Inbox Zero

This spring I decided to do something about my mail inbox that have been growing steadily since around 2005. Although I have attempted every now and then to keep it tidy, I was now determined to clean it up once and for all. I had seen a new app from a small company that was acquired by the Dropbox team around the time. As this news appeared on Slashdot it got my attention and so I started thinking - perhaps there is a better way? Unfortunately the app called Mailbox didn’t exist yet for Android phones or standalone clients in Windows. And even today, it does only supports Gmail and iCloud. Perhaps in the future, but that wouldn’t keep me from attempting to deal with my 10K+ emails in my inbox. So every now and then I would sort out, delete and archive mails, about 500 at a time. And today it finally happened - my inbox as of now has Zero mails! Following some clever advice found online the key is to have a small set of actions that allows for quick processing of incoming mails. Checking mails maximum once per hour is also a good practice rather than every time the inbox notification lights up. Answering emails with five sentences or less is another good practical advice.

One thing I would love too see is a mail client that are focused round these small set of actions and where each action has some clever connections to task-lists like Trello and appointment trackers like Google Calendar.

Estimote

Today a colleague dropped an Estimote on my desk (or rather I grabbed one from his desk and promised to return it in one piece…) and one hour later getting all the Gradle files to play nicely I have the Android Demo application up and running. Estimotes are small BLE beacons that can be used for e.g. tracking things, give notifications when a particular area is entered and give distances to objects. They are relatively cheap and are powered through a coin battery that lasts for between one and two years.

Its texture is foamy rubber and the shape is cut stone. It has an adhesive sticker on its back where there is a harder plastic piece that is glued carefully to the rubber cover to keep it waterproof. Although It seems easy to remove the cover if needed.

At the moment we are silently brainstorming about what to do with this. Playing hot potato, catch, hidden nuclear device or perhaps hopscotch? Hot/Cold hidden key? Office Curling?

Materializing

It was a blast to watch Google I/O last week. The upcoming set of smart-watches looks seriously interesting and I might have to get one of those Moto 360’s. Just for developing of course as I haven’t used a wrist watch for well over 15 years. What appeals to me at this point is the round screen, promise of futurism and sleek finish of the product.

But more than that what really caught my attention was two things: what was presented and what was hinted about. The new grip on design from a materials perspective did make a lot of sense, especially since our research group have this interest in common. There is a nice Verge article that brings up some of the thoughts behind. What was not talked about was the obvious thing related to material and touch - haptic feedback. About seven years ago I laid my hands on a haptic feedback mobile prototype and the experience was overwhelming. This was at the same time as Apple released their first iPhone. It is relatively easy to enhance the sensation of pressing a virtual button with vibrations in such a way that the mind actually can distinguish the difference between different shapes visually. The brain can be made to learn that language, but it might be a good idea to be the first player to introduce it. The other option is to find a “natural” fit.

Another thing not mentioned was what the future might look like with more and more connected devices beyond those six that was presented. What will Google do next when more and more things get connected?   

Taking Things Apart: Reaching Common Ground and Shared Material Understanding

Presented at the CHI 2014 conference in the session on Hackerspaces, Making and Breaking

Siggraph 2014 Tech Demos

Hello Wolfram

During lunch I got a few minutes to try out Wolfram - the new language from the Wolfram Research team. In fact, the language was even already installed on my Raspberry Pi device, without me knowing. After updating the packages I typed in “wolfram” and was tossed into the language prompt. Looking online for a first quick example got me to type in

Interpreter["City"]["NYC"]


But that didn´t go all that well. Ok, on to the next one:

CountryData["UnitedStates", "Population"]

The response was:

Installing data from Wolfram Research data server ....
Out[3]= 3.1933 10^8

Cool! Although it took a while to receive the response. Ok, so one more:

WeatherData[$GeoLocation, "Temperature"]

Gave:

Installing data from Wolfram Research data server ....
Initializing WeatherData indices ....
Initializing WeatherData indices .... Out[5]= 17.

Which correlates somewhat to my phone’s estimate of the temperature at my location (14). And finally:

WeatherData["Stockholm", "Temperature"]

Again the response that followed:

Installing data from Wolfram Research data server ....
Initializing CityData indices ....
Initializing CityData indices ....
Initializing CityData indices ....
Initializing CityData indices ....
Initializing CityData indices ....
No more memory available.
Mathematica kernel has shut down.
Try quitting other applications and then retry.

Ooops! And it took a while, well over 5 minutes. But despite this little setback it is a tell of what will come in terms of programming in relation to the cloud. A lot (understatement) of data will be available at the fingertips of everything from toasters to wallets. In fact - all devices will be able to utilize the collective intelligence that can be synthesized through the vast amounts of data that make up Big Data and the cloud. It is good to know about these possibilities from a technical point of view, but the really big question is - how can this help us put the user-experience of internet of things in the front seat? 

What makes Digital Technology Fun?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now. In part it helps me re-focus my energy and enthusiasm, but it is really hard to articulate what it is that makes digital technology so special and why we should care. Humanity puts a lot of resources and efforts into pushing this development forwards, and it wasn’t until this years CHI conference that I realized that the “physical-digital material” offers unique qualities for realizing those things we can dream and imagine. But at the same time the material as such offers much of the joy that we seek and need in just tinkering with and making stuff. It unleashes our creativity and enables us to make art, innovate, provoke, question, reflect, argue, articulate, tease, connect, empower, imagine and dream.

In the upcoming five years we will see more amazing things emerging than in the past ten. Bendable screens, tenfold increase of connected everyday things, virtual reality and a new era of gaming, health applications that makes sense and if we are lucky an open sourced version of Windows 9. It sure looks like Kickstarter and the likes will show us part of the way into this future.

