Persistent Inappeasable Mind

thoughts about personal information management, human-computer interaction, interfaces, software ...

Sunday, July 20. 2014

FoamTrees: an animated tree map visualisation for large hierarchies

PIM & Research

There are many ways of visualising large hierarchies. I have put together a nice collection of these. Here's a new one: FoamTrees.

It is basically a zooming and animated tree map without rectangular layouts. It comes as a JavaScript library anyone can use.

Wednesday, July 16. 2014

You phone carries personal information: specifically your personal microbiome

PIM & Research

Mobile phones are used for lifelogging by millions worldwide. But apparently all phones are used for logging our personal microbiome as researchers @ University of Oregon point out in this paper. Microbiome is our own and unique set of micro organisms that can identify us as an individual. And researchers have hypothesized that the set of bacteria we leave on our touch screens will reflect the bacteria found on our fingers.

The main findings are:

  • 22% of the bacterial OTUs (operational taxonomic units) on the participants’ fingers were also on their phones. However, 82% of the the most common bacteria found in participants, those representing more than 0.1% of a single person’s dataset, were also found on their phones. Washing hands had no effect on the correlation between bacteria on the phone and that on subjects’ fingers.
  • The researchers tested whether the bacteria a phone resembled the microbes from its owner more than those from other people. The answer was, not surprisingly, yes; each participant’s index finger shared, on average, 5% more bacteria with that person’s phone than with others’ phones.
  • While all participants shared bacteria with their phones, there was a difference between the amount men shared and the amount women shared. Women seem to have more bacteria in common with their phones than men do. 

Figure 2: The degree of overlap between bacterial pools differed by gender and by whether participants washed their hands. (A) Thumbs and index fingers on the same person shared, on average, 32% of their OTUs, while each digit shared about 22% with their own phone. The two fingers had significantly more in common than either did with phones (p < 0.001 for both fingers; from paired t-tests comparing the 1st bar in (A) to the 2nd and 3rd, respectively). (B) Hand-washing made a marginal but insignificant difference in the resemblance of the two fingers (p = 0.126; comparing the 1st and 2nd bars in (B)), and no difference at all in the finger/phone connection (p = 0.7; comparing the 3rd and 4th bars in (B)); (C) Women’s fingers appeared to share more OTUs with their phones than men, but the difference was not significant (p = 0.128; comparing the 3rd and 4th bars in (C)) since both shared more OTUs, on average, with their own phones than with anyone else’s (Table 1).

From IT World:

The authors argue that our smartphones "hold untapped potential as personal microbiome sensors". They suggest that swabbing our phones could enable larger scale microbial studies which more invasive sampling methods might restrict. Combined with cheaper DNA sequencing technology, smartphones could also be used for things like easily screening health care workers for pathogens and to generally help us to better understand what kind of microbes we’re exchanging with our environment on a daily basis.

On the other hand, the thought of somebody being able to learn a lot about us by swabbing our smartphone screen may give people worried about privacy.

Sunday, July 13. 2014

Icebergs Organizes Your Files, Notes, Web Clippings, and More

PIM & Research

Icebergs is a webapp that lets you drag text, images, web ages, upload and save files, make and organize notes, and more. 

Sounds familiar? My own Task Information Collections (TIC):

TIC is not so slick as Icebergs and it does not store information to the cloud (yet). And while Icebergs visualises items in a grid TIC does it on a free spatial plane. Nevertheless, a lot of ideas behind TIC have been implemented in Icebergs. I feel flattered :)!

Wednesday, July 9. 2014

A filing cabinet that knows what you did last summer!

PIM & Research

Wired published an interesting story about Jaap de Maat's final year project - the finale to a two-year-long MA in Information Experience Design from the Royal College of Art.

The design is basically an old filing cabinet that follows visitors of RCA. It's called 'I know what you did last summer'. It's about the traces in the form of digital information we leave behind with our activities in the digital world:

"It is physically impossible for the human brain to remember every event from our past in full detail. The default setting is to forget and our memories are constructed based on our current values. In the digital age it has become easier to look back with great accuracy. But this development contains hidden dangers, as those stored recollections can easily be misinterpreted and manipulated. That sobering thought should rule our online behaviour, because the traces we leave behind now will follow us around for ever."

While in the old days physical information could be destroyed this is harder to do in the digital world(s). So we should take a great care what traces we leave behind.

I know what you did last summer. from Jaap de Maat on Vimeo.


Sunday, July 6. 2014

A simple thing like a password can apparently change one's life

PIM & Research

Passwords are bits of personal information that we constantly need to log in to our computers, web pages, phones, and other services. Some of us even manage them with dedicated applications on our desktops (e.g. KeePass) or on the web (e.g. LastPass). However, they might be very dull and hard to remember especially if we try to make them hard to crack. 

Over the years I have been asking people how they choose their passwords (if someone wants to do a study about it let me know). I for example choose a saying like 'too many cooks spoil the broth'. Then I take the first or the last letter of every word like 'tmcspb' and lastly I put in some numbers like 't0m9c8s7t6b'. For safety the last or fist char can be in upper case. I meet a guy whose passwords are quotes of famous people (in different language than the original). A system admin I once meet creates passwords for his users with their first name and a year in which password was created like 'Jack2014' (very secure indeed :/).

As seen above, there are gazillions of ways to create (un)safe passwords. But this guy thinks of passwords as a therapy - a positive affirmation. Apparently, as passwords are used several times a day, they can subconsciously change our behaviour if containing the right message. For example:

  • Forgive@h3r to forgive his ex-wife
  • Quit@smoking4ever to quit smoking
  • Save4trip@thailand ...

There are many other examples in his blog post that he claims that worked (or not .. e. g. he can't loose weight).

Passwords can apparently be used also to learn things as explained in the comments of this post on Lifehacker. For example this guy learned his wife's phone number:

"I had to set my cell phone's password to my wife's cell phone number so I could remember it. It was just embarrassing not knowing it after we were married. I had just always hit the button with her picture on it, like a fast food cash register."

But it didn't work for this person who tried to learn all USA presidents and their sequence:

"eg. W4$h1ngTon, 2j0HNdm$, j3FF3r$0N... My hope was through repeated typing I would remember who was associated with each term. FYI it didn't work AT ALL. After about a week of typing my password an average of 97 times per day I ended up just relying on muscle memory and not remember any of the presidents."

Maybe self-logging and positive affirmation through passwords might do miracles. How many times do you use a password in a day?