Results tagged “notes” from kwc blog

CHI Wednesday notes

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CHI Tuesday notes

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CHI Monday notes

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Tufte talk at Stanford

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I don't have too much to say about this talk, as it was mostly Tufte recounting his life as an academic all the way from his undergraduate education at Stanford to posts at both Yale and Princeton, followed by a slideshow of his more recent sculpture work. There was one very fun moment for us GG followers:

Edward Tufte, master of the display of statistical information, has put up a slide with sparklines and Galileo's description of Saturn. Suddenly, he gasps -- the projection screen is too far away! How will he ever properly point to Galileo's illustration of Saturn's rings?!?!?

Never fear, GadgetGuy is here -- sitting in the third row, actually, taking notes on his MacBook. GadgetGuy quickly reaches into his pocket and produces his trusty green laser pointer. The talk is saved!

Hofstadter at StanfordDouglas Hofstadter sponsored by Stanford Humanities Center

Most of my few run-ins with Douglas Hofstadter haved corresponded well with whatever I'm reading at the time. I read Godel, Escher, Bach during college, which connected the dots between all the different computer science classes I was taking, a feat that my professors were not interested in accomplishing. Shortly thereafter, I saw Hofstadter speak about translating Russian literature. This did not do as good of a job unifying my education.

Tonight's talk, Analogy as the Core of Cognition, was also outside the computer science domain, but my pop-sci interest in brain books has given me more dots to connect. Less than an hour after Hofstadter's talk, I read this passage in Birth of the Mind (p. 138) that struck me as almost being planted by Hofstadter for me to read:

Another critical factor may be the almost magical ability of humans to combine simple elements into more complex ones that can in turn serve as elements in futher combinations, as idea sometimes referred to as "recursion." If you can think about a ball, you can think about a big ball, and if you can think about big ball, you can think about a big ball with stripes, a big ball with stripes that lies on the beach, and so forth.

Although penned by a different author, this passage in many ways is the central idea to Hofstader's talk, which you can read more about in the extended entry. Hofstadter came out old-school with the overhead transparencies and in some spots in the notes I've used photos of his slides instead of textual transcriptions.

Book: Design of Everyday Things

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meta warned me that when I read The Design of Everyday Things, I would learn very little. This is a compliment to the book, rather than a criticism. We both worked at PARC at the time and much of what is in the book is ingrained within the PARC culture. Thus, to say that I would learn very little is to say how influential the ideas of this book are. According to the Director of User Experience at TiVo, the book is somewhat of a bible. You'll find my own attempt at being Norman in "Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg."

Another compliment I will pay this book is, in retrospect, the ideas presented seem like commonsense. As Norman dissects bad doors and light switch arrangements, the criticisms are intuitive, yet we must wonder, if this truly was commonsense, why is it so easy to find examples of bad design in everyday things? It's not hard to find a doors with "push" or "pull" signs taped on because the wrong type of handle was used. It's not hard to remember being confronted with an array of light switches and not knowing which light went with which. Sometimes the explanation is that someone was being cheap. Or lazy. But we also see simple principles violated in expensive, intensively designed products like airplanes and cars. Bad design comes with any price tag.

The most valuable aspect of the book for me is that it provides a vocabulary for being more specific about evaluating design. Norman once said something akin to, if it has poor usability, it probably got a design award. We don't do a good job separating out aesthetics and usability when we use the term design. The iPod is cited again and again as an example of "good design," but there are many usability problems. It's mappings are poor: press the center button and the next menu scrolls in from the right; press up and the previous menu scrolls in from the left; pressing left or right changes the track that's playing; rotating the scrollwheel wheel moves a linear menu up and down. The visibility is also poor: two weeks ago I taught two long-time iPod users that you can fast-forward/rewind, rate songs, and view album art if you press the center button while a song is playing.

I look forward to reading Norman's Emotional Design. I'm sure it will provide a vocabulary for discussing the good aspects of the iPod design, and then at last I can make my $billions.

Partial/ongoing notes in the extended.

Book: Mind Wide Open

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Mind Wide Open is a fun, light read by Steven Johnson. It's a pop-sci examination of the brain, with a focus on translating/rejecting Freudian ideas into a modern scientific framework. This Freud ambition limits the scope of the book: it is tourist equivalent of a quick day tour of New York by bus, a few stops, all brief.

