Saturday, April 24, 2010

Skinput; Turning a person's hand and forearm into a keyboard and screen

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- In Chris Harrison's ideal world, mobile phones would be the size of matchbooks. They'd have full-size keyboards. They'd browse the Web. They'd play videos.

And, most importantly, you'd never have to touch them.

Sound like too much to ask? Maybe not.

Harrison, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and a former intern at Microsoft Research, has developed a working prototype of a system called Skinput that does just that, essentially by turning a person's hand and forearm into a keyboard and screen.

"People don't love the iPhone keyboard. They use them. But they don't love them," Harrison said in a interview at the recent Computer-Human Interaction conference. "If you could make the iPhone keyboard as big as an arm -- that would be huge."

Using Skinput, a person could tap their thumb and middle finger together to answer a call; touch their forearm to go to the next track on a music player; or flick the center of their palm to select a menu item.

All of these sign-language-like movements, which are customizable, would control a gadget in a person's pocket through a Bluetooth connection.

When fitted with a pico-projector, the Skinput system could display an image of a digital keyboard on a person's forearm. So, using Skinput, someone could send text messages by tapping his or her arm in certain places -- without pulling the phone out of a pocket or purse.

"You could pretty much do a lot of what you do on your iPhone," said Harrison, who says Skinput "is [like having] your iPhone on your palm."

The system, which has been under development for eight months, won't be commercially available for two to seven years, said Dan Morris, a Microsoft researcher who is working with Harrison on Skinput.

Before that can happen, Skinput's sensors need to get more accurate, he said. In a 13-person trial in Seattle, Washington, Skinput was found to be 96 percent accurate. But that test only used five buttons. The system would have to improve for people to make use of a full keyboard, which would be the "holy grail," Morris said.

"The accuracy is good, but it's not quite consumer-level yet," he said.

Skinput is one of a number of prototypes, ideas and near-products aiming to make computing more natural.

These devices seek to move beyond the mouse and physical keyboard, letting people communicate with their gadgets by gesturing, using sign language or, in the case of Skinput, tapping on their hands, fingers and forearms.

The arm as an instrument

Understanding how Skinput works makes it seem all the more futuristic.

The system turns a person's arm and hand into a wiggling, pulsating instrument, full of vibrations that can be picked up and translated.

Skinput users wear an armband -- the prototype version is made of an elbow brace -- that's lined with 10 sensors. These sensors look like tiny diving boards with dumbbells on one end, and they pick up inaudible sounds that range in frequency from 25 to 78 hertz.

When a Skinput user taps a thumb and middle finger together, the impact sends ripples down the skin and through the bones in the person's arm. "They sort of start resonating -- like guitar strings," Harrison said. The diving-board receivers read the sound
waves to figure out what gesture the person made, and then relay that information to a phone.

Skinput can tell whether a person tapped a middle finger or an index finger, because the two moves sound slightly different to the springy receivers.

The system takes one or two minutes to learn the sounds of a particular person's arm, Morris said, and then it can be used however the user likes.

Trial and error

When they started working on Skinput, Morris and Harrison weren't sure if it would be possible to turn the human arm into a virtual keypad. The pair tried clipping sensors to the ends of peoples' fingers and other strange configurations that made users feel like cyborgs.

"We spent a lot of nights in the lab tapping on our arms and wondering if this would ever happen," Harrison said.

But the most profound achievement of Skinput is proving that the human body can be used as a sensor, he said.

Morris believes Skinput will make computing accessible to people in a way that never would have been possible before.

With Skinput, "literally, computing is always available," he said.

A person might walk toward their home, Harrison said, tap their palm to unlock the door and then tap some virtual buttons on their arms to turn on the TV and start flipping through channels.

"It's almost like magic," he said.

Magic or frankensteinian? Can you just picture it? Arms on a train, a park, or in a Starbuck's extended for computing or remote controlling? I think it's as creepy as walking on one's hands. Just saying.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day 2010 Climate Rally on National Mall, Washington D.C.

The Earth Day CLIMATE RALLY is on Sunday, April 25, 2010, 11:00am - 7:00pm at Washington, D.C.

Created by Earth Day Network

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day is quickly approaching, but the United States has failed to enact a comprehensive climate bill.

It is time to enact comprehensive climate legislation that will create American jobs, cap carbon emissions and secure our nation’s future. The first Earth Day was a success because 20 million Americans demonstrated their outrage for the state of the environment. Together, we can make Earth Day 2010 a pivotal moment in the environmental movement.

On Sunday, April 25, Earth Day Network will organize a massive climate rally on The National Mall to demand Congress pass strong legislation. The Climate Rally will include notable speakers Reverend Jesse Jackson, film director, James Cameron, AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka, Olympic gold medalist, Billy Demong, producer, Trudie Styler, author, Margaret Atwood, NFL player and television personality, Dhani Jones, environmental photographer Sebastian Copeland and many more.

