Friday, May 28, 2004

More killer apps for camera phonesHigh Energy Magic Ltd. have some cool videos here of how connected camera phones can be used to interact with and even 'grab' interfaces. you can pick flight destinations from a map, control a volume knob, and select music tracks. the bit about 'throwing' interfaces to the phone is particularly interesting. this is how computing can become truly distributed. in the videos, more interactive displays which communicate with your phone via Bluetooth are used, but there is room for much simpler set-ups. a wall poster could carry enough information in a barcode to tell your phone how to display an interface of options, eg train times, holiday prices etc. the poster itself is static, but the interaction is dynamic, and the power for the interaction is a sum of the poster, the information stored in the barcode, the computing power of the phone, and the user's behaviour. yes, you'd need to download software that tells your phone how to interpret the barcode, but that's easy enough, and with enough marketing that kind of software could be pre-loaded.

this really is one to watch...


Pepys' Diary as a blog
New technology gives us new ways to re-experience the past, through translations of media into different forms. Take this example: Samuel Pepys' diary, re-published as an impressively hyper-linked weblog. I've only glanced at it so far, but this really is great stuff.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Slashdot | World's Smallest RFID Reader Touted

Smart devices that digitally connect when touched together are closer to reality with this neat 2p sized RFID reader. However, whilst the tangible interface approach to touching objects is a clear one for requesting information, wider-scale longer-range RFID technologies are needed to allow us to capture more environmental and ambient information in a way that augments our physical environment with seamless access to relevant digitial information. The current setup being installed in the ed-tech research lab will allow us to trial different rfid and other location and environmental data sources and sinks, to see how they can be integrated and used effectively.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage
it's the bit at the end that gets me - is technology becoming more disposable?

DidTheyReadIt: You Sent It, But Did They Read It?
I don't like this - email could be on its way to losing its "receive now, reply when you're ready" appeal. this company is one of a few now offering email tracking facilities - essentially it's a (slightly) less evil use of the kind of tricks spammers use to detect when you've read a message, ie embedded bits of html code that your email reader acts upon without you knowing about it. if you're having problems getting people to respond to your emails, there are more constructive ways to change this, instead of applying a Big Brother style monitoring approach.

Addenda: Lots of stuff on Slashdot about this - basic image tracking, which won't work in text only browsers or with any spam filters that turn of automatical downloads of images - so it's a poor technical solution to a non-problem. And they are making a business out of it? Russell.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Scamming the Scammer: He wanted powerbook we gave him p-p-p-powerbook!
Now, the link to human-computer interaction is not the usual one for this post, but this is so nice, so cool, such great justice that it has to have a place here. Well, there's humans involved - the guy selling his powerbook and his friends (and "wife") for sure, and a scammer (not sure what form of life he is) and a computer (sort of) and certainly lots of interaction. Power to the net!

Holding hands...

Talking this morning on Radio 4, Andrew Marr was discussing computers, and presented an interesting perspective on his machine. His perspective was that it was permanently on the verge of a nervous breakdown, becasue it's being asked to do too much all at once. And if he gets a new one, that will undoubtedly be worse. He also said that he thought they were getting more human-like. A screen facing you that's roughly head-sized (he's not using the 23" Apple cinema display then - though with his ears, maybe the analogy still fits :-)), with a mouse instead of a hand - and you hold it's hand.

I love the last part of the analogy - holding the hand of your nervous computer to help it through the day and to get things done. This all illustrates the bigger issue of how much people anthropomorphise their computers and give them personalities.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Flo Control and the next revolution in cat flaps
You may well think that this story has little to do with human-computer interaction, but if you're a cat owner, or if you just appreciate technology being used in novel and yet useful ways, then you will appreciate this project.

Electronically lockable catflap + digital camera + image processing = no cat with mouse in mouth

just this morning I have been discussing with colleagues the possibilities for catflaps to catch up with modern technology. my cat already has an RFID tag for identification purposes (way ahead of David Blunkett's plans for us all, although somewhat behind the times compared to erstwhile self-promoter Kevin Warwick) so why shouldn't my catflap take advantage of this by reading the RFID tag instead of the unreliable magnet my cat wears on her collar?


Wired News: A Scan of the Headline Scanners
A reasonable survey of RSS readers: SharpReader, NewsGator, Bloglines and KlipFolio are all reviewed, and for us interaction people it's interesting to see the different approaches and priorities that are addressed with each system. You could do an interesting exercise in producing the typical user and scenario for each of these, reverse engineering requirements from results.

A couple of things are missing: Desktop Sidebar is the one I use, which puts an active sidebar on the screen which pulls in both RSS feeds and can screen-scrape for headlines. But one of the best resources would be an RSS aggregator that fits in part of a web page, allowing one to create a web site and slot a RSS feed reader straight into it - and I've not found a decent one of those yet. There are a few php efforts, but nothing really neat.

