Archive for August, 2005

What happens to your website when disaster strikes? Do you have a plan? I remember the first time we discussed this here at the University of Texas at Austin. As usual…our group saw the humorous side. “Ya know, if Austin was a smoking hole in the ground, I just wouldn’t give a damn about the website.” roflmao “Like anyone would know to go to How silly is that?”

Then, my brilliant boss (seriously, he didn’t pay me to say that) reminds us that 50,000 students attend our university and if a disaster did happen there would be a lot of very concerned family and friends who would be so grateful for any bit of information they could find about the situation.

As I sit and watch the horrible effects of hurricane Katrina and hear the heart wrenching stories of loss, it dawns on me, that is a very good idea. And even more interesting (as my co-worker Andy pointed out), it looks quite a bit like a blog.

Kudos to Tulane for their exemplary effort to keep information flowing during such a devastating situation. And as you climb into your dry bed tonight, consider sharing a bit of your good fortune with those who have lost so much. Donate to the Red Cross.

What options are available to provide location specific information to visitors in museums? And how do these options compare? If you had to make a decision today, what technology would you choose? Well, it would depend on your objective and your budget.

As I’ve pondered these questions, I’ve come up with a list of what I consider to be the viable location sensing options today. This topic must be revisted at least once a year (preferably every 6 months) as the technology is changing quickly.

Location Sensing Options:

  1. Manual
  2. Infrared
  3. Bluetooth
  4. RFID
  5. GPS
  6. WiFi (802.11)
Rating Location Sensing Options
Manual Infrared Blue tooth RFID (short) RFID (long) GPS WLAN

None Low Low Low Medium Low Very High
Line of Site No Yes No No No Yes No
Range 10m 1m-10m 5-25cm 3-5m unlimited unlimited
Functions Indoors Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Energy Required on PDA None Low Low Low Medium Low High

Requirements of my current research:

  1. Indoors
  2. Able to handle 30-50 people simultaneously
  3. Ideal reading range – 1 to 3 meters
  4. Intuitive/transparent technology
  5. Low cost

GPS won’t work, because I’m indoors. I can’t afford to even consider Long Range RFID or WiFi at this time. This leaves me with four options to consider.

Manual User manually enters a code number to indicate their location.
Pros: Inexpensive and easy to implement. Allows you to pour all your resources into content creation and usability.
Cons: Users have to hunt for code numbers. Since most museums don’t have content for every object, users aren’t sure which items have additional content unless they get close enough to see the code number.

Infrared – Infrared triggers are placed in each area/room of the museum.
Pros: Simple technology. Low energy requirement. Inexpensive. Because infrared requires line of site, it insures location accuracy.
Cons: Requires line of site, so a crowded gallery can make sensing the triggers difficult. (this can be overcome by placing triggers on ceiling and using multiple triggers).

Bluetooth – Bluetooth triggers are placed in each area/room of the museum.
Pros: Low energy requirement. Inexpensive. Does not require line of site (works in crowded situations).
Cons: Bluetooth standards are still in flux. Maximum of 8 connections per pico net will require multiple triggers for 50 simultaneous connections. Can transmit through walls giving inaccurate location.

RFID – RFID passive tags are placed in each area/room of the museum.
Pros: Low energy requirement. Short range RFID SD Readers now available at reasonable price point.
Cons: Requires user to be within 1-4 inches of the tag.

My recommendations today for this research project:

  • Infrared triggers on the ceiling

My hopes for tomorrow:

  • Long Range RFID – I’m watching this technology closely and predict that this will be a reasonable solution within 1-2 years.

My humble opinion:

  • WiFi isn’t the best fit for location sensing today. I’ve got to have wifi in the museum for transfering data realtime, but the cost for accurate location sensing isn’t worth it. And before you know it, wifi will be as ubiquitous as mobile phone coverage, so spending large amounts of money on current 802.11 access points for location sensing isn’t the best use of resources.

I can’t wait to see what the landscape looks like in 6 months!

