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July 2008

A Cloveristic Tasting at Trabant Coffee

The coffee tasting class at TrabantI attended my first coffee tasting yesterday, at Trabant Coffee & Chai (the U-District shop). Alexa, one of the baristas at Trabant (at the far left in the photo to the left), led six of us through the multi-sensory educational experience involving words, photos, charts and five different coffees freshly brewed on their Clover machine.

I've attended numerous wine tastings over the years (including the recent, Zinfantastic Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco), and feel like I have a acquired a moderate amount of knowledge about wines, and although I've been drinking coffee longer than I've been drinking wine, I feel like a neophyte with respect to coffee appreciation. The coffee yesterday tasting marks my first steps toward better appreciating some of the finer points of this beverage.

CoffeeTastersFlavorWheel Alexa told us that coffees are typically differentiated based on three primary sets of features: acidity, body and finish (all of which are used in distinguishing wine, as well). There are a number of aromas and flavors that are considered "bad", and a number that are considered "good". She passed around a Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, produced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), that showed a large number of smell and tastes that coffee aficionados look for. Nearly all of them are well beyond my current skills in discrimination, but it was interesting to see them laid out in this format (and I found myself wondering if a similar "wheel" exists for wine).

The current offerings that we tasted were the following (the "notes" are copied from the placard posted next to the Clover - I certainly could not have come up with these descriptors myself):

  • El Salvador Retiro Estate: Balanced notes of strong chocolate and soft lemony acidity. Finishes with amaretto and apricot.
  • Papua New Guinea Kunjun Estate: Strawberry-rhubarb and smoky cedar. Smooth medium body and rich on the finish.
  • Colombia La Planeda Micro-lot: Flavors of jasmine and orange peel. Smooth mouthfeel rounded out by a juicy acidity.
  • Ethiopian Yergacheffe Konga Co-Op (organic): Classic profile of chocolate and citrus paired with an aroma of raspberry lemonade. Creamy and heavy body.
  • Kenya: A strong structured coffee with floral fragrance and tea like qualities. Bright lemon acidity, sweet nectarine and a long fruity finish complete this full-bodied Kenyan.

My favorite of the bunch was the Kenyan, although I think I was in the minority. "Full-bodied" is descriptor that has positive associations for me in everything I drink (coffee, wine, beer, scotch), as is "long finish". Subtlety is lost on me - in nearly every dimension of sensory experience - and so I typically need something that really fills my mouth with powerful flavors to enjoy the experience. I also tend to prefer tannic wines and bitter beers, and so don't typically enjoy milder, smoother flavors. Several of the other coffees were lighter in body, and they seemed to be better appreciated by several of the other participants in the tasting (one of whom has a fabulous web site devoted to coffee appreciation), who detected and shared various "notes" that entirely escaped my notice.

Among the other things I learned at the tasting (and in discussions with other baristas at Trabant this morning) were:

  • Coffee beans grow on plants (that sometimes look like trees), and are, essentially, the seeds inside of berries of those plants.
  • The beans have to be dried after harvest, ideally to a humidity level of 12%; they are laid out on drying patios (reminding me of the process by which the grapes for my favorite wine, Amarone, are prepared for fermentation), and typically tested by a coffee farmer biting into a bean to assess its humidity.
  • The beans are extremely porous, and easily absorb all kinds of external substances; this is part of what gives each coffee variety its unique flavor (e.g., the soil and climate conditions where the plant grows), but is always why great care has to be exercised in handling the beans after they are harvested.
  • There are many different varietals of coffee plants, as there are for grapes used in wine; a great deal of experimentation is going on in coffee growing regions to determine which varietals grow best in which places (sometimes extending to the level of a very small section of a plantation).
  • The Clover machine enables baristas to experiment with the dose (grams of coffee), the water temperature and the steeping time; minor fluctuations in any of the above can have a significant impact on the resulting coffee flavors and aromas. It would be fun to try a tasting where a single coffee was the basis for a series of separate brews that demonstrate the impact each of these.

I discovered an article on the Clover in the current issue of Wired - The Coffee Fix: Can the $11,000 Clover Machine Save Starbucks? - that has additional information about the history, design and future prospects for this machine. It mentions some of the new coffees that are brewed in Clover machines, including Los Delirios, a micro-lot that is located at "13° 22'45.99"N x 86° 28'50.45"W, between 1,050 and 1,450 meters above sea level", and Kopi Luwak, "an Indonesian bean that's eaten by a civet cat, then 'harvested' from the animal's dung" ... and which sells for $100 / cup - or $600 / pound (!).

