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November 2003 archives

November 30, 2003

web book & forager

Video of a mid-90s PARC User Interface Research project constructing a 3D workspace for web browsing and sense-making. I'll have to see what else one can dig up at open-video.org

Posted by jheer at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

digital iq

I can't believe I scored 224. I'm a freakin' dork!! (via kwc)

Posted by jheer at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2003

you go girl

danah's ongoing work on friendster and other social networking technologies, was just featured in a New York Times article! The reporter does a great job of introducing and framing the issues and personalities involved, including some wonderful Friendster stories and (deserved) salvos fired at friendster CEO Jonathan Abrams.

Posted by jheer at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2003


Pitchfork: Top 100 Albums of the 1990s Redux

Take a walk down memory lane and maybe discover some new gems in the process. Largely predictable as you get closer to the top (never forget that pitchfork lays [rightfully] prostrate at the altar of multi-continental binity Pavement y Radiohead), but still oh-so wonderful -- A Tribe Called Quest, Built to Spill, Belle & Sebastian, Pixies, Modest Mouse, Aphex Twin, Blur, Weezer, even Doctors Dre and Octagon. God bless them all.

Posted by jheer at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

europa awaits

Multiple paths through the grapevine that is the HCI community have confirmed it -- our paper got in! Vienna awaits (as does Prague and Berlin if my plans come to fruition). Anyone looking to be in Eastern-Western Europe come late March / early April late April drop me a line... I'd love to cross your path, or better yet, blaze one with you. And watch out Austria, as I warned you earlier, I may have gubernatorial ambitions. Time to refresh mein Deutsch.

(p.s. more on the paper later...)

Posted by jheer at 01:17 AM | Comments (2)


In case you didn't know, in terms of population California = The Bay + LA, as these visuals make abundantly clear. We've all heard there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, but visual design can sit in a gray area between simultaneous honesty and deceit. It all depends on which aspect you're looking at. (via conley)

California by Population

Posted by jheer at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2003

the hills resound the cry

They had a rocky start, but the Bears came back to emerge victorious... and the Cal fans apparently were better behaved then usual... magnanimous in victory, voracious in defeat?

California 28, Stanford 16

Cal is now eligible for a bowl game for the first time since 1996. So are we going to Vegas, El Paso, or Phoenix?

Posted by jheer at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

reach out and jack someone

Wired reporter Leander Kahney looks into how iPod'ing familiar strangers have begun a practice of impromptu sharings of each other's music, and envisions a future of micro-radio stations, where bluetooth or wi-fi enabled iPods could wirelessly serve up tunes to their local vicinity. Definitely something I would be into...

Wired News | Feel Free to Jack into my iPod

Posted by jheer at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2003


A team of Rice University chemists apparently know how to have fun with their trade: making molecules shaped like people. In their Journal of Organic Chemistry article, Synthesis of Anthropomorphic Molecules: The NanoPutians, they describe how to create these chemical characters, and Nature describes their usefulness as a teaching tool for kids. (via zohr)

NanoPutians chemical models

Posted by jheer at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

big game socio-something

Today is the Big Game: Cal v. Stanford. A match up of Bay Area rivals, the struggle for the Axe, a fight for superiority in moving a piece of pigskin up and down a patch of grass -- and sociologically fascinating. People get so worked up about the game out here at Cal it's amazing. The game takes on it's own (slightly-skewed) symbolism amongst the Cal undergraduates here - public vs. private interests, the common man vs. the elite -- the chance to stick it to the man. And just like Christmas, it may not be the event itself but the anticipation thereof that's the most fun. Weeks before the game, students walk around with "Fuck Stanfurd" proudly plastered across their chests, or imagery of a redwood tree performing fellatio on a Golden Bear's campanile-styled member. Oh, and don't forget over a hundred years of pranks.

Warranted or not, it is this undercurrent (along with large doses of inebriation) that contributes to the inevitable violence perpetuated by Cal fans everytime the game is held at Stanford. Though I've observed over the years that the tactics of the Palo Alto PD don't always promote peaceful resolutions, some level of disorder seems unavoidable -- it wouldn't be the big game without it. Water bottles and other associated items flying through the air, bouncing off of cops in riot gear, who are concurrently drenched in a verbal shower of epithets. Meanwhile, the more intoxicated (or just foolish) students, thinking perhaps their action will spark mass revolution, try to harass the po' up close, or worse, try to make it onto the field to topple the true symbol of Stanfordite 'oppression'--the tree, of all things--and then get dragged off and arrested. I learned early on in my undergraduate years that the Cal student body is the most intelligent group of thugs I've ever come to love (being brought up in the central valley wasteland of Stockton, CA I met my share of thugs... just not many intelligent ones). That is to say, without this now-ritualized display of disdain for all things associated with Leland, Jr., I must sadly admit that I'd feel that something was missing.

So fuck you Stanford, fuck you indeed... but maybe my brethren and I could redirect our angst into more socially constructive venues. Or perhaps we should just drink less. Or maybe ponder one simple question: why is it that, in contrast to Cal's obsession, most (but certainly not all) Stanfordites I know simply don't give a rat's ass?

Posted by jheer at 09:41 AM | Comments (1)

November 20, 2003

audio interfaces

DJ Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman, talks to wired about the tech behind techno and the types of music interfaces he'd like to see, and all I can think about is how I want to play with one of these.

Posted by jheer at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

spambot redux

This is the best piece of spambot poetry received yet...

I really liked the site and would ask you a question! How do you blog your blog? If you don't know, please drop me an email.

how do i blog my blog? i'll be sending that mail any second now.

Posted by jheer at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2003

when you win, you lose

i just couldn't resist this one... Russian dies after winning vodka-drinking contest

Posted by jheer at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)


Given the upcoming anniversary of the JFK assassination, last night I caught the last part of the PBS special "The Kennedys", focusing on the Presidential primary race and assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It was a moving piece that painted RFK in a very inspiring light, as a last ray of hope after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. And then he was shot, right after carrying the primaries here in the Golden State. What shocked me was that the documentary made just about no mention of who was responsible or why they did it.

So of course I went digging for the requisite conspiracies and was not disappointed. One of the better sites turned up by some quick googling is this piece of work from Court TV, of all places: Robert Kennedy Assassination: Revisions and Rewrites. So officially the story is that a Palestinian Arab, Sirhan Sirhan, still in prison to this day, was a lone gunmen... for reasons not made exactly clear... but who knows for sure.

All I know is that if I was alive in that day I'd have been angry beyond words at the level of unchecked political violence. MLK, RFK... people with moral bearing and momentum cut short. People you could believe in? Perhaps it's just nostalgia for a time I never knew, but it feels like a far cry from today's i-did-not-have-relations we're-going-to-smoke-them-out-of-their-holes era.

"We've had difficult times in the past. We will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder."
  -Robert F. Kennedy, April 3rd 1968

Posted by jheer at 10:55 PM | Comments (1)


I've been crazy busy as of late... travelling around, presenting, hacking, working, reading, playing, partying, and, when I can, sleeping. So I'm going to do a little back-blogging so my digital memory isn't left incomplete! Some of the highlights include giving demos for ACM Multimedia and intelligence analysts, and throwing a little party back here in Berkeley.

Also, check out this quote I ran into while doing some research for my ubicomp class project:

Perhaps if we stopped thinking of computers as information highways and began to think of them more modestly as symbolic sewers, this realm would open up a bit.
  - Susan Leigh Star, "The Ethnography of Infrastructure"

Right on.

Posted by jheer at 09:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2003

roll on

An old-fashioned rout, viewed from the comfort of Tightwad Hill. Roll on you Bears. Get ready Palo Alto, you're going down next weekend...

