ubitasking. Taylorism. The horror…

Visualization of over 16,000 Mechanical Turk workers in the United States. Click on the image for the original (much bigger).

I’m always trying to think of silly new buzzwords (“ubitasking”), and I’m also always trying to avoid the hackneyed ones (“crowdsourcing”). Mechanical Turk (ach! 41% of it is SPAM) -type platforms are brushing up against place-sensitive applications, and the results are intriguing, particularly in the coordination of humanitarian aid. In one case, Crowdflower participated in Haitian earthquake relief efforts, in conjunction with the well-known Ushahidi platform and a ‘Turk-like ‘form called Samasource. This is interesting (and relevant to my research) for two reasons:

Firstly, the work sourced through Samasource involved translation of text messages so that aid workers could read them and respond – which is an important general consideration when envisioning the localization of any ICTs to particular cities (and neighborhoods within cities). Vancouver is made up of a number of linguistic communities; reaching out broadly to ensure they are all included requires an awareness of such tactics and a readiness to deploy them in the rollout of any mobile application(s). So, for instance – should the design team prescribe something with a similar “task orientation” (like ubitasking notifications to the City about sick trees or potholes) – translation services can be similarly sourced and organized here. The elderly Korean woman who has a community garden plot next to ours (who is constantly giving us gardening advice, in Korean, as she speaks no English whatsoever) inspires me to demand a community babelfish…

Secondly, and troublingly, all this “task orientation” (should be “tsk. orientation…”) smacks of Taylorism writ even more granular than ever before. If you doubt me, just read Crowdflower’s FAQ page for things such as “By saving the correct answers to a small set of Units prior to running a job, we track the quality of a worker’s performance and reject a worker once his or her accuracy drops below a defined threshold. When no Gold Units are inserted, the quality of work plummets…”. Yep, that’s your name alright, Taylorism. Routinizing work; building human powered Difference Engines; monitoring space and time with cool algorithms. Not your Lefebvre‘s city. More like yr Le Corbusier‘s…

I’m not dis(mis)sing Crowdflower, though, as they clearly have a charitable and progressive ethos going on, by all accounts. Just picking on the FAQ language, noting the exacting character of software, and pointing out where I’ve seen it all before.

So yes, pluses and minuses so far in the prelims, as expected. I’m looking at a few more technical options, and I’m prescribing nothing.

Image credit: sethoscope (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sethoscope/5410862747/) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Friday Zeitgeist: GeoChat, Twitter filters, Street Hacks, Youtube FAIL

Youtube CSS FAILI might start trying to do a “weekly zeitgeist” digest every Friday (or at worst, just paste together some cool links I’ve found). I’d like to include the sorts of links that contain answers (even partial, or even just plain wrong) to all of our questions, before many of us even formulate those questions. That, and funny shit. Here goes…

GeoChat is inviting participants. I’m joining, and so should you! Open source, network-traversing GPS/messaging? For disaster scenarios? A no brainer.

Russel Beattie reads my mind (and raman amplifiermany others), and he’s working on some code to separate the tweets from the twits (snarkiness mine). Let’s see if he gets there before some round-cornered logo accompanies some social media hipster-whoreapp that does the same thing but makes us feel icky because of the fast-talking jerk who made it. Snarkiness. Mine. Srsly though, where would we be without fast-talking jerks?

Too much coffee, man. Or, It’s Friday, I’m in Love.

An excellent read (so far), ccd so you can download (tipped off by @janchip, who’s also bringing the skinny on street hacks to MIT next week).

And finally, a major CSS FAIL at Youtube hit some student work at SFU (pictured above). Thankfully I had Grab ready and reproduced one of the borked pages (for the full comedic effect of the upside down youtube page, go to the full size jpeg on my Flickr account and read what it says in the blue box on the right).

Have a great weekend, folks.

Mobile Videobiking at Car Free Vancouver

As planned, yesterday, Roland and I strapped N-series phones to our bikes, pulled along a wi-fi/WiMAX equipped trailer, and performed Le Tour Des Car Free Fests. As my Sportstracker data indicates (in two segments), we managed to visit three of the four main sites for Vancouver’s Car Free Day.

Nokia Sportstracker routes came out in three segments, and the third segment either disappeared or NSB shut down in the middle of it.

We had severe connectivity issues throughout the ride, which meant that we only achieved a few minutes of live streaming video at a maximum. Roland has collected up most of the links for this material here, so I needn’t be redundant and repost it. The two remaining challenges for this sort of exercise (which had been identified during our last pretest on June 11, but not since resolved) are the annoying authentication page on Free-The-Net, and the limited upload speeds of WiMAX. Clearly, another solution, other than Rogers Portable Internet, is in order.

I must say, the Car Free day is a great event. I’m glad it’s expanded into other ‘hoods this year. Each one had a very different vibe. I’ll do a follow-up post on this dimension of the experience later. Today I need to actually spend some missed time with my daughter. The Father’s Day extended dub remix 12″, or something…

Car V Bike Pretest 0.2

Today we tested our live streaming video and GPS tracked bike commutes, this time using a third bike to pull the wifi mesh/wimax trailer.

