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September 2006

Keith Olbermann on George Bush and George Orwell

1984 Recent developments in global geopolitics have been reminding me of George Orwell's book, 1984.  I read the book in high school, and decided to buy a new copy and re-read it to refresh my memory of the dystopian future laid out in the book ... signs of which are increasingly apparent today.

The book depicts a world in which Big Brother, the dictator of Oceania, or rather, members of his Thought Police, are always potentially watching and listening through a network of ubiquitous telescreens.  Nothing is illegal, since there were no longer any laws; the country is in a perpetual state of war (alternating between Eurasia and Eastasia); and doublethink was actively promoted by the Party, embodied in its three primary slogans:

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Last night, I was reading a passage that offered strong parallels to things I read and hear about in the news lately:

... if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -- if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truty. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." ... "Reality control," they called it; in Newspeak, "doublethink."

... To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.

Tonight, while reading my daily CIvicActions electronic newsletter, I clicked on the link to the blog and watched a videoclip of Keith Olbermann invoking, amplifying and extending, ever so eloquently, many of the thoughts and fears I've been feeling lately.  Keith defends Bill Clinton, assails Chris Wallace over his recent attack on interview with Clinton on Fox News (Wallace also recently went after his own father, Mike Wallace), invokes George Orwell and revokes George Bush's "free pass".  It is the most courageous commentary by a reporter I have ever witnessed, and gives me renewed faith that some members of the press are still dedicated to the truth.  Rather than say more about his commentary, I'll simply include an embedded link to the YouTube clip below.  Good night, and good luck, indeed!


Great Customer Care from United Airlines and Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Yesterday morning, I was dismayed to hear the voicemail of the United Airlines' automated flight change notification service telling me my flight to San Francisco was cancelled. The message said I'd been rerouted, and would not arrive until much later in the day. I called United Reservations, but the human operator I finally got through to (with a strong Indian accent) was not helpful at all.

As a struggling entrepreneur, I had cut way back on air travel and lost my United Premier status this year, for the first time in about 8 years.  After my experience yesterday morning, I was starting to think that maybe this would be a good time to switch allegiance to another carrier. Then last night, I received a call from an extremely helpful agent, Karen Luna (from Chicago), who called my home number.  Karen helped me get on another flight, routing through LAX, that got me in to SFO shortly after I was originally scheduled to arrive.  With my new job, I expect to be traveling enough to qualify for premier airline status again over the next year, and thanks to Karen's timely and effective intervention, I'll be staying with United.

Upon arriving at SFO this morning, I had another pleasant surprise.  I had made my first reservation with Enterprise Rent-A-Car over the weekend (signing up for their Express Lane service), and was surprised that the check-in at the counter was so quick, and even more surprised when I approached the Enterprise section of the garage and Travis came out of the small office to shake my hand, warmly greet me, and introduce me to Michael, who then personally took me to my car, guided me through the checklist and cheerfully bade me farewell as I drove away.

This was in stark contrast to my recent -- and first -- experience with Dollar Rent A Car (also at SFO), where I also signed up for their Dollar Express service, but not until after I'd made an online reservation.  I contacted the Dollar customer service through email, and was assured that my reservation had been recategorized as a Dollar Express reservation.  Unfortunately, when I arrived at the counter at SFO, the agent told me there was no record of my reservation.  When I explained what had happened, she told me "you can't do that", and then proceeded to re-enter all the information I'd entered earlier on the Dollar web site.  For reasons I don't understand -- possibly having to do with the fact that a customer in Rockland, MA, has the same name and driver's license number (though different state ... which presumably is not a field in their database key) as I do -- she had to re-enter all of that information a second time.  I finally got my car, but the experience was totally different ... as is the probability that Dollar will be the first place I'll look in the future.

Upon reflection, I'm sad to admit that my experiences with the first United agent and the Dollar agent were rather in line with what I had expected ... after all, I don't have "status" on United, and Dollar is a budget rental car company.  My experiences with the second United agent, and all the Enterprise employees, help remind me that there are still people -- and organizations -- that really do care about their customers ... and that I often find what I expect to find.


