Various enterprises and personal interests, such as Man-Machine Interaction (MMI), gesture studies, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Month: March 2007 Page 1 of 2

Misunderstanding Mr Tumble

Sometimes it is hard to believe how far people will go to be able to claim they were offended (or to get a headline in a newspaper). This is a story about a clown, little kids with language problems, and very protective parents. The clown is Mr Tumble, who makes television for small kids, as part of a wonderful program called Something Special which uses Makaton signs.

An example of a short Mr Tumble appearance, with speech and (makaton) signs.

Here we seem to have a group of inspired people putting together something nice on TV and on the web. I would guess it is a program that a lot of parents and kids are very happy about. Now, about a week ago there was a strange headline in the Sun: TV’s Mr Tumble in sex fumble.

The Sun: “TV favourite Mr Tumble is greeting toddlers by saying “I’m fucking you” in sign language. The CBeebies character says the gestures mean “I’m happy to see you”. But angry parents have accused the BBC of jumbling up their signals. Dad-of-one Jamie Miller, who works for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), was stunned when he watched Something Special with daughter Katie, five. Jamie said: “The signs for “happy” and “fucking” are quite similar but it was still an awful error to make.”… “Katie, who is learning sign language, asked what the gesture meant. I didn’t know what to tell her.”… “In British Sign Language “happy” is shown by gently brushing the palms against each other. The swear word is made by brushing the hands together between the thumb”

What a small difference in form to make a fuss over. It seems altogether hard to believe that the guy playing Mr Tumble would do this intentionally. It seems more likely that the parent saw something that he thought could be interpreted in another way than a simple greeting. Instead of simply telling his daughter the clown was signing he was happy to see her (ignoring the small difference in sign forms as long as she is still a child), he chose to make a problem out of it. Of course the BBC responded quickly by explaining the situation and denying the entire problem: The Press Association: BBC denies Mr Tumble swearing claim.

BBC spokesman: “The programme has been independently reviewed by experts – including Margaret Walker, the co-founder of Makaton – and none support the allegation that the greeting “happy to see you”, signed by presenter Justin Fletcher, could be perceived as a swear word, as The Sun alleges. CBeebies always has a Makaton expert present during recordings of Something Special, to ensure the highest professional standards.” “Justin Fletcher is recognised in the television industry and throughout the voluntary sector as someone of outstanding professionalism and dedication, and we believe that his work deserves better than this cheap and unjustified slur.”

The truth of this matter probably lies hidden at the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. It seems altogether too much of a coincidence that: (a) RNID spokeswoman Kate Sidwell said: “We advised the BBC that using Makaton would cause confusion. Makaton is used more for children with learning difficulties – it is essentially a different language.”, and (b) RNID employee Jamie Miller was the one who complained about the possible confusion. Adding up has never been my strong point, but I think I can manage in this case. But let us assume that the story is reported faithfully, and that Mr Tumble’s signing was indeed a clear case of saying “I am fucking you” at least in the eyes of children who know enough British Sign Language (BSL). We then further need to suppose that the children expect Mr Tumble to sign BSL, for them to be truly vulnerable to the proposed vulgarity. For if I am watching a Bulgarian show and the word ‘godsammeklote’ happens to come by I will not assume the Bulgarian speaker meant to say what that word means in Dutch (my native language). In a way, the insistence by the RNID that the two communication systems are different languages entirely (or the one a language and the other a sign system) backfires. More on the perception of insults and vulgarity.

Cuny 2007

The 20th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, 2007 is a special session on the Psycholinguistics of Signed and Spoken Languages. Nice names, nice titles, nice program.

They seem to have specifically invited veteran sign language researchers to talk to a broader audience. Some especially interesting ones (for me at least): * Gaurav Mathur and Catherine Best: Three experimental techniques for investigating sign language processing ** Eleni Orfanidou, Robert Adam, James McQueen and Gary Morgan: Segmentation of British Sign Language: Possible-word effects in sign spotting ** Invited Speaker: David P. Corina: Recognition of Sign Language and Human Actions in Deaf Signers * Invited Speaker: Diane Lillo-Martin: The sign language module * Invited Speaker: Karen Emmorey The psycholinguistics of signed and spoken languages: How biology affects processing

Double Movement Detection

As a young researcher I see opportunities for grand research proposals everywhere. And so it was when my friend Edwin told me about the rugby drama he had experienced in an Irish pub in the final day of the recent Six Nations.

