Friday, December 7, 2012

This year in robots!

Why I haven't been posting here: I've been working on - your source for news, views and everything robotic!
I've also been setting up Silicon Valley Robotics - the professional association for robotics in Northern California, which could become the largest robotics cluster in the world.
I've also been working on Robot Launchpad - accelerating the growth of robot startups via events, introductions, interviews and other services.
And the most recent spinoff from all of these things is Robot Garden - a robotics hackerspace in the East Bay or TriValley area of San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley.
It's been a pretty good year! :) Hope yours is too!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All - The Atlantic


It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

This article by Anne-Marie Slaughter tells it like it is.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Higher Education « User Generated Education


In its simplest terms, the flipped classroom is about viewing and/or listening to lectures at home during one own time which frees up face-to-face class time for experiential exercises, group discussion, and question and answer sessions.

It’s called “the flipped classroom.” While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach. With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time. Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference (The Flipped Classroom by Bill Tucker).

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SciFi, Design and Technology | The Robot State

Make It So: What Interaction Designers can Learn from Science
Fiction Interfaces
Presentation Notes, Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel
4 September 2009, dConstruct 09 Conference, Brighton, UK

(also SXSW 2012?)


This is the first presentation of only a portion of the material we’ve found in our analysis of Science Fiction films and television series. Weʼre also looking a industry future films (like Apple’s Knowledge Navigator) as well as existing products and research projects. Our analysis includes properties (films and TV), themes (different issues in interface design), as well as the historical context of the work (such as the current technology of the time of the propertyʼs release). In addition, weʼre interviewing developers (including production designers from  films) but this material isnʼt presented in this talk. For this presentation, weʼve focused on the major issues, part academic and theoretical, and part lessons (more practical) weʼve uncovered.

How design influences SciFi and how SciFi influences design:

We’ve chosen to focus on interface and interaction design (and not technology or engineering). Some visual design issues relate but, mostly, in this talk, weʼre not approaching issues of styling. Weʼve chosen the media of SciFi (TV and films) because a thorough analysis of interaction design in SciFi requires that the example be visual so interfaces are completely and concretely represented, include motion that describe the interaction, and (sometimes) has been seen by a wide audience.

Scientifically determining “influence” in any context (whether from Design on SciFi or visa versa) is difficult, and much of what we illustrate is inference on the part of the authors.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Printrbot Rookie Mistakes part 1

I love Brooke Drum's awesome 3D printer (was on Kickstarter - now at I wish I had more time each week to work on assembling it, but I do keep hitting little speed bumps along the way.


Here's all the stupid things I'm doing wrong following the printrbot videos and also the occasional changes to the bill of materials and instructions that are tripping me up. Maybe this will be useful to someone else who is assembling an original printrbot (not the PLUS or the LC/lasercut version)


1. Don't get those rods perfectly parallel before you work out (using the base plate) just how far apart they need to be. You'll have about 1 1/2" of threaded rods sticking out of one side.

2. Don't screw your motors in before you flat them. Flatting involves taping off the motor, carefully putting it in a vice and filing one side of the shaft flat. Brooke explains it in one of the later videos.


3. Don't freak out when it calls for three 16mm black screws in this step and you only have one left because you used two on the bearing guide. He's changed them to 8mm in the video.


4. I'm really not sure what to do about these yet. The video shows a different construction.

Open question: What to do with the new style 5mm to 8mm flexible shaft coupling? And whether or not you need to flat these motors?


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Thursday, June 7, 2012

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury, Author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles


Ray Bradbury — author of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and many more literary classics — died this morning in Los Angeles, at the age of 91.

We've got confirmation from the family as well as his biographer, Sam Weller.

His grandson, Danny Karapetian, shared these words with io9 about his grandfather's passing: "If I had to make any statement, it would be how much I love and miss him, and I look forward to hearing everyone's memories about him. He influenced so many artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and it's always really touching and comforting to hear their stories. Your stories. His legacy lives on in his monumental body of books, film, television and theater, but more importantly, in the minds and hearts of anyone who read him, because to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know."

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

happy robot birthday!

What's better than getting this hula dancing robot girl for my birthday?

This fantastic mashup of me and Robopocalypse (which is going to be an interesting film!)!


And the fun impromptu party that followed of course!

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Roominate: Make It Yours! by Maykah Inc. — Kickstarter

We believe that early exposure to STEM through toys will inspire change.


Roominate is a different kind of toy. It is our first step in inspiring the next generation of female technology innovators.

Roominate is a stackable, attachable & customizable miniature room with working circuits that you build yourself.

Our Idea 

We are three women who majored in engineering, math, and science. Throughout our education and at work, we were all far outnumbered by men. We realized that our own experiences in childhood were integral in attracting us to math and science as adults.

  • Alice grew up playing in a robotics lab and her father gave her a saw when she asked for a Barbie.
  • Bettina built hundreds of Lego creations with her older brother and hence gave no thought to any gender differences in toys growing up.
  • Jennifer loved solving math riddles with her dad, and one of her earliest childhood memories is of her grandfather teaching her how to do long division in her head. 

Based on the belief that childhood exposure can facilitate excitement, familiarity, and confidence between young girls and STEM, we came together to design Roominate. 

Roominate is a kit of wooden building pieces and circuit components with which a child can use her creativity to design, build, wire, and decorate her own unique interactive room. 

AND, the rooms are attachable and stackable, enabling girls to build and design expandable structures. The pieces are made to be simple and intuitive so as to allow a girl to explore and discover on her own.

