12 Sep 2005

ubicomp day 1

First day of Ubicomp.

Anil and I have been writing some notes about some talks and demos that we've seen using SubEthaEdit. So I'll stick to personal views and opinions about the presentations and demos.


The keynote was given by the Co-founder of Sony CSL (Computer Science Laboratories.) The main points to take home here was that:

(a) technology takes 30 years to mature (eg. internet, personal computers)
(b) CSL only has 30 researchers
(c) CSL only employs people who create new research fields and not any second tier researchers.
(d) Rekimoto did augmented reality in 1994 way before the bat system, badge and also work done by some ex-LCE people.
(e) They did some cool videos, although recently their funding has been reduced somewhat
(f) New fields of research they've been looking into are cross between computing and biology. But instead of using biological processes on computing, use known systems theory in computing to analyse biological processes!


The talks were mainly average. The most interesting thing is Carpet LAN from NTT Docomo Research Labs. The joke paper of the day would be the analysis of chewing sounds. They tried to justify the paper buy saying we might want to monitor diets. It seemed improbable that you can determine the fat content just by chewing sounds. And also, what about drinks?

Another odd presentation is the u-texture presentation. Maybe a bit was lost in the translation, but it seemed like the implementation didn't do the concept justice. The concept of rearranging blocks physically in order to program the "textures" to do a specific function. An example of it was rearranging the textures into a shelf so that if you place a CD with an RFID tag on it, it will play the right one with your mp3 player. It seems like if now that you don't want to play music, then you have to rearrange your textures to do something else. I believe this would be much better if the textures were not fully fledged tablet PCs but instead small tangible objects like speakers, displays etc, rather than homogenous bits.

The best and simpliest idea was the Preventing Camera Recording by Designing a Capture Resistant Environment. Basically, the idea is to detect CCD cameras using the fact that the film between the lens and CCD is an IR reflecting film and hence can be detected with one of those night light camcorder. Then you localise where the camera is and use a projector to shine a light on the lens of the camera.


There are some very cool demos, especially the sponsor demos (eg, they've paid to place a demo here.) Even though the mechanism to choose the demos is dodgy because they have essentially been paid for.

Cool demos include the "QR Code, RFID and Coin operated Coke vending machine", Suica direction finding pole and Palm Vein Biometrics.

So there's this advanced vending machine where you can buy coke using a variety of methods. One way is to use a QR Code and QR Code enabled phone. So you rock up to a vending machine, and then you are thirsty and buy a coke. No change in your pocket, well, have a QR code enabled phone? So what you do is go to the coke website using your phone. This could probably be done by clicking on a QR Code already on the vending machine, or maybe manually typing it in. Then you pay for a one time QR code online which will be sent to your phone. Show the QR Code to the vending machine's camera and it will recognise it and give you a coke!

The other way you can do it, is just have an RFID payment system attached to your phone. They sell such phones here already (that I'm lead to believe.) So you just use that like you would use Octopus (in HK) or Oyster (in UK) or Suica (in Japan.) Obviously this is the easiest way, but not many phones have this yet.

The funny thing though was I asked the guy where I could find one of these machines, he said that there are 4000 of these in Japan. Asked him where they are in Tokyo so I could try it out. Turns out there's only 1 in Tokyo (so where are the others?) and it is in Akihabara. One of the other guys in the stand was very enthusiastic about finding such a machine there!

Anil took a photo of the machine here:

smart vending machine

Another cool sponsored demo was the NEC direction finding pole that can be distributed around say a train station or museum, or basically anywhere you need to find directions. So imagine you are in a huge shopping mall and you want to find a particular store. You swipe your Suica card (RFID payment card) over the store you want to go to which is listed in the shopping directory. Then you walk up to these direction finding poles around the environment and place your card on the reader. The reader will recall where you want to go, and then the top of the pole will rotate and flex to point to the direction of the place you should be heading. It is very cool and simple. They have an LCD screen on it, but it doesn't add that much to the pole. The pole itself is very well designed and useful. I think this would definitely work and it is easy enough for people to use.

Here's a short movie of it in action:

nec direction finding pole

Other cool thing is the contactless palm vein biometric authentication system. Basically it has an infrared camera which is able to highlight veins on your hand and apparently that is a good biometric?

Other Notes

The posters aren't particularly interesting. There are some pretty funny ones which I'll cover in the next post.

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12 Sep 2005

ubicomp day 0 + shibuya

Relatively unscathed by jetlag, I was able to get up properly and go register for Ubicomp. Nothing really interesting there because it is workshop day today. All the people who are registered gets a free "sensor" that is about as big as a button (pic later). Basically they're collecting data from all people in the conference and you're encouraged to put it on your conference pass. There's a website where you can login and change the data that is collected. I was wondering what cool things to do with the sensors and really skew it. Maybe put it under a bright light because its got a temperature and light sensor.