The Climate Rally will also feature live music from Sting, John Legend, The Roots, Jimmy Cliff, Passion Pit, Bob Weir, Willie Colón, Joss Stone, Robert Randolph, Patrick Stump, Mavis Staples, Booker T, Honor Society and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger.
Please RSVP on A friendly reminder will be sent to notify you when we stream the live event on

Free buses to the Climate Rally

Earth Day Network is sponsoring free buses from New York City, Philadephia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Charleston WV, Richmond, Charlottesville, and Baltimore. RSVP today.

Buses to DC will park at RFK Stadium. There will be easy access to the Climate Rally by Metro Rail.

Driving to DC?

Vans, buses, and cars are encouraged to park at the RFK Stadium parking lot. There will be a shuttle service to the rally along with vendors and access to water. Please sign up to register your bus, van, or car ahead of time to park at RFK!

Take Metro to the Climate Rally

The Smithsonian stop on the blue/orange line is the preferred station.

Volunteer Opportunities
The Climate Rally needs volunteers. Please email to sign up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hank Williams Sr. among 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners

(CNN) -- The late country music icon Hank Williams was among the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners announced Monday.

The Pulitzer Prize Board awarded a posthumous special award to Williams, who died in 1953 at 29, for his lifetime achievement as a musician, praising the country legend for "his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life."

The board, chaired by Miami Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal, decided on the "special citation" after a confidential survey of experts in popular music.

"The citation, above all, recognizes the lasting impact of Williams as a creative force that influenced a wide range of other musicians and performers," said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, in a statement. "At the same time, the award highlights the board's desire to broaden its Music Prize and recognize the full range of musical excellence that might not have been considered in the past."

Only a few other musicians have earned special citations in music in recent years: jazz composers Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane each received one in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and Bob Dylan captured one in 2008.

Williams set the country music standard with his music, including songs such as, "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Cold Cold Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Jambalaya."

In the reporting categories, which make up the bulk of the Pulitzer awards, The Washington Post racked up four awards in a wide range of categories -- feature writing, commentary, criticism and international reporting. The latter was awarded for journalist Anthony Shadid's series on Iraq as the United States started the troop withdrawal, leaving local leaders to "struggle to deal with the legacy of war and to shape the nation's future."

The New York Times won the award for explanatory reporting for a detailed account of contaminated beef and other food safety issues, pointing out defects in defects in federal regulations. The Times also won the national reporting category for stories on the hazardous use of cell phones and other devices while driving.

The highly coveted Pulitzer for investigative reporting was awarded to Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News and Sheri Fink, a reporter for the nonprofit, ProPublica investigative Web site, for their 13,000-word story, "The Deadly Choices at Memorial," which chronicled how some New Orleans doctors made urgent life-and-death decisions after being cut off by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters. The story was published in collaboration with the New York Times Magazine.

The win by the 2-year-old Web site marked a significant moment for the Pulitzer board, which has traditionally awarded such honors to newspapers and wire services.

Other journalism categories were won by the Bristol (Virginia) Herald Courier for public service reporting; The Seattle Times for breaking news reporting; The Dallas Morning News for editorial writing; syndicated cartoonist Mark Fiore for editorial cartooning; The Des Moines Register for breaking news photography; and The Denver Post for feature photography.

Fiore's animated cartoons appeared on, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle, had "biting wit" and reflected extensive research as well as his ability to "distill complex issues," the board said.

In the arts, Paul Harding's "Tinkers" was awarded in the fiction category; "Next to Normal" won in drama; Liaquat Ahamed's "Lord of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World" won in history; T.J. Stiles' "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt" won in biography; Rae Armantrout's "Versed" won in poetry; and David E. Hoffman's "Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy" won for general nonfiction.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dixie Virginia Carter - May 25, 1939-April 10, 2010

Dixie Virginia Carter (May 25, 1939 – April 10, 2010) was an American film, television and stage actress, best-known for her role in the sitcom Designing Women (1986–1993). She was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Desperate Housewives in 2007.

Dixie Carter died on April 10, 2010. Her death in Houston, Texas was announced by her husband and actor, Hal Holbrook, who stated the cause as complications from endometrial cancer. In addition to Mr. Holbrook, she is survived by her daughters, Ginna Carter of Los Angeles and Mary Dixie Carter of Brooklyn; a sister Melba Helen Heath of San Anselmo, California; and several nieces and nephews. The Dixie Carter Performing Arts and Academic Enrichment Center (informally called "The Dixie") in Huntingdon, Tennessee is named in honor of Carter.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Earth Hour 2010 - A beautiful slideshow of unity for our planet

From the World Wildlife Fund to all who participated:

"On behalf of the planet, we thank you!

Earth Hour 2010 was an amazing success. For one hour the world came together with one voice to say we care about our planet and our future. Thank you for being a part of this historic event.

Saturday night on March 27th, hundreds of millions of people in 125 countries on all seven continents united to demand action on climate change. It is being described as the largest mass demonstration in history.

Celebrate our incredible accomplishments with a slideshow of landmarks across the world going dark."