Category Archives: conference

18th International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) + Pervasive & Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp), Seattle, USA.

HMD fashions ;-)

ISWC + UbiComp is my favourite international twinning of conferences: ISWC showcases some of the most exciting developments in wearable computing and because the papers are reviewed by great academics, the quality of the papers selected is, in my opinion, excellent. UbiComp is great too, because it also has a high standard of accepted papers, which cover many topics across pervasive and ubiquitous computing that crossover with wearable tech interests. The conference took place in the rather nice conference areas of the Motif Hotel in Seattle, USA, September 2014.

Amy Ross keynote on designing spacesuits for NASA

For me, the most compelling presentation of the conference was the keynote given by Amy Ross of NASA, which gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the evolution (to the present) of what goes into the design and creation of space suits. I really enjoyed all the details of what worked and didn’t, plus the fab examples she brought along such as wrist mirrors for looking at spacesuit components, gloves (which I tried on) and even an emergency handbook of advice for astronauts!

Emergency instructions for astronauts -Amy Ross keynote on designing spacesuits at NASA

Me wearing spacesuit gloves - Amy Ross keynote on designing spacesuits at NASA

Astronauts mirror for looking at spacesuit items - Amy Ross keynote on designing spacesuits at NASA

A session that I particularly enjoyed was on assistive technology and included presentations on Passive Haptic Learning of Braille Typing by Caitlyn Seim, John Chandler, Kayla DesPortes, Siddharth Dhingra, Miru Park, Thad Starner, and Assistive EyeWear Prototype that interactively converts 3D Object Locations into Spatial Audio by Titus J. J. Tang, Wai Ho Li. Another interesting session on human behaviour included talks on Privacy Behaviors of Lifeloggers using Wearable Cameras by Roberto Hoyle, Robert Templeman, Steven Armes, Denise Anthony, David Crandall, Apu Kapadia and Connecting Personal-scale Sensing and Networked Community Behavior to Infer Human Activities by Nicholas D Lane, Li Pengyu, Lin Zhou, Feng Zhao.

There are short summaries of all the sessions on the ISWC website, where you can find the whole program or proceedings can be downloaded from ACM though this might incur a fee. Also worth a look through is the list of demos and posters – where I exhibited a poster for my PhD research and demo-ed my EEG Visualising Pendant.

An interesting addition to this year’s ISWC/UbiComp was the experimental addition of a number of telepresence robots for those wishing to attend but could not physically get to Seattle. I found the robots really intriguing to watch as they weaved around the conference rooms and people stopped to chat to their controllers. These were a good addition to the conference in my opinion and I was pleased to see at least one robot personalised with a scarf. As I won’t be able to afford to attend next year’s conference in Osaka, Japan, I will definitely be applying for one of the robots if they’re used again!

Interaction with telepresence robots has been fascinating

Telepresence attendees

During the conference there was a Seattle Quantified Self + ISWC + Ubicomp meet-up, which was great as I got to show my EEG Visualising Pendant to a new audience and meet some lovely and interesting people, including David Cooper, who organises the Seattle QS meet-ups and had coincidentally brought his Muse EEG headset along, which was nicely fortuitous as I was waiting for my Muse to be delivered at home and was eager to chat about the device. David also pointed me towards some interesting Github repositories to investigate.

David &t his Muse EEG headband at Seattle + ISWC + Ubicomp Quantified Self meetup

Quantified Self Europe 2014: Emotive Wearables Breakout Session

Quantified Self Europe pre-party

It was great to visit Amsterdam again and see friends at the 3rd Quantified Self Europe Conference, previously I have spoken at the conference on Sensing Wearables, in 2011 and Visualising Physiological Data, in 2013.

There were two very prominent topics being discussed at Quantified Self Europe 2014, firstly around the quantifying of grief and secondly on privacy and surveillance. These are two very contrasting and provocative areas for attendees to contemplate, but also very important to all, for they’re very personal areas we can’t avoid having a viewpoint on. Rather than me try to summarise a few of the talks, if you’d like to find out more about the excellent presentations and discussions at the conference, search for ‘QSEU14’ or ‘europe’ on the Quantified Self website where many of the sessions have write-ups, photos and video documentation.

