Feb 102015



Maine Lakes Cribbage Board

Maine Lakes Cribbage Board

Travis Higgins has quickly made a name for himself among local store owners and cribbage enthusiasts selling his custom-built, Maine-themed cribbage boards.

See the BDN write up.

May 012014

“Like the back of your hand.” We’ve all used the expression to mean something we know intimately. But how well do you really know the back of your hand?

This is one of many discoveries to be had at this year’s New Media Night at the University of Maine’s IMRC (Innovative Media Research and Commercialization center) this Friday from 4-7pm. Apps and installations on display challenge the viewer’s assumptions about philanthropy, beekeeping, snowboarding, graffiti, and much more.

Jeff Dreher’s Back of Your Hand, a mobile application (game) for iOS, is one of them. This game will, through the course of a timed challenge, assess users’ ability to locate a photo of the back of their hand among a field of other users’ hands.

The player is asked to photograph the back of their hand with his or her smartphone (the game is both an iOS native application as well as a mobile web-app). Once the player has uploaded the photo, she is presented with a field of over 100 hands—in a random placement—and asked to find hers. A timer keeps the game fast-paced and hi-score chart keeps things competitive. Players often think it will be easy, but learn that their hand just might not be as familiar territory as they thought.

You can find descriptions of all the capstones at the 2014 New Media Night here. A number of the projects were recipients of grants from the New Media Correll Fund.

Apr 132014

Music sharing = crime?A recent story on Maine Public Radio highlights the changing tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Music representatives are now offering students 10 or $20 to settle copyright infringement, despite theoretical statutory penalties of $150,000 per song.

Does this deal represent a renewed sympathy for file-sharers on the part of the RIAA, or does it represent an admission that the PR and legal strategies of the past have backfired?

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Feb 282014

When I was in high school, my science teacher suggested we contact public figures who inspired us. This was a timely suggestion, as many of us were starting to think about college and career paths. With early access to the World Wide Web, growing up in Silicon Valley, I happened upon Carl Sagan‘s email address and sent him a note. Though I never heard back, however, the email took a considerable amount of craft and self-examination that would benefit me as I emerged into the job market.

A few years later, after college, I applied for an entry level job at KGO 810 talk radio in San Francisco. I got turned down, so did what all of my parent’s friends told me to do: I called KGO and asked their HR rep for advice on what I could have done better. The HR rep replied with some snide remarks that KGO was the best of the best, yadda yadda yadda, implying that I didn’t have the qualifications to even think about applying for their entry level jobs. She then told me to read the “Machiavellian texts.” Odd. But before I could reply that I had, though didn’t think it was relevant to put that on my one-page resume, she had hung up.

However, this was before social media and particularly, Reddit, the link- and story-sharing site that seeks out just these types of scenarios and, often, protects the weak who might receive confusing or inflammatory replies from those in positions of power. Fast forward to 2014, and Diana Mekota is just that person emerging into the job market that Reddit likes to protect. Their target is Kelly Blazek, Cleveland’s so-called “Communicator of the Year,” who apparently didn’t want to hear Mekota’s job inquiry and let her know in a blistering reply via LinkedIn. From CNN:

“Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky,” Blazek wrote, according to Mekota’s post. “Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job.”

And she was just getting warmed up.

“I love the sense of entitlement in your generation,” she wrote, then continued. “You’re welcome for your humility lesson for the year. Don’t ever reach out to senior practitioners again and assume their carefully curated list of connections is available to you, just because you want to build your network.”

She wrapped up with: “Don’t ever write me again.”

I don’t have a record of my conversation with KGO 810, and I don’t hold a grudge against Sagan for not writing me back. But if I received an email like this, I might do just what Mekota did: write a polite reply, then get Blazek’s email out to the likes of Reddit and Buzzfeed. Sound malicious? Sure. But with power, as in Blazek’s case, comes accountability. More importantly, presenting oneself as a victim on sites like Reddit, like Mekota has done, can lead to a slew of new opportunities as people flood the submitter with job opportunities of their own.

In a sense, getting a nasty reply truly is, “beneficial only to you.”

