Month: December 2004

UbiComp going mainstream?

Man, I can think of all sorts of mischief I could get in with one of these things…


From Personal Tech Pipeline (and thanks to Thad for the link):

Your favorite rodent has learned that Siemens is working on an all-purpose gadget that simply pays attention to what’s happening nearby, and notifies you by SMS when something is strange.

Called the MyAy, the experimental device has a keypad but no display. It monitors its environment with a microphone, an infrared sensor, a temperature sensor, and an acceleration sensor (to tell if the MyAy itself is being moved).

New Palm OS built on Linux

PalmSource just announced that their next version of Palm OS will be built with Linux at its core. To this end, they’re purchasing China MobileSoft (CMS), which has a phone platform already built on top of their own Linux variant. As the Register puts it:

Like Apple with Mac OS X, PalmSource will keep all the top-layer code proprietary, but it will release any changes it makes to the underlying Linux code — for faster boot times and battery life preservation systems, for example — available to the open source community.

Quick one-handed keyboards survey…

Yesterday I did a quick scan of the one-handed keyboards that are available, and figured I’d post a quick summary:



  • Type: 16-button chording, straps to hand
  • Price: $219
  • Interfaces: USB, PS/2
  • Words Per Minute (avg): 10 after an hour practice, 30 after 10 hours, top speed in high 60s
  • Studies: Three by Kent Lyons at Georgia Tech (novices, experts and learning aids)
  • Notes: I like the Twiddler, though I’ve not a lot of experience with other one-handed keyboards. Biggest win for the Twiddler is I can touch-type on it (unlike any of the predictive-text systems like T-9 on a cellphone keypad), it has a good top speed and it attaches to my hand so it’s especially convenient for mobile typing. The Twiddler-2 improved on the older model by replacing the nigh-unusable mouse with a Trackpoint and acting like a real keyboard instead of requiring a serial interface, but unfortunately they removed one of the thumb keys, it requires Win98 to remap keys in batch and you can’t remap all the thumb keys anymore. Personally I like my Twiddler-1 better — I miss being able to do things map “NUM + ALT + any key” to be an arrow key in the appropriate direction.



  • Type: literally half a QWERTY keyboard where you hold down a modifier key to type the “mirror-side” keys
  • $295
  • Interfaces: USB, PS/2
  • Words Per Minute (avg): between 24-43 wpm after 10 hours practice, top speed around 60 wpm
  • Studies: Three by Edgar Matias (Transfer from QWERTY, CHI’94, CHI’96)
  • Notes: Never used it myself, though it looks like you can get good speed out of it and it’s quick to learn if you already know QWERTY. Edgar also sells a wearable version that straps to your arm, though unlike the Twiddler that means your other arm is also tied up when you type.



  • Type: Similar to Half-QWERTY, but with common letters mapped to the home-row.
  • Price: $100 to $196 depending on type
  • Interfaces: USB or Bluetooth
  • Words Per Minute (avg): Sales lit claims 40 wpm after 10 hours practice
  • Studies: Their webpage says studies were conducted at Rice University, but I haven’t found the links yet.



  • Type: 9-button Chording based on the Microwriter Agenda’s chord system
  • Price: £57 – £90 depending on interface
  • Interfaces: Palm IR (IrDA half-duplex) or USB
  • Words Per Minute: Sales lit claims 25-50 wpm
  • Notes: MegaSharp has a “wearability kit” that attaches your PDA and CyKey to your belt, but based on the picture I wouldn’t want to use it unless I was standing still. I also see that Computer Shopper in the UK dinged the CyKey, not for the typing method so much as the fact that the IR is incompatible with a lot of Palm devices. Caveat emptor.


And of course there’s the plethora of cellphone / PDA keyboards like the one-thumbed “chicklet keyboards” on the Treo-600/650 and Blackberry or using Multitap or T-9 on a standard 12-button cellphone keyboard. I’m not a big fan of Multitap or predictive systems like T-9, but I’ve liked the Treo keyboard even for one-handed typing. I expect I’d have more trouble using it eyes-free than I do with the Twiddler, but then again I don’t have years of experience using the Treo to type SMSs under the table when the teacher isn’t looking either…

A couple non-commercial things of interest:

The Data Egg was an integrated PDA & five-button chording keyboard designed and prototyped back in the early ’90s, but it got black-holed after the inventor lost control of his IP. Never tried one myself, but I’ve always liked the idea as a sort of chording-keyboard sleeve over a PDA.

Something else I like the look of is Chordite, which interests me mostly because of its unique hand-fit. Prototype only, researcher claims about 33 wpm.

RFID for patients in hospitals

Via the SJ Mercury News (sub. req.), the FDA has approved an RFID chip that you place on (not in) a body part that’s to be operated on to identify the proceedure and other info:

The system works like this: At an initial visit, the information on the operation is placed in the computer. The patient sees it on a monitor and verifies that it’s correct. The data is then printed out on the chip and then re-read by the computer. Again, the patient verifies the data.

On the day of the procedure, the patient once again verifies the chip is correct, and it is then placed on the area to be operated.

At the suggestion of the FDA, the chip will have a notice on it that it should be removed before the procedure.

This would presumably replace the current technique of using a sharpie and writing stuff on the patient like “no, the other leg!” I’m curious but a bit sceptical — on the one hand the RFID tag can hold a lot more info than you can fit on a body part (allergies, etc.), but I don’t see that making up for the immediacy of reading what’s written on the body part you’re about to operate on. Why would an RFID tag be any more likely to be read than the patient’s chart?

…and you’ll go blind too!

Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) office has come out with a report on The Content of Federally Funded Abstinance-Only Education Programs (pointer via the SJ Mercury News). These are federally-funded (though not federally supervised) programs to teach teenagers the importance of not having sex before marriage — often by scaring the bejesus out of them. I’m all in favor of teaching teenagers (and adults) to think twice and three times before having sex, but it would seem quite a number of the programs have found that it’s easier to scare people with opinion, distortions and outright falshoods than to let kids think for themselves with all the facts on hand.

From the report’s executive summary:

The report finds that over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over twothirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health. Specifically, the report finds:

  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Effectiveness of Contraceptives. Many of the curricula misrepresent the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. One curriculum says that “the popular claim that ‘condoms help prevent the spread of STDs,’ is not supported by the data”; another states that “[i]n heterosexual sex, condoms fail to prevent HIV approximately 31% of the time”; and another teaches that a pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use condoms. These erroneous statements are presented as proven scientific facts.
  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Risks of Abortion. One curriculum states that 5% to 10% of women who have legal abortions will become sterile; that “[p]remature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy”; and that “[t]ubal and cervical pregnancies are increased following abortions.” In fact, these risks do not rise after the procedure used in most abortions in the United States.
  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Blur Religion and Science. Many of the curricula present as scientific fact the religious view that life begins at conception. For example, one lesson states: “Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins.” Another curriculum calls a 43-day-old fetus a “thinking person.”
  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Treat Stereotypes about Girls and Boys as Scientific Fact. One curriculum teaches that women need “financial support,” while men need “admiration.” Another instructs: “Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”
  • Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain Scientific Errors. In numerous instances, the abstinence-only curricula teach erroneous scientific information. One curriculum incorrectly lists exposure to sweat and tears as risk factors for HIV transmission. Another curriculum states that “twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual”; the correct number is 23.

The report finds numerous examples of these errors. Serious and pervasive problems with the accuracy of abstinence-only curricula may help explain why these programs have not been shown to protect adolescents from sexually transmitted diseases and why youth who pledge abstinence are significantly less likely to make informed choices about precautions when they do have sex.