September 13th, 2006

ENG 598M Post

  1. Adriana de Souza e Silva's, "Interfaces of Hybrid Spaces"

    • De Souza e Silva's article begins by examining three characteristics of mobile interfaces: ubiquity, wearability, and transparency. She makes the point that ubiquitous computing operates in a many-computers-to-one-person paradigm, and one in which computers are "forced to live out here with people." Wearability is discussed in terms of "allowing computers to move with us" by "adapting this technology to the body." Transparency is approached as "wearable computers and small interfaces contribute to creating more natural relationships with technology, including them in our everyday life without the need to really perceive them."

      The next section of the text looks at the combining of mobility and communications — again in terms of ubiquity and wearability, while further considering issues of immersion (e.g., "...when people talk on the phone while walking, they just move through the space, but they are not actually there. Moreover, this absent presence transforms physical space into a nonplace, because people do not interact with anyone in their vicinity. Therefore they become walking avatars. An avatar is one's representation in a space in which one is not") and presence (e.g., " long as peers participated in the shared communication of the group, they seemed to be considered by others to be present").

      The article concludes by discussing the consequences of mobile interfaces by "enhancing communication among people in physical space," as well as "extending communication to hybrid spaces." De Souza e Silva cites Gergen's two categories of communication interfaces: monological (brings public into private) technologies and dialogic (privatizes shared space) technologies. The cell phone is a dialogic technology.

      This reading helps in our understanding of cultural issues associated with mobile in technology by making us cognizant of the often subtle, if not subconscious, effect its interfaces has on our perception of not only what a computer is, but on how we're immersed in them, and they reframe our notion of presence.

      The very end of the article reminded me of the "history" readings we covered last week as it discussed each new capability — both in terms of function and in terms of how that function might change the way the device is used or perceived.

  2. Mark Weiser, "The World Is Not a Desktop"

    • Weiser's article is an inquiry into the suitability of the "desktop" as a metaphor for the computer of the future.  His main point is that such a metaphor draws attention to the computer instead of it being a "tool that does not intrude on your consciousness, letting you focus on your task and not the tool."

      This reading is important because it makes us think about what prompts us (as a society) to recognize when, and why, a deeply embedded metaphor is no longer suitable, and how that realization can be an impetus to innovation.

      This reading connects to the Weiser & Brown reading, "Designing Calm Technology," in that, essentially, the current desktop metaphor tends to be "the enemy of calm," while finding a tool that does not intrude on your consciousness would be an encalming approach.

  3. Mark Weiser & John Seely Brown, "Designing Calm Technology"

    • Weiser & Brown share their thoughts on what they think "may be the most important design problem of the 21st century — calm technology, whose characteristic is that it "engages both the center and the periphery of our attention, and in fact moves back and forth between the two." They go on to say that calming technology "may enhance our peripheral reach by bringing more details into the periphery," and "when our periphery is functioning well we are tuned into what is happening around us, and so also to what is going to happen, and what has just happened." The article concludes with three examples of calm technology: inner office windows, internet multicasts, and the dangling string.

      This article is important to our understanding of mobile (and all) technologies, in that it clarifies two points about design that are not intuitively obvious — that "more information can be encalming," and that "the way to become attuned to more information is to attend to it less."  These are gems to keep in mind when trying to envision not only the metaphors for future technology, but in trying to assess or predict what "successful" interfaces might emerge.

  4. Howard Rheingold, "The Era of Sentient Things" (pp. 83-112)

    • Rheingold advances the notion of coming "sentient technologies," sentient "not because embedded chips can reason but because they can sense, receive, store, and transmit information." He describes the possibility of "sentient things," carefully couching them in terms of their drawing from, and effect on, social networking and society.

      As with the other articles in this week's reading, Rheingold affirms Weisner's's belief that "the time has come to consider the consequences of computers disappearing into the background..." in terms of their ubiquitousness and transparency. This reading meshed nicely with De Souza e Silva's article in her examination of hybrid spaces, which provided context to Rheingold's descriptions of the development paths taken by VR researchers such as Spohrer, whose "WorldBoard" was in one respect seen as "an overlay on the natural world," and Sutherland's prototypes, which "enabled the computer to superimpose graphical displays on physical environments."