John Shen: New Head of Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto

John Shen, former DIrector of the Micro-architecture Lab at Intel, became the new head of Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto, on Friday.  John comes to NRCPA after 6.5 years at Intel, and 18 years before that as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. In his welcome welcoming remarks, John stressed his intention to cultivate a culture of risk-taking and innovation, embrace the lab's mission of renewal and redefinition, and achieve a balance between research reach and recognizable relevance to Nokia's business groups. 

I particularly liked John's allusion to the convergence between computing and communicating devices in characterizing his move from Intel to Nokia: it is increasingly possible to insert a phone capability into a laptop, but the prospects for inserting computing capabilities into phones are even more exciting.

John's arrival capped a busy week for me. I just started my new job as Principal Scientist (or, as Anne so nicely, if inadvertantly put it, Principle Scientist) at NRCPA on Monday, attended UbiComp 2006 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and returned to NRCPA for my second day on Friday. With John's arrival, I suppose I'm no longer the "new kid on the block" ... nor the only Intel alumnus. I had been a bit concerned about joining NRCPA before the new head was announced, but I really wanted to take advantage of the timing of UbiComp 2006, both to reconnect with my colleagues in the ubiquitous computing research community and to help spread the word that there is an exciting and ambitious new technology research lab in the heart of Silicon Valley.  I'm glad I took the risk: UbiComp was all I hoped for (and more), and I am confident that John will provide strong chaordic leadership in growing a research culture that seeks to foster emergent and participatory leadership -- what might even be characterized as a dance of leadership -- across all stakeholders of the organization.


Techno-Spiritual Practices and New Technologies of Enlightenment (A UbiComp 2006 Postscript)

Genevieve Bell, of Intel Research, was unable to attend UbiComp 2006, and so, unfortunately, her paper on "No More SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, Religion and Techno-spiritual Practices" was not presented at the conference.  I read the paper on my return flight, and it was so inspiring I wanted to post a few notes about it.

The title derives from a Reuters headline announcing the demise of a Finnish mobile service that offered text messages from Jesus, in response to prayers received from subscribers. Genevieve goes on to highlight a range of other techno-spiritual practices, including

Genevieve notes that "religion shapes ideas about time, space and social relationships" (very much in line with obserations Brenda Laurel made in her closing keynote on day 3 of UbiComp regarding the influence of art and music on our understanding and representation of time and space in nature), and the importance of ritual and magic in many primitive religions (calling to mind some of Bruce Sterling's condemnations of magic on day 1 of the conference). 

Genevieve also notes how the "command and control" paradigm of HCI conflicts with the "inner stillness" of spiritual life, highlights the absence of any aspects of spirituality in Mark Weiser's vision of ubicomp, and warns that continuing to ignore these aspects will hamper the ability of technology to integrate into a dimension of life that is very important to much of the world's population.

The paper is designed as "a classic ethnographic intervention ... grounded in anthropological theory and praxis" with the highest number of references (88) of any paper in the conference. The tone, style, strength and approach of Genevieve's paper her paper reminds me very much of Yvonne Rogers' paper on day 2, however I think it is rather different in this important respect: Genevieve seeks to insert spirituality into Weiser's vision of calm technology, and offer techological support for simplicity, grace, humility, modesty and purity; Yvonne seeks to move ubiquitous computing technology beyond calm and into the realms excitement, stimulation and provocation.

At their core, however, I think the papers share a common theme of using technology to help people come alive, reminding me of one of my favorite quotes (often attributed to Harold Thurman Whitman):

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

I would alter this just a bit to reflect the messages in these two papers, and to continue my rant on an strong bias on infrastructure that persists in ubicomp:

Don't ask yourself what technology needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and design ubiquitous computing applications that do that. Because what ubicomp needs is applications that help people come alive.

Amen.


UbiComp 2006: Day 3

Today was the final day of the 8th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2006). I'm going to include some notes from today's presentations (continuing a series of notes I've posted from day 1 and day 2 of the conference), and finish off with a few reflections on the conference as a whole.

Mark Corner, from the University of Massachusetts, presented "Ferret: RFID Localization for Pervasive Multimedia" [slides], a system to locate, store (locations), update (location changes), and display information about "nomadic" objects. The system combines passive RFID, multimedia capabilities and a location system, and uses an online and offline algorithm (with multiple readers taking positive and negative readings) that achieve an accuracy of 0.2 cubic meters.

