we use the word philosophy here, we're not talking Kant (thank god), and we're not talking Wittgenstein... but we are talking about a possibly fascinating look at a largely misunderstood sub-culture... one with often conflicting views from it's own members. Unfortunately this book is not quite there.
In true punk spirit, however, O'Hara's book is a DIY (do-it-yourself) effort from the ground up. Fanzines (e.g., Maximum Rock n' Roll, Profane Existence, ...) and album liner notes form the primary sources of the book, which chronicles punk viewpoints on media misrepresentation, zines, anarchism, gender, sexuality, and environmentalism. For the most part little new is gleamed, though the book does a nice job of taking various snapshots of the (primarily early 90's) punk world. Skinheads (even the steadfastly anti-racist breed) and straight-edgers, however, are given particularly scathing treatment, as the author characteristically sways between a pseudo-objective tone and unrestrained vitriolic opinion. The same style, if you ask me, that so often characterizes punk.
I did appreciate the book's chapter on anarchism, as it was one of the few sections where I encountered some new perspectives, and set me on a path to discover some interesting readings such as this one. I also discovered that true punks, according to O'Hara's view, are utopians: "anarchy does not just mean no laws, it means no need for laws."
What really struck me, though, was how deeply the rhetoric of rebellion is woven into punk philosophy as presented. In seems that most punk causes can be formulated to always begin with the prefix "anti-". In so doing, it runs the risk of ever being a counter-culture, defined largely by resistance and therefore existing as a reactive movement, its identity dependent on the larger culture it lashes back against. As such, punk is limited, willingly or unwillingly, to merely modifying the culture it would like to see obliterated. This observation is an over generalization, of course: punk acts continue to promote more egalitarian financial models (e.g., the wonderful folks from Fugazi), and other trends in the sub-culture, particularly gender and environmental issues, tend to promote a more proactive outlook. If punk truly still exists in this day in age (it always seems to be pronounced dead or dying), it will be interesting to see how it further evolves.
In the end, I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to get ahold of this book. But if you're either interested or completely ignorant of punk, and like me, find this book sitting on a friend's bookshelf, pick it up and give it a read. At the very least, it will get you thinking. Or, if you want to expose yourself to one of the more beautiful (and for my young teenage self, life-changing) expressions of punk philosophy, buy this album and learn all the lyrics by heart.
October 26, 2003
Yesterday we went down to Pier 30-32 to check out the Red Bull Flugtag, watching people hurtle themselves into the bay on all sorts of crazy contraptions. With some notable exceptions, performance art upstaged engineering merit, but it was a blast regardless. My favorites were the boys from Cal trying to fly a super-sized paper airplane, the giant red bull with the embedded catapult, and El Toro Guapo, a giant medieval-style catapult that launched a man 61 feet! Aw, good mindless fun.
Next year I want to build a flugtag. I know enough engineers and artists that we could do something fairly interesting. Right now I 'm thinking of a slingshot catapult that launches a man into the air -- with the man hooked into a spring-loaded hang-glider that he can deploy at the apex of his flight. That would be dope. Let me know if you want to join the team.
October 24, 2003
danah boyd has written an interesting UbiComp "intimate computing" workshop paper on some of the social phenomena and implications surrounding friendster. While reading it, it occurred to me that the true threat to privacy posed by an unchecked networked society and ubiquitous computing may not be the politico-economic threat of an Orwellian "Big Brother", but a cultural-spiritual death that comes from complete social exposure. If any move you make can be visible to the world, the resulting self-censorship due to purely social factors could be stifling, even in the absence of any threat to liberty or economic livelihood. What if my friends, my mom, my ex-lover, or any gorgeous, fascinating woman I'd like to get to know better might have access to any particular activity I'm undertaking? At this point many people might cite sci-fi author David Brin's The Transparent Society, in which privacy is eradicated, but the equalized erosion of privacy across all strata of society ensures liberty. In such a situation would social norms erode, allowing socio-cultural liberty to emerge? Or would full personal exposure homogenize thinking and action, pushing towards a hive mind?
I don't know... I'm just a socially-interested computer scientist in the continual process of overcoming my crass ignorance, but of the two options above I suspect the latter is the more likely. Scarily, it also seems to me that it's one or the other extreme, with little room for compromise. Notice that the physical world has wonderful things such as caves, secluded forests, and walls, floors, and ceilings, all of which provide not just physical, but social security. As such, I suspect that truly successful networked-living requires hiding spots, secret practices, control over information disclosure, and varied levels of anonymity. It is this type of control that makes true intimacy possible.
