Posted: April 29th, 2008 | Comments Off
Found here, a new vector in ubiquitous computing:
“A musical condom designed to play louder and faster as lovers reach a climax is to go on sale in Ukraine. Grigoriy Chausovsky, from Zaporozhye, said his condoms came fitted with a special sensor that registers when the condom is put on. It transmits a signal to a miniature speaker in the base of the condom which play a melody.
He told local media: “As the sex becomes more passionate, it registers the increased speed of the movements and plays the melody faster and louder.”“
Why do I blog this? Wacky ideas are always weird, yet they often mean something. In this case, it’s maybe not the proposed use of sensors that is important, nor the fact that you can use the condom context (but who knows?).
It’s rather that it attests that sensors are so small and cheap they can be integrated in very thin membranes. It’s a bit like the challenged that Violet wanted to achieve. Violet is the french company which does the wifi rabbit Nabaztag: their point was that “if you can connect a rabbit to the Internet, you can connect anything”. So maybe here it’s more relevant for people who want to develop health applications or disposable devices.
Posted: April 29th, 2008 | 1 Comment »
When it comes to bike rental platforms, I am often intrigued by how digital technologies are employed and for what purposes. A description of how italian biking solution Bicincittà describes it in detail:
“Monitoring and organizational systems: Every movement of the bicycles is transmitted to a server that updates in real time their availability in the area. Upon receiving an electronic card, each cyclist is then registered in the server, having inserted his/her personal information and telephone number. This card is distributed for an indeterminate amount of time and can be deactivated remotely at any time at the director’s discretion. The system’s interface supplies us with the user’s personal information at the moment of the hire, giving us a general overview of who is exploiting the system. As a result we can analyze bike movements and study their statistics in order to increase or decrease the number of bicycles according to demand.
Tele-diagnostic system: Bicincittà is equipped with a remotely enhanced diagnostic system that allows us to know the conditions of the parking stations at any moment. Wherever there may be a damaged or malfunctioning unit, a remote mechanism allows us to reset the device, be it a single parking space or the entire parking station. The practicality of the tele-diagnostic system allows us to solve problems from a distance. This guarantees a completely efficient, indispensable organization in providing quality available alternative public transportation.“
Seems to be very close to Velib/Velov and co. The website interestingly gives some random stats which seems to be more descriptive than explicative:
Why do I blog this? I find interesting to see where digital technologies play a role in bike rental solutions; and the description above is quite transparent regarding how the digital traces of physical activities (movement, parking, diagnosis). In addition, I like the way they describe the whole process. There must be intriguing tools and visualizations to reflect that kind of traces for diverse “urban audiences”:
- the company which needs to have indicators about his services (but the one above is maybe less informative since it’s regardless of any explanatory variable such as city, weather, etc.).
- local institutions that what to get information about bike mobility in their city, how the platform is used, etc. in a sort of descriptive way. Further out, they might also need to access to a more explicative dimension so that they could see what works (re-fill of stations, time spent on bikes, etc) and what doesn’t. The point would hence be to modify the system (change the frequency of re-fill, add stations, etc.)
- Customers who may want to get information about the service availability (number of bikes in real-time at what station) or more elaborated services (why not printing out special maps to depict the best areas to drop a bike, new routes to come past certain empty bike stations). This information could also be coupled with other one coming from other means of transport to help people to pick-up a more efficient succession of transport means (get a bike – use it to go to a metro station – get the metro and get out); in order – for instance – to avoid finding no spots for your bike (or a steep hill?).
Posted: April 29th, 2008 | 1 Comment »
“Everyday Engineering: What Engineers See” is a nice little booklet by Andrew Burroughs from IDEO. A bit in the same vein of “Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design” by Jane Fulton Suri, is about all these small things and details that I sometimes blog about: observations about the world, the complexity of assemblage, failures, cracks, misuses, etc. All these small details matter as they tell us about “the thought process behind designed things”.
Compared to Thoughtless Acts, that book is more about the way to see the world in the engineer’s eyes but it’s definitely of interest for anyone interested in design or user experience research.
In addition, this collection of pictures is an invitation to be more “inquisitive” about our environments. As I sometimes try to do with picture I annotate here, the point is rather to ask questions concerning why things are like this or that. And as the author says, it allows to become “better observers”:
“Perhaps we discover a point of failure that is completely counterintuitive, as when corrosion aggressively attacks the most protected part of a steel beam. And we can also see success, when things do go as planned and the end product proves to be a match for everything that is thrown at it. Regardless of whether we find inspiration or not, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to become better observers. Our environment is brimming over with information that can help us with our basic ability to navigate a course. The better we are able to refine our actions and our thoughts based on seeing what has gone before, the fewer mistakes we will make“
Posted: April 28th, 2008 | 1 Comment »
In Software, Objects and Home Space, Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin (Environment and Planning A) examine the relationship between objects and software in detail. They describe how ubiquitous computing – through the embedding of sensors and computation in objects – is transforming daily artifacts, giving them new capacities.
