Category Archives: Technology

They say “never meet your heroes”…

…well they were wrong.

This is a late-late post (this was in NordiCHI’14), but I just had to write something about it. Dr. Norman (chillin’ with me in the picture) is basically the icon for user-centered technology. The Design of Everyday Things (originally POET) is an awesome book and it changed the way I was doing my job.

drDON

Thanks Don, I hope we meet again!

I heart alternatives to touching a screen…

…simply because it bothers me having anything between my eye and what I’m looking at (even if it’s my own finger). Those milliseconds I can’t see what I have just decided to choose/click/touch in an interface remind me that fingertips are not 1×1 pixels wide – as discreet mouse pointers.

This is why I would like to mention the great HCI work the guys at BERG are doing with their Connbox. So cool.

(I am really looking forward to trying this “reverse-skeuomorphism” on my own prototypes 🙂

In their words: “This feels like a rich direction to explore in future projects, of a kind of ‘reverse-skeuomorphism‘ where digital and physical affordances work together to do what each does best rather than just one imitating the other.”

 

Legible-interaction3

Legible-interaction2

Legible-interaction1

Here is a link to the whole thing:

http://berglondon.com/blog/2013/02/26/connbox/

 

Cheers!

Getting physical – Arduino adventures #2

I have a very clear picture of me, in 1997, the coolest sideburns in my class (although they looked like underarm hair) at the Database Introduction class. Our teacher introduced us to the concept of “The Real World”. She sketched this cartoonish cloud, to introduce us to how to do database modeling. I remember that I felt confused and frustrated, because there was the eager of creating my own war robots (i  was 14). But instead, I was learning how to organize information for a sales office.

There was nothing wrong about it. Now I know it was necessary.

But I was missing the ability of intervening in the physical world.

My final work on my last high school year (’99) was finally something on it. I wrote this software for PC, which controlled a “building”. I could control “lights” and “air-conditioners”. It was a wood model of a building, which my father hand-crafted, and car lights, and processor coolers. Good times.

Now, with all this arduinoing, I feel like I am free to shop for parts, to go into the electronic components stores and fearlessly ask my newbie questions. And it is all amazing.

The other day I went shopping, downtown Manaus, for parts. There were these fancy organized stores, but I was really mesmerized with some others, dark, dusty, dungeon like, gadgets cemetery. It still felt like shopping for ingredients for a slow cooking initiative.

Check it out:

 

Let the cooking begin.

Technology for Pai Mei Precision Interaction.

In order to perform the event of focusing on most mobile phone cameras, you need to press the tiny little shutter button half-way down? Half-way down. That is an example of how much of a surgeon dexterity one needs to interact with some technology pieces.

The funny thing is that technologists (me) are often included into the non-athletic types category. It seems their (mine) muscular structure is not as solid as it should..  I mean, they (I)  have no motor coordination whatsover. Don´t get me wrong: when they have to strike on their PS3/Xbox controllers, they are the best. But we are talking dexterity here.

Take a look at this blog post snippet from a photography expert text about the Canon Rebel..

mastering the "half-way-down" dexterity

Please note I am not criticizing the blog post above. It´s actually cool.

I think they call it a two step shutter and some seem to dislike it. Many cameras have it. Many phone cameras have it too.

These buttons measure about 1mm of height (?). The software event of starting the auto-focus process is triggered by pressing these things half-way down, which measures 1/2mm (?)! Now seriously, it is not impossible, I know. But let´s face it, we have a large and comfortable room for improvement here.

Or, we can take Pai Mei´s training and be ready to use such technology:

A cold night in Finland.

The story of how alternative human-computer interaction started for me:

Late 2007, we were invited to participate in a quick meeting with the corporate social responsibility team in Nokia. They had just held a workshop with disable and elderly mobile phone users and listened to their complaints about their limitations and restricted use of this technology. The team shared a few testimonials and ideas. Some of the ideas felt challenging, simply because the sentences we heard were prefixed with “Are you guys able to …[]”. Our brains itched. It was me-the-developer, wilson-the-designer and carlos-the-marketing-guy. A person from Nokia CSR asked us if we could develop a mobile phone app that could use the phone camera as a magnifier, to help the hard of reading to e.g. check what are the nutrition facts on their cereal and make other types of fine printed information legible.

