Well, that was interesting.

I just saw The Hobbit in 3D High Frame Rate. Ignoring the plot, design, acting and so on for a moment, I was struck by the 3D response I got. Normally, I have monoscopic vision due to my extremely far-sighted left eye, so seeing something recognizably 3D was really surprising. It ran counter to all of my experience with the real world. I’m really not sure what was going on there – maybe there’s something about the technology that triggers it for me or maybe I do really see 3D after all, but without enough response to make it noticeable. Either way, it was awesome and new, and more testing is warranted.

As for the high frame rate, I really liked it. As a player of games, I really appreciate high frame rates as they let my eyes blur the motion rather than having it presented to me pre-blurred on film. There were a few moments of oddness early on, of course, Bilbo puttering around his house on speed and bunnies running faster that seems natural, but I got over that fast. In all, it felt a lot like an extremely well rendered computer game running on really good hardware. If we can expect that more from movies in the future, then I’m looking forward to it.

For another interesting perspective on 3D HFR in The Hobbit and the direction of high frame rates in film, I’d suggest reading Kevin Kelly’s post on the subject.

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I’m far more inspired by these photos from the Paralympics than I was by anything I saw from the Olympics. There’s something much more moving about athletes overcoming physical adversity to even participate let alone win their events.

Some highlights:

  • high jump with only one leg
  • table tennis with irregularly formed hands
  • archery with feet
  • handstands without hands
  • blind running

Particular interesting are the measures taken to empower these athletes, such as guide runners for the blind, specialized prosthetics, and sports specifically designed around their capabilities (such as goalball). Also of interest is the rather sophisticated system for describing capabilities and disability used to ensure that athletes compete primarily with those who have similar capabilities.

While writing this, I started wondering whether disabled was a word I could use here, and eventually decided it wasn’t. If this isn’t an example of how physical adversity due to accident, genetics, or birth defect doesn’t necessarily ‘disable’ someone, I don’t know what else could be. These people are clearly just differently abled to the rest of us.

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Urgh. Just noticed the RSS feed URLs for this blog were wrong, and have been for at least 2 years. A copy and paste error when building the current site theme.

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There was a short opinion piece in the Press the other day about plans for the Avon River as Christchurch rebuilds. Read it here.

The plan they’re talking about is broadly that espoused by the Avon-Otakoro Network, and envisions rejuvenating the damaged lands along the river (where much of the heaviest quake damaged land is) by creating a park and reserve.

I’m generally in favor of something like that, and commented on the article accordingly:

I strongly support turning the banks of the Avon into a reserve. I don’t so much mind the specifics: a wetland, a park, a garden, or a common use space – all would be great, I think. A combination of the above would suit me best.

I think the following are important:

  • we shouldn’t rebuild houses that will slide into the river the next time we have a quake.
  • we shouldn’t solidify the banks with concrete. It’s tragic how deadened a city looks with that sort of land management.
  • we should use this as an opportunity to build and recast our city in a way that captures our shared ideals and that offers us opportunity to create meaning in our lives (whatever that means to each of us individually).
  • we shouldn’t let a small group of powerful individuals (be they politicians, business, or the wealthy) tell us how to use the land. It may be held by the government, but it’s our city, and we should have a say in how it’s used.
  • we should cater to as diverse a selection of citizen’s interests as possible.
  • we should respect and showcase the land and its flora and fauna. They’re a big part of what makes NZ so special. Living overseas as I have on and off for the last few years, I’m struck with how much the rest of the world is jealous of our country, and it makes me sad when we take that for granted.

I’d like to see nature reserves, bike trails, foot trails, gentle banks with willows, band rotundas, parks for markets and fairs, and more. So few cities have the opportunity to remake so much of themselves, and I’m really hoping we’ll be able to meet our own dreams and take advantage of that.

I grew up near Horseshoe Lake and the Avon. I’m in the US now, but I miss my home, and it strains me not to be able to be there as it rebuilds.

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Last month saw PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ video break big online. If you’ve not seen it, you should. The music’s catchy, and they clearly had far too much fun making the music video. Go on, watch it.

After a few days’ trouble keeping it out of my head, I took a look into some of his other tracks and found those amusing enough to prompt me to grab his album. And I discovered something interesting: rap other languages is way catchier than rap in English. Because I can’t understand the lyrics, the vocals become rhythmic instrumentation and, again because I can’t understand what’s going on, I’m not distracted or offended by the drivel that sometimes passes for lyrics in rap. That’s not to say PSY’s lyrics are drivel – I haven’t the foggiest what he’s saying. All I know is that I have trouble excising from my mind what seems to me to be musical nonsense phrases.

For kicks, here’s another of his videos. Again, having too much fun.

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Recently, via the IEET, I’ve come across two excellent films exploring the possible impact of augmented reality on our lives. There are positives, but also negatives.

