Yesterday we stopped by Bletchley Park, the place where a large community of people from various domains and walks of life gathered during World War II in order to break the German codes.
It was a totally different type of visit than before, as the buildings themselves are quite uninspiring and gloomy but the history behind them is extraordinary.
There is a lot of information to take in and you definitely need a second visit to find out more.
I did not find that the multimedia iPod device provided by them was very helpful as the screen is quite small and the controls pretty bad. I find that having a device to fiddle with while you are trying to visit a place or exhibition is not a very good idea as it decreases the experience on both sides. Anyway, once you get the hang of the place and start going around the Mansion, huts, blocks and cottages, all becomes more enjoyable. The very extensive exhibition in Bloc B, where the Entrance is, would probably be the best place to start with even though you might end up spending so much time there that you’d be too tired to get on to the other places 🙂
If you are interested in this part of the human history or, as myself, you are amazed by Alan Turing and his contributions to computer science, it is a very enlightening experience. Also because you understand that Turing, no matter how genius he was, was part of a large community and they all contributed in various ways to breaking the German codes and shortening the WW2.

Some interesting links I found:

And here are the photos I took there:

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Yesterday I finally had my viva and I am quite happy that it’s all behind now! It lasted quite long (over 3 hours) but it all ended well and, even more importantly, I’ve got some very nice feedback about my work from my examiners 🙂

I wanted to have a more ‘objective’ view into my experience so I used the Zephyr HxM monitor to record movement and heart rate and the AIRS platform to record other data and annotate at certain points, so here are some of the graphs that include the ambient noise levels (i.e., talking), my movement levels (i.e., based on the accelerometer), my heart rate levels and my annotations. The viva started at 2:30pm  and ended around 6pm. It seems that my heart rate went up before the viva (actually it started going up a few hours before) but it started coming down during the viva, which shows I was getting less stressed 🙂 Then it got up again while I was waiting for the result outside the room and pacing and also kept being up because of the excitement 🙂
The other graphs also show my waiting outside the room (the 15 min before 6pm): increased movement and low noise on the corridor.

Audio+Movement+HeartRate

This week I attended the “Thinking Architecturally” workshop organised at the Computer Lab in Cambridge by the EINS EU NOE project. The workshop aimed at bringing together people from various disciplines that talked about designing and creating architectures within their domain.
The attendance list was very impressive and the viewpoint presentations brought in lots of discussions (some in agreement, some in disagreement). The discussions generated showed the differences between various communities with regard to what aspects should be part of an Internet architecture. My favourite presentations were by Aaron Sloman and John Doyle, because they were very thought-provoking (at least for me!). It was quite an amazing experience for me to meet Aaron Sloman during this week, as I’ve known some of his work for such a long time. I first saw his CogAff schema in 2000 and it is one of my favourite representation of various levels of reasoning. On top of that, he is such a nice person to talk to and listen to. Every time he said something I was in awe 🙂 This material includes what he presented during the workshop. John Doyle talked about biological structures as an inspiration for architectural thinking.

I’ve just got a camera I cannot have enough of: the Fujifilm X10! I really wanted a small camera that can take low light pictures so that I don’t have to carry a big camera when going into London for shows. I have to say that I fell in love with this camera immediately even though I am not a big fan of vintage look. But it’s so sleek while also well built, so simple while also quite serious looking. The pictures are amazing and it had so many features you can’t have enough of playing with it. The only downside is the battery lifetime but that’s a small price to pay for such a jewel: I’ve got 2 spares 🙂 Here are some of my first photos with the camera, with more to be found in my recent Picasa albums.

CameraZOOM-20130624175335348

 

Update (18 Oct. 2013): the thing about battery was not true! It does last quite long but not if you keep the camera on all the time 🙂 I still love the camera after almost 2 years of usage!

“The important waves of technological change are those that fundamentally alter the place of technology in our lives. What matters is not technology itself, but its relationship to us.”

