Thursday, April 30, 2009

Simulated Augmented Reality Windshield Display as a Cognitive Mapping Aid for Elder Driver Navigation

This paper is from the CHI 2009 Conference, by SeungJun Kim and Anind K. Dey from Carnegie Mellon University.

The aim of this paper was to study how a heads up display GPS system could be used to help elderly drivers. The authors cited sources describing how elderly drivers are less able to map themselves into their physical surroundings. It is important to be able to mentally know where you are spatially to drive safely. Elderly drivers are also less able to multitask effectively.

The goal of this study was to develop a simulation of a HUD GPS system so that elderly drivers especially would not have to divide their attention between the road and a conventional GPS system.

Drivers were asked to complete a driving simulation, one with a traditional GPS system located on the center console, and one with a GPS integrated into a HUD on the windshield. The study was conducted on 24 adults. 

In general, the participants liked the system, especially the elderly participants. The HUD display improved their response times and their safety.

I think this is a very good idea. The paper explicitly stated that this was only a simulation: they imagine the technology to implement it will be developed by others in the near future. I believe this to be reasonable assumption given that small HUDs are making their way into cars at the moment.

Even though I am not old, I could find this system useful. I have driven around unfamiliar cities with conventional GPS devices. Even though they helped me to get where I was going, I knew that I was not able to concentrate as much as I should have on the road. This system would enable you to follow the GPS directions without ever having to look down. 

I look forward to seeing if this will be implemented any time in the future.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ThinSight: Versatile Multi-touch Sensing for Thin Form-factor Displays

This is a paper from the UIST 2007 Conference by Steve Hodges et al.

ThinSight is a IR emitting and detecting layer to be placed behind a display such as a LCD. It has exciting possibilities of enhancing multitouch technology and interactions.

The device relies on a two dimensional grid that emits and receives infrared light. Because the light is IR, it does not interfere with what is being displayed on the LCD screen. It's multitouch properties derive from its ability to create an image of what is in front of the screen. If your hand is in front of the screen, it will reflect the IR being emitted, and the device will received it, resulting in an image of your hand on the screen. 

Actual touching not needed to interact with the device, as it can calculate the distance an object is from it, and it can also detect how much pressure a finger is placing on the screen, as the finger will cover more area and increase in size on the image as more pressure is applied.

Another exciting ability this technology provides is being able to interact with other IR devices, such as sending and receiving data to PDAs or cell phones, it can detect the IR codes emitted from the devices, and respond by emitting codes back to the device. It also can communicate with more than one device because it can "see" where the device is and send IR beams only to that place.

I think ThinSight is an amazing technology that if fully developed, could revolutionize the way people interact with computers. It may be weird to know that your computer can "see" you, but I think the possibilities are too great not to explore this technology more fully.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Emotional Design

I believe this book by Don Norman contradicts everything he has laid out in his other works. In his other books, especially The Design of Everyday Things, he argues for straightforward, intuitive design. In this book, he argues that actractive objects stimulate the mind, causing for more creative thinking, making them easier to use.

While I don't necessarily have a problem with either side of the debate, in Everyday Things, he laid out scientific, objective suggestions for making a design successful. If there is an objective method of designing, they should be followed.

I myself would prefer to have attractive appliances, but I do not think that that is a defining aspect of the object. I like objects that are easy to use, or that have great functionality (even if they require more attention to learn fully), if the design is emotionally pleasing, that is a bonus. 

I think designers should worry about how their product will be perceived by their target audience, and should attempt to make it attractive in all aspects. I think that the primary goal is that the device functions properly, and is easy to use with respective to whatever its intended purpose is.

I accept that people like good looking things, but I think the functionality of the device should be the designer's main concern.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I read the paper "ArtLinks: Fostering Social Awareness and Reflection in Museums" by Dan Cosley et al. from the CHI 2008 Proceedings.

ArtLinks is a test system the authors designed to attempt to link visitors perceptions of an exhibit at a museum. The authors acknowledge that many people go to a museum to learn, but they also state that people may go to a museum to see what others think about certain things.

The ArtLinks system is set up for a particular exhibit, and visitors are encourage to share their thoughts about it, much like a guestbook. The main page of the system displays common words used to describe the exhibit, with words that are used frequently appearing larger than relatively infrequently used words. As the user mouses over a word, they will see lines drawn to the visitors who used those words. As they mouse over another visitor's icon, they will see lines drawn to words that that visitor used to describe the exhibit.

I think the ArtLinks idea is a thought-provoking one; however, when I go to a museum, I want to learn about the objects on display. I am not usually interested in what others have had to say about it.

I do see that there likely is value for an ArtLinks type of system in an art museum, where the exhibits are intended to be interpretted, perhaps differently, by each visitor. In such a museum, the system could be a useful way of sparking interest and different ideas for the visitor. It would give them a better vocabulary of expressing appreciation for the art by seeing what others have thought about it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Man Who Shocked The World

I found this biography of Stanley Milgram to be an enjoyable read. I had heard about some of his work, not realizing who had done it. I think social psychology greatly benefited from Milgram's work and enthusiasm for a wide range of topics.

