Thursday, February 25, 2010

Facts Versus Notions, Hypotheses, and Theories

The word theory is generally meant to express what is more technically referred to as a notion; an idea that people have that is either vague or grossly unproven. This gives rise to comments like; "it's just a theory".

In academic circles, a theory is an explanation for the relationship of all known example of something. For example, evolutionary theory accounts well for all known fossils- it gets refined when new examples appear. Darwin, for example didn't have a science of genetics to help explain how traits where passed on. He also couldn't as efficiently account for animals that looked similar. For example, Auks(living in the arctic) and Penguins(living in the antarctic) look similar but genetically are very different species. This fits nicely with the idea that a bird that adapts to living in cold regions might eventually take on the overall form shared by the two species.

A hypothesis arises when, after looking at a limited number of examples, a possible and testable explanation arises. Experiments and methods are used, adapted or devised to test the hypothesis. Early research is a bridge between a hypothesis and a notion. For example, in the current research I am involved with, we are looking at how people interact and behave when playing video games, especially Wii. If you ask, we haven't collected enough data to formulate a hypothesis. Some of us have some notions as to what kind of social behavior will arise, but we haven't nearly enough data collected to see real patterns emerging. In time patterns will start to appear and we will have hypotheses that we can test to explain the social behaviors that emerge.

At later stages, we may do things like creating digital games to see how people interact with the game and each other in specific situations. This will allow us to test those hypotheses and give explanations for the behavior that emerges. However, those theories will be subject to revision as new ways of playing games and social pressures cause new behavior to emerge in the future. In the hard science's Isaac Newton developed his theories of physics, and these work well for describing objects bigger than atoms and slower than about 6% of the speed of light. His theory is accounted for by the Einsteins' theory of relativity, that accounts for really fast motion, up to the speed of light. and Quantum theory, that describes actions from within the atom. As yet, no theory has been able to account for all three. The facts seem to contradict each other, but the behavior of very fast and very small objects have been seen and described.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Self-reflexive Stephen Harper; looking for poll joy

This explains much about the current government's problems. The fact that the Prime Minister seems to lavish himself with his own image( a christmas card that reveals he has at least twenty four pictures of himself in his office), raises the question of where does anybody else fit in the picture? The Christmas card is photoshopped, but the government lobby isn't.

This obliviousness explains why, despite the opposition Liberal's lacklustre performance with Michael Ignatieff at the helm, the Conservatives are in a statistical tie with their nemesis. More over, despite the polls indicating the widely held view that Stephen Harper is the most competent leader in the house, the Conservatives still are a long way from getting a majority. Moreover, they have declined in popularity since the last election. The criticism of the Liberals for their inability to surpass the the Conservatives must be cold comfort to the Tories, when the Conservatives' inability to improve their popularity is so conspicuous.

The currentEkos poll, published here by the CBC:
Conservatives: 31.2 (+0.2)
Liberals: 29.0 (-)
NDP: 16.5 (+1.0)
Bloc Quebecois: 8.8 (-1.5) (In Quebec: 35.9 (-5.8))
Green: 11.8 (+0.5)
Other: 2.7 (-0.1)
Undecided: 11.4 (-1.7)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Haptic Heaven: Why touch screens rule

I was looking for a phone number on my rather old fashioned mobile phone. It is an LG Chocolate- reliable elegant looking, and functions well as a phone. Its additional features- camera, mp3 player and so on- don't get in the way too much. I realised, as I searched for a friend's phone number, that I was repeatedly trying to scroll the screen with my finger tip, rather than with the button. This was because of six months with an Ipod touch. My default for small screens is now "haptic".

This goes back to a vision from at least the Seventies, where computers as portrayed in the future would be controlled with gestures, and voice commands would replace textual input. Today, the Ipod touch, and now the IPad(a pad is a wad of paper, and I understand the critique from women that the name has mentrual connotations; a pad is also where I live; a pad is also a cushion that softens my fall; a pad is also a small keyboard) use an almost button- free system of control based on finger movement across the surface of a screen.

It is remarkable how fast that experience transfers. The ease of haptic inteerfaces, combined with their relative durability, due to the lack of moving parts and entry points for dust and moisture suggest they will become ubiquitous for control panels. The sole limitation is the panel requires a glass or potentially ceramic face to allow the capacitance system to track finger movement. However, bullet-proof glass could presumably do the job in public areas where abuse might be more of an issue.

What will it mean when gesture increasingly returns to human Computer interface. In a sense, we will be waving at a computer, rather than prodding it. more over, I think there is a difference between texting in instructions and data, as I am doing now, and using a series of gestures to achieve the same results. Think of how we might relate using a gesture such as a raised clenched fist to mean stop (watch any military drama with a movement-to-contact sequence for this gesture) as opposed to a verbal command to "wait here" or "stop". We are moving away from logos- the word- and into a more embodied relationship.

The situation is not one of either/or but a plenum between a completely subjective experience, say sensing the rise and fall of one's own chest in breathing, and the experience of reading a letter. The sensation of breathing must be one experienced by not only humans, but certainly all vertebrate animals. The context of meaning might well change for other species, but that requires a kind of communication that humans have yet to achieve with other animals. Our most abstract communication, with written words(or math- I will bracket that, for the moment) on the other hand requires an almost disembodied consideration of the intersubjectivity between myself and the other who wrote the letter.

What does it mean when we return so much to the body when we interact with machines, especially computers? But the ease with which one becomes accustomed to such interfaces sayssomething about thought, and embodiment- but I am not sure what that is...

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster