in which our protagonist changes jobs

Perhaps I am more than usually jealous of my freedom. I feel that my connections with and obligations to society are at present very slight and transient. Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by which I am serviceable to my contemporaries, are as yet a pleasure to me, and I am not often reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am successful, and only he is successful in his business who makes that pursuit which affords him the highest pleasure sustain him. But I foresee that if my wants should be much increased the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, neglecting my peculiar calling, there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.

H. Thoreau
10 January, 1851

This has been an excellent, excellent year. The underlying factor was a shift in my working arrangements. I started on 4-day weeks in January, and since March or so have been on 3-day weeks -- Monday to Wednesday, eight hours a day. I'm pleased as punch.

This situation has allowed all kinds of things to develop -- yoga, sailing, hacking for fun, travel, and for once I'm in a healthy relationship -- as if they were simply waiting in the wings for space on stage. I cannot recommend this arrangement more highly.

all good things

The time has come, though, for me to try something new. Tomorrow is my last day at Fluendo. It's been great -- the GStreamer work, hacking the stack, molesting the do-goody Python for fun and profit, acquiring a disturbing intimacy with Twisted and its perspective broker distributed object system. We built a streaming server platform that the commercial people are selling like crazy. Good stuff.

But I'm down for new problems now, new systems to build. After coming back from the winter holidays, I'll start work for Oblong Industries of the inscrutable web site. They've been in stealth mode for a while, but will be opening up in the new year.

Theirs is an incredibly compelling story. Here's the version as I prefer to believe it. The producers of what was to be the movie Minority Report were ambling across the globe, searching for someone who could tell them a convincing story of how the future would be. When they found John Underkoffler at the MIT Media Lab, they knew they had found the one. They asked him to come down to LA to work as the science adviser to the movie, and the cinephile in John couldn't refuse.

John wrote a two hundred and fifty page manual of a gestural interface system that was, to him, how people would interact with computers in the future. If you haven't seen the movie, the essence is that the computer takes its input from your hand motions ("gestures"), in three dimensional space, instead of via other peripherals such as the mouse. The writers then took these ideas and scripted out how the interactions would work in the movie. The scenes were acted out with blank screens, and the computer graphics people later came in and filled in the images for film.

A couple of years later, John decided to actually build the system that he designed. He called on his mafia of programming and business contacts, and that brings us to the present. The system they have is truly impressive -- lagless, precise, robust recognition of hand orientation and a wide variety of hand gestures, along with an innovative development platform on which to build applications. They have a number of systems installed in the wild, and as the company comes out of "stealth mode" they'll be looking to push more systems into industry and academia to see what kinds of applications people build with these new interfaces.

There's all kinds of problems to hack on in the system -- optics, image recognition, OS work, system work, framework hacking, applications, 3D graphics. I'll be doing some of everything, probably initially concentrating on the system and framework levels. We're opening an office here in Barcelona, where I'll be working from. I'll also help the company make the transition from in-house software to free software -- the plan is to release a number of libraries as free software over the course of 2008.

I just realized today that the address of the space that we're looking at is on a street that has two of the fundamental constants of the universe in it: carrer del pi, commonly abbreviated c/pi. Nifty.

And yes, in case you're wondering: for me it will be a three-day-a-week job. Oh, oh yes. May the year 2008 rock even more than 2007.

13 responses

  1. Xan says:

    This may sound silly, but I've always thought nobody would actually *use* those interfaces because you'd get tired so quickly. 6/7 hours per day constantly moving your arms is more physically demanding than it might seem IMHO.

  2. wingo says:

    Xan: Oh, I think it's quite interesting, but especially in combination with other input methods. As programmers we type a lot, but sometimes we need to draw, doodle on the web, communicate -- adding gestures into the mix can really enrich our interactions with the computer. The movie stuff is exaggerated with Cruise's, erm, acting style, but such an interface can be much more subtle and relaxing than [I think that] you think.

    In any case it's going to be a lot of fun!

  3. Xan says:

    Yeah, sure it would be (is! :)) an awesome addition to the range of possibilites we have, I was just thinking of using it as the main input method in a "normal" work day.

    Anyway, good luck, have fun and keep us informed :)

  4. Colin Walters says:

    Sounds awesome! Good luck in the new job. Also, put me in early in the discounted device for developers program ;)

  5. Øyvind Kolås says:

    Sounds like your life currently is an enjoyable journey, through both sunny Spain and hacking on the boundaries of human computer interaction. :)

  6. MacSlow says:

    Hey Andy, that sounds inmeasureably interesting! When can I come down to BCN and an take a look at the stuff you already have in place? Or since you said that you want to put some of those early systems into the wild to see what people can come up with... ehm... can I have one, please ;)

  7. Michael R. Head says:

    The BLUI ( predated Minority Report by a couple years!

    I'm glad to see someone commercializing this stuff, though. It's way cool.

  8. John Borwick says:

    Congratulations on your new job! I'm jealous of your three-day work week! I await your tales of scheme-based image recognition. :)

  9. Ludovic says:

    Congratulations, sounds really interesting. Keep us informed ;-)

  10. Murray Cumming says:

    Those 2 days are worth more to you than to any company. Not everyone figures that out. Well done and good luck.

  11. Brynn Evans says:

    Great news, Wingo! Being in the field of HCI, this work sounds especially interesting. Perhaps when Leif and I are in Europe in the Spring we can get a tour and learn more?

  12. Pete Trachy says:

    I love this. My body has definitely been messed up by long cramped unmoving hours at the computer. Intuitively I think that incorporating more movement would really help stave off problems from computer use.

    Well. The prospect of visting you in Barcelona is considerably more exciting than Portland. Not that I'll ever get there...

  13. Jocelyn Paine says:

    I would love to be able to use such an interface in teaching a branch of maths called category theory. Here's a quote from Hans Moravec's book "Mind Children" that seems very relevant to that and to you:

    As I suggested in Chapter 1, the large, highly evolved sensory and motor portions of the brain seem to be the hidden powerhouse behind human thought. By virtue of the great efficiency of these billion-year-old structures, they may embody one million times the effective computational power of the conscious part of our minds. While novice performance can be achieved using conscious thought alone, master-level expertise draws on the enormous hidden resources of these old and specialized areas.

    I've been wondering how this connects to mathematicians' use of gesture, and I've posted a comment on that (in connection with teaching a branch of maths called category theory) as followup to a blog posting at, "Finding the Best Metaphors will be the Work of a Generation. Take a look at the comments: your gestural interface might turn out to be very very useful.

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