Saturday, December 20, 2008

Support the economy: spend more and pay less income taxes...

I wonder if this idea has also been explored and discussed. I don't know how to search for it. So, I simply state it and see if somebody reacts.

Everybody agrees that economy is healthy if people spend money by purchasing produced goods. Everybody knows also that when you buy goods you pay one tax: TVA.

So, the reasoning is simple. One of the reasons why I cannot spend money for purchasing goods is because I owe income taxes to the state, which in turn already takes money from me through TVA.

So I propose that you pay income taxes only on earned money that you don't spend in goods and for which you already have paid TVA. This measure would push people in spending more their earned money because they can deduce this money (not the TVA, but the whole amount) from incomes taxation.

You would pay instead taxes for earnings from financial speculations and interests.

My question is: is it feasible? Are there any problem with this proposal?

I really hope somebody react to this post.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The future of Italy is in its past.

Where are the economic opportunities for Italy? They are mostly in its past!

Where exactly? In its culture heritage, in its wonderful resorts, in its beautiful lifestyle full of art, music and fine food.

If you were about to choose a place where to install a R&D center for a big company, would you chose a place where living is easy? Yes of course!

But why this does not happened in Italy, which fulfills this requirement? The answer is simple: all the rest is missing!

What is basically missing is infrastructure for business, lightweight bureaucracy, an international environment (Italians who live in Italy barely speak their own language), business and technical skills of local people (here I mean not just managers, but ordinary people), competitive universities and research centers.

So what? Maybe our last chance to survive an economical disaster is to capitalize on our past: history, art, fine food, music, ...  Somebody already calls Italy the "World's Disneyland". Why not? Entertainment is big business and we possess the necessary "know-..." What is missing now is the "how"!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Where is Italy?

EUROPEANA is a new initiative to bring the European's cultural heritage to the Internet.

It is a huge digital library that has been by the European Digital Library Foundation.

Here is the list of participant insitution and as you can see (this is at November 2008), Italy is missing. Yeah, Italy the craddle of "renaissance" culture with Da Vinci, Michelangelo etc. is not part of the effort.

Italy is again missing an opportunity of being part of the cultural discourse that is developing in Europe.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Multi-touch input: when is it really needed?

Multi-touch input is an emerging input modality where several point of pressure can be detected on a surface.

To a great extent the success of graphical user interface was that it was possible to perform direct manipulation of graphical objects with minimal effort, namely pointing and clicking. The mouse lies on the table and does not need to be continuously held by the user. Then, switching from mouse to keyboard is very easy (even better with touchpads in laptops).

Now with multi-touch screens the user has to make the additional effort of point on the screen with two hands. I see it comfortable only in the situation where the screen is a tablet. But still in this case the multi-touch feature is not really needed because the user hold the tablet with one hand and interact with the other.

If the multi-touch screen is a tabletop as in the case of the Diamond Touch or the Microsoft Surface, then I see a possible comfortable use, especially for multiple users.

Then there is the case of multi-touch input on portable device such as the iPhone. In this case I believe that the multi touch feature is not really necessary. Users of mobile devices use only one hand and one finger.

A strong case for multi-touch input is touch pads in laptops. As in the case of the new Asus EEPC and the new Apple MacBooks, the possibility of making gestures with two touch points is very useful. This is true because when the hands are on the keyboards the two thumbs are naturally located on the touch pad affording for combined movements.

My conclusion is that multi-touch input is not applicable everywhere and one shoud be careful to not force the user in making unnatural physical movements for interactions that can be made effortlessly with simpler input devices.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My political position...

I participated to a survey on political issue in Switzerland issued by Perspektive Schveiz and I got this nice diagram that shows my political position compared to the views of political parties and average people in Switzerland.

I am very proud of this result because it combines liberality with left-wing views, often considered (mistakenly) as incompatible.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Search insights on jobs

I tested the newly launched Google service called "Insights for Search" which is an improved version of Google's Trends.

I tested with a few search term and I tried the term "jobs".

Look at the pattern I got from this term:

I made a guess interpreting this graph:

People stop searching for jobs during Christmas holidays (this is easy to catch). Then they feel they need to catchup in january. They don't find any changes from the past year and they wait a little bit. Then they start again in springtime and they reach the top in summer (many might look for a summer job). After the summer the interest in finding jobs decreases again to its minimun again at Christmas.

Please post a comment if you have alternative interpretations of this pattern.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Usability is not just about flashy animations...

I was browsing the IKEA web site in order to find a suitable carpet for my living room. For this task you need two basic information:

1. the size of the carpet
2. the picture of the carpet's texture

Typically, the previews show the carpet's texture but in the IKEA's web site they do not include the size that it is shown when clicking on the item's preview.

