not quite everywhere

I’ve been (belatedly) reading Adam Greenfield‘s Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing. By ‘everywhere’ he means the pervasive insinuation of inter-connected computation into all aspects of our lives — ubiquitous/pervasive computing but seen in terms of lives not artefacts. Published in 2006, and so I guess written in 2004 or 2005, Adam confidently predicts that everywhere technology will have  “significant and meaningful impact on the way you live your life and will do so before the first decade of the twenty-first century is out“, but one month into 2010 and I’ve not really noticed yet. I am not one of those people who fill their house with gadgets, so I guess unlikely to be an early adopter of ‘everywhere’, but even in the most techno-loving house at best I’ve seen the HiFi controlled through an iPhone.

Devices are clearly everywhere, but the connections between them seem infrequent and poor.

Why is ubiquitous technology still so … well un-ubiquitous?

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understanding others and understanding ourselves: intention, emotion and incarnation

One of the wonders of the human mind is the way we can get inside one another’s skin; understand what each other is thinking, wanting, feeling. I’m thinking about this now because I’m reading The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition by Michael Tomasello, which is about the way understanding intentions enables cultural development. However, this also connects a hypotheses of my own from many years back, that our idea of self is a sort of ‘accident’ of being social beings. Also at the heart of Christmas is empathy, feeling for and with people, and the very notion of incarnation.

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Apple’s Model-View-Controller is Seeheim

Just reading the iPhone Cocoa developer docs and its description of Model-View-Controller. However, if you look at the diagram rather than the model component directly notifying the view of changes as in classic MVC, in Cocoa the controller acts as mediator, more like the Dialogue component in the Seeheim architecture1 or the Control component in PAC.

MVC from Mac Cocoa development docs

The docs describing the Cocoa MVC design pattern in more detail in fact do a detailed comparison with the Smalltalk MVC, but do not refer to Seeheim or PAC, I guess because they are less well known now-a-days.  Only a few weeks ago when discussing architecture with my students, I described Seeheim as being more a conceptual architecture and not used in actual implementations now.  I will have to update my lectures – Seeheim lives!

  1. Shocked to find no real web documentation for Seeheim, not even on Wikipedia; looks like CS memory is short.  However, it is described in chapter 8 of the HCI book and in the chapter 8 slides[back]

Paris and the redemption of the French restaurant

I have been in Paris for a review meeting for the VisMaster project. I arrived the afternoon before the meeting started and so unusually had half a day to wander around, mainly to check out the location of the meeting places, but also to see Notre Dame, which was really just outside my hotel window. The hotel “Hotel Les Rives De Notre Dame Paris” was somewhat higher budget than I intended, but there was clearly some big meeting on this week as everything seemed booked solidly for the days I needed. However, given its location and it was a double room, it would be an ideal location for a couple visiting Paris: wonderful views, furnishing that made you believe you were in Paris and breakfast in a cellar that had clearly been there since the days of Victor Hugo.

I mention Hugo as one of the highlights of my half-day wander is the Shakespeare and Co bookshop just opposite Notre Dame. The books are all English but there is a special section of English translations of French authors and here I bought a copy of Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris“, the fateful tale of Quasimodo and Esmarelda and inspiration for the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” films. As well as Hugo I also bought a copy of one of Montaigne’s essays, which strangely haven’t yet found their way to Hollywood.

Having bought two books to load my already overburdened suitcase destined for its 15 kilo Ryanair weight limit I was drawn back and this time looked through the second hand section. It was fascinating to see what the English speaker in Paris reads, and I was again tempted and came away with Edna O’Brien’s “Mother Ireland” and also an old psychology book “Thinking and Reasoning”. It is an overused title (a bit like “Human Computer Interaction”) and I almost passed it by as it was clearly an old book and so obviously “out dated”. However just in time I noticed the editors, Wason and Johnson-Laird, and realised this was a collection of classic papers from the late 1950s and early 1960s, a real treasure capturing the period when cognitive psychology flowered.