Developing Roominate

Over the past few months, we've worked with over 200 girls in our target age range to reach our final prototype for Roominate. Young girls have experimented with our toys at local events and at the Children's Creativity Museum in San Francisco. They have tested our toys individually, in small groups and in large groups, both with and without adult guidance. 

We’ve learned a lot about the way that girls play and have been performing rapid product iteration based on feedback and observation. We have seen that designing a compelling experience is important for getting them to try new things - like circuits! That experience includes both the physical pieces and the imagination girls use when deciding what to build and create.  

Using only rudimentary prototypes, we have seen Roominate’s pieces spark remarkable creativity and excitement in young girls.

  • Provide a girl with a buzzer and a motor, and she’s decided her room is a restaurant, with the motor serving as a fan to cool patrons and the buzzer being used by the chef when an order is ready.
  • Provide a girl with a set of animal stickers, and her room becomes a pet shop, complete with dog beds and animal food bowls.

Constructing, creating, connecting, and designing integrate together to make Roominate a blast!

  • Constructing the rooms and furniture gives girls control over the customization of their creation while exposing them to hands-on building and spatial skills.
  • Connecting the circuits brings the rooms to life; a fan or a light can instantly make a room interactive. Most young girls have never made a circuit, but they love the intuitive experience our color-coded circuits provide.
  • Designing the room ties the experience back to common play patterns that we know girls love!

Young girls have loved the product and are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to own their own kits. 

Roominate Reel

We’re more than just a toy company. We want to inspire your daughters to be the great artists, engineers, architects, and visionaries of their generation. We intend to give them every tool to reach that potential.

We have discovered that storytelling increases engagement. With Roominate Reel, a series of mini-movies, we will set the scene for Roominate.

  • We will tell the story of Roominate -- to get girls excited about the world they are about to jump into.
  • We will engage girls with lessons applicable to Roominate -- to enhance the educational value of the toy.
  • We will provide prompts and challenges -- to keep girls coming back to Roominate. Our prompts will stimulate girls' problem solving and creativity skills, while also ensuring that Roominate stays compelling, entertaining, and illuminating.

Roominate Reel will help girls experience the joy of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math!

Join Us!

We want to introduce Roominate to the rest of the world, but producing the kits by hand is unsustainable.

That's where you come in! 

We need your support to help us scale up our production through large quantity orders on wood, electronics, and assembly costs. Also, since Roominate is designed to be played with by children under the age of 14, Kickstarter will enable us to fulfill the tests needed to certify compliance to toy safety standards.


What do the Rewards Include?

We are continuing to perfect Roominate. Thus, the Roominate you receive is going to be even more refined than the one seen in the pictures and video. 

  • One Roominate Kit includes: 2 wooden walls, 1 wooden floor, interchangeable wooden building pieces to construct at least 3 pieces of furniture, 1 complete circuit, and assorted decorations to get you started.
  • A Deluxe Decoration Pack includes: tons of additional decorations so that you can adorn your creation over and over again!

Bringing Roominate To You

Here are the details of our plan to bring Roominate to you:

  • Upon successful completion of our Kickstarter, we will be able to refine our prototype, test its safety and usability, and begin production within a few weeks.  
  • We will continue to do all of the designing, prototyping, and usability testing ourselves.
  • Upon refinement of our prototype, our wood will be laser cut through contract shops in the Midwestern United States or in the Bay Area. The final contractor will be selected based on our ultimate production quantities. Shipping, treating, and cutting the wood will take approximately ten weeks (treating the wood ensures that it passes toy safety standards).
  • Our electronic components are all off-the-shelf. All of the parts we will be using are UL certified, and we will also be conforming to additional toy safety standards. Our assembly specifications with contract manufacturers include in-house reliability and safety testing. The assembly will be done locally. Lead time, set-up, product testing, and assembly will take approximately eight weeks.
  • Before we start producing, we will ensure that our scaled-up version of Roominate is as safe, engaging, and exciting as our prototype.
  • Packing and shipping will be contracted locally. This process will take two weeks.
  • The price includes the cost of our final prototyping, manufacturing, testing, assembly, packaging, and shipping (in the United States).

Join us in creating a brighter future for girls! 

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Pioneering Book on the Rise of Women-owned Businesses

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Chart that Reveals How Science Fiction Futures Changed Over Time

A Chart that Reveals How Science Fiction Futures Changed Over Time

The future may seem to be closer or farther off, depending on the era you're living in. That's one of the possible conclusions you can draw from this chart (embedded below), created by Stephanie Fox for io9, based on research we've done over the past month. We wanted to know whether there are historical trends in how far in the future we set our science fiction — and there definitely are. Here we present our data, as well as some preliminary conclusions about why the future changed so much from decade to decade over the past 130 years.

This all started with a relatively innocent musing on Twitter, from io9 pal Tom Coates:

Infographic I'd like to see: How far ahead did we set our science fiction at various points in history. That would be interesting.

We agreed.

Please click charts below to expand.

A Chart that Reveals How Science Fiction Futures Changed Over Time

The Dataset
To get our data, we worked with intrepid researchers Ben Vrignon and Gordon Jackson, who helped track down when "the future" was in a random sampling of over 250 works of science fiction (books, movies, TV, and some comics) created between 1880 and 2010. Purely for sanity purposes, we narrowed our search to pieces of science fiction widely available in English, in America, though the works sampled include several pieces of European and Japanese SF. (We were not able to sample nearly as many works as we would have liked, so if you would like to expand on this project, please get in touch and I can share our dataset with you.)