Shwetak Patel, from Georgia Tech, described "PowerLine Positioning: A Practical Sub-Room-Level Indoor Location System for Domestic Use" [slides]. The system uses the electrical power system in a house rather than special purpose beacons (which are expensive in time and labor to install and maintain), or GSM or WiFi signals (which have spotty coverage and offer no control over the infrastructure), which consists of 2 plug-in modules installed at far ends of a home. The modules send low frequency signals back and forth. Receivers can detect the strength of the signals thought he nearest electrical wiring outlet, and a fingerprinting algorithm is used to estimate a position based on those signals. The approach achieves an accuracy distribution of 92% for 3 meter regions, 67% for 1 meter regions, and 42% for 0.5 meter regions.

Keith Edwards, of Georgia Tech, organized and introduced a panel on "Interaction and Infrastructure: Crossing the Divide in UbiComp Research". Mark Ackerman, of Univesity of Michigan, urged us to consider social activity as fluid and nuanced (Goffman),  socio-historical social constructions that guide action (Biljker, Garfinkel) invisible technologies (Postman), and bricolage (Hutchins). A.J. Brush, of Microsoft Research, argued that ubicomp technologies should be designed for the uninterested (!= stupid) users and facilitate management by professionals, using the analogies of car engine lights, clogged toilets and refrigerators. Anthony LaMarca, of Intel Research Seattle, invoked an analogy from the software development world, "worse-is-better", which states that simplicity of both interface and implementation is more important than other system attributes, including correctness, consistency and completeness. Matthew Chalmers, of the University of Glasgow, proposed that awareness and interaction with infrastructure is like [what I think of as] a dance between visibility and invisibility. During the Q&A, Paul Dourish noted the recent spinach E. Coli outbreak, and how the lack of visibility into the infrastructure resulted in a much broader recall than might be necessary (Anthony quickly dubbed this the "spinach industrial complex" ... a neologism I predict we'll hear about again at UbiComp 2007 ... reminiscent of "fornicating baboons on a runway" being referenced for a few years at CSCW / ECSCW). Mark noted that simplicity can be complicated (on a certain level, very much in keeping with worse is better).

I had never heard of worse-is-better, but it was grating at me, and a quick search revealed additional context for this idea:

The lesson to be learned from this is that it is often undesirable to go for the right thing first. It is better to get half of the right thing available so that it spreads like a virus. Once people are hooked on it, take the time to improve it to 90% of the right thing.

I ranted remarked that if one visualizes a UbiComp "stack", most of the work presented at the conference would be in the lower half (enabling technologies and techniques), and that for UbiComp to become [more] viral, we need to focus [more] on the upper half (applications and user experiences), and follow the lead of Web 2.0 and provide lightweight tools that can be easily combined in UbiComp mashups ... that UbiComp 2.0 idea I mentioned in my notes yesterday.

Brenda Laurel, of the California College for the Arts, provided a closing keynote on "Designed Animism: Poetics for a new world". In her talk, she posed the question How do we design new sources of pleasure with the new affordances of ubiquitous computing?, and invited us to move away from central control and instead embrace an invitation for emergent phenomena (using the clock and windmill as examples of those two poles). She invoked elements of dramatic structure (and dramatic causality): plot (whole action), character (agent), thought, diction (significance), music (pattern) and spectacle (sensation), and showed how Freytag's triangle of complication and resolution over time exhibited self-similar structure at scale (i.e., drama is, essentially, fractal in nature). She then talked about art, which mimics the world, or the spatial aspects of nature, and music, which mimics the way the world changes, or the temporal aspects of nature.

I found all of this interesting and engaging -- almost entrancing -- but it did appear (to me and to Brenda) that there were other members of the audience who were not as engaged. Albrecht, who was sitting next to me, noted that the style of speaking and references were very American, and thus difficult to follow for a non-native English speaker. I think another aspect of the disconnection was that this was that much of the talk was not directly related to technology.

Toward the end of the talk, Brenda did introduce some technological aspects, describing Autonomous Light Air Vessels (ALAVs) -- blimps -- that had cameras for automatic video blogging (reminiscent of Eric Paulos' earlier PRoPs work), and the Electronic Field Guide Project at Columbia University, that created a mobile augmented reality interface for botanical species identification, enhancing the users awareness of and connection to nature. She finished off by describing some sensor-laden "garden ferries" she had, through which she felt that her body included the garden, the yard and the surrounding canyons ... and speculated that "If I had more sensors, my body could be the world".

