Saturday, August 30, 2003

This and that

Tomorrow I leave for Rome so my next post will be from there. (Yay!)

But I've received some interesting email worth mentioning before I go:

David Chin, a university student in Melbourne, has created a beautiful site called A Picture's Worth. You can upload a photo of personal significance and tell a story about it, as well as view the pictures and stories of others - touching and fun. I plan to have my submission ready by the time my plane lands at Fiumicino ;)

Roy Hornsby needs your help for his honour's thesis research. He wants to know "Why is it that we blog and what do we understand about the blogging process?" The survey only takes a short time to complete and I thought the questions were fun to answer ;)

And Austin Govella passes along a nice - in that MIT tech review sort of way - overview of location-based computing: "Think of it as a permission-based Big Brother—an older sibling with a very good sense of direction." Uh-huh. And there are some interesting comments too. Thanks Austin!

That's it for now ... Fabio and Molly - I'm on my way!

Friday, August 29, 2003

Stoopid Emily

In January, Bell Canada introduced Emily - their new telephone customer service representative:

Emily is a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University who enjoys listening to live music in her free time... And she's a computer. Emily is dedicated to making the lives of Bell customers simpler by engaging them in conversations to determine what their needs are. Her ability and willingness to assist customers is based on sophisticated speech recognition technology. Emily received her calling in life as part of the Company's broader plan to simplify processes. While Emily doesn't fully eliminate the need to make selections using a dial pad, she does take her role of making things easier for customers to heart and reduces the number of steps and the time required for customers to get the information they want. "In years to come we'll look back and see that Emily was one of the very important steps we took to bring simplicity to customers," said John Sheridan, President and COO, Bell Canada. "She's proof that technology can be used to make things easier for customers, not more complicated. Emily is a symbol of change for the company and its customers and we expect that she'll become the inspiration for re-inventing the ways in which we serve our customers."

Whatever. Emily does have impressive voice recognition capabilities provided by Nuance, but the system is still poorly designed.

This morning I called Bell because I forgot the PIN for my calling card. Emily's voice said "To obtain or change your calling card PIN, please select 4." I did. Emily then said "Please enter your existing PIN. If you forget your PIN, you will not be able to use this service. Please contact a Bell calling card representative." Then nothing. I had to hang up, call Bell back, wait on hold - only to be told that although Emily could do it immediately, it would take the live Bell rep two weeks to get me a new PIN. I admit that I then freaked out. But to give the person some credit, I was promised a new PIN within the hour. So far nothing.

Now I don't know which is worse: that Emily did not make things easier for me, or that the university in which I'm currently enrolled is giving out degrees to incompetent avatars. Damn.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Natural Interaction

Alessandro Valli is doing some fascinating research on 'natural' human computer interaction.

Natural Interaction research is "related to the study and development of systems and methods to allow people to interact with machines in a natural way. A naturally interacting machine (from a wearable device to a large smart environment) respects humans, their needs and behaviors. These human interfaces 'understand' voice and gestures, emotions and context. Modeling of how people perceive, act, and behave is fundamental in such interaction design: user and system are modeled together as a whole, in a user centered approach."

For example, PointAt "allows a natural way of interaction with multimedia audio and video contents, such as websites, presentations and virtual environments. The user can use his own hand as a mouse, just pointing at buttons and spots of interest on a large screen, without wearing any device." (This is much better than the Borg gear used in Minority Report, don't you think?)

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Folds: biology, architecture, philosophy

Lars Liljas - Protein Folds
"It is important to note that this classification of protein folds is not linked to any functional classification ... The actual fold of a protein is only a means to form a stable structural scaffold. On this scaffold, active sites and other functional properties are added. The existing folds are the result of their evolutionary history, rather than the suitability for a certain type of fold for a certain type of function. Still, many functions are connected to specific types of folds."

Timothy Lenoir - Flow, Process, Fold: Intersections in Bioinformatics and Contemporary Architecture (pdf)
"Deleuze’s “consistent or conspiring surroundings” are the possibilities of the outside – the potentials for change inherent in the local particularities of the environment – that intrude upon and influence the anthropomorphic form of the grid. Eisenman himself borrows Deleuze’s metaphor of folded paper in comparing the fold to origami: “Deleuze’s idea of folding is more radical than origami, because it contains no narrative, linear sequence; rather, in terms of traditional vision, it contains a quality of the unseen.” The grid is therefore inflected by what cannot be seen by the subject: the virtual field of possibilities indigenous to each site."

Greg Lynn - Animate Form
"Animation is a term that differs from, but is often confused with, motion. While motion implies movement and action, animation implies the evolution of a form and its shaping forces; it suggests animalism, animism, growth, actuation, vitality and virtuality ... Actual movement often involves a mechanical paradigm of multiple discrete positions, whereas virtual movement allows form to occupy a multiplicity of possible positions continuously with the same form."