California 54, Washington 7

Posted by jheer at 09:11 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2003


On Friday the 14th my roommate (affectionately known as "the Rookie") completed another trip around the sun, so we had him a little party. From what I remember it was a great time for all attending... though I think I've learned that the "one for you, one for me" policy should not be applied when you're mixing Manhattans for folks all night long. Thanks to all of my friends out there in the blogosphere who attended. Hope you had as much fun as I think I did :)

And to anyone out there who thinks it's ok to puke outside someone's front door and not tell them so that their landlord can discover it instead... it's not. seriously. just don't do it. and if you do, get over the embarassment and tell someone. we'll forgive you. maybe not immediately, but we will. i swear.

Posted by jheer at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2003

secret agent man

... well, not quite, but I was down in San Diego presenting my summer work on visualizations and interfaces for intelligence analysts to ARDA's Novel Intelligence from Massive Data research program. As part of the team representing PARC, I got to showcase some of the work we did this summer, which I can't discuss here, but some of which I hope to have published in the not-so-distant future. We presented with dramatic flair, including wall-size posters of extracted data and an 8-monitor, 1-machine setup running various visualizations and analysis applications across multiple displays. We got a great response from people, including some folks who were dying to get their hands on our stuff right away.

The most useful and interesting part of the conference, however, was listening to the experiences and needs of actual analysts. Contemporary HCI design methodologies are hard to follow in this realm, as classified data prevents really getting inside the working world of the analyst. As such, every window we can get into the analysts' work and skills is welcome and enlightening.

After the conference, I was able to go hang out with an old friend and get some ol' fashioned partying done. So if you're in San Diego on a Wednesday night, know that Bar Dynamite has some decent house music and great gin and tonics, and even better, they have a Valentine's taco shop next door, and it's open all night. I recommend the cheese-rolled tacos.

Posted by jheer at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

not so friendsterly

Friendster investors fall out over patent. (via danah)

Posted by jheer at 01:10 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2003

the first hotspot

Before the days of laptops and wi-fi, there was Stanford Research Institute's SRI van, allowing hard working geeks to go out and get trashed at south bay alcophile landmark Rossotti's whilst hacking away over packet radio... once again proving that just about all of today's modern computing paradigms were invented/developed in Palo Alto in the 1970's. (via Stu Card)

SRI van exterior  SRI van interior

Posted by jheer at 02:09 PM | Comments (3)

November 09, 2003

computer literacy

Dylan Evans recently wrote an article "Smash the Windows" (discovered via Slashdot), arguing that for computer users to be truly empowered, they must reach a much higher level of computer literacy, understanding the "insides" of the machine. Underlying this argument is a fundamental belief I share: people need to have an appropriate understanding of their tools. But even with my hyperbole filter turned up to the max, I found this article to be misguided, insulting, and fundamentally flawed. I'll start with the insulting. Consider this choice quote:

It's not just laziness, of course, that prevents people from getting to grips with computers. Cowardice also plays its part.

When someone is more concerned with being right then with helping the audience that is supposedly trapped, each "a prisoner of [their] ignorance", something is wrong. But that's not all that's wrong here.

Evans argues that computer users are largely unaware of the workings of the underlying machine, and that the graphical interface obscures the understanding of these workings. He instead advocates the use of the command line interface and the learning of programming languages as the necessary path for all users to reach "power user" status. He is right to note that many users do not understand the mechanisms at work in their computer, often preventing them from getting the most mileage out of their computer.

However, he neglects the fact that command line interfaces and programming languages are themselves carefully crafted user interfaces, an abstraction over the messy details of machine language instructions, which in turn abstract the electrical circuits we send electrons coursing through to perform computation. GUIs are just another push forward in this trend... and a incredibly powerful one at that. Human predilections for visual imagery are not something to tossed aside callously -- these skills provide ways in which to fundamentally improve human-machine communication: increasing communication bandwidth, decreasing users' cognitive burden, and often times enhancing learnability.

