Off to Picnic

Posted: September 25th, 2007 | No Comments »

I am off to Amsterdam to attend the Picnic Conference. On Friday morning, I will contribute along my Near Future Laboratory pals Julian Bleecker and Nicolas Nova as well as Area/Code’s Dennis Crowley to a panel discussion on The Near Future of Pervasive Media Experiences. From a quick look at the program, I’ll make sure to attend: Wednesday: The Invisible Future: New ways to feel, make & play (14h15), Up Close and Personal: Share your Life (16h20), Creating the Simpsons (17:30). Thursday: Future Technology Trends (11h15) Minimally Invasive Education through Social Play (12h30). Friday: the whole PLAY track among the excellent company of Adam Greenfield, Frederico Casalegno, Matt Adams and Ben Cerveny.

When "Better" is Worse

Posted: September 25th, 2007 | No Comments »

From Wired for Speech: How Voice Activates and Advances the Human-Computer Relationship by Clifford Nass and Scott Brave:

p. 155: The word of technology is inspired by the desire to do “better and better”. There has long been a tendency to define better in terms of a technology’s distance between its objective performance and the objective characteristics of the physical and social world that it models. The definition has led to the development of a set of principles that urge marketers to deploy the most advanced technology that are available at a given time. This strategy, which is blind to the physiology of users, has led to the creation of less usable systems in the name of “improvement”. [...] Although interface builders should certainly cheer for each technological advance, mindful manifestation demands that, to paraphrase Alexander Pope, the proper judges of interfaces be users.

Nass and Brave provide warnings on the design principles that consider the “best” interfaces as the ones that are as “accurate” and “realistic” as possible. Indeed, frequently accuracy burdens people. For instance, the physical world is often less convenient to navigate than is its abstracted counterpart. They quote Henri Matisse who taught use that “Exactitude is not truth“: Sometimes a less accurate mirroring of the world can in fact be more effective.

In addition, the risk for using the most advanced technology is that the contrast highlights failure:

Consider users who encounter an interface in which one dimension is clearly superior to the other. Initially, they may simply feel uncomfortable at the incongruity. In a (potentially unconscious) search to resolve the discomfort, they realize that these two technological creations are very different in that one is high in quality while the other is low in quality. Having a clear category for contrast (quality), the brain accentuates the difference and labels on very low quality and one very high quality.
If human psychology were simple, this accentuation should not be important: very hight quality and very low quality should balance each other out in the same way that high and low would. Unfortunately, two cognitive biases prevent this from happening. First, negative experiences are more arousing, memorable, and noticeable thant the best part, leading to more negative overall judgments. Second, poor quality in a interface generally leads to unpredictability, which, especially in a task-oriented situation, is very worrisome. These biases lead to overly harsh judgments of interfaces of mixed quality.

Relation to my thesis: These thoughts (based on Nass and Brave’s experiments) go in the direction of my current work with the analysis of accuracy used to geo-reference photos in Flickr. One goal is to provide arguments for location-aware systems designers to reject the obsession with veridicality in all aspects of an interface because this goal is impossible in the near term and lead to high levels of user distress and failure.

Questioning Ubiquitous Computing

Posted: September 24th, 2007 | No Comments »

Last week at Ubicomp, I briefly met Jo Vermeulen who pointed me to an article on written some 12 years ago by Agusting A. Araya examining and criticizing the proposals advanced by the ubicomp literature: Araya, A. A. (1995). Questioning ubiquitous computing. In ACM Conference on Computer Science, pages 230–237.

This papers sketches a framework for understanding modern technology (now commonly mistaken as being the mere application of modern science) to criticize the technological thinking forming the assumptions that determine the development of ubiquitous computing. It highlights the chain problems and technological fixes we are involved in (e.g. issues of privacy of information dealt with innovative technologies such as cryptography) to reach desirable goal of invisibly enhancing the world that already exists. Now assuming that the technological advances could be achieved, I keep two critiques that are still relevant to the current state of ubicomp research:

Driven by technology, rather than needs
Ubiquitous computing is conceived as being primarily – perhaps exclusively – driven by technology and its sources of inspiration are other technologies that have successfully penetrated everyday life. It is seen as the best possibility for “achieving the real potential of information technology”. Thus, ubicomp has little to do with human needs and much more with the unfolding of technology per se.

Acceptance taken for granted
The primary of the unfolding of technology over the satisfaction of humans needs, and the self-sufficiency of this unfolding are taken as absolute givens. Therefore, it does not really require a justification.

Relation to my thesis: This paper proved to be a rather timely reading (in continuation to train of thought started earlier this year at LIFT). From what I have seen in Innsbruck, these topics are still barely taken into consideration (to the mere exceptions to the talks of Barry Brown and Yvonne Rogers). Arayas’ quote “As the poser of technologies grows, it will become increasingly necessary to probe into the assumptions being made during their inception and into the possible consequences” is still very much contemporary.

