Category Archives: Technology

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Sexism, meeting dynamics, attention analysis: who talks during meetings

Yesterday, Andromeda Yelton posted this excellent blog entry, Be Bold, Be Humble: Wikipedia, libraries, and who spoke. It’s about the well-known social sexism dynamic of meetings, where in a meeting that has both women and men, men speak more frequently, use fewer self-undercutting remarks (“I’m not sure….” or “Just…” or “Well, maybe…”), and interrupt others speech at a much higher rate than women in the same meeting.

The post got passed around the social nets (as it should, it’s wonderfully written and you should go read it now) and one of the results was this great exchange:

 

Which prompted me to reply:

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, which basically means that it needs to show up here on the blog. I thought all night about how to architect something like that in hardware/software as a stand alone unit. There is always Are Men Talking Too Much?, which Andromeda linked to in her essay, but it has the downside of requiring someone to manually press the buttons in order to track the meeting.

I’ve been basically obsessing over attention metrics for the last couple of years as a part of bringing Measure the Future to life. The entire point of Measure the Future is to collect and analyze information about the environment that is currently difficult to capture…movement of patrons in space. The concept of capturing and analyzing speakers during a meeting isn’t far off, just with audio instead of video signal. How could we built a thing that would sit on a table in a meeting, listen and count men’s vs women’s speaking, including interruptions, and track and graph/visualize the meeting for analysis?

Here’s how I’d architect such a thing, if I were going to build it. Which I’m not right now, because Measure the Future is eating every second that I have, but…if I were to start tinkering on this after MtF gives me some breathing room, here’s how I might go about it.

We are at the point in the progress of Moore’s Law that even the cheapest possible microcomputer can handle audio analysis without much difficulty. The Raspberry Pi 3 is my latest object of obsession…the built-in wifi and BTLE changes the game when it comes to hardware implementations of tools. It’s fast, easy to work with, runs a variety of linux installs, and can support both GPIO or USB sensors. After that, it would just be selecting a good omnidirectional microphone to ensure even coverage of vocal capture.

I’d start with that for hardware, and then take a look at the variety of open source audio analysis tools out there. There’s a ton of open source code that’s available for speech recognition, because audio interfaces are the new hotness, but that’s actually overcomplicated for what we would need.

What we would want is something more akin to voice analysis software rather than recognition…we don’t care what words are being said, specifically, we just care about recognizing male vs female voices. This is difficult and has many complicating factors…it would be nearly impossible to get to 100% success rate in identification, as the complicating factors are many (multiple voices, echo in meeting rooms, etc). But there is work being done in this area: the voice-gender project on Github has a pre-trained software that appears to be exactly the sort of thing we’d need. Some good discussion about difficulty and strategies here as well.

If we weren’t concerned about absolute measures and instead were comfortable with generalized averages and rounding errors, we could probably get away with this suggestion, which involves fairly simply frequency averaging. These suggestions are from a few years ago, which means that the hardware power available to throw at the problem is 8x or better what it was at that point.

And if we have network connectivity, we could even harness the power of machine learning at scale and push audio to something like the Microsoft Speaker Recognition API, which has the ability to do much of what we’d ask. Even Google’s TensorFlow and Parsey McParseface might be tools to look at for this.

Given the state of cloud architectures, it may even be possible to build our gender meeting speech analysis engine entirely web-based, using Chrome as the user interface. The browser can do streaming audio to the cloud, where it would be analyzed and then returned for visualization. I have a particular bias towards instantiating things in hardware that can be used without connectivity, but in this case, going purely cloud architecture might be equally useful.

Besides gender, the other aspect that I had considered analyzing was interruptions, which I think could be roughly modeled by analyzing overlap of voices and ordering of speech actors. You could mark an “interruption event” by the lack of time between speakers, or actual overlap of voices, and you could determine the actor/interrupter by ordering of voices.

Once you have your audio analysis, visualizing it on the web would be straightforward. There are javascript libraries that do great things with charts like Chart.js or Canvas, or if working in the cloud you could use Google Chart Tools.

If any enterprising developer wants to work on something like this, I’d love to help manage the project. I think it could be a fun hackathon project, especially if going the cloud route. All it needs is a great name, which I’m not clever enough to think of right now. Taking suggestions over on Twitter @griffey.

