Friday, 26 February 2010

Doctoral colloquium in Tampere

For the second time we organized an international doctoral colloquium on HCI - mainly with students from Germany and Finland. This year it was hosted at the University of Tampere. 10 students in different stages of their PhD presented their work and ideas. The first one was in Oulu.

Besides many scientific and technological topics we discussed the process of doing a PhD. I shared my experience of doing a PhD based on an extened version of Jakob Badram's fish model as well as with the PI-presentation model.

The fish: basically you start with a topic and it widens over time - till at some point you have to focus - and when you have focused and found the specific contribution you have to widen again a bit to cover the things you need for making it a coherent PhD-thesis. This applies to the technical skill set of the student as well as to the research topic. Pertti added a personal sanity graph - from the beginning when you think of how difficult a PhD is, to the middle were you think you know it all and everyone else in the research community has no clue, to the (hopefully) final stage where you get a objective view on your PhD (where you realize you made a contribution you can be proud of - but it is probably not going to change the whole world). It seemed that most people who have done a PhD in CS can relate to this graph…

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Creativity Workshop at NRC Tampere

Creativity is a key issue of creating novel applications and interaction methods and techniques. Over two days we ran a hands on prototyping workshop on physical user interaction. We setup teams of 3 people, each team including at least one person with design and one with programming skills. Within about 5 hours the teams had to create a multiplayer interactive game - using a mouse or several mice as basic sensors. We discussed how novelty and the learning curve of interaction technologies relate to physical interaction. The results of the workshop were most impressive… and I think some of them could be really pushed further.
In 2008 there was an interesting issue of Interactions Magazine on innovation. The cover article by Dubberly provides a good conceptual models of innovation [1]. In my lecture on HCI I tyically also introduce the TRIZ ("The theory of solving inventor's problems") methodology, introduced by the Soviet engineer and researcher Genrich Altshuller. TRIZ is interesting to me, as it is in contrast to many other creativity approaches,a systemtic (algorithmic) approach for generating innovative ideas and solutions for problem solving. However I am not sure how well it works in the real world...
During the workshop our approach was very practical. We did also a speed invention exercise - the task was to create 3 game concepts (related to physical penny games) within 10 minutes. The results were pretty impressive - perhaps someone has the time to implement them.

And being in Finland we got the real sauna experience - inside +79°C and then outside into the snow -23° - this is cool (in the very literal sense!).

[1] Dubberly, H. 2008. Toward a model of innovation. interactions 15, 1 (Jan. 2008), 28-36. DOI=

Talk at demola, Finnish Ubicomp program

Jari Ikonen from the Finnish Ubicomp program contacted me last week - interestingly because I shared on this blog the information that I will be in Tampere - and it worked out that we met.

He showed and explained me the demola approach. I find this concept of teaching, training and innovation very exciting. In short demola offers space for students to work on challenging problems that are real and creates opportunities opportunities. Basically companies offer tasks/project to works on. Teams of students (potentially from different universities and fields) will work together to solve it as part of their studies - but the students also will own the IPR. I think that creates interesting teams in realistic settings and has probably a great potential for creating start-ups. Perhaps we should look at this model closer and see how we could create something similar…

As always when meeting interesting people time was too short… I gave an ad-hoc talk based on previous slides on "Mobile & Ubiquitous Computing and Beyond: Mobile Communication changed the world - what else do we need?" and we had a short but very interesting discussion.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Finally a simple explanation of social software

Social software and media is getting hugely popular and there are many longer explanations in CSCW and CHI why this works and what are the basic drivers. I saw a t-shirt that explains it in a single picture :-)

It may over generalize but there is some truth in it - and given the recent figures on the prevalence of ADHA it seems to be a driving business in the future…

More on Embedded Development Tools, Watch to program

In my digital systems design class we have used the eZ430-F2013 development kits - they are cheap (about 20 €) and most students get it working :-)

I have seen TI has a new development kit which is really interesting: "eZ430-Chronos Wireless Watch Development Tool" - Could be an useful basis for wearable computing projects - perhaps we should get them for the class on pervasive computing next term?

The TI commercial is on youtube:

Some years back IBM had a Linux watch as research platform. Gábor Blaskó published some concepts and protoytpes on how to interact with a watch computer, e.g. with strokes [1] or with a string [2].

[1] Gábor Blaskó and Steven Feiner. An Interaction System for Watch Computers Using Tactile Guidance and Bidirectional Segmented Strokes. Proc. 8th IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC 2004), Arlington, VA, USA, 31 October - 3 November, 2004. pp.120-123.

[2] Gábor Blaskó, Chandra Narayanaswami, Steven Feiner. Prototyping Retractable String-Based Interaction Techniques for Dual-Display Mobile Devices. Proc. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2006), Montreal, Québec, Canada, 22 - 27 April, 2006. pp.369-372.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Why do we need to teach children binary coding?