The first, Sight, is only 8 minutes long, and focuses on a guy using AR apps to help him date. All goes well, until, well, I’ll let you watch it. This one’s neat because it also explores different ways in which people might employ gamification to steer their behaviour.

The second, H+, is an ongoing web series. I’ve only just started watching it, but the production quality is excellent, as is the narrative pacing. It’s not yet clear how much of a role AR will play, but it’s clear and present from the beginning. The first episode starts out slow, but quickly grabs you and draws you into the setting and its characters. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest.

There are 10 episodes out so far, and it seems they’re still going strong. If you’re using RSS, grab the episode feed here.

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I’m more than a little impressed by the audacity of Philippe Croizon. Despite having had his arms and legs amputated, he’s successfully swum the English Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, a chunk of the Red Sea, and is now swimming Bering Strait.

To do this, he swims freestyle, with flipper-like leg prosthetics attached to the stumps at his knees. I’m intrigued that he still does arm strokes, despite having clearly atrophied muscles and no arm prosthetics – I’m guessing they help him with stability and steering.

What with Oskar Pistorius coming in 8th in the 400m at the London Olympics with his Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetics, we’re closing quickly on a line where the performance of human engineered body parts exceeds that of natural ones in certain contexts.

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There’s a double standard in the rhetoric around markets that’s always intrigued me:

  1. Free markets are the best way to organize society
  2. Central planning and command leadership is the best way to organize large organizations such as corporations and government

The first claim is regularly heard in political discourse, while the second is rarely made openly, but is instead implied by the status quo. The double standard comes from the fact that absent some clear distinction, if market-based solutions are the best approach to organizing society at large, they ought also to be the best approach to organizing large organizations. Worse, the first argument is most commonly heard from people established in positions of power within some centrally planned organization. Given that, it’s very hard to hear this as anything other than hypocrisy designed to maintain power and wealth.

This issue is not unknown to economists. This afternoon, I read Yanis Varoufakis discussing the issue in the context of Valve, a game company that uses a radically different management structure to most companies that is arguably much closer to the philosophic ideals behind free markets. He describes the situation as follows:

Interestingly, however, there is one last bastion of economic activity that proved remarkably resistant to the triumph of the market: firms, companies and, later, corporations. Think about it: market-societies, or capitalism, are synonymous with firms, companies, corporations. And yet, quite paradoxically, firms can be thought of as market-free zones. Within their realm, firms (like societies) allocate scarce resources (between different productive activities and processes). Nevertheless they do so by means of some non-price, more often than not hierarchical, mechanism!

The full article is a little long, and could use a little editing, but really interesting, particularly if you’re interested, as I am, in how to build organizations that can attract good people to work on interesting consulting jobs and projects in an open and distributed manner.

Read the article: Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world?

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I was completely unaware of this, but apparently cases of academic misconduct, as evidenced by the retraction of papers from journals and other publication venues, have been on the rise.

According to the article, retractions from journals in the PubMed database have increased by a factor of 60 over ten years, from 3 in 2000 to 180 in 2009. That’s insane!

What’s going on, then? I suspect one or more of the following:

  • Worsening of the academic rat-race – the ever-increasing focus on publishing metrics in academia pressures researchers to publish, ideally in high-impact journals. Some may be willing to make up data in order to do so.
  • The rush to compete – Given the prestige attached to publishing first and the role of this prestige in securing grant funding, researchers may be taking shortcuts, overlooking shortcomings in their study designs, or failing to spend enough time verifying their results and data.
  • Commercial involvement – I can’t cite numbers, but my impression is that commercial research funding has increased over the last decade or so, particularly in high-stakes fields such as pharmaceuticals. Commercial funding is associated with bias and poor research practice.
  • Increased detection – It seems likely that today’s increased reliance on information technologies and shared repositories of data and publications would make it easier to detect fraudulent papers. Similarly, since communication is much easier today than it was even 10 years ago, it may be easier for editors to unearth patterns of fraudulent work.

One caveat: this result derives from PubMed, which primarily includes medical and pharmaceutical research, as well as some auxiliary technology and basic science. Does this pattern of misconduct apply in other fields, or is it particular to medicine?

Improved review processes are necessary, but it’s not clear how quickly change will come. Problems with peer review have been acknowledged for more than 20 years, with a report from 1990 showing that only 8% of members of the Scientific Research Society considered it effective as is. Despite this, in most venues, peer review functions the same way it always has.

There may be some movement, however. CHI, for example, includes the alt.chi track in which research is reviewed in a public forum before selection by a jury, which seems to offer a good compromise between open and free criticism, and peer-driven moderation. There’s also a special conference coming up entitled “Evaluating Research and Peer Review – Problems and Possible Solutions” – it was the Call for Papers for this that got me writing this post.

