Thursday, April 7, 2011

Forget about genius - just think about numbers

Today, I had the pleasure to host Denis Harscoat from Quantter talking about the quantified self [1] in my seminar. Denis illustrated nicely the power of numbers when describing challenges, quality and goals. I could well follow his argument of numbers yielding "serenity, peace, and happiness". You easily can state you want to be "good", "better", "excellent" - however, numbers are still better to describe performance or goals. Thus, the underlying idea of the quantified self is to collect, visualize [3], make sense of data and ultimately, change behavior [4].
Denis gave nice historical examples from Benjamin Franklin, Da Vinci and others showing the power self-inspection and changing behavior. Technological evoluation, he argues, finally allows to overcome the media breaks and collect data more smoothly, one example is the mood scope:

Quantter aims at going even a step further by establishing a platform, a market place of self-reported data: collected either manually by quants (tweets following a syntax, e.g. #swim: 15min) or automatically using one these logger devices (e.g. Fitbit, Zeo, DirectLife). Denis used the metaphore of "connecting the dots". Instead of having single dots of data, Quantter aims at drawing the complete picture of oneself. Denis emphasized the importance and business of values of connectors and interface: while technology may change for services to live on connectors are key. Quantter's default is public, private is the premium service. Establishing a maket for linking between achievers and coaches is the long-term goal. Finally, history is the best predictor for the future. Thus, quantifying routines could for keeping memories, improving in certain disciplines, or just for recording and prediciting success.

I was really fascinated about the brave vision of Quantter deliberately not solving a business or pain, but to rather bet on the emerging trend of self-tracking, social tracking and crowd counting.
In the following discussion Denis referred to the 10.000 hour rule stating if you just work enough you can do it. Whether or not this holds, I don't know, but justifies to keep on trying. Denis also defined the role of entrepreneurs to bridge between today's disbelief and what's going to be happen in the future.
If we only look for need, I'm once more understood, we may loose many innovations: who was waiting for facebook, iphone, google maps ten years ago?

[1] Kevin Kelly's Quantified Self
[2] Wolf, G.: Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life. Wired Magazine, June 22, 2009.
[3] Gary Wolf on the quantified self (
[4] Brennan Moore, Max Van Kleek, David R. Karger, Mc Schraefel: Assisted Self Reflection: Combining Lifetracking, Sensemaking, & Personal Information Management, In CHI 2010 Workshop - Know Thyself: Monitoring and Reflecting on Facets of One's Life, April 2010

Friday, April 1, 2011

Research of the Auto-ID Labs presented at GS1 event

As part of their research for GS1, members of the Auto-ID Labs research network give regular updates about their applied research in the areas of RFID technology & performance, consumer services and future trends of auto-id technologies.

The most recent update (overview) was provided at GS1's Industry and Standards Event in Brooklyn, March 2011.

Ed Schuster from MIT presented (slides) recent work about using RFID together with polymer material as powerless sensors to measure temperature and strain of bridges. As such, the safety of the material of bridges could be continuously measured and fed directly to the
EPCglobal Architecture Framework.

Jin Mitsugi from the Keio Lab reported (slides) about how to improve the lifecycle management of electric appliances in the home. As the EPC has been established in supply-chains but the consumers in the homes are missing the ability to read and write information to these RFID tags, Mitsugi presented a dual interface passive RFID tag: it incorporates the standards UHF Gen 2 interface for standards RFID readers and it additionally features a basedband interface to the tag's memory which can the linked to ZigBee/WLAN or any other appropriate connection being available in the home. Thus, a system can be build to manage the lifecycle of appliances also beyond the point of sales in people's homes.

Myself I had the chance to discuss (slides) the increasing popularity of shopping apps and the importance of barcode scanning in retail. As part of this research I disclosed first results of our analysis concerning barcode data inconsistencies. Triggered by GS1's Data Crunch report [1], we investigated the responses to 220.000 barcode queries triggered by users of two productive mobile apps. We compared the responses of different information providers and could reveal missing information (37% of the queries), wrong information and inconsistent information (spelling, multiple names for single barcodes).
The analysis is still on-going and will be summarized in an upcoming publication and whitepaper.
One approach might also be to position GS1 as the authorative source for barcode information.

Finally, Mark Harrison reported (slides) about recent projects in aerospace, lifecycle management, and event-based pedigreee for healthcare.
For details see also here.

Overall, it has been a very helpful discussion about future research directions of the Auto-ID Labs. It was good to see that the academic perspective of the labs and the business-focussed view of GS1 and members has many topics in common: consumers services, quality of barcode master data and the provision of GS1 master to consumer apps. The labs are looking forward to support GS1 in becoming the trusted source of master data for barcode consumer apps.

Visiting Manhattan, first, I was surprised about the crazy weather and, second, about IMHO a really complicated queuing system at the check-out of Whole Foods: customers are queueing in six lines, each assigned with a color. Then both screen display and audio announcement advice the customers in the pole positions of their lines to approach to a specific checkout identified by a number, run!,...

[1] GS1 UK: V.C., Data crunch report: The impact of bad data on profits and customer service in the UK grocery industry, 2009.