Microsoft Research has announced a Request for Proposals for projects in relating to their Digital Memories (Memex) research kit, in the context of "personal lifetime storage." Microsoft's inspiration (and probably the inspiration for everyone else working in this area too, at least indirectly) is Vannevar Bush's 1945 article As We May Think, in which he famously described a kind of personal library-in-a-desk he called the memex:
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ``memex'' will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
MSR expects to give 6-9 awards to college and university projects, up to a max of $50,000 per award, and recipients would also be given a SenseCam wearable camera and software from the MyLifeBits, VIBE and Phlat research projects at Microsoft Research. Strings are minimal — they expect semiannual progress reports, want it presented at at least one of their workshops and expect the project to be either dedicated to the public domain or released under an open license such as the BSD license.
Advance registration for the 9th Annual IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers, to be held October 18th-21st in Osaka, Japan, is now open. ISWC always brings together a great mix of industry and academic researchers from fields as diverse as interface design, machine vision, hardware and fashion design, and as program committee co-chair I can guarantee this year will be no exception.
Yesterday a consortium of the major movie studios announced final specs for a new standard digital format for movie theaters. The specification uses JPEG 2000 video compression, which (though it happened before I started working there) I'm proud to say largely came out of work performed at my lab.
The big advantage of JPEG 2000 is that you can "pull out" bits from a code stream to get different resolutions — in this case a 4K distribution (1,302,083 bytes per frame at 48FPS) and a 2K distribution (651,041 bytes per frame at 48 FPS) can both be generated on-the-fly from the same file, just by discarding segments of the stream.
(Thanks to Mike for the link.)
The display is a passive-matrix, reflective type cholesteric liquid crystal display. Two 3.8-inch diagonal QVGA prototypes, a monochrome display and a color version able to display 512 colors, were shown.
Differing from widely used flat displays that have color filters consisting of red, green and blue pixels, the paper display has a three layered structure in total about 0.8 mm thick. One layer consists of two 0.125 mm-thick films sandwiching liquid crystal. Cholesteric crystals in each layer are twisted in a certain pitch to reflect only red, green or blue light respectively.
Images on the screen can be changed with 10-milliwatts to 100-milliwatts depending on scanning speed.
(Thanks to John for the link...)
From: Ministry of Truth
Subject: Newspeak update
Please be informed that the phrase Global War on Terrorism is obsoleted in favor of the phrase Global Struggle Against Violent Extremists. Changes will be reflected in the upcoming tenth edition of the Newspeak Dictionary.
Public Radio's Marketplace has a nice piece on the company Actionspeak, which hires people to go shopping while wearing small video cameras. The claim is that the cameras are unobtrusive enough that the research subjects quickly find themselves acting as they always do while shopping, and Actionspeak then analyzes the video to learn ways their customer can improve their presentation or marketing. They'll also do runs where subjects are asked to give a running monologue about what they're thinking as they shop.
These videos might give some straight marketing info (like which family member actually decides the sale or whether to focus on self-position, packaging or price), but I bet the real win is in showing designers how their product actually gets used in the wild. The combination of seeing as your customer sees, along with the ability to ask about particular moments afterwards, is really powerful. Not only can you learn things you'd never learn from interviews alone, but the overlay of first-person video with explanatory customer interviews has much more impact on a designer than would a table of survey results containing the same information. (Take a look at the consumer goods video especially for examples.)
The English version of Wikipedia is about 650,000 articles, which comes out to about 1 Gig compressed database — that easily fits on a PDA / cellphone these days. I've been thinking for a while now that I should look into loading it all onto my Treo 600, but I see now someone has done all the work for me!
Erik Zachte has produced conversion scripts as well as detailed instructions on how to convert the complete Wikipedia Encyclopedia into TomeRaider ebook-reader format for Pocket PC Windows and Palm OS. Text-only version fits in just over half a gig, text + images is 1-2 gig depending on image down-sampling. I also like his "Build, Buy or Borrow" plan: you can use his scripts to build your own latest version for free, buy the latest version on CD or DVD, or download for free his semi-anually updated version direct from the Wikipedia server. That's exactly the sort of "free as in freedom" software business plan I hope winds up succeeding in the new economy.
(by way of the Mercury News)
Microsoft and Google both come out with new versions of free online satellite mapping software this past weekend. Google Maps has added the "hybrid view" that lets you see your driving directions laid out on the map itself, which is the feature I've wanted ever since they came out with satellite-view. Microsoft has just released their web-based Virtual Earth, which doesn't yet support driving directions (coming soon I'm sure) but does include a nice (dare I say "Google Maps-like"?) scrollable interface and switching between maps and aerial photography. They've an interface for keeping track of multiple locations on a scratch pad, an API for adding your own way-points on the URL line, and a cute zoom-in animation.
