Calum's CHI Photoblog - Part 1
By Calum on Apr 08, 2008
Calum Benson is a usability engineer in the desktop team in Dublin, Ireland. He has worked at Sun for about eight years, primarily contributing to the open source GNOME Desktop project's usability efforts, to the usability aspects of Sun's integration of that project into Solaris, and currently, to the design of various GNOME-based applications for OpenSolaris.
Maya asked me if I'd file a few blog entries while I was at CHI 2008 in Florence... so here goes.
I arrived at my hotel around lunchtime, but although I was only coming from Ireland, I'd been up since 3.30am to catch the first leg of my flight to Amsterdam. So I was too zonked to do much other than wander up to the conference centre to register:
Everything kicked off for real at 8.30am in something resembling an aircraft hangar, with the opening plenary given from my compatriot, Irene McAra-McWilliam, from the Glasgow School of Art—perhaps best-known outside the UK for being housed in Charles Rennie Mackintosh's finest building. Irene talked about the evolution of design, structuring her talk around a common feature of Florentine architecture: the Rose Window. Personally I did find it a bit of an introspective talk for an opener, perhaps because I don't have any formal training in design so I couldn't immediately connect with the content. But given the theme of this year's conference ("Art Science Balance"), that was perhaps partially the point...
The sessions I attended today were:
- Interactive Image Search, where Cue Flik, a Microsoft research project, was demonstrated. Here, the user could identify image search results that were most like the ones they'd been looking for (the example used was a 'product shot', which often shows a product on a white background), to not only refine the results but to apply to future searches. Thus, in this example, you could apply the 'product shot' rule when searching for anything from shoes to suitcases, and expect to find the top results showing those items on a white background.
- Usability Evaluation Considered Harmful? Bill Buxton and Saul Greenberg presented their paper highlighting the dangers of blindly applying usability evaluations, to some extent because academia has come to demand them, sometimes at the expense of rejecting research into more challenging areas of usability and/or resulting in the mis-application of "weak science". Followed by a panel discussion (which naturally concluded that both usability evaluations and non-empirical methods have their place, and that the key is in choosing appropriately for the problem at hand).
- Improved video navigation and capture. Three projects were discussed here, the first being research into automatically capturing meetings for live or delayed webcasting in a more engaging fashion, with appropriate cuts, tracking, close-ups etc. depending on who's talking—could tie in nicely with some of the telepresence projects at Sun Labs :) The other two projects, DimP and DRAGON (demos available by following the links) both provided the user a means to navigate through video by directly manipulating the objects in the frame, rather than the traditional means of dragging a slider. Both showed useful productivity gains for certain types of task, although I have to admit they weren't the sort of tasks I'd necessarily expect most people to encounter in their daily interactions with videos.
Inbetween sessions, I had a wander round the posters (which, this year, are changing every day):
In the evening, we had the official opening ceremony, with a plethora of Tuscan wine and edibles...
a string quartet...
... and a few exhibits to play with! This is Snap and Grab, a video wall that you can interact with from your cellphone:
And this is Remote Impact from DistanceLab, in which you can punch (and be punched by) a remote opponent!