Space Time Play

Posted: September 24th, 2007 | No Comments »

Cda Displayimage The recently published “Space Time Play” edited by Friedrich von Borries, Steffen P. Walz, Matthias Böttger explores the architectural history of computer games and the future of ludic space. The book covers describes the development of new typologies of space spaces that are emerging from the superimposition of the physical and the virtual and with 180 articles tries to answer the main question: “What are the parameters of these new spaces? To what practices and functional specifications do they give rise? What design strategies will come into operation because of them?”. It is devided in five levels:

  1. Spatiotemporal history of the architecture of digital games: what spatial qualities and characteristics arise from computer games and what implications these could have for contemporary architecture
  2. The ludic constructions of digital metropolises: the representation of the city in games and the city as metaphor for the virtual spatialization of social relations.
  3. Ubiquitous games: What happens when the spaces and social interactions of computer games are superimposed over physical space?
  4. Games as tools for design and planning processes: demonstrate how the ludic conquest of real and imagined gamespace becomes an instrument for the design of space-time
  5. Critical reflection upon the cultural relevance of games today and in the future: Which gamespaces are desirable and which are not?

Relation to my thesis: Nicolas and I proudly contributed to this book with a small piece on the augmentation of Guy Debord’s “Dérive” with computational means. I am particularly interested in its 4th level, that is how pervasive games can be used as alibi to become instruments for the design of the city.

Visit to GIScience in Salzburg

Posted: September 24th, 2007 | No Comments »

Last week, I visited the Geographic Information Science group of the Austrian Academy of Sciences on the invitation of Filippo Dal Fiore. Directed by Josef Strobl and based in Salzburg, their research program emphasis on “Bridging Real and Virtual Worlds”. Concretely, they first conceptualize the integration of realtime sensor input and open interfacing across system architectures. Then, they investigate the aspects of space and time to provide improved and new spatio-temporal concepts to support spatial analysis and spatial data infrastructures (e.g. Representing Time and Space in GIS). Finally, a part of their program aims at finding new ways to communication of spatial knowledge and learning to think spatially.

Giscience Researchprogram
A sketch of the GIScience research program

Relation to my thesis: Getting to know the GIS practitioners and researchers work and concerns when it come to the analysis of mobility patterns.

Rethinking the Role of Space in a Networked World

Posted: September 24th, 2007 | No Comments »

In the latest IEEE Pervasive Computing issue, Ezra Goldman builds on his work on the effects of ubiquitous wireless internet on locational usage to deliver his thoughts on the Role of Space in a Networked World. He mentions the confusion between mobility versus connectivity by arguing that we are likely as mobile today as we ever were. What’s different is that we’re more accessible and connected when we move around (quote from Mobile Communication and Society). This increased demands and expectations from others make us feel we need to be more connected. In consequence, it is our social relations and work duties that are becoming mobile as opposed to our physical body. Moreover, instead of making use freer, this makes us depend more on the physical spaces with a particular coupling of hardware, software, and infrastructure that enable us to stay connected. In a place were we can’t connect, we might feel a sense of uncertainty and isolation.

Relation to my thesis: Mobile and wireless technologies freed us from physical location but made us more dependent on the infrastructure that enable us to stay connected. Ezra poses the question as “are we gaining control and flexibility or becoming dependent on our own creations?”. In other words “Does ubiquitous Wi-Fi present an expansion of human habits or habitat for our technological devices”.

Workshops on the Integration of Location-Aware Technologies in Urban Environments

Posted: September 9th, 2007 | No Comments »

A couple of workshops I will send a position paper to:

Situating Sat Nav: Questioning the TomTom Effect, as part of the 2008 Association of American Geographers Annual Conference. 15-19 April 2008, Boston, USA.

Comprehensive in-car satellite navigation (Sat Nav) systems have rapidly become affordable and ‘must-have’ mass-market accessories, advertised on television and the focus of ‘scare’ stories in the tabloid press. With their driver’s-eye position, dynamic maps and an authoritative voice telling you where and when to turn, these archetypal geographical gizmos depend on the ‘magic’ locational power of a cluster of unseen satellites and the global reach of corporations marketing the latest consumer fad. Sat Nav offers technologically sophisticated spatial data models of the world, but the technology quickly sinks into taken-for-granted everyday driving practices, such that its social and political significance is hard to assess. The gadgets themselves take space on the dashboard and windscreens, but also make new senses of space for the driver, well beyond the car. What exactly is the nature of this TomTom effect?