We went straight back to the hotel, on a cold Finnish night and started debating about the use of zooming and macro focus range on mobile phone cameras. We started from there. Countless builds later (around two months doing this after work hours), we came up with an app that adjusted zoom and macro to what we felt it was optimal and we sent it to the accessibility team in Nokia. I have to say they were actually very patient to coach us through several accessibility principles that shaped basically all of our experiments.

So we were at this point: The accessibility team in Nokia was checking out our app! And they liked it?! And after a few improvements and bug fixes we were publishing the app here. They wrote the entry post for Nokia Beta Labs and the guys from NRC Finland produced the video. It felt really rewarding. (good times, sigh..) We have a new version now, downloadable here (S60 3rd Edition) and here (Symbian^3). Also, here is a post on the Magnifier and its results.

From there on, I understand that mobile phones are intimate pieces of technology, full of sensors, fully connected and perfectly equipped to help people assessing their environment. It also lighted up the fact that humans have limitations which will prevent some of their senses to interact with mobile phones. I am not talking to the usual concept of a disabled user. But we can talk about that later. [here]

to be someone who makes things.

I remember when I was 14 and I was studying to pass the exam to enter this technical school in Manaus[1], and I was trying to make the cut into the Computer Science high school. I know I was hoping to be like dad or one of my uncles[2], just because they were the guys who made things. I mean they could really handcraft electro-things. One could go to the music shop and buy a guitar. Dad would just go ahead and make one[3]. It was nothing too fancy, but they did make amplifiers, smart furniture, and other gadgetry just for the sake of it. Just because they could. I felt like being one of them, even though this was not a clear self-reading back then.

I did make the cut. I did joined that technical school. Full of the smartest kids at their preceding schools. Not one athletic type. Not one cheerleader/prom queen kind[4]. They, like myself, were all awkward, inward talkers, toe-staring,  asthma pumpers,  and so forth. A comfortable place.

Except for one little-but-growing seed of discomfort. A forehead wrinkling  sensation of this-is-not-ive-signed-up-for.

We started studying all sort of introductions to technology. I have this very clear memory of the first Relational Database Design class: The teacher sketched a cartoonish cloud on the white board. Then she inflated her lungs with the dense solemn atmosphere of the birth of new technicians and said “this is the real world”[5]. At this point, my hopes of being a guy who could really make things were none. My friends were all so excited about programming techniques, just-launched SDKs, coding contests and so forth. I liked it too, but it was the kind of liking that you just have to like whatever is left-over to like when people like something so much. If this last sentence makes any sense to you, we can be friends.

It would start to get better at anytime now. I know I had to keep going with the learning curve for programming logic, digital electronics, etc. I liked it. It was challenging. But I guess it was like one wanting to be rich not because of the money itself, but because of what it can buy. I mean, I liked conceiving the ideas, making software, experimenting computational concepts, but didn’t really worship a particular programming language or an IDE.

I guess what I am trying to say is that this blog should be about technology making and how this relates to any human aspect I may find interesting . It should be about how the things I code will relate to e.g. the productivity of my sleep. Or how the use of a certain mobile app could slow down the pace of information pollution making around me… I also have to say that I believe mobile phones are one of the most intimate pieces of technology there are. I should be delivering some of the experiments around here in the form of hand-sculptured apps.

Now here is one thing: I graduated from Computer Science. That will not give you a solid base on Psychology or Sociology. We are not crafted to think human interactions, communications, etc. So, whenever I am debating on any topic around human aspects, I will be sitting in the comfortable chair of ignorance[6].

I wish all content delivered here reflects unveiling truth, not to awe an audience, but hopefully to inspire or provoke debate on our technology-influenced condition.
FOOT NOTES
[1] – Just so you know where I am from. I did not think this was relevant to anyone reading this blog, until I started reading this  or this and etc.
[2] – They are all engineers. Dad was the first with mechanical engineering, then his three younger brothers followed him with electronics.  Now that I am talking about it, *all* his cousins have gone ‘engineers’ after him. Btw, mom is a civil engineer. Then she decided to “humanize my profession” and graduated in Architecture. Enough with family business now.
[3] – I am now talking to him, see if i can get a picture of the guitar.
[4] – Here are the samples. I miss them.
[5] – It felt like I was going nowhere on making things.  I mean, now I get it, but for someone who was just ready to start soldering robots arms, this can be a cold shower.
[6] – The comfortable chair of ignorance is the one you sit whenever you feel like debating about something in more depth than you technically could. But you do it anyway, without the responsibility of saying the right thing (otherwise you are incompetent).  It is a self-consciousness free rhetoric tool I will use here.