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#ETS


FOREWORD THE SUMMER OF CODE

3 May. Bistritz.--Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.

I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordance Survey Maps; but I found that Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place. I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory when I talk over my travels with Mina. The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. They had all full white sleeves of some kind or other, and most of them had big belts with a lot of strips of something fluttering from them like the dresses in a ballet, but of course there were petticoats

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All About Mind Control

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UX Insight

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Smarter Planet

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Streams Processing

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Kevin Brown on headsets that monitor brain activity and other things about interactive control devices. Kevin Brown on headsets that monitor brain activity and other things about interactive control devices.

10 Emerging

12 Q&A

Kevin Brown on headsets that monitor brain activity and other things about interactive control devices.

Kevin Brown on headsets that monitor brain activity and other things about interactive control devices. Kevin Brown on headsets that monitor brain activity and other things about interactive control devices.

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Technology Archive

Kevin Brown on headsets that monitor brain activity and other things about interactive control devices.

Emerging Technology News


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Customers through the lab.

Papers published.


UX Notes

GOING AGAINST THE RULES

User interface design often follows standard design patterns, but they're not always right for every project. Darren Shaw talks about the difficulties with maps and translation on a multilingual and mulitcultural project.

"We're looking to fix the interface and sort of make it a bit more flashy" is the kind of introduction I often receive when joining a new project. I'm not a graphic designer, nor any kind of qualified user interface expert. I'm not even really a proper front end developer, but over the years I've built up a reputation for working on web based user interfaces. The whole area tends to be considered as something of a black art, something that cannot be learned. While taste may be innate and there is little substitute for experience, there are tricks that can be used to create decent user interfaces. Be it in terms of usability or aesthetic appeal, using these patterns is how I’m able to cheat at designing user interfaces. The most interesting projects, however, are the ones where the patterns do not fit, where genuine innovation and ingenuity has to be used to create the interface. The sort of projects that Emerging Technology Services work on.

that spent two years working with them to get their application up and running. There were many technical and cultural challenges on the project, but it was the user interface that generated the biggest technical challenges, the most heated discussion and required the most effort from IBM and Meedan.

The meedan.net application needed to do two things, act as a matchmaker, bringing English and Arabic speaking people together and then translating between the two languages for them. We knew that just randomly bringing people together wouldn’t work, they need to have some context and basis to have a discussion in. We wanted to use world events to be this spark, be it internationally important news, or things with a much more local and personal significance to the people using the site. From the user interface side we needed a way to represent these events and allow our users to find them. Geography was such an important part Often it’s the patterns and experience of the whole idea of Meedan that dots from other websites that help to inform on a map seemed like an obvious place the design of new ones. Blogs, for to start. In fact Meedan’s original logo example, all tend to follow a similar was made up of map dots. interface design: a vertically scrolling list of date ordered posts; links to tags; If you were using the standard patterns links to other blogs; search bar. It’s a for an event site, or maybe a photo sensible design, almost a de-facto sharing site, dots on a map would be standard, which users are familiar with. your starting point. They represent the It’s not surprising that many sites follow data and people understand what they a similar theme. The same is true in other web application niches, be it photo sharing, news publications, help forums or social network sites. The majority of websites I’ve worked on are variations one of these existing classes, but occasionally you get to work on something completely different, where mean. So that’s what we did, the frontpa there is no existing pattern to fall back ge had a large Google based map, with on, that was the case with meedan.net. dots representing the events. Clicking through would take you to more detail Meedan are a US non profit about that event where discussion could organisation whose aim is to improve take place. The problem was the pattern. tolerance and understanding between People came to the the website and it the English and Arabic speaking parts of looked like an event site. The sort of the world. I was part of an ETS team place you might find where a band are

playing or where a conference is. Meedan was using events, but it wasn’t really what the site was about. In usability terms, the Google map didn’t offer the right affordances, it was not something users saw as a place to start a discussion. It wasn’t necessarily using a map that was the problem, it was that we were using the most commonly used map on the Internet.

Meedan decided that they wanted to look at using a 3D maps, largely as a way of differentiating from the thousands of other map based web sites. The "spiny globe problem” as it was affectionately known, became a contentious issue. While it looked great and would have attracted a lot of attention, it's actually less usable than a 2D map. You can't see all of the world at the same time on a globe, it's harder to make visual comparisons and how ever slick you make the controls, they can be fiddly to manipulate. The technical implications also meant that users accessing the site with older hardware or limited bandwidth (something particularly important when attracting people from some areas of the Middle East) would have had a reduced experience. Reluctantly we dropped the 3D map and compromised to a custom 2D map that would allow us to control the look and feel.

