Habaztagday

So I sent my application off to attend Hackday in London, which looks really exciting, and like an idiot forgot to include any kind of justification for attending: I don’t mind not getting a place because there are lots more interesting people than me, but I’d die of shame if I was mistaken for an “obsessive business networker”.

What I’d really like to do, apart from run around with a stupid excited grin on my face at all the toys and genius in one place, is use it as an opportunity to explore some of the ideas I’ve had about using my Nabaztag rabbit as an ambient mood indicator, a way of making the affect buried in text and biochemistry visible to the non-verbal parts of the mind we all rely on for making sense of social interaction. When I’m back in the office, I’ve got something I want to try that involves thinking of it as an animal, and the people in it micro-organisms whose collective activity constructs its health: I have an idea that the chemical composition of the office space will reflect the mental health of its constituents (us), and that by measuring the concentration of certain elements the stress of the people working there can be made visible. Perhaps by making the health of the office something that people can see, we’ll all work to make sure it’s a positive space to be in. If we keep the rabbit smiling, we’ll all be better off.

Obviously, there are lots and lots of practical questions to answer before this can be a reality (do people mind having galvanic response detectors built into their mice? can you measure the temperature of people’s hands as they touch the kettle, or fridge door? how do you correct for summertime? how often does someone have to touch something before you can ascribe it to stress? which chemicals do we have to look for? and so on). In the meantime, though, there are a bunch of smaller ideas that would go some way towards this grand idea. And they’re all pretty cool on their own.

So here’s a list of things I think I could measure and have my rabbit react to:

How many people in the pub? Measuring the number of Bluetooth devices in one place and making this available to the web is possible if I use Apache and Python on my old 6680 (with unrestricted access to interesting parts of the phone) to generate a call to the Nabaztag API: if the rabbit looks sociable (ears pert, cheeks flushed), the pub’s heaving.

What’s the tone of the mailing list? Using Wordnet to check for words that indicate trolling, hostility and disagreement, I could build a set of sequences for my rabbit that would reflect the state of the debate I’m interested in: this way, I could let the flame surges die down before checking in, or if it looks like something intelligent is going on (frequent and mid-length posts, moderate language) I could be sure it’s worth having a look. Wonder if there’s a way of representing a yawn for frequent topics? (“are video games art?”, “we need more case studies of mobile learning”)

Are my friends in the same country? Using Jaiku (sorry Twitter), my rabbit could look happier and happier as more of my friends enter the country. Of course, I’d need some more friends first. And this would probably work better with Dopplr, which I don’t have an invite for. I might give this idea to someone who’s a bit less anti-social, or who has geekier friends. Never mind – onwards!

Who’s a rabbit? Who? Who? Basic voice recognition software combined with the Nabaztag API would let me have some kind of conversation with my static chum, asking it for certain feeds (“weather”, “solid steel”) from my reader and including options for praise and disappointment depending on the state of the network. Bad rabbit! Bad!

There are many more – for example, I’ve been interested in using the ears as an interface controller ever since Hans pulled one of them off (the position is recorded and updated in realtime, so it can by used as input as well as feedback) – would be great to have a motorbike game controlled by a tiny rabbit. I guess I need to spend some time catching up with things.

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