Ireland beat Italy with a monsterscore, and they were about to win the tournament. But the French scored in overtime to beat Scotland, just edging themselves in front of the Irish and claiming Six Nations victory in 2007.

That in itself is tragedy enough for Irish fans to start some serious forgetting/drinking. But it gets better: The final French try was an almost impossible call. The ball was buried in a pile of players, and even the video ref (who was Irish!) could not make the call. It was granted nevertheless.

Now to the point: in extra time at Ireland-Italy an Italian player scored a try that was contestable. The Irish in their pub were convinced that it was a case of double movement (or even triple movement). This requires some explanation.

BBC Sport: “Often when a player has been tackled close to the try line, they will often attempt to make another movement to ground the ball for the try. However, if they have been tackled, the referee will not award the try because it is seen as a double movement [if] the ball and the player have been grounded before the second movement for the try. However, if the player is in the process of being tackled and the ball has not been grounded before the try line, then they can make a second movement for the score.

A nice case of a visual perception task. The referee has to see that a player makes two separate movements and not one big one. A simple task? I dare to disagree. What exactly makes us see a movement boundary? Do we all agree on it, or did the Irish see double movement (around 4:30 in the movie) and the Italians only one?

Rubin and Richards (1985) did some nice work on Boundaries of Visual Motion that I think definitely applies. But there has not been much work on actually implementing their ideas into algorithms that I know of.

Could we build a computer to automatically segment movement? Can a robot referee call double movement? I am thinking of the automated line judgements in tennis. It would not be the first time people relied on machines rather than their own perception. When we think of time measurements for racing machines are possibly trusted even better than men. In this case I think more research is necessary.

If you agree and have R&D money to spend, give me a call at +31 15 2783908. I’ll be looking for a nice chunk of basic research work on visual perception somewhere next year I presume. Full Game Report at Irish Rugby:

My patent on ‘electronic call assistants’

When I worked at KPN Telecom in 2001 we developed and patented an idea for a Personal Call Assistant: ELECTRONIC CALL ASSISTANTS WITH SHARED DATABASE (Wipo, Esp@ce)

Patent picture

A telephone exchange (1) arranged to communicate with communication units (2, 3, 4, 5, 7) and to provide a plurality of electronic call assistants to the communication units, a first electronic call assistant (12) being provided to a first communication unit (2) and a second electronic call assistant (14) to a second communication unit (4), the first electronic call assistant (12) having access to a distinct first database (36), the second electronic call assistant (14) having access to a distinct second database (38), wherein the first (12) and second (14) electronic call assistants share a common database (40).

Alex Vieira, who works at the EPO, pointed out to me that the patent had become available, since for a long time I think it was just kept ‘pending’. But now it appears to be filed worldwide (WO0150720), in Europe (EP1247392), and the Netherlands (NL1014528C).

Does anyone remember Wildfire? It seems to still be around here, and here, or listen to a demo here. It was the leading PCA at the time. They had filed original patents, to which we had to refer.

Unfortunately, the patent is not mine, it is owned by the company KPN Telecom. They did pay me a bonus for it: one silver US dollar. I thought it was a nice gesture.

Naruto Hand Seals

A colleague, Matthijs Dröes, once pointed Naruto hand signs out to me. They form a nice system of gestures in an animated world of Ninja characters.

Here is a Naruto site (login?) on hand seals:

Hand Seal Guide: Hand seals are as important as Chakra in Naruto. All GenJutsu and NinJutsu need hand seals to be performed, but TaiJutsu doesn’t because it simply needs no Chakra. The main function of a Hand Seal is similar to that of magic words. Instead of speaking of words to activate a spell, Hand Seals are used to activate the technique, and release all the gathered Chakra. Hand Seals stand out for animals, specifically the animals found in the Oriental Zodiac signs. That’s why there are 12 seals, one for each of the 12 years found in Oriental zodiacs… if the hand seals in a NinJutsu are not performed correctly, the Chakra will be released wrong and a different effect will occur, probably failing the Jutsu. As a result, Hand Seals need a lot of concentration, which is why techniques in Naruto cannot be interrupted.