How do you mark “climate change”, or “middle east conflict” with a dot on a map? Where do you put it?

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Emerging Technology News

Our early alpha testers highlightedanoth er problem with our use of maps in the interface. All the events they wanted to discuss tended to have a geographic location, but not one that could be represented by a simple dot. How, for example, do you mark “climate change”, or “middle east conflict” with a dot on a map? Where would you put


it? We also had different aspects of location that seemed important. Where the event is, where physically the user discussing it is and where they consider themselves from. They are subtle, but important differences and different users took their location to mean different things. Add to this we also had concerns about revealing a user’s location. We wanted the people that use Meedan to feel as free as possible to have the discussion they want to have. In some countries, showing their location on a map could be reckless. It’s not good enough just to mark them with some random error factor. A fuzzy dot with 20 miles of error may be good enough to anonymise someone in London, but not if that person is in the middle of nowhere with the only Internet connection for miles. An extreme case perhaps, but something the project could not risk.

EXPERT VIEW by Darren Shaw

Despite these problems, we wanted to make use of user location because it would allow us to do things like show the views on an event from a certain region, compared with those from another. In developing the user interface, there’s often a balance to be had between functionality and simplicity. Adding more features tends to increase the complexity of the interface. We went for the simplest approach of allowing users to define their own location (rather than any automated system).

What's your role?

Users of the system should be allowed to define their location however they want, so we provided a free text entry box where they could type their location. It might be that they entered a country, a city, a specific street address, or none at all. We did not mandate the format or the language they had to use. This free form text location was displayed on their profile page. Behind the scenes we developed an algorithm to read the free text location and try and resolve it to a specific geographic location. Anything that the machine could not resolve was sent to a human administrator to do. The interface showed the user this resolved location, indicating where on the map their content would be shown from.

I'm also playing with some ideas around a virtual mirror, using augmented reality to let people try clothes on, without the hassle of going to a changing room. It's been tried before, but never completely successfully.

I build web applications. Recently I've had more of a focus on front end user interfaces and data visualisation, but over the ten years in the job I've worked on the backend side too, developing the core application logic and databases. What are you working on now?

I'm developing a dashboard for monitoring data coming in from sensors. Its part of a research project to do with the management of sensor networks, developing middleware that will allow people to make the most efficient use of their sensors. It's aimed at the miliatary initially, but the ideas and the technology is applicable to all kinds of different fields.

What's been the best thing you've done in ETS?

I was part of the team that built meedan.net from the ground up. I was at the first meeting where Meedan was a single person organisation with a CEO and nothing else. We spent two years building up the technology, but also the business with them. I still see discussions and ideas built on things we came up with in the original meeting. Meedan was staffed by technologists from the startups of San Francisco. The culture clash of them coming together with IBM and it's ways of doing things was at times draining, but we made it work and ultimately all gained from the experience. The project really showed the best of IBM when it puts a good team together and invests in an idea.

The cross culture nature of the site did Emerging Technology News

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present some interesting political problems relating to location, geography being at the heart of many conflicts. Disputed territories around Palestine and Israel, for example, go under different names depending on which side of the argument you are on. Allowing users to set the text that represents their location solves this to some extent, but we were still left with the accepted names on maps. There is also the problem of translation, some smaller towns and villages have no known English or Arabic versions of their names. When these locations were used, a request was sent to Meedan’s team of human translators to provide one. One of the things that we learned through this project was that the clever algorithms don’t need to be 100% perfect in terms of geolocation. If they can cope with 99% of cases, there’s nothing wrong with having some human input to fix and improve things. This was an approach that we took both to location and translation. Maps and location were important to Meedan, but the real difference with the organisation and with the interface was in language translation. There are many multilingual websites, but the pattern they generally follow is to allow the user to set the display language, so the site could be in English, or in Arabic, for example. Meedan wanted to show that both languages where at its core and that translation was what the website was really about. We wanted this to shine through in the actual user interface. We decided to show much of the English and Arabic text alongside each other, rather than showing one or the other. It was a big decision to make, effectively reducing the usable screen space by half. Showing information that a user does not need would normally be considered a mistake in terms of usability, but this is another example of where the application we were building didn’t fit in with the established user interface patterns.