Full text at: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/27/tech/web/linked-in-cleveland-job-bank/index.html?c=homepage-t

Feb 012014
New Media students in Europe, fall 2013

Lauren Panaswich, Shelby Caret, and Elise Galgano demo CuteCircuit designs. Photo by Katherine Bartos

New Media major Katherine Bartos has an article up on the department website describing her revelations during a trek from Prague to London by a dozen students led by faculty member Mike Scott. Along the way they caught up with new media pioneers like Don Foresta, Michael Joyce, and Pavel Smetana. One of the moments that struck many of them the most was a visit to CuteCircuit, the wearable tech lab run by Francesca Rosella and alumnus Ryan Genz.
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Jan 032014

Making the rounds of the blog sphere this week is a report that dogs tend to line up on Earth’s magnetic north-south axis when doing their bodily necessities. Stranger yet, as a LiveScience article points out, the north-south pattern isn’t limited to canine excrement, but a variety of animal patterns:

A 2008 analysis of Google Earth satellite images revealed that herds of cattle worldwide tend to stand in the north-south direction of Earth’s magnetic lines when grazing, regardless of wind direction or time of day. The same behavior was seen in two different species of deer.

The article references a 2013 report that implicates iron deposits in certain animals’ inner ears. The cause, it seems, is still unknown. Though for birds, bats, and other animals that depend on geo-location for navigation, the necessity is more apparent. So, maybe dogs and cows might be presenting an evolutionary artifact; if it seems odd, the next time you see Fido doing his business to the south, just think of your appendix.

Full text at: http://www.livescience.com/42317-dogs-poop-along-north-south-magnetic-lines.html

Dec 022013

In Afghanistan drones kill soldiers and civilians. If Amazon has its way, drones will soon target the U.S. with Nyan Cat stuffed animals. From their R&D unit:

The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.

Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.

However, time-crunched shoppers beware: at least one Facebook commenter has pointed out that pirates could target the drones themselves with nets or other devices to capture that Holiday gift you were expecting.

Full text at http://www.amazon.com/b?ref_=tsm_1_tw_s_amzn_mx3eqp&node=8037720011

Nov 232013

How do you blow half a billion dollars on a national Web site that can’t complete a thousand enrollments a day for weeks after launch? Use the “waterfall” approach–an outdated, top-down management style that is a bureaucrat’s dream and a user’s nightmare.
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Nov 192013

New Media Night at the University of Maine, Orono 2013We’ve had a dry spell here on an NMDnet during the past few weeks, but that’s not been for lack of things to talk about.

October saw our Digital Humanities Week present twelve separate events, a whirlwind trip through Europe from Prague to Paris to London with New Media students,  and a host of free online tutorials sponsored by the New Media Department Correll Fund.

More on these trailblazing events, and more news from the front lines of new media, coming soon. In the meantime, you can keep up with news from faculty, students, and alumni on Twitter by following @NMDnet.

Aug 302013

The Corporate World

On the day I arrived at my internship, I was glad to find I had been given a cubicle, as well as a whiteboard, two cabinets, two kinds of chairs, and a very large desk. Space and resources, everything that I constantly craved at my job on my university’s campus. “I can be more productive now”, I thought… Well, that was an illusion.

There are two distinct factors about working in a big corporation filled with cubicles: it hinders communication and kills creativity. This is especially true for any profession that requires close collaboration to do great work. Imagine that you have a semi-important question for a coworker sitting a cube away from you. You could either send him/her an instant message or an email, hoping for a quick reply. If you don’t a reply few minutes after, you might consider just walking to the cubicle ask him/her in person. But wait, it’s really not an important question, and what if your coworker is focused on doing something and doesn’t want to be bothered? By this point, you are most likely feeling annoyed and have wasted a minute or two contemplating your dilemma. If the cubicle walls weren’t there, you could easily tell if they were free by simply looking at them. Additionally, the barrier to efficient communication prevents ideas from flowing quickly amongst your team, and ultimately leads to limited creativity.

Sadly, meetings are not a solution for this problem either. In fact, the amount and the nature of meetings I was involved in made the situation worse. They became a time slot where teammates tried to make up for the lack of regular and timely communication, expect it was not practical. Meetings themselves have an unique atmosphere that hinders communication. Now that you are in a room with everybody else, you become hesitant to speak up for fear of saying something wrong or looking stupid. At the same time, there is usually an anchorperson, most likely a supervisor or manager who serves as the main audience that you have to entertain. Most of the time it is not a very exciting event.