So bravo to all you socio-technical scientists out there trying to figure these things out. At some point, I may get out of my armchair and join you.
concert: prefuse 73
On Wednesday night I took a break from school to see one my favorite electronic musicians: Atlanta's Scott Herren, aka Warp records recording artist prefuse 73. We sauntered into Bimbo's 365 a bit late, so missed the first act - Beans from the Anti-Pop Consortium. What we did catch, however, was an amazing set by Four Tet. The beats, grooves, and melodies he threw down were awesome, and at many points mesmerizing... I'd come-to after a minute or so, realizing I had completely spaced out on the music, losing my sense of place (and I was dead sober, I swear). Four Tet would then glitch out, turning all the knobs higher and higher until the music transmogrified into pure cacaphony. The glitchy madness would then cut out, and you'd feel your self synesthetically plummet, until at the last moment the near-forgotten beats and melodies of 3 minutes ago would swoop back in, catching you at the last second and setting you back down on the dance floor to resume your groove. Great stuff. I have got to go pick up some of his albums.
Then Senor 73 took the stage, but he didn't come alone. In addition to a back-up DJ spinning, there was a drummer on stage. The drummer was pretty awesome, keeping up with prefuse's constant changes and really enriching the percussion (the double effect of both live and synthesized beats was great). The songs played mostly came from prefuse's latest installment, the sublime one word extinguisher (though also check out the nearly-as-wonderful vocal studies + uprock narratives and the all too short '92 vs. '02 collection EP). The set ranged from rocking to revelatory, and was over much too soon. For the encore, Beans came out and "jammed" with Mr. Herren for a nice little number that would have made a great little lulla-good-bye. Would have, I say, because I was still pumped up for more.
October 23, 2003
While looking up a bunch of references on visual attention, I stumbled across this collection of stimuli for visual attention experiments on change blindness and inattentional blindness. Fun fun fun.
This video in particular got me. The first time I watched it, purposefully trying to NOT overtly look for changes, I didn't notice anything unusual. On second view, however, I saw at least 5. I still have to figure out the other 4...
October 22, 2003
Eric Paulos, one of the demonstration chairs for the recent UbiComp 2003 conference, put up a page of photos of the conference's demonstrations. Check it out for some glimpses of next generation systems and interactive art projects: UbiComp Demos Images
October 21, 2003
I was happy to see that Apple released a windows version of iTunes -- I have been lukewarm to MusicMatch thus far and so now my iPod may have a new partner in crime. I haven't gotten around to installing it yet, but it appears I should hold off on putting it on my laptop until I upgrade to XP. As intimated to me by an audiophile friend, and corroborated by this article, the windows version doesn't always play nice with Win2k.
One of the most serious complaints came from a number of Windows 2000 Professional users, who said installing iTunes appeared to crash their machines... Patrick Nielsen Hayden, a science fiction book editor in New York, said he installed the Windows version on his PC but then was unable to use his machine. "On restart, Windows 2000 Pro got up to its "splash screen" — the screen displaying the product's logo. [It] got about halfway across the progress meter ... and froze solid," he wrote in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has criticized the new iTunes for limiting user's available choices. Funny, that.
October 19, 2003
The second half of my northwest adventures was to attend the Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp) conference in Seattle. It was my first time in Seattle, and it only rained one out of the three days I was there, so I made out pretty well. Took a long bus ride from SeaTac into downtown, giving me a chance to soak in some of the people and surroundings (including a large number of Seahawks fans making their way to the stadium). I stayed in downtown a few blocks from the Space Needle. For some reason the city saw fit to install a monorail from the Westlake mall in downtown to the Space Needle area... totalling a whopping half-mile of monorail action. Reminded me of a certain Simpson's episode.
The conference itself was interesting, though overall less impressive than I was expecting. Here's a run-down of some of my favorite papers:
I also think my own talk went pretty well. I was presenting a streaming query system for supporting context-aware computing, the result of a systems class project I did with my friends Alan and Chris. This was the largest crowd I've ever spoken in front of (not counting theatre or concert performances), so I couldn't resist taking a picture of the audience at the beginning of the talk. The picture captures a little over 1/3 of the room...