I worked for about an hour this morning assembling the mounting clamps for the two phones on two bikes. Both worked very well and withstood many bumps. The angle and steadiness of the image is good (the lighting and resolution is not – see stream at right).

The most significant single problem is that our maximum upload bandwidth via WiMAX is just shy of 200 kbps, which means that our live streams only last a few seconds before they buffer. However, on the plus side, I don’t think we ever lost the WiMAX signal during the entire 10 kilometres we traveled.

There were also handset UI issues – everything in the phone must be set to “public” prior to attempting to stream or send GPS data, incoming phone calls put the N82 (and N95) camera on standby, interrupting the Qikstream, and whenever the wi-fi connection is interrupted (whether this was due to authentication issues with Free the Net, or due to me simply riding temporarily out of range of the mesh router), the stream is similarly paused while the Qik application uses Nokia’s EasyWLAN to find a new WAP.

More notes on this later; I’ve got spreadsheets to work on…

Car V. Bike pre-test :: Nokia Sportstracker and Qik

Today Roland and I mounted our Nokias (running Qik and Nokia Sportstracker Beta) on our bike helmets and rode around False Creek (see this map of our route, and see my Qikstream here). Due to rain, Scott (who was to supply our connectivity on a third bike, pulling a trailer containing a wifi mesh router connected to a WiMAX modem) bailed, but we took the trip anyway (for those who have no idea why we did this, click here and here for some back story)

The handsets (an N82 and an N95) both crap out after 25 minutes of Qik video recording (the phones store the video in RAM I believe), and with nowhere to upload the video to (no wi-fi, no data plan), the video cameras simply go into standby.

I used a velcro strap designed for the iPod Nano to secure my N82, and we used a combination of grip tape and duct tape to affix Roland’s N95. IMHO this gives an excellent POV, which is more or less shock resistant (as it’s got that wonderful spinal thing helping keep everything fluid [good thing I got some kundalini in yesterday], but makes the cameras impossible to operate. So you have to get apps running first, then lock the keypad, then mount it in the helmet without locking up the camera or obscuring the lens. A better alternative would be to use Gorilla Pods (or some homemade facsimile), which I think we’ll have to do next week.

Roland’s Nokia sportstracker data uploaded without a hitch (the map link above) over EDGE, while mine has been experiencing issues for a few days now over wi-fi. Any pointers on how to get past the “uploading to service” hang in NSB would be very helpful. Update – I managed to get around it – see comment below, and see my map here.

I see I’ve angled my camera too far down – it’s actually angled the same as Roland’s, but my handlebars are racing style, so my head actually leans down more than his. Chalk that up to first time glitches.

Also of note – the N82 survived about 20 minutes of moderate rain. It got soaked and kept on ticking.

Anyway, check back for an update when we’ve tested out the WiMAX setup. You can also tune into the Car v Bike event next Sunday, June 15, here.

Real time GPS tracking on the Nokia N95

I exercise 5 days a week, and much of this is running. While I can be found in local gyms on occasion, I try to do as much of this running as possible for free. For in using a treadmill, with its diligent, brainless constancy, I subjugate my running activity to the Gestell of its designers and the networks of people and things that maintain that thing as a predictable machine, and me as its consumer. I become some totally useless, galloping form of what Heidegger calls Bestand in the process.

Enter GPS and Google Maps, which together offer tangible, and ludicrous alternatives to the regimentation of gym apparati. With these marvels of our age I can, in theory, monitor and regulate my own running, and in doing so keep costs down, like the careful consumer I am. And what the hey, biofeedback loops are funnest when they involve sending data approximately 20,000 kilometres into space and back again, then across 2000 kilometres of Internet and back again to my Macbook Pro so I can enjoy a bunch of flashing lights and icons. In short, could I use my phone to log my jog?

Well, work colludes with life this week as Scott and I explore various GPS trackers for the Nokia N95. We are looking specifically for something we can deploy for a rally between a smart car and a bicycle as part of Mobile Muse‘s platform demonstration at Car Free Vancouver Day this year (Sunday June 15th).

I’m sorry to report that I’ve tried out two of them, and both failed.

Nokia Sportstracker beta didn’t work for me at all. It’s basically a heavyweight stopwatch. A stopwatch that works just fine, but that doesn’t do anything else.

MapMyTracks has an excellent website, where one can replay one’s movement on a detailed map with ease. But unfortunately, the phone app seems to go haywire at unpredictable intervals. The stop watch and distance meter ran fine until 2.56 km on my run today, then all the numbers froze. Plus, it was constantly looking for a new wi-fi hookup, which was most irritating. I came home and checked out my My Tracks page and found that the site only recorded two truncated runs : one that crashes the java applet that shows you the movie of your run, and a second one that is only 0.5 kilometres long (my daily run is about 7K).

Back to the drawing board…