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.