Looking back over the conference, I was impressed with the very high quality of the presentations (content as well as form, i.e., audio and visual), and the quantity and quality of questions and answers. Most of the papers I saw were pretty good, although I did notice a strong bias toward the lower end of the aforementioned "ubicomp stack". There were some user studies, but very few were in service of what I would consider a "real" ubicomp application.

The field seems to be moving beyond "technology in search of a problem" (an early rant, or concern, of mine) and appears to be reaching a consensus on some problem areas: location, location and location ... and so I might recast my earlier concern as "technology in search of an application" within a problem domain. I am glad to see so much progress being made on location sensing and tracking technologies, and I do share the underlying intuition that these technologies will support useful applications. I am even happier to see a few [more] examples of ubiquitous computing applications in the service of instigating and supporting engaging interactions among people, and I hope that we will see even more examples of technosocial engagement in the future ... so that rather than -- or in addition to -- having presentations being motivated by speculative "imagine, if you will" scenarios, future UbiComp conference(s) will offer more opportunities to "experience, if you will..."


UbiComp 2006: Day 2

It was another engaging day at UbiComp 2006, with a number of good paper presentations (of which, again, I only saw half), videos, an innovative open session and a town hall meeting.

Tim Sohn, from UCSD, started things off with a nice presentation on "Mobility Detection Using Everyday GSM Traces". Nearly every talk I've seen here raises existential questions (at least for me), and for this one, it was "what is stationary?". Tim and his 9 colleagues (tied for the largest number of authors of any paper at UbiComp this year) developed an algorithm for GSM radio fingerprinting in which Euclidean distance was used to calculate similarities in signal readings, and three clusters were identified, representing stationary (with 95.4% precision and 92.5% recall), walking (70.2% precision /80.0% recall), and driving (84.3% precision / 81.7% recall). A second experiment, which compared GSM data to pedometer data showed 90% accuracy between the two data collection methods.

Mike Chen, from Intel Research Seattle, talked about work he had done with 9 other colleagues (including Tim, and a number of other co-authors on the first paper) on "Practical Metropolitan-scale Positioning for GSM Phones". The team configured a ThinkPad with 2 GPS receivers, 3 GSM modems (AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile), 3 GSM phones and 2 WiFi antennas, and collected 43500 km of wardriving data in the metropolitan Seattle area over 208 hours. 3 classes of positioning algorithms were tested: centroid, fingerprinting (like previous talk) and Gaussian. A cool video was created to show the results, which averaged out to 94m of accuracy downtown and 194m in residential areas. The code is available at http://pols.sourceforge.net.

John Krumm, of Microsoft Research, gave what I consider the best presentation of the day, on "Predestination: Inferring Destinations from Partial Trajectories", in which features such as terrain, prior destinations, trip times and rational actor assumption of efficient driving were fused together to estimate future destination probabilities, resulting in a median error rate of 2 km (based on GPS data) at the halfway point of trips. In addition to an interesting approach and findings, John gave us an opportunity to practice continuous distributed attention by sprinkling liberal product placements both on his slides and in "real life" (taking a sip from a bottle of Coke while a slide with a Coke log was being shown), suggesting the types of contextual advertising that may be possible with better predestination estimation.

I'm glad to see progress being made on positioning technologies and techniques, but the question I have for all of this research is how good is good enough -- how accurate do positional systems have to be in order to be useful / acceptable? I'm reminded of the expression "close isn't good enough, except with horseshoes hand grenades" ... I wonder if / when we'll be able to add more, er, applications to that mix.

The second session was devoted to the video program. Several videos were quite good, but I'm only going to mention one here: "Spalogue: Designing Men-Women Communication in a Public Bath", presented by Saiki Ito and Mariko Koizumi. This video showed a system that could detect gesture writing with a finger in a spa, translate that into characters that are then projected onto a wall in the spa; if a participant of the opposite sex in a separate spa chooses to write back, the ink appearing on both walls becomes transparent in the overlapping areas as the response is "written" over the original text. The video did a nice job of invoking a number of cultural customs, such as Japanese poetic communication style (“WAKA”), bridging the gaps between cultural epochs while bridging the gap between the sexes, playing the edges of [con]sensual revelation in an engaging way.