After registration, I went to go wake up Anil so that I could use his internet connection as I don't have one at the hotel I'm staying in. Seems like their room has ethernet out which they can use (for free?) Anyway, after getting a dose of internet I did a little bit more work and tweaking for some graphs for the presentation. Still haven't finished that yet, but we should get some work done on the first day of the conference, mainly because there's some wifi around here in case I need any network access.

Later on in the day I went down to Shibuya. Here is where the real Tokyo is, lively, lots of people, etc. There was a freak thunderstorm in the afternoon, and there was some flooding in the Shibuya station. Nothing like New Oreleans, but it mainly involved a bunch of people with brooms sweeping water out of the station .

BTW, about the rumour of QRCodes everywhere, well, I just discovered a pack of tissues handed to us on the street that has a QRCode on it. I'll post a pic as soon as I get access to that pack of tissues again (coz I left it in the hotel room!)

Checked out Loft and Tokyu Hands in Shibuya, the must go places if you want to check out cool japanese non-electronic gadgets. Such as cans of O2:

can of oxygen

And also an unfortunately named bear:

pis the pooh bear

And animal rubber bands that sell for ¥315:

animal rubber bands
animal rubber bands

Later on, we met up with Rich and Anil to eat. Unfortunately, this noodle place we wanted to go to had closed so we walked like 10 minutes to a closed shop. We had to resort to going to a fast food indian-wannabe curry place called Little Curry. I'm pretty sure that Little is a indian name.

The highlight of course is ordering food. We were very tempted to order the flesh salad:

flesh salad

We wondered around the dodgy districts of shibuya, bumping into alot of weird types of people, including some people who were dropping the pants in the middle of shibuya as a kinda of male mating ritual, or possibly a product of the great health care in japan prostate examination is done at 10pm at night in the middle of the street.

We also saw some charades being performed on the street playing invisible darts trying to ask japanese people where the "darts bar" is. Finally, we saw a guy being arrested for carrying a man bag. The police didn't force him to the ground, but three very well behaved policemen cornered a suspect and asked to search through his manbag. We're lucky we didn't bring our ubicomp 2005 man bags out to shibuya.

We ended up trying out a traditional japanese bar in which you had to take off your shoes and sit in some traditional tatami mats. Rich was extremely worried about the theft of his shoes. But I assured him that no japanese had feet big enough to wear those shoes or be motivated to steal them. Anil tried to order some choo-shu japanese wine, but ended up ordering pure ethanol. We took the train back where Anil and Rich were fascinated by the suica penguin ads on the train flying around over NYC and confused whether the said penguin was a terrorist or not. Luckily they made it back to the hotel that night.

Ubicomp starts tomorrow ...

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12 Sep 2005

tokyo and shinagawa day one

The flight over was quite good, except for the lack of food (we missed dinner because of the time difference) and so by the time breakfast came around, we were starving!

But I was able to get in 4 movies on the 12 hour flight, thanks for the interactive video system on the Virgin Atlatnic Airbus 340. The plane was very well styled, lots of chrome where most other airlines would just opt for dual tone plastic. The interactive entertainment system was really top notch, especially for the ability to fast forward and rewind movies.

We arrived in Narita Tokyo Airport half an hour ahead of schedule. The immigration was a breeze and that's the point where we see the first QR Code! It's right in our passport, after our passport is scanned, our friendly immigration officer prints out a QR code and sticks it in our passport.

Rich comments that Tokyo isn't ruled by robots yet, they're not that advanced. I guess he was expecting robots manning the immigration desk rather than humans.

We take the Narita Express out of Narita straight to Shinagawa which is where our hotels are. It's great because we don't have to change trains anywhere, and the station is right on the famous JR Yamate Line that loops around Tokyo stopping at most of the major shopping stations. The whole trip took us around 85 minutes, and lucky for me, my hotel was just right opposite the station. Rich's hotel was around a 5 minute walk up a hill :)

Spent some time eating and exploring Shinagawa. It turns out that this place is pretty dead, its small and there's not that much to eat. Can't even seem to find a Kaiten Sushi (Sushi Train) shop. Also spent some time walking around the shops and enjoying the air conditioning here. It's not too hot, only 24C here, but it is very humid. Finally, we caught up on some sleep before dinner, and at least I'm not feeling any jet lag effects.