The focus on Freud seems to come from a pop-sci similarity: Freud is one of the few psychologists whose ideas have entered into the popular lexicon and, by reinterpreting Freud's work, Johnson hopes to fulfill his goal of entering neuroscience concepts into the popular lexicon as well. Ambitious, especially in the book's final chapter which reads less like a conclusion and more like a Freud/Neuroscience manifesto (it is one Johnson's favorite chapters that he has written). If you hate Freud, don't distress. I hate Freud as well, but the most of the effort in connecting neuroscience to Freud is spent in the final chapter and only occasionally crops up elsewhere. Perhaps this is why the final chapter felt so out of place to me within the context of the book.

I prefer Emergence, Johnson's book on emergent behavior, to Mind Wide Open. Emergence was more the type of book where you want to grab a friend after reading a chapter and go, "did you know that __?" Perhaps this was an artifact of Johnson using himself as the subject of many of the experiments. Instead of focusing on the extraordinary cases of neuroscience like Oliver Sacks, we instead are confronted with the banal. We learn what Johnson learned about himself, but without being able to subject our self to the same tests the learning feels thirdhand. Much of the experiments have been better suited to a Discovery Channel special than a book, because video at least would better allow us to imagine ourselves in the experiment.

I have some limited notes in the extended. Due to the type of narrative, I found it difficult to take notes: much of the relevant details are scattered across many pages, so I eventually decided it was taking too much time.

Beyond Menus and Toolbars in Microsoft Office
Jensen Harris, MS Office UE Team
http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/
BayCHI

Office 12 is an upgrade I wouldn't mind paying for, that is, assuming that work didn't let us get free copies. Those are big words for me, considering my "I Hate Microsoft" series of blog entries. I can imagine making documents faster with Office 12, or at least I can imagine making better looking documents in the same amount of time. Excel, which has been less functional for me than the spreadsheet program I used on my Apple IIe, looks like it will be come a useful tool for data analysis.

I felt that Harris made a convincing case as to why they are doing the UI revamp, that it's more than a marketing trick. The conventional wisdom out there is "Everything I need was in office [95, 97, 2000]." (For me it was Word 95). They collected a ton of data (including over a billion Office sessions) that told a different story. On a list of the top ten most requested features for Office: four of them were already in Office. Their conclusion was that "Office is good enough in that people have made peace with it." Another observation from the data was that the average user spends more time with Office (2.6 hrs/day) than they do with their spouse (2.4 hrs/day). When you take 400 million users * 2.6 hrs/day, it seems worth improving that experience. Harris rhetorically asked, "Have we reached the pinnacle of software that people use to get their job done everyday?"

It was also clear from the evolution of the Office design that a revamp was in order. The number of toolbars and taskpanes was getting out of control: they were create user interfaces to manage their user interface. There simply wasn't a good menu+toolbar paradigm for managing programs with 1500+ commands.

My notes are in the extended. I transcribed a lot of the new Office 12 elements, but text doesn't do a very good job of describing user interface. Overall, it's a more visually oriented interface: large gallery icons show what a command does and hovering over the icon gives you a preview of the result, e.g. if you hover over a font, your select is shown with that font. The UI is also much more contextualized. What you think of being on your right-click menu is now the focus of your toolbar menu. One of the most important design constraints introduced is that the UI is confined to a fix region of the screen and doesn't do any of the silly auto-hiding or auto-rearranging of Office past.

If you're really curious about the Office 12 UI I recommend visiting Harris' blog. You will find out that yes, they fixed the stupid start presentation button in Powerpoint. Also, new fonts!. Death to Times New Roman!

Summary tidbits: * "Is it worth taking this pixel away from the user?" * You must remove to simplify * Is there a classic mode? No. * They were trying to figure out what some of the commands in Excel did. Found out some options in Excel weren't hooked up into any code: "They didn't do anything!" * On Office 2000's 'auto' features: "The computer looks at the things you use the most and moves them around all the time." * On Office 2002 task panes: "New features aren't being invented, but I bet they will if we create a whole new rectangle"

Talk: iRobot

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scoutChris Jones from iRobot gave a talk at SRI. He focused mostly on iRobot's government/industrial robots (the ones with big treads that you can throw through a window) rather than the delicate Roomba and Scooba home appliance robots (FYI: the Scooba was designed to cleanup dried peanut butter from your kitchen floor in one pass).

