Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lunch with the Bay Set

Today I grabbed lunch with Brynn Evans and some of her friends from PARC. Yum! Today's the most beautiful day in Boston so far - it actually feels like April.

Green CHI

I was happy to run into Elaine Huang of Motorola this afternoon in a session on biometrics methods. Elaine has done a substantial amount of work in sustainable HCI, and this year led a workshop on the topic (which I wish I'd been able to attend!). While working at Motorola, she has done work on figuring out what people want in terms of a green phone, and what people do about reusing and recycling their old phones. She gave me a few quick directions to pursue in our continued development of Usable Green (for instance, Bill Tomlinson at UC Irvine - who is writing a book on Green IT), and we promised to be in touch as the company begins to crystallize.

Elaine is also the founder of the Extremely Tall and Extremely Short HCI Researchers Club (, of which I am a member.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Light-Up Fun at the Industry Receptions

Last night were all of the corporate sponsorship receptions - IBM, Microsoft, and Google had the biggest parties. I wore my latest light-up creation - a "ruffle boa" I made with fabric scraps crocheted around an LED light string! It must have been my lucky charm - I won a Zune in the Microsoft raffle. But even better - it was a great conversation starter, which helped me make lots of great industry contacts. I spoke with some folks at Yahoo! and Microsoft about the benefit of having consultants work on projects for large companies. I also spoke with folks at some smaller start-ups like Meebo about how we rent out our usability lab, which is a great solution for a company that doesn't have the capital to invest in their own in-house lab.

Harvard Trip

Dr. Croakie and I decided to make use of the scattered sunshine this afternoon and took the T over to Cambridge. We spent time walking around the Harvard campus and had lunch at the Coop. We also walked to 133 Lexington Ave., which is the first house that I ever lived in! I recognized a few things about the house - the front door, the window in the stairwell, and the stone garage out back. I called my dad and surprised him - he told me on the phone that he and my mom bought the house for $68,000 in 1975. I wonder how much it is now!

Exhibit Hall Fun

Croakie and I made a tour around the exhibit hall this morning. We talked with some of the eye tracking companies, and scoped out the competition UX firms.

There were 6 or so eye-tracking companies on the floor (WOW!). We were most impressed with the eye tracking system and software provider, Tobii. They are a Swedish company that has produced a stellar product. What to me is the most impressive aspect of this system is the user-friendly software package that comes iwth the system. I was shown how researchers can easily set up experiments to be done with any UI (not just websites), and develop a research plan. The analytics are also really impressive - heat maps, click maps, graphs and exportable data is all fairly easy to produce. I think that this would allow us to have some flashy, solid evidence for design intuitions that we may already have, but clients may be reluctant to "believe." If we can harness this data to show them support for our claims, I think it would be really useful. I'm going to find out more about this system, and possibilities for rentals (before we commit to the $42,000 price tag).

Croakie also talked with some publishers about future projects, and got free schwag at the Google booth.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cool Multitouch Devices

I attended a great session showcasing some of the demonstration exhibits that are on display in the interactivity chamber. (There are about 12 exhibits in all, located as demos in the exhibit hall).

A Practical Touch-Sensitive Surface

"The Unmousepad: an Interpolating force-sensitive Resistor"

These researchers created a technology that enables the creation of Inexpensive Multi-Touch Pressure Acquisition Devices (IMPAD) which are paper-thin, flexible and can easily scale down to fit on a portable device or scale up to cover an entire table. These devices can sense varying levels of pressure at a resolution high enough to sense and distinguish multiple fingertips, the tip of a pen or pencil and other objects. Potential applications include writing pads, virtual keyboards, virtual drums, etc.

Dr. Croakie says: Whoa! I can wait to get my hooves on this one!

SLAP, Pow!

"SLAP Widgets for Multitouch Tables"
Researchers from UCSD and RWTH Aachen University introduced a new concept, called SLAP widgets, that allow for haptic feedback and interactivity along with a rear-illuminated multitouch table (FTIR). One problem that comes up with certain interactions with a multitouch table is the lack of tangible feedback - for instance, it's much harder to type on a tabletop than a real keyboard, because you lack the nice click of real keys.

SLAP (Silicone Illuminated Active Peripherals) are input devices formed of transparent silicone including buttons, dials, sliders, and a keyboard. The SLAP widgets are placed on the multitouch surface and, using tag recognition, labels and indicators are projected on the table surface just below the physical peripherals. It's a very cool idea, and fairly easy to implement. It's especially neat because I was in the HCI lab at UCSD when some of the early ideas of SLAP widgets were being developed!

Dr. Croakie says: SLAP widgets seem very useful and nifty. Now, I challenge these researchers to come up with a real-world implementation that solves a real problem. How do people interact with them? What difficulties arise, and what problems are solved?