Cool discovery of the week = Google Map Pedometer

Use this tool to map the distance of your run/walk using this cool feature created on top of Google Maps. No longer do you need to drive your route or carry a GPS with you. Not only will it calculate the distance of your workout, it will even tell you the calories you will burn.

Perhaps I’ll be motivated to map a route and “Just Do It”! Or perhaps I should wait until the high temp for the day is back in double-digits before I venture outdoors for physical exercise

Inspirability by Pash

You’ve got to touch this book! And once you touch it, you won’t be able to put it down. Be prepared to be seduced by the velvety green cover and then transformed by the minds of 40 top designers and what inspires.

A few of the “aha” moments I’ve experienced so far:

I never knew an “S” could be so beautiful. Doyald Young’s logotype for Sea Smoke is breathtaking

As designers, we’re really professional sponges. We’re constantly saoking up everything around us, absorbing information and inspiration in no coordinated, discernable order. And then when we get a particularly challenging assignment, we squeeze the sponge and out comes a new and interesting solution – an odd combination of different colors and flavors and textures that we’ve absorbed. It’s our aesthetic sense and talent and experience that helps us properly stir the ingredients together. But it’s our attitude to be open to the possibility help us us make a successful mixture. – Bruce Turkel

Inspiration really comes from some level of analysis, and definitely an intuitive understanding. It doesn’t necessarily come from what something looks like. It has to do with the meaning behind the image. – Deborah Sussman

Practice Safe Design – Use a Concept. – Petrula Vrontikis

Huge thanks to Megan for exposing me to “Inspirability”.

I dare you to read this book and not be inspired!

We get some interesting project requests working at a research university. When I first heard about the “Stink Projector” or “Fart Locator”, I’ll admit I fell over laughing. Okay, okay, so the official name of the project was NOT the “Stink Projector” or the “Fart Locator” but the Trajectory Analysis Tool.

The point of the project was to create a Flash application that uses XML and data from weather-monitoring stations in Corpus Christi to plot air flow around the region. Why? To allow residents who smell something funny to be able to determine where the stink might be coming from.

Perhaps one day we really will have Smell-o-vision on our mobile devices so the burning question over who cut the cheese will finally be answered. Be on your guard, olfactory assassins!

A recent post by the marvelous Molly got me to thinking. What is my favorite automobile? You know, the one that makes my head turn when it drives by and my heart beat a little bit faster.

So, I’m imagining I just won a prize labeled “Free automobile of my choice“. What would I choose?

While there are many cars that make me go “Mmmmmmmm”, my first love was Porsche. I grew up in the backseat of a Ruby Red 356 Cabriolet. I swear it is why I’m only 5’4″. Every family vacation was spent at sport car events from Porsche Parades to Road Rallys to Sports Car Club of America Race Weekends. To this day, there is nothing quite as sweet as the sound of a well tuned engine to my ears. But I digress. The question at hand, what would I choose as my “free auto”?

Today – Porsche Boxster S – silver

When I was 10 – Porsche 911 Turbo – red

Now, lest you think I’m just a material girl…I’m not sure I’d ever feel comfortable driving a vehicle that cost that much money. But reality and “free cars” seem an unlikely pair.

Dare I start a photo meme? Why…yes, I dare.

Tap. Tap. Tap. What would you choose as your free auto (assuming you can’t convert this offer to cash to donate to a more worthy cause)? Post to your blog or flickr.

Ladies and gentleman, start your engines!

Derek Featherstone
Jon Hicks
Andrea Schwandt-Arbogast
Rob Weychert

Imagine you are a college student at the University of Texas at Austin (or perhaps you really are). Your mobile phone is as important to you as air. You can communicate faster using SMS than making a voice call.

You have started surfing the web using your phone and recently discovered that UT is developing web content specifically for use on phones and pdas. Content includes UT Directory, News, Campus Maps and access to your Outlook email. The web team wants to know what you think.

  1. Does this content work on your handheld device?
  2. Is it useful? How could it be more useful?
  3. What else do you want?

Don’t be shy! Tell me what you think! Just consider yourself an honary UT Austin student for the day.

UT Austin TEST Mobile Content