This is a very simple case of usability issue that can be easily solved. It is not about the appearance of the web site but just about what information is relevant and useful for navigating the site.

If the web site is an e-commerce portal, then this issues can result into a loss of revenue due to the increasing customer's abandon rate (i.e. the user visit the site, tries to make a purchase, but the task is boring or too difficult, or just it does not find the necessary information to make the purchase).

If you want to check whether your site have usability problem you can ask help to a usability consulting company such as SimpleUI with which I am currently collaborating.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Romania... still much to do!

Dear readers,

I am back to Romania for holidays. Last time I was here Romania was not yet member of the European Union. Now, it is almost 2 years of membership.

Many things have changed so far, but unfortunately it is mostly only "surface". Only "visible" things such as make up of few buildings, flags everywhere and prices up to European standards.

But fundamental things still remain to improve. As an example of this, we travelled from Iasi to Nasaud (near Bistrita, the city were we live) with a train that crosses the whole country from east to west up to Timisoara. It is a very important railway line, especially because there are no flight connections between Iasi and the other west-side cities (e.g. Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Tirgu-Mures, Oradea and Arad). Travelling by car is almost impossible because of unmaintained mountains roads, always populated by huge trucks.

We travelled in first class on one of these old "blue" trains:

It was a nightmare!! If it is acceptable for adults to travel on these trains it is unacceptable if you are travelling with kids. It is so uncomfortable, dirty and definitively dangerous!

I don't understand why, at least for these important connections the Romanian government did not change the train cars. I am not asking for luxury cars, but for something decent. Yes, of course the train fares are cheap compared to other countries, but everyone here would spend just a little bit more in order to have a decent train journey.

In contrast, much effort has been put on the Romanian railways web site. Of course, no trace of the old trains. Only the new trains that connects Bucharest to few cities such as Iasi are displayed.

Of course, someone else complains (in Romanian)... It seems that people here accept the situation and whenever it is possible find alternatives to cope with this problem: buy a SUV and travel by car, basically!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FaceBook will kick me out...


it's true... I've been warned to stop "spamming"!

Well I don't consider myself a spammer... I was just exchanging a few messages with a colleague... maybe too fast for the FaceBook standars and that's what poped up on the screen:

I don't know what to think, actually... I will tell you, later! I don't want to spam you too much!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I uninstalled the Yahoo! toolbar from Firefox. Don't you notice something strange?

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Who reads my blog from Bomba?

Dear readers,

using Google Analytics, I spotted that somebody was reading my blog from a small town in my home region, Bomba.

I would like to know who is this person (maybe we already met few years ago), and if this person reads my blog again, I ask him/her to contact me as soon as possible.

Thank you!!


Blogged with the Flock Browser

Slowing down de web...

Thanks to Google Analytics, the web is slowing down...

When you click on a link and the web page doesn't load fast, or does not finish to load, then look at the bottom of your browser (you must activate the Status Bar) and you will find:

While very useful, this service could cause undesired slowdown in loading pages. Worse enough, if you put the script at the beginning of the page, the page won't load until Google Analytics has recorded the information.

So please, put it at the end of the page! :-)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The role of computers...

In his blog, Luca Chittaro explains the paradox of automation in critical systems by elaborating the Lisanne Banbridge's paper on "Ironies of Automation". Basically, nowadays computers take care of automation of complex control tasks (e.g. in aircrafts), while human are requested to monitor the correct behavior of the system, and switch (when possible) to manual control in case of detected failures. Monitoring is even a more boring task than controlling instrumentation. Moreover, intervention in case of failure is more difficult and critical than controlling the system in normal conditions.

I believe that the role of computer is exactly the opposite than the current practices. Computers should "silently" monitor the interaction between users and the physical devices and take care that everything is done safely and correctly. When something wrong is detected, they should first warn the user and ultimately take control of the devices in order to re-establish a safe state.

I advocated this perspective in human-computer interfaces in my recent work on Kinetic User Interfaces where I propose an interaction pattern called "continuous tracking". In this pattern, the user performs some motion activity within a given context (e.g. in a place). The system's interface continuously monitors the activity and pops up providing relevant feedback (e.g. warnings, alerts, information) when something unusual happens (e.g. anomalous, danger, new). In the normal case, the interface stays in the background providing only minimal feedback in order to tell the user that the monitoring is done correctly.

This pattern has been implemented by Pascal Bruegger in a test scenario for paragliding assistance: the UbiGlide project and showcased at UbiComp 2007.

The UbiGlide FlyNav Simulator

Friday, February 08, 2008

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Less Features, More Freedom!!