However, the high spot for me1 was the first evening when I ate on my own in a small restaurant, next door to the bookshop. In the past I have been critical if not dismissive of French cooking. Not French food — cheese and bread from even the most basic supermarket is an epicurean joy, but the food you get in French restaurants.

Now by French restaurant I think I mean self-consciously “French” restaurants and in particular Parisian restaurants, as I have mainly been in Paris and in Toulouse twice. The regional food in Toulouse was wonderful (once you get over the fat), but even there “French” restaurants were a disappointment. It was not that I have only been to the Parisian tourist haunts, where the contempt of the non-Parisian can be apparent and where they serve the kind of lump of meat and pile of potatoes meal that I last saw in the UK thirty years ago, with the sole exception of some highly flavoured sauce instead of the customary British gravy. On many occasions I have been with French and Parisian natives who have selected carefully and taken us to well-classed restaurants, but they have still left me disappointed. In Italian restaurants, even the most basic Formica-tabled trattoria, the food itself is not treated with the reverence of the French, but as a more homely pleasure. Not unlike the everyday Catholicism of Italy compared to the more austere cathederals of France. In Italy, like the restaurants I find today in the UK (not 30 years ago), the appreciation is of the food; the food is the focus; the food is what you eat and what you enjoy. In contrast, in French restaurants it is always the chef that is king, the centre stage, the impresario.

That is I would have always said this until now.

Opposite the Notre Dame, set back from the busy Seine-side, in thoroughfare by small jardin, is “Le Petit Châtelet“. It is crushed on one side beside the brash tourist restaurants that cluster round Notre Dame like flies once did round the fetid sewers of mediaeval city rivers. On the other side it flanks Shakespeare and Co., which feels a closer bedfellow.  The service was impeccable and friendly and the food divine including sorbet in unexpected flavours such as lavender.  Out of the dirty mire that had been my previous experience of Paris, like Notre Dame itself rising from the foetid streets in Hugo’s account of 15th century Paris, Le Petet Châtelot has redeemed French cuisine in my eyes.

  1. That is of course apart from the review meeting, which was very productive – and those of you who have been at an EU project review might not believe me, but really it was![back]


It was my birthday last week.  First thanks to everyone who sent greetings through Facebook etc.  Got some new books to read as well as two new mugs: one that says “exterminate” and one that is becoming my wee dram beaker.

This evening going for a belated birthday dinner at Cèabhar (booked up until tonight!), a lovely restaurant overlooking the Atlantic sunset.

The books …

The Kerracher Man, Eric MacLeod — Just reading this now.  A family who go off to live in a remote scottish croft.

Pilgrims in the Mist: The Stories of Scotland’s Travelling People, Sheila Stewart — Tales once told beneath a bender.

Nella Last’s Peace: The Post-War Diaries Of Housewife 49 — This is the follow-on to Nella Last’s War, which was one of the books on my Rome bookshelf

Calum’s Road, Roger Hutchinson — A couple of years ago we spent Easter on Skye and visited the little island of Raasay.  At the north end a precipitous little road leads round headlands to a small beach.  We had heard that the road had be created over many years by the labours of a single man … Calum.

Welsh Pictures. Drawn with Pen and Pencil, Richard Lovett (editor), London: The Religious Tract Society, 1892 — A beautiful aniqurian book of images and text.

Descartes: Principles of Philosophy

I have just read Descartes‘ “Principles of Philosophy” – famous for “Cogito ergo sum“.  I have read commentaries on Descartes before, but never the original (or at least a translation1, I don’t read Latin!).  Now-a-days “Cartesian thinking” is often used in a derogatory way, symbolising a narrow, reductionist and simplistic world-view.  However, reading “Principles” in full reveals a man with a rich and deep insight of which his rational and analytic philosophy forms a part.

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  1. René Descartes, 1644, Principles of Philosophy, trans. George MacDonald Ross, 1998–1999[back]

Last days in Rome

Five weeks in Rome seemed like a long time, but with a week mainly in Milan and Trento and the coming week in India, in fact just three full weeks and they have flown by.

I had imagined long evenings reading philosophy of the physical world, and weekend afternoons under the shade of a tree on the Palatine Hill, but it didn’t quite work out like that.