The Methods
Once we had our data, we divided it up into works set in the Near Future (0-50 years from the time the work came out), Middle Future (51-500 years from the time the work came out) and Far Future (501 years from the time the work came out).

Why did we pick these boundaries? In part they were just necessary (and slightly arbitrary) cutoffs for categories that are arguably much softer than such rigid demarkations can capture. Still, they are justified for a few reasons. First of all, I wanted to reflect an idea of "near future" SF that encompasses works that are set just barely into the future, works that are generally intended to be about how the present day is already science fictional. George Orwell's 1984 was probably the first work of SF to popularize this notion of the near future, and William Gibson and Ken MacLeod's recent works also take it up. I picked 51-500 as the "mid future" because, frankly, it includes the Star Trek universe, which I consider to be a kind of model of mid-future SF because it includes radically new technologies and social structures, but the world is still recognizably our own. There is a ton of science fiction set in this mid-future which functions similarly - we're still the same old humans, just in space. And finally, works set 500 years in the future are often of a markedly different character than mid-future ones. We see a humanity that's radically altered, like the one in The Time Machine or Alasdair Reynolds' series. The Earth is unrecognizable or long gone. This is Deep Time territory, when anything goes.

Some caveats: I thought about making Near Future 0-100 years in the future, but decided that generally once you get beyond 50 years you start seeing SF that includes really radical changes and isn't intended to be "five minutes into the future" like recent William Gibson novels or George Orwell's 1984. I also thought about adding another "mid future" category between 51-200 years, since that's such a popular time period. If we had more data, I think that would have been reasonable.

The Analysis and Conclusions
I would like to say at the outset that these conclusions are preliminary, as we'll need a lot more data before we're on solid ground — and I would also like to see some cross-cultural comparisons, too. There are, however, a few things we observe right off the bat.

There are a few moments in history when all futures are almost equally represented, notably in the 1920s and the 1960s. Those are both periods of liberalization in the United States, when social roles were changing rapidly and the economy was booming. Perhaps these eras of rapid change turned people's eyes to both the near and far future. Interestingly, both eras were followed by periods of economic downturn that led to opposite effects: In the 1930s, we saw a spike in far future stories (indeed, the most of any era in our data); and in the 1970s we saw a spike in near future stories.

At other times, the future seems right around the corner. In the 1900s and the 1980s, there were huge spikes in near-future science fiction. What do these eras have in common? Both were times of rapid technological change. In the 1900s you begin to see the widespread use of telephones, cameras, automobiles (the Model T came out in 1908), motion pictures, and home electricity. In the 1980s, the personal computer transformed people's lives.

In general, the future got closer at the end of the twentieth century. You can see a gradual trend in this chart where after the 1940s, near-future SF grows in popularity. Again, this might reflect rapid technological change and the fact that SF entered mainstream popular culture.

The future is getting farther away from us right now. One of the only far-future narratives of the 1990s was Futurama. Then suddenly, in the 2000s, we saw a spike in far-future stories, many of them about posthuman, postsingular futures. It's possible that during periods of extreme uncertainty about the future, as the 00s were in the wake of 9/11, creators and audiences turn their eyes to the far future as a balm.

Again, these are all speculative comments. More data and analysis are needed.

A Chart that Reveals How Science Fiction Futures Changed Over Time

Supplemental Materials: More Detail on Middle Future Dates

One of the interesting discoveries we made was that the mid-future (51-500 years in the future) seems to be the most popular period for science fiction, across the last 130 years. So Stephanie created this chart breaking out our data on mid-future SF so you can get a sense of which periods are most popular — you can see that the 100-200 year future is common.

Research by Ben Vrignon and Gordon Jackson.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Women In Tech Are Losing From Top To Bottom - Forbes

Silicon Valley

Is a lonely road to blame for the dearth of women in tech?

According to a new survey the number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies is down for the second year in a row.

The survey, published by U.S. division of the British tech recruitment group Harvey Nash, attests that just 9% of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11% last year and 12% in 2010. According to Reuters, 30% of the 450 American tech executives polled said their IT groups have no women at all in management positions. What’s more, when the same group of executives was asked whether women were underrepresented, roughly one half said no.

Which, I concede, is all bad news for women. To the boy’s club of CIOs in America, women aren’t around and nobody seems to have a problem with it.

But I do. I think it’s wrong and bad and exactly the attitude that’s keeping women from earning anything close to our brothers, boyfriends and husbands. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about whether surveys and research like this are bad for women in another way: whether they’re looking at women in tech with a set of blinders on. Determined to find some good in the ongoing conversation about the black hole for women that is the tech debate, I set about looking to prove that this latest research was misrepresenting women in technology by only looking at a particular group of companies at the top.

Unfortunately, as Bob Miano, President and CEO of Harvey Nash USA soon filled me in on, I was wrong. His isn’t a study that looks only at the 500 most profitable companies in America, but rather a sampling of over 450 companies that range from Silicon Valley startups to “a large computer software company with three letters in its name.” And of these companies, fewer than 40 chief information officers were female.

In terms of women at the top, at least, the reports of decline are verified. But what’s worse, where I had hoped that the recent blizzard of startup activity might be helping to change the ratio in favor of the fairer sex, Miano says the opposite is true. He blames the decline in women in tech roles on the uptick of startup companies, which he says tend to be less interested in diversity than many of his older, more established clients who often put major emphasis on recruiting female talent.