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OpenArchive

Sitting in the Internet Archive Great Room (see photo above for reference…yes, it’s in an old church….) I’m reminded that I never pushed out the link to the amazing new app that was created in part by my friend Nathan, available now for Android and coming soon for iOS that allows you to use the Internet Archive like your own personal Instagram:

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and because Nathan and his group are awesome, the app is also open source:

Github repo for OpenArchive

and finally, direct link to the Google Play store for the app.

I’ve not seen an easier way to add photos to the Internet Archive directly than this app, and it’s got some really fantastic side benefits..the primary one being that it works transparently over Orbot if you’d like, so that uploads and connections can be driven over the Tor network without any extra effort on the user’s part.

UPDATE

The Guardian Project just posted their own announcement for the app. Their take on it is also timely since I’m spending this week at the Decentralized Web Summit:

We see this as a first step towards a more distributed, decentralized way of managing and sharing your personal media, and publishing it and synchronizing it to different places and people, in different ways.

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LibraryBox recognized in the 2015 Nominet Trust 100

I’m very happy to announce that The LibraryBox Project has been named among the 2015 NT100 – Nominet Trust’s annual celebration of 100 inspiring ‘tech for good’ ventures from around the world. Among this year’s companies selected for inclusion are Google X’s Project Loon and Open Street Maps…I’m gobsmacked that LibraryBox can be included in a list with those amazing projects.

The included projects all use digital technology to tackle the world’s social problems from lifesaving health tech to knowledge sharing via SMS text messaging.

Following a global call for nominations earlier this year The LibraryBox Project was selected by ten judging partners from the tech and charity world in recognition of our work. The judges included such companies as Comic Relief, Creative England, Facebook, Latimer, Nominet, Oxfam, O2 Telefonica, Salesforce and Society Guardian.

Thank you to everyone involved in The LibraryBox Project, especially Matthias Strubel, without whom it wouldn’t be as amazing as it is. Thanks also to the Kickstarter backers that made the v2.0 possible, and to the Knight Foundation Prototype Grant for enabling the development of the v2.1. If you’d like to learn more about The LibraryBox Project, a good place to start is the talk I did at Harvard Law School for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society earlier this year.

Learn more and and explore the 2015 NT100 here: socialtech.org.uk/nominet-trust-100/2015

Anonymous Communication on the Web

I wasn’t sure how my previous post would go over, but after some back-and-forth emailing with the reporter on the piece, WTVC asked me to come in for an interview on anonymity and the “deep web”. So I did!

We talked for almost an hour, and for some stupid reason I didn’t think to record the interview myself (will not make that mistake again). They did a fine job representing my views, although clearly edited the piece for a specific audience. I’ll admit that I probably got too heavy into the weeds of the details of Tor. They were particularly touchy about my correcting the use of “Deep Web” and “Dark Web” as useful categories. I just kept using anonymity, security, privacy and tried very hard not to fall into using their very fuzzy language to describe something with lots of complexity.

My talking points revolved around how anonymity is a requirement for the freedom of speech in a free society, and that fear-based reports like their last one are actually damaging to how people should react to the world (my example, that they didn’t use, was that instead of worrying about the incredibly rare possibility of child-abduction due to predators on Tor, perhaps parents should be more worried about driving their child to school in the morning, since it was orders of magnitude more dangerous). I suppose we’ll see if there’s any feedback that comes from this as a positive concept.

I’m glad they gave me the chance to come in and talk, and I do hope it’s useful for someone out there in Chattanooga to see that wanting anonymity and privacy online isn’t just something to abet criminal activity. Privacy issues online are something that increasingly everyone should be aware of, because the risks are going to be omnipresent as we continue to move our lives into the digital space.

Library Technology: Problems, Futures, and Directions

This is a keynote that I delivered at the MOBIUS Consortium conference in Columbia, Missouri on June 2, 2015. I talk about why library technology is terrible, why technology is a unique thing, the speed of change, what technological futures are near, and the broad strokes of how I think libraries need to respond in order to suck less at tech. It’s a fun time for everyone.

There’s one little technical glitch in the middle where Keynote decided to crash, but otherwise I’m pleased with the way this came together.

Just a few hours after I gave my presentation, in which I talk about the rise of voice interfaces to machine learning algorithms that act as personal assistants (a la Siri, Cortana and others), SoundHound drops this bombshell of a demo on the web:

That is ridiculous stuff, right there. But at least it shows I’m not wrong to be paying attention.

