Thursday, November 30, 2006

distance (cont)

So here are my observations from yesterday's little experiment...

1) I use email for planning and not really for communication (hence the high number of "local" emails)
2) I use IM and my blog to keep in touch with people who live farther away (makes sense as I don't have many face to face conversations, so IM or blog-reading suffices)
3) While not the inverse power law that was "average" years ago and well-reported on, I actually do have a lot of communication with people in the chicago metro area...way more than I had expected.
4) I almost never make voice calls from my cell phone (it was omitted from this because I hardly ever use it for voice besides coordinating with work colleagues - now mobile data/email/sms that's another story - maybe I should count SMS's)
5) It would be interesting to see how the internet has changed communication-at-a-distance for others as my distribution doesn't match well with prior research in this area. Maybe it's that I went far away for college. Maybe it's the sort of people you meet at MIT who are distributed all over the world. But I wonder how instant communication to anyone has changed the numbers of friends people maintain close connections to and where those people are spatially. I'm sure research has been done in this area. If people have pointers, I'm curious to read more...


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I've always wanted to look at various forms of my communication and look at the frequency of communication at different distances. Most work in communications shows that people communicate more with people who are close in proximity to them [I could cite all sorts of things here and might come back and edit later for the curious]. But I have always thought that my communication doesn't follow the "normal" patterns :)

So I took a few minutes tonight and looked at the last 50 blog visitors, the last 50 emails that I responded to, and the last 50 IM conversations as a start. This is all personal communication, not counting communication with colleagues about work stuff.

Medium0 to 100 miles100 to 10001000 to 2000over 2000

Not sure what all to make of it yet, but it's interesting. :)


research center in the news...

My mom actually pointed this one out to me. A few things going on in our larger research center were just written up in the Daily Herald (a chicago area newspaper). While I wish they would have gotten some more detail and actually talked to people doing the work, it's cool to see our stuff out there a little more publicly! :)


Saturday, November 25, 2006


I've been cooking a bunch recently, first for Thanksgiving and then just because that made me remember how much I love to cook! I even fooled my cousin with a banana bread that she just couldn't believe was vegan. Now that's something that has to be made much more often!

Things cooked this weekend:
- banana bread
- baked penne with soy sausage, zucchini, and tofu
- seitan stir-fry
- cinnamon rolls

Hopefully now with more free time for the next few weeks I can keep cooking some more :)


Thursday, November 23, 2006

unlocking phones is officially legal!

Yesterday, the copyright office here in the US declared it totally legal for consumers to go around the carriers and unlock their cell phones. It also seems that possibly under the rulings it's also legal to reflex phones (e.g. to turn on bluetooth file transfer on phones where verizon disables it). What I especially love is that they declared that it can't be copyright violation because the phone manufacturer (who wrote the code) actually wants the consumer to be able to use any carrier and take advantage of all of the features of the phone! It's just the carrier that wants to limit things and it's not their code! So so so so cool!

You can read more here.


Monday, November 20, 2006


When I was doing my meng, I used to take Thursdays "off" to read a book. No matter what, no work was getting done until I finished a complete book each Thursday. When I first moved to Evanston, it was usually Saturdays that became the book day. Lately, I've been too busy to devote a whole day to reading. But then I think, am I really busier than I was at MIT? No, I just sleep more now :)

In any case, tonight I made my way through a complete (albeit short) book. Maeda's Laws of Simplicity that I ordered after hearing about it in a media lab talk last thursday. It just felt so nice to read something cover to cover when lately I've been getting 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there to read something. Maybe monday night will be my reading night from now on...

So the book! It was good! Maeda laid out 10 principles of Simplicity. It's clear he's spending more time in the business world than in the design world lately though, as the book was filled with acronyms and principles galore. It just felt a little forced. But still a highly recommended quick read to remind us all about simple and elegant design.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

course 6 elective

So the class that I co-teach at MIT in the spring was just approved for course six elective credit under 6.033. It's really exciting!! If anyone knows any MIT undergrads in course six, please let them know about this and about the class! We'll be putting an email out on the course six mailing list in december.

This year's version should be even more exciting than last year's! We're spending some more time on J2ME and the technical details of programming as well as diving into a few domains (location, imaging, etc.). And of course we're still covering all of the user-centered design stuff and iterative paper prototyping. Yay!


Saturday, November 18, 2006


So the end of this week was Media Lab day at Motorola. While Maeda didn't make it out, I've been thinking more and more about his Laws of Simplicity and the Simplicity Consortium at the lab. What does it mean for a device or an interface to be simple? Is the iPod simple? Is tivo simple? Does the user need to know what's going on under the hood for something to be simple? Does something have to be consistent to be simple?