Overall, I enjoyed the conference, and was glad to see a mix of disciplines and approaches represented. The demonstrations as a whole leaned towards interactive art, which I appreciate, but felt that in addition there could have been some more compelling demos that tackle real-world problems. In terms of papers, I found myself getting most interested in the socially-oriented research, perhaps because I'm less familiar with it and find it more inspiring and thought-provoking than software systems design papers. That being said, in the future I'd really like to see more novel hardware contributions... the LED paper was great and I'd love to see more work on novel sensors, actuators, and input/output mechanisms.
As the years march on, I'm interested to see how these technologies we're building, discussing, and critiquing eventually influence the world around us. I'm still wondering what parts of ubicomp (e.g., context-aware computing) will catch on and what technologies or approaches won't live up to the hype. What technologies are compelling and enriching enough that end-users will clamor for them? How will they affect our privacy, our work habits, and our social lives? Already cell phones are acquiring location-tracking services, which seems like a primary vector for ubicomp work to start streaming into the market. Developments in ubicomp are already sparking plenty of skepticism and debate. For now I'm optimistic, yet vigilant. As I see it, UbiComp researchers and developers have a double burden placed upon them - not only to invent the technologies of the future that attempt to integrate computational tools into the backdrop of human activity, but to do so in a way that carefully avoids impinging upon both our liberties and humanity. Fortunately, I got the strong impression that most of my fellow conference-goers whole-heartedly share this outlook.
I got back from my trip through the northwest late Wednesday night. Since then, life has been a mix of insanities both good and bad, so I'm just now getting around to blogging my travels.
My trip started with a visit to friends and family out in Portland, OR. On Friday, my grandfather and I traveled out to Silver Falls State Park, where we took a five mile hike past numerous beautiful waterfalls. It was great spending the day with my grandfather, a most impressive man. It's a rare 82 year old who can take a five mile hike with plenty of elevation changes, polish off a nice beer afterward, and then drive over an hour back home.
I also got to sample some of the local Portland nightlife. I spent one night over in the southeast side of town, hanging out in the Hawthorne and Belmont street areas. There are some fun bars (though be cautious of anal-retentive bouncers) that have a distinctively northwest feeling to them... among other things, I was treated to plenty of classic Soundgarden in the jukebox. The Hawthorne area also has some cool book and record stores that kept me busy (and weighted down my backpack) during the day. Scored a couple nice discs, plus a pile of books ranging from aikido and eastern religion to chronicles of the automobile's influence on the evolution of the American city. The Powell's book store has an impressive collection, but is not nearly as overwhelming as the time-vortex, multi-block city of books they have in the downtown area.
Other highlights from the trip include lunch with my family at the Portland brewing company, and partying in downtown, lounging at Shanghai Tunnel and clubbing at Berbati's. (btw portlanders, prefuse 73 is playing there this week, so don't miss it...)
The best part about Portland, however, was just the chance to catch up with my family and friends. It never ceases to amaze me when I reunite with long lost friends to discover that we're more alike in thought and outlook now than we were back in the days we saw each other constantly.
October 15, 2003
October 14, 2003
jason hong guest blogs
So Jeff and I are here in sunny Seattle blogging away at Ubicomp 2003. Talks are pretty cool, looking at various networking, systems, and interaction aspects of ubiquitous computing, systems that combine wireless networking, sensors, and devices of all form factors.
So since this is a guest blog, I won't go too much into detail about the geeky technical details, but one thing I think is really great about this conference is that it's trying to figure out not just what we could build, but what we should build.
The question, "What kind of world do we want to live in?" is more important than ever, because with these emerging technologies, we really can start molding the world according to our desires. How will these technologies affect social communities? Democracies? Education? Families? Children? Quality of life? The environment? Politics? Social justice? Art? How can we use these technologies to tackle the hard problems that face humanity?
Ok, so Jeff says I have a treatise going here, so I'll stop while I'm ahead. I'll end with one of my favorite quotes: "we may disagree about our past, but we're going to have to agree about our future together".
P.S. Jeff, your talk was awesome. I think I saw a few women swooning.
October 09, 2003
leavin' for a while
I'm leaving tonight to go to the Pacific Northwest, visting Portland for a few days before heading to Seattle to present this paper at the Ubiquitous Computing conference. If anything interesting happens along the way I'll try to post it when and where I have net access.