I guess these hand seals are related culturally to mudras, which also function as spiritual enablers. (Interestingly, in both cases the form is usually a posture without explicit movement.) It is almost like there is a heavenly connection between our hands, our minds and the forces of cosmic nature. I am a mere mortal meddling with divine stuff. Better watch out for false gestures lest I get hit by a fireball.

Wii gestures for WWii game

Medal of Honour is a game where you play a soldier in World War II. EA created a special version for the Nintendo Wii (and the Nunchuk) and provided some animations of how you gesture to play.
Tutorial on jumping and crouching
How to jump and crouch. (source)

Here are tutorials on turning around, throwing a grenade, reloading your gun, using your bajonet, and the best one of the lot: steering your parachute.

Update June 11, 2007: Here is an impression that is a bit more realistic:

Referee Braamhaar cheers after Ajax goal

Dutch soccer referee Braamhaar made a jubilant gesture after Ajax scored 1-5 against PSV. The gesture was picked up immediately by angry PSV fans. They took offense being given the opportunity to unleash their anger at someone else than their own failing side.

referee cheers

Braamhaar: “Ik had de voordeel regel prima doorgevoerd bij de actie van Tom de Mul, waaruit het doelpunt viel. Dan mag een scheidsrechter ook wel trots zijn op zichzelf”, aldus Braamhaar tegenover Tien. (Deutsch)

English: Braamhaar said he was not pleased with the goal, but was proud because he made a correct decision. “it was a nice moment for me. I saw a foul but gave the advantage. It’s nice to see a decision come out well for the disadvantaged team.”

One could say the ref was a bit careless about PSV feelings. One could also call the PSV fans a bunch of oversensitive cry-babies. But I am from the general area of Eindhoven, so I will refrain from further comment.

Tall Blacks Basketball Haka

I promise this will be the last haka post for a while, but I thought it would be nice to round off the story with a final video. It shows the New Zealand basketball team, the Tall Blacks, doing a decent haka.

And so the haka spreads to other nations, and to other sports. There were a couple more video’s of various haka amateurs (volleyball, Koreans, and party freestyle), but I will spare you a direct confrontation.

Update 2011-03-14: Ha, no I won’t!, Here it is anyway:

New Zealand Maori is source of All Blacks’ haka?

It appears New Zealand Maori actually introduced the haka to rugby (history), in their tour of Britain in 1888/89. Although this history story describes a somewhat vaguer origin (therefore more likely?) it also credits the ‘New Zealand Natives’ with the first overseas performance of the haka by a rugby team. Since 2001 NZ Maori performs the Timatanga haka which describes the evolution of life and the creation of New Zealand from the four winds. ps. The story of the All Blacks’ haka has a good entry on Wikipedia, and there is a separate story about the Kapa o Pango throat-slitting controversy.

Haka spreads from rugby to American football

The haka is conquering the world of battle-like sports it seems. Rugby teams from New Zealand and other pacific islands have performed war dances like the haka for a long time already. But now football teams from Hawaii and even Texas have also adopted the haka.

The first example is of Kahuku High School’s Red Raiders (Hawaii). The second example is from the University of Hawaii Warriors. It appears the small state of Hawaii is becoming strong in American football. Perhaps because of their adoption of the haka? The third example are Trinity College Trojans. An estimated 4,000 people of Tongan descent live in Trinity’s hometown of Euless, a small city near Dallas, Texas. The Tongan students were also inspired by the traditional All Blacks’ haka (Ka Mate), and got permission to also do it. The fourth example is by the Brigham Young Univeristy (BYU) Cougars, again in Hawaii.

An interesting observation is that it appears to matter a lot whether the players directly face the opposition during the haka (as is customary) or perform in front of the audience. Regarding the UH Warriors’ haka two incidents were reported with opposition players ‘being offended’ by the haka when they were looked straight in the eye. I think the correct interpretation is that they were challenged (not insulted) by the haka, that is why they do it originally. Now, if you watch the fifth movie closely you can see the UH Warriors turning during their haka to keep facing their Purdue opponents as they are fleeing elsewhere.

Other Hawaiian high shools are also reported to perform the haka. And I think I found several on YouTube, which are added to the playlist. The last one is from the Ko’olauloa Pewees (?) and is touching rather than intimidating, as I guess the boys are about 10 years old. I think the haka is in football to stay, and I can’t wait to see where it will go next.

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