life in the so called space age

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thoughts about the physicality of communication devices

I saw a website article a few weeks ago displaying new conceptual models of iPods/iPhones. Most were wearable items like a ring or bracelet. After some time, I realized that these concepts were kind of sitting uncomfortably with me. I guess I just have a difficult time believing that the next generation communication technology interface will be something you wear. I'm prone to thinking that we are already at a pretty efficient interface ideal with the iPhone/Android/etc. At least until such devices are more bio-integrated and worn on the inside of our bodies. That is a subject for another time. For now lets focus on the current crop of smart phones.

The brief physical anthropology of communications devices:
I think it's definitely possible to see an evolution in electronic communication devices. Skipping the obvious face to face methods that have existed for thousands of years, I think the telegraph is a reasonable starting point for a communications technology as the term has come to be generally understood. The interface was stationary and passed information serially using only boolean data. Next came radio transmission, which in retrospect seems like more of an underlying support technology, allowing the telegraph to be mobile. Then the telephone, which began as a stationary unit for parallel audio transmission. Then we slid the radio technology under audio transmission and had what we now know as AM/FM radio, which at the time supported stationary transmitters, movable receivers. The receivers were too large and heavy to be moved regularly. Next the radio technology came to the telephone and we had wireless handsets which were very mobile, but had limited range. Soon the first cellular phones appeared, with gigantic battery packs and resigned largely to emergency use in a car, or for military communication. They slowly shrunk in size, and picked up more casual use and overlapped with the user base of landline phones. Computers also came on the scene, initially adopting a typewriter like interface for input and output. This hasn't changed much from the keyboard/display setup we are still using with computers today. And lest we forget the fax machine, which I feel was already obsolete shortly after it hit the scene, yet for whatever reasons still has quite a user base.

So at this point, this is probably looking like the so-and-so begat so-and-so bit from the book of genesis in the bible. We're about caught up to current though. There already seem to be a few instances of convergence when a new technology or social use comes along. So here we are with a rapidly shrinking cell phone, and highly mobile laptop computers with wireless connectivity as well. These user bases overlap, and we start seeing the functionality of computers in phones (instant messaging, email, web browsing) and phone functionality in computers. (VOIP such as Skype, et al) it kind of makes sense to combine the two, and here we are with iPhones, Blackberries and Androids.

The actual interface:
Ok, so we understand a bit of the physical anthropology of the communications device, lets take a closer look at the interface. The profile we're looking at is an object that can be operated with one hand and stored in a pocket, like a cellular phone, with an approximation of a desktop/laptop computer's capabilities for high resolution display, data storage, input capability and processing power. Along the way we also convergent-ly picked up the functionality of digital cameras and music players. It's interesting to me that we seem to have taken more functionality from the computer and shoe-horned it into the small package of the cellular phone. I believe that this illustrates the strongest aspects of each device. It's also interesting that the camera and music capabilities are easy to tack on since the requisites for computer functionality provide an easy infrastructure to add these other functionalities.

Since the general form is more like a phone than a computer, it's easy to see that the interface of the phone functions will be similar to that of a standard, non-smart, cell phone. The physical form of the computer on the other hand, was large, and this size was mostly occupied by the I/O elements. A smaller screen, and likely lack of a physical keyboard show the need for a modified interface. It's very important to note that there is a trade off here. What we have wound up with interface wise is a stripped down version of what MS windows and MacOS have been all along - a list of clickable icons. In absence of a mouse, we are now using touch screens. A keyboard is emulated, but almost all incarnations of this idea pale in comparison to the efficiency of a standard computer keyboard.

What am I getting at:
After all that, I hope you can see my point. We have arrived at the modern smart phone handset through a kind of natural selection, adopting traits of communication devices we find beneficial and leaving others behind in favor of more favorable traits. The beginnings of a move away from a physical keyboard illustrate this idea - the small, portable size of smart phones might be more important than the typing efficiency of the old keyboard. As a result, we also see the social ramifications of this with truncated language (O I C. U R welcome. LOL.) use starting on mobile devices and spreading to more traditional forms of communication. Could we assume that the use of mobile devices for communication is more important than maintaining traditional language norms?

The future:
I personally cannot see any immediate jumps away from the current smart phone hand set. It seems like a very flexible platform that has not been fully tapped for functionality yet. I believe that a more functional voice control, such as the one in the iPhone Google app, and the Android maps feature, will be the next step with this platform, allowing information request and retrieval to take place over a headset with limited physical interaction with the hand set. This would be highly dependent on voice recognition technology, which on the iPhone and even on desktop computers seems to be a ways off. If and when the VR technology catches up, concepts like the iPhone ring or bracelet will make a lot more sense, but until then seem like they would just be a hassle to interact with.

For more realistic future implementations I hope to see gesture control and perhaps more accelerometer control. But who knows what we will see.

Photo credits:

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Time trial outcome and first solo ride of any significant distance.