My contribution to the conference was to lead a Breakout Session on Emotive Wearables and demonstrated my EEG Visualising Pendant. Breakout Sessions are intended for audience participation and I wanted to use this one-hour session to get feedback on my pendant for its next iteration and also find out what people’s opinions were on emotive wearables generally.

I’ve been making wearable technology for six years and have been a PhD student investigating wearables for three years; during this time I’ve found wearable technology is such a massive field that I have needed to find my own terms to describe the areas I work in, and focus on in my research. Two subsets that I have defined terms for are, responsive wearables: which includes garments, jewellery and accessories that respond to the wearer’s environment, interactivity with technology or physiological signals taken from sensor data worn on or around the body, and emotive wearables: which describes garments, jewellery and accessories that amplify, broadcast and visualise physiological data that is associated with non-verbal communication, for example, the emotions and moods of the wearer. In my PhD research I am looking at whether such wearable devices can used to express non-verbal communication and I wanted to find out what Quantified Self Europe attendees opinions and attitudes would be to such technology, as many attendees are super-users of personal tracking technology and are also developing it.

Demo-ing EEG Visualising Pendant

My EEG Visualising Pendant is an example of my practice that I would describe as an emotive wearable, because it amplifies and broadcasts physiological data of the wearer and may provoke a response from those around the wearer. The pendant visualises the brainwave attention and meditation data of the wearer simultaneously (using data from a Bluetooth NeuroSky MindWave headset), via an LED (Light Emitting Diode) matrix, allowing others to make assumptions and interpretations from the visualisations. For example, whether the person wearing the pendant is paying attention or concentrating on what is going on around them, or is relaxed and not concentrating.

After I demonstrated the EEG Visualising Pendant, I invited attendees of my Breakout Session to participate in a discussion and paper survey about attitudes to emotive wearables and in particular feedback on the pendant. We had a mixed gender session of various ages and we had a great discussion, which covered areas such as, who would wear this device and other devices that also amplified one’s physiological data. We discussed the appropriateness of such personal technology and also thought in depth about privacy and the ramifications of devices that upload such data to cloud websites for processing, plus the positive and the possible negative aspects of data collection. Other issues we discussed included design and aesthetics of prominent devices on the body and where we would be comfortable wearing them.

I am still transcribing the audio from the session and analysing the paper surveys that were completed, overall the feedback was very positive. The data I have gathered will feed into the next iteration of the EEG Visualising Pendant prototype and future devices. It will also feed into my PhD research. Since the Quantified Self Europe Conference, I have run the same focus group three more times with women interested in wearable technology, in London. I will update my blog with my findings from the focus groups and surveys in due course, plus of course information on the EEG Visualising Pendant’s next iteration as it progresses.

Wearable Technologies Conference, Messe München, Germany

How time flies! I wrote up my highlights for WT – Wearable Technologies Conference back in February and forgot to post them. This is a cut-down version of my original notes as I had a gazillion pages – I think less is more in this case, so here is a little insight as to what I saw and heard about…

Smart phone apps and integration were a dominant feature of many presentations and products shown at January’s WT Conference held at Messe München, Germany. I also noted we saw quite a few examples of wearable technology by several companies and speakers presented in bracelet / band form factor, which made me wonder – is this going to be the most popular way of packaging wearable technology for the consumer market for the next couple of years?

Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

A jam-packed day of presentations made it difficult to select my highlights, but my personal shortlist included Dr Paul Lukowicz’s keynote on ‘From Cyborgs to Smart Phones’ where he posed the question ‘So has the smart phone killed the wearable?’ he answered his own question by stating ‘no’ and that the smart phone has made the public ‘ripe for wearable systems’, such as sport and health apps for starters. He described how he thought wearable technology should be ‘ambient’ and be performing tasks in the background whilst the user gets on with their life. He concluded that it’s an exciting time for wearable technology because ‘the public accepts the need for it and so it has the potential to be huge’.