Coming back to Trabant this morning, I bought a 12 oz. bag of the Kenyan (for a mere $14.95) and will do a little experimentation of my own over the weekend - for example, seeing how this tastes (and smells) when brewed on my $80 Cuisinart DCC-1200 drip coffeemaker at home, vs. the $11,000 Clover machine at Trabant.

[Update, 2008-08-29: Tatiana Becker, co-owner of Trabant, shares some of her views on Starbucks' use of the Clover in a Seattle Times article, Starbucks Launches New Coffees for Clover Machines:

She said she doubts the small-batch Clover coffees, which Starbucks will sell for $2 to $4 a cup, will be feasible on a large scale for the chain.]


James Taylor and Other People's Music: A Concert Review

James Taylor concert @ Chateau Ste. Michelle

James Taylor and his Band of Legends gave a great performance at Chateau Ste. Michelle Monday night. I was particularly impressed with the harmonies provided by his backup vocalists and the rhythm laid down by his bassist, drummer and percussionist, but the entire band was strong ... one might even say "legendary". The legendary JT himself still has plenty of energy and a full vocal range (unlike some other aging performers we've seen in concerts at CSM). And as with other CSM concerts we've attended, the weather was perfect, the setting was beautiful, the food and wine was very good - I enjoyed a tomato basil sausage from The Frankfurter (Amy thought the skin on her Southwestern sausage was a little tough), and we particularly liked the 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cinsault - and the music was enjoyable. However, as with most of the concerts we see there, the music was not quite as good as I'd hoped.

The music was very good - Amy thought it was great - it just didn't move me the way I'd anticipated ("something in the way she moves..."). Many of James Taylor's early songs rate high on my "goose bump" scale, and he did play a few of these songs (Country Road, Mexico, Shower the People, Carolina on my Mind, Your Smiling Face), but most of the songs he played (13 of 25, by my count) - were other people's music. Now, some of these cover songs are also among my favorite JT hits - e.g., You've Got a Friend (written by Carole King, who made a surprise appearance at his July 4 concert and 60th birthday celebration at Tanglewood, where we'd seen him play around the time of his 40th birthday) and Everyday (by Buddy Holly). And, of course, "covering"often works both ways: Steamroller Blues, a JT song, was also recorded by Elvis Presley ... who did not make a surprise appearance on this tour (as far as I know). In any case, the performances on all the songs - originals and covers - were great, it's just that I generally connect more deeply on an emotional level with the JT originals.

As Taylor noted in his introduction to You've Got a Friend, he started performing the song while he and Carole King were both starting out sharing a stage - and a backup band - at the legendary Troubador club in Los Angeles, after he figured it out on guitar (she performs it on piano), but "little did I know that I'd be singing it every night for the next 40 years". He noted that there are far worse "prison sentences" ... but his comment did help provide some context for why he may be performing more of other people's music as time goes by. Meanwhile, I still have my old JT CDs - and I suppose I can get a copy of One Man Band, his new CD of his old music (performed live) - if / when I want to walk on down a country road memory lane.

A number of people came away from the concert with more concrete memories. During the first set, JT autographed someone's guitar between songs, and during the intermission, it looked like he was signing album covers, CD jackets, T-shirts, at least one other guitar, and other assorted writing surfaces. The second set had a larger proportion of JT originals, so I was warming up as the outside temperature cooled down (though it was not nearly as cold as the people who attended his second show at CSM last night). However, unlike the recent Indigo Girls concert we attended at Woodland Park Zoo, where they invited the audience to sing along - on the third verses (!) - of several of their songs, JT missed many opportunities to engage the audience in a sing along ... though many of us in the audience were singing along loud and clear on his classics anyway. He finally invited us to sing along at the end of the encore set, on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).

All in all, it was a nice evening. We bought reserved seats rather than lawn seats, in large part due to the fact that we got the last two tickets left for either show 45 minutes after they went on sale (and there were no general admission tickets). But we were already considering the reserved seats due to a bad experience on the lawn at Tanglewood the last time we saw him, about 20 years ago, where we were seated next to a bunch of people who seemed more interested in conversation than music appreciation. This time, we got to appreciate the music more directly ... I just wish there'd been more of his music to appreciate.

First set:

  • It's Growing (The Temptations)
  • Get a Job (Silhouettes)
  • Country Road (JT)
  • (I've Got to) Stop Thinkin' 'bout That (JT)
  • Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb, popularized by Glen Campbell)
  • Why Baby Why (George Jones)
  • Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Rodgers & Hammerstein, from Oklahoma!)
  • Every Day (Buddy Holly)
  • You've Got a Friend (Carole King)
  • Mexico (JT)
  • Shed a Little Light (JT)

Second set:

  • Hound Dog (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, originally recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, popularized by Elvis Presley)
  • Only One (JT)
  • Walking Man (JT)
  • Roadrunner (Junior Walker)
  • Sweet Baby James (JT)
  • The Long Way Around (Dixie Chicks)
  • Up on the Roof (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  • Steamroller Blues (JT)
  • Carolina In My Mind (JT)
  • Shower the People (JT)
  • Your Smiling Face (JT)

Encore:

  • Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)
  • Knock on Wood (Eddie Floyd, popularized by Amii Stewart)
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (JT)

Satirization or Assassination?

NewYorkerCover-20080721 The New Yorker published its July 21 edition this week, with a cartoon on the cover depicting U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, in a way that reflects some of the worst fears of what I suspect is a nontrivial percentage of the electorate. On the cover, shown on the right, Barack is wearing a turban, Michelle is sporting an AK47 assault rifle and ammunition belt across her chest; the pair exchange a "fist bump" under the gaze of a turban-bedecked Osama bin Laden in a portrait hanging over a fireplace where an American flag is burning. The cartoon has a caption "The Politics of Fear", but this listed on the bottom of page 2 rather than on the cover.

I have no doubt the cartoon is intended as a satirical critique of some of the more egregious and hyperbolic extrapolations and projections that have been appearing in the press, e.g., Fox News anchor E.D. Hill using the infamous Fox News question mark to make sideways editorial comments (which I've intentionally invoked in the title of this post) in asking "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab?", unsubstantiated rumors of a video of Michelle Obama making "anti-white" statements, the ridiculous controversy over Obama's [earlier] refusal to wear a flag pin, and, most recently, a Newsweek poll released on Friday that reported some surprising statistics about how many people believe various flavors of the rumors about Obama's connection to Islam:

Twelve percent of voters surveyed said that Obama was sworn in as a United States senator on a Qur'an, while 26 percent believe the Democratic candidate was raised as a Muslim and 39 percent believe he attended an Islamic school as a child growing up in Indonesia. None of these things is true.

This follows an earlier Pew Research poll released in March showing that 10% of Americans believe Obama is Muslim; among those most likely to believe this are people in rural areas (19%), white evangelical Protestants (16%), conservative Republicans (16%) and people who never attended college (15%).

What I wonder is how the satirization intended by the cartoon is likely to affect the level of misinformation about Barack Obama - will it decrease the misinformation by opening up a dialogue (through all the controversy it is engendering), or will it increase the misinformation - and misinformedness - due to the media's echo chamber effect ("a group of media outlets that tend to parrot each other's uncritical reports on the views of a single source, or that otherwise relies on unquestioning repetition of official sources") and confirmation bias ("a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs").

In my last post, writing about my experiences at Foo Camp 2008, I noted a session in which a prominent former blogger was subjected to online harassment with strong sexually-oriented and violent images, e.g., a Photoshopped image in which a noose was inserted in a photo of her head and neck and another Photoshopped image that superimposed a pair of panties over her face in a way that might be interpreted as muzzling or suffocating. Some of the people defending the authors of these images and similarly harsh words posted in an online forum dedicated to harassing this woman claimed that these were intended as "satire", and that she and others were simply taking these words and images too seriously. I found myself wondering what the response might have been if similar images had been created and posted with, say, Hillary Clinton as the target of the "satire" ... I suspect the FBI would have been involved and arrests would have been made. I now wonder what the reaction would be if Michelle Obama had been the target ... and even wonder whether she already has been such a target (!).

I'm hearing similar "overreaction" sentiments being expressed about the New Yorker cartoon - that people who are reacting negatively are simply taking it too seriously. I do tend to take things too seriously at times, but I'm not alone ... and I wonder how many "serious" people are - or were - in the "undecided" category of the U.S. electorate. The "satire" directed against the aforementioned blogger led to her departure from the blogosphere, and while I don't think the "satire" directed against [the people who spread or believe rumors about] Barack Obama will cause him to drop out of the race, I am concerned that this may negatively affect his chances for being elected president.

Despite numerous reports over the last several years that Saddam Hussein had no connection with the 9/11 attacks, an earlier Newsweek poll suggests that a surprisingly large proportion of the American public believe there is a link:

Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in ten Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein's regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection. A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born. Just 43 percent got it right -- and a full 20 percent thought most came from Iraq.

[I cannot find a direct reference to this poll on the Newsweek site, purportedly reported in June 2007 ... so maybe I'm just spreading rumors here ... the second-hand reports of the poll certainly confirm my biases.]

I hope we'll soon see additional polls to determine the impact of this controversial cartoon. Among the questions I'd be interested to know answers to are:

  • How many people saw the cover in a physical magazine vs. a reproduction of the cover in traditional news media or somewhere on a web site?
  • How many people had even heard of the New Yorker before, or know that the New Yorker often engages in satire, especially in its cartoons?
  • What are people's initial reaction to seeing the cover? Satire? Character assassination? Confirmation of their deepest political fears?
  • How do the statistics mentioned above change over the next week or two, e.g., how many people now believe Obama is a Muslim?
  • How many copies of this issue of the New Yorker are sold? (I bought one)
  • How does the number of subscribers change?

And, of course, on November 4, we'll know the outcome of a much more important poll ... the question is whether we'll know how much this "satire" has affected that outcome.


Data Exhaust from Foo Camp 2008

The term data exhaust was one of several additions to my vocabulary throughout FOO Camp 2008 (the annual “Friends Of O’Reilly” campout and unconference at the O'Reilly campus in Sebastopol, CA, to which I was pleasantly surprised to have been invited [again!]). The rather clever phrase came up in the context of a discussion about metadata (i.e., data that describes other data, e.g., titles on photos posted on Flickr) and refers to the behavioral residue we leave behind through our online activities … and I’m riffing on it in the title of this post - my expression of impressions from the weekend - as I can’t think of any [other] short, pithy description that captures the overall experience … and this post will [thus] be a kind of venting – perhaps even a catalytic conversion - of some of the thoughts and feelings that came up for me during the weekend.

The metadata session was rather far-ranging … almost too much so, at times. There were some interesting observations made by a number of participants – who I will not name, in keeping with Foo Camp’s policy of encouraging open discussion by discouraging subsequent revelation and/or attribution of potentially sensitive statements by participants. Rather than delve into details, I’ll make a few meta-observations (pun intended).

One meta-observation is that the discussion reminded me of some of the “neats vs. scruffies” debates in AI. The “neats” were (are?) very intent on logical formalisms that could [theoretically] accommodate a broad range of phenomena; the “scruffies” were/are hackers that would try anything – and any combination of things – to get a system to behave intelligently. I was squarely in the “scruffy” camp (and continue to be rather scruffy in my approach to other application domains), and was surprised that there seemed to be so many meta-data “neats” [speaking up] in the session, as my impression of Foo Camp is that it is largely composed of people in the hacker culture. Several people were proposing various frameworks to try to encompass a broad range of potential uses – and abuses – of metadata … and I found myself thinking that we don’t know any more about metadata than we do about intelligence, and so I believe scruffy approaches are more likely to succeed, at least in the near term. Another, related, meta-observeration is that I suspect metadata and intelligence - artificial or otherwise - are closely related on several dimensions

Yet another meta-observation is that it seems like many of the people engaged in the discussion are “privacy fundamentalists” (or acting primarily on their behalf) – eager to ensure that no evil can possibly ensue from the aggregation and use of metadata ... or, at least, not without our partially informed consent. I have at least two fundamental problems with this perspective. One is that I don’t believe most people will be willing to take the time to educate themselves and adjust whatever metadata collection settings are offered through any kind of user interface (not that I think an intuitive user interface for metadata would be easy to engineer). For example, how many people ever adjust the cookie settings for their browser? And using a browser is more intuitive - or, at least, more familiar - than thinking about and dealing more directly with metadata.

Even more bothersome for me is that for all concerns about making the web safe for demography (sociography?), there appear to be relatively few examples of the abuse of metadata. I asked for examples of such abuse during the session; other participants mentioned the Chinese blogger whose identity was revealed to authorities by Yahoo, and a company called USAinfo that purportedly sells/sold names and addresses of gullible senior citizens (though I cannot track down any info about that). I’m sure there are other incidents of abuse, but I imagine they are on par with the wildly overestimated – and overreported – instances of sexual predation on MySpace. But, as I’ve noted before, I tend to be in the “privacy unconcerned” category.

