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Rocky Mountain National Park

I recently returned from a six day (five night) trip in Rocky Mountain National Park as part of my training to become a Sierra Club Outings Leader. Along the way, I took some pictures with my trusty Sony a5100 camera. Here are a few of my favorites.

More pictures here.

Friday Five Links

The link round-up this week includes a STEM class, odd origin stories, a pretty fun tip on keeping track of the mail coming to you from the USPS, and a cool blog post on hacking the Thotcon 0x9 badge. Enjoy!

HAM Radio and Understanding

Yesterday I took an amateur radio technician’s class test and passed it to receive my license. Getting that license has been something on my bucket list for quite some time. There are some less significant reasons I can give for wanting it: being able to use the license to communicate with my near space balloons, or using the radio in the backcountry while hiking with the Sierra Club, but the truth of the matter is that I saw getting a license like this as something of a Shibboleth. A rite of passage, a symbol that I appreciate where we came from, and a way of understanding a system that is vital to our everyday lives.

Amateur radio (HAM radio) is the Ur of modern making. Talk with any HAM radio operator, and you’ll recognize the same spirit, drive, and insatiable curiosity that you find in a maker who’s passionate about 3D printing, or building interconnected objects, or wearable electronics. The drive, I think, comes from the amateur who’s fallen in love with a hobby and brought their outside knowledge to bear on it. It comes from someone who’s taken a passion, and used it as another way to meaningfully connect themselves to the world around them.

Before makerspaces, there were HAM radio clubs in the early-to-mid 20th Century. Organizations that taught people the basics of electronics, Morse code, and radio transmissions. These amateur clubs are still around, and continue to spread the joy of tinkering with your own radio, building your own antenna, and practicing countless other hands-on activities within their communities.

It’s important to remember where we came from, whether that be as a maker, a crafter, an engineer, or anything else. Knowing where you came from helps you further clarify what your values are and map out what your trajectory might be based on past learnings. It connects you with a wealth of knowledge that, if you choose to ignore it and pursue your own interests without respecting the past, is lost forever. I just happen to think that this knowledge, in part, exists in HAM operators.

It exists in the stories they tell. In their sense of humor, the way they so effortlessly approach their craft, and the way an experienced operator reminisces about a world that was interconnected not by fiberoptic cables, but by radio waves traveling through the air. Uncontrollable, wild, and impossible to stop.

It’s the Wild West mixed with technology that, at its time, was well ahead of what anyone else was doing. It still is to some extent, and is certainly less understood and appreciated by the masses — even if the principles it functions on undergirds the technology we all rely on (much as RSS is disregarded as old technology, even though it forms the backbone of the internet).

And so, if we choose not to learn about it, it becomes lost. Another fundamental building block in our systems that becomes a mystery. Something that we build on top of without understanding. Another component in a system that becomes magic.

Or we can choose to study it.

Amateur radio is a part of our history, and if we learn to value the continued understanding of systems around us, part of our future as well.

Subjecting Yourself to Criticism with 360 Reviews

I recently learned about 360 reviews after reading The Right— — and Wrong — —Stuff by Carter Cast, and decided to conduct one on myself. The basic idea of conducting this kind of a review is to subject yourself to the criticism of people who you work with, and who work for you, and discover the weaknesses that you don’t see. Weaknesses are, after all, the things that we’re often ignorant of, and they’re also often the things that cripple us from moving forward and growing as individuals.

A 360 review is typically done in a survey format, with a large amount of Likert scales measuring things like the kind of feedback you give to employees, how clear your instructions are, how reliable you are, etc. There’s also some room for more qualitative forms of data which, for my review, I found quite revealing.

