logo design competition – final days

The first entries are in for the logo design competition for the open HCI course I’m presenting in the autumn.  Arunn @ Talis has posted them on the wall in the office.  One is a very good cartoon style illustration, but I’m sure I don’t really look like that :-/

Final entries due by tomorrow midnight … and then Arunn is going to post them up for popular vote … and whichever gets most votes I end up wearing on a T-shirt at the HCI conference in a few weeks time.  There are times when democracy just feels wrong!

Tiree Touchtable – the photos

At last, the photos from the week making and installing the Tiree Touchtable.  You can see all the photos on Flickr, but here is small selection:

The main components – projector, Kinect (on top of projector) and mini-Mac:

The Kinect disassembled:

Platform to attach to roof beams and support projector and mini-Mac:

Add mirror:

Andrea adjusting the mirror:

It works!

Alan gently centre-punches location for screws on Kinect frame:

note the tool … after this the Kinect didn’t work … can’t think why?  But happily there was a second Kinect 🙂

Then Andrea screws Kinect to timber support:

Testing on the workbench:

Moment of truth — on the way to the Rural centre to install … second Kinect carefully cradled in Alan’s old jumper:


Parts laid out, ready to go:

Steve fits mounting brackets, Alan looks on:

Alan thinks, “platform looks secure”.  Fiona thinks, “Alan doesn’t”.

Gets boring standing at the bottom of the ladder

Andrea fitting Kinect drop arm:

Andrea fitting the mini-Mac:

“Yep, that seems to be OK”

Let there be light:

Looking down — behold, Tiree Touchfloor:

The secret of true engineering … if the table is too low for the sensors, lift it higher:

Holiday Reading

Early in the summer Fiona and I took 10 days holiday, first touring on the West Coast of Scotlad, south from Ullapool and then over the Skye Road Bridge to spend a few days on Skye.  As well as visiting various wool-related shops on the way and a spectacular drive over the pass from Applecross, I managed a little writing, some work on regret modelling1. And, as well as writing and regret modelling, quite a lot of reading.

This was my holiday reading:

The Talking Ape: How Language Evolved, Robbins Burling (see my booknotes and review)

In Praise of the Garrulous, Allan Cameron (see my booknotes)

A Mind So Rare, Merlin Donald (see my booknotes and review)

Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit (see my booknotes)

  1. At last!  It has been something like 6 years since I first did initial, and very promising, computational regret modelling, and have at last got back to it, writing driver code so that I have got data from a systematic spread of different parameters.  Happily this verified the early evidence that the cognitive model of regret I wrote about first in 2003 really does seem to aid learning.  However, the value of more comprehensive simulation was proved as early indications that positive regret (grass is greener feeling) was more powerful than negative regret do not seem to have been borne out.[back]

Tiree Touchtable installed

It is there!

Suspended high in the ceiling of Tiree Rural centre, a slightly Heath Robinson structure (pictures to come) that powers Tiree’s first public touchtable.

It was a long day, starting at 9:30 in the morning and not finishing until after 9pm in the evening.

The first few hours were simply getting the physical supports in place — with special thanks to Steve Nagy, who fixed the major elements, in particular the awkward tasks of suspending a two foot square (60cx x 60cm) platform that had to be positioned to lock into four steel rods, all while standing on a ladder 20 foot in the air.  Then a long task up and down ladders, huddled over computer screens, adjusting extending, puzzling over strange banding effects that we eventually concluded were artefacts of low level processing with the Konect’s image depth algorithms.

A squadron of flies constantly circled in the projector beam, their shadows suggesting maybe a virtual ‘squat the fly’ game could be developed!   There had been a sale in the cattle ring on Friday, so the flies presumably a remnant of that … but curiously, in the absence of cows or sheep, it was the Konect sensor itself that was their focus of attention, occasionally landing on one of the lenses — maybe they were attracted by the Infra-Red transmitter – a whole new area for etymological research.

The team cleaning the cattle ring, watched and chatted, and then returned with a spotlessly cleaned (it had been covered by ‘you know what’!) sheet of white wood to act as a table cover.

And now, well there is still work to do: permanent electric supply up into the rafters (to replace the temporary tangle of strung together extension cables, that hung from the ceiling during testing), improvements to the algorithms to extend the range to allow the sensors to be as high as possible (to avoid being hit by the next passing ladder), and of course applications to run in the space.

But we feel the back has been broken and a good weeks work.

D-Day for Tiree Touchable

This is it, D-Day — installing the projected touch table in Tiree Rural Centre (see “microwave — Tiree Touchtable“).  Everything made up and ready on the ground after a week of sawing, screwing, drilling and gluing.  So now just (!) climbing up ladders and bolting it all onto the beams, 5 metres up, then seeing if it all works!

