Archive for the ‘Information’

Did I just walk into another RFID bubble?10.13.09

They are close to everywhere, but we can’t see them. The radiosignals of modern technology. Some are fairly strong and used to transmit your cellular voice calls and some for the mobile broadband. The older ones are there carrying TV and radio for our pleasure and broadcasting experiences. And some are there for the in-house (office & home) WiFi networks.

But what most users hardly ever think about as radiosignals right there all around us are all the tiny RFIDs encapsulated in numerous products. We all rely on them and their existence and abundance. We need them for our mobile phones, our shopping experiences etc. And some dream of making the RFID a part of any physical product. For identification and tracking purposes. Some even dream of RFIDs in the packaging of all food products. Also for easy identification and tracking services. And in our clothes, in our shoes, in our garden tracking movements. On our pets so that we can build access control products even for cats and dogs and bunnies and what have you. RFIDs have even been used for protecting babies against abduction. Some tried using RFIDs for tracking students, and some tested them for tracking Alzheimer patients.

The ethics of RFID usage is a highly neglected topic. From time to time it seems researchers can test their ideas without ever having to discuss the ethics of their projects. And as long as we, the users, and our politicians neglect the potential power and the potentials for misuse of technology the number of applications for RFID will be growing for times to come.

The radiosignals are all invisible. And mostly harmless. But it could be rather fun watching the signals. So how do we visualize radio signals? In a new film by Timo Arnall for Touch and Jack Schulze for BERG such a visualization is attempted. A further step towards Transhumanism or not?

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The sad story on digital libraries in Norway – part 110.12.09

This part is based on too many futile attempts at getting at information at University libraries in Norway through the web.

A starting place for visiting Norwegian University libraries could be the library at University of Oslo. The first impression of the site is “hey, this has been built some years ago”. But there is a simple search form and there are some promising links. But wandering through the page one may conclude with:

  • A number of links which “promises” search directs the user to a closed service. Services for employees and students only should not have been marketed that prominently on the front page. That is a stupid trick.
  • Selecting departments at the library does not narrow down the search! If you select e.g. the math & natural sciences dept. your book searches will still be within the library as a whole (or at least what we are left to believe is what they have).
  • Design and navigation differ from page to page and “service” to “service” in non-logical manners. This seems only to be due to different persons and projects involved in the different pages. Another stupidity.

Oh, there are many more interesting questions which could be raised. But, let’s look at a few other examples in Norway. Let’s travel to Bergen. They welcome you, the reader, with a page and a movie bragging about themselves. A search field given in the upper-right corner may seem to be the doorway to the hidden databases? Or, wait, what happens if you click on one of those menu-items? Nasty thing. The guys and dolls that built the site really did like to show that they can reveal/hide sub-menues. And that promising search field? Searching the library databases? Nope. Just searching the site excluding the databases. Searching the databases is hidden under services. But what a miserable interface:

  • What’s the difference in the searches given?
  • Why does the language in the interface keep changing? I started out with Norwegian, found myself in a English result-page and had to look through the whole page to find the language selector hidden in the upper-right corner.
  • Where is power-search or advanced search mechanisms hidden, i.e. how can we easily narrow down the seraches? Nowhere.
  • Why does the strings “searchin” and “retrieving” appear in different spaces on the page? Why not a fixed position for the search-status?

Again, it feels like the list could have been made into a book.

Travelling to Trondheim must be a winner. This is the city which like to think of themselves a the “core of technology”. And actually, they do have a more coherent site! The search field on the frontpage does cover databases as well as the site itself. And the result page lists result categories and lists potential ways of narrowing your search. Neat. Navigation, design and services for search specification could be improved. But so far, Trondheim is in the front seat.

Travelling further up north, I had high hopes for my old campus (both as a student and employee). But the site for the library at University of Tromsoe is the saddest of them all. When you enter the pages (and are given that insanely long URL) please note that the menu signals you are on a page “for employees”. The search field in the upper-right corner is not only for the library but for the University as a whole. So don’t go there! The three different searches listed in the middle of the page gives you i) Bibsys (the same as the library at University of Oslo), ii) Ofelas (the same as the library at University of Bergen); and iii) a meager collection of less than 2.000 documents locally at the University.

I know we (through our taxmoney) have been paying for digital libraries for years. Where are they? Seems like a lot of money just down the drain.

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Information is beautiful10.07.09

Visualization may be the most powerful method for getting your message through. My all time favourite book is still The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. The one visualization shown in this book which shook me the most may have been the one showing the size of Napoleon’s army on his March to Moscow (the link give you a smaller format in the poster listing on Tufte’s site). In this wonderful graph you get both the size of the army and the temperature they were experiencing plotted onto a map showing some of the historic places. And just a glimpse on the graph tells you that what started out as a giant army ended as a tiny squadron. No wonder Napoleon was not to popular on the return to France.

This way of presenting facts and figures is not only a technique. It’s an art-form which, when used properly, can give the presenter a best-possible position in discussion on facts. Also, it gives the reader, at least me, a fast track into understanding some concepts and reading up on some facts. So when a genius like David McCandless has a site with the nice name information is beautiful I just have to dive into it time and again to read myself up on more facts. Like the fact that females RULE – at least the social web.

He has also given us a wonderful presentation showing how, for instance, Norway is off target when it comes to fullfilling the goals of the Kyoto climate aggrement. For a Norwegian, this is not a fun fact. And with today’s presentation of the road ahead (hrmf, the agreement signed by the three political parties going for another 4 years in position) we may be even more off target after the Copenhagen talks.

Another, not so much fun, but wonderful presentation is the plot of Disease Case Fatality Rates for different well-known diseases. It strengthens my belief in the Swine-Flu as something which have turned into a hysteria out of all proportions due to media blasting and blaring. Sad when both Tubercolosis and AIDS is still around. Oh? Did someone say that these two diseases does not hit the “normal” people?

Years ago I travelled a lot – too much, really. And plane was a weekly business. These days I travel less. But when looking on ways for reducing the chances of dying in a plane crash it seems like my next trips should all be a) with me seated in the back of the plane (no trouble achieving that), b) on an Embraer plane (where the smuck can I find such planes here?), c) sometime in May (ok!) and d) going to Ecuador (was not planning on that). Maybe the airlines could study that visualization a bit.

More food for thought is found in McCandless’ variation on the hierarchy of needs by Maslow. The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions may be showing me the answer to why I am not working right now, at this minute.

PS.: And I have to poke at this one as well: death of the music industry.

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  • the tuscan cat
    I for one believe that Leonardo (da Vinci) was really smart. And I also believe cats are smart creatures. So when I spotted a nice cat sleeping on a scooter carrying "the signature" Leonardo somewhere in beautiful Italy I just had to "shoot".

    For all you non-norwegian readers: older entries are in Norwegian only. Sorry.