      The latter part of Rheingold's article talks about the marrying of "bits and atoms" by describing such sentient technologies as barcodes, RFID tags, smart dust, and the importance of "penny tags." The article concludes talking about wearable computing, and introducing us to Steve Mann.

      At one point in the article, Rheingold says, "Although the issue is most often cast as "privacy," arguments over surveillance technology are about power and control."  This was a very powerful (no pun intended) statement to me, and it made me think about the group I work in at IBM — we develop an Identity Management product, which is deeply effected, and influenced, by privacy issues. That statement made me think about the possibility of creating a marketing campaign around "power and control" as opposed to the current "privacy" ("oh that issue again"). I think that would really capture people's attention, and perhaps, better engage them in the debate.

"Your slip is showing," coming technology, and the Gold's Gym dancer...

Over in bear_left's blog, though you can't see it if you're not on his friends list, he says, "But my point here, and I have one, is thinking about how I loved this song [in the video above — Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out For A Hero] when I was 13 or so, and how that really, really, really should have been a clue that I'm a homo.

So my question for today is, if you're LGBT, what were some of the clues about being queer that you didn't pick up on back when — whenever "back when" might be for you?

And hey, if you're hetero, you can play along too: what are some of the first memories of being attracted to the opposite sex that you didn't necessarily understand as such?"

I commented on bear_left's posting with this: I was married (and therefore in the closet) for 35 years. All during this time I has no idea whatsoever about the gay community's "affinity" with Barbra Streisand.

I love her so much. And, in fact, I had one of those album (real vinyl ones in the day) holders — it was one of those floor-to-ceiling tension rods with three wire "holding cages," one in the middle, one above that one, and the other one below that one — each "cage" deep enough to hold about 10 albums, so that you could only see the album cover of the first one on each "shelf."

Well, I always had three of my (many) Barbra albums in those three front slots, so it just screamed, "Babs! Babs! Babs!"

Any queer walking in the room would have squealed with knowing. I had no clue that while I worked my ass off in every other aspect of my life hiding my "secret," my albums were screaming, "Queer, queer, queer!"

Fortunately for me (or perhaps not), I was always surrounded by hopelessly straight people in my life, and they couldn't hear the "sissy screaming" either.

I worked on my homework up to the minute before leaving for the bus at about 2:00. I will not do that again this coming week! I hate being in that mode. Fascinating reading, though. Consider some of these "consequences of 'computers' (chips) disappearing into the background" — and this is not "science fiction":

"Smart clothes" — these are clothes that sense and adapt to the user and their environment. There's a prototype of a "vitals shirt," which is a shirt that constantly monitors your vital signs. There's potential application for this "device/article of clothing" in the medical field; for instance, an EMT could put such a shirt on the patient, while s/he tends to other things that need to be done in emergency situations.

There is a prototype of a fabric that can project what's behind you onto the front of you. This has the potential to make you look "invisible." If used conversely, to project what's in front of you onto your back, you could be sitting behind a very large person in an arena event, and "see right through them" if they had such clothing on.

With "hybrid reality" — the idea of "mapping" virtual information onto the real world, one prototype used half-silvered mirrors [and if you don't buy the mirrors, I can blow some smoke up your ass, thereby completing the set] that enable the computer to superimpose graphical displays on physical environments. Potential applications of this work: Imagine being able to enter an airport and see a virtual red carpet leading you right to your gate, look at the ground and see property lines or underground buried cables, walk along a nature trail and see virtual signs near plants and rocks.

"Spohrer told me about research into 'attentive billboards' — display screens that use optical recognition techniques to learn where people are looking and to detect characteristics of the people who look at the billboard: There's a display at the checkout counter for people waiting in line. The billboard looks back at them as they gaze at ads and news, extracts information about their sex, age, and race, and adjusts the display accordingly. When grandma walks up, it can show the knitting advertisement, and when you walk up in your leather gear, it can show a motorcycle. Attentive billboards can recognize where you are looking and even extract your facial expression to guess whether you are happy or sad."

At HP's "CoolTown": Gene Becker welcomed me into what looked like an ordinary meeting room. He pointed his modified Kyocera Smartphone at the projector, and the room's Web page popped up on the wall screen. "We call it 'e-squirting' when we transmit URLs from our personal devices to another device in the environment." The projector and printer each had radio-linked Web servers built into them. "Imagine walking into any meeting room in this building, or the world, and displaying your presentation on the screen, or printing documents on the local printer."

I asked Becker about the neo-retro aluminum radio console on a table in the corner. Becker pointed his phone at it, and music started playing. "You can play your own music from any radio that's equipped to communicate with you. Stick a Web server inside a device, and suddenly the Web and browsers become your universal remote control for that device."

The chips will continue to become less expensive. "Think of all the public spaces where inexpensive chips could squirt up-to-the-second information of particular interest to you — such as the time your flight leaves and animated directions to your destination in an unfamiliar city — directly to your phone. You could look through a physical bookstore, tune into 'virtual graffiti' associated (through the Web) with every book, and read reviews from your book club or see how people who like the same books you like rate this one. Point your hand-held computer at a restaurant, and find out what the last dozen customers said about the food. Point your device at a billboard, and see clips of the film or music it advertises, and then buy tickets or download a copy on the spot."

These examples are all from Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs if you're interested in further reading.

What is a smart mob? A smart mob is a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination.

There is also a Smart Mobs website with feed capability.

I lost my umbrella while on campus for class today, so asked Robert to pick me up at the Food Lion on Avent Ferry, right near which there is a bus stop. I still felt good today about taking public transportation in spite of the inconvenience of the rain. Thanks, my sweet, for rescuing me from the rain even though you'd already driven 25 miles from Durham.

We had a chicken-broccoli-cheese type of casserole for dinner.

Dancing was pretty fun tonight. There was this guy from Rhode Island there, a big, muscle-bound guy, who had on a black tank top with "Gold's Gym" written across the front.

He was a two-stepper, not a line-dancer, at least he didn't do any of the line dances we did — except maybe the Tush Push. At any rate, we don't two-step very much for a coupe of reasons: 1) very few of us know how to two-step, and 2) those of us who do, also know most of the line dances, and the songs between the line dances (where you could potentially two-step) are spent catching our breath or just taking a break.

Anyhow, this "visitor" wanted to two-step almost every song, and started asking people to dance with him.

<BitchyCatty>I'm just saying this as an "observer." I thought he was an "inconsiderate" dancer, in that he was more about, "I'm the lead, and I'm going to show you how I can make you do what you need to do as the follow," than he was about making you feel like he enjoyed dancing with you.

For example, Robert said to him explicitly, "I don't twirl," and what did the guy do? Started twirling him like crazy. That's just inconsiderate. Your job as a lead as to provide direction in such a way that your follow 1) understands it, and 2) welcomes it.

I avoided two-stepping with him for as long as I could. One time, this really fast song came on, and I bee-lined it to the bathroom to avoid being asked to dance with him for it. When I came back he was virtually "whipping" Rick around the floor.

Now, I've seen Rick dance a million times; he's a great lead, and not a shabby follow either, and in the short time I watched (it was toward the end of the song), David (that's Mr. Gold's Gym) twirled him so fast and out of control that at the end of the spin, Rick was left alone. You just don't let that happen as a lead — or your partner may end up slammed up against other dancers, or worse yet in the place where we dance — a cement wall.

Well, I could only avoid it for so long, and eventually he asked me to dance. Now I can lead or follow, too, but I'm a much better follow than lead. I can't tell you how many times we had to stop, and get back in sync, and only once did he cop to, "Oh that was my fault."

I'm thinking, "Hello. Does it occur to you that with every person you danced here tonight, there were not one, but several "breakdowns" during the dance? Don't answer that. Just think about it! Uh, yeah, there might be something to that "that was my fault" comment of yours.</BitchyCatty>