Of course, Milgram is most famous for his shock experiments, in which he demonstrated the extent of a normal person's obedience to authority. Many people believe these experiments to be unethical in their treatment of the participants; however, I disagree. I think these particular experiments are very important to understanding human nature. They help to give an explanation of the willingness of people to follow leaders who demand them to be cruel. While the experiments were not perfect (there could have been more variations to account for other variables), they gave an unintuitive and important answer.

Milgram also performed work in other areas: using novel methods of determining public opinion through the lost letters experiment, and working on the small world phenomenon with his experiments of delivering a package from one random person to another.

I think the fact that he has been given little to no recognition from his colleagues is pitiful. Milgram approached his field with great enthusiasm and came up with clever ways of understanding humanity. I think it is unfair for his colleagues to use his work but not give him proper appreciation.

I enjoyed reading this biography, and learning a little more about the man behind some of the most important, most controversial, and most ingenious experiments in the history of his field.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Design Of Future Things

In this latest book we've read by Don Norman, he discusses his thoughts on what things will look like in the future. He talks a lot about cars and home appliances. Much of his focus is centered on automating many processes, essentially taking humans out of the loop. I think it is this that he is wrong. Humans will continually demand to make the decisions and be in control, so while certain things he suggests, such as lane keeping and adaptive cruise control, will make driving safer, the technology available will not be fully implemented: humans will always have the final say.

Although he discusses it only briefly, in passing, I believe augmentation is the future of everyday objects. Augmentation, as opposed to automation, exists to help a human with a task, rather than doing it for them. He gives the example of a kitchen system the will help a cook know where they left off in preparation for dinner, provided pictures of the steps just completed, rather than making dinner for the person.

Although I believe technology will advance to the capacity to enable automation of most items, it would be foolish of companies to assume that customers want fully automated devices. It will be much wiser to develop systems that fluidly augment the activities of their users. Humans want to be in control of what they do. People enjoy certain everday activities that could be fully automated: cooking, driving, choosing their own music, reading their own books rather than listening to a voice reading to them, dressing themselves. 

I believe Don Norman missed the nature of humans when he failed to give more attention to augmentation than automation.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


OcotoPocus: A Dynamic Guide for Learning Gesture-Based Command Sets
Olivier Bau & Wendy E. Mackay

The Octopocus system is a different type of help service for computers. It helps users learn gesture based commands for programs. Although gesture based commands can be very useful, they are also often unintuitive and difficult to remember.

The Octopocus sytem provides a way to teach a set of gesture based commands. The user can select novice or expert mode. In expert mode, there is no help offered. In novice mode, however, the user can click and hold down the mouse (or whatever input method is being used). In a second, the Octopocus system will display all of the different gestures able to be given at that time. The user then selects a command and begins to follow the path layed out by the system. As the user progresses along the path, commands that had different gestures quickly fade, while commands that have a similar gesture will remain, although they will become less visible.

In the tests, the overall results slightly favored Octopocus over the traditional help menu, with errors being slightly lower, however, particpants used Octopocus more often than the help menu. They found it to be a helpful and intuitive way to learn commands.

I do not have much experience with gesture based commands, but to me, the idea behind Octopocus seems logical, intuitive, and cleverly implemented.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Crowded Food Court

In my ethonography, I studied the table layout in the Commons Food Court.

From the many times I have eaten and watched tv in the Commons, I know that it can be very crowded, especially during meal times. I wanted to find out if there was a better way of laying out the tables and tvs.

I focused my study on what I consider the main area, which is the largest section, with 21 tables, and a tv at one end.

My study was performed from about 4:30 to 5. I left as it became increasingly crowded, and I realized that I could not continue to monitor all the comings and goings of everyone in the room.

When I initially sat down, I noticed that the tables were already fairly close together - far enough apart to allow easy navigation, but close enough that any closer would likely create a very crowded feeling among the tables. Because of this, it was apparent to me that the maximum number of tables was already reached. The only recommendation I could make as a result would be to lower the number of tables, but although it was not very crowded during my study, I know that the Commons regularly fills up during meal times.

One recommendation I feel I could make was to switch the tvs. I only noticed a couple of people of that many people there watching the tv. There is a tv in the room on the other side of the restaurant area. The room is smaller, but more people go to that room for watching tv. The tv in there is large, but old and the picture is grainy, it is difficult to watch. If the tvs were switched, it would give the other room a better tv to watch, and their would still be background noise in the main section.

To make recommendations on the table layout, I would need to spend more time watching the other sections in the Commons, and with more people to keep better track of people as the arrive and leave.

Never In Anger

I found this book to be one of the more enjoyable readings this semester. I enjoyed learning something new, rather than reading the hypotheses and general ranting of computer scientists.

In this book, Jean Briggs spends 17 months studying the Utku Eskimo tribe. Although she was disappointed in her original hope to study the shamanistic practices of a pre-Christianity tribe, she was successful in studying the language and everyday life of the Utku. She learned that although Eskimos do their best to control any display of anger or agression, their are genuine tender feelings among friends and family.

I enjoyed reading a different genre of book this time. I also enjoyed learning about an isolated tribe. I found the eskimos to have an interesting society. While they frown on outward displays of anger, I felt that the resulting channeling of ill feeling in forms of passive aggressiveness and gossip were quite disturbing.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting read, especially since this work was done 50 years ago.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Media Equation

Nicholas Harris
Lei Gu
Josh Myers

So, Media Equal Real Life.

The thrust of this book is that people subconciously identify new media devices (TV's, computers, etc.) as intelligent beings, or social players. The authors,  Reeves and Nass, discuss various psychological norms, apply them to media devices (often computers), and then test their hypothesis using unsuspecting volunteers.

They discovered through their experiences certain rules about media human interaction such as: people will be polite to a computer, a television can invade a person's personal space, and that arousing material on screen will elicit arousal and better memory of the material later.

I have to admit, I agree with these assertions. I know from experience that intense movies, games, and astros baseball on FSN get my blood pumping. I duck if I see something on screen out of the corner of my eye. I'll stand to cheer a touchdown. I'll also yell at the TV when the astros leave the bases loaded for the fourth time in the game. However, I don't think that this behavious is anything to be surprised by. The whole purpose of movies and TV shows is to provide a distraction: the good ones allow us to engross ourselves in their world. This idea has been around millenia. Any good story is going to engage and arouse us.

I am less certain about their conclusion that people are polite to computers. I feel pretty sure that my behaviour towards my computer is not one of politeness. I would hate it if it asked me if we could work together as a team. I really hate it when it asks me 2 or 3 times if I want to run a program that I have selected with a double click of the mouse (I do have vista, which I do like for the most part).  I wouldn't be surprised if some people are polite to their computers. I imagine that the young and old and others would do not have much experience with computers may tend to be polite. 

I believe that the key to a well designed program is not how polite it is to the user, or how likeable its personality is, or if it invades the user's personal space, or if it speaks in a male or female voice. I believe that the key to a well designed program is how intuitive its interface is. I personally believe in buttons, combo boxes, tabs, and prompts. 

I'll admit I don't want a voice shouting at me to input data, however, I would rather the computer tell me: 
"Enter a number (1-20): "

Than a computer that prompted me: 
"I like playing games with people, I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 20, I wonder if you can guess what it is... "

Monday, February 2, 2009

Simple User Interface

One of my favorite interfaces that I use daily is my iced tea pitcher. 

It is a simple design. There is one handle, which is large enough to permit fast and easy access, even for larger hands. There is a groove opposite the handle which clearly indicates that the tea should be poured through it. 

Another feature I like is that the handle is solid glass, rather than being the hollow type allows the liquid contents to enter it. I like this particular feature because it allows me to grasp the handle without being burned (when the tea comes out hot) nor frozen (if I add ice inside the pitcher - more on that below).

Simple, elegant design

There was some confusion in class when I was asked if the pitcher had an ice-guard, at which point I revealed that I did not put ice into the pitcher, prompting some to question whether it was in fact an iced tea pitcher at all. To clarify, it is in fact iced tea, but I personally like to add the ice in the glass, not in the pitcher, thereby removing the need for an ice guard, which this particular model does not in fact have.

Easy pouring action

Another aspect of this pitcher that I enjoy is the solid and balanced feel. It is not flimsy like some plastic pitchers I have owned. It is easy to pick up, hold, and pour. Overall, I think it is a great pitcher.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Design of Everyday Things

In this book by Donald A. Norman, he discusses various aspects of design that make a good design good and a bad design bad. At the risk of oversimplifying, he argues that designs should be made to be 'Idiot Proof:' a user should not be able to slide a door that requires pushing, or push a tap that requires turning. Mappings between the controls and the objects should be straightforward and intuitive. Users should be able to make an error but recover from it, and they should be able to explore the system on their own.

While I agree with most of his points, I felt that the book was more of a reiterative rant than a constructive criticism. Only occasionally did he note that the designs he had come up with were impractical for standardization or too costly. I also feel that he did not give enough weight to the use of objects by expert users. He seemed to assume every one using the device was a strict beginner. 

I also feel that his discussions are dated. I feel that design has come a long way from its place in the late 80's. I feel that he has quite accurately predicted the evolution of many everyday things. I feel that the telephone today is what he had envisioned 20 years ago. The computer is also closer to what he had envisioned.

However, I must disagree with some of his thoughts on computers. As a computer scientist, I actually enjoy working in the command environment. Indeed, I think it is easier to navigate and accomplish certain tasks that it would be to use GUI's all the time. I enjoy being able to use nonsensical keyboard shortcuts to minimize the time I need to use the mouse to carefully select what I want. As an expert user of computer systems, I would feel held back if I could only use tools for beginners.

I agree that novice tools are important, and I agree with most of Donald A. Norman's ideas - I found the book to be a fun light hearted read - but I also feel that shortcuts and perhaps unintuitive symbols can be useful to a more advanced user.