Why Girls are Evil but Men are Worse

Mathematical proof of socially accepted norms. (It is tounge in cheek :-)).

But this is interesting on different levels: this is a fairly old 'proof' but has been resurrected on the blogsphere, and is 'doing the rounds'. The concept of doing the rounds is interesting, from a social interaction perspective, as it suggests that we have a need for a shared social perspective and hence pass information on, spreading it wider and wider, until it becomes old info and slowly dies out. But it rarely becomes extinct, and some time later it reapprears, finds a new audience or reminds the old one, and spreads again. I'm sure that there are models for the cycle time of such phenomena, and that they would show that the half-life of ideas will be somehow related to the number of blogs/participants in the discussions - the more blogs, the longer stuff stays around, but the longer it is between cycles, is my prediction. If I have time, I'll model it and let you know.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Wired News: My Left Arm for a Gmail Account Evidence that Peter and I are actually hip young things on the cutting edge of technology, I think. People are willing to pay for, or to trade things for, a GMail account, so rare cos they're by invitation only - at the moment. And we both have them... Mind you, whilst Peter has opened his, I've not, because I'm waiting to see how the privacy issues pan out. Having targetted ads based on the Nicuraguian viagra porn sites is not really what I want.....

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Camera phones can tell you where you are
Another possible killer app for connected camera phones - here's a project from Cambridge University that uses connected camera phones to identify locations from snaps of nearby buildings.

Combine this with the winning UK entry in this year's Imagine Cup - a phone with a "Call me a taxi, I'm drunk" button, and you've got the perfect assistant for a night out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Ah, but you can This app takes the barcode/digital camera idea and does pretty much what Peter wanted to do (see below) - and give access to consumer reviews, competitor products and so on. What you really want is to photograph all the things you'd like to own, and have that sent to retailers who compete to compe up with the best package price to provide you with some or all of such items - and that's quite reasonably achievable.....

Killer App for connected camera phones?

(read Russell's post below first)

Having just read about hi-tech shopping, I wonder if one possibility would be the use of camera phones as a barcode reader at the supermarket... it wouldn't take much setting up to get the phone to connect to a dynamic web page that would keep a running total of your shopping for a quick checkout... and the supermarkets would save a fortune because they wouldn't need checkouts or handheld devices

Wired News: Camera Phones Link World to Web
Realising that a camera phone is not simply a digital camera and a phone (obvious to some, not so to others), the possibilities for its use become hugely wider. This example uses the camera as a scanner to take impages of special bar codes, which are reinterpreted as URLs, and the phones browser is directed straight there. So as you walk along, you can snap away at all the tagged information, and get more details about where you are. It's the ultimate mobile information system, a neat bit of context awareness triggering which attaches location and content via a small barcode that can be easily accessed. Cool stuff: so the challenge is, can you think of a killer app for this sort of usage - and can you think of any new ways to use your camera phone as a mobile scanner?

Monday, May 17, 2004

Up-skirt law to destroy mobile phone biz?
Following on from the issues highlighted a few days ago, the Register follows up with a perspective on how this may well kill off a killer-app for 3G phones. But one nugget buried in their article is reproduced here:

Literally hundreds of websites advertise up-skirt pictures, and five seconds with Google (plus a popup blocker!) will persuade most sensible people that these are not "candid" pictures. They're posed by professional models.

Now, I'm sure the writer of the article has done more research on this than I have, but whilst many of the images may well be posed, there are also a substantial number that I am less sure are professionally modelled.

For sure, boredom will set in - it always does with such stuff. But lots of damage can be done in the meantime. I am in favour of the internet reflecting all of humantiy, good and bad: it is not media and entertainment, created by executives for us to consume, it is us (or at least a reflection of the verbose, more extrovert and technically-savvy, publicity-aware us). We have to sort out sensible balances between privacy and reality.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Internships with Google
Chatting to the folks at Google, there are some internships available over the summer; if any students are interested in one, please get in touch with me. As you may know, there is a case to be made for some HCI people to go there for a while...

Mixed messages from British Telecom

you can now receive SMS text messages via a BT landline. I know this because a BT robot telephoned me at 12:45am (yes, AM, the early hours of the morning) to inform me of a text message that someone had accidentally sent to my landline instead of my mobile, at 9pm. great service guys. my pregnant wife really appreciated that call. and the one at 1:05am to tell us about it again, despite me having pressed the "delete" button. it probably kept trying all night, but I'd unplugged the phone by then.

I phoned BT to complain, but oddly enough there's no one there at 1am. I guess they like their sleep. I'm tempted to report this as a nuisance call.

ok, so this was irritating, but what's it go to do with HCI? well, one of the endearing characteristics of SMS is that you don't have to worry about disturbing someone when you send one. BT have effectively removed this appeal by translating one medium into another. no mixed messages please.