Spaloguekazato1 Spaloguedokokara Spalogueohanashi Spaloguemayumi

[For reasons I don't understand, Internet Explorer was self-destructing on this post when it included a fifth photo, so I deleted it -- the fifth photo and lots more information is available on the Spalogue web site.]

Thomas Hansen, from Aarhus University, presented "Experiences from Real-world Deployment of Context-Aware Technologies in a Hospital Environment" [slides], where 3 sections of a hospital (including is operating theatres) was instrumented with an inexpensive location tracking system based on [Nokia] Bluetooth phones and PC dongles, context aware infrastructure, a number of displays. At the beginning of each shift, staff members would pick up a phone and associate it with themselves at a kiosk; they could then be tracked throughout the three sections of the hospital and the system could incorporate real-time awareness within its scheduling support tools. The system was to be deployed for a 3 month pilot study, but the users liked it so much they asked to keep using it, and it is still running, and Thomas presented data and analysis about how use had evolved over time. Interestingly, they found that privacy not an issue, due to the perception of high benefit -- it was useful -- and low cost -- it only covered pat of the building, kept no history, and perhaps most importantly, there was a high degree of trust among the staff. More information on the project can be found here.

Jon Froehlich, of the University of Washington, presented "Voting With Your Feet: An Investigative Study of the Relationship Between Place Visit Behavior and Preference", in which GSM tracking data was compared to explicit ratings of places to assess whether place visit behavior represents an implicit expression of interest or preference. Jon and his colleagues conducted a study where 16 participants agreed to have their GSM phones tracked over 4 weeks, during the course of which they provided 11 in situ survey responses per day ("where are you, what are you doing?") and more extended web survey responses 3-4 times per week. The hypotheses were that frequency of visits indicates preference, and that amount of effort (e.g., travel time) indicates preference. Interestingly, while I share these hypotheses, the data offered only weak support for the first, and no support for the second. Jon suggested a number of potentially confounding factors, and some future work trajectories that may help shed more light on implicit preference detection.

Yvonne Rogers, soon-to-be formerly-associated-with Indiana University, gave the most provocative presentation of the day, on "Moving on From Weiser's Vision of Calm Computing: Engaging UbiComp Experiences", in which she revisited the original vision of Mark Weiser for calm computing, reviewed some of the ways ubicomp has attempted to achieve that vision, and raised serious questions about the capability -- and desirability -- of computers to act on our behalf (behalves?). I was reminded of the distinction between "strong AI", which seeks (sought?) to imbue computers with intelligence so that they could replace humans, vs. "weak AI" which seeks to enable computers to augment humans. Adam Greenfield was invoked, yet again, in observing that much ubicomp can be characterized as "daring to intervene, clumsily, in situations that already work reasonably well. Yvonne issued a call for a Kuhnian-level shift from calm technology to engaging technology, requiring a broader scope and new agendas, themes, questions, frameworks … and adjectives. Ubicomp should be exciting, provocative, stimulating, visible, engaging, playful and even uncomfortable, enabling people to be active creative and reflective I their work, learning and living. Amen.

Barry Brown introduced the Open Session, which was an experiment in which authors submitted their work to a public forum, and the reviews were also publicly posted, and reviewers publicly identified. 10 papers were submitted, and 4 were accepted, based on 47 reviews, and the presentations succeeded in stretching the boundaries of "acceptability" at the conference (which is a good thing, in my opinion).

John Light, of Intel Research, talked about Intimate Computing, raising questions about the relative importance of emotional vs. functional aspects of [perceptions of] technologies, and applying The Media Equation to ubicomp ("the ubicomp equation"?). Louise Barkhuus, of University of Glasgow, talked about "Shakra: Sharing and Motivating Awareness of Everyday Activity": ways and means of combining social practices with technology for enabling groups to support -- and/or compete with -- each other in getting their daily doses of moderate physical activity. Haiyan Zhang, of the Interactive Design Institute Ivrea, presented Control Freaks (more here), clamps and stuffed animals with accelerometers and wireless controllers, that can be attached to everyday objects, e.g., study tables or subway car bobsleds, to create games in new places, another example of the growing pervasiveness and permeability of games worlds. I felt Haiyan's work, in particular, exemplified the potential for engagement Yvonne talked about, and highlighted the value for this kind of forum within the conference.