Consider the countless UNIX hackers who, though quite skilled with the command line interface, run the gkrellm program, providing visual monitors on system level features such as CPU utilization, memory load, and network traffic. This is a simple instance where visual representations are more intuitive and effective. To ignore this and then go on to say that computers "prefer text" is a gross mischaracterization. Programmers may prefer text because it requires less implementation and design effort. To the computer it is nothing but a series of high and low voltages coursing through silicon. This doesn't argue for an embandonment of graphical (or tactile, or auditory, etc) interfaces, it argues for continued exploration of better tools for creating such interfaces.

At the heart of Evans argument is the need for understanding how the underlying system works. I agree that this is an important part of interaction that current interfaces (both textual and graphical) obscure. To paraphrase Paul Dourish, in human-computer interaction we call this accountability: that system activity is observable and reportable, such that third parties can make sense of the activity within the context in which it arises. System activities should be observable by users on demand, and preferably in a number of fashions (system logs, charts and monitors, or more fanciful visual abstractions) so that users can interactively learn the traits of the system. Evans seems to confuse the medium through which this information is carried with the information itself.

Ideally, system design should include mechanisms for communicating that design, so that users can learn the internals of their machines through time. An interesting example would be a monitor that visually depicts the movement of data between physical and virtual memory, I suspect a simple experiment would show that an understanding of systems concepts such as thrashing would quite naturally emerge through such an interface.

In the end, I'm sympathetic to the underlying lack of user power Evans attempts to address--hell, that's why I do what I do--but I find the approach he espouses reactionary and the way in which he espouses it troubling. Introducing more programming education will undoubtedly provide the next generation with an important set of skills and conceptual structures that will facilitate success and technological competence, but let's not unduly limit the ways in which this can be expressed.

And so ends my ranting. :)

Posted by jheer at 03:35 PM | Comments (1)


... does not seem like such a fantasy after all. Check out some of these amazing videos of urban acrobats, captured in a stylistic cross between Kung-Fu movies and skateboard videos: Le Parkour: The Art of Movement. Can a super-hero training program be far behind? (via BoingBoing, with a heads up from Scott)

Posted by jheer at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2003

acm multimedia

Today I was at the 2003 ACM Multimedia conference presenting a demo of the Active Capture work I've been working on for the last year with the Garage Cinema Research group at Berkeley. Active Capture is a new approach to media acquisition that combines computer vision, audition, and human-computer interaction to enable automated film direction for automatically generated movies. The conference was held here in Berkeley, so we set up an entire mini-studio in a conference room of the Berkeley Marina Mariott, including a green screen, camera, computer, etc. We had a lot of great guests participate, including some prestigious folks known for inventing some useful things. Best of all, the system more or less behaved itself, successfully capturing and rendering the vast majority of participants, automatically turning them into the stars of an MCI commercial, a Godzilla movie scene, and a trailer for Terminator 2.

For more, check out our (admittedly cheesy) video.

For those interested, here's how it works at a high level... A participant stands in front of a green screen, where a computational unit consisting of a camera, microphone, display, and speakers directs the user through simple actions such as screaming into the camera or running in place. The system uses computer vision and audition to evaluate the performance and suggest corrections as necessary. The recorded result is then analyzed and placed into pre-existing templates to generate automatic movies. Pretty cool... and as this research progresses it should get even cooler and more useful. Applications of computer-led or computer-assisted direction include not only entertainment and media capture, but more pressing issues such as emergency evacuation services.

My particular interests are on the interesting HCI issues surrounding the mediation of human action by a computational system: how to design the directorial experience, what strategies to apply to not only guide human action, but to avoid and reduce error and misunderstanding. In the face of limited AI techniques (we use fairly simple techniques such as eye detection, motion detection, timing, and audio volume), well-designed interaction is essential to providing the necessary context fpr recognition systems as well as creating an enjoyable, engaging experience for the user.

Posted by jheer at 08:02 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2003


Thought I'd share this quote, for those of you who haven't seen it...

Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.... there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

-- George Herbert Walker Bush, from his memoir, A World Transformed (1998)

(I pilfered the quote from John Perry Barlow's e-mail signature after reading his mini-rant on Burning Man and the California recall)

Posted by jheer at 08:00 PM | Comments (0)