(maybe more thoughts on this later - the dog & cat related chaos that followed that 1am call kept me up much later. thanks again BT)

Thursday, May 13, 2004

New Blogger - a critical review

* edit posts screen no longer gives a feel for what the blog looks like - you now need to hit view blog, which opens a new window, which then needs closing... it looks like the tab should use the same screen, but it doesn't... is this because of external publishing? or my IE settings? either way it's a pain

* the editing page now uses more of the screen, which is more "in yer face", with no real gains. having to switch between different screens to edit posts, view posts, view blog is additional workload.

* post by email might be useful, haven't used it yet

* still no search!

* and still no easy way to reference other posts, as writing the above link just showed me

* the edit posts screen now makes posts look like emails - I'm not sure about this change in metaphor. it's nice to be able to glance and see drafts, see what needs editing etc, and you can expand individual posts. but to edit, need to open to new screen, losing the context of where the current post is. edit in this list would be much better

in summary, there are some improvements in here, but I think overall I preferred the old design, and many of the tweaks actually make it harder to manage a blog that has more than one person posting to it, like this one. the whole thing seems a bit flakey, sometimes not loading pages, failing to publish, and even crashing my browser. and I still can't believe there's no search!

Revised - 14th May - Russell writes: it's infuriating - it's gone to a more cartoon style, it assumes you want to publish most things straight away, which is a pain when you are editing a few bits at once and would rather publish the whole set of changes at the end - but the one time you probably do want immediate publication, when you've written a new post, it defaults to saving it as a draft and not publishing it. Where's your HCI, guys?

US bans vouyeristic photos
Interesting note regarding the probable move into law of a directive to stop people invading others privacy with mobile phones and digital cameras, mirroring the issues Peter and I are looking at with respect to peer-to-peer sharing of such images. There is a whole privacy ethic here, but how will they enforce this law? What happens if you take an innocent holiday snap and send it to friends, and there is the background lounging on the park grass is someone in an unfortunate pose - have you broken the law, or not? Will security cameras be subject to the same regulations? What about the t.v. cameramen who focus on attractive people in the crowds at major sporting events - are they covered by this?

The principle is interesting (what is an individual's expectation of privacy when in a public place) but the enforcement is impossible.

Revised: 14 May - Privacy jam on California highway - more uses for peer-to-peer sharing: is this causing social unreast or creating a more just society?

BBC NEWS | Technology | US moves to ban furtive photos
We've mentioned the lack of, and need for, regulations and policies regarding the gathering, storing, and sharing of personal media like snaps from picture phones. It looks like the US is the first country to address this lack of legislation head on, and is seeking to specifically ban the use of mobile phones to take illicit photos of unsuspecting third parties.

Keeping people informed about privacy issues

Hmm, I just posted a comment to a "Have Your Say" page on the BBC News site, and was warned that my name & location (hopefully just city) would be published alongside my comments, and that the comments page would be visible to search engines. nice of them to tell me - but it would have been more helpful if they've done this before I submitted the post, or if they'd given me a chance to then withdraw my posting.

Reminds me of opening my MacOS software CD and finding a note that said "By opening this package you are agreeing to the license terms within...". The note was on the inside, only visible once I'd already opened the pack...

Privacy on the internet and the principle of informed consent means we need a pervasive "undo" option that lets us take a step back. I'm not concerned about my posting on the BBC site, but for others that warning page might just make them worry more than they would have done in the first place.

BBC NEWS | Magazine | In cyberspace, can anyone hear you pray?
You really can do *anything* on the internet... including go to church!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

BBC NEWS | Technology | Google revamps blogging service
Blogger just got better - but the one feature they haven't yet implemented, despite being owned by the world's most popular search engine, is a search feature!

as blogs become inevitably become bigger and more persistent over time, we need an efficient way of searching through the content to find what we're looking for. only this weekend I struggled to find a post in this blog that I knew contained a link I wanted to cite in a paper, only to find that searching this very blog was less than easy. yes, there's a search box, but you have to be logged in as an editor to get to it, and even then it's only a basic search.

I long ago gave up on Favourites as a way of storing interesting links - these days it seems quicker to just search for it every time. well maintained blogs that people use as working journals are a useful resource on the web - even if it's just for an individual's use, but where's the search?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Mobile working isn't all it's supposed to be...
A short, but salutary tale. We're just not properly set up for remote access, cos if you're remote, you really are away. So when I got a call in Southampton on my mobile, wanting information about 2 student projects, I ended up back in my office in Birmingham to sort it out.....

Some work is less mobile than others, that's the lesson.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Magic Bike :: Wireless Access Bike
Some things in life are weird (like why am I writing this when I should be doing something more useful) and others are funny, and some are just so strange that they are both weird and funny, and sort of possibly useful too.....

