Wednesday, November 26, 2008

can I put fantastic and LA in the same sentance?

Hi! Today I made it back home from a quick trip to LA. Now most of you know that I'm not a big LA fan...the sprawl, the pollution, the car-centricness, etc. But seriously, I had such a wonderful time these past few days that I may have to rethink that. Part of it of course was seeing friends there, but there's a lot to like...

I made it out on Monday afternoon and made my way down to Orange County to visit my friend Allison. She works in the forest (or as she puts it woodlands) up in the mountains just south of Irvine. It was really wonderful to get out of the city for a bit, get the tour, see the sunset over the mountains, and eat some nice thai food. Definitely the relaxing evening I needed.

Tuesday I was up super early (6:15) to go run 16 miles along the ocean. I was staying up in Santa Monica and they have a wonderful running/biking path that runs alongside the beach. I ran down to Maria Del Rey and then back up to Santa Monica and my knee was starting to hurt a bit...a few miles later, a little more than a little bit. So I cut the run short at 14 miles, which is still a really nice run. It's about time to change shoes, so that should help the knee problem.

I was just amazed at how nice the weather was. Running in shorts and a t-shirt in almost December is such a foreign concept to me! Apparently it is to the people who live in LA as well, as there were people out there in long sleeves and gloves. I think they don't have any idea what cold is! :)

After the run, I met up with an old friend from Student House for some raw vegan food. It was good...although bread without heat isn't so great. I don't get the whole raw thing. But good food, good conversation, and eating outside. You really can't go wrong!

The work part of the trip went well, and I got to take in a volleyball game at UCLA which was a lot of fun. And then back into Chicago today...and it's actually not so cold the mid 40s. I also happened to get through two books on the trip.

This trip was just totally what I needed. I feel so relaxed and non-stressed right now and that's a place I've been trying to get for some time now. And it was LA that did it...weird. :)

Happy tofurkey day everyone!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Mental models of metal

Overheard in the airport security line:

Metal detector going off
Woman: I took off all my metal
TSA: do you have a cell phone?
Woman: yes, but it's a plastic one
TSA: yes, but it still has metal in it
Woman: really?!?


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Running in the cold...

I had my first real cold-weather long run this past weekend and it was...cold! The temperature was down around 35 (with a 27 wind chill) and I had to put in 15 miles. I decided to go for a Moraine Hills run since the 3 and 4 mile loops put me back at my car frequently to get some gatorade (or warm up a bit!).

I went with the three layer top and two layer bottom approach along with a hat and gloves and that worked pretty well. I dropped the gloves off in the car after the first 7 miles and my fingers were a bit cold after that. Especially after gatorade breaks. But other than that, I made it through.

The last 3 miles were in fairly heavy snow though, and that wasn't really a whole lot of fun. I had a nice covering of snow on my outer layer by the time I was done and had to brush off the car a little bit before heading home.

In total contrast, my next long run will be on the beach in Santa Monica. Where I can wear shorts and definitely do not need to worry about snow :) That will be nice!


Ariely Talk

Near West Side, Nov 15, 2008
Originally uploaded by bentley79.
This past Saturday I put on a talk for the MIT Club of Chicago. We had Dan Ariely from the Media Lab/Sloan come and talk about behavioral economics. Which may at first glance sound a bit boring, but Dan is such a great speaker and filled with tons of great stories.

It really amazes me that Dan's way of thinking isn't more common in economics. His ideas really coincide with a lot of my own thoughts on understanding people. Basically that people can't be modeled and they ways in which they interact are way more complicated than any model or equation you can come up with. And that the only way to know how people will act is to put them in that condition and see how they act.

Sounds a lot like well-practiced HCI, right? :) I think some of the submissions I reviewed for CHI this year could have taken some advice here.

But I digress, Dan had some of the traditional stories on survey bias (have you seen the opt-in vs opt-out organ donation stats!) and prisoner's dilemma-style games but then got to more topical issues of interest-only loans and bail-outs.

It just amazes me how many in Washington and on Wall St. still go on believing that people are perfectly rational and will act in their best interest (at least in aggragate).


Sunday, November 09, 2008

smart homes

Yesterday afternoon I visited the "Smart Home" at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It's one of those "homes-of-the-future" that's supposed to be all green and filled with the latest technology. Thinking back on the time I spent at MIT working on the Intelligent Room, it's interesting to see how the perception of what constitutes a "smart" home has changed.