I am very much in favor of teaching children more than one number system (e.g. binary additional to the decimal system). To me this gives children a better understanding of the nature of numbers - I know that this seems not to be widely shared ;-)

Now I found a further reason why it essential to know binary codes - How else would you decode this best before date on this chocolate bar if you would not know it!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Talk at Java User Group Meeting in Essen, Embedded Development

This month at the Java User Group meeting some groups of the University presented their research. First I considered to talk about JAVA on mobile phones (e.g. the tutorials we do with teachers on JAVA ME or JAVA on Android) but then decided to talk more about the ubicomp vision and about how I think computing will change and is already changing the world :-) My talk "Ubiquitous Computing and Beyond - Mobile Communication changed the world - what else do we need?" was aimed at opening a discussion what will be the challenge after mobile computing is becoming main stream.

One of the questions was: what are useful platforms to start for with embedded development? Here are a few suggestions:

Breakfast reading: tabgible UIs, brands, and user centred design

The current issue interactions ( features some interesting articles - at least scanning through it and reading some of them prolonged my breakfast today considerably ;-)

The cover story gives an already in its title a very interesting definition of tangible interaction (Tangible Interaction = Form + Computing) [1]. Their view is very much from a design perspective, but provides a good introduction to the topic.

The article by Jay Chaeyong Yi on a success story from Korea is a very good case study of how to apply UI research [2]. It shows (1) a comprehensive example of user driven research and (2) the value and importance it contributes to a product/service. Even though the article describes a project from 2005 I find the topic of messaging on phone still exciting and the example of IM vs. SMS can still tell a lot. Personally I am really interested in where messaging on the phone goes - perhaps there is some time next week in Tampere to discuss this.

Not central on user interfaces but still quite interesting is the article on operationalizing brands with Web 2.0 technologies [3]. The example of shows interestingly what is currently possible. Thinking and imagine a bit further and considering the opportunities that arise from the web/internet of things (e.g. where you know from the bag how it is used and can communicate this) some real change will be ahead. And some companies are slowly getting to the point of bringing first products that go into this direction (Ali pointed me to

After setting up some IKEA furniture with my daughter (model BENNO as bookshelf for paper backs and not for CD/DVDs) I found Don Norman's article where he discusses the issue consuming vs. producing or spectator vs. creator quite interesting [4].

[1] Baskinger, M. and Gross, M. 2010. Tangible interaction = form + computing. interactions 17, 1 (Jan. 2010), 6-11. DOI=

[2] Yi, J. C. 2010. User-research-driven mobile user interface innovation: a success story from Seoul. interactions 17, 1 (Jan. 2010), 48-51. DOI=

[3] Yohn, D. L. 2010. Operationalizing brands with new technologies. interactions 17, 1 (Jan. 2010), 24-27. DOI=

[4] Norman, D. A. 2010. The transmedia design challenge: technology that is pleasurable and satisfying. interactions 17, 1 (Jan. 2010), 12-15. DOI=

Friday, 12 February 2010

Ubiquitous Computing - Ever wondered if we are there yet?

Given the technologies around us I sometimes wonder how close we are to a vision of ubiquitous computing. In this month IEEE Computer Invisible Computing column I had the pleasure to ask this question and share my view on it.

The short answer is: many technologies are ubiquitous but there is a lot more to come. In particular we see that many technologies (public displays, people centric sensing, and personal memory devices) are just around the corner and that they may have a large impact on how we perceive computing. For the long answer have a look at my article: ubiquitous computing - are we there yet? [1]. I have taken over responsibility for the invisible computing column from Bill Schilit who introduced the Invisible Computing column in 2003 [2].

Some years ago in 2006 Yvonne Rogers presented her view on how Ubicomp is going forward [3] contrasting it to Weiser's Vision of calm computing. In her paper she introduces an alternative agenda that argue that we should engage people by ubicomp technologies rather than to make life easy, convenient and calm. Yvonne's paper is an interesting starting point for getting students into this topic.

[1] Schmidt, A. 2010. Ubiquitous Computing: Are We There Yet? Computer 43, 2 (Feb. 2010), 95-97. DOI=

[2] Schilit, B. N. 2003. Mega-Utilities Drive Invisible Technologies. Computer 36, 2 (Feb. 2003), 97-99. DOI=

[3] Yvonne Rogers: Moving on from Weiser's Vision of Calm Computing: Engaging UbiComp Experiences. Ubicomp 2006: 404-421

Viral Advertising - simple and effective?

Having a professional interest in advertising I really liked the link my colleague Bruno Müller-Clostermann sent to me. I obviously had to try it with my picture :-)

My hero movie:

The example of the personalized video shows that it is intriguing and that it is potentially viral - but I am not sure if it is effective (or did you get what the advert is for?).

In general the concept to make someone a part of an advert is very powerful. At Mensch&Computer 2008 we published a paper that explores this idea in the context of public displays [1]. The public display project was part of a student assignment in a course I gave in Linz.