I definitely concur, with Paul that smart phones have made an excellent ‘in’ for the mainstream public to get into and used to integrating wearable technology into their lives. Also that ambient systems, for example monitoring one’s blood pressure or diary continually in the background and only alerting the wearer/user when they need to be informed is one of the biggest advantages of us being able to wear powerful, small computers.

David Icke on electronics anywhere at Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

David Icke talked about stretchable, conformal electronics on the human body and the challenges of rigid and brittle electronics that historically don’t bend and stretch, thus making it difficult to produce comfortable wearable technology that stretches and moves with the wearer’s body. He showed an example of stretchable epidermal electronics that could be used for sensing vitals signs, track the user’s voice, as well as having potential for gaming use. He summarised that electronics worn on and inside the body will revolutionise fitness and healthcare.

Less rigid and sharp electronics are definitely essential for making wearable electronics viable – plus they also need to be light and washable and the power management (batteries) aspect needs to be solved as soon as possible – it would be great if we were a bit further ahead with power harvesting technologies for the wearer.

Horst Merkle drivers for telehealth slide, Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

Michaela Klinger discussed how to make the best of smart phone technologies in Telehealth, plus how necessary standards are for medical wearable technology, giving examples such as how the Continua Health Alliance aims to do this. She also made the point that technology for health needs to be secure and if you’re a company thinking of starting out in Telehealth you should be prepared for the most stringent testing via the Medical Device Directive.

For me the most interesting part of Micheala’s talk was around standards and directives, as you can imagine with all this blossoming technology for health, areas such as privacy and storage of data are of paramount importance – as well as secure systems so the technology itself can’t be hacked. Plus it’s obvious that we need stringent standards & guidelines for technology that regulates something as crucial to the wearer as an insulin pump or a pacemaker. There were three presentations in the afternoon about various approaches to tackling diabetes via wearable technology and it was very interesting so observe how their technology varied and what safeguards were built into them, plus the sustainability of the products and how comfortable they looked. It also seemed very prudent that with various systems being developed, some kind of interoperability was needed.

Jerry K Joseph, early insulin pump slide, Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

I enjoyed my trip to München, for WT Conference, there seemed to be a lot of convergence of ideas and great company from colleagues and friends I’d met at previous companies. Overall I came away still extremely excited about developments in wearable technology and 2012 is definitely the year that wearable technology will go mainstream. I’d definitely go again.

Wearable Technologies Conference 2012

Quantified Self Europe Conference + presenting on Sensing for Wearable Technology

It was a great honour to be invited to present the opening plenary at the Quantified Self Europe Conference in Amsterdam at which I was asked to speak to the attendees about sensors for wearable technology.

Quantified Self “self knowledge through numbers” is a meet up organisation for people who are interested in self-tracking and enjoy sharing their experiences, plus listening to the research and techniques of others too. Groups are held in a show and tell arrangement and attendees take turns in presenting their research, tools and methods. I attend the London meet-ups , they’re very insightful, friendly and great for bouncing ideas & info.

Here’s my slides…

During my presentation I introduced the audience to the LilyPad Arduino, the sewable microcontroller that I use with e-textiles & electronic components for most of my wearable tech, with some of my insights into what I feel makes this microcontroller fabulous, followed by some thoughts on what could be improved.

My talk then looked at the main components for wearables and a brief explanation of what they do, in particular sensors and actuators for which I created a graphic to show some of the most prominent user areas of these components and which components they’re mostly using (in my humble opinion). For me at least, this helps me consider where funding for wearables is going and also what’s being created, and by whom. I gave a few examples of existing projects that include sensors and that I feel are rather exciting and inspirational – looking at one example per usage area.

Finally in my summing up, I offered my thoughts on wearables and e-textiles as an emerging technology and perhaps what improvements could be made.

