IBM Research's "Ponder This" puzzle reaches milestone, inspires research paper

Guest blogger:  Oded Margalit, Machine Learning Researcher, IBM Global Research, Haifa.
"Ponder This" is IBM Research's monthly brain-twister where you can match wits with some of the best minds in IBM Research, run by James B. Shearer and Oded.  Oded wanted to share the following milestone with all of you.

Our Ponder-this corner reached its 127th month, which is the maximal number that fits into signed byte. To celebrate this, we will praise you - our devoted solvers - by sharing some of your flattering emails, and, of course, give you a special ponder-this question.

First, a salute to your persistence. Here’s an example of one devoted follower who sent in solutions from the Intensive Care Unit: 

“Let me just take this time to thank you and IBM for this wonderful web site.  It has provided me with many hours of puzzle solving pleasure, and also some interesting conversations with my family.

The first three weeks of June this year I spent in the hospital. One of the nights in the ICU my family and I passed some of the time by talking about Ponder This.  My daughter read the DNA problem to me at that time, and jokingly I told her I could be the first person to ever solve and answer a Ponder This while in the ICU.  I actually sent my entry from my hospital bed about a week later.

Again thanks. Looking forward to next month's puzzle.”

Many thanks to all of those who sent  in great original and innovative riddles.

Of course it is heartwarming to get compliments like:

“PS.: Thank you 10^10 times for maintaining this extremely enlightening challenge. Each time I participate, I discover a new world.

That's just great! ;-)”

Lastly, we are proud to tell you about a scientific paper that one of our solvers published a year ago in the prestigious Physics Review Letter journal. The paper was inspired by April 2007’s ponder-this puzzle.

ANTENEODO, C.; MORGADO, W.A.M. Critical scaling in standard biased random walks. Physical Review Letters 99(18): 180602-1-4 (2007):

We acknowledge Brazilian agencies CNPq and Faperj for partial financial support and IBM research ‘‘Ponder This’’ for having drawn attention to this model.

Check out the new Ponder This puzzle on the IBM Research web site.  And, I look forward to seeing your solutions and comments. 



IBM Research unveils “Security-on-a-Stick” to protect consumers and banks from the most sophisticated hacker attacks

Specialized USB stick adds an extra level of security and protects online banking transactions despite attacks on personal computers

Learn More


IBM Researchers in Action (Week of October 27) : Speech technology and Multimedia software

IBM Researchers in Action (Week of October 27th)

  1. Researcher Andy Aaron

    Speech Technology: An Emotional Mess 
    Making voice systems sound more like people and less like machines (Speech Technology Magazine; pictured: Researcher Andy Aaron)

  1. Researcher Paul Natsev

    Multimedia software: IBM and Audible Magic Team To Protect Video Content 
    New Software Provides "Best-In-Class" Video Content Identification Services to Prevent Piracy (pictured: Researcher Paul Natsev)


Do you prefer your mobile device over your PC?

IBM Study Finds Consumers Prefer a Mobile Device Over the PC

ARMONK, NY, Oct 23, 2008 (MARKET WIRE via COMTEX) -- IBM today released new survey results which reveal that over 50 percent of consumers would substitute their Internet usage on a PC for a mobile device. Expanding on the May 2008 "Go Mobile, Grow" study produced by IBM's Institute for Business Value, the survey identifies new findings that validate previous conclusions on how consumers will be open to full adoption of the mobile device as the hub for Internet activity.

I'd be interested in your thoughts.


Researchers in Action - Week of October 20

Martin Wattenberg Visualization: IBM puts "Many Eyes" on Election 2008

Visualizing politics (msnbc.com; pictured: Researcher Martin Wattenberg)

Rich Cardone  Informatics: Can we demand a recount?

Rich Cardone advocates for an electronic voting system whose processes and results are verifiable. (pictured: Researcher Rich Cardone)

John E. Kelly Accessibility: A letter from Helen Keller

(pictured: Director of IBM Research John E. Kelly)

Computer Maker Looks to Tap Country's Engineering Talent by Opening a New Facility in Shanghai (wsj.com; pictured: Researcher Thomas Li)


The PC is no longer alone - designing systems for the new personal information environment (PIE)

Guest blogger, IBM researcher Jeff Pierce, a specialist in multi-device interaction, blogs about PIE:

Jeff will be presenting his work, "An Infrastructure for Extending Applications' User Experiences Across Multiple Personal Devices" at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology today at 9 a.m. PT.  If you're there, say 'Hi.'

The model of the single, personal computer is outdated. Users increasingly employ a heterogeneous collection of personal devices: desktops, laptops, tablets, PDAs, mobile phones, etc. The user experiences that we create for those computing devices, however, have failed to keep pace; they still largely assume the use of a single desktop or laptop computer.  As a result, the burden is too often on the users themselves to manage their information across their devices. We need a new model that explicitly reflects the fact that users may employ a personal collection of devices.

I personally got interested in the need for a new model as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon. During the day I would often work with a desktop and laptop computer side by side, the desktop to provide fast 3D rendering and the laptop for email, web surfing, and writing papers. While writing my thesis, I would often transfer a chapter from my laptop to the desktop in order to take advantage of its larger display. Despite the fact that both devices were mine and the fact that they were sitting next to each other, transferring files between them was a hassle.  And I would inevitably go home at the end of the day and forget to transfer the chapter I was working on back to my laptop, making it impossible to get any more writing done that evening.  Eventually I got tired of the sheer hassle and decided there must be a better way.

The problem with the model of the personal computer is that it puts the emphasis on an individual computer. As users shift to using a collection of devices, I prefer the model of the personal information environment, where the individual devices are tools for interacting with users' personal information. As a step toward that model we've been experimenting with an infrastructure based on instant-messaging that simplifies creating services that span a user's personal devices.

Instant-messaging provides an infrastructure for multiple entities to communicate in near-real-time. While those entities are traditionally people, they could just as easily be a set of a user's devices. Our infrastructure allows users to create a persistent set of their personal devices and subsequently makes it easy for those devices to determine each others' availability and communicate.

With that infrastructure in place, prototyping new user experiences that span personal devices is much easier. Our infrastructure makes it easy for developers to create services that plug into our infrastructure and exchange messages with other services running on any of a user's personal devices. To date we have created services that allow users to drag and drop files, URLs and text between devices; search across their devices; remotely browse devices; synchronize files and directories; keep shared notebooks and lists; and many others. However, our infrastructure will really succeed only if others take it up and start building their own multi-device user experiences.

Why? Because user experiences based on the old model of the personal computer just aren't enough anymore.  And if we're going to create effective and elegant user experiences to replace them, we need to "let a thousand flowers bloom" to find out how best to support users' new computing practices.

For more information on the PIE project, visit http://www.almaden.ibm.com/cs/projects/pie/.


IBM Puts "Many Eyes" On Decision 2008

"We've seen a real surge of interest in visualizations relating to politics," Martin Wattenberg, group manager for IBM's Visual Communication Lab, told me today. "After every presidential and vice-presidential debate so far, we immediately see people uploading transcripts and applying different visualizations to get different views."

IBM's lab lets contributors use their own charting methods to create pictures that capture the essence of a gnarly data set. But that's not the end of the process. Each graphic is accompanied by a discussion forum that allows other users to comment. After a visualization was posted comparing the size of a financial bailout to other federal spending, the discussion focused on  whether the raw numbers told the whole story.

"It's interesting," Wattenberg said. "I feel as if visualizations often don't bring you to a conclusion, but end up starting a conversation and moving that conversation forward."

Full story: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/10/15/1547727.aspx


Are you a Blackberry or iPhone user?

Got a smart phone (Blackberry, Windows Mobile, iPhone, etc)? Researchers at the Almaden Research Center are exploring how people employ smart phones for work and play, and they need participants to study. If you've got a smart phone and are willing to let them interview you, send a note to IBM Researcher Jeff Pierce with your general availability and the type of device you own.

Enter the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City: Beyond Space and Time is a partnership between the Palace Museum and IBM. The goal of the project is to provide the means for a world-wide audience to celebrate and explore aspects of Chinese culture and history.

Watch a documentary on how this 3D world was created


IBM Researchers in Action - Week of October 6

IBM Researchers in Action (Week of October 6)


IBM launches Bluehouse: a business-oriented social network environment - try out the beta now.

