Archive for the ‘random thoughts’ Category

QOTD – physical computing

October 13th, 2013

Personal computers have evolved in an office environment in which you sit on your butt, moving only your fingers, entering and receiving information censored by your conscious mind. That is not your whole life, and probably not even the best part. We need to think about computers that sense more of your body, serve you in more places, and convey the physical expression in addition to information.

Dan O’Sullivan and Tom Igoe, Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers

via Jon Froehlich at DSST 2013 in his talk about the UMd HCIL hackerspace.

Slides for Jon’s talk, “If You Build It, They Will Come: Reflecting on the Successes (and Failures) of Building a Collaborative Workspace to Support Creativity, Experimentation, and Making”, are available via his talks page, as a huge PPTX here). Highly recommended if you’re interested in makerspaces/hackerspaces in academic institutions.

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Temperature conversions for Americans living in mild climates

August 12th, 2012

Converting temperatures in your head is a good trick for Americans living abroad.

So here’s the trick. You memorise the following correspondences:

0 °C = 32 °F
10 °C = 50 °F
20 °C = 68 °F
30 °C = 86 °F
Then, to convert any temperature that is near these, approximate 1 °C = 2 °F. This will allow you to convert almost any naturally occurring outdoor temperature in the UK in either direction to within 1° accuracy.

Let’s try it. As I write the current temperature in Edinburgh is 14 °C. This is 10 °C plus 4° extra. From memory convert the 10 °C to 50 °F. Then convert 4 °C extra to 8 °F extra and add it back on. This gives you 14°C = 58°F. This is not exact, but close enough that you know to wear a jumper. The exact formula is

14 * 9 / 5 + 32 = 57 F
Good luck doing that in your head.

from Charles Sutton’s Converting Fahrenheit into Celsius.

A jumper, for Americans, is “A pullover sweater.”

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“Excuse my typo” signature lines, a collection

July 16th, 2012
For about a year I’ve been collecting email signature lines. After receiving an email purporting to be “Sent from my rotary phone” I thought it was time to share.
  • Touched, not typed
  • Sent from my $DEVICENAME
  • Consider any misspellings my gift to you
  • Typed with thumbs
  • Sent with mobile solution
  • Sent from a mobile operating system. Which one isn’t of any importance to you, the receiver. However, if you feel that knowing this detail would affect positively your reading of this email you can, of course, ask me.
  • Sent from my smartphone platform of choice….hint not a fruit
  • I prefer robots to fruit.
  • Fruits are for fruitcakes, Robots are for emailing.
  • bots best for smart phones
  • Smart fruit is an oxymoron
  • Sent via a really tiny keyboard
  • Sent from a mobile device. Erroneous words are a feature, not a typo.
  • Sent from mobile; pls excuse typos
  • $DEVICENAME = specific mobile operating system of choice
  • Sent from my stationary operating system of choice.
  • Erroneous words are a feature, not a typo.
  • (Short, curt and ill-formed message sent from my portable telephone machine.)
  • > Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
    > Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.
  • *Sent from a mobile phone – please excuse the brevity of the message
  • via small communication device/pardon random autocorrects and fat finger typos.
  • Warning: I either dictated this to my device, or I typed it clumsily. Expect typos and weirdness.
  • Sent from a mobile device. Excuse brevity and typos.
  • Typed by thumbs and sent by my Verizon Wireless gadget
  • Sent from a mobile device. Please excuse brevity and tpyos.
  • Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone
  • Sent from tiny touchscreen gizmo, excuse any auto correct nonsense that slips in…
  • Sent from my rotary phone
  • Sent with my thumbs (Thanks to Andy Powell.)
  • sent from my shoe (Thanks to Larry Hynes.)
  • Sent while walking into stuff(Thanks to Ryan Sarver (via Laura Dragan and Tim O’Reilly; used by David Cohen)

Previously discussed on Twitter (thanks to David Crowley and Becky Yoose for spreading my question). Apparently desktop users want forgiveness too.

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Google Docs ‘research’ tab

May 19th, 2012

Increasingly, I’m using Google Docs with collaborators. Yesterday, one of them pointed out the new “Research” search tab within Google Docs. (Tools->Research). I’m a bit surprised that your searches don’t show up on your collaborators’ screen. I’m particularly surprised that sharing searches doesn’t seem possible.

