Archive for the ‘tech’ Category

The skills implications of Cognitive Computing

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

STEMtech is a conference about the education of science, technology, engineering and maths. The attendees are an interesting mix of people from education and policy makers, as well as people like me from industry.

This year, they invited me to do a talk. My slides are shared but they’ll make no sense by themselves. What follows is roughly what I think I said.


Thinking Digital 2014

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

This week I went up to Newcastle for Thinking Digital.

It was the seventh Thinking Digital, but my first.

I’d seen a bunch of references to it being the UK’s answer to TED, the tickets aren’t cheap, videos from previous years look slick and professional, it’s held in The Sage which is a hugely impressive venue, they manage to get a great line-up of speakers, and the logistics in the run-up to the event were more organised than any event I’ve been to before.

So… I was expecting a cool and geeky, if faceless, serious, formal, and intimidating event.

I’d read it completely wrong. It’s absolutely a professionally run event. And there was no shortage of cool geekiness. But, more than that, the organizer, Herb Kim, has created a real sense of community in it. There’s a feeling of almost familial warmth amongst attendees who come year after year after year.


Dear Fitbit, I lost my tracker…

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

I lost my Fitbit today. It fell off my trousers when I was out for a long walk while the kids rode their bikes, and I didn’t notice. Boo. 🙁

But I found it. Yay! 🙂

A few thoughts for Fitbit about this:

Belt clips

I don’t like the Fitbit One‘s belt clip as much as the Ultra‘s belt holster. It’s stronger, and less likely to snap (which is what happened to my Ultra and why I ended up having to get the One). But it’s not as effective. It’s hard to attach it to many of my clothes, which was never the case with the Ultra. And it falls off. This isn’t the first time it’s fallen off, although it’s the first time it’s happened without me noticing.

Design-wise, I think it needs reconsidering.

Knowing when I lost it

We’d been out for hours. I had no idea when it had gone missing.

But the Fitbit app on my Nexus 4 background syncs with my Fitbit. I checked my phone.

Last synced: 40 minutes ago.

That was a big clue. I knew where we’d been and could retrace my steps. Knowing how fast we’d been going and that my phone had last seen the Fitbit 40 minutes before gave me a rough idea of where it might be.

But Fitbit, if your app stored a location with each sync, and could show me a map, that would’ve been so much better! I guess you need to think about the battery implications for my phone, but even a rough large-radius location estimate would’ve been appreciated.

Using my phone as a fitbit-detector

When I tried to manually get the app to sync with the Fitbit, it threw a “Tracker not found” error.

I retraced my steps, repeatedly hitting the sync button. My idea was that once I was within Bluetooth range (What is Bluetooth’s range outside? A dozen metres?) my phone would sync, and I’d know I was close.


W4A : Accessibility of the web

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

This is the last of four posts sharing some of the things I saw while at the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a.

Several presentations looked at how accessible the web is.

Web Accessibility Snapshot

In 2006, an audit was performed by Nomensa for the United Nations. They reviewed 100 popular websites for conformance to accessibility guidelines.

The results weren’t positive: 97% of sites didn’t meet WCAG level 1.

Obviously, conformance to guidelines doesn’t mean a site is accessible, but it’s an important factor. It’s not sufficient, but it is required. Conformance to guidelines can’t prove that a website is accessible, however there are some guidelines that we can be certain would break accessibility if not followed. So they are at least a useful starting point.

However, 2006 is a long time ago now, and the Internet has changed a lot since. One project, from colleagues of mine at IBM, is creating a more up to date picture of the state of the web. They analysed a thousand of the most popular websites (according to Alexa) as well as a random sampling of a thousand other sites.

(Interestingly, they found no statistically significant difference between conformance in the most popular websites and the randomly selected ones).

Their intention is to perform this regularly, creating a Web Accessibility Snapshot, with regular updates on the status of accessibility of the web. It looks like it could become a valuable source of information.

W4A2013 – Web Accessibility Snapshot: An Effort to Reveal Coding Guidelines Conformance from Vagner Santana


Dyslexia at W4A

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

This is the third of four posts sharing some of the things I saw while at the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a.

There were a few sessions presenting work done to improve understanding of how to better support people with dyslexia.

One interesting study investigated the effect of font size and line spacing on the readibility of wikipedia articles.

This was assessed in a variety of ways, some of which were based on the reader’s opinions, while others were based on measurements made of the reader during reading and of their understanding of the content after. The underlying question (can we make Wikipedia easier to read for dyslexics?) was compelling. It was also interesting to see this performed not on abstract passages of text, but in the context of using an actual website.


W4A : Future of screen readers

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

This is the second of four posts sharing some of the things I saw while at the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a.

Several of the projects that I saw showed glimpses of a possible future for screen readers.

I’ve written about screen readers before, and some of the challenges with using them.

Interactive SIGHT

One project interpreted pictures of charts or graphs and created a textual summary of the information shown in them.

I’m still amazed at this. It takes a picture of a graph, not the original raw data, and generates sensible summaries of what it shows.

For example, given this image:

It can generate:

This graphic is about United States. The graphic shows that United States at 35 thousand dollars is the third highest with respect to the dollar value of gross domestic product per capita 2001 among the countries listed. Luxembourg at 44.2 thousand dollars is the highest


Web technologies I saw at W4A

Monday, June 3rd, 2013


Last month I went to the International World Wide Web Conference for w4a. I saw a lot of cool web technologies and accessibility projects while I was there, so thought I would share links to some of the more interesting bits.

There are too many to put in a single post, so I’ll write a few posts to cover them all.


Subtitles and transcripts came up a few times. One study presented looked at online video, comparing single-line subtitle captions overlaid on the video with multi-line off-screen transcripts adjacent to it.

It examined which is more effective from a variety of perspectives, including readability, reader enjoyment, the effect on understanding and so on. In summary, it found that overlaid captions are generally better, although transcripts are better for content which is more technical.

Real-time transcription from a stenographer at W4A

We had subtitles for all the talks and presentations. Impressively, a separate screen projected a live transcription of the speaker. For deaf attendees, it allowed them to follow what the speaker was saying. For talks given in Portuguese, the English subtitles allowed non-Portuguese speakers like me to understand.

They did this by having live stenographers listening to an audio feed from the talks. This is apparently expensive as stenography is a skilled expertise, and it needs to be scheduled in advance. It’s perhaps only practical for larger conferences.


Conversational Internet at W4A

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

I wrote a thing.

I normally just write code. It’s safer that way. But a change is as good as a holiday, so earlier in the year, I tried writing in English. With sentences and paragraphs and everything.

I wrote a paper to summarise the Conversational Internet project for submitting to W4A, the 10th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility. And I’m pleased to say that it was accepted.

If you’re in Rio for WWW 2013 next month, look out for it!