I’m not fond of business meetings in general but the exception is having them over breakfast. My usual start to the day is typically a cup of tea and then copious amounts of coffee until dinner. Yes, I know that’s bad and I’ll probably die at 50 but it just happens to be the way I roll. But when I’m at conferences and have to take part in meetings, they’re much more digestible with some food.
The Caribe Royale has a splendid eatery called The Tropicále where you can part with large amounts of money for a large amount of food in the form of the enormous breakfast buffet. I say “large amounts of money” only insofar as for some folks $15 for breakfast may be a lit of money, but when you consider that you can create a small Vesuvius of morning comestibles from a list of offerings that includes eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, fruit, pastries, waffles, breads, and many others, $15 starts to look like a good deal.
So I order an English muffin and a pot of tea.
The fun presentation of the day (apart from my own, of course), was given by Evert-Jan Hooferwerf from AIAS Bologna in Italy talking about the TOBI Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Project and the need to include all stakeholders in BCI research.
Now despite excited news reports that promise something akin to mental telepathy and the promise of your coffee machine making you an espresso just because you’re thinking, ‘Mmmh, I could just go for a delicious cappuccino,” that world of brain control is still quite a way off. In fact, current brain control requires a lot of effort for limited output. And in relation to communicating via a BCI system, it’s currently possible but takes a tremendous amount of concentration and effort.
A popular  form of BCI communication currently in use is referred to as the P300 system, where a client where a bundle of electrodes on the head and looks at a grid of letters through which a flashing light scans. By focusing on a target letter (such as an “h” to start spelling “hello”) the flash of the “H” on the screen stimulates the brain to release a signal – specifically the P300 wave – and an array of technology and software reacts as if to say, “Ooh, I think you were looking at an “H” – let’s try that again.” After a number of passes and flashes of the onscreen “H,” the system has seen enough P300’s to assume you are thinking of the “H” and pops it onto the screen. Now look at the “E” and off we go again.
The video above gives an idea of how a BCI P300 system works. Bear in mind that currently you have to reapply contact glue to all the electrodes after a couple of hours – so not exactly the sort of “out-of-box” product you can get from Best Buy.
Still, the good news it that there is research going on this area. Sitting in the audience at Hooferwerf’s presentation was Melanie Fried-Oken, who, along with her colleagues at the Oregon Health and Science University, has been investigating the application of BCI technology with folks with locked-in syndrome. 
Hooferwerf also talked about the importance of User-Centered Design, which is defined as “an approach that supports the entire development process with user-centred activities, in order to create applications which are easy to use and are of added value to the intended users.”  He then listed six principles of User Centered Design:
1) Include a clear understanding of user’s tasks and environmental requirements.
2) Encourage an early and active involvement of users.
3) Be driven and refined by user centred evaluation.
4) Iterate developmental stages for identification of optimal design solutions.
5) Incorporate the whole user experience.
6) Encourage multi-disciplinary design.
He also talked about the notion of “Living Labs,” which he defined as;
a permanent’ community of users who are iteratively asked to become integrated in some stages of the design/development/validation and marketing process and whose feedback is collected by means of various socio-ethnographic research methods (focus groups, surveys, testing, polls, etc.)
As an example of a Living Lab in action, he pointed to that of MIT;
MIT Living Labs brings together interdisciplinary experts to develop, deploy, and test – in actual living environments – new technologies and strategies for design that respond to this changing world. Our work spans in scale from the personal to the urban, and addresses challenges related to health, energy, and creativity.
The session was scheduled for an hour but the content was much greater than that. So to make life a little easier for you, dear reader, here’s a link to the slides at the Dudes Box account.
By the time the day was done, we were ready for some rest and relaxation, which took the form of a trip to Johnnie’s Hideaway, a swanky restaurant that serves aged steak. No, this isn’t steak that past its sell-by date but meat that has been hung to dry at near-freezing temperatures for a few weeks. The effect of this process is to evaporate moisture from the muscle, promoting a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste. Then the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, leading to a more tender slab of beef. Vegetarians may now unscrew their faces and weep for the cow.
Being the sort of dudes for whom no food is real food unless it has had blood coursing though its veins at some point, we opted for steaks. More specifically (and vegetarians should skip to the next paragraph) a thick, bloody strip steak with a crusty exterior, and a medium-rare filet mignon with a topping of crab and lobster. Oh happy day!
I finished off with a cappuccino that was the size of a small car, completely ignoring the sinfully wicked desserts that I could have probably used to coat the inside of my arteries directly.
However, it’s not enough to stop me from sleeping, and tomorrow is another day…
There was some confusion between TOBI and TOBII since both organizations are here at ATIA. TOBI is the Tools for Brain-Computer Interaction project, a European consortium funded by the EU and involving a network of universities; TOBII is a Swedish company that specialises in eye-tracking technologies and also has a division that builds AAC devices. The extra “I” makes all the difference.
 Popular as in “among people in the BCI field” rather than popular as in “most common cheese in the world.” There are other BCI inputs but the P300 is the one used for communication – or at least to investigate communication.
 Kenneth Hild, Umut Orhan, Deniz Erdogmus, Brian Roark, Barry Oken, Shalini Purwar, Hooman Nezamfar and Melanie Fried-Oken. 2011. An ERP-based Brain-Computer Interface for text entry using Rapid Serial Visual Presentation and Language Modeling. In Proceedings of the ACL-HLT 2011 System Demonstrations, pp. 38-43.
 Usability New website, Overview of the User Centred Design Process.
 MIT Living Lab Site: http://livinglabs.mit.edu