The next session I attended was about online “griefing”, focusing primarily on a former prominent blogger – or, more precisely, a prominent former blogger – who was the victim of a vindictive, sexually oriented and life-threatening vendetta that started in comments on one of her blog posts and soon moved into an apparently accountability-free site where anonymous blog authors were authorized and encouraged to attack her.

For all my talk about “privacy unconcernedness” and my railing against the overblowing of risks on MySpace, sexual violence against women is a hot button for me. The quickest way I can self-induce sharp anger is to simply think about a date rape incident a woman close to me once told me about (my heart is pounding as I write this now). I was really angry when I first read about the escalating series of events that engulfed this former blogger, even though (fortunately) no physical harm befell her.

Anyhow, it was good (for me) to hear this being discussed openly, even though there were some [men] in the session who were not sympathetic. One of the men who has also received death threats on his blog noted how Hollywood celebrities have the money to pay to insulate themselves from those who might physically harm them; online celebrities often do not have the same financial means to do so, and so are more vulnerable.

Another man likened the Internet to a giant schoolyard, complete with bullies. I started wondering about issues revolving around meanness in the online and offline worlds, and the related issue of scale. Is the Internet becoming a meaner place? Is the real world becoming meaner? I found myself thinking about Crossfire (which is off the air), The O’Reilly Factor (which is not), Rush Limbaugh, and other shows and celebrities in the mass media who tend to promote griefing and hate (though perhaps television is not a good proxy for “real life” [either]). Someone commented that negative posts get far more traffic than positive posts, and it’s pretty clear that negativity gets more attention in the traditional news media and in political campaigns ... and (not surprisingly) in our brains.

Focusing primarily on the online space, I wonder what relative levels of meanness are found in different social networks, e.g., MySpace,. Facebook, LinedIn, YouTube, Flickr, LiveJournal, etc. Do walled gardens – vs. the relatively more open blogosphere - help reduce the meanness levels? In a later Foo Camp session, someone noted that comments by YouTube users who have actually produced their own videos are far more supportive than the comments by those who merely comment on others’ videos. But in this case, we have blog authors (vs. commenters) who are writing blog posts that are incredibly vehement … although these are authors of blogs whose sole purpose appears to have been to attack another blogger … so maybe it is true that, in general, those who are producing their own content are less mean than those who are only criticizing others’ productions.

Another example of extreme meanness took place in March when hackers embedded flashing animations in an epilepsy forum that were designed to trigger a seizure in someone suffering from photosensitive epilepsy. Although no one died, several people suffered seizures visiting the site. What would possibly motivate anyone to do such a thing? I was wondering about potential equivalents in the real world; nothing came to mind then, but a later Lightning Round Talk at Foo Camp included a “game” called “Toast” where a pickup truck pulls up to an unsuspecting pedestrian around 3am, people jump up from the truck bed, yell “Toast!!” and start throwing toast at the person. I didn’t think this sounded particularly fun – or funny – and I'm not even sure if the speaker was just making up the game, but I was wondering what would happen if the victim was someone who suffered from epilepsy … and if it’s less of a stretch for people who do think this kind of thing is fun[ny] to imagine hacking an epilepsy site would also be fun[ny] … and in reflecting now on the laughter in the audience over the “game” of “Toast!”, I wonder how many Foo campers might have found the story of the epilepsy site hack funny if it had been presented in the Lightning Round by the speaker presenting “Toast!” … but maybe I’m taking this all too seriously.

Joe McCarthy[Update: I just found Joi Ito's fabulous photos from Foo Camp, and am embedding a photo he took of me that offers some visual evidence that I do sometimes take things rather seriously.]

I also found myself wondering if there is a difference in meanness levels on the Internet vs. real life, what accounts for that difference? Is it the Bystander Effect, wherein the larger the set of potential witnesses to a crime, the less likely any single one of them is to prevent or report it (the prototypical case being the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in NYC). Are the vast numbers of lurkers on the web creating orders of magnitude more bystanders than exists in real life? Are any measures taken in real life to reduce meanness levels, e.g., in high schools (and other schoolyards) applicable to the Internet? Someone in the earlier metadata session had noted the importance of preserving pseudonymity for bloggers and other people producing content that may be offensive to the repressive regimes they live under. Accountability measures that may reduce the threat to individuals in one culture or segment of society may increase the threat to individuals in others.