But as a woman who covers women for a living, I know anecdotally that this research is not indicative of the number of girls, women, ladies I meet every week who are kicking tech’s butt in the startup world. I look at companies like Joyus and Fab, both highly funded ventures with women leading their tech teams. I look at women like Caterina Fake, Allyson Kapin and programs like Black Girls Code and Women 2.0. I look at numbers that say women are starting businesses at 1.5 times the national average.

This is an issue that has plagued us for too long, says Tara Hunt, CEO of Buyosphere, “Even though we’re seeing an increase in the numbers of women enrolling and graduating college with technical degrees. And even though there is an upswing in women joining and launching startups, we are quite far from parity. The more women we see in high profile technical roles at these companies, the more young women will be inspired to pursue a career in technology.”

True, despite the fact that women have reached senior positions at Facebook, Xerox, Oracle and other large companies, they’re hardly the norm.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Finally, Mother’s Day Cards That Actually Make Sense - COLORLINES


A group of activists and mothers in Oakland, Calif. have started an annual Mother’s Day tradition that would probably put Hallmark to shame. Fed up with the mainstream image of mothers as domestic, middle class, and white, they’ve made a real effort over the past two years to celebrate who they call “mamas on the margins”: all those single, queer, immigrant, and young mothers whose stories are often glossed over by corporate card makers.

“I can’t find a Mother’s Day card that looks at our identities in a way that is sentimental for me and my mom,” says Shanelle Matthews, communications coordinator at Forward Together, an Oakland-based organization that’s leading the e-Card drive through its Strong Families initiative. Matthews grew up as one of three kids in a single-parent black household, and wants to celebrate her mother’s hard work. “This campaign is personally close to be because I can finally say something to my mom on Mother’s Day that’s actually of cultural relevance and value.”

more at

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Women In Tech Infographic | Women Who Tech

Can Tech Companies Continue To Innovate With No Women At The Table? | Fast Company

Can Tech Companies Continue To Innovate With No Women At The Table?

BY Allyson Kapin | 05-08-2012 | 10:17 AM
This article is written by a member of our expert contributor community.

Women dominate social networks, according to the latest Nielsen report. This is not news. Women have been ruling social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and social gaming platforms for the past few years. Women also bring in half or more of the income in 55% of U.S. households. And women ages 50 and older control a net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth, according to MassMutual Financial Group. Simply put, women are influential and drive the economy.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Future for Robotics (2) | The Robot State

frog’s Creative Director, Scott Jenson, first UI designer at Apple and recent head of UX at Google mobile, recently blogged about smart devices and how that changes the design process. this is relevant to the very real near future of robotics. I’m continuing the zeitgeist sampling here.

Triumph of the Mundane

By Scott Jenson - April 18, 2012

Smart devices require a significant shift in thinking

This blog explores how to design smart devices. But these new devices are just so new and require such new insights, that our quaint, old school notions of UX design are completely blinding us. We are stuck between the classic paradigm of desktop computers, and the futuristic fantasy of smart dust. The world is either fastidious or fantastic. The path ahead is hard to see. Alan Kay said the best way to predict the future is to invent it… but what if we don’t know what we want?

Coffee Maker Syndrome
I’ve long proposed just-in-time interaction as a core approach to smart devices but while presenting on this topic over the past year, it has astounded me that people have such a hard time just thinking about the overall landscape of smart devices. Take for example this tweet:

    Overheard  at  #CES:  “I’m  pretty  sure  my  coffee  maker  doesn’t NEED  apps.

On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. It seems unlikely you’ll be reading your email on your coffee maker. But this dismissive approach is an example of what Jake Dunagan has called “the crackpot realism of the present”. We are so entrenched in our current reality that we dismiss any exploration of new ideas. By stating that apps on a coffee maker would be silly (which is true), we easily dismiss any discussion of other potential visions of functionality.

When television was first introduced, the earliest programs were literally radio scripts read aloud in front of the camera. Radio had been dominant for decades so broadcasters just coasted into TV without thinking creatively about how to approach the medium differently. As Marshall McLuhan said, “We look at the present through a rearview mirror; we walk backwards into the future.”

Smart devices require three big shifts
Assuming that smart devices require apps is like walking backwards into the future. We don’t need our smart devices to run Microsoft office, we just need to them to, say, log their electrical usage (internal, invisible functionality) or give us quick how-to videos (simple user facing functionality).

If we want to properly discuss how to design smart devices, we must appreciate how they shift away from standard computers in three significant ways: micro functionality, liberated interaction, and a clustered ecosystem.

Shift 1: Micro Functionality
In my last post I discussed a fundamental UX axiom that Value must be greater than Pain. This handy little axiom implies many useful theorems. The most radical is that if pain gets very low, the actual value can also be low. While expensive tablets demand significant functional apps, cheap processing allows for more humble micro functionality. It’s one of the biggest hurdles that people have in discussing smart devices. They are so entrenched in the PC paradigm that they assume every device with a CPU must be bristling with functionality.

However, simple doesn’t equate to useless. For example, whenever I offer up the possibility of a ‘smart toaster’ people often chuckle; it’s the coffee maker syndrome all over. But there are lots of small and even fun things a toaster could do: log it’s electrical usage, offer up an instructional video on how to clean the crumb tray, report any diagnostic errors, call the support line for you, or even tweak it’s ‘toast is done’ sound. All of these are fairly trivial but are still useful if a) the value is genuine and b) the cost of adding the functionality is small. $600 tablets must to do quite a bit but this isn’t true for a $40 toaster.

The biggest impact of micro functionality is in how little real interactive power is required. So often when I talk of using HTML5 as the lingua franca of smart devices, people trot out the ‘it can’t do X’ argument, extolling the superiority of native apps. But micro functionality is so basic and simple that HTML5 is more than adequate: you’ll normally only need to view or change a simple value. Micro functionality only requires micro expressivity.