The bigger the company, the less efficient it is. There are many possible reasons why large companies are slow, but it almost always boils down to one word: Management. More people equals more time spent on management. As an intern, I was at the bottom of the chain of command: I report to my senior colleagues, while they report to our supervisor, and so on. In an ideal world, this sequence would happen consecutively, and it wouldn’t take very much time for me to pass on something to my supervisor – except that’s not the case. I was assigned to one project, while my senior colleagues were juggling several projects at the same time, not to mention my supervisor has to frequently travel to other company branches for meetings and other high level matters. Consequently, every time I ran into a bottleneck in my project and needed to make major changes, I would have to set up a meeting time several days in advance because everyone’s schedule conflicts. Meanwhile, I couldn’t proceed with my project because the problem was still there, and I had to wait for that meeting to come before I could do anything. On top of that complication, there were other departments inside the company that I had to communicate with in order to get access to certain resources. Last, because my project was mostly user research, I also had to take our clients’ time into consideration. Adding all that together, more than half of my time at work was spent on waiting to communicate with people. Is this bad? I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s bad (but neither is it good), because this is simply what happens if you have hundreds or thousands of people working together in an organization.

Perhaps this is why small startups that have only a few people can make rapid progress in a short amount of time. If Facebook didn’t start out as a college dorm project, but instead as a corporate product concept, I can guarantee you that today we would still be using the beta version of it… or the project plan might still being discussed in some random meeting.

Almost a Buzzword: User Experience

Each professional field has its own jargon, and that fact somehow overly complicates people’s impression when they see the term “user experience” (UX below.) What is UX? The term itself is simple and straightforward – the experience that user come into contact with when using a product. Yet the techniques and skills associated with it complicate the concept.

In essence, UXD (user experience design) is an umbrella term for all the fields within its system, and these are the methodologies that can be utilized for producing better design results. The common misconception is that UXD is an equivalent to user-interface design, but it is not true. It is similar to saying “The United States is equal to Maine,” while the reality is “Maine is part of the United States”.

Unlike web design or software development, I think you cannot associate “do” and “create” with UX. Once you have a product available, and you have at least one person using it, then UX is already there. The question is whether it is a good or a bad one. The answer depends on what happens during the product’s entire life cycle, beginning from the first rough sketch of the idea to the moment when the owner disposes of or returns the product. While there isn’t a definite rating scale for UX, failures can be attributed to two causes: partial execution of UXD, or total lack of it. Needless to say, lack of consideration for UX can bring harm to both the companies and the consumers, but partial consideration can also lead to devastating consequences.

For example, here is my recent experience with a well known computer retailer.

I purchased a new Windows 8 laptop two weeks ago. Once I was connected to the neighborhood’s public wireless internet, I noticed that the connection was significantly slower and more unstable than my old laptop. A quick search online told me that installing the latest update would solve the problem, but it didn’t. After several hours of frustration, multiple attempts and reading about other customers returning their purchase, I finally gave up, only to find out later on that the update had already solved the problem! However, this new laptop had a weaker reception than my other one, so it seemed that there was something wrong with the system.

Some takeaways from my story:

  1. Why wasn’t the customer informed about limitations and the solution to the problem?

  2. In fact, the question above should really be: why would there be such a problem in the first place?

  3. If the problem is unpreventable, how can you ensure that customers will know about the solution without frustrating them?

  4. Why did some customers decide to returning the product and how do you remedy that?

  5. If nothing else can be done, how can you make the return process as painless as possible?

  6. In the end, how do you minimize the negative impact to the company and prevent the impact from spreading?

To the company, it means losing the goodwill of the current customers and the interest of potential customers that hear the story. In the short term, this would lead to a slight decrease in sales and revenue. Long term, however, the company would lose its competitive stance in the market, especially if other companies are offering a better experience; this ripple effect may even cause the company to eventually go out of business. If you look at the questions above, by simply updating the computer before they are shipped out one could prevent the problem from occurring (considering that most customers aren’t advanced computer users). Even if there are edge cases similar to mine, a clear instruction label on the computer would be sufficient to inform the customers about the limitation.

If it’s so simple, then why risk it?

Unfortunately, the traditional business model measures progress through sales and revenue instead of loyal customer base. In fact, I could probably guess that the reason why the computers weren’t updated was to reduce overall cost of manual operation at the warehouse (increase revenue by cutting down cost), or the limitation was not stated up front so customers would be more likely to purchase them (increase sales.) With the widespread use of internet and online communities, this business-driven model no longer works; if you make one customer unhappy, you will end up losing several instead.

The good news is that more and more companies are starting to buy into this new user-centric model, which is why you are reading this article about my story as a UX intern. As more companies start to understand that customers are their most important asset, they will put more emphasis on improving their products and services from the buyer’s perspective, rather than just referencing the revenue charts. The bad news, however, is that either companies do not invest enough in promoting their product UX (also the reason why I wrote this article) or they claim that they do, but only do so for promoting their brand then do not actually execute it, so UX becomes another buzzword on their website.