After lunch, I attended a session on ubiquitous computing. The session leader started off making some interesting distinctions between "pragmatic" and "academic", and between "USA" and "Eurasia" (the latter of which I think incorrectly combines Europe and Asia, as I see developments in the regions as at least as different as, say, between the USA and Europe). One of the more interesting observations was that once we understand it, it ceases to be ubiquitous computing, which parallels an oft-articulated view of artificial intelligence. Another was that ubiquitous computing makes physical space mutable or programmable - which got me thinking about interesting new terms, substituting "world" for "web", such as the programmable world or perhaps the read/write world. Personally, I think the increasing interconnections between the web and people, places and things in the real world will be the hallmark of Web 3.0.

One of the interesting questions was whether we could identify 4-5 patterns that are emerging in this programmable world. Two of the more interesting ones were "the invisible becomes visible" (contrary to the invisibility promoted by Mark Weiser in his original vision for ubicomp in 1991, but very much in keeping with a provocative paper presented at UbiComp 2006 by Yvonne Rogers) and "the transient becomes permanent" (though this seems to be more of a pattern on the web - Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 - in general). There were also a few references to Genevieve Bell & Paul Dourish's paper on Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Notes on Ubiquitous Computing’s Dominant Vision, and to some projects / companies I want to read up on soon, e.g., Olinda, Path Intelligence and Pachube.

The next session I attended was on decentralizing social networks, which was immediately contrasted with distributed social networks (DiSo), the latter framework being more amenable to central control and authority (and thus, it was argued, failure or abuse). I agree with an early observation that a big problem is that most people don’t understand who can see what (e.g., people posting personal comments on publicly posted photos not realizing the comments are also publicly viewable). However, much of the discussion was on very particular use cases that I personally did not find very compelling (e.g., sharing a photo with a few friends, who share it with a few of their friends, who then can annotate who is in the picture, which may extend beyond your comfort zone of who you intended to share it with). I think as soon as one adds granularity beyond the level of "share with friends" an "share with everyone", things get too complicated for most users (i.e., non Foo Campers) to understand. One of the more interesting suggestions was that there is a place-based metaphor that dominates the way most users think about the web (“my photos are on Flickr”), and this metaphor is less accurate as data and metadata can flow more freely to and through different sites and services.

Later in the afternoon, it was time for something completely different: The Lost Sport of Olympia (aka "the human labyrinth") an avant game led by Jane McGonigal. Players fill out a profile that helps them identify their "ancient strengths" (and thus the roles they might best play on their team). Most of the players form a human wall around the pattern of a labyrinth, and a designated - and blindfolded - runner has to find his or her way out of the labyrinth based solely on the directional humming employed by other players forming the wall. There is, of course, much more to the game, which has its own mythology and mystique, including its banishment from the Olympics (hence the name). I think it's easier - and more fun - to just watch the game than to explain it. I've posted some of my photos from the game on Flickr, and I'll embed a video taken by Loic Le Meur at the game site below.

There were a number of interesting Lightning Talks (and performances) in the evening, but we were explicitly asked not to blog about one of them, and given the intentionally edgy nature of some of those talks, I'll simply note that one of them was an update on one of the most fascinating topics (to me) in Web 2.0: object-centered sociality, the need for a system to present objects - photos, videos, etc. - around which to socialize and to support ways in which the objects can be used by participants, vs., say, simply putting people in a room - online or offline - and inviting them to talk to each other (without any objects to motivate socializing).

One of the most interesting discussions on Sunday was about the notion of "friending" - adding a link to another person in a social networking service - and how that differs based on the objects that are the center of the social networking service. For example, on the Flickr photo-based social network, where people primarily post photos that they have taken themselves, adding someone as a "friend" means you can follow their photostream, and thus keep up with what's going on in their lives (though it was also noted that Flickr friends can also simply be people whose photography you admire). . However, on a music-based social network, such as Last.fm (or MyStrands), people's playlists are simply metadata for objects (songs) primarily created by others ... and although music playlists reveal interesting dimensions of people's tastes, the music you are playing does not generally afford the same depth of revelation as the photos you are taking ... although if you are a musician, the music you are creating probably reveals more about you than any photo you could take.