Andrew Benjamin - Time, Question, Fold
"Complexity is the fold that as it is unfolded opens up further folds, which in being unfolded reveal further folds. What this means is that there can be no real beginning and, usually, no real end. The nature of inside and outside is recast by the complex fold. And yet of course within the movement there are real states. Static actual existence is not precluded; rather, it is to be thought as an interruption and thus as an eruption out of movement. In emerging, the static--the actual--reveals, allows itself to be uncanny, by enjoining new relations."

Monday, August 25, 2003

After a while, crocodile

Up early and slowly easing back into being online after two very satisfying weeks away from it all ...

Exploring Bonnechere Caves with my sweetheart (nifty pictures of stalactites and karst topography to come). Feeling the sun on my skin every day. Sharing barbecue and beer with the neighbours when the lights went out. Re-reading every issue of one of my favourite comics and laughing out loud a million times. Talking with old friends. Wondering about fallout shelters and radiation after touring the Diefenbunker. Celebrating my 31st birthday and another year of not growing up. Listening to great music every day, and catching a few good flicks.

Next up: back to work, answering email and preparing to leave for Rome at the end of the week.

Saturday, August 9, 2003

Gone fishin'

Yesterday was a good day. The community web space I designed was launched to fifteen research teams across Canada, and a grand experiment in academic research collaboration and dissemination begins. I also had the pleasure of sharing Indian food and interesting conversation with Peter and Stacy, before they headed across the river to see the awesome Bog People exhibit at the Museum of Civilization. Enjoy the rest of your travels, friends!

And after work today, my sweetie and I have two full weeks together to do as we wish (and I can finally read what I want instead of what I should).

I am pleased as can be, and will be back here on 25 August.

But a few things first:

Eric Paulos writes to say the deadline for submissions to the Intimate Computing workshop has been extended to 15 August. If you think you know something about intimacy (and unless you're a troll, you probably do) and how that might connect to ubiquitous technologies, the workshop organisers are seeking a wide range of perspectives to understand day-to-day practices; elaborate cultural sensitivities; re-envision mediated intimacy, including explorations of play and playfulness; and explore new concepts and methods for design. Very cool and I hope to see you there ;)

Techno-fashion whores (like me) might want to get started on their submission to The Space Between Conference. The potential for ‘new’ technologies (bio, nano and digital) to deeply affect all aspects of our lives provokes much debate and concern, opens enormous creative and design possibilities, and also risks the fetishisation of technology for its own sake. How does this situation affect contemporary practice within textiles/fashion? Paper proposals are due 30 September. (via 21f)

Other keeners might want to get started on their submission to the Art, Design, and Entertainment in Pervasive Environments issue of IEEE Pervasive Computing. Example topics include (but are not limited to) case studies of experimental or deployed systems in the areas of art, design and entertainment; conceptual and social issues for everyday technologies; and speculative designs that raise issues for the ways we live with technology and each other. The deadline is 15 September.

And last, but not least, here are some links I've enjoyed recently:

Atari Gaming Headquarters
Cities and Buildings Database

See you in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

urban art

space invaders /urban invasion detected

wooster collective /a celebration of street art

What ethical implications?

UCLA electrical engineering professor Mani Srivastava plans to data-mine a class of first-graders.

Students will wear caps with sensors called "iBadges" pinned to them, Srivastava said. These badges will track the location of the child and the physical orientation of the child's head, as well as capture their speech with small microphones ... Objects, such as puzzle pieces or board games, will be wired with sensors and used on task tables with magnetic systems under them to track location and usage ... In addition, a series of microphones and cameras will be placed at various locations around the classroom to further monitor students' activities ... All data collected by sensors, cameras and microphones is routed through a central computer system ... Srivastava said the project itself has further implications for the future of computers in the life of humans. "This will be an example of how humans will use computers to create smart environments," he said. "The use of sensors in this manner will allow people to talk and interact with the physical world."

(via Halavais)

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Grid or Die!

The contest began with 236 different programs, submitted by universities, government research departments and software companies from around the world. The objective of each entrant was to fight for control of 2500 computer processors.

The final battle saw Wenig's [NASA] program - created using genetic algorithms - take on a program designed by a computing student from Moscow State University ... NASA used a process that mimics natural selection to "evolve" the best fighting code, while the Russian chose to write his program by hand.

For the first 400 out of 500 cycles the NASA program, "Rogue" was clearly dominating and had control of 1500 of the 2500 processors. But in the final moments the Russian contender, called Cobra, quickly defeated Rogue. "In the last hundred cycles the Russian program broke out and slowly ate up the genetic algorithm," says Oberforger. "Nobody really believed it would." The key to its success may have been its ability to communicate efficiently and hence spread quickly, he says.

