July 2005

Registration for ISWC is now open

Advance registration for the 9th Annual IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers, to be held October 18th-21st in Osaka, Japan, is now open. ISWC always brings together a great mix of industry and academic researchers from fields as diverse as interface design, machine vision, hardware and fashion design, and as program committee co-chair I can guarantee this year will be no exception.

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New digital cinema standard to use JPEG 2000 compression

Yesterday a consortium of the major movie studios announced final specs for a new standard digital format for movie theaters. The specification uses JPEG 2000 video compression, which (though it happened before I started working there) I’m proud to say largely came out of work performed at my lab.

The big advantage of JPEG 2000 is that you can “pull out” bits from a code stream to get different resolutions — in this case a 4K distribution (1,302,083 bytes per frame at 48FPS) and a 2K distribution (651,041 bytes per frame at 48 FPS) can both be generated on-the-fly from the same file, just by discarding segments of the stream.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

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Fujutsu shows bendable e-paper display

I’m a little late on this news, but last week Fujitsu announced a new bendable e-paper technology. EE Times has the most complete technical description I’ve seen on it:

The display is a passive-matrix, reflective type cholesteric liquid crystal display. Two 3.8-inch diagonal QVGA prototypes, a monochrome display and a color version able to display 512 colors, were shown.

Differing from widely used flat displays that have color filters consisting of red, green and blue pixels, the paper display has a three layered structure in total about 0.8 mm thick. One layer consists of two 0.125 mm-thick films sandwiching liquid crystal. Cholesteric crystals in each layer are twisted in a certain pitch to reflect only red, green or blue light respectively.

Images on the screen can be changed with 10-milliwatts to 100-milliwatts depending on scanning speed.

(Thanks to John for the link…)

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Newspeak update

From: Ministry of Truth
Subject: Newspeak update

Please be informed that the phrase Global War on Terrorism is obsoleted in favor of the phrase Global Struggle Against Violent Extremists. Changes will be reflected in the upcoming tenth edition of the Newspeak Dictionary.

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Wearable video for ethnography

Public Radio’s Marketplace has a nice piece on the company Actionspeak, which hires people to go shopping while wearing small video cameras. The claim is that the cameras are unobtrusive enough that the research subjects quickly find themselves acting as they always do while shopping, and Actionspeak then analyzes the video to learn ways their customer can improve their presentation or marketing. They’ll also do runs where subjects are asked to give a running monologue about what they’re thinking as they shop.

These videos might give some straight marketing info (like which family member actually decides the sale or whether to focus on self-position, packaging or price), but I bet the real win is in showing designers how their product actually gets used in the wild. The combination of seeing as your customer sees, along with the ability to ask about particular moments afterwards, is really powerful. Not only can you learn things you’d never learn from interviews alone, but the overlay of first-person video with explanatory customer interviews has much more impact on a designer than would a table of survey results containing the same information. (Take a look at the consumer goods video especially for examples.)

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Wikipedia on your handheld

The English version of Wikipedia is about 650,000 articles, which comes out to about 1 Gig compressed database — that easily fits on a PDA / cellphone these days. I’ve been thinking for a while now that I should look into loading it all onto my Treo 600, but I see now someone has done all the work for me!

Erik Zachte has produced conversion scripts as well as detailed instructions on how to convert the complete Wikipedia Encyclopedia into TomeRaider ebook-reader format for Pocket PC Windows and Palm OS. Text-only version fits in just over half a gig, text + images is 1-2 gig depending on image down-sampling. I also like his “Build, Buy or Borrow” plan: you can use his scripts to build your own latest version for free, buy the latest version on CD or DVD, or download for free his semi-anually updated version direct from the Wikipedia server. That’s exactly the sort of “free as in freedom” software business plan I hope winds up succeeding in the new economy.

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PwdHash browser extension

This is cute: PwdHash is a browser extension that will replace text entered into a password field with a hash of the password + domain name of the website. That lets you use a single password for different sites without revealing, say, your PayPal password to your bank and vice versa. As the creators point out, this is also pretty good protection against phishing scams (since they’ll collect the wrong password since their domain is different). It’s still vulnerable to pharming and other attacks that poison your DNS or webcache results, but their paper goes into all sorts of clever attacks that they do try to defend against, like Javascript and dictionary attacks.

(by way of the Mercury News)

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Google Maps & Virtual Earth

Microsoft and Google both come out with new versions of free online satellite mapping software this past weekend. Google Maps has added the “hybrid view” that lets you see your driving directions laid out on the map itself, which is the feature I’ve wanted ever since they came out with satellite-view. Microsoft has just released their web-based Virtual Earth, which doesn’t yet support driving directions (coming soon I’m sure) but does include a nice (dare I say “Google Maps-like”?) scrollable interface and switching between maps and aerial photography. They’ve an interface for keeping track of multiple locations on a scratch pad, an API for adding your own way-points on the URL line, and a cute zoom-in animation.

One fun feature of Virtual Earth is that some parts of the US have incredible resolution: compare Seattle’s space needle from Virtual Earth and Google Maps to see what I mean. Unfortunately, Virtual Earth’s image coverage is pretty spotty. In spite of the name, it only covers the USA — I’m guessing they’re just using USGS publicly available images right now. Also, for many areas they’re using very old black-and-white images that they’ve then overlaid with color for roads and parks. This leads to a few embarrassing misses like the fact that their map shows Apple Computer’s Corporate HQ has yet to be built (I didn’t see any horse-and-buggies on the streets though, so it can’t be too old).

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Drawer trap

I rigged up a new trap a few weeks ago, designed to work with a pretty wooden drawer-box I found at the thrift store. It’s not too hard to disarm, but I like the simple design (details below the fold).

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