January 2005 Archives

In a 1996 essay (Word document) Mark Weiser, the person who coined the term ubiquitous computing and who really defned the space, predicts:

The "Smart House" of 1955 dared to put a TV and a telephone in every room. And the "Smart House" of 2005 will have computers in every room. But what will they do?

I have yet to see a good consumer-oriented kitchen computing device, and we still mostly have dumb toilets. So is the revolution in personal ubicomp? Did the jump go from computers sitting on desks to intimate computing? iPods and cameraphones are way more popular than computers in the kitchen.

That said, it's only January, but--as always with Weiser--it's good to go back and see what he was thinking.

We will dwell with these computers, whose presence we will ignore most of the time, and they will provide us with constant clues about our environment, our loved ones, our own past, the objects around us and the world beyond our home. Computers will act like books, windows, walks around the block, phone calls to relatives. They won't replace these, but augment them, make them easier, more fun.

And, finally, some advice against focusing on technology, when it's not the technology that's interesting, it's the distractions it removes that--in his, and my view--provides the ultimate value:

We become smarter as we put our roots deeper into what is around us. The house of the future will become one giant connection to the world-- quietly and unobtrusively, as naturally as we know it is raining, or cold, or that someone is up before us in the kitchen making breakfast.

Ubiquitous computing just might help to
free our minds from unnecessary work, and
connect us to the fundamental challenge
that humans have always had:
to understand the patterns in the
universe and ourselves within them.

My old friend Cole Whiteman has been making excellent process diagrams for years. i just noticed that he's put his visual design language online:

(326K PDF)

It's great to see people so thoughtfully and thoroughly document their notational thinking. We tend to reinvent the wheel whenever making diagrams, or we unthinkingly use the notation provided by our tools (this is at the core of Tufte's argument with PowerPoint), so it's good to see someone who's very good at visual explanation share some of their toolkit. it gives us perspectives on all the others.

Here's a pariticularly complicated and elegant example of Cole's work:

(717K PDF)

Found here through ACM's technews:

The new “attentive and more considerate” office cubicle helps increase work focus for those who share space with many others. It automatically “mediates audiovisual communications” between co-workers by using information gained about their “social orientation” in an office, says Dr. Vertegaal.


The attentive cubicle’s walls are constructed of a translucent material called Privacy Glass™ that consists of a glass pane with an embedded layer of liquid crystals. Overhead cameras mounted in the ceiling track the “social geometry” between co-workers. When potential communication partners are detected, the cubicle’s walls automatically change from opaque to transparent, allowing for visual interaction.

A little creepy--"HAL, please let me talk to Bob." "Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."--but interesting.

A new school in the UK was furnished without teachers' desks or desktop computers. Instead, they get podiums and laptops:

She disapproved of the stooped stance at the teacher's desk, and the way that trailing wires seemed to snake in all directions. She didn't like the way a teachers' desk occupied valuable space at the front of the room, or the fact that the laptop screen was itself a distraction when the teacher wanted pupils' eyes to be fixed on the whiteboard.

She went looking for an alternative - and eventually found one. "Using one of these, the teacher can use the laptop and see all the children," she says.

(from this article)

People have often attempted to change behavior by changing affordances, but they rarely admit to it. It's interesting to see how they're consciously trying to create a different behavior in teachers and students, and it'll be interesting to see how long it lasts. Usually changes dictated from above, without a lot of other incentive other than mandate, don't work well.




A device studio that lives at the intersections of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, industrial design and materials science.

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Recent Comments

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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