One fun feature of Virtual Earth is that some parts of the US have incredible resolution: compare Seattle's space needle from Virtual Earth and Google Maps to see what I mean. Unfortunately, Virtual Earth's image coverage is pretty spotty. In spite of the name, it only covers the USA — I'm guessing they're just using USGS publicly available images right now. Also, for many areas they're using very old black-and-white images that they've then overlaid with color for roads and parks. This leads to a few embarrassing misses like the fact that their map shows Apple Computer's Corporate HQ has yet to be built (I didn't see any horse-and-buggies on the streets though, so it can't be too old).
After being rightly chastised in the comments, I've updated last month's magnet trap post with my solution for setting and disarming the trap.
I rigged up a new trap a few weeks ago, designed to work with a pretty wooden drawer-box I found at the thrift store. It's not too hard to disarm, but I like the simple design (details below the fold).
|Equipment: popper and caps, piece of spring steel, drawer (flash paper optional)|
|To the back of the box (the part the drawer fits in) about half-an-inch from the left-hand wall, I glued an "L" of spring steel so it sticks out. I drilled a hole in the back of the drawer at the same place such that the steel sticks into the drawer when it's closed.|
|To the left-hand side of the drawer (right next to the hole for the steel) I glued the popper with the mouth facing up.|
|The popper is made of a metal base (attached to the drawer) that's attached by a hinge to a lid. Halfway up the lid is a spring-loaded hammer, and at the end of the lid is a firing pin that holds a cap. Set the popper by inserting a cap on the firing pin, pulling the spring back and closing the bottom hinge so the hammer can't spring back. For extra effect you can stick a little sheet of flash paper between the cap and the firing pin. If the spring isn't too strong, the popper won't go off so long as the lid is completely closed and held horizontally (otherwise you'll have to hold it down with another piece of spring steel while you close the drawer.|
|When the drawer is closed, the spring steel will poke through the hole and keep the popper from releasing. Once closed, just tap on the side of the drawer so the lid of the popper rises just a bit, which gives it enough leverage that it will spring up completely when the steel withdraws as the drawer is opened again.|
Here's how it looks when the drawer is opened (with and without flash paper):
|Drawer trap with Flash Paper
According to a Data Memo by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 29% of online Americans have a good idea what phishing means, 13% what podcasting is, and only 9% know what RSS feeds are. Over half knew the terms adware, internet cookies, spyware, firewall and spam.
Of course, the real question in my mind isn't whether people know what phishing means, but whether they know that regardless of what it's called the 22 "You must change your PayPal password!" emails they have in their inbox are attempts at fraud. Still, it'll be interesting to see how these terms spread in the next six months or so.
(Thanks to Rowan for the link.)
|"Power House Mechanic" (1920) by Lewis Hine|
The New York Times story on PhotoMuse.org, a collaboration between the George Eastman House and International Center of Photography Alliance. (The site is currently overwhelmed, but they've got a sampler up at the moment.) From the article:
While there are now dozens of growing digital databases of photography on the Web, many - like Corbis and Getty Images - are commercial sites that do not allow the public unfettered access to their collections. The Photomuse site will join others, like the digital collections of the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, England, that are beginning to create what amounts to a huge, free, virtual photography museum on the Web.
Anthony Bannon, the director of Eastman House, said one of the biggest hurdles encountered by the project - after overcoming the initial cultural resistance of both institutions to share their collections and expertise - has been converting the images of both Eastman and the center. onto a single computer system. (So far, he said, Eastman has digitized almost 140,000 of its photos and center about 30,000.)
"It's not just like pushing a button and the images slide over," he said, adding that copyright issues with many photographers could also keep many images off the Web for years. "Some are generous and understand the positive result by having the images seen on our Web site but others are worried about losing opportunities for revenue," Mr. Bannon said. "All of us are still learning about how the Web can be used, I think."
It's nice to see traditionally conservative institutions opening up to the idea that on the Web, sharing your art, knowledge or expertise freely often pays you back far better than hording it.
MarsFlag is a new search engine in Japan (went live in March) that provides links as thumbnail images of returned results instead of text, with larger-version pop-ups when you rollover with the mouse. Supports full-text search (e.g. this search on wearable computer) as well as pictorial topic areas like movies, fashion magazines and motercycles.
According to Internet Watch [JP → EN], the search engine at least in part determines results ranking using bookmarks kept by the 35,000 subscribers to the Mark Agent web-based bookmarking service that the company also owns. MarsFlag claims this helps thwart attempts to gain page rank by creating link farms, a process called search engine optimization. (Presumably that'll only work until SEO companies start generating fake Mark Agent accounts...)
Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies will be talking about his latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed at the Long Now seminar at Fort Mason, San Francisco, Friday July 15th at 7pm. $10 suggested donation. (Thanks to Quincy for the head-up!)
