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SI182 Final Projects

A belated congrats to all of the EECS182/SI182 students on finishing the semester. For those not familiar with the course, SI182 is an intro to programming course in the informatics program at UM. Paul Resnick and I taught it this past semester, and arranged the course around pulling data from public feeds, processing this data, and presenting it again, online, in a way that adds value.

Here’s a sampling of the final projects:

Also, a huge thanks to Chuck Severance, who got this course started and gave us early chapters of his book Using Google App Engine, which gave us the confidence to use App Engine in the course and which we were able to rely on for class readings.

walkon – a networked cities project

For my final project in Network Cities (ARCH531), I worked with Garin Fons and Amy Grude to explore urban flows. We propose a system that enables sidewalks to respond to you and the people who came before you. As you walk through a city, the ground underfoot glows. Intense, extended glows show the most common direction people in your place next went, while weaker illuminations indicate less popular directions.

Specific numbers of people, dates, and times are never shown. These features would increase the cognitive load on pedestrians, while we intend this service – once people become accustomed to it – to blend into the background and become a moving, changing part of the cityscape. Our goal is not to guide people to a specific path, but to highlight flows at a pedestrian’s given location. In doing so, we restore the idea of “the beaten path” to urban landscapes – something that has largely been lost with permanent, paved pedestrian ways. It is up to you to decide whether to stick with the crowds or see what lies in less frequented areas.

Explore the WalkOn presentation (Flash). The other projects in the class are worth a look too.

just for fun: people markup

For one of our Networked Cities projects, we were asked to explore urban markup. While looking at existing projects, my teammate David Hutchful and I got the feeling that tagging spaces is a pretty crowded space. Tagging or otherwise marking people with the intent of learning more about them or feeling more connected to them appeared similarly crowded.

Inspired loosely by Steven Johnson’s work Everything Bad is Good for You, we began thinking about intermixing the ideas of place and people markup with play. This led to imagining a game in which you tag other people. If tag from two strangers match, aside from some stopwords, within a certain range of time and place, each player might get points.

The idea of being tagged by strangers ultimately feeds into peoples’ curiosity of what others think about them. This became our focus for the project, which we are calling Mirror. We built in anticipation (you can only check how you’ve been tagged once per day) and ambiguity (tags, for you, are only localized to the resolution of a cell tower). You can only be tagged by people who are not in your social network.

These tags also build identities for places. Imagine a space that displays the way people currently in it have been tagged — reflecting its current occupants. Browse a map that shows the way people have been tagged in a neighborhood. We also imagine games, such as scavenger hunts in which the goal is to go out and get tagged in certain ways.


We tell show some of the possibilities in the above storyboard. There is another write up on the project’s page, as well as (an admittedly hand-wavy) tech/design explanation (pdf).

We actually believe that such a product could be bad for both you and community in general, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun to think about.


I’ve had a busy couple of months. Among the highlights:

  • My team’s submission for the CHI student design competition was accepted. Like a lot of good news, this begets more work, but it’s fun and I’m really looking forward to the conference.
  • I’ve been accepted to the PhD program at SI. I’m pretty excited; among the programs at various schools, I haven’t seen a better fit for my interests. My interest are broad, and it is going to take some work and reaching beyond SI to make sure I get what I want out of the PhD. Talking that through may be a future post.
  • I went back to Boston for a short weekend to interview candidates for Olin. Going back was strange. I couldn’t help but feel like I should be picking classes and settling into a dorm. It was a good time, though, and great to see people.

Boeing work continues to be a good complement to my SI activities. I’m having a lot of fun with my current portfolio of projects. I’ll admit, though, that after two trips in the last month, I’m feeling a bit spread thin.

Research and professional track students

The i-Conference was two weeks ago (time seems to be going very quickly now). It was a really good experience, and I feel that I left with a much better understanding of the history of information schools and some of the challenges they (we?) face. Much of the conference was navel gazing through the lenses of other schools’ navels and in some ways this sort of brought me closer to some of the important reflection on education that I loved so much at Olin. There’s one thing, though, that’s bothering me a bit.

If you just happened to randomly walk into the conference and listen to a reasonable sampling of the discussion, you would have no idea that any of these schools have masters or undergraduate students apart from wonderful conference volunteers. One of the few times that these students were mentioned was as a way to accomplish more tedious or technical aspects of research (eg: hire students to program something) that are not of interest to PhD students or faculty. I made this remark in mixed company and got at least one “Amen,” so I’m emboldened to continue the conversation here for a bit.

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The SI501 effect?

The 501 effect?

All of the entering MSIs had to buy Rapid Contextual Design and The Team Handbook. I’m thinking this influenced Amazon’s recommendations.

oh calendar, where art though?

The School of Information is the first place I’ve been in a number of years that doesn’t have a community norm of using a calendaring system. From what I gather, the school’s administrators use MeetingMaker, faculty use nothing, and students use whatever they have with Google Calendar being the most common. Others in the University seem to use Meeting Maker or nothing, except for the lucky few on one of the Exchange servers.

I’m on three teams for courses, with three to five people on each. We’ve gotten pretty good about having regularly scheduled meetings and, when additional meetings are necessary, trying to schedule the next meeting at the end of the previous meeting. That process works okay, but still not as well as when facilitated by Exchange. This also leaves a number meetings which need to be scheduled outside of meetings, as the need arises. For those, we revert to seemingly endless chains of threads of messages.

On one team, we’ve started using a shared Google Calendar, but that’s really only good for keeping track of team meetings we have scheduled. When used as a scheduling tool in groups, the weaknesses — primarily having to seek out other users’ calendars and hoping for appropriate permissions, rather than having the free/busy information shown in context as you try to setup an appointment — quickly make it unmanageable.

I’m whining, I know, but I am going to have to figure something out. After years of taking Exchange’s services for granted, scheduling group meetings by emails back and forth won’t do.

Also: would it be going too far to say that a nontrivial amount of the success we had at Olin, both with involving students alongside staff and faculty in the administration of the school and with student teamwork, was faciliated by having Exchange in our suite of IT services?