Tin Foil Hat Fail


The short story: our ISP service is inadequate. The free-with-broadband Zyxel monstrosity is utterly unconfigurable. An eventual call back from customer services at a terrible time without followup ensures that the new all-singing-all-dancing DSL wifi router I bought with rave reviews from Amazon stays uselessly unconfigured.  So why is this a problem? Because the teenager can access the Internet from any device 24/7. And that has not proven helpful to his sleep hygiene, his content hygiene, or indeed his hygiene hygiene.

Solution A: Persuade the teenager of the error of his ways and the need to adopt new habits, whilst saving his parent all the time and effort of making the technology prevent the bad habits. Let’s call this the alternative universe solution as frequent failures in the present universe seem to offer little optimism for this approach by itself.

Solution B: Keep at the ISP customer service in the vain hope of getting the wonder box to replace the idiot box and receive all the configuration power needed. Months and threads have passed and I think this is a hiding to nothing.

Solution C: Change ISP. In this case it’s not straight forward – but I am starting to think this is the way to go.

Solution D: I’m an Electronics Engineer, among other things, so let’s do this with a hammer! I mean, detach the wifi antenna from inside the DSL router and use other – actually configurable and already plugged-in – wifi routers for the wireless home network. Two screws and a little initiative later: the Zyxel Monstrosity revealed a wonder of one board integration. i.e. nothing to detach without a soldering iron or hammer. (I haven’t entirely ruled out the soldering iron option and a hammer has a very satisfying action to it.)

Solution E: The Tin Foil Hat. Raid the kitchen for aluminium foil, cover the 2 wifi antennae, add a bit more around the side where it’s electrically safe to do so, reassemble, power on whilst tensing all muscles and closing eyes, following no explosion await smoke, following no smoke reattach everything and smile. Smile until you wander everywhere in the house getting a great signal from the pseudo-Faraday-cage-enveloped wifi. Drat!

I’m staring to wonder about the word ‘Solution’. Anyhow, a teenager without internet is a teenager with time on their hands. Time enough to show curiosity as the product was foil wrapped and then angst afterwards as their rubbish youtube streaming didn’t deteriorate but could now be blamed on the foil hat instead of rubbish internet.

Good idea but a resounding fail!

Time to recap on alternative ISPs before the hammer and heat option.

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Win10 Parental Controls Wrecked

ninjacatontopunicornI’m on a mission.

To my huge surprise I was singing Microsoft’s praise a couple of week since due to their awesome, and easy and versatile to configure and monitor, parental controls. I’ll leave the gruesome details of why I had to, and have to, come down heavy on my teenage son’s computational machine (mis)usage. But the salient need is that I alone had to take control of someone else’s computer usage and, to paraphrase what they say in those cool TV courtroom dramas, I had to treat that someone as a hostile user. Enter parental control…

I’ve been switching on, configuring, switching off and repeating parental controls on Macs for years now. A wifely irreverence for our perpetually work-in-progress Windows PC signalled the start of a Mac-only family PC habitat for around a decade. That was until the teenager sought his first gaming PC. A very impressive Windows 8 DinoPC arrived just over 10 months since and with much abuse of child parent verbal agreements and a corrupted HDD, we now have a problematic child and Win10 PC symbiotic organism requiring no mercy control. Enter Windows 10 Parental Controls.

The web is full of hits for Win10 Parental controls – almost entirely tech sites trying to say just enough to say on the first, or one of the first ten, google pages of hits: a few Win8->Win10 upgrade issues here, a bunch of justifications for Microsoft’s changes of parental controls there, and dissenting comments everywhere. None of that matters much to mere mortal families with tech that needs to be halted in it’s rise to becoming the master. What mattered then is that with a minimum of hassle I took parental control of the teenager’s PC. Daily time limits. Daily start and stop times. Individual app blocking. And all from the pleasure of my iPhone’s browser. It was so powerful, simple and effective that I could ignore that barrage of ‘can <teenager> have more time’ emails with good grace. I even – and I find the shae of admitting this overwhelming – thought about actually buying a Win10 phone for said teenager to extend this most excellent umbrella of control to a wider coverage of said teenager’s online world.