Of the ‘work’ books I brought to Rome (and borrowed here), I have only read Gibson’s “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception“, Goodman’s “Languages of Art” and Noe’s “Action in Perception“; and of the ‘fun’ books only Tamara Pierce’s  The Healing in the Vine. I have flights back and forth to India next week, so may manage a bit more then, but mainly overnight, so I fear most of my bookshelf will return to the UK unread 🙁

One of the reasons is evident on a table in my office. Normally at home when I finish something the paper from it ‘goes away’ somewhere, but here as I have read something or finished with printouts I have been laying them out on an empty table in case I wanted to refer to them again. So the table is now covered, smothered, in the results of three weeks normal academic work. I am amazed, if not aghast, at the volume. The entire table between 50 and 500 sheets thick in paper, I’d guess somewhere between one and two thousand sheets of paper printed, read and to be discarded. I mentioned climate change in last post and, boy, it looks like one academic can wipe out most of the Amazon and drown the South Pacific single-handed.

I have printed out a bit more than I normally would as I knew I couldn’t print things during the evenings at the apartment and so tended to do so ‘just in case’ before heading out of the office.  So normally some of this would have been dealt with purely electronically, but nevertheless, the volume is frightening. And I don’t think this was a particularly unusual three weeks in terms of volume.

So what is here?

On the one side there is input: there is a PhD thesis, twenty of or so papers reviewed or meta-reviewed during the period, several papers given to me by people to read while here, one EPSRC grant proposal I reviewed, and a few piles of papers I was referring to in things I was producing during the period. On the output side during the three weeks two grant proposals have been submitted, one other needed extra work and a STREP is in process of preparation for the autumn, two journal papers, a book chapter, an article for Interfaces, some work on other papers, and a few internal reports for discussions about future work. Other things never saw paper: a couple of long blog posts (5000 words between them), three job references, innumerable emails, and the preparation for 33 hours of masters and PhD teaching and two other talks.

Although I often feel busy seeing all that paper makes it tangible and does shock me somewhat. But I know this is relatively normal; Aaron Quigley‘s twitter feed is exhausting just to read!

So, did I see much of Rome …

Well on one Sunday, with Manuela, Francesco and his daughter I visited the annual open-air art exhibition of the 100 painters in Via Margutta (between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo). One of the artists was, Paul Van den Nieuwenhof, a friend of Manuela and Francesco from whom they had recently bought a still life (apples). Paul’s real passion is more avant-garde installations, but the still lives are mainly focused on the Italian market where modern art is not so popular. Looking at his more traditional paintings I was impressed again by the way an expert oil painter creates light from pigment: shapes and solids seem more the medium and the pure light the message.

Another Sunday I took lunch in a pizzeria on the Trastevere (my favourite place for both pizza and bread), and took a meandering path there nearly as far as St Angelo and sauntering along the Tiber … but mainly because I took the wrong road out of Largo di Torre Argentina. In the middle of Argentina is a large exposed ruin, and I was told (but by whom I have forgotten!) that this was where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Incidentally, while in Milan (which I will write about separately sometime) I learnt that in Julius Caesar’s time it would have been pronounced Kaiser as in German today, the softer ‘c’ came later.

Apart from that I am ashamed to say no art galleries or exhibitions, and my main view of Rome has been the area between Termini station, the Department, and my appartment, ‘Al Colosseo’, a lovely location within sight (just) of the Collosseum (see below).

However, most mornings I have taken a run down past the Colloseum as far as Circo Massimo and one or more laps of that. It is a popular spot for morning runners, although I prefer it best when I get there a little earlier. Not to avoid the others, but because from about 7am when the sun starts to rise it gets so hot. The most interesting end of Circo Massimo is currently boarded off as they do works there and in the last 2 weeks the far end has turned into a mini-stadium for Beach Soccer, I assume to coincide with the UEFA football next week.

Tonight it will be another pizza evening and I am promised it will be at a place that specialises in Roman-style pizzas and those lovely deep fried vegetables. Italy is about sun and ruins, about design and expensive cars and the Vatican and bureaucracy, … but above all it is about food and friends.

bookshelf in Rome

I posted a few weeks ago about books I had got to bring to Rome.  Since then I got another small collection because I had done some reviewing for Routledge.

