Friday, December 30, 2005

A New Theory of Surfaces?

I have been thinking about my ideas for a new theory of surfaces in interior design and I believe I can at last make some comments that are reasonably cogent.

To begin, we should define terms. By Theory of Surfaces I do not refer to the mathematical study of 2 manifolds, but rather to the study of how people use surfaces in a building and what they need from those surfaces. A new theory will deal not just with the aesthetics and the orientation of those surfaces (from horizontal to fully vertical) but with their utility in the light of the 21st century and the way our use of space and surface is changing.

To explore that a little bit, let's consider the future needs for a horizontal surface such as an end table or coffee table. Assuming people will be placing items on the tables including remote controls and computer monitors or keyboards. The fact that these types of devices will be placed on a table changes the requirements for the surface. for example, the coefficient of friction of the tabletop needs to be tuned to allow for smooth operation of keyboards (which tend to be moved quite a lot) while at the same time not being so slick that devices may slide off with just a gentle nudge.

The issue of how surfaces will be used as our lives become more and more technological has to be taken into account when designers are creating new designs and manufactureres are choosing materials. Wood finishes as used in decades ast may not be appropriate for tables that will be used for computers, remotes, video phones, video monitors, dvds and other high tech gadgetry.

Such finishes may not be approrpiate for use by people who will be involved deeply in interactions with computer games, interactive TV, or immersive virtual reality systems. However, new formulations for wood finishes, that protect the wood from scratches, marks, water, and nicks could be used to improve those surfaces for the uses modern dwellings will call upon them to support. Tilting surfaces are an issue as well. Typically, in the past, we have not needed much in the way of tilting surfaces.

Horizontal surfaces have been sufficient as holders of things to be seen, displayed, placed and removed. Vertical surfaces have been sufficient for art anf decoration. But in recent years more and more applicances and utilitarian devices have emerged which benefit from varable angle surfaces; either by resting on them or by creating them. As an example consider the television screen. When it was relativley small and had low resolution, the most important thing about its surface was that it be positioned close to the viewer.

Now with high definition screens that are 42 to 100 inches in diagonal measure the angle of inclination of a screen can add or subtract significantly to or from its functionality. Tilting mounts for tv screens are becoming common since viewing at various angles can improve the reflectivity and glare qualities of some screens. In addition, with the rise of home theater furniture that reclines more fully than traditional recliners, we see a greater need for screen surfaces that can modulate their viewing angles.

Surfaces that accomodate these changes can emerge so that artwork, information displays, and even storage will accomodate varying degrees of slant off the true vertical. By formulating a formal theory of surfaces that takes into account the specific needs of peole to use surfaces in the 21st century, we will have a tool that provides opportunities for designing and developing whole new designs and concepts for furnishings.

These are just some of the ways in which a new theory of surfaces can be useful to designers and developers. Next I'll look at the ways surfaces can augment technologies we are expecting emerge in the next few years.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Roses and Petals - Algorithms and Equations

In business computing we are often implementing algorithms to solve equations. Sometimes these become very complex.

Another approach which we do not employ as often is to derive an equation to replace a more complicated algortithm.

Mathemeticians do this a lot, and Physicists somewhat, but the actual computerization of their equations often turn into highly complex algorithms.

I had an interesting example of reductio ad equation the other day.

There is a game called Petals Around the Rose which is simple, fun to play, and secret. That is, the solution, once you've discovered it, should be kept secret and not revealed. In keeping with that, I will not give any spoilers here.

There is some comment that the 'smarter' you are, the longer it will take you to solve the game. There was also some angry comments about this categorization from people who solved it very quickly and thought the comment meant they were stupid or some such.

Having taken a few minutes to solve it after my wife showed it to me, I would say rather that the more 'analytical' your approach is, the longer it may take you. People who are less analytical and more intuitive may leap to the correct solution almost immediately.

But the solution is an algorithm. It is a recipe for deriving the correct answer. After divining the solution and verifying I was correct, I got to thinking about what it would take to implement a program. The algorithm is not complicated, a few lines of code, but something nagged at me.

I felt there should be a way to arrive at the correct answer in one line of code, a single equation that encapsulated the two curious 'twists' in the algorithm.

A bit of analysis later and I was able to reduce the entire algorithm into a remarkably simple equation. And I must say, that was fun.

I am a big fan of refactoring code. Bang it out, get the algorithm working albeit in an ugly manner, then refactor it over and over. Ultimaely, you should arrive at a much simplefied program which can almost not fail. That is, no matter what you throw into it, a valid result will emerge even if that valid result is the 'incorrect input' error message. No missed error conditions or aborts, no incorrect but reasonable looking results.

I call this elegant programming. For too long we have approached development with a GIGO philosophy which inherently says that we are not going to handle all the conditions. There will be some garbage that can go in and you will get garbage out.

A different approach is to write this level of elegance into our code. You may get garbage in, but you will always get a valid, understandable, result out, even if it is just an explanation that the input was garbage.

This, by the way, flies inthe face of a lot of AI programming. Learning machines in particular seem to be prone to GIGO. But people are not. We deal with garbage input all the time, in particular inconsistent or contradictory input. Better learning and reasoning architectures are needed to emulate our ability to process through the garbage.