Shift 2: Liberated Interaction
Remember that Value must be > Pain. Micro functionality requires micro pain to be viable. No one is going to argue with their toaster; this type of functionality has to be quick, fast, and easy. Unfortunately, the trend today is that any device with functionality will usually have a tiny display, tinier buttons, a complex user manual, and a tech support line.

Smart devices need to be liberated from being solely responsible for all interaction. I’ve written previously about just-in-time interaction which allows any smart display (a phone, tablet, TV, interactive goggles, and yes, a laptop) to interact with a smart device. Using a significantly more capable device is so much better than cobbling together a cheap LCD display with fiddly little buttons on the device itself. A generation raised on rich phone interaction will expect, even demand better.

Moving interaction to smart displays also has a huge benefit for manufacturers. The cost of computation will likely be the least of a manufacturer’s concerns. Small displays, buttons, complex instruction manuals, and tech support lines are all very expensive. What if manufacturers could assume that any smart device they built would have free access to a big interactive color screen? Not only that but it would have excellent computing power, smooth animated graphics, a robust programming environment and to top it off a universally accepted consumer interaction model that didn’t require any training? Using these displays would allow enormous cost reductions, not only in parts costs, but in simpler development costs as well.

Shift 3: A Clustered Ecosystem
Once we liberate the interaction from the device, we’ve unlocked its functionality across many locations. Not only can I use my phone in front of my thermostat but also with my TV across the room and with my laptop at work across the city. By liberating functionality from devices, we liberate our ability to use these devices from anywhere. My previous post was called “Mobile Apps must die” not because apps will actually die (they will always have a role) but the shortsighted desire to funnel functionality exclusively through them must stop. If these very simple apps are written in HTML5, they can be used across any device which is very powerful indeed.

It is inevitable that devices will ship with interactivity built in. But as more devices become functional, it’s going to become overwhelming to have each device be it’s own island. The three shifts discussed here: micro functionality, liberated interaction, and a clustered ecosystem all point to a new pattern of thinking: small devices with small functionality that all work together in profound ways. This is a triumph of the mundane; a challenge to our PC soaked way of thinking.

But this new approach requires an open standard that all devices would use to announce their presence and offer their functionality in a universal language like HTML. In many ways we are at the cusp of a new hardware era of discoverability much like the web first had in the 80s.

What’s holding smart devices back is our oh-so-human ability to misunderstand their potential. These three shifts are a big step in understanding what we need to do. Let’s be clear, this is not technically challenging! We just need to understand what we want.  Alan Kay is right: we have to invent our future. frog, where I work, is just starting to build simple prototypes to validate these concepts. As they mature, I’ll be sharing more information about them. It’s clear that technology is not the limiting factor, it’s just our desire to imagine a different future.

blog post in the wild at frog design’s designmind

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Monday, May 7, 2012

The Future for Robotics (1) | The Robot State

There is a wave of excitement about the very real future of robotics, which is coming very soon. I’m posting some of the zeitgeist here.

from Wired Magazine.

Paul Saffo

A longtime technology forecaster, Saffo is a managing director at the Silicon Valley investment research firm Discern. Formerly the director of the Institute for the Future, he is also a consulting professor in Stanford University’s engineering department.

The second indicator is an inversion, where you see something that’s out of place. When the Mexican police captured the head of a drug cartel, in the photos the perpetrators were looking proudly at the camera while the cops were wearing ski masks. Usually it’s the reverse. To me that was an indicator that Mexico was very far from winning its war against the cartels.There are four indicators I look for: contradictions, inversions, oddities, and coincidences. In 2007 stock prices and gold prices were both soaring. Usually you don’t see those prices high at the same time. When you see a contradiction like that, it means more fundamental change is ahead.

Then there are oddities. When the Roomba robot vacuum was introduced in 2002, all the engineers I know were very excited, and I don’t recall them owning vacuums. I said, this is damn strange. This is not about cleaning floors, this is about scratching some kind of itch. It’s about something happening with robots.

Finally, there are coincidences. At the fourth Darpa Grand Challenge in 2007, a bunch of robots successfully drove in a simulated suburb. The same day, there was a 118-car pileup on a California highway. We had robots that understand the California vehicle code better than humans, and a bunch of humans crashing into each other. That said to me, really, people shouldn’t drive.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Robot State | Technology, Culture and Gender

Where is feminism when you need it? That question is currently being asked, and answered, in Silicon Valley. Whether it’s discussing the resurgence of sexism, finding the new flavors of feminist, cheer leading for all the fab women in tech and pushing for more women to join the geektrain; or whether it’s asking hard questions about how the heck we manage to be female in high power areas, the discussions are plentiful and the responses thoughtful. I’m collecting some here:

A great starting point in Silicon Valley is Women 2.0 . Founded in 2006 by Shaherose Charania and Angie Chang, Women 2.0 is a global network and social platform for influencers that drive trends and decisions — as startup founders and as consumers. Their mission is to inform, inspire and educate a new generation of females that are entrepreneurial and successful.

Unfortunately, the environment is still quite toxic to women in vast swathes of the tech world.

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Mega Startup Weekend | Startup Weeekend with 3 Verticals: Mobile + Gaming + Robots!


Straight from the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party to the MEGA Startup Weekend with Robots.