dual language displays. Some of the pages became too cluttered, but we always kept Arabic and English in the header and the main conversation screens remained dual language. In the first version of the site we didn’t indicate whether text was original, or that it had been translated. Initially, when the standard of Machine Translation wasn’t that high, it wasn’t a problem. Users could tell by reading the text if it was as originally written or a machine translation. As the translation accuracy improved it wasn’t always so obvious. Often a sentence would be grammatically correct and would sound right, but a subtle (or not so subtle) meaning had been lost in translation. Sometimes a sentence could be translated and mean the opposite of what had been written, which does not do anything to improve Arabic-English relations. The research team working on the project even questioned whether the source of many conflicts could be in translation, even an expert human translator finds some words and concepts difficult to translate directly. To negate the problem, we added information about whether any text was original or if it had been translated and if so, by whom. This came in to it’s own when we allowed human translators to fix machine translations as it provided attribution (and thereby credit) for their work. Since launching the interface has undergone several iterations. It has been simplified and a lot of work has gone in to allowing users to correct other user’s translations, but many of the concepts and ideas we came up with remain. It was a difficult and at times frustrating project, but one that was ultimately successful. I find it hard to look at the site and not see all the things I still wished we had done differently, but the site is flourishing and the experience gained from building it and the new user interface patterns we developed are unique.

Showing both languages together really showed off what the site was about and feedback from users was positive. Even those who couldn’t read Arabic thought that it added to the atmosphere of the site and that the characters were attractive to look at. It helped set the tone for the website and set it apart from its competitors. After further development we slightly toned down the 6

Emerging Technology News


Emerging Technology News

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MIND CONTROL CONTROLING DEVICES WITH YOUR BRAIN

The computer in front of you is made up of technology that would not have been feasible just ten years ago, yet the main device you use to interact with it was designed before the first powered flight took place. The QWERTY keyboard was invented in 1873, 65 years before the ball point pen. It is still the most efficient way we have to enter text. The mouse was developed in the 1960s. Even touchpads have been on laptops since the 1990s. All of these devices have been massively successful, but they have relied on humans to adapt to the way that they work. Staff at IBM's Emerging Technology lab in Hursley are working on how we might use and interact with computers in the future. Equipment that is capable of monitoring, sensing and and measuring people is not new, but importantly, the hardware has reached a level of development where it has become economically viable to use in a wider range of applications. Increasingly, through the likes of the iPhone, Wii and Kinect more natural human oriented interfaces are working their way in to the home. By default all of these devices act independently, with each manufacturer focussed on designing and marketing their own technology. The Emerging Technology lab takes a different approach, looking at how these devices can be integrated and used in combination to produce an effect greater than the sum of their parts. Kevin Brown first came across the Emotiv headsets last year when he read that researchers were exploring how they might be used to control avatars in virtual worlds. The Emotiv headset looks like something from science fiction. It's a small, fist sized device with sensors spidering out and attaching to different parts of the skull. The headset detects the tiny electrical signals emitted by the brain in order to pick out changing facial expressions, emotions and even feelings. It's impressive, though not quite the mind reading magic it initially sounds like. The system can't read your mind, but it can be trained to recognise the specific electrical activity that occurs with certain thoughts. Kevin has used this to allow certain thoughts to be tied to 8

actions in the lab. He has a toy remote control car that can be driven by thought alone. Kevin explained that what he is really interested in is the way in which the device has been connected in to the lab.

techie, was keen to try it out. Initial training with the device went well and he was able to make the device to recognise two different thoughts, enough to be tied to two different control actions in software. This

The QWERTY keyboard was invented in 1873, 65 years before the ball point pen.

“We have a fast turnover of new technology coming in to the lab and what we really try to show is how they can be used together. We don't know what devices are coming along 18 months from now and we can't afford to build large custom solutions to integrate each new piece of technology. So we use WebSphere middleware as in integration layer and treat each new piece of technology as just another sensor. We might have to write a small bit of code to bridge the new device in to our sensor messaging layer, but that will only take a few hours and then that new technology is fully integrated with the rest of the lab.�

It's this groundwork that allows Kevin and the rest of the ETS team to come up with innovative ways of combining the different sensors in the lab. They don't need to spend their effort on the low level device to device communication, so they can concentrate on developing the higher level integration which is really where the benefits lie. ETS walk customers through this story to show what the Smarter Planet marketing means in real, practical terms. The BBC were so taken by the technology that Kevin, with his ETS colleague Nick O'Leary, worked with them to produce an episode of Bang Goes The Theory, in which the same system was used to control a full sized taxi. The technology has wider applications as Kevin discovered when his wife Sarah, an Occupational Therapist, was working with a stroke patient suffering from Locked-In Syndrome. The patient's brain was working perfectly, but his body was completely paralysed. He could only communicate with his eyes, (up for yes, down for no) having someone point at each letter in a chart one by one to help him spell out a word. Kevin saw an opportunity to use the headset and the patient, being a bit of a Emerging Technology News

allowed him to replicate the process of spelling out words, but without the aid of another person. It wasn't without challenges, controlling by thought takes a lot of concentration and mental effort and, as you get tired, it becomes more difficult to accurately control your thoughts. The hope is that the more people get used to using the brain for controlling things, the more natural it will become and the less mental effort they will need to exert. The Emotiv headsets and their kind are certainly clever and make for attractive demos. Thought is a more natural interface than a mouse or keyboard, but that alone does not mean that such devices will really take off. They struggle with some of the same drawbacks as 3D glasses in that the hardware is clumsy and awkward to wear. It takes time to setup and each person involved needs a device to themselves. Use with the stroke patient also showed that the mental effort and concentration that is needed to use these systems, particularly over a long period of time, can be exhausting. To some degree, the physical object that is the Emotiv headset itself gets in the way of the natural interaction. Thought may be a natural way of controlling actions, but not necessarily when it flows via a cumbersome device. This is where the gesture interfaces that Kevin's team work on really come in to their own. Touch gestures are widely used in the current generation of smart phones and tablets. They certainly present a more natural human interface and the Emerging Technology group are looking in to how the next generation of


touch devices might be used.

have many advantages, but only one user can be in control of it at once, the One of the group's interests is in how interface does not encourage team teams collaborate together and a collaboration. A multi touch surface drawback of standard touch interfaces is with a group of people gathered around that they only work with one person at a might do just that. time. They may allow you to use several fingers to form a gesture, but The Emerging Technology group have begun using a multi touch device in their lab. The cameras it uses to detect gestures can also be put to other uses. They are configured behind a semi transparent screen so that they can 'see' what is on the surface of the display and just above it. Normally they will not cope with different used for detecting hands and fingers, people's hands at the same time. these cameras can also be programmed Computationally, this is a difficult to detect objects that are placed on the problem. When there are multiple screen. This allows the development of hands touching a surface, how do you applications that use a mixture of hand work out which touches belong to gestures and objects to trigger actions. which hand of which person? Multi The real advantage of touch interfaces is touch displays solve this by using that they make the most of what humans multiple cameras and sophisticated have evolved to be good at, the touch image processing algorithms. This gestures are as natural as the ones we means that several people can interact use to manipulate objects in the real with the display (which is normally world. configured as a table) at the same time, something which doesn't happen with The same is true for sensors that are traditional computer interfaces. Kevin able to detect full body motion, such as and the team are interested in how these Microsoft's Kinect. The Kinect multi user interfaces might be used in hardware was developed as a control planning activities, specifically for the mechanism for their Xbox console, but military. With paper based maps a published APIs allow developers to use group of soldiers can gather round, the devices with other systems. The discuss options, point and draw on the sensors are able to detect the positions map. A computer based map might of the major joints in the human body,

A computer based map might have many advantages, but only one user can be in control of it at once, the interface does not encourage team collaboration.

allowing a live skeletal wireframe to be calculated. This is used in games to allow the motion of the players body to control the on screen action, but can also be used outside of games. It can be programmed to control anything. Trivial examples such as scrolling through a web page by waving your hands are common, but there are more compelling uses of the system, which take advantage of the detailed body position it provides. ETS are keen to try using the technology as a virtual mirror. A shopper would be able to walk up to a full height display which “reflects� back their image. The Kinect sensor would be used to map their body position and the data used to show the customer what they would look like in an item of clothing. They would rapidly be able to scroll though different items and virtually try them on, all without a trip to the changing room. The same technology could even be used from the shoppers home, completely changing the online experience of fashion retailers. We are just at the early stages of these natural gesture and body control interfaces, but the hardware costs are coming down rapidly and people like Kevin spend their time thinking not just how we replicate existing interfaces with the new ones, but how they can be used in a completely new way or even lead to a whole new type of application.

EXPERT VIEW by Kevin Brown

3 May. Bistritz.--Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. 3 May. Bistritz.--Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordance Survey Maps; but I found that Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place. I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory when I talk over 10

Emerging Technology News


Emerging Technology News

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