My review revealed a few things that I need to work on. Here are some of them:

  1. I need to work on balancing the amount of work I handle. Or, more importantly, the amount of work I handle and how I let it affect the people around me. I tend to take on lots of tasks and, while I actually handle them quite well, allow the stress levels that I experience as a result affect my management of others and relationships with others. This means, to me, that I need to focus a little more on delegating and taking deeper dives into managing others instead of tackling tasks myself.
  2. While I’m actually pretty good at providing positive feedback, I need to work more on giving constructive feedback on how others can improve. This, I think, is something that I’ve been low-level aware of for a while: I don’t like having to tell people they aren’t doing a good enough job. But, I need to learn how to do that, and do it in a way that doesn’t ruin the spirit or the energy that I try to engender: a positive, forward-looking, get your job done kind of attitude.
  3. I should try to remember why I’m so passionate about the things that got me where I’m at in the first place. While I’ve recently poured some energy in developing custom hardware games, getting a HAM radio license, and other personal projects, very few of these things are “without purpose” like the near space project I worked on a few years back. I need to get back to making things, and to making things without purpose or cause or intent: just for fun. This is a kind of “North Star” statement.

What was interesting about running this review was how revelatory it was about weaknesses I wasn’t aware of, and also, how it highlighted some things that I already knew but had been putting off. Asking others around you what they think you need to work on, and doing it in an anonymous way where they feel they can be honest, is a pretty scary thing to subject yourself to. But it’s also quite liberating to know what people think about you, and if you approach a review like this from an honest angle of self-improvement, can help reveal weaknesses that you’ve never noticed.

It’s also an opportunity to help you get back to the basics: I hadn’t realized that I’d left some of my passions by the wayside in my pursuit of “getting the job done,” but people who work with me had. I also had no idea that it was so clear when I was experiencing moments of high stress, but the interesting thing about this is that it’s a critique of a symptom, and it forced me to look further into what my causes of stress were, and how I might rectify them (through delegation and smarter choices in work).

My takeaways here are that it’s important to solicit honest feedback of yourself. It’s also important to understand what that feedback is truly telling you versus what it says on its face. Finally, if the feedback from a survey like this reinforces something you already knew about yourself, it’s time to get working.

If you’re interested in getting started with your own review, look no further than this free template.

How Screens Ruin Games

A recent blog post on yours truly’s website dove into the development of the Thotcon 0x9 badges and, amongst other things, touched on the use of the screen with our year 2018 platforms. Screens, I think, really handicapped this year’s badges because they implied a certain kind of interaction. Screens have baggage; people have used them for long enough with video games that they’ve been trained on how they should work, and therefore, believe that anything with a screen on it should work that way, too. Screens are not just a collection of affordances, but of habits: like the habits we develop interacting with the feedback of a vehicle console, or a mobile phone user interface. My conclusion is that screens ruin games.

Or rather, that screens are often overused and have driven the direction of games for long enough. We can do better than screens, but they’re so dominant, that they influence nearly every game that we touch today. So, it’s important to remember some of the problems that they introduce. Here are a few:

1. Screens Demand Attention

Screens demand a tremendous amount of cognitive attention. We might think this is advantageous at first, since the alternative is a distracted game player who’s not focusing on the work, therefore marking the game as a failure. And yet, what would happen with games if we rejected the notion that they should demand our utmost attention? What would happen if games melded with our lives in ways that were meaningful, and yet, unobtrusive.

Good design — and good game design at that — should focus on the experience. Not necessarily the manufactured experience, but the holistic experience of the individual. Design should fade into the background, because it’s not something most people care about. People do not care about the design of objects, nor should they. Just as a designer shouldn’t be expected to care about everything outside of their own professional field.

2. Screens are a Crutch

When you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. The screen is a tool, and unfortunately, it’s an overused tool that influences the vast majority of art that our medium puts out. If you’re going to make a computer game, how frequently is that done outside of a rectangle? Not very often. This limitation influences how we think about our speech and what kinds of stories we decide to tell because, of course, the medium is the message, and the screen is the medium.

But what if developers were given other options for communicating information (and here we’re talking about those outside of simple controller haptics, for instance)? What if, as mentioned above, game developers weren’t able to rely solely on the screen for conveying data? And what if we then chose to take advantage of those alternative forms of speech in order to communicate stories differently? This would be an excellent shift for game design.

3. Screens have Baggage

Baggage means the history of the object, and how that history influences how we expect the object to behave. Screen-based games have functioned very similarly since the inception of their most basic elements from games like Defender. Points of view (isomorphic? 2D?), movement (platformer?), and object orientation and movement have all remained relatively the same for the last three or more decades.

The medium has simply been around long enough to make it more difficult for designers to conceive of alternative uses, and screen users to easily accept alternative means of interaction with screens. Where a game that focuses on non-traditional forms of feedback are not bound by the semiotics of previous interactions people have had with that feedback, screens are bound by over a century of symbols.

Conclusion

This is not to say that screens are irrelevant, but that they’re overused and problematically implemented in many cases for games. What does a future of games look like where we not only use screens, but perhaps other forms of feedback that obviate a screen altogether? Perhaps, then, then screens will find their appropriate space as a tool in a toolbox of communication, rather than the only way forward.

Sign up for the Margalus Newsletter

Margalus Newsletter #5 is out, and with it, a new bi-weekly format that’ll keep the content coming steadily for the foreseeable future. At the beginning and middle of every month, subscribers will receive a new issue with the latest blog posts from this website on all things making manufactured, designed objects. You’ll also get a list of links to readings, objects, and other oddities around the internet that’ve fascinated me. Possibly even a little nature meets tech guy writing as I go further into my Sierra Club training.

Here’s the last issue for a sample.

If you’re interested in signing up to receive this kind of news, you can do so here. And thanks in advance!

808s and Transistors

Developing real, tangible things is a messy process where one must listen to, and work with, the material they have available to them. By allowing the materials to lead the process of development, we imbue the imperfections and constraints that come along with them, which subsequently influences how we interact with the creation. In other words, the materials in the product inform the experience of the end-product.

This has some interesting implications. In the electrical outlet, material considerations lead to the quirks we know today, and that influence millions of devices that require electrical power. In the development of game badges that I’ve written about, the material (antennae, screens, etc) ultimately influences the kinds of interactions that the games on the platform encourage. And in the documentary 808, another case of material informing object is made when, toward the end, Ikutaro Kakehashi, the engineer behind the 808 and the founder of Roland Corporation, describes the development process behind the Roland TR-808.

The TR-808 came out of both Kakehashi’s desire to make an instrument, and Roland Corporation’s inability to compete with larger instrument-making companies like Steinway and Yamaha. So instead of competing on equal ground, Kakehashi created a new kind of instrument: the 808, a kind of programmable board that could output instrument-like sounds.

Because of the limitations in electronics at the time, the 808 could only simulate the sounds of a drum. As obvious as it may seem now, this first limitation led to the creation of a new sound that we now associate with hip hop and the many other musical genres influenced by the 808. This is the first way that materials influenced the creation of the 808, but perhaps not the most interesting one.

As Kakehashi further explains, in order to create the signature sizzling sound that the 808 is known for he bulk-purchased defective transistors that would have otherwise been thrown in the trash heap. Since the production of transistors had not been perfected yet, about 2-3% of those created came with defects that made them unusable for traditional purposes, but perfect for the sound he needed to generate for the 808. Soon after, the development of transistors was further perfected, eliminating the defective components that gave the 808 its sound and consequently, eliminating the production of the instrument. The very origin of the 808’s sound led to its demise.

We don’t often ask questions about the origins of a platform or a system even though it may strongly influence the designed experience (this is something that’s explored quite well in platform studies, however). Yet, something like a defective component produced in a manufacturing process has the potential to influence the development of an instrument, which in turn influences the music made with that instrument platform. Even more, that very component had so much influence over the instrument that it led to its own demise. Material is inextricably tied to platform.

If, then, materials have so much influence over platforms, and platforms have influence over the creations made on them, we should pay close attention to those fundamental building blocks. By understanding them, we understand the decision-making process behind the development of the platform, and can begin to ask new questions about it. Why were these decisions made? Are the constraints that informed the decisions still necessary, or are they extraneous?

Asking questions like these is where we can begin to deconstruct a system, and ultimately, to move beyond its limitations to create something new.