Apple Watch Sport Band Flip Trick

So here’s a tiny hack for the Apple Watch that I found really useful. In all of the promo shots, Apple shows the Sport Band attached to the Watch with the Pin side at the top of the Watch, and the holed-side attached at the bottom.

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I was having a terrible time actually putting the Watch on, because one-handed, I found that holding the Pin down and trying to pull the strap upwards to it was very awkward.

The solution? Flip the bands.

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The band halves are completely reversible, and having the Pin on the lower part means that I can hold it in place with my thumb and pull the other band down towards it. Much easier for me, and you can’t tell at all once the Watch is on your wrist.

If you’ve got a Sport Band on your Apple Watch, give it a try and see if you think it’s easier.

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10 Days with the Apple Watch

I was one of the lucky few that received their Apple Watch order on April 24th, the day the  Watch was released to the public. Here’s the story of my first 10 days to try to give you some idea about the technology (and aesthetics) behind the newest Apple product.

Order

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First up, what I ordered. My order was time stamped at 12:02am Pacific Time on April 10, the day that the Watch went on sale to the public, so I literally ordered mine within the first 120 seconds of availability. From the time the Watch was announced, I had been coveting the Stainless Steel with Milanese loop band. It was, to my eye, a wonderful throwback mid-century modern look that I love. When it came time to order, I decided that since it’s likely I’m wearing this thing every single day for the next 2+ years, I should just get the one I really liked rather than “settling” for the less expensive Sport version in aluminum.

That decision-making process illustrates one of the huge differences in this particular product. Every other Apple product that I’ve purchased (and I’ve purchased plenty at this point, a decade plus into my obsession with the company and its products) was purchased on the strength of the abilities of the technology. Apple isn’t a stranger to using design as a differentiator among their products…the classic iMac is the textbook example of style selling a technology. But over the last few years they have primarily used their design sense and engineering skills to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers, and not within a line of their own products.

The stainless steel Apple Watch functions literally identically to the less expensive aluminum Apple Watch Sport (and, of course, also identically to the much, much more expensive Apple Watch Edition). So the fact that they convinced me to pay for a purely aesthetic choice shows just how different this particular market is from Apple’s normal business. But they did convince me, and thus at just after midnight on April 10th, I placed my order.

Arrival

IMG_8569On April 24th, my Watch arrived. The package that was delivered was surprisingly heavy, almost shockingly so, and that is entirely due to the incredible packaging for the Watch. It is not hyperbole to say that I believe that Apple spent more time in R&D on the box for the Watch than some companies do on devices themselves. The retail box is a heavy, thick white plastic that feels as if it could be used for home construction…it’s that solid. On the inside the Watch was cradled in suede covered custom cutouts, isolated in the middle of a box that was at least 3 times larger than it needed to be purely to protect the device inside. Again, this is Apple’s aesthetics impinging upon a technology experience. “This is not a gadget”, is what this packages says “this is a piece of jewelry.”

My first impressions are of the Watch as Object: This is a gorgeous piece of design. Some have criticized the look of the Watch for its rounded rectangleness, or for being “bulbous.” I will say that on my wrist it is a great size, not heavy at all, and feels entirely like an analog watch would feel. Slimmer and lighter even than some men’s watches, which are enormous at times. I think it’s beautiful work, and shows Apple’s unparalleled heights of manufacturing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other company on the planet could make something this nice at this scale.

Use

Beyond the aesthetics, however, there are definitely issues. The primary function of the watch is clearly to tell the time, and Apple provides about 10 different faces to choose from, each with some level of customizability. Through the selection of detail, color, and complications, it’s possible to really focus the main interface of the watch on the information that you want at a glance: the time, your calendar, the date, the weather, and more. I find myself wishing that third-party apps had access to these complication areas, instead of being limited to just Apple’s first-party apps. For instance, a complication from Dark Sky telling me when it was going to start raining would be amazing, and I’m certain that there are lots of other really useful apps for the main face of the Watch. I’m hoping that’s one of the first bits of usability exposed during the next software update.

The other central concepts in using the Watch are Notifications, Glances, and Apps. Notifications are just what they sound like, and display as either a pop-over style update or in a list after pulling down from the top of the initial Watch screen. Aside from telling the time, Notifications have been the most game changing piece of the Watch in my life. It really is the case, as reported by lots of other reviewers, that I am looking at my phone a lot, lot less than I did prior to wearing the Apple Watch. Notifications on my wrist allows me to glance and decide whether any individual thing needs the escalation of “Deal With Now” or if I can just…not. As just one example, I wore the Watch at Computers in Libraries the day after receiving it, and realized after a few meals that I hadn’t taken my phone out of my pocket at all during lunch or dinner. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take my phone out and put it on the table beside my plate…it’s nearly an automatic gesture from everyone I hang out with. With the Watch, I avoided the psychological habit of needing to be “connected” with the phone. It was shockingly liberating.

Glances are mini-apps, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the main watch face. They are displayed as a linear row of full-screen windows that are swiped through, left or right, that are single-screen displays of an app’s information. For instance, going back to my favorite weather app, Dark Sky, the “glance” is just the weather in your current location, whereas the full application contains multiple screens of information. Glances can be useful, but since the only way to navigate is literally by paging through them one after the other, if you have more than 5-8 Glances active, finding the one you want becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily you can control which apps allow Glances and which don’t, as well as the order left-to-right of your glances, from the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

Finally, we have what is the least useful bit of the current incarnation of the Apple Watch…the Apps. This is surprising, given that it was the app store and 3rd party app development that really ignited the iPhone as a mobile platform. However, the current status of Apps on the Watch as second or third class citizens makes them very difficult to use effectively. Currently, third-party apps don’t run on the watch natively, the run on the tethered iPhone and push display items to the watch when called. This means that the process of opening an App on the Watch is roughly: Press the digital crown in once, tap an App icon from the screen, and wait as the Watch tells the app on your iPhone what it wants, the app on the iPhone spins up and calls out for network resources if needed, the network traffic comes back, the iPhone app builds the view for the Watch, and finally the view is sent back to the watch over Bluetooth. This is roughly like sending an email to tell your neighbor to order a pizza, then having it delivered to her house and having her walk it over to you. It does end with you getting pizza, but there’s clearly a better way to accomplish this task.

When you launch a third-party app, pretty much any of them, there’s a 3-10 second delay while it does its little dance from the watch to the phone to the network and back again. This isn’t to say that the apps aren’t usable….many are, and some are very well designed and thought out. A few stand outs are Transit, Dark Sky, Workflow, and Lastpass. But for apps to really be usable, they have to be on-Watch, and not dancing between the two devices. The good news is that Apple has already announced that “this year” there will be an SDK for third-party native Watch apps…the only mystery is whether that will be an announcement at WWDC in June, or are they going to take “this year” literally and push that ability well into the Fall or Winter.

Two other Watch abilities that I haven’t yet mentioned are the Digital Touch haptic communication and Apple Pay. Haptics between Watches include the ability to “tap” someone else on the wrist to get their attention to communicate something, or to send them your heartbeat via the built in heartrate sensor. These are both interesting, and the taptic engine is a marvel of possibility, but until it’s opened up to third parties it strikes me as a parlor trick.

Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a revelation. With Apple Pay active on the Watch, you can double-press the side button and pay for something faster than you could even pull your iPhone from your pocket, and in the best sort of Apple way, it Just Works. It’s so easy and useful that I can see preferentially choosing to go to one store over another based on the fact that their payment system is compatible…it’s that good.

There are dozens of other services that the Apple Watch throws at you: activity measurement, maps, Siri on your wrist, taking a phone call from your wrist, music controls, remotes for your music or Keynote presentation. All of these are well done, and fine reasons to use the Watch. But if I have to boil my use case down using just the first 10 days, notifications, apple pay, and the fact that it is…well….a really nice watch are the things that keep me using it. It’s clearly going to be an ongoing platform for Apple, and they have a very, very good track record for incremental improvement of experience. I’m very bullish on the Watch overall, even if my recommendation for most people right now is to wait for version 2 or 3.

Libraries

Apple Watch So what’s the library play for Apple Watch? Given the existing capabilities, I would say that using some of the older, proven tech in Apple’s stack gets much better with the Watch. Passbook for your patron’s library card is a no brainer, and a fantastic use, and Apple Pay for fines/fees is going to be interesting as adoption of that service continues to grow. Also, Apple Pay is among the most secure and private mechanisms available for the use of a debit/credit card, which I think is a huge patron privacy benefit.