Yesterday, I participated to a very interesting workshop part of the LIFT08 conference where one topic of discussion was how to design a mobile infrastructure and interface for empowering and enabling marginalized people to produce multimedia art and eventually get some revenues.

Well, being the topic very interesting, one thing that emerged from the discussion was about design choices. With a vague idea of potential users, it is very difficult to select those features that are expected to be useful to them. So the tendency is to add more and more features with the hope that some of them will be actually be used.

Experience tells us that this is a bad practice. In fact there are two important usability factors here:

  1. Users will use technology in an umpredictably way.
  2. Users will not use (unless forced) messy and cluttered interfaces.

The combinination of these two simple (verifiable) factors led us to the conclusion that it might be better to have simple objects with a great freedom of use. This will enable unpredicted and serendipitous interactions that might be used to understand user needs and improve the design.

So I came with a motto that I checked is not yet present on the web:

Less Features, More Freedom!

LIFT08 Workshop on Ubiquitous computing: failures and new interaction rituals

As you may already know I am taking part of a wonderful event in Geneva: the LIFT 08 conference. A series of workshops took place during the first day of the conference. I participated to twos of them and I am reporting my experience to the one organized by Nicolas NovaJulian Bleecker and Fabien Girardin on failures of UbiComp.

The format of the workshop was similar to another one I participated in Oslo at NordiCHI 2006 on Near Field Interaction. Audience was asked to write one or more examples of Ubicomp applications who failed in their expectations. Then a few groups were assembled and each group could pick and focus on one theme.

I belonged to a group that focused on the failure of eBook  Readers, namely a specialized hardware for reading digital books. I worked with very nice and insightful people such as Patrick Genoud, Michele Perras, Jean-Noel Portugal, and some other I don't remember the names.

The issues we identified as the causes of the failure of this technology were the following:

  1. Wrong Market Analysis: the expected customers of eBook readers were ordinary book readers (mainly fiction). These people had requirements on the reading experience that could not be fulfilled by the device. For instance, they required quality of the screen resolution and fonts comparable to printed text. First devices offered a very lo-fi quality (around 72 dpi) whil printed books offer at least 300 dpi resolution. Another important factor was the lack of feeling with the physical objects.  Books are not only for reading but also elements of decoration. Other factors were the dependence on electicity because of low battery life, necessity of adequate lightin conditions, lack of available digital content (~1990, the situation has changed today), small storage capacity.
  2. Low Added Value: For early adopters and people that are open to technological innovation, the added value of those devices did not meet their expectations. This was because of some factors like the lack of an open/standard format (one reader is bound to one format), the high price, etc. Moreover, the reading experience was only a downgraded version of an ordinary reading experience since it did not exploit the capability of digital content and devices such as multimedia, sharing, dynamic content, upgradability, etc.
  3. Social Aspects: Books have also a social role. When one is reading a book everybody can see which book he/she is reading by looking at the cover. This represent an important aspect of the reader's self construction. Also, the buying experience is missing. Ordinary and frequent book readers appreciate browsing bookshops and occasionally meet people who are looking for similar books. This kind of experience was completely missing with digital content.
  4. Bad Design: eBook readers were designed for technology-savy people. They required an unnecessary learning effort that was unjustified by the low-quality reading experience.
  5. Sense of Ownership: Several problems with Digital Right Management were experieced. The fact that user has no longer the ownership of the book. It is rather the device that holds ownership. This might be an issue that prevent people from buying electronic books.
We also recognized that eBook readers technology might be more mature today and have a greater impact. Notable examples are the Amazon's e-book reader and the Sony's Portable Reader System, which are both under $400. This is due essentially to the following factors:
  1. Huge availability of (relatively cheap) digital content
  2. Better battery life
  3. Larger (flash) Memories
  4. Better screens (e.g. ePaper)
  5. Multimedia capabilities
  6. Social networks integration
  7. Better acceptance and widespread digital culture
  8. Standard (and relatively interoperable) formats
  9. Previews available in online bookshops
Concluding, I believe that the discussion around this topic were higly interesting. Learning from failures is very important and I believe that this workshop meet both audience expectations and goals.

Università italiane: che figura!! (Italian universities, what a shame!!)

I am a proud alumnus of the University of Pisa, Italy were I earned my M.Sc. degree, but I am very sad to discover that no Italian university is listed among world's top 100 academic institutions (from Newsweek in 2006).

In contrast, I am also a proud alumnus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) where I earned my Ph.D. in Computer Science. EPFL is ranked 26th!!

Finally, I've been visiting scholar of University of California, Berkeley, and University of Stanford as a post-doctoral fellow. These two institution are ranked respectively 4th and 2nd!!

What will be the next step?