To do so, they came up with an interesting taxonomy of “coded domestic objects”:
“Coded objects can be subdivided into two broad classes based on their relational capacities. First, there are unitary objects that rely on code to function but do not record their work in the world. Second, there are objects that have an ‘awareness’ of themselves and their relations with the world and which, by default, automatically record aspects of those relations in logs that are stored and re-used in the future (that we call logjects [an object that monitors and records in some fashion its own use]).
In broad terms unitary coded objects can be divided into those that function independently of their surroundings and those that are equipped with some kind of sensors that enable the object to react meaningfully to particular variables in their immediate environment.
We can identify two main classes of logject: impermeable and permeable. Impermeable logjects consist of relatively self-contained units such as a MP3 player, a PDA or satnav. Such devices trace and track their usage by default, recording this data as an embedded history; are programmable in terms of configurable settings and creating lists (e.g. play lists of songs, diary entries and route itineraries); perform operations in automated, automatic and autonomous ways; and engender socially meaningful acts such as entertaining, remember an important meeting and helping not to get lost.
Permeable logjects do not function without continuous access to other technologies and networks. In particular, because they need the constant two-way of data exchanges, they are reliant on access to a distributed communication network to perform their primary function. Such logjects track, trace and record their usage locally but because of memory issues, the necessity of service monitoring/billing, and in some cases a user’s ability to erase or reprogram such objects, their full histories are also recorded externally to its immediate material form“
And about how these coded objects make “home differently”:
“the everyday use of coded objects reshapes the spatiality of the home by altering how domestic tasks are undertaken (and not always more conveniently for all), introducing new tasks and sometimes greater complexity, and embedding the home in diverse, extended networks of consumption and governmentality.
(…) the transition into the fully software-enabled home is a slow process. Most homes contain a mix of non-coded and coded technologies.
a useful parallel can be drawn between the coding of homes and the initial development of domestic electricity. At first, there were no electrical appliances and whole classes of electrical tools had to be invented. Over an extended period of time existing technologies were converted to electricity (e.g. gas lights to electric lights, open hearth to electric cooker, washtub to washing machine, etc.). Today, the extent to which electricity powers almost everything of significance in our homes is largely unnoticed in a Western context (except in a power cut). “
Why do I blog this? The taxonomy of objects is relevant as it shows the sort of “current design space”, mapping the different possibilities depending on the coded behavior. Moreover, the thing I like with these authors is that their reading of ubicomp is definitely more about the “messily arranged here-and-now” and less about the “supposed smart home of the future”. Surely some material to reflect on in current writings with Julian, especially about the relationships between technologies and spatial bevahior/materialities.
Posted: April 28th, 2008 | Comments Off
Last week, the NYT had an intriguing story about pinball machines, or – more specifically – the survivor of the pinball industry. Some excerpts I found interesting below:
About how it went downhill (“a painful fading”) that may be “turned around”:
““There are a lot of things I look at and scratch my head,” said Tim Arnold, who ran an arcade during a heyday of pinball in the 1970s and recently opened The Pinball Hall of Fame, a nonprofit museum in a Las Vegas strip mall. “Why are people playing games on their cellphones while they write e-mail? I don’t get it.”
“The thing that’s killing pinball,” Mr. Arnold added, “is not that people don’t like it. It’s that there’s nowhere to play it.”
Corner shops, pubs, arcades and bowling alleys stopped stocking pinball machines. A younger audience turned to video games. Men of a certain age, said Mr. Arnold, who is 52, became the reliable audience.
the pinball buyer is shifting. In the United States, Mr. Stern said, half of his new machines, which cost about $5,000 and are bought through distributors, now go directly into people’s homes and not a corner arcade “
About the design process per se:
“Some workers are required to spend 15 minutes a day in the “game room” playing the latest models or risk the wrath of Mr. Stern. “You work at a pinball company,” he explained, grumpily, “you’re going to play a lot of pinball.” (On a clipboard here, the professionals must jot their critiques, which, on a recent day, included “flipper feels soft” and “stupid display.”)
And in a testing laboratory devoted to the physics of all of this, silver balls bounce around alone in cases for hours to record how well certain kickers and flippers and bumpers hold up.“
Why do I blog this? cultural interest in how certain things work and then fade away for diverse reasons that are interesting to observe. Some lessons can be drawn here about innovation, especially about the role of contexts (or the absence of context of play).
Posted: April 26th, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Belle Dumé in the NewScientist addressed recently the idea that city road networks grow like biological systems. The article is basically a description of the academic work of Marc Barthélemy and Alessandro Flammini who analysed street pattern data from roughly 300 cities, including Brasilia, Cairo, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Venice.
Using these cases, the researchers found interesting patterns showing that the road networks in cities evolve driven by a simple universal mechanism that follows a biological metaphor:
“The main influence on the simulated network as it grows is the need to efficiently connect new areas to the existing road network – a process they call “local optimisation”. They say the road patterns in cities evolve thanks to similar local efforts, as people try to connect houses, businesses and other infrastructures to existing roads.