I did not propose any sessions at this year's Foo Camp. I led a session on passion at Foo Camp 2007 that was immensely illuminating (for me) - and quite surprising in the way it evolved over the course of the conversation(s). This year, I was tempted to lead a session on managing parallel universes: dealing with the alternate streams of metadata - especially comments - created by aggregators such as FriendFeed (or our new strands.com (currently in private beta)). I'm not sure why I decided not to - probably a mixture of feeling I'm too inexperienced in using such aggregators to lead such a discussion (especially among a group of prospective participants like Foo campers), and waiting too long to approach the "big board", which was pretty full by the time I got there to see what sessions were being proposed (and feeling a sense that there simply isn't room for everyone to propose a session). Essentially, I just didn't muster the gumption to propose the session. Perhaps the regret I now feel about falling into that gumption trap will help me muster the gumption to post a future blog entry about it. But I think I've written [more than] enough for now ...

[Update: Aaron Quigley both pointed out a broken link (to the Bell & Dourish paper - also fixed above) and shared a story related to the photosensitive epilepsy seizure attack:

I was wondering when someone might make rapidly flashing screen into a computer virus. The idea occured to me when I lived in Japan in 1997 and a children's cartoon show "Pocket Monsters" or Pokémon had a explosion effect on screen which caused hundreds of children around the country to have seizures [ read more of photosensitive seizures ]. The epilepsy site attack, I'm amazed to say, even more nasty than the idea of a computer virus with this built in.;

Thanks Aaron!]


Richie Hazlewood joins Strands Labs Seattle for the summer

Whazlewo_lRichie Hazlewood arrived a few weeks ago from the School of Informatics at Indiana University to work with us on our next generation proactive display applications this summer. Richie has been working with Yvonne Rogers, Kay Connelly and others at Indiana on a variety of interesting and relevant projects involving ambient information displays, data mining, information visualization, and using handheld devices for collaborating with people and interacting with physical artifacts.

Twitterspace-300x187 Most recently - and relevantly - he has been working on Twitterspaces, an ambient display application that offers a dynamic visualization of "tweets" posted by the Informatics group - though it can be easily customized for any group - on Twitter. Tweets, and thumbnail images of their authors, scroll horizontally, and the vertical access represents hours of the day. I'm including a screenshot to the right (a real-time view can be found by clicking on the image).

In addition to his own work, he is co-organizing the Second Workshop on Ambient Information Systems (which is still accepting submissions thru July 11) to be held at UbiComp 2008 - he was also a co-organizer of the First Ambient Information Systems Workshop at Pervasive 2007 - and [thus] brings a broad range of awareness and interactions about designing and using ambient displays to promote awareness and interactions.

We're delighted to welcome Richie, who helps fill key gaps in the team - and team space - as we move forward on our new applications, about which I'll write more in the near future. Meanwhile, I'll include a couple of recent photos of our space, after Richie's arrival.

Richie joins Strands Labs Seattle Our growing team (and filling space)


The Indigo Girls' Zoo Tunes Concert

IMG_0862 The Indigo Girls gave a concert Sunday night at Woodland Park Zoo's Zoo Tunes 2008 Concert Series that was, note for note, the finest music I've ever seen and heard live. I've attended - and reviewed - a fair number of other great concerts, but all of them have had at least one relative "low spot": one or more songs that just don't inspire or otherwise positively affect me (such low spots, of course, open up opportunities for bio breaks, of course). Last night's concert was just one, long, uplifting set, with no dips whatsoever ... which was fortunate, as I'd heard that lines for the honey buckets can get long at the Zoo Tunes concerts.

The concert was held on the closing day of Seattle PrideFest, and while it was not an official part of that event, it was clear that a large proportion of the audience was made up of gay and lesbian fans. I have a vague recollection of hearing / reading something about Amy Ray and/or Emily Saliers being lesbians, but I guess that sort of thing just doesn't matter to me - connection and alignment with spiritual and/or political views matters far more than sexual preferences, and I was reminded throughout the concert just how strong of an alignment I feel toward the music of the Indigo Girls.

I'm embarrassed to admit that while I've long been a fan of the Indigo Girls, and I recognized most of the songs they played, I didn't know the names of many of their songs (I scratched a few notes on what sounded like key lyrics in each song, and was able to search out the titles in composing the set list below). The rest of the audience, though, clearly knew the lyrics to many of these songs. I was initially surprised at the audacity of inviting the audience to sing along on the third verses (vs. choruses) of at least three songs - how many people know the third verse to, say, America the Beautiful - but the Indigo Girls clearly know their audience, and their audience knows them, as people were singing along loud and strong.