From my perspective, an ideal research review system would at least:

  • Expose all research data and methodology to unlimited, non-anonymous, public, scrutiny. Special rules might be employed to protect commercially sensitive material, but there needs to be a balance.
  • Allow meta-moderation. That is, allow the critique of critiques. To do this, reviewers need to have persistent identities, and signifiers such as the credentials and review history of each user need to be available.
  • Integrate review work into the research contribution of academics. As it is, peer review work is primarily voluntary, and the level of commitment of reviewers is thus presumably highly variable.

What else should a review system incorporate? How could such a system fail? Why might it not be adopted?

Update 2012-05-09: It’s not clear whether the aforementioned study relied on the same set of journals each year, or whether they used the full PubMed database each year. It’s probable that the PubMed mix has changed over the decade; for example, the NIH’s public access policy requiring publicly funded research be placed into PubMed was trialed in 2005, and made mandatory in 2008.

Posted in Mind & Society, Science & Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I spent Saturday at the HCI for Peace workshop representing the Voices from the Rwandan Tribunal project. It was fairly informal, with only 10 participants, which made it easy for everyone to participate in the discussion. Several participants presented projects they’ve worked on, including:

  • Lahiru Jayatilaka, a Sri Lankan PhD student from Stanford, who presented his work on improving land mine detection systems by tracking the detector tip and allowing the operator to mark detection points that are then displayed back along with the detector’s path, making it easier to determine the shape of an object detected. In trials with the US Army, he also found that his tool significantly aided in training by making it easier for trainers to see the patterns used by students. He’s looking for funding and collaborators to help him bring the tool to maturity so he can start to spread it to NGOs working in land mine detection and removal around the world.
  • Janak Bhimani, a TV director and producer pursuing a PhD at the Keio Media Design lab, who presented a documentary he produced collaboratively with a small group of online volunteers about the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake last year in Japan, called “Lenses + Landscapes“. Based on his experience with it, he’s become interested in tools for greater online collaboration in documentary making and, particular, in documentaries that evolve over time; what he calls the ‘growing documentary’.
  • John Thomas, a CHI veteran from IBM research, who presented his work on building a library of patterns for socio-technical systems that can avoid, deescalate, or assist in the resolution of conflicts. These focused more on a personal level than a societal one, but the general ideas run true to larger scales, and furthermore, large conflicts often emerge from small disagreements. He ran through several examples; here are a couple that struck me:
    • Who speaks for Wolf? – Based on a Native American story, this pattern suggests that in any decision making activity where one or more stake-holders are absent, it is important to identify that fact, and determine whether someone else at the meeting is able to speak with sufficient authority and knowledge on behalf of that stake-holder. By doing this, misunderstandings and conflicts can be avoided.
    • The Rule of Six – Whenever one is forced to make an assumption or interpretation because of limited or biased knowledge, one should attempt to come up with at least 5 other possible explanations before accepting the first (and probably easiest) one. This is particularly true with regards negative assumptions, and is basically a method for giving the benefit of the doubt.
  • Evangelos Kapros, a Greek PhD student at the University of Dublin’s Trinity College, who presented and discussed challenges in information visualization and data management with regards understanding flows of immigration and other critical demographic processes that sometimes lead to conflict.

Also in attendance were Juan Pablo Hourcade, an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa and organizer of the event; Lisa Nathan, an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, co-PI on the Rwandan project, and a former student at UW; Daniela Busse, from Samsung Research; Daisy Yoo, a student and colleague of mine at UW also working on the Rwandan project, and Kelsey Huebner, an undergraduate assisting Juan-Pablo with running the workshop. Neema Moraveji, director of the Calming Technology Lab at Stanford, was not present, but gave a short presentation on his work in ‘calming technology’ via Skype.

As well as individual project presentations, we also discussed the place of HCI in peace-making, peace-keeping, and harmony. A number of points and questions were salient:

  • The complexity of the term ‘peace’ is challenging, and requires much thought. We seemed to be conceptualizing peace as more than just the absence of war, but as a general promotion of peacefulness, including the avoidance of conflict, the promotion of harmony and calmness in life, and efforts to restore peace and order after events such as natural disasters.
  • The term peace may be over-broad to the point of being meaningless – by attempting to create a movement of HCI for Peace, are we mirroring the beauty queen who naively says she wants to bring about World Peace with her reign?
  • What should the research agenda of ‘HCI for Peace’ look like? Suggested approaches included creating tools like Ushahidi that aid others in peace-seeking efforts, working in the field to create new technical solutions that directly foster peace, and observing and understanding the use of technology by others in working for peace.
  • Who are logical ‘allies’ in this work – what other academics and disciplines should we look to for collaboration?

In the time available, it was impossible to come to any detailed consensus on these issues, and it was generally agreed that further thought and development would be necessary. Interactions magazine has offered us a spot as the cover article in an issue later this year, and we’re hoping that this will give us an opportunity to address these concerns in more depth.

All up, a fascinating and rewarding way to spend a day. Not to mention an excellent lunch and tasty pizza and conversation at the end of the day!

Posted in Conference Notes, Mind & Society, Science & Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
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