Thursday, December 17, 2009

1960s Braun Products Hold the Secrets to Apple's Future - Apple - Gizmodo

I really liked this article in Gizmodo, "1960s Braun Products Hold the Secrets to Apple's Future - Apple - Gizmodo". They show a definitel link between the modern designs of Jonathan Ive and the designs of the 50s and 60s by Dieter Rams at Braun. Very cool!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I Wanna Shake Table

Nine years after Dan Reznik's (and John Canny's) Shake Table (er, "Universal Planar Manipulator"), it is still way cool.  Has any progress been done on this idea in the commercial sector? I'd like one that is quieter, faster, and bigger! 

Reinvent the plug!


Great design by RCA's Min-Kyu Choi on a new design for laptop plugs. This design makes the plug as thin as our thinnest laptops (imagine storing it inside the laptop!)  [article and image from]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Augmented Reality is mainstream

There was a short article on Augmented Reality (AR) in the NY Times Sunday Magazine a couple of weeks ago. I think this really shows AR has finally hit the mainstream.  Of course it was clear the author had no idea where this stuff came from (e.g., Feiner's group at Columbia, Blair's group at GVU, and Billinghurst's group HITLab New Zeland). What do people think?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Surface Area to Power the World

I thought these images were cute... Can anyone confirm the numbers (especially for the solar) as it looks much smaller than what I'd seen in some talks previously?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I give up on CHI/UIST

The CHI reviews just came out and I have to say I'm pretty unhappy... not with the numbers per se... (one paper I co-authored has a 4.5 average out of 5 and I'm sure I'll get a fair number of papers accepted), but instead with the attitude in the reviews. The reviewers simply do not value the difficulty of building real systems and how hard controlled studies are to run on real systems for real tasks. This is in contrast with how easy it is to build new interaction techniques and then to run tight, controlled studies on these new techniques with small, artificial tasks (don't tell me this is not true as I have done it and published good papers of this style also).

I really am ready to give up on CHI / UIST and go elsewhere (to another existing community or create a new one -- UISTSys anyone?).
I've talked about this for 3-5 years with many of you, but I think I've finally had it as there has really been no change. In fact, I think it has gotten worse. The highest ranked paper we wrote took 6-10 weeks of work and is well written, interesting to read, and synthesizes many studies in multiple communities. It is valuable to the CHI community, but it invents nothing new. I'd love to see it published at CHI and I think there should be room for multiple kinds of work at CHI (including nice surveys, opinion pieces, interaction techniques, fieldwork, and systems work).

The papers we have submitted with truly new ideas and techniques, and years of work behind them, get reviews asking you to do 2-4 years more work. For example, they ask you to create a completely different system by another team with no knowledge of your ideas and run an A vs. B test (because that commercial system you compared to had different goals in mind). Oh, and 8-10 participants doing 3-4 hour sessions/participant isn't enough for an evaluation. You need lots more... They go on and on like this. Essentially setting you up for a level of rigor that is almost impossible to meet in the career of a graduate student.

This attitude is a joke and it offers researchers no incentive to do systems work. Why should they? Why should we put 3-4 person years into every CHI publication? Instead we can do 8 weeks of work on an idea piece or create a new interaction technique and test it tightly in 8-12 weeks and get a full CHI paper. I know it is not about counting publications, but until hiring and tenure policies change, this is essentially what happens in the real world. The HCI systems student with 3 papers over their career won't even get an interview. Nor will any systems papers win best paper awards (yes, it happens occasionally but I know for a fact that they are usually the ones written by big teams doing 3-4 person-years of work).

Don't tell me that as much systems work is appearing now as in the past. It is not true and much of the systems papers that do get in require big teams (yes, 3-4 person-years for each paper). When will this community wake up and understand that they are going to run out any work on creating new systems (rather than small pieces of systems) and cede that important endeavor to industry?

One might think that the recent papers on this topic by Dan Olsen at UIST and Saul Greenberg/Bill Buxton at CHI would have changed things, but I do not believe the community is listening. What is interesting is that it is probably the HCI systems researchers themselves who are at fault. We are our own worst enemies. I think we have been blinded by the perception that "true scientific" research is only found in controlled experiments and nice statistics.

What is the answer? I believe we need a new conference that values HCI systems work. I also have come to agree with Jonathan Grudin that conference acceptance rates need to be much higher so that interesting, innovative work is not left out (e.g., I'd advocate 30-35%), while coupling this conference with a coordinated, prestigious journal that has a fast publication cycle (e.g., electronic publication less than 6 months from when the conference publication first appears). This would allow the best of both worlds: systems publications to be seen by the larger community, with the time (9-12 months) to do additional work and make the research more rigorous.

This post started as a status update on facebook, but I quickly went over the maximum size for a status update (which I had never run into before). Thus, this blog post. Note that this was written hastily and late at night. Don't take this as a scholarly attempt to solve this problem (i.e., I cite no statistics to back up my claims here!) Also, this is not an attempt to influence the PC on my papers under review. I couldn't really care less about any individual paper. It is the trend over time that has me upset. I've done quite well at publishing at CHI so it is not about sour grapes. It is more frustration at how hard it is to publish the papers that I believe are the most important. If it is happening to me it is happening to many other people.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Time to claim success on electronic sketching of UIs?

In Las Vegas this week (March 18th), Microsoft demoed Microsoft Expression Blend 3 with SketchFlow. SketchFlow is a new tool that appears to be a commercial strength version of our previous research tools in this space:
  • SILK -- for sketching, storyboarding, and prototyping GUIs
  • Denim -- for sketching, storyboarding, and prototyping Web sites (w/ lots more in terms of functionality and testing than was possible in SILK)
  • K-Sketch - informal prototyping of animations

Much of the functionality of these three research tools has been embedded in a full strength web development system (Expression Blend 3). The image above shows the UI, but doesn't really capture it (you need to watch the video below).

Watch this video of the demo (go to about 2/3 of the way in If you go too far in and they are already sketching, just back up a bit. The video is quite long.):
(click on Day 1 Keynote)

More info on it here:

The talks use the term "informal" all over the place. Clearly our "informal user interfaces" work has had impact on industry. I know this often takes many years (we first showed SILK in 1995!). But I want to thank Brad Myers (my PhD advisor) and all of the students, staff, and postdocs that have worked on this project (especially Jimmy, Jason, Mark, Richard, and Yang). You should all be quite happy to see this come to fruition. It sometimes takes many years to see impact and many other researchers never see it.

What do you guys think? Are we done? What don't they do?

PS Watch the Buxton intro at the beginning to see a lot of the motivation. I wonder if they will claim to never have seen our work and were instead motivated by Buxton's recent book?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Human Computer Interaction Consortium (HCIC) 2009

I went to the HCIC '09 Workshop in Fraser Colorado last week. It was a really great experience. UW's dub institute was recently admitted to this member only organization and the keys to this workshop are the small size (~75 attendees), top researchers attending (about half are top/senior folks in the field and the other half are the top graduate students that their departments have chosen to send), and the sessions are 90 minutes to cover ONE paper (yes one! -- see Leysia Palen of the U. Colorado ponder The Future of HCI at left). It also includes a lot of time for informal discussion while walking, taking a break, or skiing. I hadn't been since graduate school and forgot how great a venue it is. I had great chats with lots of folks, including my own former PhD advisor (Brad Myers --on left below).

Part of the excitement of the meeting for me was to see so many of my former graduate students taking an active part in the organization (Scott Klemmer), the talks (Jason Hong), and the discussion (Mark Newman, Jeff Heer, Scott, and Jason). It was also great to see one of my current students (Jon Froehlich) take it all in and see how he might be just like these former students soon. I felt like a proud father seeing his son ski down a hill for the 1st time (which I did indeed experience with both of my sons in a major way on this trip -- nothing like a 3 year old skiing and a 7 year old challenging himself on intermediate runs!)

It was great to present my talk on Activity Based Design to this group of strong researchers. I doubt the work would have had that good of an audience had I presented at CHI or another major conference due to the parallel tracks.

Some comments and questions about HCIC. If you made the workshop more open to others, then you'd lose some of the keys to the size. If you added more talks so that more of the folks there could participate, you would lose these great 90 minute sessions that you simply don't get at conferences. I guess we shouldn't muck with it. Any ideas?

Is Kindle 2 the eBook that finally makes it?

The Amazon Kindle has done well but the number sold is still small. Amazon has come out with a new version of the Kindle. It finally seems to be the right size with respect to thickness (1/3 inch), though I'm still hoping for better mark-up with a pen (ala I wrote about with respect to the Plastic Logic device in September '08) and more of the device dedicated to the display. I hate all the buttons on the Kindle -- see the old and new Kindles on left and right, respectively, of the image. What do you folks think?