The main line of iRobot's government/industrial robots is the packbot. I saw one of these at Robonexus awhile back -- they had it continuosly going up a staircase and dropping several feet to the ground. These things are tough (rated to 400Gs) and can handle all sorts of terrain with their tread and flipper design. The idea is that a soldier would throw this robot (e.g. through a window, around a corner, etc...) and then use a laptop to guide the robot around and get back video. You can outfit the packbot with an arm that can hold a camera or 'disruptor' for destroying explosive devices. They've even put a parachute and fan on a packbot to make it fly. A packbot is rugged enough that when it reaches the deployment zone it can just cut its parachute in order to land, or, in the case of one video he showed us, when the packbot gets piloted into a tree.

griffon.jpg

Some tidbits from the talk:

  • Your home is a dangerous place: the algorithm that the Roomba uses to figure out where to clean is adapted from a minefield coverage algorithm.
  • Leave no robot behind: On April 8, 2004, Packbot 129 became the first packbot to be 'killed in action.' US soldiers managed to retrieve all of its parts and it is now framed for display.
  • Lest they take over: The military doesn't like hearing about robot 'autonomy,' so iRobot markets their robots to the military as being like remote control cars. Now that the military has been using them in combat operations, they are now asking for more autonomous features like "come home so we can get the hell outta here."

Book: Gehry Draws

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gdrawing.jpgThis is not your pretty-color-photo architecture portfolio books . As the title suggests, it is mostly a book of Gehry's drawings, all of which are about as detailed on the one shown here; in other words, it is many, many pages of scribbling. Ignoring the pretentious-art-historian essay at the start of the collection that compares Gehry's sketches to Durer's works and extols Gehry's use of grundlinie, the truth is that many of Gehry's sketches are thirty-second efforts (p. 126). I would prefer if the book focused more on the models, but then it wouldn't be called Gehry Draws. Also, as the models are built by his staff, it is really only the drawings that can be said to be Gehry's work.

This is not to say that the drawings are not interesting. At first I was put back by having to look at scribbly sketches, but after awhile you get a sense of the rhythm and form Gehry was trying to communicate. I still find it impressive that his staff can look at the drawings and translate them into 3-D models, then again, I don't have Gehry standing next to me to pantomime the form in the drawing. It is these models that are the key to the book -- the juxtaposition between drawings and models makes the models Rosetta Stones for scribble interpretation. Also, the models are pretty.

I most enjoyed the section on the Lewis Residence, which was a house designed in collaboration with Philip Johnson and Richard Serra (among others) but was never built. Six years were spent iterating the design for the house and it reads as a transition point into the trademark wavy style -- Serra's influence on Gehry becomes more obvious. Gehry has described the project as being like a research fellowship where they got to hone their physical- and computer-modelling techniques.

There are occassional quotes by Gehry and his staff in the book (though they are poorly edited tnough to have frequenty spelling errors). I especially like Gehry's quote, "There was a period when I used to look into my wastepaper basket and fantasize buildings and forms," as well as this quote about designing the office space for MIT's Stata Center:

We then made models showing [the MIT faculty] the ways different cultures might deal with this problem. We had a scheme based on a traditional Japanese house with panels that could open to combine spaces and close shut for privacy. They hated that because there was no hierarchy. Then we gave them a scheme based on a colonial American house with a central hall and rooms around the bottom and rooms around the top. But they didn't like that either; it was too formal. Then one of our team members made an "orangutan village" around a tree with elders higher up and the children below it. At first they were insulted. They thought we were calling them apes. But in the end they chose the orangutan village.

more quotes in the extended review

Talk: Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge

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I went to go see Sebastian Thrun speak at Stanford about his team's winning effort in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Thrun described the contest as how to stay on the road for a very long time. It was not a general path-finding problem: DARPA gives you the route with a corridor you have to follow, as well as speed limits you have to observe for various parts of the course. Of course, DARPA didn't give perfect data. He showed a video generated from the data of Stanley driving through the most dangerous part of the course: the switchbacks of Beer Bottle Pass with a cliff on one side. DARPA's corridor was overlaid on top of Stanley's sensor data and it was easy to see that much of DARPA's corridor was actually over the cliff.

During training many traffic cones were "frequent victims of computer glitches," but Team Stanley was called "Team Boring" by the cleanup crew for their lack of incidents. The actual challenge was described as getting the data at 4AM, getting Stanley to the starting line at 6AM, and then sitting around drinking beer for several hours. The big moment came when Stanley passed CMU's Highlander as the CMU and Stanford teams listened to race radio. Thrun narrated the exciting finish for us: "[The head of DARPA] is waving his flag as if the car could see it."