The wireless access bike definately falls into this last category - it's a portable wifi hotspot - the most mobile, eco-friendly network you could find.....

Saturday, May 08, 2004

GMail: II
"millions are itching to get their hands on a Google email service and a select few have been allowed just this in order to beta test the system " according the Register article that Peter blogged below: and he's one of the lucky ones to be invited. So am I - but I've not taken them up on it as yet. Ah, the trials of fame.

But the key issue is one I've been pondering. Targetted ads - how bad are they? We all accept that we have to see ads, so why not see ones that are more closely more suited to my interests, rather than ones for nappies and alcohol-free beer? Do I really mind if I get a functional, sometimes better service, paid for by ads (GMail, ITV), where the ads are actually interesting and relevant? If this is a better view of the future than wall-to-wall irrelevant stuff, why all the fuss? Is the loss of privacy such a big deal if it makes my life better?

Answers on a postcard......

Guardian Unlimited | Online | On your marks, get set, search ...

"...is the internet really the quickest way to access facts - and get them right? We put Google to the test against more old-fashioned methods. " (such as the library, and the phone.....

Summary: Google was always correct, but not always fastest.

But this somewhat misses the point: what is the easiest way to access information when at your desk/in the car/walking around campus/in town - answer, Google. The internet is accessible everywhere - and the point about information is that it has to be timely and accessible, which the internet is. Getting the contents of the library into your pocket is hard - but a PDA and GPRS connection is not.....

Friday, May 07, 2004

Exploiting GMail's ad selection mechanism: Get ready for Google-footing | The Register
Google's new GMail really is causing a storm... first of all we had people worried about their privacy because GMail scans your mail and uses it to show you relevant ads. Now there's a new worry: what happens when people start trying to deliberately exploit this mechanism for their own gain? Companies vying for our business might be willing to pay large sums to get their ads triggered by emails from rival firms - imagine, you get an email from your bank, and down the side is a big ad for a competitor offering you a better savings rate. The cynic in me wonders if this is what Google had in mind from the beginning...

BBC NEWS | Politics | MI5 terror website grabs 3m hits
"For the most part details of our operations must and should remain secret," said the MI5 spokesperson. But they decided to publish some useful stuff on their website, just to help us all in these troubled times. So I was looking forward to the clever strategies we could use. And I was not disappointed.

"Keep gardens free from dense shrubbery"

"Ensure new recruits are who they say they are"

Boy, these MI5 people really know their stuff. I mean, who'd have thought of such things? So clever, it's hardly suprising that 3m people have found it useful.....

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Russell Beale's Googlism
Fantastic! There are more uses for a search engine than I'd ever realised.

Some of the ones that leapt out at me are:

  • russell beale is available on demand
  • russell beale is more toad or frog than fish
  • russell beale is terrific as the manic
  • russell beale is now too old at 42 and certainly too tubby to play hamlet
  • russell beale is particularly disliked
  • russell beale is troubled by hamlet's treatment of the two women in his life
  • russell beale is to star in tom stoppard's jumpers


but there are others.....

One of the interesting things is to find search engines that list what the favourite, or most recent, searches on them are (and the last report I read said that, unsuprisingly, sex and porn were the two most looked for words).

Wired NextFest: The Shape of Things to Come Great bit of futureology here, with some reasonable (? - you decide) takes on the must-have gadgets of tomorrow's tomorrow. All pretty much along the ubiquitous, must-have-more data route - but what about the privacy savers, the assistants, and generally stuff with more intelligence than simply data capture?

You may be asking yourself "how much of this is achievable?"

Perhaps what you should be asking is "how much of this is desireable?"

And it's worth comparing this vision of the future with Intel's perspective, as their's is a little more near term.....

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Product design as a continuous process

Here's a quandary: imagine you're a successful computer company, competing in the big leagues for your share of the market. You do OK for a few years, selling high quality kit to a devoted minority. Then you release a product that really grabs the attention of consumers all over the world: a stylish portable music player that manages to grab a 50% market share due to its looks, functionality, and overall desirability. No-one else has anything out there that sells so well in this particular market.

The problem? Everyone else is jealous, so they start looking at ways to topple you from your perch at the top of the market. So what do you do now to maintain your market lead, and make sure people still want your music player, and not one of the new ones that the competition is thinking about bringing out?

In case you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Apple, and their hugely successful iPod and iTunes music download service. They have a 50% market share, and the sharks, vultures, and various other metaphors for their competitors are starting to circle. This piece in Reuters raises the issue of the design challenge now faced by Apple: how to keep the iPod at the top of the heap. Good design in this case needs to be a continuing process: it's easy for others to see what makes a product successful and copy it. It will be interesting to see what Apple with the iPod next. You might see some ideas on these pages...

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