Haven't taken many photos yet because there's nothing really exciting to take of. The hotel room (like all rooms in Japan) have a heated toilet. The first time you sit on the dunny, it's actually a shock because your body is conditioned to take the coldness of the toilet. so for a split second its like you've just been burnt. Unfortunately, I don't have an MP3 playing toilet here.

Japanese TV is kinda boring on a saturday night, probably even more boring tomorrow night because its election day tomorrow. Not so exciting because Koizumi is predicted to win by a wide margin. But nevertheless, there'll be wall to wall coverage, I expect.

Finally, no internet access in my room or the reception. Anil and Rich have wireless in their room because they're corporate high fliers. I'm in another hotel so, I'm unable to even get any sort of access without paying. I can use a Sony Vaio 14" laptop in the Yahoo! Cafe for free, but I can't upload stuff from my laptop, which is what I really need!

Tomorrow is workshop day, so there's not much to do. Might spend some time working on the presentation and then go check out Shibuya or Shinjuku for some nice food and shopping.

... Read More

08 Sep 2005

quick blog update

internet works at home! woohoo! intermittent water restrictions at home! boohoo! some van from the water department keeps on coming around saying they have some emergency work to carry out and have to turn off the water supply to all houses for a couple hours. has happened twice in two days now.

in other news, i'm going to be heading off to japan for 10 days. so hopefully i'll be able to blog from there and upload some photos. was also thinking of the ubiwiki or the ubiblog at sn17 to blog stuff about ubicomp and etc. there is apparently a ubicollaborative site thingy setup by the organisers as well.

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07 Sep 2005

google maps for china

playing with the new google local china -- it appears that a google maps china is in the works. they seem to be partnering with a company called mapabc.com, and they have pretty accurate street maps for at least beijing, shanghai (上海) and shenzhen(深圳). (NOTE: doesn't work in safari, use firefox and ie only)

here's a sample search for cafes in shenzhen. unfortunately, they don't have anything into hong kong (even though that is a part of china). on the map below, that railway is supposed to lead into hong kong, but all there is is a blank canvas.

nope, hong kong does not have any roads

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07 Sep 2005

safaristand now does omniweb style visual tabs

if you use safari, you've got to try out safaristand. hetima has now implemented omniweb-style visual tabs which are small thumbnails of the site in each tab. it works pretty well, however, i've had it crash on me a couple of times when i loaded up a huge number of tabs. check it out!

safari stand

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07 Sep 2005

why you shouldn't use yahoo mail

a while ago, a journalist for an organisation known as reporters without borders was arrested in china suspected of leaking state secrets. according to this bbc article, evidence brought against him were supplied by yahoo hong kong. knowing the complacent "don't bother me" attitude in hong kong, it isn't surprising that yahoo supplied the evidence without so much of a subpeona or court order (at least that is not reported in the article, and yahoo hk has not made any moves to clarify this situation.)

what that means is that, do not yahoo mail for any private or important emails because they will give up your information without any resistance whatsoever. this is in direct contrast with ISPs in US where they have been fighting RIAA/MPAA to not release customer details no matter how big or small the issue is. also a point to consider is the protest from flickr users for being forced to take on yahoo user ids in the fear of being assimilated into this empire?

more information from reporters without borders, but of course, be a little objective about what you read on the site :)

on a final note, that also means journalists need to clue up to using encryption technologies such as gpg/pgp to encrypt their emails when they send sensitive information, especially out of china.

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05 Sep 2005

how to win an argument

i wish i had read this earlier. how cool is this technique for winning arguments?

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05 Sep 2005

how much value is in asda value?

being fascinated by the fact i've moved very close to two great big supermarkets, i've decided to buy random cheap stuff and taste it to see how much value there is in their value brands.

the first experiment is the asda beans and sausages. i believe this came to a total of 28p or so.

asda smartprice beans and sausages


1. the beans were smaller than heinz
2. the sausages looked thin and weak, they disintegrated easily, not very good tasting.
3. suspicious meat content!
4. tomato sauce tasted pretty alright, although a little on the thin side.

so the conclusion is that the product itself is pretty suspect and below par, but then when you consider that it is nearly half the price of the heinz beans and sausages product, then its not too bad. i think i had it with mashed potatoes (in true poor student style!)

i give these beans and sausages a 2 out of 5.

stay tuned for my face off between 8p tesco instant noodles and 8p adsa instant noodles. considering decent instant noodles can be bought for 33p in the chinese stores on mill road, will any of these alternatives provide 1/4 of the value or less? ...

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05 Sep 2005

why i'm going to start migrating my stuff to postgresql

well, if you decide to make a strategic agreement with a company that believes GPL is unconstitutional (i guess thats even worse that MS), then maybe you don't really believe in open source.

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