Mostly philosophy of the mind and materiality … the latter to help as we work on the DEPtH book on Physicality, TouchIT

  • Shaun Gallagher, Dan Zahavi. The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science, Routledge, 2007.
  • John Lechte. Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Post-Humanism, 2nd Edition, Routledge, 2007.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre.  Being and Nothingnes: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, 1943.  Routledge Classics, , 2nd Edition, 2003.
  • Jay Friedenberg. Artificial Psychology, Routledge , 2008.
  • Max Velmans.  Understanding Consciousness, Routledge, 2009.
  • Peter Carruthers. The Nature of the Mind, Routledge, 2003.

In fact, with these and the previous  set I had far too many even for a month of evenings, and below you can see the books I actually brought.

As well as a selection from the academic books also some fiction/leisure reading, some old favourites and some new ones:

  • How Green was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn – a Welshman has to read this :-/
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger – a classic I’ve never read
  • More of the Good Life – the TV series was formative for me as a child, but 40 seemed so far away
  • Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson – some years since I’ve read it last, and have been loving the TV series, but I don’t think it has stayed very close to the book!
  • Nella Last’s War – this is the book that was the basis for the TV drama Housewife 49 and part of the Mass Observation that collected diaries from ordinary people across Britain during the Second World War.
  • Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskill – another classic that I’ve not read yet!
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.  Laurie Lee’s account of travelling in Spain in the run up to the Civel War.  I read it in school for O’level.
  • Swallowdale, Arthur Ransome – Couldn’t find Swallow’s an Amazons, I think one of the girls might have it on their shelves!
  • The Shining Company, Rosemary Sutcliff – we have loads of her histroical novels for children.  I find that good children’s writing is so much better than most adult books, which often feel they need to be incomprehensible to be good.
  • The Growing Summer, Noel Streatfield – lovely story, children visiting a quirky old lady in west coast of Ireland.
  • Hovel in the Hills, Elizabeth West  – another book I’ve read many times, but not for many years.  True story about a couple who buy an old house on a Welsh hillside.

In addition, but missing from the picture, is one I borrowed from my daughter, Tamara Pierce’s  The Healing in the Vine, and one I’ve borrowed from Tiziana Catarci during my visit the Languages of Art.

So, two weeks in and how far have I got …

Well, been a little busy, two journal papers, a book chapter, an interfaces article, two 3 hour lectures to the masters students here, a seminar, reading thesis chapters and helping with two grant proposals … so not got very far through the bookshelf.

In fact, to be brutally honest, so far only finished the Tamora Pierce and nearly finished Gibson (just conclusions to go):

As you can see LOTS of notes on Gibson, I will write a very long blog sometime about this, but several others in line first!

But next week several train journeys, so may get through a few more books 🙂

the ordinary and the normal

I am reading Michel de Certeau’s “The Practice of Everyday Life“.  The first chapter begins:

The Practice of Everyday Life (cover image)The erosion and denigration of the singular or the extraordinary was announced by The Man Without Qualities1: “…a heroism but enormous and collective, in the model of ants” And indeed the advent of the anthill society began with the masses, … The tide rose. Next it reached the managers … and finally it invaded the liberal professions that thought themselves protected against it, including even men of letters and artists.”

Now I have always hated the word ‘normal’, although loved the ‘ordinary’.  This sounds contradictory as they mean almost the same, but the words carry such different connotations. If you are not normal you are ‘subnormal’ or ‘abnormal’, either lacking in something or perverted.  To be normal is to be normalised, to be part of the crowd, to obey the norms, but to be distinctive or different is wrong.  Normal is fundamentally fascist.

In contrast the ordinary does not carry the same value judgement.  To be different from ordinary is to be extra-ordinary2, not sub-ordinary or ab-ordinary.  Ordinariness does not condemn otherness.

Certeau is studying the everyday.  The quote is ultimately about the apparently relentless rise of the normal over the ordinary, whereas Certeau revels in  the small ways ordinary people subvert norms and create places within the interstices of the normal.