But then it all fell apart.

The parental-control-hostile child had adequate motivation and skills to perform some fairly hefty research and I had no doubt that within a year I would have had to perform 3 or 4 minor adjustments to admin controls and household rules. However, I did not expect that it would take less than 2 weeks for my adversary to wreck parental control BY ACCIDENT!

Such was his own surprise that he googled what he had done and found that it was a know exploit AND he told me. Impressed though I was, I was sure that – you know – switching it on an off again would fix things even if leaving the exploit repeatable until MS issued an update to fix the bug. Everything hard and soft ware got the power recycle a number of times, and lo and behold absolutely no control was returned. In fact, even the daily monitoring of app usage failed (though the weekly reports seem to still be correct – showing an exponential increase in computer time filling every nook and cranny of observed and unobserved teenager woken hours). As far as I can tell the only fix available is deleting his account and setting up again. Am I crazy? Surely 2 minutes internet searching will find a fix? Apparently not, nor does more serious (beyond page 10 of google hits!) research. So what was this serendipitous exploit uncovered?

He opened an app.

Err, isn’t that normal user behaviour? Isn’t that so simple that there probably wasn’t even a test case written for it? Yes of course. The app was Google Chrome, but apparently any app can do it. The wrecking ball user merely has to open an app, and keep clicking to open multiple instances, immediately after logging in and before parental controls have started up. At this point I have to wonder about the credibility of the exploit description from the teenager. Surely this can not be possible?

Anyhow, after much soul searching I’ve come to the conclusion that the glacial speed at which Microsoft has fixed parental control bugs over the last 3 OSes is a subtle invitation to not use MS Parental Control and find control elsewhere. Where else, how else? Well that’ll be part of the mission. You see that even the very shorted lived utopia of actually functioning Win10 Parental Control was insufficient. Drunk on the power of mastering the main machine, it was easy to ignore that smartphone, iPad, PS3 and (easy to get hold of) family MacBook were all easy ways for the child to extend his control of his online time – not for Steam gaming, but for endless youtube, anime and other such 24/7 computationally interactive narcotics.

So it is not enough to find some great software that does at least as much as MS intended to build into it’s OS, nor that it should function into and beyond a third week, but a system that selectively and temporally blocks application and internet access across all devices under my prospective control.

So depending on your perspective I am a either a tyrannical anti-libertarian dictator or a responsible dad with a normal out of control teenager. Either way…

Mission accepted!

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Getting warmer

It’s time to reanimate this site. Whereas my adventures in tech research and university research are in deep freeze, my life tech continues and teaching and parenting is putting all sorts of new challenges and ideas in my way. So since Social Machine is really an avatar of my tech attention, ponderings and efforts; I shall make it honest again and bring it up to speed with the tech on my agenda, rather than letting is continue to languish at the periphery of research questions past and deep frozen. Good bye 2015’s deep freeze!winterice05x

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There’s some smarts in Google, recently purchased…

In 2010 the top google image hits for “intelligent personal companion” were dogs. In 2014 the robots have taken over!

My last research topic before leaving Nokia was related to intelligent content companions – smart software to get metadata, search, relevance, recommendation, timing attention, and general enjoyment of your own and other’s content just right. Charged with setting the research topic agenda, university collaborations, external funding, and alignment to corporate strategy all in place, I set to the adventure with (initially) 5 research teams in tow. We narrowed this down to multimedia content, and then photos (it was a safe bet for the organisation – albeit the opposite of my instincts to make impact by novelty for innovation value and more defendable patents). And we ended up narrowing this down to sharing with family and friends to make the whole thing more explainable and easier to justify specific university collaborations – which again made much sense inside the distorted reality field of Nokia Research Center in 2011 but removed the opportunity to do something genuinely new and interesting. Information retrieval for sentiment, textual and user analysis went out of the window while we refined the plan (and became ever safer for keeping this research project alive in a research organisation chopping off heads all over the place). As did sophisticated plans for searching out best “mastery” templates and guidance to ensure both that the content you captured started brilliant and was tweaked better, and that you got to search and refine the distributed “quality evaluation” (recommender) models as you interacted with templates, your content and content from close and distant people. In fairness, brutalising the exciting stuff out of the research project goals like this did make the difficult job of decoupling myself from Nokia Research somewhat easier when I volunteered to jump ship.