Lunch with UCSD Gals in HCI

I had a wonderful lunch with Anne Marie Piper and Brynn Evans, two students whom I know from my lab at UCSD. They are both intelligent, enthusiastic researchers and it was very inspiring to brainstorm with them about their ongoing work. Anne Marie has a lot of interest in using multitouch tables for supporting medical conversations between patients and clinicians. She's especially interested in how this technology can help elderly or disabled patient populations. Brynn is studying social search - how people rely on their social networks while doing searching activity online. She's quite a social networker herself - Brynn has one of the most ambitious professional networks I know of! It was great to see Brynn and Anne Marie. To me, this is what CHI is really about - getting inspired and recharged with ideas, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, and thinking about where I want to go with my career...and the things I'd like to accomplish as a member of theUEgroup team!

In Honor of Dr. Smitty

We got some sad news last night - apparently Dr. Smitty was not able to make it to CHI 2009. Hopefully we will be able to schedule the first annual non-human computer interaction event next year at CHI 2010 in Atlanta!

Tuesday's Forecast: Networking and Sustainability

The weather's doing a bit better today - it's not pouring rain, and there's even a few patches of sun here and there. Luckily, the hotel is connected via a mall to the conference center, so we never even have to go outside!

Today's schedule promises lots of fun and interesting events. Croakie and I are going to join two students from my former lab for a Women in HCI lunch, then we'll head to a few sessions this afternoon. I'm especially excited about a session on sustainability and HCI. We'll also head back over to the exhibit hall to do some more networking this evening at a mixer event.

Phew! What a day.

Croakie and I closed the day with a whirlwind tour of the exhibit hall. We met lots of interesting folks, talked to eye-tracking companies, publishers, and other tech companies.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rainy Monday

Dr. Croakie and I were very disappointed by today's weather. That didn't stop us from attending some neat talks today!

Housekeeping Robots
"Magic Cards: A Paper Tag Interface for Implicit Robot Control"
These designers, from Singapore, created an alternative robot control interface that operates in a way more amenable to many folks who are faced with doing everyday household tasks. Using cards with commands placed in situ, robots respond and complete said tasks when the homeowner is out. Cards say things like "Vacuum here, or take out trash," and have a bar code in the background that is read by overhead cameras. Robots are deployed to those locations and perform the tasks.

Croakie says: it is a good idea, but the actual implementation was pretty weak.

Citizen Scientists
"Pathfinder: An Online Collaboration Environment for Citizen Scientists"
Citizen scientists are everyday people who volunteer to collect field data in scientific studies. One of the biggest is the Christmas Day Bird Count - every year hundreds of thousands of people go out and count birds in their environment and report back to scientific sources with their findings. In 2007, 300 scientific publications came out of data collected by citizen scientists. This paper was about a system, called Pathfinder, that allows for public sharing and discussion of data collected by citizen scientists. The researcher claimed that the system helped everyday citizens become more deeply engaged with the scientific process.

Croakie says: interesting idea, but the research was done by recruiting 30 Microsoft employees to participate in this study. Microsoft employees are not everyday individuals, with no formal scientific training, and therefore, might have behaved differently than their target demographic. Why didn't they use citizen scientists who had participated in other citizen scientist studies?

Tee-board E-textiles for Teaching
"The TeeBoard: An education-friendly construction platform for e-textiles and wearable computing"

The Tee-board is a combination of a t-shirt and a breadboard. This group used an e-textile created from a t-shirt pre-wired with a lilypad arduino microcontroller to teach K-6 students in a summer program. They found positive results and student engagement with this project.

Dr. Croakie says: We like light-up clothes, but Amaya says that conductive thread is a big loser. We are worried that the student's projects will break quickly after construction! Amaya asked the speaker why she decided to use t-shirts, which are vulnerable to flexion and tension caused by movement, instead of a more robust light-up accessory, like a belt or purse.

Welcome to CHI 2009!

CHI 2009
Digital Life, New World

I arrived in Boston late last night, and managed to get dinner at the hotel restaurant before they closed the kitchen. This morning I got up early and registered for CHI 2009. I was happy to see that they went back to giving out canvas bags for holding the conference proceedings. The last two years they've given out cheap laptop bags, which I ended up throwing out. The CHI bags are favorites of mine for grocery shopping.

Just after I got up to the exhibit hall, I ran into my old Ph.D. advisor, Jim Hollan, and a few other collegues I know from past CHI conferences. It's great to see so many familiar faces.

Now I'm spending some time writing down a list of goals for myself at the conference this year. I'd like to:

1. Attend 5 sessions and write a summary report about each
2. Identify 3 key ways for theUEgroup to partipate in CHI2010
3. Give out 20 business cards
4. Talk with 2 publishers
5. Talk with 5 people who have posters or demos
6. Take lots of pictures with Dr. Croakie
7. Blog about the progress of my goals