But back to the question, the fun part. Meeting people, talk and create things together, simply having a good time over a meal or a table top game, watching the kids grow up and trying to understand the world from their perspective, looking back at and revisiting “old” retro technology, experience again what might have been forgotten, and finally embracing new technology as it comes carefully wrapped up ready to be unboxed.

CHI 2014 Reflections

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Toronto is a lovely city although somewhat colder than expected, even according to the locals. On the Sunday I attended the Sports Workshop together with my colleagues Stina and Jakob that also were the organizers. I presented parts of my work on studying running at night, minimalistic shoes and trail running through blogs. The group of about 20 participants started with a round of presentations and there were quite a lot of different sports represented, although running were perhaps the more pervasive activity. So in short we got to listen to and discuss the use of technology in and around sports like ice-hockey, roller-derby, swimming, climbing, curling, golf, martial arts and more. My main takeaway is how many of the groups are taking a technology-centric perspective to create new and novel experiences that very much transform sports rather than extend or augment them.

The Monday started with an excellent keynote by Margaret Atwood, sci-fi writer and technology visionary, on the topic of “Robots in my Work and Life”. Apart from the robots, I realized we have a few things in common and the one that stuck the most was her description of how she used to take things apart as a child. Imagining, dreaming, seeking, exploring, trying to understand is one part, but technology and sci-fi is dependent on each other and much of the forecasts in sci-fi are actually grounded in current state-of-the-art research.

In the afternoon Martin presented our paper on “Taking things Apart: Reaching Common Ground and Shared Material Understanding”. Of course Martin made sure to mention and highlight the connection to the keynote to the about 500 researchers attending the session. In all it was a very good session and I particularly liked the talk on “Printing Teddy Bears” which explained how felting techniques can be used to enable 3D printing of soft wooly objects.

Later that afternoon we set up for Interactivity and then demonstrated the golf system SwingSound and in my case RunRight - our running app that visualizes accelerometer data in real time. The feedback was a bit surprising, and overall the visitors very much liked the basic idea about getting in situ feedback. The main critical comments was on how to represent the data to the runner without having a second person following looking at the data, analyzing it and give feedback. Many pointed to wearables of various sorts. This will soon be possible to explore as android wear, google glasses and others are pushing such technologies out in the hands of developers (and researchers!).

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Over all interactivity had a lot to offer and just to mention two or three of the other systems that caught my attention: faBrickation - a tool for turning 3D models into Lego Bricks, PaperDude - a Oculus Rift VR game inspired by the classic PaperBoy, OJAS - Open Source Bi-Directional wireless power (Awesome for ActDresses and rFlea stuff!!) and Message Bag - the bag that has LED’s to visualize that all essential things are in it.

My highlights from Tuesday were “Circuit Stickers” - peel and stick electronics in the DIY and Hacking session and “Bridging Concepts” from the design theory session. There were a few papers from other parallel sessions that seemed really good that I need to look up and read, especially from the critical design session. Also visited the Human Robot Interaction session in the morning to hook up with some friends from that community.

Wednesday started strong with a panel on “Making Cultures - Empowerment, Participation and Democracy - or Not?”. It highlighted various provoking aspects of societal impact that making could have - for instance in one case a Makerspace was “created” by removing squatters through a political agenda. But those squatters themselves had been crafting and making some quite ingenious things from whatever they gotten their hands on. So the question is if there is a certain class of makers that have values that is more politically appropriate? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thursday started with a plenary talk by Elizabeth Churchill from eBay Research Labs. It was about how to stay cheerful in difficult times, a lesson well worth not to forget. It ended with some advices for how to remember and reflect upon the important stuff from conferences. My way is writing down a blog post - just like this one :)

I expected quite a lot from the alt.chi session on intimate interfaces, but it did not really live up to the hype. And yes, perhaps we are slightly domesticated by technology - but those things needs to be articulated not exotified. The closing Keynote by Scott Jenson (Google) was really good for me personally. He talked about the future of Ubicomp and innovation and how disruption in technology seems to follow a certain pattern. Furthermore Scott painted a picture of people that want to do cool stuff in the IoT area that they think is just “Awesome!”. I recognized myself quite a lot here. His point was to stay calm and think a bit more outside the box. Clearly the lesson was to turn even more towards design practices rather than starting from technology.

All in all, a very good CHI and I’m really looking forward o the first CHI in ASIA - Gangnam, South Korea 2015!

Small Recap

To share a few of the highlights since last time, we have among other things been working with sports stuff in our Bell Lab. The bracelet prototype is slowly coming together, although since new tech is already around the corner (Android Wear) it might be wise to keep the design process and sketches but put the tech prototyping on hold.

About a month ago we had our first meetup here at Mobile Life. We arranged it together with Ziggy Creative Colony on the theme of Researching and experiencing a connected future. We had almost fifty people visiting us and we had a few really good talks followed by pizza, beer, snacks and mingle. We even offered a preview of Insbits Studio, which *almost* worked at the time. Live coding can be tricky sometimes - especially if everything hinges around one poorly charged battery. Lesson learned.

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Fortunately we got another chance to show off how to connect many devices to each other through Insbits Studio at the annual SICS Open House. That’s where we used the steel wire. Everything worked smoothly despite new seemingly random and extremely weird bugs appearing. Server froze and wireless connectivity got saturated among other things.

With the student course work over its time to prepare for the CHI conference in Vancouver where we will present our paper on the topic of “Taking Things Apart” !

When a demo has to work - attaching things with steel wire!

When a demo has to work - attaching things with steel wire!