> new scientist > boingboing > smartmobs

On context and mapping

John Evans, Markus Ort, Andrew Paterson and Aki-Ville Pöykiö present the AWARE spatio-temporal moblog:

The lived experience of a place, what you and others do in it, and how it is perceived, is dynamic and always changing over time. It is a spatio-temporal diary, unwritten but fluid in material ... Personal memory gathers, shifts and adapts according to activity, event and journey ... Sometimes these experiences spill into the collective domain as story, rumour, history and scandal, documented in the media with vested interest. But rarely can you contribute to the collective domain, even though it happens to you ... The aware project proposes an experimental location-based medium for mediating fluid memory, ‘story-making’, and aims to facilitate the (playful or critical) re-imagination of the lived city of Helsinki.

There are different layers of experience in the aware city: The one in which we directly live in, that engages the senses, and happens in real-time, cause and effect, it is the present cityscape. The moment, event, story, or ‘performance’ of the city happens here, there and now, as according to how an individual perceives it. (Speaking on a mobile-phone allows you, at almost any location, to open a synchronous time-channel to the present tense in a location elsewhere.) However, when a moment of the here and now is captured as image, sound with a media-mobile device, not only is it filtered by the subjectivity of the capturer, it is removed from the present, and becomes part of the memory city. A mobile memory is made.

Very cool.

Andrew Paterson has also been doing some fascinating work on mapping sounds based on how archaeologists record and interpret stratigraphic profiles of excavations:

This paper describes a framework to facilitate the authoring of sound with spatio-temporal relativity in virtual or augmented environments. It is based upon the premise that the interactor with the environment creates their own individual interpretation of 'narrative': as a result of their movement through the space, accumulating fragments of stimuli or content to create meaning. Inspiration is gained from the actions of the archaeologist, using stratigraphy as a recording practice, that records spacio-temporal paradigms. As the author of a spatialised soundscape composes a database of narrative fragments for the user to encounter, the paper proposes a distinct design process that reverses the excavation procedure, and re-imagines stratigraphical layers as phases of sound in the present tense.

Monday, August 4, 2003


Introvertster is an online anti-social non-networking community that prevents people from ever bothering you while you're online ... Create your own barrier to protect yourself against interaction with people. It's easy and fun!

Can I use Introvertster for dating?

That's a really stupid question. Introvertster is not for you. Go away.

(via plasticbag)

Sunday, August 3, 2003


Because there were substantial revisions, I've replaced my Ubicomp and Everyday Life paper with the final draft. A slightly different version will appear in a forthcoming special issue of the journal Cultural Studies.

I also posted an annotated bibliography (73 KB pdf) for my Social Studies of Information & Technology course syllabus.

Currently writing:

Invisible Cities: Calvino Meets Mixed Reality Technologies (for //arch.virose and vector)

From Spiders to Soldiers: Emerging Textile Technologies and Intimacies (for Intimate Ubiquitous Computing Workshop UbiComp 2003)

When People and Technologies Move, What Stands Still? Through Calder's Eyes: What Kinetic Sculpture Can Teach Us About Ubiquitous Surveillance (for Surveillance and Mobilities)

The Ethnographer as Designer: Representing Many Voices (for Boxes and Arrows)

Next up:

Answering email.

Saturday, August 2, 2003

Creating order from chaos

Lisa Jervis interviewed feminist philosopher Susan Bordo and asked why she believes that "our culture seems newly captivated by biological determinism."

Bordo's response:

"There are a lot of different answers to that. One is that it satisfies an existential craving: the desire to know things with certainty and universality in an age in which we are less sure than ever of what we actually know. The idea that we could map the human genome, and be able to know exactly what diseases people are going to develop later in life - we're really fascinated by the possibilities of this exhaustive knowledge of ourselves. It's that combination of living in a culture in which knowledge is really up for grabs, and being all the more fascinated with the possibility of nailing it down."

"That's just a piece of it, but I think the reality of growing up in this culture today is that gender and race are in incredible flux ... Now that our experience has made all these categories increasingly useless, we are all the more excited in these theories that revive them for us. There's a whole new scientific literature that is basically arguing some version of men are from Mars, women are from Venus. [These ideas assert that] even though everything around you might suggest otherwise, the comforting reality underneath all that cultural diversity is a very stable world in which boys are boys and girls are girls, and black is black and white is white ... "

Friday, August 1, 2003


Status (Category: Mental Notes)

I am almost finished the site I have been designing for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada - and all things considered, I am very pleased.

It will serve to connect federally funded researchers with people in the public and private sectors who could use their research to make decisions. It's a complete content management system, allowing people to publish online, and to participate in discussions and other community-building activities. When it goes public, I will post a link.

This has been taking up almost all of my time lately, and I am also working hard to meet a couple of publication deadlines. I owe a bunch of people email and I promise that I am getting to it as I am able - but thanks for your continued patience ;)

Since I will continue to be quiet for a bit, I recommend checking out weird news from the Fortean Times.

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