Context slide on my own work / intro to presenting on sensors at QS

I enjoyed the QS conference and I was pleased at how many hardware prototype talks and breakout sessions there were. I attended a great breakout session on hardware prototyping where I had a good chinwag with fellow engineers and designers.

During the talks, I was introduced to a very nice example of a piece of wearable tech in development by Hind Hobeika called Butterfleye – which are swimming goggles that allow the wearer to monitor their heart rate and gives real time feedback to the wearer via a visual system.

Hind Hobeika on her Butterflye heart monitor swimming goggles

There were also many talks from QS-ers on different aspects of self-monitoring and personal stories about what they’d experimented with and conclusions in terms of their own tracking. For example, I enjoyed Chia Hwu’s talk on why she’s banned from drinking caffeine – which turned out to be an engaging story on genetics and how some people metabolise caffeine slower than others, she had a similar story to tell about alcohol and genetics – both substances send me a bit loopy, so I was nodding from the back of the room and we had an affirming chat afterwards. There’s a nice write-up of it on QS which also mentions Martha Rotter’s interesting story of her investigation into food allergies in relation to skin complaints.

I had a lovely time at QS EU and it was great to meet people I had chatted to on Twitter such as organisers Gary Wolf and Alex Carmichael, as well as very interesting researchers such as Kiel Gilleade whose Body Blogger work monitoring his heart rate is right up my street, as I have my own hacks looking at heart rate and social interaction such as ‘You Make My Heart Flutter‘. Plus Kiel had an informative and entertaining tale to tell about the moments of stress he’s given himself and his friends who are able to watch his heart rate online at and jump to all sorts of conclusions! I’ve managed to freak myself out too by experimenting with wearing heart rate monitors outside the gym, so was smiling at Kiel’s tales.

Lessons from a Year of Heart Rate Data - Kiel Gilleade

If you’d like to view some of the personal self-tracking presentations from Quantified Self EU, including all the examples I mention above, Ernesto Ramirez (who also did a great job of being main stage tech manager at the conference) has posted 33 of them on slideshare for you to peruse

And if you fancy a bit of Quantified Self action yourself there are tons of QS groups springing up all over the world, check the QS site and if there isn’t one in your area you could always start one up!

QS from the back

Thinking Digital 2011, Sage Gateshead, Day 2

Ian & Herb at TDC closing party

Even though I was worn out by all the information and ideas that Thinking Digital day one thrust into my head, I was up early (for me) and bounced over to The Sage for day two’s talks. Here are the potted highlights of my day via my rambling notes…

Firstly for me, Matthew Postgate, controller of BBC R&D, whose perspective I always find interesting, plus having worked for BBC R&D under Matthew’s leadership I’m always pleased to hear about the deptartment.

His talk, entitled ‘“Who needs telly when we’ve got each other”: how broadcasters will thrive in the information age’, took a look at how broadcasting is shifting from the industrial age to the information age and how this will challenge and change broadcasting as we know it.

He kicked off by saying about his role “It’s about helping the smart guys do the ideas”. Matthew talked about BBC’s mantra – inform educate and entertain in terms of broadcasting being live and having an immediacy, topicality, persistence and a level of quality.


He also showed a couple of demos, one was R&D’s Surround Video project which uses a fish-eye mirror to project video around a room beyond the television, which give an immersive experience of ‘being there’. The other was from a BBC nature programme (AutumnWatch, I think) and I recall Matthew quipping “I never thought I’d show a trout in a presentation!”

He said that new context creates challenges for broadcasters, in terms of:

  • New entrants
  • Creative competitiveness
  • Radically reducing costs
  • Adopting a global perspective
  • Re-imagining our relationship with the archive
  • Understanding a two0way relationship with audiences

- Guaranteeing access: a digital public space

Matthew acknowledged the democratisation and choice of technology and content, which is giving everyone the opportunity to be their own broadcast channel. Looking forward, Matthew commented “This is very much a future that is going to be created by collaboration and the BBC is very much committed to open innovation and open research.”