There was a Town Hall meeting immediately after the Open Session, in which a variety of topics were discussed. The most interesting aspect (to me) was Gregory Abowd's proposal that we consider using an open review process for the entire conference for UbiComp 2007. Albrecht Schmidt [later] raised some thorny issues about intellectual property and confidentiality of submissions that may pose challenges in making this work. However, I think that this is an exciting idea, and with the proper constraints (e.g., some kind of oversight by a trusted committee), could make for a grand experiment in engaging the community in creating a more engaging vision and practice of ubiquitous computing.

[Update, 2006-11-28: added new links to papers now available on the web]


UbiComp 2006: Day 1

Yesterday was my first day at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto, and today was my first day at a ubiquitous computing conference since UbiComp 2003 (for which I was General Chair). It feels like a homecoming of sorts -- reconnecting with many people I haven't seen in a long time, and finding many themes being presented that are [still] of great interest to me.

Crista Lopes, Paul Dourish, Adrian Friday and the rest of the conference and program committees have done a great job this year.  The paper acceptance rate was only 13% (30 of 232 submissions), and the quality seems pretty high, among the papers I saw presented (which was only half, as the conference is experimenting with two tracks this year). I was glad to see a large number of interesting demos and posters as well.

Bruce Sterling, author of Shaping Things (among other books), led things off, saying that what appealed to him about ubiquitous computing was "the majesty of the ideas and the lyricism of the language". His "pencilpoint" presentation was a call to action for ubiquitous computing in service to sustainability, sketching out a SPIME (= SPace-tIME) Meme Map that emphasized thinking, designing, naming, making, tracking, searching and recycling in the coming Internet of Things, where all physical artifacts will have associated digital representations. After making the case for SPIMES, and the need for design for sustainability, he railed against artificial intelligence, panpsychism, magic, fundamentalism and fanaticism. I think his book is great, but -- perhaps because I'd already read the book -- the presentation was not as inspiring as I'd hoped ... and I didn't appreciate the way he treated questions, and questioners.

Ryan Aipperspach of Berkeley Institute of Design and Intel Research Berkeley presented "A Quantitative Method for Revealing and Comparing Places in the Home", in which he addressed the question what is a place? He distinguished between positional features and behavioral or historical features of -- or at -- a location, and presented an algorithm for applying Gaussian mixture models in a three stage process to cluster positional data of people collected via ultra wide band (UWB) sensors. The location traces were made from 3 homes over periods ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months. Future work may include larger studies, combining the quantitative data with qualitative data, and perhaps articulating more compelling value propositions for using technology to identify places in the home.

Scott Davidoff, of Carnegie Mellon University, talked about "Principles of Smart Home Control", in which he raised the issue of what is control? He distinguished the technically-oriented control of devices from the socially or anthropological control over lives, and observed that most dual-income families really want is to achieve mastery of busyness, rather than [simply] managing time and activities, and proposed using ubiquitous computing technology to support routine tasks to allow family members to participate more fully in activities from which they derive meaning (though Bill noted, in an aside, that any activity can be infused with meaning ... there are "no ordinary moments"). Scott's observations about the incremental and improvisational planning in which many families engage reminded me of research done in artificial intelligence in the domain of planning.

Susan Wyche, from Georgia Tech, presented research on "Historical Analysis: Using the Past to Design the Future", in which she asked how are we going to clean the [smart] home of the future? Exploring yesterday's future helps defamiliarize the present, and better recognize the insights history has to offer. The historical analysis was directed at technology adoption in U.S. homes from 1920 thru 1965, with a focus on household chores. Among the most interesting findings (to me) was that technology often results in reductions in force (e.g., using a clothes dryer or dishwasher), but a concommitant reduction in unplanned interactions and togetherness (chatting with a neighbor while hanging clothes out to dry or with a family member while washing dishes by hand).

Sri Hastuti Kurniawan, from the University of Manchester, presented "An Exploratory Study of How Older Women Use Mobile Phones" offered an interesting twist on the grandmother test. She uncovered some age- and gender-related biases in preferences for mobile phones among older women. Size matters, but the size of the text [font] is more important than the display size, and bulky phones are regarded positively as they are easier to grasp and hold. Fear and security are key motivations behind mobile phone purchases and usage in this group. Happy slapping -- assaults allegedly perpetrated simply for the purpose of capturing a photo of the attack -- was singled out as a source of that fear ... and Bill noted that happy slapping is primarily a media-hyped hoax (another reminder that no one can terrorize us without our consent).