Tech-On reports that Matsushita (Panasonic) showed off a new prototype color eBook reader with a 5.6", 210 points-per-inch display at the NE Technology Summit 2005 event held in Tokyo yesterday. Given that their current grayscale Σ book uses a bistable display made by Kent Displays, I would hazard a guess that their prototype is using Kent's new color ChLCD display (but that's just a guess). Bistable displays like the ChLCD and eInk's microcapsule display (used in the Sony LIBRIé) take power to change an image but not to maintain it, so they're incredibly low power for low-framerate applications like eBooks.
The L.A. Times and AP report that autism cases are decreasing in California — the rate peaked in 2002 and has been dropping since. Autism rose 273% in California between 1987 and 1998. (The full report on doesn't seem to have been posted on the Department of Developmental Services website yet.)
Another nice Google Maps reuse: gmapPedometer. Chart your bike/running/walking/tourism route and see how far you've gone (not to mention get a pretty satellite image, and a URL you can use to bookmark or email to friends).
(Thanks to Jill for the link!)
Apparently a Vancouver, B.C. grocery store accidentally sold 14 copies of the new Harry Potter book (due to be released Saturday at midnight), leading a judge to issue an injunction against anyone talking about it. Who knew that Canada had a no spoilers law?
(by way of Copyfight)
The theme for NPUC this year was The future of portable computing, so naturally there was a lot of talk about location-based applications. Ian Smith's talk on social mobile computing especially focused on using location. Personally I'm getting more and more skeptical about location-based apps. They've been right around the corner for a good decade now, and I'm starting to wonder if location-based apps are like video conferencing — something that sounds like it should be a hit but once they're implemented nobody seems to care.
That said, I think if there's ever going to be a successful location-aware application (outside of the ubiquitous museum-tourguide app) it'll be one that uses location as an excuse to socialize. I'm not sure whether the final winners will look more like Dodgeball, GeoCaching, moblogs, or a cross between LiveJournal and the geospatial web (or all of these), but I'm pretty confident that when you scratch the surface the real point won't be location, it'll be human-to-human interaction that just happens to use location as the medium.
That also fits my general rule of thumb: The killer app is always communications. (That or sex, which is really a subset of communications.)
Technorati tag: npuc2005
Technorati tag: npuc2005
Aaron Marcus of AMandA just gave a talk promoting the wrist-top computer as a prime ubiquitous computing platform. I'm skeptical — It feels to me like the wrist is good for quick access to info that's already showing or just a button-press away, but if you have to drill down (pushing small buttons with your wrist in front of your face) then that quick-access gets washed out by the slow interaction speed. That leaves a pretty narrow set of applications where you just a little bit of information with very little cognitive load.
Reasons to work on wrist:
Reasons not to work on wrist:
So what applications have the wrist-top as the clear winner interface? Well, there's telling the time, there's textual alarms, there's ... um ... gimme a second, there's gotta be more ....
Technorati tag: npuc2005
Interesting tidbit from Ian Smith (Intel Research) here at NPUC 2005, who says that Beki Grinter at Georgia Tech predicts that within a generation doorbells in Europe will be obsolete. Apparently teens in Europe SMS or phone their friends instead of ringing the doorbell so they don't have to risk talking with parents.
Technorati tag: npuc2005
According to some psychologists, people subconsciously try to find evidence to support their own theories. It's more than just the optimist seeing the glass half full and the pessimist seeing it half empty — the pessimist will actually go out of his way to find an empty glass and then say "see, I was right." I think that's the main explanation for why some people always sabotage themselves just when things are about to go well, while others always land on their feet.
Post 9-11 America is showing this symptom on a societal level. The Bush administration's obsession with Iraq is a prime example, of course, but it's also pervasive in society at large. The Terrorist is the perfect boogyman — he's so ill-defined and inscrutable that we can and do project anything that scares us onto him. And then we go out and find the evidence to support that fear, be it a glitch in airport security or the arrest of someone who once visited an Al Qaeda training camp. Some of that evidence is real — this week's attack in London is just the latest reminder that there is some basis to our fear — but most of it is simply driving ourselves into a panic playing games of "what if?".
The Hemant Lakhani case, featured on this week's This American Life radio show, sounds like a perfect example of finding (really, manufacturing) evidence to support a theory. Here's somebody that the FBI approached and asked to supply a missile to terrorists. Lakhani agreed, but couldn't actually deliver. After waiting 22 months for him to actually commit the crime, the FBI provided the missile to him themselves, and then arrested him. The guy is clearly amoral, but also pretty clearly incompetent, and he didn't even have the idea to provide terrorists with weapons until the FBI suggested it. Setting him up like this so we can throw him in jail is like airport security confiscating grandma's nail clipper — it was never a big threat to begin with, but when they find it we all breath a sigh of relief while we visualize the horrible things that might have happened had we not gotten lucky this time.
Somehow I expect emptying the trash won't be enough...