TDC: BBC's Matthew Postgate & Herb Kim

At the end there was time for a couple of questions, he was asked about
listening to audiences and answered “We always start with the audience in mind’ and went on to say “you used to be able to send in a SAE (stamped addressed envelope) but new media takes this to a new level. Journalists engage with twitter and the BBC is trying to come up with a new language – it’s much more about that interaction.”

TDC: Dr Vincent W. Li on eating to beat cancer

Dr Vincent W. Li, co-founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation gave a heartfelt talk about angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth. Dr Vincent informed us that Angiogenesis helps the body heal wounds and grow essential blood vessels during our lifetime, but during times of disease the growing mechanism can get out of balance and that’s when ‘antiangiogenesis’ can occur. One of the diseases is cancer and he told us most cancers are not discovered until they’re in an advanced stage and hard to treat, so finding ways to stop them growing so quickly and spreading is crucial. Dr Vincent ponders, if antiangiogenesis is the trigger, how do we cut off the blood supply?

The Angiogenesis Foundation is looking at ways to prevent and starve various diseases of by investigating foods that act as blood supply inhibitors to diseases in both humans and animal companions. There’s also another interesting side to this, in communities where access to expensive drugs is prohibitive, eating to prevent or slow down disease is a way of using this concept to help people help themselves.

A list of the good stuff to eat!

In the future Dr Vincent and his team are looking to get a number score system added to nutritional food facts to display a food’s ranking on the inhibitor list and a set of tasty recipes for those who want to follow the diet as some foods, such as tomatoes, work better cooked or combined with others.

I found Dr Vincent’s talk fascinating as although I do like my caeks, I try to follow a healthy vegan diet. I was lucky enough to catch-up with Dr Vincent briefly before he left to ask a question and hear a couple that friends had for him. I wonder if his foundation and The Quantified Self (as mentioned by Walter de Brouwer yesterday) could work together on the numbers system?

Jer Thorp is a digital artist from Vancouver, presently living in New York, he gave a talk on reflecting histories with mathematical design.

He did a live demo of The New York Times Cascade data visualization project that he’s been recently working on. It gives a detailed image of how information flows via social media, so one can track the history of a story or event.

TDC: Jer Thorpe on data visualisation

He also talked about his work on the National September 11th Memorial at Ground Zero in New York. He’d been working on it last year when he appeared at Thinking Digital in 2010, but had been under NDA to not speak about it till only recently. Jer was asked to produce an algorithm that would lay out all the names of the people who were killed on September 11th including those at the Pentagon. The 2900 names were to be places around the pools of the site, 1400 of these had adjacency requests for example friends or workers who had died together or were family. The clusters of names requested to be together could get quite large, the biggest was a group of 70 whose families wanted them to be together. Jer had the task of trying to get the names to work with panels, corners that would wrap and panels that didn’t join. He also had to work with typography, plus the groups and departments of people to fit in too. What made it difficult was that there were to be no visible groupings or clusters or noticeable breaks – this proved very difficult. Jer solved the problem, part maths and part typography, with his bespoke algorithm. This kept the architect Michael Arad happy too! The memorial that will be made in bronze will open on September 11th this year.

He finished with a quick demo of from the NY Times R&D Lab, it’s a site to track travel history via the location data collected by iPhones. It tracks a path on a map and the user can look back to see where they’ve been on certain dates or show friends and family a location on a momentous occasion. It’s also a research project, so if a user happy to share your data it becomes part of a bigger research piece. allows one to revisit up to a year of travel data and people find they have an emotional response to replaying their personal narrative and history. This is quite a nice idea, but as I don’t have an iPhone this site doesn’t work for me – I wonder if there’s something similar for Android?

Tan Le, entrepreneur and co-founder of Emotiv neuroengineering company demonstrated the EPOC brainwave headset and software. Her introduction mentioned EEG as a non-evasive way at looking at how the brain is functioning and how the brain is constantly rewiring itself, learning and can rehabilitate itself – that evidence suggests our synapses are not hard-wired, but are changing all the time.