I plan to discuss my work with taxi drivers within the context of my thesis. Deadline: September 30th

Urban Mixed Realities: Technologies, Theories and Frontiers, as part of CHI 2008. April 6th 2008, Florence, Italy

Mixed reality environments encompass a range of domains from pervasive games through to systems to support cultural heritage, and currently represent a growing area of research. However the growth in such systems has resulted in a need to further explore their situated and social nature, and how these aspects impact upon their use of such systems and alter the environment around them. Although there has already been a substantial amount of research into telepresence and sense of place much of this has focused on more traditional technologies such as purely virtual environments or mobile tour guides. In contrast urban mixed reality environments require a substantial change of research emphasis and in doing so must take into account the following shifts
* From virtual to mixed reality environments which mesh or augment places and times
* From psycho-physiological and “constructive perception” to understanding social action, interaction and meaning making
* From a focus on individual behavior to interaction in groups who are co-located and distributed
* From immaterial environments to those which combine real and virtual elements
* From a passive sense of place and presence, one where creation of place, meaning and engaging of all senses plays a critical role

I plan to discuss the work I plan to perform next year as a member of the SENSEable City Lab in the Wireless City project in Florence (e.g. (tourist) interaction issues within urban environments, social navigation, seamful design, evaluation methodology, urban spatio-temporal data analysis). Deadline: 17th October 2007

Upcoming Conferences and Workshops

Posted: September 9th, 2007 | No Comments »

The upcoming conference season will spread until the end of the year…

UbiComp 2007, Innsbruck
Poster on my current study on how people explicitly position and disclose spatio-temporal information.

Picnic 2007, Amsterdam
Talk and panel discussion in Julian Bleecker’s salon on the future of pervasive gaming. I will probably present my perspective on the pervasive gaming of the present and draw implications on the constraints to develop and deploy pervasive games of the future. Another theme that might be related would be “should non-gamers care about pervasive gaming?” (i.e. how pervasive games can be used as alibi).

A Public Inconvenience, Amsterdam
On the invitation of Karen Martin, brainstorm on the urban technologies and infrastructure design for the inconvenient necessities our bodies require.

4th International Symposium on LBS & TeleCartography, Hong-Kong
Presentations of Understanding of Tourist Dynamics from Explicitly Disclosed Location Information and a paper on WikiCity “WikiCity – An Overarching Approach to Combine New Internet Technologies by Involving the People”.

2nd International workshop on Pervasive E-earning 07, Odense
Talk on “Designing the infrastructure for pervasiveness” that will be inspired by the discussions at Picnic and my works such as Issues from Deploying a Pervasive Game on Multiple Sites, Getting real with ubiquitous computing: the impact of discrepancies on collaboration and my talk at Lift ’07.

1st International Rivieran Meeting on Immo TICs & Domo TICs, Sophia Antipolis
Talk on the senseable cities, innovative ways to collect, aggregate and present data for mobility studies and urban planning. It will mix my LBS 2007 presentations on Tracing the Visitor’s Eye, WikiCity and why not mention SENSEeable intentions for the Provice of Florence.

Revealing the Potential Failures of Infrastructures

Posted: September 7th, 2007 | No Comments »

In the train of thoughts on Revealing the Presence of Infrastructure, their limits and their potential failures, Vale of Glamorgan (Wales) deployed visual signs warning drivers not to believe their GPS navigation system. After once peaceful villages were reduced to bedlam when heavy-goods lorries got stuck in tiny country lanes.

The proliferation of satellite navigation aids used in heavy goods vehicles, and their over-reliance, especially by overseas drivers, has presented itself as a problem within the Vale of Glamorgan,” a spokesman for the council’s highways department said.

Source: BoingBoing

Relation to my thesis: observing of the current integration of sensor technologies in our everyday life in order to question the design of future ubiquitous systems. No surprise this new types of signs appear in the UK. It seems that the anglo-saxon “mind the gap” culture has a tendency to reveal limits and inconveniences of infrastructures while others take less pride in preventing ungraceful degradation. Is the same inclination noticeable with the ubicomp of the present? This type of sign seem to indicate so.

Municipalities Abandoning their Utopian Dreams of City-Wide Networks

Posted: September 4th, 2007 | 1 Comment »

A nice follow-up of an old post on the deployment of Minicipal WI-Fi (Metro-Scale WiFi Reality Check), the Economist covers in Reality bites the troubles that now local authorities and specialist firms such as EarthLink and MetroFi. I was mentioning the mismatch between on one hand the patchy network coverage and real-world connectivity issues due to physical, technological and economical constraints and the users’ expectations on the other hand. This now proves to be the root of the problem to force some cities to abandon their utopian dreams of city-wide networks. Real-world deployments finally reveal that Wi-Fi, which relies on outdoor radio transmitters, does not provide good access inside buildings, since it uses weak signals which do not always penetrate thick exterior walls. Proponents of the technology also underestimated the number of transmitters that would be needed to provide blanket coverage. Most networks deployed between 2004 and 2006 used between 20% and 100% more nodes than expected, which pushed up costs.

wifi scam
My free Wi-Fi experience in Toronto. So long for the utopia…

Relation to my thesis: When Embracing the Real World’s Messiness starts to make sense.