Introducing Bluehouse.   A new Lotus web site, designed to enable companies to store files, hold meetings, share contacts, and work on activities, all via the web.  Some are calling it "Facebook for business." 

This is for business -not for advertising.

Let me know what you think.


More than shopping

Switzerland's top retailers looked into the "day after tomorrow" in retail at the Zurich Research Lab's ISL

Retail is a tough business. For years, prices have been the differentiator. "Price competition is becoming fierce in an industry in which margins are already extremely narrow. But this will not be sufficient in the future," predicts Moshe Rappoport, executive technology briefer and expert for retail trends at the Zurich Lab’s customer briefing center, the Industry Solutions Lab (ISL).

 "Retailers who place an individualized customer experience at the center of their business model will win in the future marketplace."


Facing this challenge, 65 top retailers from throughout Switzerland attended the IBM Retail Conference 2008, where experts of IBM’s Zurich ISL demonstrated fascinating new technologies that promise to provide future opportunities for growth. "At the ISL, we look at the day after tomorrow in retail," explains Rappoport. "To succeed in the future, retailers need to see emerging trends and think about how to respond to them in creative new ways. Retailers who place an individualized customer experience at the center of their business model will win in the future marketplace."

The new "retail experience" demo area in the Zurich ISL.

Digital divide - Shopping with digital natives

Around the world, younger generations are growing up with technology as an integral part in their lives. Technology shapes their way of thinking and doing things. These generations are referred to as "digital natives". They are accustomed to being digitally connected and having access to information anytime, anywhere. Technology will also play an increasingly important role in their shopping preferences. They will inform themselves about products by consulting the Internet as they shop. Their buying decisions will be strongly affected by other users’ ratings, reviews or recommendations.

There is also a trend towards social shopping. This means that, in the future, more people will no longer shop alone but will contact their family, friends or colleagues via cell phone or using mobile videoconferencing devices before making purchasing decisions. “The mobile phone will become the primary communication device of the future,” says Rappoport. “For retailers, this will open up numerous fascinating new possibilities.” For example, location-based sensing could trigger the automatic sending of targeted advertisements to alert consumers to special offers upon entering the corresponding area of the store. RFID tags or barcodes could provide consumers with product information, and mobile phones could track digital shopping lists in real-time.

"Generation 60+"

Another major—and growing—consumer segment is the so called "Generation 60+". This age group has markedly different shopping behaviors and preferences. With regard to technology, these consumers are "digital immigrants", meaning that they have become accustomed to technology, but did not grow up with it. Therefore, they tend to use and perceive technology differently and attach a higher value to personal interaction with sales personnel. They tend to prefer shopping in stores that offer personal service. They will use technology if it facilitates their lives and provides them with useful information. Some such technologies were demonstrated in the ISL, including intelligent scales, which determine automatically the sort of item being weighed, information screens that provide important health or allergy information, and self-checkout facilities.

Changing the "last mile" of retail

Shoppers of practically all ages are increasingly under time pressure. Many are not willing or able to travel long distances to shopping malls, nor do they like having to carry home numerous bags of purchases. Retailers will be challenged to offer a wide variety of sales channels to accommodate future buying preferences, including providing virtual stores on the Internet, maintaining smaller local shops, and arranging the timely delivery of purchases to customers’ homes.

Green and healthy

The extent to which products are organic, "green" and healthy will be of ever greater importance to many future shoppers. They will tend to buy products that are not necessarily cheaper, but of higher quality and produced in an ecologically sustainable manner. Consumers are becoming increasingly better informed and responsible buyers who want to feel good about the products they purchase.

Over the course of the event, the central message became clear: technology is only part of the answer to how to succeed in the future. “How retailers use technology and integrate it in their overall business model is what will make the ultimate difference,” says Rappoport.

Creating a new customer experience at the Zurich ISL

Retail is one of the areas in which the ISL provides thought leadership. The “ISL Retail Experience” showcases a futuristic store with a group of realistic, interactive exhibits. These exhibits include novel in-store displays, remote access from the store to food or subject-matter experts, personalized health information at the point of sale, and of course self-checkouts and electronic payment options. The Retail Experience corner is a new feature of the major remodeling and transformation currently underway at the Zurich ISL.

For more information concerning this article, please contact Herfurth, Nicole (NIH@zurich.ibm.com).