There is a lot of good work being done on inconsistent reasoning and uncertainty in inference systems. I reviewed three papers this year on adding uncertainty factors to description logics for the semantic web. But a better way of representing such unertainty and inconsistency is needed. This may reflect back to the comment made to me at IJCAI about looking for the 'ghostly signature' in the data that represents knowledge.

At some point those efforts will result in a computational intelligence being able to intuit the solution to a problem rather than deriving it through analysis. Then we will have made progress


Friday, December 23, 2005

New Book - Accelerando

Accelerando by Charles Stross is a wonderful post-cyberpunk novel about the 21st century and how it might evolve. The book has more extrapolations from the modern web economy than a dog has fleas.

Basically, though, Stross' model of civilization as a collection of economic business models and the idea of extending BPM into the political arena is intriguing. I particularly liked the comment about purchasing an off the shelf legal system then conforming to it

So I heartily recommend it for anyone interested in wild eyed extrapolation of web 2.0 concepts.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Story of Joe

This is a description of some thoughts I've had on the future of computing. Just ramblings, perhaps, but the possibility is arising to build something like this and address several problems that are emerging now.


On The Train
Joe steps onto his morning train for the hour commute to his office. He’s meeting clients later and felt the need for a face to face meeting with his staff before the client meeting. He finds a seat on the train with a table. The table has a SPACE terminal built into its top. Joe’s lucky to get one. This means he won’t have to use his handheld Pad’s smaller screen the whole way into the office like yesterday.

He logs in through the fingerprint login interface. A moment later he sees his SPACE emerge on the tabletop. The NewsSPACE he was watching on the wallscreen before he left the house is still running. CNN indicates the market will be up today.

Joe’s re-opens his personal MailSPACE and a keyboard on the SPACE terminal. He finishes the email to his friends in Europe, then sends it off. Their itinerary had arrived overnight and Joe had dropped it this morning into his TimeSPACE for coordination with his and his wife’s schedules. He wants to be sure he and his wife have plenty of PTO blocked out during the visit.

Joe notices CNN receding. He must be past the halfway point in his journey. He configured his SPACE to shift emphasis from personal SubSPACEs to office SubSPACEs over the course of his trip. SPACE is aware of his terminal’s location, so it begins zooming out of his personal area and into his business area.

Joe slides his fingers over the oleophobic tabletop and SPACE scrolls beneath it until he sees his wife’s shared SPACE. He selects the MessageSPACE and sees his wife look up from her desk at home as the link is connected. She smiles into the camera and says, “Hey! What’s the sitch?”

“Just wanted to say Happy Anniversary. I’ll meet you tonight for dinner.”

“Still not going to tell me where?”

“No, just follow your pad. SPACE’ll get you there. It’ll probably recommend a cab though.”

“Ok, Mr. Mystery”, she says smiling. “I’ll see you wherever there is!” She blows him a kiss and he scrolls back to his SPACE, severing the link.

CNN and his personal MailSPACE are just small tokens now. The OfficeSPACE is showing fully zoomed in and he sees he has a few messages in his office MailSPACE. He looks at these and answers one, flagging the others for later attention.

That done and with another 20 minutes still left in his trip, he calls up the AdSPACE to review today’s presentation. Joe is a Designer and Producer of Adaptive Marketing Campaigns. His latest client wants a comprehensive AMC for their new line of personal SPACE terminals. The line includes pads, sunglasses, audio-only players, and phones. The demographic is 10-25 year olds but subdivided into more than 250 specialized and overlapping sets.

Adaptive Marketing Campaigns are all about communicating with the buyer, delivering the right message about the right product at exactly the right time. Joe and his team design the overall campaign, calling upon graphic designers for the specialized artwork, statisticians for the market data, psychological modelers to build the campaign logic and campaign planners to manage the timing and deployment of the campaign materials.

One wrinkle in the planning is that this client wants to drive the campaign to static media like old fashioned billboards and magazines as well as the more usual media for such a campaign such as mall screens, web-, pod-, and phone-casting, e-books and -zines, and product placement in games and movies. Joe’s team had to pull together a single, coherent piece of collateral for each of the vendor’s products and then, of course, the collective collateral such as the Catalogs, SPACEStore, E-mailings, Opt-ins and the like.

Today’s meeting is to present the single piece of collateral that will drive paper-based posters, billboards, as well as the interactive MallScreen, SPACEStore and Pad formats. Of course, they all look very similar, except where the interactive semantics cut in providing user interface elements on the piece. And the client wants to know the status of extending the collateral piece to include audio-only delivery and interaction. In particular, Joe’s group has to come up with the semantics of marketing the sunglasses with builtin phone and media player to a sub-group that only receives voice. That has been tricky to design, but his team has it nailed, Joe is sure.

The collateral piece opens up in front of Joe on the SPACE terminal. He decides to leave it there as he is in a seat with his back to a wall and the SPACE terminal’s security features will keep anyone outside of a very narrow field of view from seeing the sensitive ad. Otherwise he would tell SPACE to use his Pad’s display while he interacted with the table-based terminal’s SPACE.

He reviews the layout and the logic metadata. The project requires that the collateral piece have some very specialized logic, but it is all declarative and Joe is an expert at interweaving complex logical requirements such as specifying the context in which an online deployment should solicit user input and when it should not.

Joe notices a minor issue with the Information Delivery Object for the new multi-media player the client is marketing and dictates a short annotation into his Pad. The words are transcribed and appear as a typed annotation attached to the object. Mike can fix the glitch in short order.

By now, most of Joe’s personal SPACE has faded into small icons while his office SPACE has taken more and more prominence on the terminal display. He is nearly at his stop only a few blocks from the office.

Suddenly, a larger alert flashes into his vision on the edge of the SPACE. It is a press release that his company has just announced an acquisition. Joe flicks his gaze across the table to his CNN feed and notes that it is growing in prominence again, coming into the foreground. The crawl at the bottom of the CNN feed carries generic information about the acquisition. Joe taps the CNN feed subSPACE and it begins to zoom out again.

He notes, however, that his MailSPACE has a new item in it and when he selects it, it is, as expected, a reminder that employees are blocked form trading for the day of the announcement.

The trains pulls into his stop and Joe logs out from the SPACE terminal in front of him. He leaves the train and walks to his coffee shop. This has been his favorite coffee house for the last six months. He switched from the huge, international coffee house chain, despite the fact they have better coffee…but they haven’t got SPACE yet.

In the Cafe
Joe sits at a table and the logo clears and he sees the café’s menu glowing just beneath the surface. Pressing a selection on the touch sensitive screen, he enters his pin code on the keypad that appears to his left and the table transmits his order to the kitchen and his payment to the bank.

The store and his table both recognized him as he entered the cafe based on the PAN card in his phone. The PAN card passed his identity to the store which guided him and handed him over to the table as he sat down. The store and the table negotiated the context of Joe’s appearance and settled, semantically, on the fact that he was probably in for coffee and a bit of SPACE. The naïve bayesian engine the store runs to help establish context noticed that Joe has done this regularly for 6 months…the calculation of his next probable action in the store was a fairly simplistic one.

The menu clears once Joe has ordered and he logs into his SPACE again. Everything looks just as it did on the train, scaled slightly to take advantage of the larger tabletop display. The fonts are slightly smaller size, as the table adjusts from the train’s accommodation for Joe’s presbyopia. Since he turned 40, he prefers slightly larger reading fonts. On the train SPACE deduced that Joe’s displays needed to have the font sized up. Here on the larger and higher resolution café terminal, SPACE correctly calculates the font sizing as being just a bit lower to achieve the same result.

When Joe first came into the café, 6 months ago the café’s SPACE always brought up his usual configurations. Calendar on his upper right, his Map in the center with all his work and personal objects, and his daughter’s SPACE on the left zoomed out just enough so he could see her latest drawing, while not occupying too much room.

A few months later he had a hiking accident that left his right arm in a sling for a while. The first time he came in after the accident, the café recognized him, of course and when he had sat down, it had brought up the new style configuration. He had granted his SPACE access to his medical records 2 years ago. The semantic metadata attached to them was sufficient for the café reasoner to determine that an alternative configuration would most likely be needed. His view into his daughter’s SPACE was now at the top of his SPACE, and his objects and navigators were shifted to the left a bit. All access controls were distributed around his left hand’s typical position.

As Joe began to use his right arm again over the course of two weeks, SPACE adapted and shifted more of the controls back to the right hand access positions Joe usually used. Now, SPACE has brought up Joe’s favored interface, a MAP, because he is not in a moving train that would cause issues with navigation.

Joe navigates through his MAP quickly, using the virtual navigator control widget that SPACE brought up in easy reach of his left hand.. Joe’s MAP is a 3d simulation of a city street with his personal objects on the left and his workflows on the right. Joe prefers abstract representations of information, so his Information Delivery Objects (what would once have been files) are depicted as variations of shapes and colors where the combinations have meaning to Joe.

He enjoys navigating his MAP. It provides him access to the web, connections both real-time and latent to his friends and colleagues, and he can turn a corner and follow an alley into someone else’s SPACE like his partner’s or his wife’s. And always the representation of information in his SPACE, or in others’ is manipulated to make sense to the way Joe prefers to see things.

Joe selects the CNN Feed and reads more details about the acquisition as he sips his coffee. He has a bit of time before needing to be in the office.

A blue ball appears in Joe’s SPACE suddenly, accompanied by a short phrase of music. This customized PANtone indicates to him that his business partner has just entered the periphery of Joe’s SPACE. Sure enough, when he looks up and behind him at the door, Joe sees his partner, Amy entering the café. He motions her to his table, but she doesn’t see him. She pulls her phone out as it alerts her that she and Joe’s SPACE are overlapping, and the phone’s display shows an arrow pointing toward Joe’s table. She glances that way and waves, slipping the phone back into her purse.

Amy walks over to Joe’s table. He stands and moves to the other side. His SPACE promptly spins itself around on the table display and re-positions itself for his new orientation. As Amy sits, her half of the table pulls up a display of the menu and she orders her triple decaf upside down latte, then logs into SPACE.

Her half of the table reconfigures it’s display to show her SPACE, but conjoins to Joes at the midline. After all, SPACE is SPACE. Amy, however, is not as abstract in her representations and her MAP contains fairly traditional lists of IDOs described in textual fashion.

“We have an hour to the presentation, Joe. Are you set?”
“Yes, but let’s review it a bit.”

Joe navigates in his MAP down his 3d street to the IDO that represents their presentation to a new client. He touches it and slides it with his left hand over toward Amy’s side of SPACE. As it approaches her, the object flips around to become right side up with respect to her and dynamically changes it appearance to conform to Amy’s manner of representation. It docs itself in the workflow area of her MAP.

At the same time, Joe’s and Amy’s objects both open so they can see the presentation. Of course, the presentation format is fixed since they need to manipulate what the client will see, not their own personal preferences for information presentations.

Amy says, “Let’s just view it. I’ll let you make any changes.”

Joe takes Amy through the presentation, pointing out the new logic he added on the train and the issue he’s left for Mike to deal with. “I annotated it. He’ll probably have it fixed before we walk in.”

After about 15 minutes, they finish their drinks which they’ve been setting on the oleophobic surface of the table. As they move the cups around, SPACE detects the presence of real-world objects and reconfigures itself to allow virtual coasters to appear under the drinks. These cover SPACE objects as necessary, but disappear when the cup is lifted or follow it around when the cup is moved. This prevents the cups from triggering any interactions with the display glowing under the surface.

Oleophobic coatings on touch screens means that displays which are almost all touch devices now don’t take up fingerprints or body oil, and do not become smudged. The light sensing tables also correct for brightness and position, their OLED display surface brightening as needed. Even when the barista drags a table outside, SPACE reconfigures it for optimum viewing of the information delivery objects. The objects, in turn, reconfigure themselves as needed. One of the more enjoyable things to watch is when a large group of business colleagues show up for lunch and pull tables together. SPACE objects determine what is happening from the semantics and context of the environment and reconfigure the tables into one long, continuous SPACE. Even the check gets divvied up into a set of IDOs, one for each person, with payments extracted from the correct accounts and receipts deposited into each person’s personal SPACE for future needs.

Amy and Joe finish their coffees and get up to walk on to the office. As they leave, SPACE automatically logs both of them out and returns the display to the coffee house’s logo.

At the Office
Amy and Joe wander down to their office building and pass through security. Their Pads act as security cards and they pass through unimpeded.

Joe walks to his office and as soon as he steps in, his SPACE terminal, a large 32 inch vertical display on his desk, lights up as his Pad links with his office. The SPACE looks just as he left it in the coffee house.

Amy has gone into her office and the same thing has happened except her SPACE terminal is built into her desktop. Joe says he prefers the old fashioned desktop with a monitor on it because it’s easier for him to navigate his 3D worldview.

Amy, on the other hand, uses the horizontal interfaces so much in her work as a designer, that she prefers those. Her desk is also at standing height and she rarely uses her chair.

After dropping their personal belongings, they both head out for the conference room where the client will arrive in 15 minutes. Amy’s Pad beeps as she exits, however, reminding her she left it on the desk. The office recognized htat she had exited through the door and notified her Pad which concluded she needed to be reminded to take it along.

She steps back inside, grabs it and walks out. Her desk-based SPACE terminal had already quiesced and darkened and had not started up again when she came back in.

In the conference room she saw that Joe had already called up the collateral on the big 100 inch screen at the end of the table. Mike was there as well and the two men were looking at the display in SPACE terminals built into the conference table.

The two men looked at their respective copies of the collateral object. Joe said, “This looks pretty good, but I’ve got a concern. You’ve got the rich content up here on the left, and the form elements on the bottom. But from the view I have, the form elements are too small…will they scale?”

“Oops”, said Mike. “I forgot to tag them correctly. Hang on.” He selected the form elements at the bottom and altered their properties to be “Human Scaled”. The form entry elements expanded on the display, causing the graphic content and the copy to resize.

“There.” Now, whatever size we publish to, the form elements will be scaled for a person to use. I also marked them as “Discardable” for devices that can’t handle input won’t display them. That’s very simple with SOA, now”. The Info Object Server just queries the device capabilities after a request for object is made and only the part of the object that works on that device goes across the net.

On the large screen, the interactive form elements appear, but now they are sized for someone to use who just walks up to them.

Amy says, “Let’s get the print going. We want it to be finishing just as they arrive.”

Joe nods. Amy opens SPACE on her side of the conference table and drags the collateral object to the conference room printer’s SPACE. The wide format, printer starts printing the paper poster version of the collateral.

The client arrives and the meeting begins. The three campaign designers and the three people from the client are all automatically accepted into the Conference Room’s SPACE and allocated display space on the conference table. Joe has reserved the vertical screen display at the end of the table for a presentation display of the collateral and the campaign. However, the bottom half of the ;large screen is reserved for video conferencing with the two client reps that could not attend in person.

Bob, one of the client reps, pulls out a phone and uses it to tell the SPACE to dial the New York and Dallas offices, using information in his contacts list. The bottom part of the screen lights up with the video conferencing of the two absent attendees.

The screen sits directly on the conference table and the other two participants are looking at a siilar screen/table combination. The video conferencing images split vertically so that each of the participants appears to be sitting on either side of an identical table that stretches through the screen.

Using contextual sensors in all the conference rooms and sophisticated, real time image processing algorithms, SPACE derives the appropriate coloring, lighting, and angles to make the video conferencing seem as real as possible. It also automatically builds an identical image of the presentation at each of the remote ends.

Joe and Amy and Mike proceed to layout their campaign strategy, showing real demos of how the campaign object will operate in its variety of target SPACEs. Amy peels the printed version of the collateral off the wide format printer they keep for the purpose and, as the piece de resistance, pulls a black box about the size of a small desktop printer from behind a screen.

“This will print the souvenir in the stores. We’ve added a CAD component to the object that will drive this fabricator. It will produce either a ring or a key fob in the shape of the kid’s version of the terminal. Non-functional, of course, but you’ll only print as many of the fobs as you actually give away, so there’s no waste.”

“Will people have a choice of color and fit?”

“Yes, the kiosk we set up will scan the finger and ask for a color choice. The fabber has the ability to jet out 24 million colors.

“Excellent. Well, we are satisfied. When will the first roll-out begin?”

“In another week. The finishing touches have been done. We are just waiting for your team’s launch date to come up. It’s already in the workflow with an auto launch date and time. The first components hit the Far East at 6am on the 19th,m then it automatically processes west around the globe. The last localized deployment will be at 6am in Honolulu the same day. “

“The translations are all done?”

“Yes, we outsource those by just allowing our translation services to acces the content. The system alters the layout for the graphic alphabets like Chinese and Thai. The RTL alphabets use slightly different layouts, but the system calculates them based on the logic and rules I specified.”

“Can we see one of those? The Thai, perhaps?”

“Sure.” Joe moved his hands over the CollaborationSpace he had open in fornt of him, specifed that Thai should be selected and caused the landscape web version to be recreated. He then touched the border frame around the result and flicked his hand toward the client.

The SPACE tereminal took the window he had gestured with and sailed it across the table from his SPACE into his client’s. It inverted the object as it did so, making sure it landed in the proper orientation for its new viewer. Thai lettering glowed on the background in the colors chosen for their cultural significance. The artwork and all designated static content was there, but the message was clear to an aware reader. This product was aimed directly at Thai consumers with their particular tastes.

Shortly thereafter, the meeting adjourned. Joe and Amy and Mike talked a bit more, Joe laying out some last minute declarative logic in the object they were all looking at and Amy changing the color just a fraction in the Japanese layout logic. Once completed, they walked out of the conference room. SPACE gently closed all there different accesses and the room went dark.

After Work
Janet walks out of her office and hails a cab. She has already received an alert on her office terminal telling her she needs to leave for dinner. Joe moved the dinner appointment reference from his SPACE into her TimeSPACE. The semantics of that appointment object have linked with her schedule and GPS-location and downloaded a set of navigation instructions to her pad.

Her pad, its small screen currently filled with her NavSPACE, simply says “Use Cab”. She could if she wanted to scroll forward through the directions now showing on her pad to see the final destination address, but she doesn’t know what restaurant is there anyway, so she doesn’t bother. Let Joe surprise her, she thinks.

Once in a cab, her pad syncs with the navigation system in the cab and the driver receivs both the destination address and instructions on how to get there. Of course, many cab drivers still elect to follow their own best known routes. They feel their experience and knowledge of traffic patterns would always result in shorter trip times. This despite several studies showing the opposite was true. Janet doesn’t worry about this though. This driver seems content to follow instructions from the nav system in the car.

Her pad, having handed context off to the cab, now zooms through NavSPACE to take her back to the memo she had been crafting in her office in her TextSPACE. But before she continues the memo, Janet scrolls her SPACE to her shared image of her daughter’s SPACE. She zooms it in a bit and can see that Ariel is chatting with someone. Janet scrolls into the chat and monitors it for a moment in Mom mode; Ariel will not be aware they are being monitored. It’s OK, she can see Ariel is talking with her girl friend Sam, “short for Samantha”, from school. Janet has SPACE transcribe the audio conversation into a NoteSPACE so the driver can’t eavesdrop. Everything is innocent though. Janet scrolls over to her MessageSpace and signals Ariel that she wants to talk a bit. Through the camera feed, Janet watches Ariel accept the call, putting Sam on hold.

“What, mom”, Ariel says impatiently.
“ I just wanted to remind you that Dad and I ae out to dinenr tonight. You’ll be OK and get dinner.”
“Yes, MOTHER”, Ariel says exasperatedly.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Looking for Work

SO, I am now departed from my former position as a research scientist at Adobe. Consequently, I am looking for work out here in the Valley.

Of course, now is a good start-up time as well and I have lots of ideas floating around, so we'll have to see if they can be transformed. Perhaps getting back into the entrepreneurial mode is the right thing to do. Start a new firm and grow some interetng technology into a new business with a few key products. Any angels out there interested in some very wild ideas on how to use Web 2.0?

In the meantime, I am reading Accelerando by Charles Stross. Very interesting; sort of like reading William Gibson if he was on speed. Or Phillip K Dick when he was. I like this book!

Aeon Flux was an excellent movie, I thought. The story was fleshed out nicely, not left as an exercise for the viewer as in the series (which was OK for that) and the costuming was fantastic. What incredible suits and dresses!

Looking forward to King Kong.

More later

eBooks -- The Right way

A couple weeks ago I was talking about ebooks with some folks.

What intrigues me is what it will take for ebooks to catch on. I think some very important aspects of books were ignored by previous attempts to bring out ebooks.

Here's a thought: ebooks get adopted in education because of the presence of guns in the schools.

How's that work? Guns led to no lockers led to back packs...back packs led to back problems in children...and this leads to ebook adoption.

I do not know if that is accurate, per se...but it illustrates the chain of unintended consequences which lead to the adooption of new technologies at a social level.

Other things are important if they are to be accepted:
First...I have two rocket ebooks, but I never use them anymore. One is for me and one is for my wife. The problem I encounterd was that I could not give her a book.

Books are one of the most popular gifts in our household at holiday times. But I had no way to purchase an ebook and target it to her reader as a gift. That's an importnat feature.

In the same vein we have to ask whether ebooks need to have a physical tangible instantiation. Why? Because gifts need to be tangible.

Music has never been unabstracted in reproduction. That is, you have never been able to deliver music without a player, a device to interpret the abstract representation of music encoded as grooves on a vinyl disk, magnetic domains on tape, or pits in a CD.

Books on the other hand are unabstracted. That is, the medium is, indeed, the message...the book needs no intermediation for the human user to consume it.

So giving music has always been giving abstraction, but giving literature has not. Now, however, we want to give and deliver literature that is abstracted and that requires the intermediation of a device to interpret it. This is a significant change for many of us, making the value of an ebook less than that of a book.

When I give a CD as a present, just as when I give a book, I give a physical entity...even though it is an abstraction of the music i intend to deliver. If I am going to start giving abstractions of literature (ebooks) as presents, I will need to be able to present a physical object, just as I do with music. I need something I can wrap and put a bow on.

So ebbooks need to be available in book stores, perhaps as chips or blocks which will then be offloaded into the reader, or perhaps, they should be slivers of material we hold onto.

Now DRM plays a part in both these issues. But there are solutions. For example, if I purchase an ebook online for my wife, I should be able to just target it to her reader. But the book block i purchase at B & N may need to be encrypted in a neutral 3rd party manner that can only be moved from the block to my ebook reader through a process that leaves the block unusuable or contianing only a version encrypted for me.

This brings us to the issue of loaning books and of moving them from reader to reader. I should be able to loan an ebook as I do a real book. Of course this means being able to invalidate MY copy while validating someone else's so that only one person may have access at a time.

Another rather unrelated aspect of ebooks is the fact that we do not have a cure for presbyopia. And many of us suffer from it as we grow older.So I should have a VERY easy way for the reader to bump the font size up and down. Prefereably a pair of buttons or a jog wheel or some such one touch control. A drop down menu with mutliple selections is too inconvenient..

A backlight is, of course important, but a text-to-speech capability is as well. It would be nice to be able to read a few chapters in the evening, then listen to a few onthe way to work. Or to listen to the last chapter late at night with the lights out so as not to disturb the spouse.

All of these considerations have much more to do with the social aspects of books and ebooks than they do with the technology. Books have specific connotations and social uses attached to them. It is very important to preserve, recreate, and extend these features. If they ar lost or are made difficult in ebooks, ebooks will not succeed.

AUTHOR: mike
DATE: 11/01/2005 07:06:36 AM
One thing that I think is important about ebooks is bookmarking that is as convenient as regular bookmarkting. Also, defaults in the ebook reader so your settings are remembered. Frankly I think a lot of people are excited about the epaper technology that has never become mainstream. It's always 3 years away, and yet we read about uses of it all the time. DRM can be really annoying, worse than regular book. I can give books away that I own, I can also resell them, motivating me to buy new ones. How does DRM work other than to the company's benefit. Despite the sneaky names, DRM often hinders the rights of the consumer. Therefore, ebook's growing popularity with some will rest on how annoying their lockdown is. If it's my belonging and I want it tangible, that means, I can do all the things just like a tangible item. give, borrow, loan, buy, sell.

AUTHOR: Bill McDaniel
DATE: 11/01/2005 09:26:58 AM
MikeI agree with you about both points. Bookmarking should be easy and flexible (and digital dogears should leave no marks).BTW, I think e-paper (or e-ink) will be commercialized in the next few years. It HAS taken longer than desired but the technological obstacles are falling now. You can actually by electronic ink signs now from gyricon... is harder. I agree, I want to DO all those things with an ebook...give it away, loan it, borrow one, donate to a library, resell.The problem is that legally, the publisher powns the rights to all that. Even doing it now with paper books may be construed as a violation in some cases. But your points about the freedom to do this with books leading to more book buys is valid and we need a way to mirror that digitally.Buyin a book as a gift is omportant, but i agree..I want to be able to donate it, to loan it, to give it later. I am less sanguine about selling it, but i know I love buying old used books from bookshops.Too much DRM lockdown WILL reduce the acceptance. Publishers need to figure this oput form a long range, invest in readers, point of view, not from the point of view of a quarter's lost revenue.Now another way this may play out is that another generation may come along that is so used to the lockdown they accept it in books too(consider digital music and the inability to easily share it across iPods) .But I rather hope that, instead, we develop some equitable way of allowing the propagation of literature, books, music, and ultimately video to continue as it has. Just because something CAN be locked to the limit does not mean it SHOULD be.This is another of those social aspects which will seriously affect the acceptance of ebooks.The problem with your final line is that certainly in the new digital sense, it is NOT your is, at best, your LICENSE. And this is the justification for all the lockdown. Hopefully, we find a path forward through that to an equitable social e-commerce that includes oans, gifts, and donations.



A New Theory of Surfaces?

I am at the Ambient Intelligence conference this week in Grenoble, France. There are some very interesting papers on what happens when you have intelligence in things around the home or office.

Emile Aarts of Philips presented a view of the future that is remarkably in sync with my own thoughts. I have to say, that, while he may be overly optimistic about timeframes for e-ink, intelligent textiles, and many other things that are coming out of Philips, Sony, nd other companies soon (just as I probably am) he does 'Get It'. I recommend his books too.

Many of the presentations, though, have to do with interactions with common objects and i have noticed a common theme. Most of these objects are actually surfaces...that is, many of the papers are about interacting with horizontal or vertical surfaces that can connect to computing resources in some manner.

There are, of course, interactions with blocks, and tools, and phones, etc...but much of the ubiquitous computing interest and the ambient intelligence work concetrates on interactions with horizontal and vertical surfaces.

This brings me to my point. Do we need a new theory of surfaces? ...a line of research (probably already underway) into how humans use vertical and horizontal surfaces in their day to day lives..

I recall thinking about this a lot when I first moved to San Jose and had to furnish an apartment from scratch...I needed particular horizontal ones upon which to dump things...other than the floor.

And I thought then that diffferent cultures might think about this differently...some cultures are more at ease with using the floor for a horizontal storage surface than others...American culture really likes tables and shelves and surfaces above the floor.

Vertical surfaces such as mirrors, windows, walls, TVs and other such things are important too, but we don't seem to have a concise body of research on how they are used.

So I propose someone do some thinking and research into a Theory of Surfaces as a line of inquiry to support studies on ubiquitizing computing...integrating computing into modern life will involve integrating it into the surfaces we surround ourselves with...

Architects, interior designers, gallery owners, ethnogrpahers...we need these people to help us understand how to better use and design our surfaces.

Maybe the editors at WallPaper and Surface magazine would be interested.


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AUTHOR: arno verhoeven
DATE: 12/02/2005 01:29:10 PM
thanks for the posting!I'm a design student in Eindhoven actually, doing a Masters degree based upon touch, and the emerging notion of AmI. I feel that exactly as you do, a theory of surfaces, or more deeper, a better theory of touch and manipulation is greatly needed before we allow engineers to put electrical probes into our coffee mugs that allow us to get weather forecasts in the morning.How do we use things? What is our emotional attachment to the materials we use? How does AmI fit into the recent fad of DIY home improvement? Can I cut a AmI shelf in two when I need it in another room? Psychologists and Physiologists still have very little idea about our sense of touch and how we extract information from it...and now we want to put sensors into everything, but I really have to ask myself, why? do I need this kind of immersion interface with my PC?Thanks for the thoughts and the chance to post mine

Arno,thanks for the comment. I agree we need to have deeper studies into touch and manipulation. You lost me on the AMI reference , though. What is it? With respect to a Theory of Surfaces, I was not so much looking at issues of touch and manipulation , but at the psycosocial aspects of furnishings (although I agree, touch, feel, amnioulability, and usability all fall into this as well). I was specifically wondering about how we percieve the architectural spaces we lib=ve in and around as a series of horizontal andvertical spaces...many of which are completely innocuous and intended to be covered...with objects, artwork, devices, appliances, etc. I think you are talkinga bout taking that idea even a bit further into realms of how things feel, what we learn about them from texture and touch, etc. This is a very rich area for investigation, because you are quite correct...we know very little about how these senses provide us with a very richly communicated model of the world.There is an experiment where a blindfolded person is stimulated with a noise directly in front of, above, and behind their head, always the same distance away and always the same distance from both ears. According to theory, the person should not be able to tell where the source is because the stereo effect is exactly the same each time.However, people ARE able to determine the source direction. I suspect that it is because their SKIN is ALSO responding to the noise (hairs vibrated by the wavefront, for example) and this provides the unconcious clue to notify the brain of where in the person's cognitive world the sound is originating.Touch is such an ancient and primitie sense that many of its signals are no longer conciously percieved. for example proprioception is a part of the sense of touch, but we are seldom aware of it specifically...rather we simply feel that our mental model of our own extension into the world is accurate. And we are cognitively disturbed when we discover it is not.You are correct in thinking that this NEEDS to inform product design and usability. I do not think it does so enough as yet.

Thanks for writing...let's keep talking


A Conversation between Artists

I attended a conversation between Andrea Ackerman (digital artist) and Ellen Ullman (author, "The Bug" and "Close to the Machine : Technophilia and Its Discontents") where the conversation was supposed to be about issues arising from the ongoing merger of humans and cybernetics. it was organized by Marcia Tanner, the curator of SJMA's Brides of Frankenstein exhibit (worth a look if you're here in SJ?

It was an interesting conversation, but was rapidly redirected into more of a discussion about artificial life and what makes things alive. Also an interesting topic.

However, a couple of things said by the conversants prompted me to think and ask some questions here. One of the objections Ms. Ullman had to the current state of Ai research was that most AI research has been directoed toward reasoning, ratiocination. Not enough, in her opinion, has been devoted to artificial emotions, to modelling emotional intelligence.

I tend to agree with this, although not with Ms. Ullman's generally pessimistic view of computing. I think that very few researchers are looking into modelling emotions and emotional intelligence.

I was also reminded of what I saw at IJCAI this year and at UBICOMP in Tokyo, this month. There is a lot of very successful research going on in vision processing, a variety of reasoning methods from case based to ontological. And let me hasten to say that, after about 30 years of research and development into AI, I am still a proponent of its possibilities.

But, what has emerged in my thinking in the past two years is a realization that these techniques, so successful in operation, are not intelligence. They might, for want of a better word, be described as artifiicial smarts.

I have been summing this up by noting that I do not solve differential equations when I catch a baseball (or navigate a room, or recognize a face, or any number of other things). Whatever I do might be modelled by a computer solving differential equations (or quadratics, or mapping features into a hyperplane) but it isn't what I do.

A researcher at University of Massachusetts said to me that he is looking for the "ghostly signature" (his term) in the data structures we use to perform these so-called AI tasks now. he has the sense that there is something else in there, a pattern, a property, something, that will unlock the door and take us from these brute force methods we use today (which work amazingly well) to something that is more akin to the processes we, as humans, actually use to accomplish those takss we call intelligent.

I find it interseting that there are many artists emerging now who wish to explore this idea as well. It will be more of an issue, perhaps, as we augment or replace more and more of our physical selves with digital components. We'll not only have to ask what makes us human, but also whether these additions to our humanity are doing things in the best or most appropriate way.


The World Behind The Glass

This blog is about anything that strikes my fancy. Up until recently, I was a research scientist at Adobe and these first entries are some of the text I posted there when a member of my team, Gavin McKenzie, set up the first customer facing blog. Here is the entry essay I posted that set the stage for The World Behind the Glass.

For my first entry on this public facing blog, I wanted to re-publish a short essay I wrote a while back on how I, and I believe many others, view computing and computers. This essay is the inspiration for the name of my blog as well:

The World Behind The GlassI wrote my first program (in Fortran) in 1964 at the age of 9. My brother-in-law took me to St Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas where his aerial mapping firm bought time on an IBM 1141. He showed me how to write a simple program and I wrote up something that would print the Fibonacci sequence (I had never heard of it before but it was simple to come up with and it made a LOT of cool numbers come out of the computer and was fun to watch).

At that time, I didn't think too much about what was happening in the computer. I really didn't have much of a cognitive model even though I had read the usual books about switches and relays and transistors and ferrite core memories...later, I even tried to build a memory device when I was 11.

Fast forward to 1969 and I'm 14. I am a freshman in High school and hanging with some cool Juniors and a Senior who could drive us out to Jesuit High school in North Dallas. There the Math Teacher, named Brother Orlando, let us use the Jesuit teletype hookup to a GE 255 computer. The next year MY high school would get one, but we had early access! There was something different. No cards, a paper tape could save and restore your program, and there was the teletype to print results.

And it had a window over the typeball mechanism

Something clicked. I began to sense that, behind this window, somewhere in the bowels of a machine I couldn't even see, there was a world hiding.
And by writing programs I could explore it, control it, and even create with it. I could create a virutal world within the world behind the glass. My first virtual world was, like many in 1970, Conway's Game of Life...watching those critters evolve in generation after generation printed on greenbar paper was an incredible experience.

Later, in college and in my first job in this industry in 1975 as an assistant operator, we were still using typing style interfaces (a Control Data daisy wheel terminal connected to a CDC Cyber 72 and an IBM 360 Console based on the Selectric typewriter of the day) And there again was that sense, particularly as I got my hands on an IBM 360 and started to learn systems programming, that there was a world behind the window.

We graduated to VM/370 and 3270 video terminals in 1977 and I realized it was a world behind the glass. Now watching Life evolve was a satelite movie not a series of aerial photos. Nearly lost my job when my program brought the CICS order entry system to its knees...I swear I ran it in a low prioirty partition!

That sense remains. Now, as I sit at this laptop 30,000 feet above the planet, I still have a sense that there is a mirror world, a hidden world, behind the glass of my display. My writing, my programming, my browsing, my googling are all exploratory probes into this alien and still mostly undiscover'd country.

But I also realize that the world behind the glass is being reflected in the real world as well. so sometimes I the world behind the glass staring back and wondering about this side. As we add more and more knowledge and sense of the real world to our machines and devices, do they begin to gain a sense of the undiscover'd country that is what we call the real world?

Ain't it cool?


Thursday, December 08, 2005

World Behind the Glass

This is the re-incarnation of my public blog at Adobe, since I am no longer with them.

Watch this space as I try to migrate postings here and then create new ones from here on out