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Archive - Technology Helping People


I just read a great article!


Nicholas Carr says,

“The choices we make, or fail to make, about which tasks we hand off to machines shape our lives and the place we make for ourselves in the world.”

“Automation does not simply supplant human activity but rather changes it, often in ways unintended and unanticipated by the designers of automation.”

He is so right! I’ve always thought that usable technology will help people have better lives. No, it will help people have different lives! Not necessarily better.

“Knowing demands doing!”

You have to get your mind dirty to learn stuff.

I can’t find my way around Singapore without my phone because I have developed tunnel vision.  My hand writing is now worse that it ever was and I can’t remember phone numbers or diary dates.

What about you?

We design things to make people think and work more efficiently but what are we losing in the process?


Prepare to be Wowed!!

Last night I presented about eye tracking at the second UXSG meetup in Singapore. One of the presenters following me was Zhao Shengdong, from the NUS HCI Lab.  He presented an amazing example of HCI, Human Computer Interaction. It is a software program called Vignette.

In his team’s words ‘the goal of the project was to develop computational systems to cultivate peoples’ creativity by supporting self-expression in the form of digital media”. In my words, “These guys have removed the boring, repetitive and tedious bits of the sketching process and allowed an artist to focus on creating expressive drawings in a much much faster way than ever before.”

This detailed picture was created in 19 minutes!


You can check out the video example here. Cool soundtrack too!

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This appeals to my blogs tagline, “Live Life Easier”.

What do you think?

Hat tip to Rubaiat Habib KAZI, Takeo Igarashi, Richard Davis, and Shengdong Zhao


Last night I had dinner with Pablo Rodrigues from Chile. He’s the Tobii reseller in South America (not Brazil) and is also a film director.

I asked him for tips about taking videos of my son using my iPhone 4.

Here’s what he reckons:

1. Don’t move the phone, use a tripod and let Ben move.

2. Give Ben another point of view, not your own. Put your camera where you can’t be.

3. Get Ben to interact with the camera, hide it and let him find it.

4. Find something in the view to give the shot perspective.

I also watched Pablo edit a heap of video yesterday and realised it is really easy in Adobe Premier, Movavi or iMovie!

I played with Ben for an hour or so this arvo and this is what I came up with tonight!


Are you abusing your ears?

This is a wonderful short TED2010 talk by Julian Treasure about sound and how we butcher it, and our hearing. Modern technologies like headphone buds and audio compression allow us to have thousands of records in our pockets. But that is just plain unhealthy!

For me an important lesson for my son is to use good headphones that cover your ears and allow you to hear the music without having the volume blaring.

Ben is wired for sound

Not these.


I’m sure someone put heaps of thought into this piece of public furniture in Oxford, UK.

The seat certainly discourages sitting (on it) but there’s still plenty of room to loiter. Doh! Thanks for modelling Rob!


I am regularly asked how eye tracking, or gaze contingent eye control, will be used in consumer applications in the future. It is a tricky area, as our eyes are not good at fine motor control. Until recently, the technologies to accommodate for our eyes’ capabilities and allow gaze control have not been readily available; but things are changing!

In this post I’d like to introduce the concept of eye control as we know it and then show some new work on reading eBooks or the Web that really gets me excited!

Assistive Technology

For many years, Tobii Assistive Technology has been providing solutions for people with physical disabilities to control the computer with their eyes. The cost and size for these devices is rapidly decreasing. Making it much more accessible to a wider range of people. You can see Chris using a new Tobii C12 with CEye in the following YouTube video.

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Thanks Chris!! (mobiletobii).

Eye Control for Specialist Applications

At a more specialised level it is widely recognised that eye tracking may help the design process by allowing people to do more things than their hands can alone. For example, Terry Winograd and his Stanford researchers report named “Eye Expose” tested people switching between applications with their eyes.

Eye tracking has also been successfully trialled for very simplistic menu interactions in laproscopic surgery, where Doctors can use an eye tracker to do things on the screen while their hands are busy. (Tien, 2005 and Tien and Atkins, 2008 [PDFs].

Eye Control Games

Eye tracking has also been done plenty of times in the gaming context. There are plenty of Tobii based research papers online and I have previously blogged about it. Tobii also promotes arcade gaming, facilitated by their new OEM technology, on their website.

Here’s a Tobii X120 used for controlling World of Warcraft.

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You can also see a comprehensive list of eye control games research on Cogain’s Wiki.

So, where is all this headed?

Reading Enhanced With Eye Control

Recently, I found an example from some researchers at The German Research Centre for Artificial intelligence (DFKI). They used a Tobii C12 with the Tobii CEye eye control module to show how interaction with a book can be augmented with the eyes, for everyone!

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Exciting hey?

Here’s a further introduction to their concept of Text2.0.

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I love the bit at the end where the system faded out the irrelevant text once it knew you were speed reading.

I did a quick search of Tobii’s DIIGO database of academic eye tracking asbtracts and also found that Stanford Researchers, Manu Kumar and Terry Winograd also did a small study using a Tobii 1750 to augment reading by inducing scrolling behaviour. 

Research on consumer eye control applications is significantly advanced and it might not be long before all of us can have it at home!

Apple! Please strap some of this kit onto your next iPad please!!

Have you seen great examples of cutting edge technology research pointing toward ways of improving the consumer experience? Please share them with me!


I am so used to fitting all the guts of my communications into 140 characters and that is flowing on to other communications channels. Since using Twitter my emails are shorter and more to the point, particularly with people I know well.
When I write an email, I keep asking myself - Do I really need to bother writing

- Hi Such and Such,
- How are you?
- Kind Regards, James

I think that dispensing with some formalities saves me time and helps the reader get straight to my point?

But will my pithy emails be perceived as rude?

What do you think?


Export your personal tweets to a text file with Tweetdumpr >  copy and paste into Wordle >  Get a pretty word cloud of your tweets!


My heart goes out to all involved in the Melbourne fires.

Here’s a useful map from Google that I saw on Mashable. It takes Victoria Country Fire Authority data from an RSS feed and shows markers where fires are in progress, controlled or contained.

Mouse over to see info

Hopefully you and your loved ones are ok!


 So, while I was Googling myself I found this!

Comic book - Breeze James

Breeze James, Marvel Comics, 1992

My Alterego is a female Marvel comic character from Knights of the Pendragon…

Marvel Magazine


Wonders will never cease!