When I think of things that are really simple, I think of the GSM SIM card. That card is me, and I can shove it into any phone and I get my contacts, SMS history, and phone number automatically loaded into that other phone. Or Don Norman's's clear what you need to do to get it to make juice and it does it well (well, not the gold plated one...). Or my microwave that has dedicated buttons for defrost and reheat and sensors to detect when the food is done. Or my hybrid car that manages between electric and combustion-based propulsion without me caring. I think the CE industry has a lot to learn from other more design-based industries in making things that are truly simple. None of these items is ultra complex under the hood. The prius drive train is amazingly elegant, the SIM card just stores a few bytes of data about you and your network, the microwave senses humidity. And I think in large part because of this simplicity underneath, they just work for the user, are consistent, and don't confuse. You get the right outcome every time.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

tetris fans must watch this...

Anyone who was ever obsessed with tetris needs to watch this BBC documentary. It's just amazing all of the business and political interactions that led to the game making its way to gameboy and into the hands of millions. Thanks for the link Joe!


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

3d printers...

Anyone who was around me at MIT knows that I'm obsessed with 3-D printers. I think they are just the coolest thing ever! :) Did you know that they only cost $19,990 now? That's much cheaper than I thought. Let's just hope they keep coming down in price... Man, I can't even imagine all that I'd make!


Monday, November 13, 2006

recent happenings...

It's been a few days since I've posted. Busy, but nicely busy mostly doing non-work things :)

Yesterday was a fun MIT/Caltech wine tasting down in lincoln park (see photo). A ton of people came, including an old friend of mine from FLP days that I didn't even know was living in Chicago! How random! It was fun to get out and see MIT friends again and meet some new people! Afterwards, I headed up to Evanston for some awesome Seitan Fajitas at Blind Faith. Mmmmm. Good stuff!

Last Thursday, a bunch of the kids that come to 826 for tutoring had a reading of some of the things that they have written recently. It was tons of fun and some of them were really funny!

And yay! I finally signed up for Flickr pro. I hit my 200 photo limit with all of these pictures I've been ZoneTagging lately, so I figured that it was time to go for it and pay the whopping $2/month :)

And I finally saw Borat! I thought it was hilarious but also just a sad sad commentary on America. This country just has *so* far to go and that makes me sad. As much as the people complaining and suing say that they didn't mean everything that they said, there was nothing anyone said that shocked me having known people who live in the south among other less-tolerant people. Hopefully the movie can spark more debate and understanding of people who are different, but I'm afraid that it'll only raise more of a divide with people who are angry at him for mocking their culture or being less-than-straightforward with the people in the movie and don't take the time to listen for the message.


Friday, November 10, 2006

another fun talk...

There was another fun talk from TED posted this week. This one is Michael Shermer (from Skeptic Magazine) with some interesting words about being primed to look for certain things. It's a fun one!

I love that they keep posting a few of these every week. It's a nice break and I feel like I'm learning something :) There's another one on statistics up as well. Probably nothing new if you ever took 041, but still interesting to see how a lack of understanding can lead to bad things happening.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

ZoneTag Motorola Client

Back in April at CHI, I met some researchers from the ZoneTag team at Yahoo! Research Berkeley. After telling them how awesome I thought their system was, I lamented the fact that it didn't run on Motorola phones and even the Nokia phones that it ran on were relatively rare in the states. I also really wanted to be able to see photos taken near me while I was mobile. Our conclusion was to make a ZoneTag client in java for Motorola phones! Using the ZoneTag APIs, I put together a J2ME client mostly in my "spare" time on nights and weekends (sorry to all of you I had to say no to hanging out with on those nights I was coding!). And the result was just released yesterday!!

For those of you not familiar with the application, it suggests tags for you to apply to your photos based on your current location. It uses cell tower IDs to do this, so you don't need GPS and it'll work indoors. So if I took a picture right now, it would suggest "Schaumburg, IL 60196" as well as "Motorola" and some restaurants across the street. I just click on the tags that I want and like magic the photo is up on my Flickr page. No pesky trying to type on a phone keypad.

If you have a new-ish Motorola phone (that you didn't buy from a t-mobile store), a data plan, and want an easy way to get photos up on Flickr with context tags, please do check it out! ZoneTag Motorola Client You can also see screenshots here


Sunday, November 05, 2006

mythbusters @ MIT...

I wish I had been on campus this weekend. Seeing the Mythbusters in Kresge had to have been an awesome experience. But for all of us who couldn't be there, it seems like it was faithfully YouTube'd after the event. I just wish they would have done a myth that involved a little more building for the MIT crowd.


go green for governor...

This guy is really impressing me. And like it was ever in question if I'd vote for a green party candidate for governor, it's certainly not anymore! My dad is even voting for this guy!

- he's taken no contributions from corporations
- he wants to create a "New Deal for sustainable energy (solar, wind, biomass and geothermal), energy efficiency, green building codes, smart urban planning and sustainable transportation, including high-speed rail."
- for universal health care
- against big box retailers
- he opposes the "illegal and immoral occupation in Iraq"

Go vote this tuesday!!!


Saturday, November 04, 2006


For all of you who are wondering what I've been up to these past few months, check back here on monday afternoon :) And for any of you in the Schaumburg area, feel free to join me at Prairie Rock for a little launch party at 5:30.