In other news I got in a car accident this morning. Someone forgot to signal before making a left turn across my path. So I hit my brakes to avoid getting sideswiped, but they still didn't see me and smashed head first into my car. It sucked. I think I'm fine (hopefully no whiplash will make itself felt) though my car is a bit tweaked. I think I'll to stick to airplanes for the next week.
October 08, 2003
concert: the streets
After weeks of hard work and paper writing, it was time to have a little fun. So after a trip by the bars, I headed into the city Monday night with a friend to go see the Streets, a British "rap" act infused with a heavy dub influence. So right as we rolled into the Fillmore, the opening act had just taken the stage -- a rap act named Phoenix and the Shadow, or something like that. For the most part they were fun to watch, but they did have a rather abysmal song "The First Time I Had Sex." It was so bad, I felt embarassed for them.
Then the Streets took the stage, opening with the first two songs from their album "Original Pirate Material". Their performance was short but sweet, lasting little over an hour and fifteen minutes. Though the set was little more than a direct rehash of their album, it was still a lot of fun. The musical highlight was probably their rendition of their popular radio hit "Let's Push Things Forward." At the end they changed the lyrics and instead starting singing "Ghost Town" by the Specials over the same musical backdrop. I love ska, especially the Specials, so this got me excited, though I was saddened that most the audience had no recognition of the song.
The real highlight of the show, however, was the drunken antics of the lead singer. We were informed that it was back up singer Kevin's last night performing with the band, so we all had "to get pissed." And so the lead singer proceeded to do so with his apparent drink of choice, a large bottle of brandy shared liberally with the front row crowd. At some point in the night it became apparent the brandy was missing, which sent the lead singer running frantically through the Fillmore searching for it, all the while exhorting "Brandy makes you randy!!" through his wireless mic. Failing to find the brandy, he instead emerged triumphant with a bottleof vodka -- "The brandy is gone... but WE GOT STOLI!!" This, too, was liberally dispersed to the front row fans. Then, in the middle of a song, a fan hands a note up to the singer, who walks off stage in the middle of the song to read it, and then comes back exclaiming, "I've just been informed that security has taken my brandy!", launching a tirade against the injustices of brandy-snatching. This somehow instigated the return of the brandy, allowing the lead singer to be jubilantly reunited with his drink of choice... "THE BRANDY IS BACK!!!!!!" Everything in its right place, we partied until the Streets exhausted their repertoire. Good times.
The lesson: drunken Brits with thick accents can be damn entertaining.
Some of my limited readership may have noticed that I was silent for about a week or so. I was busy working my ass off getting two submissions ready for CHI 2004 - the 2004 Conference on Human-Factors in Computing Systems. I was lead author on one paper, at it pretty much consumed my life for a while... I didn't even get to sleep on Sunday night. I was a secondary author on the other submission, which was a collaboration with my friends at PARC. I shoudn't comment too much about paper content, as all submissions had to be anonymized. I really hope the papers get accepted. Obviously there are all the normal reasons for wanting this, but there was an extra motivation this year, as the conference is being held in Vienna. I could use a nice European vacation come April. Maybe I could even run for governor out there.
And so it has come to pass... All hail Staatfuhrer Schwarzenegger. We'll see what happens... In spite of my own pessimism, I hope Arnold does well for California, and following his own rhetoric, does what is right for the people. I certainly think he is capable of standing up against the Republican establishment at times if he chooses to do so, and I hope to see that play out. Hopefully also the large voter turnout and celebrity governor will keep more Californians involved in politics (even if I disagree with them). With over a hundred candidates involved, this recall election has also solidified for me a strong interest in instant run-off voting.
At the end of this whole spectacle, at least I can say I don't feel that impending sense of doom that I (sadly accurately) felt after the 2000 presidential election.
Also, I got to cast my vote using the computerized Diebold voting machines that have lately been the subject of much controversy. And let me tell you, while it certainly could have been much worse, the UI sucks!! I doubt there was much of a user-centered design process in play for this most important of interfaces.
October 07, 2003
vote, damn you
If you live in California and you haven't voted yet, get off your butt, take a break from work, or whatever, just go do it ... and save our state from termination.
October 01, 2003
a clever little idea...