directrBut now Google have taken on an element of this in a very smart way that I wish Nokia would have been open to. The rather cool Directr web service throws templates at you to make great very short videos for a wide ranges of topics very fast and easy (and cheap and repeatable and…). It’s very much the kind of template initiated mastery we initially hoped to get to for all user content (and then just photos). Only Google have had the good vision to recognise this and they’ve bought them. It may just be an opportunity to give youtube more serious or better quality content, but more likely it’s part of Google’s spate of content company related purchases and a bigger strategy. Either way, Google scale for such a smart approach to making personal content better from the start is going to be a big favour to most digital natives out there.

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A jog down research memory lane

It’s always a risk hunting down an old article or two that you influenced or wrote. This time it cost me 3 hours, and resulted in this nearly comprehensive list of articles I’ve written (since 2000) or influenced or was collaborating with the authors separately (since 2010) in a few areas…

Not that this makes a fun and concise blog post, but it is a great recap that punctuates this academic work before I rocket off in a new direction.

Family and small group practices

An examination of how households share and coordinate the completion of errands

ACM Conference of Computer Supported Cooperative Work, ACM, Seattle, Washington, USA (In Press)

Mobile Family Interaction: How to use mobile technology to bring trust, safety and wellbeing into families

MobileHCI, Stockholm, Sweden (2011)

Hello, is grandma there? let’s read! StoryVisit: family video chat and connected e-books

Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing systems – CHI ’11, ACM Press, Vancouver, BC, Canada (2011)

Family roles, activities and values as assets for persuasive games design **

Unpublished (2010)

Practices surrounding children’s photos in homes

CHI ’12 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. p2117-2122. (2012)

Profiling and Relevancy

A Habit Mining Approach for Discovering Similar Mobile Users

World Wide Web (WWW 2012) (2012)

Comparison of Classifiers in Audio and Acceleration based Context Classification in Mobile Phones

EUSIPCO-2011, Eurosip, Barcelona, Spain (2011)

Gender and computing conference papers

Communications of the ACM, Volume 54, Issue 8, p.72-80 (2011)

Quantitative Study of Individual Emotional States in Social Networks

IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing (2011)

Role-Based Contextual Recommendation

1st International Workshop on Sensing, Networking, and Computing with Smartphones, co-located with IEEE CPSCom 2011 , Dalian, China. (2011)

Who’s who with Big-Five: Analyzing and Classifying Personality

ISWC 2011, the fifteenth annual International Symposium on Wearable Computers, IEEE, San Francisco (2011)

Introducing Game and Playful Experiences to other Application Domains through Personality and Motivation Models **

IEEE GIC, Hong Kong, China (2010)

Distributed Devices and Software, and Networks

An open platform for distributed, scalable and adaptive interactive applications for CE devices

2011 IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference (CCNC)2011 IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference (CCNC), IEEE, Las Vegas, NV, USA (2011)

Experiences Building a Multi-Display Mobile Application for Exploring Mirror Worlds

5th International Conference and Exhibition on Next Generation Mobile Applications, Services, and Technologies (NGMAST’11), IEEE, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom (2011)

“Can we work this out?”: An evaluation of remote collaborative interaction in a mobile shared environment

MobileHCI, ACM Press, Stockholm, Sweden (2011)

A combined mixed reality and networked home approach to improving user interaction with consumer electronics *

IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Volume 57, Issue 1, p.139 – 144 (2011)

Infinity Point: Multi-Device Pointing Systems Evolution And Review **

IEEE ISCE 2010 (2010)

From Instant Messaging to Cloud Computing, an XMPP review *

IEEE ISCE 2010 (2010)

Home DNS: Experiences with Seamless Remote Access to Home Services *

World of Wireless, Mobile and Multimedia Networks (WoWMoM) (2007)

Towards a Platform Independent Architecture for Multi-access Mobiles *

EUNICE 2004, Tampere, Finland. 16 June 2004., (2004)

Advances in mass media delivery to mobiles *

Advance, Nokia Internal Research Magazine (2004)

Multicast Content Delivery for Mobiles *

Wiley, Chapter 10 of Content Networking in the Mobile Internet (2004)

Hybrid network : stepping beyond 3G *

Advance, Nokia Internal Research Magazine (2000)

Hybrid networks : a step beyond 3G *

3rd Int’,l. Symp. Wireless Pers. Multimedia Commun., pp.109 -114 2000 (2000)

Content and photo sharing

Group simulation: Introducing participatory technique for evaluating photo sharing interfaces with early prototypes

International Conference on Human Factors in Computing & Informatics (2013)

Producing while Consuming: Social Interaction around Photos shared within Private Group

CHI EA ’12 – Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference extended abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM Press, Austin, Texas, USA (2012)

Automated Content Sharing in Extended Homes through Mobile Devices – A quality solution for group communication *

BCS 15th Software Quality Management Conference, Tampere, Finland, August 2007 (abstractrelated thesis, related paper)

Geo-locked photo sharing on mobile devices

CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. p1407-1412. (2013)

Photo sharing in small groups – identifying design drivers for desired user experiences

Academic MindTrek ’12: International Conference on Media of the Future (2012)

Personal Content in Online Sports Communities: Motivations to Capture and Share Personal Exercise Data

International Journal of Social and Humanistic Computing (2013)

Content Creation and Management

Real-time generation of personalized home video summaries on mobile devices

Neurocomputing , Volume 120, p.10 (2013)

Evaluating MoodPic – A Concept for Collaborative Mood Music Playlist Creation

17th International Conference: Information Visualisation (2013)

A Lightweight Platform for Web Mashups in Immersive Mirror Worlds

IEEE Pervasive Computing, Volume 12, Issue 1, p.34 – 41 (2013)

Chasers of the Lost Data: Turning content management systems into gaming platforms *

2010 2nd International IEEE Consumer Electronics Society’s Games Innovations Conference (ICE-GIC 2010)2010 2nd International IEEE Consumer Electronics Society’s Games Innovations Conference, IEEE, Hong Kong (2010)

Attaching the Value of Sensorial Experience to Pervasive Multimedia Applications *

IEEE CCNC 2010 (2010)

Improving the Value of Archived Personal Content with Aesthetic and Reflexive Qualities *

IEEE CCNC 2010 (2010)

User Created Content in the Extended Home *

15th IST Mobile & Wireless Communication Summit, p.Proceedings (2006)

A Resource-efficient Mobile Blogging System *

6th International Workshop on Applications and Services in Wireless Networks, Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 2006, p.Proceedings , pages 92-97 (2006)

Applications and Platforms

Fusing mixed reality and networked home techniques to improve user control of consumer electronics *

2011 IEEE International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE)2011 IEEE International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE), IEEE, Las Vegas, NV, USA (2011)

Towards off-the-shelf computer vision for user interaction in consumer homes **

2011 IEEE International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE)2011 IEEE International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE), IEEE, Las Vegas, NV, USA (2011)

The Digital DJ : a case-study of value-added services over hybrid networks *

Advance, Nokia Internal Research Magazine (2002)

User Experience and Evaluation

Cultural Differences in Smartphone User Experience Evaluation *

ACM MUM 2010, Limassol, Cyprus (2010)

Group simulation: Introducing participatory technique for evaluating photo sharing interfaces with early prototypes

CHI ’13. (2013)


Research Choices: Adjusting the mode of research for commercial impact (talk) *

IEEE CE Games Innovation Conference (2007)

* where I’m an author/co-author

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Jeppe: Flash from my past


Way back in 2006-2007 I was leading the Media Window project (HD video call and immersive telepresence for mobiles, using a dedicated FPGA “USB hardware accessory”, and the new phenomenon of HD TV, with the dream that HD projection and full wall HD TV would become commonplace within 3-10 years).

That was cool and taught me very important lessons about prioritising design and engineering for user centered design (UCD), and intuitively what “affect” and “enchantment” meant even before I picked up the User Experience (UX) literature trail. (Personally, this added HCI and UCD arrows to my telecoms and protocols quiver, with smart spaces and software management along the way). However, a very real problem was that our 2-nation user studies and UCD were too realistic a sample of normal people, and so none of the Dutch and almost none of the Finnish participants had been down the purchase journey for HD TV of any size.

So we pivoted the user study (while the tech research plowed on with a bunch of firsts for mobile HD video call and USB UVC), and co-created several concepts for remote presence and video telepresence including ‘the Pet’ which started life gerbil-like and became hedgehog-like (we were visualising kids in gardens carrying around an actuated video call device). Then we spun this out and merged into another project (home phone), engaged Nokia Design, renamed the Pet “Jeppe”, and I adopted consultant-and-shepherd mode, giving over the mechanical and application design lead to my team (subsequently completely when I entered corporate and research strategy in 2008).

Just today I hunted down the web footprint of Jeppe to compare with some more recent DIY two-wheeled robots and it brought the whole saga back to life.

Here’s more on Jeppe: https://research.nokia.com/page/4818

And even theRegister news article: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/08/11/nokia_jeppe/

And the acting debuts of some of my old colleagues (keep the day jobs guys:)


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Join in our robot appearance study!01_justImages

We want you to join in our study on the appearance of robots that might assist us in the future! Just use this link:

It should take around 15-20 minutes. This is part of our work at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) to answer questions we have about people’s willingness to use robots as assistants at home or in the workplace, and how a robot’s appearance can change expectations.

Share and distribute our invite as widely as you like.

If you’re more at home with Suomalainen or Français, use one of these links:
Finnish: https://fi.surveymonkey.com/s/robappfi
French: https://fr.surveymonkey.com/s/robappfr

For questions in all 3 languages you can drop us an email at socialrobotics.tamk@gmail.com – or just message me directly through wordpress.

Thank you for being amazing and helping us!

Rod, Riikka and Marion
TAMK Social Robotics

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ResearchGate for mining social media

ImageEver since promising results in our pilot study Introducing game and playful experiences to other application domains through personality and motivation models, mining social media (facebook in particular) has been on my agenda. I haven’t gotten round to it yet, but some of the recent threads on the excellent ResearchGate hint that this field might be maturing enough to be worth a fresh look. Let’s see…

Are there any proven “feature extraction” techniques and open software for summarising facebook and other social media personas?

What tools would you recommend for statistically assessing and visualizing online social networks?

Social Networks data mining

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Let Many Bots Bloom!

Having used bipedal, research and industrial robots, we realised that a big part of the barrier to entry to consumer and mass market healthcare was due to the cost and reliability of many actuators (motors, degrees of freedom etc.) and high quality actuators in those bots. So some time ago, over a coffee far far away, we got the idea that if only we could get extremely expressive and functional robots without so many actuators, we might be onto something. Naturally there’s an obvious area where this has been done before and continues to be done: in toys. But here we were interested in some high level design concepts where the primary goal is expression rather than play.

So we worked with students to create DASR: Deep Avatars Simple Robots. What you seen in the video are the portion of the many sketchbook concepts that were built in the Unity3D engine. With simple actuations, movement to music and kinect input, this was a pretty damn versatile proof of concept. This is mostly for inspiration and fun. We’re not planning to build these in plastic and metal (or blood and chrome), not yet anyway!

And for completeness, here’s the brief that kicked that project off…

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EmoSPARK | First A.I. Console

EmoSPARK | First A.I. Console

An interesting emotion capture approach. And soon to be off-the-shelf too.

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