A few minor problems along the way, lost one Kinect due to (Alan’s) over-enthusiastic use of a centre punch when drilling holes.  One broken mirror — oops, don’t I remember something about those?  And tetchy projector that doesn’t want to talk to its remote control (helpful manufacturers online FAQ says, “if the remote doesn’t work, use the control panel”).

If we manage the day without dropping a computer 20 foot, we will probably be happy.

Full report and photos later today …

microwave – Tiree touchtable

To compliment the biannual Tiree Tech Wave weekends, this week is a microwave!  Andrea Bellucci is here for the week and by the end of the week the table in the Rural Centre, where Tech Wave runs, will be a giant touchtable.

We have 3500 lumens projector, mini-mac and a Kinect to be mounted high in the ceiling.  Andrea’s software will then use the Kinect distance sensing to be able to pick up movements over and on the table-top and hence enable the kinds of touch interactions we are familiar with on mobile phone or pads.

This week we will be happy if we get all the equipment working in situ (visions of us all teetering 20ft up ladders), and maybe some test.  However, once in place we hope it will be a great resource for innovate applications for future Tech Waves and a means to run long term applications for tourists and locals.  In particular, we will soon have geocoded data for the ‘On the Ground‘ project (making island heritage archives available through mobile phones) — using this same data we cshould be able to create a classic tourist map projected on the table so that visitors can select locations and look at images and information about them, all by simply touching and dragging on the table.

Costa del Muscle – athletic spirit hits the Hebrides

It has been a great (albeit exhausting) week.

Will Wright, fresh back from Spain where he was competing in the Long Distance Triathlon World Championships1, has been working hard to make the rest of Tiree, well, if not as fit as he is, at least fitter then they were before! Continuing the Spanish theme he called it, ominously, “Costa del Muscle”.

Each day last week, twice a day at 9:30 and 5:30, on the sun-drenched mahair of Sandaig, looking out over basking sharks leaping in the seas towards Skerryvore, twenty Tirisdeach2 gathered, from 10 year olds to those in their 60s, from svelte teenagers to those, well, carrying a mite more weight.  The passing minke whale or grey seal, if they had looked towards the shore, would have seen flaying arms in sweat drenched t-shirts, and perhaps catch Will’s cheerful voice, rising over the crash of breakers and faint sound of wheezing breath, announce, “nearly finished the warm up”.

  1. The long distance triathlon is about three times the length of the Olympic triathlon. [back]
  2. Tirisdeach = person of Tiree[back]

a radical design for mobile telephony

We are all aware of the phenomenal growth in smartphone and tablet use.  However, these are often designed with the needs of media and internet access above plain telephony.  Touch screens do not have tactile feedback leading to mistyping, especially problematic when using touchtone-based phone services, for tablets especially, the form factor is far from optimal, … and try answering your phone call quickly by sliding your finger across the screen!

There are solutions.  A recent gigaom post “Here’s why tablets (yes, tablets!) will replace the smartphone” suggested that hands-free headsets were already common, hence reducing the brick-to-the-ear effect.  This of course does not deal with the key pad, but there are some solutions to this using the vibrator motor to give simulated tactile feedback, and various technologies are in development that will (in time) allow tactile features to be programmed onto the screen (e.g. see “Mobile tactile tech gets physical“).

Over a slightly longer time frame we can expect smart materials to develop to the point that concept pieces such as Fabian Hemmert’s Shape-Changing Mobiles will become possible.  Instead of being a fixed shape not only will your tablet screen be able to develop solid buttons of all shapes on demand, but will potentially become travel mug, long-haul flight pillow or angle grinder.

The trouble is that not only are such technologies some years off, they are also tinkering at the edges, attempting to fix piecemeal some of the fundamental flaws of smartphone and tablet technology when it comes to telephony.  Clearly a more radical approach is required.

While Bluetooth headsets are effective, they tend to suggest call centre rather than cool, a single device would be preferable.  In addition this should ideally include some form of miniature key pad to facilitate typing telephone numbers (more extensive tasks such as address book management can be performed on the full-size tablet screen, especially if this is augmented with tactile feedback). Furthermore, for times when it is inconvenient to carry your full size tablet and it is in your handbag, rucksack or its custom wheelie bag, the perfect telephony attachment should also have a small additional screen to view the number you are dialing.

As a result of extensive research into user needs and in the spirit of the information appliance, the single purpose device optimised for a a single purpose, I have devised the perfect device: small, yet not too small to be lost, pocket sized so that it can be easily accessed when you receive a call, tactile, exploiting the deep understanding of the physicality community and knowledge from writing TouchIT. It will connect via Bluetooth to your existing smartphone/tablet and of course via WiFi or (in premium models) using 3G/GSM direct to mobile networks if you accidentally leave your smartphone at home.

I plan to demonstrate my early prototype at the forthcoming Physicality 2012 workshop, where Fabian will be giving a keynote.