Julie Kientz, of Georgia Tech, talked about "Farther Than You May Think: An Empirical Investigation of the Proximity of Users to their Mobile Phones" [slides]. She and her colleagues wanted to determine whether assumptions about mobile phones always being within arms length are correct. They conducted a field study in which 15 people (9 female,s 7 males, ages 21-65, with monthly usage patterns ranging from 4500 minutes down to 25 minutes) wore Bluelon Bluetooth tags for 24 hours / day over 3 weeks period. The tags recorded an estimate of how far away the user's mobile was once every minute, and showed that, on average, mobiles are within arm's length (2-3 feet) 50% of the time, in the same room 18% of the time, not available 20% of the time and off 12% of the time. Weekly interviews were used to compliment the quantitative measurements, and it was interesting to see that many of the participants also assumed [incorrectly] that their phones were always within arms length.

Beki Grinter and Ken Anderson volunteered for an impromptu panel in lieu of a presentation of a paper whose author did not attend the conference. They discussed some of the problems inherent in ethnographic studies of the use of an artifact that has gone where few artifacts have gone before (Beki started out asking how many people had overheard mobile phone conversations by people in bathroom stalls). Among the many interesting audience questions and comments was Marc Davis' observation of the tension between quantitative and qualitative methods, and the claim that we are on the verge of computational social science, where quantitative methods can help address problems in qualitative methods such as scale and memory fallibility. Someone (whose name I did not catch) then said that, in his experience, there is an iterative process whereby quantitative methods can help provide focus for qualitative methods, which can then identify new dimensions in which to apply quantitative methods ... iterate as necessary.

Having been away from UbiComp for 3 years, it is interesting to see how much of the research [presented today [in the sessions I attended]] is focused on mobile phones. Given my new affiliation with Nokia Research Center Palo Alto, I was glad to see that Nokia is a conference sponsor, and that another member of NRC, Cristiano di Flora, organized a workshop on System Support for FUture Mobile Computing Applications (FUMCA 2006) that was part of the workshop program at the conference. I am also heartened to see many references to the use of Nokia phones in the field studies, applications, demonstrations, and concepts being presented here. However, there were no papers (or demos or posters) at the main conference from Nokia ... hopefully we can change that for next year's conference.


Poetry, Courage and Change

In my last post, I wrote about Susan Jeffer's No-Lose Model for making decisions, the last step of which -- after the decision is made -- is

Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you've got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

On the flight down to SFO early this morning, I was listening to Disc 2 of David Whyte's Clear Mind, Wild Heart, in which he provides an example of this willingness to make course corrections in his own life.  He was working with a non-profit, and was finding himself feeling increasingly tired ... which is hardly surprising, given his observation that non-profits generally exist to change the world, so there's always more to do.  A friend helped him discover the following insight:

the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness

He could have changed jobs, but instead he changed his job description until it more naturally suited who he really was.

Two other quotes from David Whyte that resonated with me today were

courage is the ability to cultivate a relationship with the unknown

and

anything and anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you

I finished my first day of work at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto, today.  I've been up since 3am, and although I feel a bit tired, I don't feel exhausted.  Some new changes were announced today, and more are likely to follow, but it's all new to me, and so much is still unknown.  But in that uncertainty lies a great opportunity to bring big things to life.  And everything I learned today reinforced the initial impression I had that the natural expression of my passions, skills and experiences will help the lab -- and me -- unfold together in positive ways.

Thinking about David Whyte in this context, I believe what the lab is looking for, and what I intend to co-create, is a clear-minded, wild-hearted research agenda.


Joining Nokia: Connecting People ... and Helping People Relate

On Monday, I embark on a new chapter in my career, as a Principal Scientist at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto [Update: I rather prefer Principle Scientist, the title ascribed to me by Anne Galloway]. I'm excited about the opportunities to contribute to a number of strategic initiatives NRC is exploring, and to help this new lab grow into a world-class center of open innovation for using technology for connecting people.

