Last week was the 10th Anniversary of the research lab here in Cambridge. We had a few people from the media through to show them our wares. One result of that is this article and radio broadcast from the BBC’s Digital Planet show, broadcast on the World Service. It’s a nice little description of our ‘kitchen-like’ demo space and some of the projects I’ve mentioned before on this blog.
In this article on Spiked, Alex Taylor (who’s also in Socio-Digital Sytems) talks about privacy. He draws attention to how the current debate around this issue is so alarmist, focused primarily on the extremes of the invasion of personal liberties, and the dystopian future that envisages. The reality of privacy, though, is much more subtle then that:
“What I want to draw attention to is how the privacy versus openness debate around technology sets up extremes that feel removed from real-world experience. In reality, don’t we routinely move between these two apparent opposites, deciding in often unremarkable ways what we keep to ourselves and what we share? With this in mind, I think we would do well to reconsider our obsession with eliminating all the possible threats to our digital identities, thinking, instead, about how it is we manage ourselves and how, in our mobile futures, we might be enabled to go on doing so.”
Multi-touch is all the rage at the moment, but is something that Microsoft and members of the team I’m in have been looking at for quite a number of years. Steve Hodges, manager of the Sensors and Devices team in Cambridge, reveals a new technical approach to multi-touch in the video below. The key to this approach, which was develops in collaboration with the Socio-Digital Systems team, is using cheap off-the-shelf infra-red components attached to the back of a laptop screen to give multi-touch on a thin display, helping avoid some of the bulk of projection systems.
Last November Tim Regan and I traveled to Brussels for Innovation Day 2006. This event was originally started by Microsoft Research Cambridge as a forum to show the work that we do to a broad, primarily academic audience across Europe. A way of avoiding them all having to travel to the UK. It’s grown quite a bit, and now is as much an opportunity for Microsoft more generally to demonstrate its innovation credentials to European politicians and media. In addition to academics, the event now also hosts a few hundred MEPs and many members of the press.
Anyway, it was a great couple of days of showing 5 of our prototypes to a lot of people. Highlights for me were showing TimeMill and BubbleBoard to Bill Gates and Matti Vanhanen (the Prime Minister of
Holland Finland), and then also to Janez Potocnik, the European Union Commisioner of Science and Technology.
30 years after dropping out of Harvard Bill gates goes back to get his degree. Although much of his commencement speech deals with the serious issues he’s attempting to tackle with his foundation, there are also quite a few lighthearted bits, like this: “Radcliffe was a great place to live. There were more women up there, and most of the guys were science-math types. That combination offered me the best odds, if you know what I mean. This is where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn’t guarantee success.”
In this article on the BBC Technology web site Greg Papadopoulos, CTO of Sun Microsystems, comments on how broken voicemail systems are. “When I look at my phone, with the nice display and all sorts of processing power, I begin to think that voicemail is not just bad – it’s ridiculously broken. Messages should come down to my phone well ahead of when I want to listen so that I can organise them. Since the beginning of personal computing, we’ve thought about PCs as machines that sit on our desks Then I want to be able to arrange voicemails like my e-mail, where I could see all the messages and pick amongst them.”
We agree. See BubbleBoard.
Bill Buxton has been writing a book on sketching for quite a while and it’s finally hit the streets.
In case you haven’t hear of him he is famous for the creation of a lot of innovative ideas within the user interface community throughout his career. He’s also famous for his wit and way with words, perfectly summarizing amazing ideas with the pithiest of sentences. He’s a massive advocate for designers, and we’re lucky to both have him as a prinicpal researcher here at Microsoft, as well as a close friend of the team I’m part of in Cambridge. He’s very into the design process, particularly rapid idea generation through sketching and prototyping. This book summarizes his thoughts around this subject, garnered over many years.
I was lucky enough to get pages from my own sketch books included as examples. There are 8 or 10 pages in total at full size (compared to the Moleskine they were originally drawn in) and they’re near the middle of Bill’s book. They’re in there as an example of how designers hoard things in their sketch books, as well as develop and think through ideas that may or may not make it to the light of day. I’m happy and proud to see them in such a great book.
The book was design by Henry Hong-Yiu Cheung, who has an amazing background as a designer working with Bruce Mau as well as others. It’s thanks to Henry, really, that my sketch book made it in full size rather then reduced or cropped. Thanks, Henry, for wanting to reproduce the real books as closely as possible, and good to meet you last week at CHI.
A good, generally positive article on the Discovery Channel about the BubbleBoard. Great to see some continuing coverage as a follow up to TechFest. Not sure I agree about some of the contentions about the advantages of multi-purpose devices over single purposes, but that’s a good discussion to have here at the CHI (Computer-Human interaction) Conference which I’m currently attending in San Jose.
Here’s a video of Gordon Bell (in the right column), who works for Microsoft Research in the Bay Area. He’s digitizing every aspect of his life, and uses Sensecam to record his daily activities. It sits around his neck on a lanyard and takes a shot every 30 seconds of who he meets, where he is and so on.
“For computer researcher Gordon Bell, even his morning walk to work is part of a grand experiment in digitizing and remembering everything, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports. He wears a little camera around his neck that takes a picture every 30 seconds or so.”