I'm also embarrassed to admit that I hadn't listened closely to many of their songs, but given the opportunity of a warm summer evening to relax and listen attentively, the "goose bumps" were flowing with every song (most significantly during "Galileo" and "Closer to Fine"). I have always enjoyed their music, but in the setting of the concert, I found deep, emotional resonance with nearly all of their lyrics. It dawned on me that by the time the band was producing commercial albums (1988), I had become more immersed in my "professional" vocation - I was a professor of computer science while in grad school to get my Ph.D. in the field - and less attentive to the domain of my early vocation - leader, lead guitarist and songwriter in a band I formed while in high school (two of whose five members are no longer alive). Thus my "use" of music had largely shifted from being a primary focus of attention to a background accompaniment as I read, thought about, taught about, and wrote code for and papers on technology projects. I don't foresee a big shift [back] in the near future, but I have been feeling a growing reconnection with my musical roots over the past several months, since joining Strands.

IMG_0856 Getting back to the concert, Coyote Grace opened for the Indigo Girls, playing a great folksy bluegrass set to warm things up. Unfortunately, Amy (my wife) and I were in the beer garden for most of their 45-minute set, and with a cup of beer in my hand, I did not take any notes on their songs. However, when we got back to our blanket, just before they finished, I was surprised to hear one of the main duo, Joe Stevens, say something about "when I was a young girl" during an introduction to a song. Fortunately, I had my iPhone with me, so I opened up my Safari browser, googled "coyote grace" and read about their tag line - "Girl meets Girl. Girl becomes Boy. Girl and Boy become a band." - and further on, about how Joe is a "transman" (a term I hadn't read or heard before, but could instantly understand given the context).

Brandi Carlile, who has been touring with the Indigo Girls, made several appearances throughout the show, and her entire band, along with Coyote Grace, came out to join the Indigo Girls for their final few songs. Amy and I'd seen her play at Chateau Ste. Michelle a year or two ago, and enjoy her music (though not as much a the Indigo Girls ... and, to be honest, not as much as we enjoyed Coyote Grace, either). I'm not sure why Coyote Grace was the opening act for this particular show - perhaps something about it being PrideFest? - but we were glad to have the opportunity to enjoy some exposure to some great new music.

Before closing with the set list, I wanted to share a few tips for anyone considering attending a concert at Woodland Park Zoo. We parked in the south lot (off NE 50th Street, just west of Stone Way). Parking was easy - in and out - but it was a long walk to the concert grounds, which is at the north end of the zoo grounds. We lined up at 4:00 at the south gate, and were probably among the first 20 people in line. However we did not get very close to the stage, so next time, we'll try parking - and lining up - near the north gate or west gate. We set up near some shade near the back, but the shade shifted ... and we were sitting near a number of people who seemed more interested in talking with each other rather than enjoying the music (as a primary focus of attention). Next time we'll try getting close to the stage and forego the prospect of shade ... and I'm really glad that we have premium seats for the upcoming James Taylor show (one of our worst concert experiences was trying to listen to James Taylor at Tanglewood in the early 80s amid all the gabbing people who paid general admission for a nice summer evening picnic that just happened to have a live performance nearby).

Speaking of James Taylor - who we'll be seeing at Chateau Ste. Michelle in a few weeks - reminds me of one more thing I wanted to mention: rock stars, and how well they "age". We've seen James Taylor three times over the past 25 years, and he has put on fabulous concerts every time. In contrast, we were rather disappointed in the Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN) concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2004: the vocal range of all three had diminished considerably over time - especially Stephen Stills, still one of my guitar heroes - as had their energy ... and ability to energize me. Fortunately, though, when we saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) at White River Amphitheatre last year, the addition of Neil Young was a tremendous energy boost, and that concert was great.

There was no visible or audible signs of "wear" in the Indigo Girls - they still have full vocal range and lots of energy ... although they have only been performing (in the large) for half as long as either Taylor or CSN[Y]. One thing I was rather surprised at, though, was the relative absence of politics throughout the concert. The CSNY concert last year was very political - almost uncomfortably so (but I think that was their goal) - and I would have thought the Indigo Girls might also use their podium to promote political causes. They did promote a couple of "get out the vote" organizations, but other than that, they just played their music. We did see a cardboard life-size figure of Barack Obama being carried into the concert, but there were no endorsements of candidates - or causes - during the concert. I suspect that there were few registered Republicans at the concert, and given that the Democratic Party primary is over, perhaps they figured there's no sense preaching to the choir. I do have the audacity to hope, though, that this rather apolitical appearance does not reflect apathy among these voters.

Anyhow, here is the set list, as far as I can make it out: