TEDx Berlin Review

Stephan Balzer moderated TEDx Berlin

Stephan Balzer moderated TEDx Berlin

TED conferences became famous for the inspiring and inspired talks, originally on “Technology, Entertainment, and Design”. The recent TEDx conference brought this model to Berlin for the first time (the “x” indicates an “independently organized” event). The organizers around Stephan Balzer really deserve a huge amount of respect for bringing this high class conference to Berlin, and for providing perfect infrastructure and support throughout the show.

Among the outstanding speakers were Veterans like Peter Eigen (from transparency international) and Bernard Lietaer. One could add Hans Rosling, whose groundbreaking statistics presentation from a couple of years ago was shown as a video (a pitty that he wasn’t available for questions afterwards).
Peter Eigen had no problems in making his points compelling and clear without any slides: Corruption by large companies is one of the main causes for poverty in so-called developing countries. He called it a problem of bad governance, not only in the bribed states but at least as severly in the bribing states where governments fail to efficently ban and punish bribing (note that you could get tax reductions for bribing abroad as “extraordinary selling expenses” until a couple of years ago).

Reto Wettach talking about "Bodies and Secrets"

Reto Wettach talking about "Bodies and Secrets"

Bernard Lietaer, as a monetary expert, argued against an economic system purely built on efficency: one could learn from ecologically sustainable systems that resilience is tremendously important to cope with surprising events (such as a storm or a financial crisis, background eg. in Berkes et al (1998)). Monoculture is highly efficent but also extremely vulnerable and has very poor potential for adaption.In retrospect, a series of design research talks connected perfectly to Lietaer’s pledge for more diversity: Reto Wettach argued that the invention and development processes of electronic devices must open up for electrical non-experts. If more people would pursue and realize their ideas for new hardware, innovation and more human friendly machines would happen more quickly. He presented Fritzing, a software targeted at making exactly this easier. He was framed by two speakers who delivered impressive examples: Fabian Hemmert investigates haptic and form-changing mobile phones. And Christophe F. Maire already explores the upcoming market for eBooks with his company txtr.

Social and ethical projects were another huge topic, such as empowering a civil society with sports (Boxing Girls). Other talks presented “third world aid” projects and often showed an undercomplex approach while dealing with complex issues. These talks seemed to follow the idea that “we Europeans need to help those poor Africans down there”. What these underpriviledged countries really need, in my opinion, is an end of European (or Western) arrogance, implicit in talking about just Africa (“the dark continent”, source) and explicit in trade barriers (such as import taxes and subsidies in Europe).
Despite being years old and just dealing with statistics, the ingenious TED video with Hans Rosling managed far better to bring fundamental issues to light, like (lacking) equal terms of trade and resepect for the diverse developments of African countries.

In the end, however, each talk delivered valueable starting points for discussions during the luckily extra long breaks. It was sometimes hard to imagine that all those well-suited people in the luxurious environment of the Grand Hyatt were really interested in groundbreaking changes, but I was happy to get proved wrong by a couple of personal conversations. There are by far enough ideas, talks, and people to get back to and that’s of course the success of TEDx Berlin.

Watch out for the videos!


Friends Need to be Within Reach, Physically

kissing a shadow

Profiles are a handy thing on the web, as you usually can’t have direct (some would say “real”) contact with others: the internet lets you filter information at a probably unprecedented scale, which makes finding friends with the same or coresponding interests a lot easier.

What if shared interest actually don’t matter (so much)?

It’s a pretty common experience that staying in touch with distant friends is difficult, whether they are “web friends” or not, and even if you share a lot of common perspectives. Psychologists at the University of Leipzig report that (fresh) students, that got randomly seated for their first lesson, were more likely to be friends a year later when they sat next to each other back then (via Die Zeit).

Some basic requirements provided, physical proximity is the best predictor for actual friendships. Intrestingly enough, another group around Pentland, Eagle, et al. conducted a huge empirical research using mobile phone data and found out that the number of meetings in person and phone calls are very good indicators for friendship. While this behaviour might be considered as intentional, the new findings imply that proximity “causes” friendship even unintented!

On the one hand, we could conclude that our increasingly “remoted” social life still faces difficulties that we can’t overcome: Relationships need face to face meetings.

On the other hand, we could also think about whether this finding applies to the online world in a more abstract way: It might be more likely to stumble upon possible friends than actually finding them intentionally (i.e. using sophisticated search methods)–quite an argument for associative browsing support.


Buddyguard on Stage

buddyshow teaser

Finally, my studies at FH Potsdam come to an end. I will give the presentation of my Master’s Thesis and projects on

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008 at 15 h
in the FH Potsdam Casino.

It has been a tough time untill my book went into press and I’m still quite busy preparing a decent show for you. But, hopefully, you will enjoy it and I will succeed in gaining a proud and honourful Master’s degree.

Buddyguard is helping me with making up a proper guestlist. But you are invited now already, as a reader of my blog!


How to pick friends

myfolks selector

Imagine, you’re back from a trip abroad and want to tell your friends about all the fascinating experiences that you have made (And you either don’t have a blog for that purpose or don’t want to publish it publicly). Usually, that means you have to go through your entire address book and select the appropriate persons. However, if your computer knew about your relationships it could help you a lot with this task.