If your library already supports an iOS app, adding Watch functionality now is probably not really worth it. At the very least, waiting until WWDC in June and seeing what they announce (or don’t) for the next version of WatchKit is warranted. It’s interesting to consider what a library Watch app might do…it isn’t possible to do text entry other than via Siri and voice transcription, so actually searching a catalog in the traditional manner isn’t really going to work. On the other hand, a Watch app that displayed a patron’s “cart” of interested books with the call numbers would be really handy while browsing in the stacks.

Conclusion

I said aboveapple watch closeup that I am recommending that the average technology consumer wait on the Apple Watch until v2 or v3. This will give Apple time to work out the issues with some of the biggest hardware flaws (no on-board GPS, and like all Apple devices it will get thinner and lighter). It will also give the ecosystem time to evolve, 3rd party apps to run natively on the Watch, and for the price to drop a small amount. By version 3 the low end of the line will be under $300, the design will be slightly improved, and there will be more and better app experiences that enrich the experience of wearing the Watch. Until then, I’m going to keep mine, because even with its flaws it’s an absolutely incredible piece of tech engineering that has already shown that it can improve my relationship with my information ecosystem. And I think it will get better and better at doing just that, allowing me to deal with the information flows in my life. That, turns out, might just be worth the cost of the Apple Watch.

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Apple Watch Predictions

Tomorrow is March 9th, and that means that we will get the formal Apple announcement of the Apple Watch. As always, I’ll be live tweeting the announcement, but I wanted to make a couple of predictions here about pricing, mostly because I think they are going to surprise everyone.

All that Apple has said thus far about pricing is the quote from the initial announcement of the product that “Apple Watch will start at $350”. There are three tiers of the watch, each made of different materials: Apple Watch Sport, which is aluminum and glass; Apple Watch, which is stainless steel and sapphire; and Apple Watch Edition, which is 18K Gold and sapphire. The assumption from pretty much everyone is that the Sport edition is the entry level, due to the less expensive material construction.

And I think that’s probably right, that the Sport will be the lowest priced model. But I don’t think that the lowest price will be $350.

My guess, which I admit is a huge stretch and will probably end with me making a massive retraction after the announcement, is that the Apple Watch, the stainless construction one, will start at $350, because that’s exactly what Tim Cook said. They don’t accidentally say things at Apple. I’m guessing that the stainless version will start at $350, with upsell on the various types of bands. I’m betting that the Milanese loop will be an extra $100, and the metal clasp band will be at least $150.

As a result, I think that the Sport will be cheaper, maybe in the $250 range. Cheaper materials, rubber (excuse me, elastopolymer) bands, and I think they could get away with a $200-250 price and still be making their legendary profits.

I’m probably wrong. They are probably going to have the stainless versions starting at $499. But they’ve done this sort of thing before. With the launch of the iPad, there were rumors of a $1000 price point, and then they announced a starting price of $499 at launch. But if Cook stands on the stage tomorrow and says “You know, I told you that the Apple Watch started at $349, and it does, but the Sport is going to be only $249” I will not be surprised in the least.

On the other hand, the Apple Watch Edition, with it’s 18K solid gold (even if Apple did find a way to make gold with less gold), is gonna be thousands. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it was $10K.

So am I gonna buy one? I’m probably 75% in the “yes” column, but a lot hinges on the pricing. If I do, I don’t want the Sport edition, I definitely want the stainless…I mean, it’s gorgeous. I am sort of in love with the stainless with Milanese loop.
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But I also can’t really see paying the prices that some bloggers have guessed for that combination. I suppose we will find out tomorrow.

CES 2015 – Best & Worst

Here’s my last video from CES2015, a wrap-up that’s full of the best and worst of the technology that I saw. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my coverage, and I’ll get a chance to head back next year for another run at the largest technology show in the world.

If you want to catch up on all of my coverage, you can see everything I posted via this link.  And if you have any questions about technology and libraries, want to pick my brain about anything that I saw, or want to ask me about specific technology recommendations for your library, feel free to drop me a line.

CES 2015 coverage sponsored by Springshare. If your library needs a solution for desk scheduling, research guides, or room booking, check out their LibApp platform

Just a quick note that I am producing a CES 2015 wrap up video that has a variety of things that I haven’t talked about or linked to yet, including some of my favorite overall pieces of tech that I had a chance to see and play with at the show. However, going through ALL of the video I took is taking me some time (at a quick glance, I took something like 3 gigabytes of video while I was in Las Vegas). Which means editing it together isn’t a quick affair.

It will be out this week. But later this week. Keep watching this space.