Google Docs' new 'Research' tab promotes search within Google Docs.

Apparently, it is pretty new. More at the Google Docs blog.

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May 7th, 2012

I noticed that GMail is warning about missing attachments and heard that Thunderbird does this, too, from Arber Borix, who also responded to a request for a screenshot (below). Thanks, Arber!

Thunderbird: Found an attachment keyword: attached. Add Attachment... Remind Me Later

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Commercial Altmetric Explorer aimed at publishers

May 7th, 2012

Altmetrics is hitting its stride: 30 months after the Altmetrics manifesto1, there are 6 tools listed. This is great news!

I tried out the beta of a new commercial tool, The Altmetric Explorer, from They are building on the success and ideas of the academic and non-profit community (but not formally associated with The Altmetric Explorer gives overviews of articles and journals by the social media mentions. You can filter by publisher, journal, subject, source, etc. Altmetric Explore has a closed beta, but you can try the basic functionality on articles with their open tool, the PLoS Impact explorer.

"The default view shows the articles mentioned most frequently in all sources, from all journals. Various filters are available.

Rolling over the donut shows which sources (Twitter, blogs, ...) an article was mentioned in.

Sparklines can be used to compare journals.

A 'people' tab lets you look at individual messages. Rolling over the photo or avatar shows the poster's profile. seems largely aimed at publishers2. This may add promotional noise, not unlike coercive citation, if it is used as an evaluation metric as they suggest:3

Want to see which journals have improved their profile in social media or with a particular news outlet?

Their API is currently free for non-commercial use. are crawling Twitter since July 2011 and focusing on papers with PubMed, arXiv, and DOI identifiers. They also get data from Facebook, Google+, and blogs, but they don’t disclose how. (I assume that blogs using ResearchBlogging code are crawled, for instance.)

  1. J. Priem, D. Taraborelli, P. Groth, C. Neylon (2010), Altmetrics: A manifesto, (v.1.0), 26 October 2010. []
  2. “Altmetric sustains itself by selling more detailed data and analysis tools to publishers, institutions and academic societies.”, says the bookmarklet page, to explain why that is free []
  3. ‘This quote from an editor as a condition for publication highlights the problem: “you cite Leukemia [once in 42 references]. Consequently, we kindly ask you to add references of articles published in Leukemia to your present article”’-from the abstract of Science. 2012 Feb 3;335(6068):542-3. Scientific publications. Coercive citation in academic publishing. Wilhite AW, Fong EA. summary on Science Daily. []

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Juxtaposition 2

April 1st, 2012

From today’s Twitter stream, more juxtaposition:

Gabriela Avram: #LmkTH You’re half way through, and you’re all doing a fantastic job! Keep on the good work!

Laura Dragan: 50% done – #21k in 2h30min – not looking fwd to the hills that are coming :) sun still shining ..loving it!

I’m amused because Gabriela’s comment about the Limerick Tweasure Hunt could be a great reply to Laura’s Connemara marathon status update.

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Memespotting: Fail whale on Google Books

March 12th, 2012

Google Books is buying into the “fail whale” meme with their own. Moby Dick, ahoy!

Spotted via @ryancordell, original spotter was @ThomasRuysSmith.

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Galway Saturday Market: a few photos

January 6th, 2012

The Saturday market is one of my favorite weekly events here in Galway. Colleagues captured a few shots of on film.

vegetables at the Galway Saturday Market

It’s more diverse than vegetables, but that’s a good start. And pretty vegetables they are!

See also this pointer to a photoessay of Galway; and feel free to recommend others.

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Quantified Self & Privacy: followup

December 4th, 2011

Our breakout session on privacy was well-attended, with about 15 people, mainly coming from backgrounds in healthcare, insurance, and the like. There was a quite active discussion.

Alpha release privacy icon indicating "your data may be bartered or sold".

In addition to the questions I shared earlier, I was asked to give pointers to a few things I mentioned.

Aza Raskin asked, Could we make privacy policies as simple as CreativeCommons has made licensing? There’s now an alpha release of the privacy icons. Earlier info about the project is also in Aza’s blog.

Several people were familiar with “Say Everything“, a 2007 NY Magazine piece on how publicly many young people were living their lives:

…the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones.

But I came across that article in conjunction with a story about a teenager whose publicity had caused her embarrassment and harm, when a sports blogger posted her picture along with a 4-paragraph note excerpted as “Meet pole vaulter Allison Stokke. . . . Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds.”

…what could she do now, when a search for her name in Yahoo! revealed almost 310,000 hits? “It’s not like I could e-mail everybody on the Internet,” Stokke said.

She felt like

Her body had been stolen and turned into a public commodity, critiqued in fan forums devoted to everything from hip-hop to Hollywood.

danah boyd, who has extensively researched teens and the Internet, has also written and spoken sagely about privacy.

Here’s an except from a talk she gave: “The Future of Privacy: How Privacy Norms Can Inform Regulation”

All too often, folks presume that privacy is about hiding information or controlling access to information. This is a very limited view. For teens, privacy has more to do with feeling safe and in control of a situation, trusting people and systems, and leveraging an understood context for intimacy.

Let me ground this in an example. If I’m dealing with an illness, I’m not hiding it from people just because I’m not talking about it. If I choose to share my illness, I’m probably not going to start by standing up in the middle of the town square and shouting loudly to everyone who could possibly hear that I’m ill. I may start by gathering my family and sharing in an intimate situation where I feel supported. I open up to them, make myself vulnerable, in exchange for support. This is privacy. I also have expectations about that social situation. I expect my family to respect the situation in which I shared something deeply personal. I _trust_ them to understand how far that information is supposed to be spread. Any one of them is capable of breaking my trust, telling someone against my wishes and expectations, but what’s at stake is the relationship. My agency, my power, in that situation does not stem from me locking my family in a closet after I told them something personal. It comes from the social expectation that they respect the context of the situation.

There are certain structural assumptions baked into this unmediated scenario. First, and most importantly, there is an assumption in everyday interactions that conversations are private-by-default, public through effort. In unmediated situations, publicity takes effort. We have to consciously tell other people what we hear. Shouting to the entire town square is a lot harder than telling just a few people. Even when we share in public places, there’s a huge difference between sitting in a cafe talking with a friend and screaming to the entire room. Sure, people can overhear us in the cafe. And they do. But that doesn’t mean that they’re in the conversation. Sociologist Erving Goffman noted that there’s a societal value of “civil inattention.” Even when we can overhear conversations, we generally try to not listen. Doing so is a way of indicating that we respect others’ space. This isn’t universal and people are always jumping into conversations that they’re not a part of. But all of the parties know that they’re “butting in.”

What’s different about the Internet is not about a radical shift in social norms. What’s different has to do with how the architecture shifts the balance of power in terms of visibility. In online public spaces, interactions are public-by-default, private-through-effort, the exact opposite of what we experience offline. There is no equivalent to the cafe where you can have a private conversation in public with a close friend without thinking about who might overhear. Your online conversations are easily overheard. And they’re often persistent, searchable, and easily spreadable. Online, we have to put effort into limiting how far information flows. We have to consciously act to curb visibility. This runs counter to every experience we’ve ever had in unmediated environments.

When people participate online, they don’t choose what to publicize. They choose what to limit others from seeing. Offline, it takes effort to get something to be seen. Online, it takes effort for things to NOT be seen. This is why it appears that more is public. Because there’s a lot of content out there that people don’t care enough about to lock down. I hear this from teens all the time. “Public by default, privacy when necessary.” Teens turn to private messages or texting or other forms of communication for intimate interactions, but they don’t care enough about certain information to put the effort into locking it down. But this isn’t because they don’t care about privacy. This is because they don’t think that what they’re saying really matters all that much to anyone. Just like you don’t care that your small talk during the conference breaks are overheard by anyone. Of course, teens aren’t aware of how their interactions in aggregate can be used to make serious assumptions about who they are, who they know, and what they might like in terms of advertising. Just like you don’t calculate who to talk to in the halls based on how a surveillance algorithm might interpret your social network.

I’d particularly recommend “Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity” and “Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data“. As danah points out, social media conversations essentially *require* sharing personally identifying information. But it’s personally embarrassing information that people don’t want spread.

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