How could an interface for this case look like? Here are some propositions (and some problems to discuss!).

. .

auto-pilot for your relationships

For a healthy relationship, you should leave a short notice for your friends at least once in a while. But — huh — somtimes, days are really packed and you tend to forget things like that anyway…

Why not let your digital companion take on some routine care taking? Computers are well versed with keep alive customs:

The “keep-alive” keyword […] allows the sender to indicate its desire for a persistent connection.

Here is how it works:
keepalive scenario
With the socially aware address book (from my Master’s Thesis) it will know who your friends are–and you will be able to describe your social aspirations, too. You then only need to define where you store interesting images or your latest writings or what you’re currently occupied with and the system will start sending off short notices every now and then.
If your friend happens to implement the same digital assistant (second line in the picture), your digital sidekicks might end up in a circle of automatic messages and reponses, chatting along on their own. Bypassing your human existence altoghther…
But your assistant can also propose some more personal messages that require your contribution (as depicted in the last line).

After all, some digital support is better than neglecting your remote friends too much, isn’t it?
(discussion declared open…)

. .

digital ambiguity

screenshot of Martin's favicons with white and grey backgrounds
The website of the interaction designer Martin Frey is represented by a fascinating favicon. It’s a rather simple matrix of grey and transparent pixels, his initials “MF” set to pure white. With the browser’s location bar usually set to white as well, the “MF” should remain invisible (at least until it gets displayed on the (in my case) grey background of a tab).

If I look onto the screen of my notebook under a very small angle, however, I can see the initials nevertheless – stunning! Even more surprisingly, I was not able to reproduce this “hologram effect” on my large flat screen or on my girl-friends notebook.

To me, it seems like a little secret hidden in an actually exposed but usually discarded place. Despite the strict commandments of the binary world to be either 1 or 0, smart and gentle (or even “in between”) notions still might be possible.

scrennshot of the SAP favicon
Another interesting favicon is used by SAP: It keeps on scrolling until the site is fully loaded – very nice!

. .

Social Button – my first paper on stage

The paper Larissa and me wrote a couple of months ago got finally accepted at the NGMAST conference in Wales this September! This is pretty exciting news, it’s my/our first step into the serious (official?) world of science.

The full title reads

Social Button – Mobile Technology Supporting Social Interaction.

Our project is about a small wearable display with a pin, that can be attached to your clothes. It gets your address book from your mobile phone and checks for matching entries on other SocialButtons that might be in the area. The Buttons indicate a match by displaying each participants personal symbol – a twist, that makes it much easier to find others and protect your privacy at the same time. Larissa’s animation explanes it far better:

So we went to the wonderful city of Cardiff (Wales, UK) some weeks ago to present our work. We got very encouraging feedback and some helpful critique there, and had some interesting face-to-face talks in the City Hall where conference took place. (Our slides come in at 8MB)

The city of Cardiff

NGMAST was the first conference on “Next Generation Mobile Applications, Services, and Technologies”, so it was rather tiny (compared to the very well known ones), but also quite personal, with a very warm chair, and easy to get in contact with the other participants.

With this event it became clear that our idea is promising yet only partially finished – so we are open for your comments!

(There is also a corresponding workspace at our University’s site for internal communication, incom)


Inbox Expo

discussing art people

at the exhibition of inbox artspace


communication unlimited?

Sensory Circus Backstage

In the context of my mini-exhibition of spam art at the FHP, I had a very inspiring conversation with Christopher and Martin (who study at the FHP as well). It started off from the exhibits themselves and that spam might be the Basis for the Pop-Art of our time as it is more typical than a Coke Bottle.

On the other hand, it is a radical interference with our communication needs and intentions, which should be one of the reasons for the strong emotions (fierce hatred?) towards it. That relation builds the link to my master thesis, which is focused on the organisation of our addressbook according to our communication behaviour.

At the moment, it seems as if we face a heavy communication overlaod: Twitter, Skype, ICQ, Blogs (with shoutboxes and comments), SMS-connectivity, Plazes, Facebook/StudiVZ, messages even via last.fm. Is there a goal everything is converging to, one “integrated commuication application”? How intense and instantaneous do we want our communication to become? Sometimes it looks as if we try to connect our brains. Or at least, we make publicly listenable what we usually would mutter to ourselves at best. Is it all about being afraid of feeling “un-connected” and alone when anyone else is excited about the new possibilities for interpersonal conncections?


cat food made from protesters?

To everyone who wants to know a little bit more about Russia, its political disposition, and the daily life there, I strongly recommend Ben Bidders Russenblog. He tries to work as a journalist, for sure one of the most exciting and often enough uneasy occupations to find there at the moment. How the press, independent press in particular, and all kinds of critical citzienship is handled by official representatives is a pure scandal.

A link in one of his posts led me to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, which published some photos (with frightening content). It was not on purpose, most probably, but at the time of my visit (07-05-26) the fotos got accompanied by a large ad, almost the size of the pictures themselves. While this is questionable enough, the picture’s caption establishes another link, describing the scenes as raw violence (“rohe Gewalt”). At least for me, raw is somehow associated with meat (> cat food).

screenshot from Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger

That really made me think.