Thrun said that they won mostly through luck given how close four of the teams finished. The speed limits set by DARPA for the various parts of the course were too conservative, so the cars were running below their full potential. DARPA also decided to make the course fairly easy. Asked if CMU would have won had they not had engine problems, Thrun answered, "In all likelihood, yes." Also, Team ENSCO had a faster average course time but flatted on "something really big CMU left behind" (the CMU part may have been a joke). Thrun felt that Stanford had better software than CMU and on a tougher course Stanford would have the advantage.

In the future, Thrun wants to try driving 65mph on 280, parking in a garage, convoy driving, and driving assist. Part of his motivation is to reduce traffic deaths, which a driving assist system could help prevent. He also feels that a fully automated system would change society by allowing you to use your commute time productively -- you could even drive to your destination, get out, and then send your car to go park in a parking garage farther away. These are still looking far ahead. In response to someone asking what it would take to drive at human-controlled speeds, Thrun related it to asking the Wright brothers, "If you want to fly over the Atlantic, what's missing?"

Talk: Salman Rushie, Shalimar the Clown

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Salman Rushie spoke at Books Inc in Mountain View. These are my notes (more in the extended entry). As always with my notes, although I attempt to use quotes as much as possible, I don't stand by the accuracy of my quotes and they should be considered paraphrasings at best.

For In the Name of the Rose Umberto Eco said, "'I had a great desire to murder a monk'... in my case it was an American ambassador." Shalimar the Clown starts off with Shalimar, a muslim Kashmiri, killing the American ambassador that his childhood sweetheart ran off with. Shalimar is a character transforms from tight-rope walker into terrorist.

In the book you root for Shalimar even though he does horrible things. It "would have been much easier to make him not likable," but then he would be a cartoon and cartoons can't make moral choices. Shalimar "retains the capacity for moral choice" and thus retains moral responsibility. Rushdie had watched a documentary about the downfall of Hitler that humanized the Nazis and he felt that the humanizing "does the opposite of exonerating them." It is one of the roles of writers to make you care about the people because "you have to care about people to care about what happens to them."

Much of the novel takes place in Kashmir and he said, "'[I] always wanted to write more about it than I have." Midnight's Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories have parts in Kashmir, but not very much.

In 1987 he was participating in a British documentary about India at the age of 40. He met a group of travelling players in Kashmir and thought that they lived an "extraordinary lifestyle... on the one hand paradise-like... [but] incredibly poor." He observed their way of life and it "felt like the end of a very long line." This was before the eruption of violence and the insurgency, so he does not imagine that life has gotten better for them.

He wanted to put them in the documentary, but they were "too scared to tell the truth on camera." They would complain about the Indian troops off camera, but when you turned the camera on they would say, "We are very happy," and praise the Indian troops.

Talk: Neil Gaiman *Anansi Boys*

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Neil Gaiman-1"Dearly Beloved..."

Neil Gaiman addressed us from atop the pulpit in the First Congregation Church in Berkeley on National Geek Day, the day that both Mirromask and Serenity were released in theaters. He read from Anansi Boys, a book that has the tagline "God is dead. Meet the kids." As Gaiman noted, you write a "book with strange gods, and they send you to talk in churches."

Gaiman described Anansi Boys as American Gods' second cousiin, once removed. He had the idea for Anansi Boys before American Gods, so one way he thinks of Mr. Nancy and American Gods is that it had a special guest star... for a book that hadn't been written yet.

For Anansi Boys I've decided to do something I've never done before: buy the audiobook. My reason for this was is very simple: there's an mp3 version. I never saw much reason before in buying audiobooks. They're as expensive as the book and there's this giant stack of CDs that you either have to cart around or you have to spend an hour ripping to your computer. With an mp3 CD I can immediately place it on my iPod or PSP -- it's ready to consume.

The battle over DRM rarely gets very far as it is an ideological battle with strongly divided opinions, full of speculation but few actual examples proving either sides' case. It's great to see an author that's #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List take what the industry would consider a risk and move the debate over DRM forward. Gaiman had to fight with Harper Collins to have mp3 CDs made, so he encouraged me to encourage my friends to purchase the mp3 version. I wish more authors were iPod users like Gaiman so that they too would act as intelligently about technology.

Neil Gaiman-2 Neil Gaiman-6 Neil Gaiman-5 Neil Gaiman-4 Neil Gaiman-3 Gaiman Pratchett-1

WARNING: Notes in the extended. I did a really, really bad job with my notes. Much more here is paraphrased from memory than actual quotes. For whatever reason my note-taking skills were terrible tonight and much that was funny I cannot remember well enough to transcribe.

Talk: Terry Pratchett

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talk at Books Inc in Mountain View

Pratchett opened his talk comparing the security at airports to "evil clowns at the circus." Shoes off, belt on, shoes off, belt off. "Trousers down -- they haven't done that yet -- you know they want to do it." There was a "guy with one leg. They took his shoe away." He found the focus on pocketknives puzzling in a country where we have so many guns.

On heart surgery

Pratchett had heart surgery last year. Afterwords his surgeon said that they had a little "fun and games." Pratchett asked if that was medical speak for "you nearly died." His surgeon responded, "heart surgery is medical speak for you nearly died." Apparently throughout the process Pratchett kept trying to get up saying, "he's got sandwiches." He never managed to get close to the man with sandwiches in his dream, so he chalks it up as a "near sandwich experience." Reflecting on this, he thinks that when you die "it's obviously some distance because they give you something to eat on the way." He doesn't know what type of sandwich it was, but if it was a cheese sandwich with a Branston Pickle he would go with but if it were a cucumber sandwich with the edges cut off he would turn away.

Q: What kind of sandwich would Death and the Death of Rats have?
A: Death would have a curry sandwich and the Death of Rats would have a double gloucester cheese sandwich (see Hard Cheese of Old England)

more notes in the extended

Comic-Con: Bruce Campbell

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The Bruce Campbell panel at Comic-Con was hilarious. I transcribed some quotes that I've included here, but rather than make some coherent sense out of them I'll point you too the full mp3 audio of the panel as well as multiple summaries on IGN and a summary from Sign on San Diego.

I highly recommend the audio, if you can stand the recording quality. Campbell's panel is the only one in three years I've seen that had the audience laughing from start to finish, a feat he accomplished while tempting the worst possible fate: the Q&A session. Usually, the Q&A session signals the end of all quality commentary in a panel. A single bad question (i.e. the first) begins the exodus from the auditorium as people seek out their next session. A novice panelist (e.g. Natalie Portman) will usually try to answer the dumb question and will take far too much time giving a politically correct non-answer to the question.

Campbell, with the confidence he demonstrated throughout the panel, began his Q&A session almost immediately, briefly taking the time to do some short demo clips. With all of Campbell's career to draw from, I would have expected the idiotic questions to overwhelm even a skilled speaker, but Campbell showed that a well-timed and tersely delivered insult makes even the worst -- especially the worst -- questions entertaining and keeps the flow of the Q&A moving.

Here are some samples of answering dumb questions the Bruce Campbell way:

"Is *Alien Apocalypse coming out on DVD? Why, because it was that good? Are you just being a smartass?"

Will you do another TV show?
BC: "Why? Because my first two TV shows went so well?"

Q: Brisco County Junior DVD set
A: Counting to 10 on his fingers "I am an actor they don't tell me shit"
later on
Q: Jack of All Trades DVD set
A: "Why, because it was so successful?" mutters, "I am an actor they don't tell me shit"

Q: When is How to Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way coming out in paperback
A: "Buy the hardcover. Don't be a cheap bastard. How much did you pay to get in here? You bought all seven versions of Army of Darkness didn't ya?"

There are some quotations Bruce Campbell's insulting and non-insulting comments in the extended, though bravado and timing cannot be conveyed in a transcription, so I recommend listening to the mp3 if you have the time.

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Comic-Con: Quick Draw

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Comic-Con 2005 Quick Draw Panel
Host: Mark Evanier
Artists: Sergio Aragones, Scott Shaw, Kyle Baker, Jeff Smith

The Comic-Con Quick Draw panel is most consistently entertaining event at Comic-Con. It is dominated by Sergio Aragones, whose blazingly fast drawings, humor, and occassional inability to understand English are highlighted throughout, but Shaw/Baker/Smith are fun as well. I'm inclined to remember the 2004 Quick Draw Competition as being more fun, but that may be a trick of memory.

The Quick Draw Panel is, well, quick, so this year's blog-based summary is a two-person effort. Notes were taken by parakkum and the photos were taken by yours truly.

WARNING: this entry is very, very long, with many, many photos.

Peter Norvig, Google; Ken Norton, Yahoo!; Mark Fletcher, Bloglines/Ask Jeeves; Udi Manber, A9; Jakob Nielsen, NN Group

I went with bp and Neil to a BayCHI talk on "Recent Innovations in Search." I agree with bp's sentiment -- there were some interesting moments, but the talk was short on revelations or insights. I guess that is to be expected as the title of the talk is past focused ("Recent Innovations") rather than future focused ("Future Innovations"); it's hard to believe that the panelists would give away yet unrevealed technologies they were working on. I'm going to try and save as much effort as possible, given that bp posted his notes. In fact, as I am going to crib from his notes, or just omit what he already has, you should just go read them instead.

Talk: Tivo

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Revolutionizing Consumer Electronics: Welcome to the TiVolution´┐Ż! Paul Newby, Director of Consumer Design Margret Schmidt, Director of User Experience (UE), TiVo

I went to the TiVo talk at BayCHI/PARC. The best part of the night, perhaps, was that I have a bunch of great TiVo schwag: a TiVo doll and two new TiVo remotes -- one to replace honeyfield's remote, which has been mistaken for bunny food, and one to solve the problem we had last week of, when you lose the TiVo remote, there's no way for you to watch TV. The second best part of the night is that I learned a new TiVo feature that didn't exist on the Series 1 remote: if you press advance (the ->| button) in a list, it will jump to the end (very useful for Home Media Option).

I have detailed notes, but it's hard for me to put the effort into transcribing all of them, mainly because I've heard most of what she's said having worked at PARC for two years (big human-computer interaction focus) and having owned a TiVo for two years. As metamanda put it when I asked her if I should read Don Norman's Design of Everyday Things, she said it was good, but I've already heard everything in it multiple times. Seeing as Norman's book is somewhat of a bible for the TiVo User Experience team, I think the same applies here.

It's also hard for me to transcribe my notes because much of what was said has already been said in this interview Schmidt did for PVRBlog

There was an interesting semi-anecdote on TiVo's "overshoot correction" feature (where it jumps back a little after a fast forward). Many people think that TiVo is actually "learning" this (even across multiple users), i.e. when they fast forward and it doesn't jump to the spot that they wanted, they assume it was because they must have deviated from their normal reaction time (it's actually a hardcoded number based on the fast forward speed, derived from research).

My last thought before this switches into notes is that I wonder if TiVo is going to put an Apple-style clickwheel on the remote to replace the direction pad. The problem with navigating long lists was mentioned multiple times by them, and Margret did even mention a scrollwheel as a possibility, and it seems to me that the newest clickwheel comes the closest to carrying the TiVo direction pad concept forward.

Peter Norvig, Google

AAAI Summary

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I don't expect anyone other than myself to actually go through all the talk notes I've been posting, but I will point to three in particular that I enjoyed and thought were useful. The first was a tutorial on Automating the Design of Visualizations, which was a great blend of cognitive science, computer science, and user studies to help try and foster better computer-generated visual designs (target audience: people with Tufte on their shelves).

Two of the invited talks, AI and the New Exploration Vision (NASA) and If Not Turing's Test, Then What? are high-level enough to be approachable. The NASA talked a lot about the technologies they are using/will use/want to use in their Mars and future lunar missions. The Turing talk discusses some of the grand challenges for AI and was also a meta talk about the properties of grand challenges.

I find myself drinking from the fire hose here -- many of the talks were topics that I knew little or nothing about, nor had any mathematical background for. If you don't understand my notes, rest assured that I may not understand them little, though being at the conference is rather like learning a foreign language in a foreign country, with the immersion making for quick study.

Update: Added to photo entries
- Mars Personal Rover
- Maze of Carnage

A Case Study from Artificial Life Matthias Scheutz, Notre Dame

Talk: Real Robots for the Real World

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Sebastian Thrun, Stanford

This talk was mostly over my head in terms of the math, but the work is interesting.

Talk: AI and the New Exploration Vision

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Dan Clancy, NASA

I enjoyed this talk -- it was a survey of NASA's current AI-based missions, including current and future Mars missions (Sojourner/Spirit/Opportunity). metamanda would have liked at least one point the talk made, which was that NASA is working on a personal rover robot to create/inspire kids, and in particular, girls. They have found in their exhibits that robots are more engaging to girls than boys, who enjoy the embodied interaction, so they see in it an opportunity to bridge a gender gap as well as inspire a future generation in NASA's vision. It was interesting how the Personal Exploration Rover pictures really did look like baby versions of the Spirit/Opportunity rovers, i.e. there was a certain amount of anthropomorphism to the vehicle, and it appeared child-like that could help engender a care-taker relationship between a kid and the robot.

Read on for notes.

Maneesh Agrawala, Julie Heiser, and Barbara Tversky Tutorial session at AAAI

Two implemented systems explored for automated design of visualizations: map routes and assembly instructions. Map routes system (LineDrive) used by MapBlast (now mappoint.msn.com).

Three parts to talk: cog sci/CS background, map routes, assembly instructions.

Notes: Stochastic Local Searches

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Tutorial session at AAAI

slides

Comic-Con: Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury's session was mostly full of soundbites and anecdotes (which he was prompted for). I'm afraid that these notes are very accurate, but I am transcribing them for my memory anyway. For each of these stories there's a lot more to tell, and I'm fairly certain that they've been told before (as most of the stories were prompted), so I would Google for the whole story if you're actually interested.

Read on for my notes and a photo.

Panel: Quick Draw Improv

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This is one of my favorite Comic-Con panels. This year's panel featured Sergio Aragones (Groo), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Scott Shaw (Hanna Barbara master). For those of you not familiar with Quick Draw and/or Sergio, you should know Sergio draws obscenely fast, which will perhaps make some of the prompts and drawings make more sense.

Warning: really large download if you read on.

Talk: Tufte

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Photo of Edward TufteI was really excited to go see Tufte today for his day long course. His writings and teachings are excellent, and I find them useful whenever I am displaying visual information, even if I cannot live up to the standards that they profess. Sometimes I wish Tufte would sell software with his design principles built-in, rather than the pie-chart glory of Excel. In fact, I learned during the talk from Peter Norvig (slightly more on this later) that the Autocomplete Wizard in Powerpoint started off as a joke by the engineering people to the marketing people, along the lines of "oh yeah, and we can just have the application fill in all the content for you." Clearly, engineers don't understand marketing.

So, on to the talk, which I discuss my rants and raves in the extended entry.

I didn't like this talk enough to actually transcribe the notes. Luckily, heerforce has already transcribed his notes/outline, and they're probably better than I would have done anyway.

In short, I expected a lot more from the chief scientist at Altavista. His talk was so vague compared to Eric Schmidt's Google Forum - most of the stuff Pedersen put up was general knowledge. Also, if you notice from heer's notes, his "Future" section of his talk was very vague (though he was rushed).

Comic-Con: Bendis, Oeming, Mack

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The Image booth was one of the first booth's I visited. Bendis, Oeming and Mack were all there. Bendis did a really funny drawing for pqbon, and honeyfields managed to talk to Oeming for so long (~30min+) that he broke out the brush and did a really cool Batman for her (I believe her request was for something "bad ass").

I didn't get a chance to talk to Mack until much later in the convention. We briefly chatted about his Alias covers (which I really like), and he ended up handing me a generous stack of his Kabuki works for free. I'm looking forward to reading the Kabuki works, because with the Alias covers at least, I've found his artwork to be a good transition from real world into the story itself. Also, unlike most comic books that feel like they take place in complete fantasy, his mixed media style makes you feel like you're in a slightly altered universe, only different enough to allow a fantastical story to take place.

Forum: Beer

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We just had a forum on beer-making with a beer tasting afterwards, now how cool is that?

Beer: From Grain Brain To Glass
Presented by: Peter Bouckaert
New Belgium Brewing, Co.

Marketing types in the world of brewing like to say their beers are "steeped in tradition," but does this not ignore hundreds of years of experience and innovation?

In an entertainment industry where 10 minutes of pleasure is our product, working artfully towards a new creation is key. Starting from the glass and going over everything from grain to brain, some challenges of the new ingredients (i.e., experience, knowledge and creativity) will be fermented. A beer seminar addressing E = mc2, child development and Jackson Pollock awaits you!

More below...

Talk: Bob Metcalfe

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Bob Metcalfe gave a short talk as part of the Ethernet celebration. It was a hurried, spirited talk off of notecards. My chaotic notes (along with some statements by Liddle) are below.

Paper: mediaBLOCKs

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mediaBLOCKs: Physical Containers, Transports, and Controls for Online Media [pdf]
Brygg Ullmer, Hiroshi Ishii, and Dylas Glas
Tangible Media Group
MIT Media Lab
SIGGRAPH 98

This is an interesting complement/predecessor of DataTiles.

PARC Forum
Silicon Valley Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory (RCFL)
Special Agent Chris Beeson
FBI San Francisco
Computer Analysis Response Team

Forum: UCB Digital Library Project

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PARC Forum
THE UCB DIGITAL LIBRARY PROJECT: RE-INVENTING SCHOLARLY INFORMATION DISSEMINATION AND USE

ROBERT WILENSKY
Professor and Principal Investigator, The Digital Library Project, UC Berkeley

ABSTRACT:

Our practice of disseminating, accessing and using information, especially scholarly information, is still significantly impeded by the legacy of pre-electronic media. While overcoming these impediments will require many elements, there are opportunities for technological innovation to support new and better practices. For example, journals exist in their traditional forms at least partly because of the value of the peer review process, which thus far has not yielded to decentralized, distributed and timely mechanisms of the Web. Similarly, information access is still largely a text-based affair, with other data types relegated to second class citizenship.

The UC Berkeley Digital Library project is developing technologies aimed at addressing these impediments, and hence allowing the development of new, more efficient mechanisms of information dissemiation and use. In particular, we are developing new models of documents, in the form of the Multivalent browser, which we hope will convince you to throw away your current, limited web browser, for collaborative quality filtering", which provides the value of peer
review without deference to prior established authorities, such as journals, and for "collection management services", which bring to individual information users services previously available to libraries. Taken together, such mechanisms may provide the benefits of modern communications without sacraficing traditional academic values.

In addition, we have been developing techniques for image retrieval based on image content. Recent progress on learning the semantics of image databases using text and pictures suggests that new forms of image-lated web services may be possible, including automatic image captioning and automatic illustration, among others.

Forum: Google

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Eric Schmidt of Google gave a very interesting talk at PARC. The first half of his talk was about information movements and the second half was anecdotes/information about Google. Schmidt started off with a comparison to electricity: it started off as a big boom, then it became a utility. Similarly, it started off with thousands of companies, and then became very few. Schmidt argues that all big bubbles have followed the model of thousands then few: railroads, auto, dot com. To me at least, this seemed hand-wavy: the auto industry, for example, has a huge parts and support industry around it, and railroad/electricity are inhibited by infrastructure - a company doesn't have to own Internet backbone to produce a product or service.

The funniest anecdote he gave was about the "bias" of Google News. He was giving a talk and someone in the audience asked him what Google's slant was when it displayed articles. Schmidt tried to explain that a computer selected the articles, and thus there was no slant, but the audience member insisted that every news source has a slant. As Schmidt tells the story, he went to the researchers/engineers that were responsible for Google News and asked them if it were possible that Google News had a slant. As it turns out, the researcher that created the program is Indian and put in two biases: (1) International news is favored, and (2) cricket. I had actually noticed (2), because it seemed improbable to me that there would be a cricket sports link everyday on the front page.

Another funny anecdote he had was when he was making a point that cost drives everything. When Google was still at Stanford, they needed to build server casings. What did they use: legos or duplos? Duplos, because they are cheaper.

More stuff below and in the extended comments.

Abstract:
Eric Schmidt, Google Talk
- "Scarcity to Abundance Drives Everthing Tech"

Forum: 20,000 Bytes Under the Sea

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20,000 Bytes Under The Sea
Poster & Abstract
Emory Kristof
Photographer-in-Residence
National Geographic Society

This was a really nice talk IMHO. The guy's been with National Geographic forever and throughout his career has had to build leading-edge photography rigs to expand National Geographic's photographic reach beneath the sea. Some of his work also helped inspire Titanic the movie. His more recent work has been with high-definition capture, and the pictures he showed were amazing (especially compared to non-high definition versions of the same stuff).

Forum: Speech Level Singing

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The Speech Level Singing Method: Tools And Tricks For Artistic Vocal Development
Dave Stroud
Technical Voice Instructor
Dave Stroud Vocal Studio (www.davestroud.com)

Book: Snowcrash - World

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Second set of notes for Snowcrash. This set describes the "real world" portion of Stephenson's novel.

Book: Snowcrash - Metaverse

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I separated the notes for this book into several sections. The level of detail that Stephenson put into describing the Snowcrash world is so amazing that I felt like outlining it. This section of notes describes the Metaverse.

Forum: Star Wars

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PARC Forum
Digital Environments And Costumes In Star Wars: Episode II
Ari Rapkin
CG (computer graphics) Software Engineer
Industrial Light + Magic

Star Wars Forum Poster

Book: Embracing Defeat

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John Dower taught several of the classes I took on Japanese history. This is my outline of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Embracing Defeat:
- Embracing Defeat

Note:These are notes are not much use to anyone who does not actually own this book, and I have only put these online so that those who do own the book might find them useful in remembering some of the salient points. Actually, I posted them online so that I could lookup my notes whenever I need them, but it sounds nice to be so generous to others. With that said:

If you don't own the book: Why don't you go buy the book on Amazon?

If you do own the book, but are using these notes in lieu of actually reading the book, shame on you, as it is a fine book that you should read. Dower's a great teacher, and a great writer. If you have a chance to take one of his classes, do.