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Robot Block Party @ Stanford Apr 11 2012 « Silicon Valley Robotics

Robot Block Party @ Stanford Apr 11 2012

March 15, 2012 Leave a comment

In celebration of National Robotics Week for the third year the Robot Block Party will be held on the Stanford University campus and will showcase the best of robotics technology in the Bay Area! The VAIL complex will host the Robot Block Party from 1 till 6, starting with a job fair, then a public exhibition and closing with a party (tbc).

The Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford is once again participating in the Robot Block Party and have videos of the previous events as well as uptodate event information.

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It's been a fabulously busy April organizing and attending lots of great robot events.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Second Sex - Second Shelf

A wonderful essay by Meg Wolitzer on women's fiction and what it means that women's fiction isn't simply 'fiction' whereas men's fiction is. Along the way she raises interesting points, including the halycon days of the 70s and early 80s when being 'woman' was interesting. Wolitzer believes that many great female writers got their breaks then but she notes the continual under-representation of women in the 'greats' lists.

Wolitzer even describes the 1/3rd effect: Where 'equal' really equals 'some'. There's strong psychological research [citations coming] that suggests that ingroup members perceive an outgroup to be overwhelming them at around 33%. Instead of looking like equal or underrepresentation, the presence of more than 1/3rd of another group seems dominating. I've seen this effect everywhere from kids sporting teams to school classrooms to conference attendees and board members.

This is definitely echoed in the technology world, including the back slide in numbers of women involved in comp sci, robotics, and engineering. Even in areas, like health science/medicine, where women's numbers are 'equal' or greater, there is not an equal representation in the upper levels. Worse, the 'pink ghetto' effect takes hold. Most men do not want jobs as bank clerks, for example. Bank clerks were once a male status occupation, but it's become unvalued, underpaid and a woman's job.

Where I would like Wolitzer's discussion of the structure of sexism in literature to be continued. She makes an assumption that women's and men's writing is the same - allowing for the same type of plot and characterization. She mentions blind testing. Recent years have shown many examples from music that blind auditioning for orchestras has created a significantly different gender balance. Women now are equally represented in most orchestra positions, in the US, excepting perhaps conductors. But research by Pennebaker seems to show that men and women use language in structurally different ways and that computer analysis of a massive range of texts is very accurate at predicting the sex of the writer. Pennebaker believes that these structural language differences are so small and subtle as to be unnoticed consciously, yet they form the milieu in which we operate. More research is called for!

And in the meantime, as Wolitzer requests, more women's fiction BOLDY titled in STRONG colors, at eye level on the best shelves not stuck on the second shelf.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Madonna the fearless?


Madonna taught us to face fears: of the consequences of blooming sexuality, independence, anger, eccentricity and unconventionality. Of being women who don't do as they are told.

But not so much the fear of ageing. I can't help but wish, as brilliant British author Caitlin Moran said to me in an interview recently, that Madonna would just let herself become a smart, defiant, old woman: "If Madonna could just hag up now and just look like a wizard and just grow long, grey hair down to her knees and start using a stick and shouting at people in a really angry way, that would be amazing."

It would, wouldn't it? Ageing is an art form few know how to master. We value youth, but we used to also admire wisdom.

...excerpt from Julia Baird's bloody good opinion piece about Madonna, ageing and female role models on

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The Hunger Games: The Real Woman Warriors

Finally an antidote to the virginal vanilla vampire tales like Twilight. It might be surprising that Hunger Games is going uberblockbuster and is tipped to outgross Harry Potter. But it's no surprise that Hunger Games shows powerful women.

The Hunger Games has a strong female writer, producer and cast. First, author Suzanne Collins, as a military child and theater major, has the background to craft both the details and emotions of this post reality show book. She's also spent years honing her craft, as a working writer. We're perhaps fortunate that she also adapted her book for screen instead of the project passing through too many hands and becoming diluted.

I enjoyed the books of the Hunger Games series as much as the rest of my family did. We're such a mixed bunch of genders, ages and personalities that it's rare to find a book or movie that speaks to us all. [cough Harry Potter] The Hunger Games film cut straight to the emotional bone, avoiding the more meandering path of the book but still showing the pure strength of character Katniss.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss, is a perfect pick. Her performance as an Ozark Mountain girl searching for her crank-cooking father in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. "A Jennifer Lawrence only comes along once in a generation,” producer Jon Kilik said. “She was our first choice right from the beginning.” [Burlington Free Press]

But would this be a blockbuster without visionary producer Nina Jacobsen? Jacobsen has been a film executive for a long time, working at several large studios including Disney.

In 1998, she moved to Disney where she was responsible for developing scripts and overseeing film production for Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures. Among her projects as studio executive were The Sixth Sense, Remember the Titans, Pearl Harbor, The Princess Diaries, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. For her efforts at helping expand the role of women in the entertainment industry, Women in Film awarded her the Crystal Award in 2003.[5] In 2005, Forbes Magazine named Jacobson one of the "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women" in acknowledgement of her success.[6] [wikipedia]

It doesn't end happily there of course. The road to success for women does not run straight. Jacobsen has been an advocate for gay and lesbian rights. She's also parent to three children with her female partner. It was during the birth of her third child that Jacobsen was fired from Disney in a reshuffle. She seems to have taken her departure in stride, saying only that her time at Disney was good while it lasted.

Her close creative partner, director M. Night Shyamalan, was far less restrained. After six years of successful collaboration at Disney, the bond between director and producer had eroded to the point where Shyamalan crucified Jacobsen in his book "The Man Who Heard Voices". Shyamalan repudiated Jacobsen's script criticisms with claims that he "had witnessed the decay of her creative vision right before his own wide-open eyes. She didn't want iconoclastic directors. She wanted directors who made money."