The more I study the ordinary, the mundane, the quotidian, the more I discover how extraordinary is the everyday3. Both the ethnographer and the comedian are expert at making strange, taking up the things that are taken for granted and holding them for us to see, as if for the first time. Walk down an anodyne (normalised) shopping street, and then look up from the facsimile store fronts and suddenly cloned city centres become architecturally unique.  Then look through the crowd and amongst the myriad incidents and lives around, see one at a time, each different.

Sometimes it seems as if the world conspires to remove this individuality. The InfoLab21 building that houses the Computing Dept. at Lancaster was sort listed for a people-centric design award of ‘best corporate workspace‘.  Before the judging we had to remove any notices from doors or any other sign that the building was occupied, nothing individual, nothing ordinary, sanitised, normalised.

However, all is not lost.  I was really pleased the other day to see a paper  “Making Place for Clutter and Other Ideas of Home4. Laural, Alex and Richard are looking at the way people manage the clutter in their homes: keys in bowls to keep them safe, or bowls on a worktop ready to be used.  They are looking at the real lives of ordinary people, not the normalised homes of design magazines, where no half-drunk coffee cup graces the coffee table, nor the high-tech smart homes where misplaced papers will confuse the sensors.

Like Fariza’s work on designing for one person5, “Making a Place for Clutter” is focused on single case studies not broad surveys.  It is not that the data one gets from broader surveys and statistics is not important (I am a mathematician and a statistician!), but read without care the numbers can obscure the individual and devalue the unique.  I heard once that Stalin said, “a million dead in Siberia is a statistic, but one old woman killed crossing the road is a national disaster”. The problem is that he could not see that each of the million was one person too. “Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground.”6.

We are ordinary and we are special.

  1. The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil, 1930-42, originally: Der Mann ohne Eigenschafte. Picador Edition 1997, Trans.  Sophie Wilkins and  Burton Pike: Amazon | Wikipedia[back]
  2. Sometimes ‘extraordinary’ may be ‘better than’, but more often simply ‘different from’, literally the Latin ‘extra’ = ‘outside of’[back]
  3. as in my post about the dinosaur joke![back]
  4. Swan, L., Taylor, A. S., and Harper, R. 2008. Making place for clutter and other ideas of home. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 15, 2 (Jul. 2008), 1-24. DOI=[back]
  5. Described in Fariza’s thesis: Single Person Study: Methodological Issues and in the notes of my SIGCHI Ireland Inaugural Lecture Human-Computer Interaction in the early 21st century: a stable discipline, a nascent science, and the growth of the long tail.[back]
  6. Matthew 10:29[back]


Got some books to fill my evenings when I’m in Rome during May, mostly about physicality and relating to DEPtH project.

Several classics about the nature of action in the physical world:

  • James Gibson,. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. New Jersey, USA, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1979
    Actually a bit embarrassing as I have written about affordance and cited Gibson many times, but never read the original!
  • Martin Heidegger.  Being and Time. Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition, 2008
    Similarly how many times have I cited ‘ready to hand’!  But then again how many people have read Heidegger?
  • Martin Heidegger.  Basic Writings. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008
    This is a ‘best bits’ for Heidegger!
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty.  Phenomenology of Perception. London, England, Routledge, 1958
    Everybody seems to cite Merleau-Ponty, but don’t know much about him … except all that French philosophy is bound to be heavy!

A couple more with a human as action system perspective, that seem to be well reviewed (and I’m guessing easier reads!):

Finally three about memories: linking generally to memories for life and also designing for reflection, but looking at them more specifically in relation to Haliyana‘s photologing studies.

  • Paul Ricoeur.  Memory, History, Forgetting. Chicago University Press; New edition,  2006
  • Paul Ricoeur.  Time and Narrative, Volume 1, Chicago University Press; New edition,  1990
    More classics … and I suspect heavy reads, got another Rocoeur already, but it is still on my “to read” pile.
  • Svetlana Boym.  The Future of Nostalgia. Basic Books, 2008
    Just sounded good.

Will report on them as I go 🙂