TDC: Tan Le on Emotiv brainwave technology

She talked about how up to now we’ve had to give machines commands to get them to do anything, whereas humans use body language also to convey information. Tan then showed data on her brainwave visualisation software and gave a live demo of it working with the help of a glamorous volunteer, Rob Colling of Internet Subtitling, who put on an spidery looking EPOC brainwave headset. The audience cheered as the headset software showed some activity in Rob’s brain in the form of regions lighting up in different colours on the back projected software, but the real fun started when Tan instructed Rob how to move a box up and down on-screen with his thoughts! Rob has written an excellent post about this experience.

To illustrate some of possibilities for usage of the Emotiv technology, Tan showed a video of someone driving a car with it (slightly scary but amusing) and an artist using it to create mood artworks.

I enjoyed the demo immensely and was amazed to hear from Tan that the headset is possibly affordable and even as she was speaking I was looking up the prices for the developer set and SDK, though hope the contacts on the headset would work with my big frizzy mess of hair – I have some ideas already – watch out!

TDC: Tom Scott on Facebook privacy

To round off Thinking Digital, geek comedian Tom Scott performed a live experiment in social media privacy using Facebook, it was quite hilarious and caused a few people in the audience to check their privacy settings.

Afterwards, all that was left to do was skip over to the Baltic for the closing party and it was all the better for Ian Forrester being back this year after missing it due to #hisbrushwithdeath in 2010.

Ian, Tim & me at TDC closing party

To sum up, I had a very enjoyable Thinking Digital 2012, it was ran like clockwork, it exhausted me as usual and I took some very interesting ideas home with me to think about. Plus I got to catch-up with great friends and made some new ones along the way – sadly there wasn’t any vegan caek – so next year I might bring my own ;-P

Congrats and thanks to Herb Kim and the Codeworks organisers and of course the speakers who were great!

TDC: thanks for the Codeworks team

Thinking Digital 2011, Sage Gateshead: Day 1

Thinking Digital 2011 was the forth annual melding of minds shaped into a conference that brings together what’s new in innovative ideas, technology and thoughts on life in the digital age. It’s run by the awesome Herb Kim and his Codeworks team and is held at the Sage, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.

TDC: Sage view

The conference is popular with thinkers, scientists, makers, entrepreneurs and academics, because it has a slightly different slant to it than your usual tech conference, but through the choice of speakers and topics, it pulls the audience into the conversation, the subjects are not arbitrary, but are relevant to many.

On reflection, last year’s conference seemed to surround the theme of ‘data’: your data, my data, our data – data as a commodity. Richard Titus, who spoke at last year’s conference declared ‘Data is the new oil’ which struck a chord with many of the attendees. This year’s Thinking Digital, for me, was all about sensing things whether that be health, resonating with others, brainwaves, robots or campaigns.

There’s rather a lot to talk about and even cutting my notes down loads, I’ve far too much to say – anyways, I’m splitting it into two posts: day one and day two…

I’m going to start with Walter de Brouwer, as I create wearable sensing technology that responds to input, so his talk really resonated with me.

TDC: Walter de Brouwer on medical treatment futures

Walter De Brouwer is the CEO of OLPC Europe; the European Branch of the One Laptop per Child Initiative, discussed the issues surrounding the future of healthcare and how as patients and relatives we can take charge of our own health. He spoke passionately about his personal catalyst for this – a traumatic experience involving his child enduring a stay in intensive care. How the experience of watching machines and nurses logging numerical data over time starts to familiarize the watching relatives with which measurements signify good news and which do not. Walter asked, ‘but why do we only take number measurements when we are dying?’ Indeed, we should be steadily ‘life caching’ medical data ourselves because the medical records our GPs keep are just a punctuated data stream- i.e. they’re very sketchy because they’re not regularly updated and compared, plus are also passed through different doctors over time. He stated ‘ the best way to create the future is to prevent it ‘ – meaning look after yourself now and invest in your personal data to interpret the signs of illness before they happen. Which I feel is pretty sound advice actually, seeing as most major illness’ are only usually picked up by doctors when they are in an advanced stage and hard to treat.

Having access to so much information on the web the patient is becoming a consumer and the do it yourself healthcare movement is getting bigger. We now have access to so many data capturing devices we can keep log of our own health readings, plus if would be totally logical to share and compare this data with our friends to find out for ourselves why some people are happier, healthier and have more energy than others – comparing lifestyles, what we eat, how long we sleep, etc. There is already a worldwide movement leading the way in this self-logging lifestyle, that’s The Quantified Self movement, whose mantra is ‘self knowledge through numbers’ and they log everything they can – for example: blood pressure, weight, exercise, cholesterol, heart rate, arousal and sleep patterns.


Walter fully believes that the globalization of private medicine is unstoppable now and we can shop for the best practitioners who have the least patients, most time and do all your health running around for you – such as booking scans and regular health checks. This is all very nice, but relies on you having the income to fund this lifestyle, as it gets very expensive! This way of running healthcare probably works only for the top earners and of course probably isn’t inclusive to people on benefits or those on low incomes.

Anyways, if you have the income there is a plethora of choices open to ‘Cybercondriacs’ and full body scans are very popular, of course the price depends on where you go to get it done but ranges between 100-700 dollars, India being the cheapest place to go right now. But remember, as mentioned above you can keep your own records and use sensing apps to log them, though the challenge will be how do we and doctors analyse and hang on to all this exponentially generated data? Walter suggests perhaps not in The Cloud: ‘ The Cloud is like a public toilet for your records, you don’t know who’s been there before you!”

So in conclusion, Walter feels your health will become a number – the data is free to gather, but the interpretation by your doctor is not! As doctors begin to prescribe apps rather than meds for health they will become overloaded with data and we’ll need systems to cope with it all. Walter suggested that we may end up with systems similar to an already existing car maintenance system in the US called OnStar – which is a call centre diagnostic type of affair. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own health and should look at our lifestyles and those of our friends to compare what is good for us while we wait for someone to invent a 21st Century version of the Star Trek Tricorder – a complete diagnostic device!

Erin McKean has been a dictionary evangelist for 18 years and is now a founder of Wordnik, an online dictionary that hopes to redefine how we view and use dictionaries. Wordnik has the tag line / definition as ‘Wordnik is a place for all the words, and everything known about them’. It’s a place to find and log words and not just one definition, there are many ways to define and tag words, including sentences, images and statistics. Looking at the Community page, I find tons of words defined by lists such as new words, recent comments, recently favourited, random, trending and previous words of the day.

TDC: Erin McKean on online dictionary Wordnik

During her presentation she offered her thoughts on defining dictionaries and word usage, Erin introduced us to the term ‘skeumorph’, which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “an object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artifact in another material” – to illustrate Erin showed us plastic garden chairs that were copies of retro wooden chairs which included a wood grain pattern on the plastic! Erin took us through the pros and cons of using dictionaries in both paper and digital form, such as the problem of new words not showing up quick enough and in the realm of learning she informed us that humans learn words by using them in a sentence, rather than by looking them up. I’ll be interested to hear what people do with the Wordnik API. PS, I was very much admiring Erin’s lovely dresses, so was very happy to find her blog A Dress A Day :-)

Conrad Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research discussed the notion of ‘computation for everyone’ – where computation meets knowledge and is democratised so that everyone can use it. He’d like to see governments and organisations make their data more accessible and active online rather than just in papers.


He’s keen to do this by creating new ways that we can visualise data and information and has come up with a computable documentation format (CDF), which uses techniques to show live data and make it more interesting to the viewer. You can play with examples of this on the Wolfram Demonstrations Project.

TDC: Conrad Wolfram on live data visualisation

Conrad is also passionate about maths and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) tuition in education and is leading a computer-based maths education summit in London later this year at the Royal Institution – wish I could get a ticket!

Nancy Duates of Duarte Design
showed us via some examples of her studies into cinema, how storytelling is the best way to communicate an idea in a presentation or speech. Her slides showed examples of how using a story framework (visualized as a square wave) showed how verbally alternating between an obstacle and then resolution (or negative then positive) sound bite resonates with the audience and builds up empathy – equating to persuasion = transformation with the listener.

TDC: Nancy Duarte on storytelling

She also talked about injecting passion into stories “when you say ‘I’ve an idea’ – you’re saying you want to change the world!” and noting how we physically react to others when we hear a story. Her three-point framework included the following stages:

1. Likeable hero
2. Encounters roadblocks
3. Emerges transformed

TDC: Nancy Duarte on storytelling

During Nancy’s two-year study of storytelling she discovered various frameworks including Freytag’s dramatic 5 point story structure which emerges as: exposition / rising action / climax / falling action / denouncement and how ‘tacking’ (sailing metaphor) your story backwards and forwards holds the attention of your audience. She analysed two powerful presentations to show how her square wave theory works: one by Steve Jobs, launching iPhone and the other Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech – each showed the square wave alternating between a downside/problem and a glowing resolution (what is, what could be). I found her talk fascinating and will definitely look back on it and consider her techniques when I next have a presentation to write.

Ewan McIntosh, CEO, NoTosh Ltd, told the story of the SNP historic election win this year which he co-directed, and they did it via a system that was designed to stop this happening! So how did the SNP win it? When the campaign started the SNP was 15 points behind Labour, but when it ended the SNP was 18 points ahead. They did it by using a ruthlessly planned strategy, much of it using digital media.
He told us “we don’t do enough listening in digital media” and went on to give us some of his tips on engaging voters of all ages, including:

1. Have a strategy – with detail, pace, leadership and be agile – “You don’t need to have a ‘plan’, or a ‘to do list’ but a strategy”

2. Share the same message – be consistent and have a meeting every morning and agree what’s going to be said that day – share the message and make it understandable by people

3. Learn to listen – find out what they like, don’t like and what motivates them -stay relentlessly positive online

TDC: Ewan McIntosh on SNP campaign

“So did digital win votes? Yes it did!” Ewan went on to explain that the ultimate reason for campaigning online was to get people doing stuff offline, which worked and it’s changed the way governments listen to people and that digital is absolutely key to stalking ambition.

Ewan summed up with ‘the SNP campaign has changed not only Scotland’s place in world, but also how government engages with people and how digital can be used as a force for change”. As someone who has done a lot of high-profile project management over the years for the BBC, I was really interested in how Ewan’s strategy panned out across the campaign.

Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot creates live robot theatre performances and is a researcher at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. Heather started by letting Data her Nao robot introduce her and do an amusing comedy performance, which included a little dance at the end.

TDC: Data

I couldn’t help but look up the Nao robot and discovered it is programmable in C++, C, Python, Urbi, .Net languages. Interestingly, it’s runs on Linux OS, but is cross platform compatible, and I read Aldebaran Robotics are going to open source some of Nao’s code in 2011 and for those who want their own a public version is aimed to be released in 2012. I noted in the Q & A that Heather was asked how much a Nao robot would cost, to which she replied about 12,000 Euros.

Heather’s other work has included a touch sensitive ‘Sensate Bear’ for use in hospitals to help understand non-verbal communication via touch.
She is interested in how socially accepted robots can be integrated into society and has done work with her performing robot in public areas to analyse how the public reacts to their performance and in turn how the robot’s personality can be tweaked to work with humans – the goal being to help machines understand human traits such as charisma and humour.

TDC: Heather Knight & Data

Heather also has a portfolio of digital art and is organising The Robot Film Festival in New York in July 2011.

It was a nice touch for Heather to finish on a story about her work on the epic Ok Go ‘This Too Shall Pass’ video, which the audience really enjoyed + a few added factoid morsels about the making of too. I enjoyed hearing from a female engineer very much and would like to hear more about Heather’s research with human / robot reactions, and also her digital artworks.

So that’s it, my epic and rambling round-up of some of Thinking Digital’s day one presentations and talks. I’m going to have a rest now before I launch into day two!