So, round about now Jacobsen is fired, starts her own company and picks up two of the biggest creeping blockbusters around, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "The Hunger Games" while they were relative unknowns. I'd say someone's creative vision was 20/20.

The winner is woman warriors everywhere.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Beauty and the Brain: Hedy Lamarr


Lovely article by Michelle Legro on brainpickings about Hedy Lamarr and Richard Rhodes's biography "Hedy's Folly". Not only was Hedy called the most beautiful woman in the world, but she created a spectrum spreading remote torpedo control system and several other patents. She was quite an inventor.

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Trampoline Mind

Trampoline is a self-organising event for those who find the world interesting, have something to offer and share, and have an inquisitive mind.

Attendees are expected to come along with participation in mind and share what they find amazing to an audience that is up for cross disciplinary discussion.

The goal is to cover subjects that will be appealing across different disciplines. Technical or business-focused, environmental or social, new or old, complex or simple‚ as long as the ideas are interesting and you find them amazing, they’ll fit right in.

Here's just a handful of topics that have been covered in previous events:

  • Intergenerational Learning
  • Wine Tasting
  • The 1000-Year Old Human
  • How to Juggle
  • Similarities between Improvisational Comedy and Entrepreneurship
  • 3D Printers
  • Mass Collaboration, Free Information and the Semantic Web
  • Complexity and Chaos

To stay up to date with future events, make sure you’re on the announcements mailing list.

The Format

The day at Trampoline is filled with sessions offered by attendees on the day - nothing is given priority, nothing is locked in before we start. Each session is 20 minutes long, and is focused on sharing something that the presenter finds amazing. Sometimes they can be talks, or group discussions, or tutorials. You can structure your session how you wish.

There's no expectation that those speaking are experts (though a little knowledge usually helps). Participation is key.

At any given point, there will be four or five sessions happening - so you can either choose one discussion, or wander between a few - there's no expectation to stay put.

Getting Involved

Want to be a part of the conversations around Trampoline before and after the actual event? It mostly takes place, via Twitter and the Google Group.

The latter in particular is a great way to communicate with many Trampoline attendees - perhaps following up on topics that were discussed, sharing further ideas, or putting together ideas for the next event.

The Organisers

This event began as a conversation between Pat Allan and Bei Yin, and became reality through efforts by Pat, Melina Chan and Steve Hopkins. Since then, Aida Lee has joined the Melbourne team, and Steve and Caroline McLaren have taken it to Sydney. But we don’t control the content of Trampoline—that is always up to the people who come along!

Need to get in touch? Just shoot */ Pat an email.

Wish I was there. :-) But I'm doing something similar with Robot LaunchPad and the Robot Startup Retreat and Mega Startup Weekend. But if Trampoline ever wants to come to US, I'm so in!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

when i wasn't here


I was getting ready for the Robot Block Party @ Stanford by (amongst other things) updating the Silicon Valley Robotics website ( I was also getting the Robot Startup Retreat invitations ready on the Robot Launchpad (

Plus posting to Robot State and keeping the Robot Times Weekly and the Robot State Weekly up to date.

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What is human-robot metacommunication? | The Robot State


Chris Chesher, Unversity of Sydney, describes the conceptual challenges that robotics poses for media and communication studies. While this is still in press and subject to change, I found that this list is something I will want to refer to again! The transition from broadcast media to the internet and mobile media is complicated. Just as some theoretical models have emerged to understand computers, a ‘universal’ medium, the rise of robotics is going to create new layers of differentiation.

a. Robots are explicitly quasi-others, challenging traditional Humanist taboos against the agency and anthropomorphism of objects.

b. Robots have physical particularity, presence and autonomous activity, in contrast to other media such as printed, audio and screen-based media, which tend to be positioned as transparent and standardised and mass-produced media.

c. Robots use multimodal elements (movements, sound, screens, ‘emotion’) that aspire to create meanings that combine several media (facial expressions, movement relative to personal space, speech and so on).

d. Robots work with greater degrees of feedback than traditional computers. Robots perceive and interpret user actions, and modify their behavior within cybernetic loops.

I think that there may need also to be a separation between the metacommunication of robot as human proxy and the very specific and asymmetric human-robot and robot-human communication. Chris Chesher is one of the few theorists I’m aware of who attempts to deconstruct what a robot communication is.

[image of Waseda Talker 2007 - one of a series replicating human vocal production ]

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Secret Life of Pronouns | The Robot State


“The Secret Life of Pronouns” by James W. Pennebaker is a book I wish I’d read before finishing my thesis. It makes a strong case for words having the power to reflect changes in our society and perhaps even be transformative. Sometimes highly relevant work is just too many disciplines away from your research area for it to register. (I felt the same way on discovering the work that Joanna J. Bryson was doing in the AI and philosophy areas on robot ethics and robots as slaves.)

Why was this relevant to me? My thesis was that analyzing the names we gave robots, particularly research robots in competitions rather than consumer products, illustrated the underlying social relations we have with robots and my conclusion was that we treat robots as slaves based on robot names having most similarity to 18th century slave names, rather than pet names, gadget names or personal names. My background is cultural theory, which analyzes objects and relations as texts and communications.

James W. Pennebaker is a social psychologist, the Regents Centennial Liberal Arts Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and highly cited author of 10 books and almost 300 scientific articles. The Secret Life of Pronouns describes a large long term research project that connects the way we use small functional words with the way we behave and are positioned in the world, our ‘social and psychological processes’.

