Friday, February 26, 2010

TEDxWaterloo knocks it out of the park

Wow! That was amazing!

TEDxWaterloo, on Thursday February 25, was even better than my already high hopes for it had led me to expect. The ambience at the Gig Theatre was great, the speakers were inspiring and the conversations I had were a treat. While the topics and styles for the talks were diverse they all related, even if loosely, to the overall theme of the event, Tomorrow Started Yesterday. While I got something out of each talk, highlights for me included Terry O’Reilly’s musings on friction, Paul Saltzman’s highly personal yet somehow epic reflections on life, Caroline Disler’s dissection of the foundations of what we call Western Civilization, and Madhur Anand’s exploration of the meaning of green.

Conversations were great too. I ended up chatting a fair amount with a student from the university of Waterloo about Bruce Springsteen, of all things. He’s a huge a fan, and said that he had never really met another fan before. I never expected to be weighing the merits of the 1978 Cleveland Agora show at TEDxWaterloo, but that’s the magic of the encounters that the event facilitates!

There were a few glitches, including a late start due to technical problems with getting the streaming video working and a crowded food area during the first break. These, for me, felt minor and in no way diminished the overall experience of the event. My only regret is that I didn’t make it to the after-party.

I left the theatre energized, enthused, and engaged. Congratulations, and thanks, to the folks who put this on. Outstanding!

Finally, I’ll leave Amy Krouse Rosenthal with the last word or, more precisely, the last seven words to wrap up this report:

Make the most of your time here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

UX guerrillas in our midst

This month’s meeting of the User Experience Group of Waterloo Region is a workshop presented by my friend and colleague Blair Nonnecke. It’s a Guerrilla Usability Workshop, and it will involve group work and plenty of opportunity to learn and share. If you’ve been out before, you’ll already know that the discussions can be quite rewarding. If you haven’t been out, or haven’t attended in a while, come on out and see what you’ve been missing.

It’s this Thursday February 18 at 5:30pm in the friendly confines of the Accelerator Centre. Please be sure to RSVP if you intend to be there, but even if you don’t get a chance to do so, come on out anyway.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ignite Waterloo is coming back on March 3

Time flies. It’s already been over two months since the first Ignite Waterloo event last November 25. The second event is scheduled for March 3, 2010. Like the first event, it will be held at the Children’s Museum in Kitchener, and will feature 16 talks on a wide range of topics. Eight speakers have been announced already, with the rest to be revealed soon.

Registration is open, but tickets appear to be moving fast — 100 gone as I write this — so head over to the registration page if you want to attend.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Apple iPad and ubiquitous computing

One of the things that strikes me about the iPad that Apple introduced last week is the name. It’s attracted a fair amount of derision and ridicule, just as the iPhone has drawn flak in some circles for its being such a closed, tightly controlled system.

(I should make it clear at this point that I myself love Apple’s products and have been using them for two decades.)

To me, though, the iPad name (and, by extension, the whole iPad/iPhone family of products) harkens back to work done at Xerox PARC in the late 1980s and early 1990s on ubiquitous computing. That term was coined by the late Mark Weiser and it’s an area that he helped define. Here’s a great prediction from Wesier in 1988:
For thirty years most interface design, and most computer design, has been headed down the path of the "dramatic" machine. Its highest ideal is to make a computer so exciting, so wonderful, so interesting, that we never want to be without it. A less-traveled path I call the "invisible"; its highest ideal is to make a computer so imbedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it. (I have also called this notion "Ubiquitous Computing", and have placed its origins in post-modernism.) I believe that in the next twenty years the second path will come to dominate. But this will not be easy; very little of our current systems infrastructure will survive. We have been building versions of the infrastructure-to-come at PARC for the past four years, in the form of inch-, foot-, and yard-sized computers we call Tabs, Pads, and Boards. Our prototypes have sometimes succeeded, but more often failed to be invisible. From what we have learned, we are now exploring some new directions for ubicomp, including the famous "dangling string" display.
Note that Tabs were envisioned as quite-small computing devices, much like the current iPhone or iPod Touch. Pads were somewhat larger, much like the new iPad. Boards were larger-still, wall-mounted smart boards, or perhaps like today’s Microsoft Surface. 20-plus years later, Apple is delivering on the vision of ubiquitous computing with an ever-evolving suite of products and services. (Many observers also point back to Apple’s Newton MessagePad of the early 1990s as an ancestor of the current Apple products.)

My take, and it’s not a particularly clever or original one, is that the iPad, like the iPhone before it, isn’t meant to be seen as a general purpose computer. It’s an appliance for which the user doesn’t need to be aware of what’s going on under the hood — the computer is invisible. iPad users just get stuff done anywhere and at any time. Moreover, iPad is part of a larger Apple ecosystem that includes the iPhone and traditional Macs, but also a suite of cloud-hosted services that Apple is long-rumoured to have been working on.

The better these devices can deliver services invisibly and ubiquitously, the better the experience will be for many people. Not all people, of course — many will still opt for more open systems and solutions. There will always be other options available, from companies such as Google, but Apple’s direction is an important one.