[1] Johannes Schönböck, Florian König, Gabriele Kotsis, Dominik Gruber, Emre Zaim, Albrecht Schmidt. MirrorBoard – An Interactive Billboard. Mensch und Computer 2008. Lübeck. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2008, p 207-216.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Visit to TU Dortmund: Impressive Demos on Vision and Audio

After several tries we finally managed to travel to Dortmund (half an hour on the S-Train) to visit Gernot A. Fink's group at the Technical University Dortmund. Bastian Pfleging did with this group his master thesis before he joined us. The research focus of the group is on signal processing and computer vision. They also follow an experimental approach - building systems that work (which we saw in the demos). In their lab space they have setup a building (basically a house inside a house - impressive!).

I have learned about a new location technology based on passive infrared sensors. The idea is to pick heat emitted from people and combine the output from several sensors to localize the person. The technology is very simple, potentially cheap, and privacy preserving. Sometime back we thought of a project topic using thermal imaging (not really cheap or privacy preserving) for context-awarenes - but so far there was no student who wanted to do it. Perhaps we should try again to find a student.

The other demos were situated in a meeting room that is equipped with several cameras and microphones. It was interesting to see how robust several of the vision prototypes managed to track people in the room and to detect pointing actions. One basic mechanism the use to detect interesting regions in an image is saliency based on different features - and it works well.

The audio demo used two arrays of 8 microphones each; the arrays are nicely integrated in a ceiling panel. Using these signals they can calculate the energy that originates from a certain spatial region in the room. Looking at the complexity of the hardware and software for sound localization it appears not in the far future that this could become ubiquitous. We talked about the work James Scott did on sound localization (snipping on a light switch) - here is the reference [1].

The room is equipped with sensors, lights, switches and a UI panel that are linked over a commercial bus system (KNX). Sometime ago we had a bachelor project in Essen that looked at EnOcean (another home networking technology). We discussed how well these systems are positioned in comparison to web technologies.

I personally think medium term we will move - at least on a control and user interface level - to web protocols. The moment you use web protocols it is so much easier to create user interfaces (e.g. using a Web browser as frontend) and it is simple integrate with existing systems (e.g. facebook). It would be interesting to assess how easy it is to use RESTful services to replicate some of the features of home automation systems. Sounds like an interesting project topic. There is a workshop on the Web of Things at PerCom in Mannheim - I am curious what is coming up there.

[1] James Scott, Boris Dragovic: Audio Location: Accurate Low-Cost Location Sensing. Pervasive Computing: Third International Conference, PERVASIVE 2005, Munich, Germany, May 8-13, 2005. Springer LNCS 3468/2005. pp 1-18.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Will it be possible to keep data secret in the future?

At the moment there is an interesting discussion in Germany: should the state buy data (leaked out of a Swiss bank) that give details on people who have not paid their taxes in Germany. I will not add to the political discussion on that as there have been many arguments - some interesting and others funny. I am only amused about a small party that is very much against it. But one has to be fair - this is after all an indicator that democracy works ;-) parties represent the interests of their voters…

I think on a more general scale this incident and similar current cases could be an indicator of a future where everything that is on (electronic) file is likely to become public, given that there is an interest. One hundred years ago it was pretty difficult to steal or copy a few thousand data sets. You would have needed access to the archives for many nights and copying would have taken days. 30 years ago it would have been still hard - e.g. copying stacks of paper on a Xerox or using several large magnetic disks. Over recent years it has become much easier - a memory card is fairly small and a digital camera to copy documents is in many current mobile phones. It seems that if someone has rightful access to data (at a certain point in time) it may proof very hard to keep them from making a copy - may it be by copying the data digitally or by capturing electronically what they see. And hiding a SD-card is much more trivial than a car load of paper.

And as we know technology is progressing - perhaps we will get laws that restrict how small the physical size of a memory device can be ;-) And there is always a party who will lobby for it…

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Visiting TU-Berlin and T-Labs

We have a number of student projects that look at novel applications and novel application platforms on mobile phones. As Michael Rohs from T-Labs is also teaching a course on mobile HCI we thought it would be a good opportunity to meet and discuss some application ideas.

I gave a talk in Michael's lecture discussing the concept of user interfaces beyond the desktop, context as enabling technology, and future applications in mobile, wearable and ubiquitous computing. We had an interesting discussion - and in the end it always comes down to privacy and impact on society. I see this as a very positive development as it shows that the students are not just techies but that they see the bigger picture - and the impact (be it good or bad) they may have with their developments. I mentioned to books that are interesting to read: the transparent society [1] and total recall [2].

In the afternoon we discussed two specific projects. One was an application for informal social while watching TV (based on a set iconic communication elements) that can be used to generate meta data on the program shown. The other is a platform that allows web developers to create distributed mobile applications making use of all the sensors on mobile phones. It is essential a platform an API that provides access to all functions on the phones available in S60 phones over a RESTful API, e.g. you can use a HTTP call to make a photo on someone's phone. We hope to release some of the software soon.

In the coffee area at T-labs was a printout with the 10+1 innovation principles - could not resist to take a photo ;-) Seems innovation is really trival - just follow the 11 rules and you are there ;-)

[1] David Brin. The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom. Basic Books. 1999. ISBN-13: 978-0738201443. Amazon-link. Webpage:

[2] Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell. Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything. Dutton Adult. 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0525951346. Amazon-link. Webpage: