Public Displays and Responsibility for Content

Antonio Krüger at the University of Münster is running an infrastructure of public displays that show various kinds of information. Using a web editor a select set of people (mainly staff at the department) can input and manage the information chunks that are presented.

In our discussion it became obvious that running such public displays comes with a lot of responsibilities and that people are very quick at complaining about content (may it be censorship or offending content). This leads then to more or less closed and controlled system – but I wonder if we are not overcautious or the expectations around us are too high.

I took a picture of one door in a restroom in the University. It is converted in a public display by people (anonymously) using a pen – and its content is neither politically correct nor suitable for children. However this is rightly blamed on the people who do the damage and not on the administration or designer that decided that the doors are white and made of a material one can write on.

Visit at the Institute for Geoinformatics in Münster

Yesterday we had the opportunity to see a set of research demos at the lab of Antonio Krüger at the University of Münster. We had some time to discuss research projects and in the afternoon Nigel and I gave a talk at the Geoinformatics seminar.

We saw exciting work in progress – a nearly ready large scale multi-touch display based on frustrated total internal reflection – according to Antonio the world-largest at the moment. The principle of operation of such a display is very appealing and the demo was convincing. For a comprehensive introduction on the topic see Jef Han’s UIST 2005 technote “Low-cost multi-touch sensing through frustrated total internal reflection . I really think we should build one, too (obviously a bit bigger than Antonio’s 😉

On the Mobile Phone While Working?

It seems that recently I come across many people that speak on the phone while they do their work. In Toronto on the bus to the airport the driver spoke on the phone (telling someone how to find and edit a file in Windows) while driving. Here in Bonn I saw it in shops and on the ferry – it felt really awkward to interrupt people in their phone conversation just to pay my ticket or bread.

At the moment most people speak while holding a handset – but given they use BT-headsets one could image new working practice 😉 e.g. driving a bus and doing a call center job on the side. I would expect there will be some regulation soon…

Public Displays – Making Life More Predictable

On my way home from Toronto it was surprising how many public displays I saw that provided me with ”information about the future”, e.g. telling me when I will be out of time to cross the road, when the next train is due or when my luggage will arrive. These kinds of predictions or contexts are simple to gather and easy to present and best of all: the human is in control and can act on the information. Overall it is reassuring even if the context information is wrong (this is another story about my luggage ;-).

Pervasive 2007 in Toronto

The internatonal conference on pervasive computing in Toronto had an exiting program.

The keynote was by Adam Greenfield on “Everyware: Some Social and Ethical Implications of Ubiquitous Computing” – matching a number of issues we discussed the day before at the doctoral colloquium. The talk was enjoyable even though I think some of the statements made, in particular with regard to opting out and informing the users (e.g. logos) are over-simplified. Furthermore the fact that our society and its values are changing was very little reflected, e.g. privacy is not a constant.

The best paper (by Rene Mayerhofer and Hans Gellersen) “Shake well before use: Authentication based on accelerometer data” was my favourite, too. A further very interesting paper was “Inference Attacks on Location Tracksby John Krumm. Two papers from ETH Zürich were also quite interesting: “Operating Appliances with Mobile Phones – Strengths and Limits of a Universal Interaction Deviceby Christof Roduner et al. showed surprising results for the use of phones as remote control (in short – more usable than one thinks). And “Objects Calling Home: Locating Objects Using Mobile Phones” by Christian Frank et al. showed that phones have a great utility as sensors (in this case to find lost objects.)

We presented a in the video proceedings the smart transport container and a novel supply chain scenario (cutting out all intermediaries and enabling producer to customer transactions).

The tutorial day was excellent – I think the set of tutorials presented can give a good frame for preparing a course or lecture on pervasive computing.

Pervasive 2008 will be in Australia!

Pervasive Computing and Ethics

Together with Boriana Koleva I organized the doctoral colloquium at Pervasive 2007 in Toronto. We had 9 students presenting and discussing their PhD work with us.

One central observation was that we come to a point where we have to make more and more ethical decisions. Many things that are technical feasible and harmless within the lab may have sincere implications in the real world. If technologies for tracking, tracing and mining (e.g. social network analysis, location based services, context-aware systems) are deployed beyond the lab the question of choice becomes a real issue – are users aware of it and can they opt-out?

In the area of context-awareness technology has moved on since I started my PhD on the topic nearly 10 years ago – but amazingly scenarios did change little. Automatically detecting a meeting is still on the students slides. The more I learn and understand about context-awareness the more it becomes apparent that this apparently simple use case is amazingly hard!

Public Displays in Restaurant Bathroom

After the Ubicomp PC meeting we went to a nice restaurant in Toronto for dinner. In the bathroom they had mounted TFT-screens above the urinals showing a TV program or adverts (was hard to tell in the short time I was there). It found it was quite distracting. The displays reminded me of a poster I saw at CHI 2003: You’re In Control: A Urinary User Interface by Maynes-Aminzade and Raffle ( Given the distraction experienced, I wonder if a design where visualization and control is spatially separated and hence control is indirect make sense for such applications.

In summer during the soccer world championship in Germany I saw a low-tech version of a bathroom game: a ball on a string in a goal. Here control and visualization is in the same place and it felt more natural to use. (sorry for the low quality pics – they are done with my old phone).

Observation at FRA, Terminal 1 B

The number of power plugs available to the public seems to be very close to zero at Frankfurt airport. If a persons sits somewhere on the floor in an odd corner it is likely that there is energy for the laptop or phone.

The number of Bluetooth IDs visible when scanning is amazing. It seems that many people have it switched on continuously now (quite different from 2 years ago). The friendly name used by people seems fairly boring, mainly the preset model name of the phone, combination of first name an phone model, initials, full name and the occasional “hi there”. These observations are quite encouraging for one of our projects.

Looking at the scans I wonder if it is likely that people who travel together have similar phones (e.g. same manufacturer).

Nothing Matches Real Experience

During our strategy meeting there was time for a canoe adventure and some late night reflections. To get the full experience we chose the rainy afternoon for our trip on the river Lahn. Even though we were pretty wet after the trip (some more some less 😉 it was a great experience.

When comparing real experience vs. virtual experience (e.g. second life) it becomes clear that the central issue is, that the virtual is risk-free with regard to our immediate physical well-being. This sounds great in the first place. But what does it lead to when we live in a risk free environment in the long term? How will it shape our perception in the further?

Enjoying the real experience inspired some ideas for mobile adventure games that take place in the real world with real experience but including virtual aspects. A central design goal would be to create a game, where the technology becomes invisible and the user only realises his or her activity in the real world.

Audio Tapes Soon be History, Printed Paper Next?

News papers in the UK have reported that sales for audio tapes at Currys were down from 83 million in 1989 to 0.1 million in 2006 and hence Currys is going to stop stocking them. We recently discussed how expensive talking toys (in particular dolls) were just twenty years ago. The were based on mini records or endless tapes. By now storage chips are so cheap that a good birthday card can sing you happy birthday.

How long will it take before electronic paper will replace printed paper in the large? At least it is close enough to seriously think about applications and business models that arise.