There was only one week between the penultimate and final time trial, and I was still feeling kind of beat up, so I took it really easy and didn't do much exercise between the two. I also had a pizza pig-out the day of the last TT since I usually seem to be in a shortage of energy. The ride went a little better than the previous one. No major discomforts, and I still had enough left to work up a reasonable sprint at the end. I was still having problems with my right heel kicking out for whatever reason. I also was kind of feeling that I wasn't getting as much power out of my stroke as I should have been. I don't know if my seat is too low, my cranks are too short (172.5mm) or if I just need to get used to it - I realize that my BMX riding has made me much more of a masher than a spinner. My time was 0:32:43, up from 0:33:02. Not an awesome improvement, but not bad. FWIW, my initial time was 0:37:46. In reflecting on the TT experience, I can understand why I made such a big improvement up-front - I didn't know what to expect. As a result, I went full out the first time, not realizing there was a big hill in the middle. I almost passed out the first time I went up that hill, but I think that level of exertion led to marked fitness development. In later weeks I attempted to ration my energy and had an easier time making it up the hill. Had I used the same level of exertion and went as far past my comfort level each successive time as I did the first time, I think I would have continued to make big progress.

Saturday I went on my first solo ride longer than 10 miles in quite a while. I opted for the Long Lilly Route since it's the one that I'm most familiar with, although I've only done it 2 or 3 times. The first thing I'll note is that iMapMyRide seems to be losing it's tracking a lot lately. As you can see from the photos, my route on the left has all the corners cut off and skipped about 2 miles of my ride from campus, back home. You can compare most of the route to the map on the right of what it actually is. The end result is a reading of 19.8 something miles for a 25+ mile ride. I had to exit iMapMyRide several times to check my
directions, but it appeared to restart acceptably. I don't know if that was a contributing factor or not. I ordered a bicio (formerly "GoRide" iPhone holder in hopes that being able to see what the phone is doing will be helpful.

Weather was a factor on this ride. I think it was around 50 degrees when I started a little before 7p, and it started to get darker and colder about halfway through. I wore compression tights and long sleeve shirt with a short sleeve jersey and my regular bike shorts on the outer. Skull cap, and odyssey gloves were also worn. When I left the house my arms were pretty cold, but became livable (yet still cold) once I warmed up. My face was really cold too, but it also warmed up. My hands as usual were pretty cold the whole way, with some numbness at around 60% of the way through. Mostly thumbs. My feet also were really cold, and probably the most uncomfortable thing the whole ride. I think I will start wearing foot warmers anytime it's under 50 and past noon. Not sure yet about gloves. I got some snowboarding type gloves at TJ Maxx, but I kind of feel like they are too nice to sweat in. I may take them back and order some Pearl Izumi stuff from The compression tights worked really well, however my shorts didn't seem to fit right over them, so my chamois was totally in the wrong place. As a final clothing note, this was the trial run of my new
glasses, which were $3.40 at home depot. They fit my fat head pretty well, and my only complaint is that they had a slight glare issue, but I think I can deal with it at that price until I can shell out for something nicer from .

Speaking of glasses, lack of daylight became an issue and I had to take the glasses off even though they aren't dark at all. For whatever reason, I totally neglected the fact that I might run out of light. I was also riding out in the country where there weren't any street lights. I couldn't see my computer or heart monitor, though I could still see the road acceptably. I should probably get a headlight at some point. I'm not sure if I'd rather have one that mounts to the bike, or one that goes on my helmet. (so I could see my instruments)

Another first, I was chased by a dog.. twice! I ordinarily wouldn't think much of it, but I'd recently read this post on bikeforums about a guy who had a dog take a chunk out of his calf and the ensuing dealing with the owners shady insurance, which put a little of the fear of dog into me. The first one was early into the ride in a wooded, but still residential area. The dog appeared out of the trees. I shouted at it to try and scare it off, which had no effect. I sprinted and he eventually fell back and gave up. The second one was in the middle of a bunch of cornfields. I saw him rolling around in a ditch and hoped he would ignore me, but he gave chase. I again yelled, which again did nothing. I grabbed my water bottle, as I've been told that spraying them can be deterring. I was feeling like I had the speed advantage and despite this one having more stamina than the first, I slowly pulled away. I think I'm going to get some kind of dog repellent spray and keep it velcro-ed to the bike.

I am still noticing the foot issue, and this time I was also noticing some sit bone pain on the same side that seemed to be linked to the weird foot position. Need to try some pedals with less float. Despite that, altogether it was a good ride. I like riding in a group because it can make me push my limits and it's nice to have someone to talk to, but riding alone is good too because I can keep my own pace, and the quiet is kind of nice. The scenery of cornfields and tree-rows in the distance framed by orange and purple sunset skies is really beautiful. This route also had several miles of straight, flat road that I really enjoyed. I was able to keep up a 19-20 pace for a long time with a good, non-painful effort and work on my cadence.

odometer is currently at 215.1.

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