“Beyond the economic, demographic and geographic “forces” that shape a town, there are a myriad of small “accidents” that contribute” he says. “Although these are unpredictable, they can be understood in terms of statistics and simple modelling.”
The team’s model also reveals that roads often bend, even in the absence of geographical obstacles, and that road intersections are generally perpendicular.“
And, as the authors described in their paper, “in the absence of a global design strategy, the evolution of many different transportation networks indeed follows a simple universal mechanism.”
Why do I blog this? I am not really into urban pattern modeling but I find interesting this notion of “local optimisation” and how it works for instance for roads and not for rail (because of its different nature and scales).
This is somewhat related to the elephant path (desire line) I often blog about here and there as pointed out by Space and Culture. A desire line can be turned into a design opportunity and thus into a new road.
Why is that interesting? certainly because it shows the contingencies of the urban infrastructure. I am wondering this hold true for other sort of infra, such as internet connections.
Posted: April 26th, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Read in The Psychology of Waiting Lines by David Maister (1985):
“the example of ‘the well-known hotel group that received complaints from guests about excessive waiting times for elevators. After an analysis of how elevator service might be improved, it was suggested that mirrors be installed near where guests waited for elevators. The natural tendency of people to check their personal appearance substantially reduced complaints, although the actual wait for the elevators was unchanged.“
(An example pointed by Sasser, W.E., J. Olsen, and D.D. Wyckoff (1979), Management of Service Operations: Text, Cases and Readings. New York: Allyn and Bacon)
Why do I blog this? made me wondering about the affordances of space, the design of a particular place and how it can accommodate people’s behavior.
Posted: April 25th, 2008 | Comments Off
An interesting sidebar from an old issue of game developer (november 2007) called “usability research commandment” by Randy Pagulayan (Microsoft Game Studio user reasearch) deal with the relationship between user experience researchers and designers. Some excerpt that I find interesting and relevant beyond the game field:
“Be flexible, it is our job to try an account for as many sources of bias and influence when we run usability tests and collect data, but sometimes the ideal is simply not practical.
Users have opinions, but designers make the call. During your research and testing, users will always have opinions on things they do or don’t like. Your job isn’t to adhere to user whims – your job is to identify areas where user behavior is not consistent with the design’s vision. What you do from there will be context dependent.
Most developers aren’t interested in the classic “it depends” answer to something [very academic]. They also aren’t interested in inferential statistics, hypothesis testing, or the number of users you need for a valid test. When asked to do something or answer a question, do your research and testing, and give it your best shot. Don’t be afraid to have an informed opinion, even if your research wasn’t suitable for a scientific peer-reviewed journal.“
Why do I blog this? All of this rings a bell with my current practice. There’s even more to be quoted here but it’s certainly that last bit which caught my attention. Working with designers for a while, I certainly shared that sort of feeling about what sort of material I needed to bring to the table to help them. However, it does not mean that the result should be overstated. As Pagulayan says, “What you do from there will be context dependent”. Also see how Jan says about this notion of informed opinion and the risk of overstating:
“So why should anyone give your research the time of day? How to build credibility? For starters recognise and communicate the limits of (mostly qualitative) design research. We start out with opinions, and all things by the end of study we move onto having informed opinions or on rare occasions very informed opinions. Overstating the value of the research makes you a bullshitter.“
Posted: April 24th, 2008 | Comments Off
The need to put a “bell” arrow sticker to indicate the button position.
Posted: April 24th, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Back during the first internet bubble, mobile computing was already a hot thing and people start having ideas about how to connect things and people. One of them was Skim which enabled a sort of physical to digital connection through a identification number written a piece of clothes that you can text or email. To some extent, it’s about sending a note to your I.D. number that will be forwarded to your skim.com e-mail address. Your t-shirt could tell others how to get in touch with you BUT they won’t know you’re real identity.
The whole process is summarized here:
“There is a “unique mailbox number” on every fashion piece. It is six figures long. On the T-shirts it is on the sleeve, on the jackets it is on the pocket etc.
In the packaging of the product there is a card with an “access code” on it.
Together the “unique mailbox number” and the “access code” give you access to the world of skim.com.
Your skim.com mail account is now “unique mailbox number”@skim.com. This is yours forever. It is private to you. See our privacy promise.
You can give the email out to your friends, collegues, dates etc. To help you, some of our products come with business cards with your special number on it.
To check your mail, simply log on to the skim.com website, and go to the communications section. Then it is simple: enter your “unique mailbox number” and your “access code” and you can check/send mail.“
Why do I blog this? looking for service failures for my “tech failure” project. This skim.com thing is interesting in itself but obviously failed for some reasons (I’d be glad to know more about them). I guess the project was also an enabler of social comparison (“you have it, you’re part of that community”)
It’s also important to note the perpetuation of such ideas since reactee is a create-your-own-tshirt platform that also allows to display a code on the tshirt (to txt the person who wears it).