From “The Coming Age of Calm Technology”, by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, 1996

I’ve recently experienced a very stupid query engine and web interface. I made a booking through directferries.co.uk, asking for a very specific route and very specific days (nothing like flexible dates, etc.). Unlike other searches on the multiple travel websites I have used so far, this one decides to use a price-based algorithm and instead of showing you the requested route and dates first it starts showing nearby routes leaving or returning on other dates just because they are cheaper! So, you have to actually sift through the long list of choices and be careful not to book in other days (as I ended up doing). Stupidly enough I assumed that the first choices are the ones based on my search criteria…Booking a ferry is like booking a train for me or checking the Transport for London so I did not really imagine that if I ask for a train in a specific day it gives me another date first just because it’s cheaper! I did not ask to book a ferry sometime in May!
Anyway, I got very annoyed as I had to pay for changing the tickets, but that’s my lesson to not book through them anymore. It’s true that I should have triple checked before paying but it seems that the website was so confusing that I really did not notice 🙁 Proof that after all these years of intensely using the Internet for all my bookings I can still get fooled by stuff…

I saw this picture that tries to map colours to meanings in various cultures. For some reason, I checked God and I was surprised to see that there is no mapping to colour for that in Western/American culture. I wonder why…

For the past week I have been playing with the Samsung i8910HD and tried to figure out if I would consider having one as my phone or not. First impressions: it is quite big but very well built and really nice looking. The first thing you want to try is video playing and it delivers beyond any expectations. The image quality and the sounds are amazing. The colours are amazing, much better than on my iPod Touch. The sound with headphones is as amazing as without. I really liked the 5.1 option that you can enable when having the headphones on.
I also liked the fact that you can use an alphanumeric keyboard, like the one on my N95 8GB phone, with T9 prediction. I like it much more than the QWERTY one that iPod Touch/iPhone has. Of course, you can also have that option on the Samsung.
Most of the experience on the phone was familiar, as it is Symbian-based, as my phone, so I did not have much to get used to on menus and things like that. However, since this is a PDA-size device and mainly touch-based, I did have different expectations from it than from my smaller phone. I looked at it mainly as a replacement for my iPod Touch+phone, which it currently is not mainly because it does not deliver the same experience. Given the processor, everything happens quite fast on it and the scrolling works well, in general, but it becomes more sluggish in the web browser. It did seem to get faster when I tried it with the Opera Mini but the browser itself did not inspire me much. I would have even put up with that, given the amazing device it is, but the killing point was the application offering space. Once you get used to how easy and convenient is to find and install applications on an iPod Touch it’s hard to accept the Google+install method and to paying £5-£10 for an app. As a phone, the application issue would not matter much (I did not buy much for my current or previous phones either) but as a PDA/media device, I do like to be able to get all sorts of fun or useful apps easily and cheap, like Traffic, London Tube, London Bus, etc.
iPod’s integration with the iTunes store was not really a major point as lately I started buying from other online stores (Amazon UK, Tesco, Play.com) that have better prices and sell mp3.
So, for now, I decided that my N95 8GB is still the best phone for me, size and features-wise, and my iPod Touch still the best overall media device (even though it’s not as advanced technically as the Samsung). Yes, I did think of combining them into an iPhone but I just cannot stand some of its limitations, like the inferior quality of the camera lenses, the (built-in) battery lifetime, the lack of additional memory card usage and the limitations of Bluetooth connectivity. I am also not so sure that having a media device as a phone is a good idea as I tend to play a lot with it and that would mean I would run out of battery on my phone! I prefer to run down the battery on my media device and still have a phone 🙂

A couple of weeks ago I joined in the Apple touch “revolution” by getting an iPod Touch. In the meantime it has become my constant companion around the house, as I use it for checking emails, checking news, getting on Skype or Facebook, listening to music, or simply playing some Solitaire. I love the screen, which is bright and sharp. I added lots of applications, which is obviously made very easy by Apple, either through the iTunes or through the AppStore widget on the screen. I now have Skype, Facebook, Yahoo! Messenger, Internet radio, London Tube, traffic updates for UK and for the London tube, and all sorts of other cool and useful applications.
Overall, I really love the iPod Touch as a surfing device and it has by far more good than bad things. The major negative issues are related to the text input and, sometimes, scrolling by touch. Even though I do like to check my emails on it I hate to write emails on it. I did get better at texting on it but it is still painful, and it’s made even worse by the crappy word completion it has.
I am happy I did not get an iPhone, as I cannot imagine having a phone with such a bad text input experience. I am not sure how people manage to write sms/emails with it. They must have a lot of patience. Plus, I do like a lot to be able to write sms with just one hand, which is quite difficult to do with any touchscreen device, especially when it’s using a QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode! The other thing I don’t like is that the screen is sometimes too responsive to touch and it’s easy to click on things by mistake, especially when trying to scroll. I guess I have to live with this one but I am hopeful that in a future version I could use the keyboard in landscape mode and maybe they would manage to also get their word completion better. As I am happy with it so far things can only get better 🙂