DePaul Idea Realization Lab Updates – May 2018

Last month we started tracking visitor data to the Idea Realization Lab, and as a part of that data logging I also began writing a report about our various successes, stories, and goings-on. Here’s the final report for the school year of 2017-2018 at the lab: https://public.3.basecamp.com/p/zGU9khM3KrsLu2rBaErQjhja

Ubiquitous Computing and Environmental Interaction

Abstract

The way we interact with computing technology has dramatically changed over the last half-century. From their origins as stationary devices that sit on our desks, computers have evolved to embed themselves in our daily lives by permeating the spaces that we live in. They now control our thermostats, track our heart rate from our wrists, run our cars, and collect sensory data through complex arrays out in the field. This shift is often referred to as ubiquitous computing: the idea that computers are invisibly all around us, passively observing and interacting with groups of people, individuals, or the broader environment. As we continue to embed computers into our daily lives, it’s important to understand how they affect our behavior, the way we perceive the world around us, and how we interact with others. Further, as developers for these new forms of technology, we must understand how to design for embedded, ubiquitous computer systems to fit in with our pre-existing behaviors as we navigate our environments. This research review looks at how computers, when set within the broader context of an environment, influence the way we behave, and the considerations that designers need to take into account in order to integrate these systems in unobtrusive and intelligent ways.

Introduction

Several major themes emerge when looking at how researchers measure the effectiveness of ubiquitous computing devices (also known as embedded systems) with environments, individuals, and larger groups. Furthermore, designers of embedded systems have several unique problems that they must take into account than if they were simply developing a physical product, or if they were simply creating a purely digital product. Devices that are ubiquitous in nature bridge the digital-physical gap and occupy a hybrid space that demands a slightly different way of thinking about design and the design process than traditional products. This is intrinsically tied to the idea that ubiquitous computing artifacts occupy multiple spaces (physical/digital) simultaneously(1)Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2007). Hybrid ecologies: understanding cooperative interaction in emerging physical-digital environments. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing,12(7), 481-493. doi:10.1007/s00779-007-0142-7.

One of those themes has to do with how designers and users understand the relationship between ubiquitous computers and the contexts that they reside within. In ubiquitous computing (ubicomp), understanding the physical state of the individual, understanding the emotional state of the individual, and understanding environment that they exist within are critical to designing a device that engages users in context (2)Okada, M., & Tada, M. (2013). Understanding spatial contexts of the real world under explicit or tacit roles of location. Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Augmentation, Application, Innovation, Collaboration – OzCHI 13. doi:10.1145/2541016.2541018. This involves understanding how space is divided up by location, but as well, by clusters within those locations. It also involves understanding the significance of space to the user as they interact within it. That is to say that space is only given meaning within the context of the actions that a user takes within it. Therefore, space, and the meaning that the user gives it, is a significant factor that a designer must account for if they want to create unobtrusive, useful artifacts.

Second, testing ubiquitous computing devices is incredibly challenging as the devices allow for both explicit and implicit interaction (3)Tan, C. S., Schöning, J., Luyten, K., & Coninx, K. (2013). Informing intelligent user interfaces by inferring affective states from body postures in ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on Intelligent user interfaces – IUI 13. doi:10.1145/2449396.2449427(4)Gomes, T., Abade, T., Campos, J. C., Harrison, M., & Silva, J. L. (2014). Rapid development of first person serious games using the APEX platform. Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing – SAC 14. doi:10.1145/2554850.2554969. In other words, users can interact explicitly and directly with a device similar to how we interact with many digital and physical products today. Alternatively, however, users can interact passively with ubicomp devices through sensors that detect motion, body posture, eye gaze, and other factors. Implicit interaction creates challenges for both user and designer. For users, it’s often unclear how they are interacting with a system when they aren’t intentionally and directly engaging with it. For designers, understanding how people navigate space, and how to design systems that respond to a user’s behavior in such a way to provide actionable, useful information as it’s needed is a challenge that requires intensive, and often costly, research.

Finally, since ubiquitous computing devices operate in a hybrid nature (in that they bridge the digital-physical gulf), they resultantly exist in a fragmented environment(5)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA(6)Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2009). Understanding interaction in hybrid ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia – MUM 09. doi:10.1145/1658550.1658551. That is to say, instead of objects being connected with one another, they are connected to the Internet. This changes the feedback loop that users typically rely on to understand how they are affecting the state of a system, as the feedback is no longer directly and meaningfully mapped to the object of interaction. As a result, designers must consider how to provide feedback to a user that makes sense given the actions that they’re taking. Further, users must be able reconcile their interactions with devices to real outcomes.

Taking all of these factors into account, we begin to see a picture take shape where ubicomp devices challenge the way we navigate space and design for users who are navigating space. These problems require a deeper analysis into how changing contexts, modes of interaction, and analyses of fragmented environments affect these new forms of technology. Along the way, we’ll look into the methodologies that some designers are developing to try to address these challenges.

Review of Research

Contexts

One of the challenges for ubiquitous computing is understanding when the user is confused and providing meaningful feedback to put them back on track. This requires some sense of being aware of the context (environment, state of mind, etc.) that the user is working in. The things that people interact with (both in their homes and in public environments) are seated within a larger context of other types of things which must also be taken into account when researching how the user interacts with ubiquitous computing (7)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA.

In addition to the types of things that surround ubicomp devices, when designing for ubiquitous computing and IoT devices, one must consider the order of things in the home. That is to say, one must consider the spaces in the home, the zones within those spaces, how a user navigates those spaces in their daily routines to create meaning, and how to compliment those spaces and activities with ubicomp devices(8)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA.

These things are further complicated by the physical and emotional contexts that users maintain as they engage with ubiquitous devices, and how those devices sense things like state of mind, gaze, and other psychological and physiological responses. For instance, researchers have investigated utilizing eye tracking as a way to determine what users are concentrating on at any given time. If the right time, place, and action can be discerned by a system through these forms of tracking, then the correct information for that time can be given to the user(9)Jalaliniya, S., Pederson, T., & Mardanbegi, D. (2017). Symbiotic attention management in the context of internet of things. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers on – UbiComp 17. doi:10.1145/3123024.3124559. Physiological recognition in the form of posture has also been explored, where embedded systems can detect when it might be necessary to provide feedback to a user. In addition to locational data, the state of things can be measured by analyzing the body of the individual for physical cues that might indicate things like frustration, confusion, and delight(10)Tan, C. S., Schöning, J., Luyten, K., & Coninx, K. (2013). Informing intelligent user interfaces by inferring affective states from body postures in ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on Intelligent user interfaces – IUI 13. doi:10.1145/2449396.2449427.

Finally, context is important as it relates to how users expect an interaction to fit into their current working models. Bill Buxton’s story of the “door cam” at Xerox PARC is one such example. Door cam was an extension of a larger system of cameras connected to desktop computers throughout the offices of PARC at the time. The cameras were used in such a way that they could be accessed by anyone, at any time, to dial in and talk to someone at their desk. Problematically, this (to some) felt like an intrusion of space. So, additional cameras were implemented directly outside the door of each person’s office, which simulated what we would do if we wanted to approach someone in their office and talk with them (we would first look in the office to see if the person was busy)(11)Bill Buxton. “Living in Augmented Reality: Ubiquitous Media and Reactive Environments,” 01 Nov 1997.. By affording people the ability to do things that they would also do in real life – and by being aware of contexts and social standards – designers can create ubicomp devices that situate themselves within the current working models of users.

Context is critical to how we navigate space through ubiquitous devices, and how designers create ubicomp devices to reside naturally within our environments. It is also, notably, incredibly expensive and time-intensive to design artifacts that meet these requirements, as they require real, physical spaces with individuals navigating them in order to provide valid tests. Nevertheless, understanding how people navigate space, zones within those spaces, and their physical and mental states as they do so is important for embedded devices. Further, due to the challenging nature of designing these devices well, an overwhelming amount of research suggests that current ubicomp devices don’t naturally fit in with the flows of user behaviors(12)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA.

Explicit and Implicit Interaction

The way that users engage with devices can be explicit or implicit. Explicit means of interacting with a device involve intent, in that the user must actively and purposefully engage with the device. Implicit interaction, on the other hand, is where the user is simply going about their daily lives, and sensors actively collect information and respond to their behavior(13)Gomes, T., Abade, T., Campos, J. C., Harrison, M., & Silva, J. L. (2014). Rapid development of first person serious games using the APEX platform. Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing – SAC 14. doi:10.1145/2554850.2554969. As we continue to embed computers into our daily lives, the explicit nature by which we interact with things is being changed and shifted toward more implicit forms of interaction.

Implicit forms of information require the categorization and classification of types of behaviors that can occur within a space, then tracking where people are in space, and what types of things they are doing while in the space. Categories might include things like interacting with appliances, furniture, toys, media, and so forth(14)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA. Perhaps surprisingly, when tracking an individual and analyzing what types of things they are doing in a space, the majority of things they are doing defy categorization(15)Okada, M., & Tada, M. (2013). Understanding spatial contexts of the real world under explicit or tacit roles of location. Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Augmentation, Application, Innovation, Collaboration – OzCHI 13. doi:10.1145/2541016.2541018. This could include things like walking (moving about space), standing and thinking, and other non-critical interactions. Designers, therefore, must be able to discern a critical interaction from a non-critical one, and design objects that fit these needs.

The challenges provided by examining implicit interaction lie in the processing and computational requirements it places on machines attempting to track eye movement, body posture, and other similar physiological indicators. As Jalaliniya et al. note, in order for ubicomp devices to wayfind a user to the action they need to do, a system requires strong connections between multiple devices that can read a user’s behavior and reinforce the kinds of subliminal cues necessary to aid them in completing a task [8, 9]. This is not to mention the inherent dangers in the assumptions and biases we have about what the actions of a user mean, and how a computer’s interpretations of those actions might be erroneous and even dangerous.

Implicit interaction is another influencing factor in the way we perceive and design for space through ubicomp devices in that it requires a designer to create a model that they believe fits with a user’s expectations. In doing so, the designer is making assumptions about how users navigate space, and attempting to influence the user’s behavior through subliminal messaging or other means. It is, in effect, the main differentiating factor between ubicomp devices and other non-hybridized artifacts that users engage with, and presents a strong challenge when it comes to designing objects that can remain unseen while simultaneously providing meaningful feedback to their owners.

Fragmented Environments

Fragmentation is built into the very nature of physical computing devices, as it is into other hybridized forms of media, and requires the user to reconcile that fragmentation. Fragmentation emerges when one does not directly receive feedback from the thing that they’re interacting with, and therefore do not immediately see how a system or object is responding to their behavior(16)Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2009). Understanding interaction in hybrid ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia – MUM 09. doi:10.1145/1658550.1658551. In other words, since ubicomp devices are not physically interconnected, but instead connected and mediated through the Internet, the nature of that connection is not whole but instead fragmented. This creates a seemingly disjointed system that both influences how users navigate space, and places responsibility on a designer to consider who that user navigates through their space.

Fragmentation influences how users navigate physical space by putting the onus on them to both discern and seek meaningful feedback from the actions that they take. This could take the form of confirming that a light has turned off after giving a command to a speech recognition device, or checking the temperature of one’s home after activating a geo-fence that enables temperature control in that home. By widening the gulf between action and response, fragmentation forces a user to seek meaning that emerges from the ubiquitous computing systems that they interact with.

This is only further complicated when we’re forced to consider multiple users interacting within a fragmented environment. Testing ubicomp devices becomes even more complicated as multiple individuals are both implicitly and explicitly interacting with ubiquitous systems, requiring a system to mediate concurrent behavior that requires overlapping feedback(17)Zilz, R. (2011). Specifying concurrent behavior to evaluate ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGCHI symposium on Engineering interactive computing systems – EICS 11. doi:10.1145/1996461.1996540. Because of fragmentation, concurrent users can also influence the behaviors of other users interacting with a system by altering the state of the system and, thus, confounding the expectations of others.

By using the Internet to mediate their connections, ubiquitous devices are capable of taking advantage of interconnection and information abundance. At the same time, the fragmentation that emerges from decoupling physical inputs with feedback creates new forms of interaction that influence how users navigate space, and how designers create for those spaces. Understanding how fragmentation changes the way a user (or users) perceives the space around them should strongly influence the design of any ubiquitous computing device.

Conclusion

Ubiquitous computing devices are inherently tied to our navigation of space, and the ways in which we navigate space are tied to how designers create embedded, ubiquitous artifacts. The three primary design challenges of ubiquitous computing devices – context, modes of interaction, and fragmentation – influence how a user navigates their space, and how a designer understands their work within the larger stage of the environment in which it sits. As designers and users continue to adopt ubicomp devices, they should pay close attention to the influence that computers have on their behaviors and attitudes.

As further models are developed to measure the contextual use of ubiquitous artifacts, and how people interact with them, designers should take care when approaching such sensory and wayfinding methodologies as gaze tracking, body posture, and subliminal perception. At the same time, users must be critical of the devices that they engage with, and strive to understand the underlying systems that these fragmented artifacts run on top of.

References   [ + ]

1. Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2007). Hybrid ecologies: understanding cooperative interaction in emerging physical-digital environments. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing,12(7), 481-493. doi:10.1007/s00779-007-0142-7
2, 15. Okada, M., & Tada, M. (2013). Understanding spatial contexts of the real world under explicit or tacit roles of location. Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Augmentation, Application, Innovation, Collaboration – OzCHI 13. doi:10.1145/2541016.2541018
3, 10. Tan, C. S., Schöning, J., Luyten, K., & Coninx, K. (2013). Informing intelligent user interfaces by inferring affective states from body postures in ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on Intelligent user interfaces – IUI 13. doi:10.1145/2449396.2449427
4, 13. Gomes, T., Abade, T., Campos, J. C., Harrison, M., & Silva, J. L. (2014). Rapid development of first person serious games using the APEX platform. Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing – SAC 14. doi:10.1145/2554850.2554969
5, 7, 8, 12, 14. Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA
6, 16. Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2009). Understanding interaction in hybrid ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia – MUM 09. doi:10.1145/1658550.1658551
9. Jalaliniya, S., Pederson, T., & Mardanbegi, D. (2017). Symbiotic attention management in the context of internet of things. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers on – UbiComp 17. doi:10.1145/3123024.3124559
11. Bill Buxton. “Living in Augmented Reality: Ubiquitous Media and Reactive Environments,” 01 Nov 1997.
17. Zilz, R. (2011). Specifying concurrent behavior to evaluate ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGCHI symposium on Engineering interactive computing systems – EICS 11. doi:10.1145/1996461.1996540

The Walkman and Unlearning

Sometimes our expectations of what a thing is, or rather, what it should be blind us to the possibilities of what it could become. These expectations can prevent us from understanding the true potential of an object, and lead us to miss out on opportunities for development. This is where the idea of unlearning — of tossing aside old biases and preconceived notions — fits into the design process.

A good illustration of this point comes from Personal Stereo, a book in the Objects Lessons series about the development of the Sony Walkman and other portable sound devices:

Whatever its genesis, there is consensus that most of Sony’s employees were distinctly unenthusiastic about the idea. The reasons for this are worth dwelling on for a moment. The main reason was that Sony employees doubted that anyone would want a tape player with no recording function.

It may seem patently obvious to us now that a portable listening device would not need a recording function (though obviously, all smart phones have both), but imagine living in a time where the past five decades of market demands indicated otherwise. Personal stereos emerged out of the development of the portable recording device that was used by the military and for corporate needs. Adapting it for mass consumption did not change, in an engineer’s mind, the device’s primary role in our lives.

We all have these kinds of biases about how a thing ought to be used and ought to function. This can be incredibly useful for purposes of expediency and understanding the world around us, but it can also be to the detriment of our creative potential. It’s important to remember this, and consider the process of unlearning essential to our creative work.