“The smallest, most commonly used, most forgettable words serve as windows into our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The ways people use pronouns, articles, and other everyday words are linked to their personality, honesty, social skills, and intentions…. Using computerized text analyses on hundreds of thousands of letters, poems, books, blogs, Tweets, conversations, and other texts, it is possible to begin to read people’s hearts and minds in ways they can’t do themselves.”

The Secret Life of Pronouns is one of the new breed of big data scientific research projects. Using computation power and masses of data, the researchers are able to transform subtle social differences into significant correlations and robust data sets. We still argue over whether or not gender or class exist, or more precisely, we usually agree that they exist but risk being labelled polemical when we attempt to label something as gender or class related. So many other factors are more overt and specific to the group/people.

While there is always a trade off between large scale quantitative research and in depth qualitative work, it is very compelling to be able to say that something was studied over millions of people or thousands of cities. If a finding is true across all of these diverse groups then we may start to see the real nature of gender, class and other culturally constructed identities. We might be able to see if things change, in which ways and whether or not changes are beneficial, although that is still a highly subjective measure!

Some of Pennebaker’s findings include that women and men really do use language differently, and that most authors can be identified as male or female regardless of their characters’ genders. Even author authenticity has a good chance of being detected, whether Beatles songs or the Federalist papers. How couples or groups relate to each other shows in word use mirroring and can predict longevity of relationships and productivity of work teams. Ultimately, social cohesion is reflected in language styles, which like accents, can be highly localized and a subtle indicator of status and group belonging. People seem to be very good at utilizing these communicative techniques without thinking about it.

“The magic of this project is not about the links between income distributions and social patterns in cities. Rather, it shows how words in the most mundane of places can reveal important information about a community’s social ties. All groups, whether families, work groups, companies, or entire cities, leave trails of their social and psychological lives behind in the words their members use in communicating with each other. Words are one of the human-made elements that connect our thoughts and ideas across people. By tracking our words, we get a sense of the social fabric.” [p.243 'The Secret Life of Pronouns' by Pennebaker, J. W. Bloomsbury Press NY 2011]

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

THE EATBEAT: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald

I stumbled upon this via her son's Google+ post. Of course having gone viral it would apparently be hard to miss but I'm 100% with the people who don't think it's quaint or ironic or twee. I think one kick ass no nonsense hard working woman is doing a straight up job and I appreciated her writing, her common sense and compassion. I'm glad 99% of the blogosphere/twitterverse what have you is happier to have honesty than hip.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

‘Doonesbury’ creator Garry Trudeau on abortion law in Texas


Only once in the long history of “Doonesbury” has Garry Trudeau’s syndicate ever intensely objected to one of his story arcs. It was 1985, and the subject was abortion.

Starting Monday, amid heated debate about pre-termination ultrasound and sonogram bills in Virginia and Texas, Trudeau will tackle the politically sensitive issue of abortion head-on.

“To ignore it,” Trudeau told The Washington Post, “would have been comedy malpractice.”

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PacX challenge | The Robot State

Fascinating experiment underway! In November 2011, Liquid Robotics launched four Wave Gliders – unmanned marine vehicles – in an attempt to autonomously travel the Pacific Ocean. On the way the Wave Gliders are sending a stream of openly available data on position, salinity, water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. And of course, the most interesting data. Is it possible to autonomously navigate the ocean.

Well, yes. The Gliders have just arrived at Hawaii, based on the March 7 post, including the one that lost communication. The only one in difficulty has lost rudder control but is nearby and communicating. I think a ride is heading its way. :P

PacX challenge data.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Camel Racing Reconfigures Human-Robot Relations


In 2004, Qatar banned the use of child jockeys in camel races. These child jockeys were not young 'adults' of 12 or 14, but enslaved 4 or 6yr olds from Sudan. Wired has written about the rise of robotic technology to replace human jockeys, and the end result, that all child jockeys were summarily shipped back to Sudan, without a penny.

Cast your eye over the background of the photo. For every camel carrying a robot, there is a car full of men carrying remote controls and cameras, racing alongside the track. Where is the real action?

The story for me lies in the reconfigured relations, who is doing the work, and where the value lies. The horse was feminized and fetishized as it lost work value. So were all the horse's attendants. I pity the poor camel.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

RIP Marie Colvin


"Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death. ... It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. ...

"Many of you here must have asked yourselves — or be asking yourselves now — is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss? Can we really make a difference?

"I faced that question when I was injured. In fact one paper ran a headline saying, 'has Marie Colvin gone too far this time?' My answer then, and now, was that it is worth it. ...

"We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians."

Marie Colvin, from 2010 Memorial to Fallen Colleagues

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Christchurch - one year on

One year on since the devastating Christchurch earthquake, 2011 Feb 22. Although family still live there, I left Christchurch as a child. Still, I want to join, even in this abstracted way, the memorial service for a shattered but unbroken city.

Take a moment to send good wishes to the citizens of Christchurch who are still suffering the effects of the earthquake and the continuing aftershocks. Rebuilding is a difficult and daily challenge to the spirit. Touching stories from the memorial service of people who felt too raw to relive the events but were nonetheless drawn to spend time with the people they had been with on the day of the earthquake.

There are studies that show communities really do grow stronger and happier in the years after a great trauma, perhaps we do value the important things in life just that much more and feel the need to connect and share with others. But as an expatriate, with nostalgic memories, NZ seems like Narnia under the Ice Queen, where Christchurch is now always afternoon but never tea-time.

Best wishes, Christchurch.

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