It used to be that smart homes (or rooms) were all about anticipating your needs. You know, stuff like setting the thermostat automatically or opening the blinds or trying to infer your activity and act appropriately. In the Intelligent Room (and other projects going on around the same time) we found that this wasn't so useful. The room had to be smarter than you for it to be of any real use and not get annoying really fast. And it had to be wrong almost never or you'd just get annoyed with it.

The Smart Home at MSI takes things a different way. Sure there's still a big central control system to which everything is connected, but it's controlled by you, not the machine. And you get a little remote control to do it. Want to close all the blinds on the south side of the house because it's night time, one button will do it, and bring up the lights too. Ready for bed, again, one button will get the house in the right mode.

There were other bits of technology spread throughout, but it was mostly things that were "smart" by being green. Which is great! Why keep a tank of hot water around all the time when you can heat it on demand in a tank-less way. Why water your grass with drinking water when you can catch rainwater in barrels under your house and use that. Why burn natural gas in your fireplace when you can burn ethanol.

Other green things in the house included bamboo floors, half flush toilets (which aren't new if you've been to Europe in the last few decades), recycled countertops, and rollable solar mats that can be rolled out on the roof and cover 90% of the house's energy needs, even in Chicago.

Overall, it was a pretty impressive house. Some things, like the tankless water heater or the rain barrels are pretty easy to fit into existing houses and hopefully more people start taking some of these simple actions...along with switching to CF or LED bulbs!

For those in or visiting Chicago, it's at the MSI until January.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

more mobile magic...

I wrote the other day about the avis receipt to email magic. Today I had another moment of wonder around a mobile app. I was down in Evanston for a lecture by Yoram Kalman on "Online Silence" at the Center for Technology and Social Behavior. On the way back, I decided to try out the "I <3 Radio" app from ClearChannel on my iPhone. I connected it up to my car stereo and started streaming Kiss108 FM from Boston while I was driving home. It was just sort of surreal to hear it coming out of my car speakers in IL. So amazing :)

The iPhone, and online app stores in general are really changing mobile computing so much in such a short time. It really shows the power of a strong and (mostly) open mobile platform with nice APIs and easy application distribution.


red states, part II (but it's blue now)

So part two of my red state tour of the week was this monday night-tuesday. I was organizing a panel at the Int'l Workshop on Urban, Community, and Social Applications of Networked Sensing Systems at SenSys 2008. The workshop was great and the panel went really well. I had Rahul Nair from Yahoo talk about what we can do now that location information is so pervasive on mobile phones. He was followed by Pedja Klasnja from Intel Research / UW talking about the UbiFit Garden application and how our phones can persuade us to stay fit. The panel finished with Tim Bergin from Motorola talking about sensing application for first responders in public safety. Lots of good questions and synergies among the panelists, so I was very happy.

What I was not happy about was being in North Carolina. When your hotel needs a giant "no guns" sign on it, you know you're in a crazy place. From tons of gun stores all over the place to signs saying where you can or can't have a gun out, I just couldn't wait to get out of there. That and the billboard on the highway saying that 50,000,000 children had been murdered in the US. I was not in friendly territory.

But somehow, NC turned into a blue state by the end of the day and voted (ever so slightly) for Obama. I really can't see how this happened given the reality of the place, but I'm so glad it did. Maybe they're getting beyond their guns and god to see that we really do need some change in this country.

I'm so excited for the next 4 (or hopefully 8) years! All of my friends from different countries have been sending congratulatory emails saying how proud they are of the united states for finally picking a smart guy. I couldn't agree more. I almost feel happy to go abroad again and admit to people that I'm from America :)


Tuesday, November 04, 2008


The new avis e-receipts always amaze me. The guy is standing next to the car I just returned, presses a few buttons, prints a receipt and almost always before he hands it to me, I get the email on my phone with the PDF of the receipt he just pulled out. There's still something magical about wireless communication.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Red States, Part I

Purdue, Nov 1, 2008
Originally uploaded by bentley79.
This week I've found myself going to two red states...which I usually try to avoid!

On Saturday I made my way down to Purdue with some work colleagues for the Purdue/Michigan game. The game was great and super high-scoring (48-42) and we had a nice view from inside the stadium. It was a long day though involving almost 6 hours of driving, so I was very happy for the extra hour Saturday night.

While there, we heard radio advertisements for various brands of soybean or corn seeds as well as the scoreboard which was sponsored by a soybean and corn seed company. Definitely a different place over there in Indiana! :)

Sunday was a running day as I completed 13 miles on the lakefront path. It all went well, but I'm a bit sore today as you might imagine!

And right now, I'm off to NC (a very slight Red State - +0.6 according to the latest poll of polls) for a conference workshop on Urban, Community, and Social Applications of Networked Sensing Systems.