As I noted in an earlier post on purpose and passion, the dream of Interrelativity -- using technology for helping people relate -- remains very much alive, even though the business of Interrelativity, the company I'd founded, had foundered. I see a natural alignment between missions -- or at least the mantras -- of Nokia and Interrelativity: connecting people and helping people relate.

Nokia_logo Interrelativitylogonamemantrasmall

I had the good fortune -- and mixed blessing -- of considering several job offers, each appealing in similar and different ways.  I have mixed feelings about my decision: I feel sad about declining the other offers, but am grateful for having had the opportunty to consider them, and am happy about the path I've chosen. 

As I've done with every important life event decision I've faced in the past 10 years, I re-read Susan Jeffers' book, Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway, and applied her No-Lose Model for making decisions:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

I'm not sure what to expect, so it's relatively easy to let go of expectations -- and embrace working without attachments. NRCPA is very young, and I believe that the experimentation and innovation in our research will be complimented by experimentation and innovation in our model(s) of research.  In fact, this multidimensional openness is part of the appeal for me.

Speaking of attachments, I'm reminded of Steve Pavlina's post on self-acceptance vs. personal growth (or, perhaps more properly, self-acceptance vs. positional growth):

The underlying problem is that by rooting your sense of self in something that will fluctuate, like the current position of any measurable part of your life, you’re going to suffer in one way or another.
...
Instead of rooting your sense of self in your position, which is changeable, what would happen if you rooted your sense of self in something permanent and unchangeable?  Stop identifying yourself with any form of positional status, and pick something invulnerable instead… like a pure concept that nothing in this world can touch.  Examples include unconditional love, service to humanity, faith in a higher power, compassion, nonviolence, and so on.

[Other examples may include helping people relate ... or connecting people.]

Sychronistically, I just started listening the David Whyte's 6 CD set, Clear Mind, Wild Heart: Finding Courage and Clarity through Poetry yesterday.  Among the new insights revealed to me, that are related to my current transition, are

  • the connection between momentous and moments (reminding me that there are no ordinary moments, the mantra of -- and sequel to -- Way of the Peaceful Warrior)
  • the distinction between playing the edge and having an edge (over someone else)
  • a poetic expression of the sentiment expressed by Steve Pavlina:

    As human beings, we are constantly trying to find solid ground on which to stand. But from that solid ground, we also want a relationship with the intangible. If poetry is anything, it's that relationship -- the conversation between what is solid, grounded and real in our life and what we long for in the untouchable, the numinous, the eternal.

I will continue to play the edge between the real and the ideal, seeking to bridge gaps between people by bridging the gaps between the real (physical) world and the virtual (digital) world ... and, starting tomorrow, working together with my new colleagues to create new means for -- and meaning in -- connecting people.


Football and Community in Woodinville

Last weekend, I wrote about the efforts of the Bainbridge Island Junior Football League to create a healthier community by offering healthier food at football games.  The next day, I received an email from one of the parents on our team, who is also building community around football, though in his own special way.

Bruce Allison is our team videographer.  Every week, he videotapes our games, and creates DVDs for the families, charging a nominal fee which goes to a scholarship fund established for a beloved coach who died last year of ALS.  I think this is a[nother] great idea for ways that football leagues can raise funds to support the community, and so wanted to include the details below of the arrangements that Bruce has made to support this (along with a photo of Bruce, who, of course, is rarely on the "business end" of a lens). 

Bruceallisonvideographer

I realize that not every team has a dedicated videographer -- and only two teams have Bruce as their videographer -- but perhaps this will provide incentive to any who might be thinking about getting involved.  As with the Bainbridge Island efort, this seems like an obvious win for everyone involved.

Last season I produced and sold over 200 DVD’s of the Rookie Season covering 11 games AND a highlight reel at the end.   We raised about $1700 from this team alone for the Mark Morgan fund.

Sadly, Coach Mark passed on last April at the age of 49 from ALS.  This year all proceeds (after cost of supplies) from DVD sales will be used to create a Mark Morgan Memorial Scholarship fund for the Woodinville Jr. Football Program.  This fund will assist local kids interested in playing Woodinville football that do not have the economic resources available to their family.

You may order all 8 regular season games for $100 ($12.50 / game) payable in advance.  You may also buy games one at a time for $15 each.   Playoff games will be available for $15 each or $12.50 if you paid for the season.