Quality of Work = Level of Interest + Compatibility of Environment

As I look back at my internship, it’s accurate to say I was not working 50% of the time. You may think I was slacking, but in fact there wasn’t any work to do. While the inefficient management system slowed down everyone’s workflow, there was a more fundamental cause to my situation: meaningless work time.

This year’s interns could be categorized into two kinds of position: Developers and non-developers. Most of the developer interns were assigned to take on small projects from a constantly updated list of tasks. On the other hand, non-developer interns were either assigned to a single long-term project or job-shadowing with an experienced employee. So far, there are two visible problems with this picture: most developer interns were doing just the grunt work, and some non-developer interns were forever in training. As for myself, I was among the few that had a single and larger project for the entire span of my internship. You would think that having the opportunity to dedicate all of my time to one project was a good thing, except that’s not the reality.

During the research phase, I had to interview our clients regarding their current business practices as to better understand how they operate. After cold-calling and sending out emails to more than 140 clients, I suddenly found myself stuck in an awkward situation. I couldn’t proceed to the design phase without the research data. In other words, I couldn’t work! This situation would surface many times in the later stages of my internship, either because of the reasons stated above, or because of the nitty gritty internal management procedures. During my “free time,” if I were given optional side projects or granted the privilege to explore potential projects (such as the Google 20% program), instead of spending time looking for work-related tasks to do, I could actually be productive and contribute to the company. However, this alternative was very unlikely to happen given my status as an intern: someone being perceived as lacking the experience and skillset required for more sophisticated projects.

These frequent downtimes made me restless because I had to constantly struggle to justify the time spent on waiting. The worst side effect, however, was my slow demoralization. Over time, this feeling became a burden so large that I began to despise going to work. As a result, I would wake up every morning convincing myself that “today is different, I will try to get a lot of things done”, but end up leaving my cubicle as tired and frustrated as the previous day. If my story sounds familiar and you are passionate about what you do and work hard, there is something seriously wrong with your job, and a higher paycheck is not going to fix it.

For this situation, I can think of only two possible answers: Find a new job, or change the work processes of your company/organization. While finding a new job sounds like a risky move, it is a much easier route than trying to change how people do their job. The success rate for the second option seems to be quite low. Unless you are a managerial genius who understands the human mind exceptionally well, I would not encourage taking this approach. Group projects in college classes are a good example: when group mechanics aren’t working and you (or someone) try to change that, what was the result? Now if you think that was difficult, try to do that in a group that involves more than a hundred people. Fortunately, I was only a student intern and I don’t have to worry about job security (yet).

At the end of the day, you will be spending more or less a third of your lifetime working. So, on top of pursuing things that you are passionate about, you might as well think a layer deeper and figure out what ways of working can bring you the most satisfaction.


Jul 132013

Occupy Design LogoClichés notwithstanding, the world’s problems aren’t solved over a glass of Scotch, but at a drafting table. A few prominent educators are calling design the “third pillar” of education along with the sciences and humanities. And designers are finding new technologies and markets–from zero-gravity interaction to a Photoshop “app store” for fonts and other digital tools of the trade.

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Jun 132013

Wikihouse cIf IKEA married Wikipedia, their love child might be Wikihouse, an open-source set of architectural components you can tweak with Sketchup and assemble with a 3d printer. Other recent developments in physical computing: you can now print your mp3s onto “vinyl,” model 3d objects just by shooting them with a special camera, and stream your air quality to the Web with an arduino.

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Jun 072013

KulerYou’re a graphic designer/photographer on a photo shoot for a new car/building/eco-resort, and when you get home, you’ll have to plug your best shots into a graphic identity for the brand. Not to worry: Adobe’s new Kuler app lets you pluck a color palette out of a saved photo–or even from your iPhone camera. And that’s not to mention the Sound Camera.

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May 292013

Donkey Kong for DaughterThis weekend, Bangor joins cities across the US in a National Day of Civic Hacking, brainstorming and building technical solutions to local problems. In other good news, you can now rescue Mario in Donkey Kong as Pauline.

On the downside, you can also open hotel rooms with an Arduino and hack commercial aircraft with a cell phone. Oh, and Anonymous hacked their way into a Mexican standoff with Los Zetas narco lords.

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