Educating Inventers – News paper report about our work

The Newspaper Recklinghäuser Zeitung runs a series on inventers in the region. We were honored to be part of this. The article “Jede Menge Infos im Café-Tisch” (in German) is online at Medienhaus Bauer.

The article made me think again how we can motivate students to invent new things and applications. It is always a trade-off between giving students a very open project (where some are very creative and others just try to find the minimum requirement but it is not really clear what exactly the learn) and providing a clear assignment (where there is little space for own ideas but it is very clear what skills are trained).

Buying Music Online – how easy is it?

Imagine there is a song – you know band and title – and you want to buy it. Should not be really something worthwhile reporting in a blog…

How long does it take to buy a song and how many steps does it need? I tried myself and was pretty much amazed that it is still more difficult than other ways to get music. The idea was to put the song into my shopping cart, press check-out, pay by credit card, and download. On the stores I encountered you have to register before to buy… I finally got the song and here are the steps at a major German music store: go to shop page, search for song, put in shopping cart, go to checkout, told to register, fill in registration form, told to confirm email, opened email client, waited 3 minutes for email, confirmed email, logged in on webpage, realized shopping card is empty :-(, search for song, put in shopping cart, go to checkout, entered credit card information, pay about 1.69€, got download link, got music.

I really wonder how many people will become first time buyers in this shop. Sometimes I think the things we teach in User Interface Engineering are obvious – but real life tells me they are not! If you run a music download portal or if you are in the music business and you wonder why no-one buys – we can tell you 🙂 it may be about utility and usability of your online offers… if you need more details we are happy to help you 🙂

PS: there was a store with a .ru address with better usability that offered the song with no registration at 0.20€ – but I did not want to give my credit card details… 

Tagging Kids, Add-on to make digital cameras wireless

Reading the new products section in the IEEE pervasive computing magazine (Vol.7, No.2, April-June 2008) I came across a child monitoring systems: Kiddo Kidkeeper – In the smart-its project Henrik Jernström developed 2001 a similar system in his master thesis at PLAY which was published as a Demo at Ubicomp [1]. I remember very lively the discussion about the validity of this application (basically people – including me – asking “Who would want such technology?”). However it seems society and values are constantly changing – there is an interesting ongoing discussion related to that: Free Range Kids (this is the pro side 😉 The article in the IEEE Magazin hinted that the fact the you can take of the device is a problem – I see a clear message ahead – implant the device – and this time I am more careful with arguing that we don’t need it (even though I am sure we do not need it I expect that in 5 to 10 years we will have it)

There were two further interesting links in the article: an SD-card that includes WIFI and hence enables uploading of photos to the internet from any camera having an SD-slot ( – the idea is really simple but very powerful! And finally the UK has an educational laptop, too ( Seems the hardware is there (if not this year than next) and where is the software? I think we should put some more effort into this domain in Germany…

Not to forget the issue of the magazine contains our TEI conference report [2].

[1] Henrik Jernström. SiSSy Smart-its child Surveillance System. Poster at Ubicomp 2002, Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2002.


OLPC – cute and interesting – but what type of computer is it?

After the conference I had finally some time to try out my new XO Laptop (OLPC). It is fairly small, has a rubber keyboard and a very good screen. It can be used in laptop and e-book mode. A colleague described it as somewhere between a mobile phone and a notebook-computer – first I did not get it – but after using it I fully understand.

There is good documentation out – the getting started manual at provides a very good entry point. Getting it up and running was really easy (finding the key for my WIFI-Access point at home was the most difficult part 😉

There are two interesting wikis with material online at and I am looking forward to trying the development environments supplied with the standard distribution (Pippy and Etoys).

I would expect when Vivien get up in the morning and sees it I will be second in line for exploring the XO further. It is really designed in a way that makes it attractive for children. To say more about about the usability (in particular the software) I need to explore it more…

To me it is not understandable why it is so difficult to get them in Europe. I think the buy 1 and donate 1 approach was very good (but again this was only in the US)…