Fly: A Tool For Authoring Planar Presentations

I read the paper "Fly: A Tool For Authoring Planar Presentations" by Leonhard Lichtschlag, Thorsten Karrer, and Jan Borchers at RWTH Aachen University.  Their website is here.

RubberEdge - UIST 2007

I read the paper RubberEdge: Reducing Clutching by Combining Position and Rate Control with Elastic Feedback from UIST 2007. It was written by Géry Casiez, Qing Pan and Christophe Chaillou of the University of Lille, France and Daniel Vogel of the University of Toronto, Canada. You can read the paper here.

The paper give descriptions of three types of input device:

Isotonic: This type of device uses position control to manipulate selection. Examples of this are the mouse, touch pads found on laptops, and pen inputs/touch displays.

Isometric: This type of device is stationary and responds to force or pressure applied to it, increasing the rate of movement based on the pressure applied. Examples of this are joysticks and the "nubs" found in older laptops.

Elastic: This type of device combines isotonic and isometric controls into a single input device. Part of the device uses position control while another part uses rate control.

The main problem the researchers are trying to solve is that of "clutching," which happens in isotonic devices when the limits of the position control interface are reached and the device must be moved or "re-calibrated" to continue input in a particular direction. An example of clutching occurs when a mouse reaches the edge of a mouse pad and must be picked up and moved back to the center of the pad to continue moving in one direction. A similar issue occurs in laptop touch pads.

Elastic devices solve the clutching problem by providing some sort of isometric control at the edge of the position control area. The paper goes on to describe some previous implementations of elastic devices that fail to work intuitively or have certain mathematical flaws.

The team's solution to the clutching problem is "RubberEdge," a device which basically is a touch pad with a ring around it that is attached to elastic bands and can be pushed outward a bit to control mouse movement at the edge of the touch pad.

The paper describes some trajectory problems that arise when transitioning from the touch pad to the elastic boundary and the methods and mathematics used to solve them.

The team claims that a small circular RubberEdge input device is 20% more efficient that a standard laptop touch pad. They designed and implemented several tests to determine the efficiency of this input.

Ninja Cursors

I read Ninja cursors: using multiple cursors to assist target acquisition on large screens by Masatomo Kobayashi and Takeo Igarashi at the University of Tokyo.

Some displays can be very large, especially if comprised of multiple displays. The goal of this research is to reduce the amount of time it takes to move the mouse cursor to select something on a large screen.

The approach these researchers have taken is to place several cursors on the screen at the same time. They have shown that 2-8 cursors provides the best results, significantly reducing selection time but not overpowering the user with too many cursors.

The main problem with this approach was pointing to multiple items at the same time. This was solved by putting the selections in a queue and only allowing one item to be selected at a time. The item to be selected is highlighted, while any other items in the queue have a red arc around them. A shorter arc means the item is closer to the front of the queue.

They also encountered the problem of the lasso tool. They set in place several restrictions, such as "the lasso cannot intersect with an object" and "the lasso cannot be empty" to help the lasso tool work properly.

I personally do not like the "ninja cursors." While they do improve usability a bit, the many cursors distract me more than help me. Maybe this is different for different people.

A demo used to be available here, but that site is no longer accessible.

Kinematic Templates

I read the paper entitled Kinematic Templates: End-User Tools for Content-Relative Cursor Manipulations by Richard Fung, Edward Lank, Michael Terry at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Click here to read the paper.

Kinematic templates represent an area of drawing somewhere between completely freehand and rigidly defined drawing tools. Basically, kinematic templates actively adjust cursor movement in specific ways to aid the drawing of regular shapes, such as circles and lines, while retaining the human element that is lost by using shape tools.

Kinematic templates are especially useful when drawing with an input device that is not designed for drawing, such as a mouse. However, they are also useful for cleaning up drawings done with a drawing tablet. These tools can also be used by people learning how to draw or who just want to create a simple, clear drawing. Of course, they can be used by professional artists as well, if desired.

The research team has developed several different templates to aid drawing. These include templates to guide movement parallel to an axis, along orthogonal axes, concentrically about a point, through a point, around a point, and many others which are all listed in Table 1 in the paper.

To use the kinematic templates, the user defines regions in the composition in which the templates will take effect. This is illustrated very well in the video above. Different templates can be layered to help create more complex shapes.

The following image gives an example of using kinematic templates to draw a sun:

The research team has created two types of kinematic templates: passive templates and active templates. Passive templates only affect the cursor when it is moving. Active templates can move the cursor when it is held in place. It should be noted that the templates only take affect when the mouse button is held down, so "users cannot completely lose control of the cursor when using kinematic templates" (p4).

In addition to the pre-defined templates, users can create their own templates using Python scripts.

The research team is considering several areas of future research, including automatically generating templates based on existing compositions or imported images.

Please read their paper to discover more details and how the kinematic templates work.

Elevator Ethnography

George Lucchese, Eric Scott, and I performed a study of people's elevator usage at the West Campus Garage on campus at Texas A&M.

We initially wanted to observe people using elevators and see if we could find some interesting information about their usage. Since it is pretty difficult to observe all the floors at the same time, we had to figure out an interesting way to do this. Our solution was to observe the elevators in the West Campus Parking Garage, since its set of elevators is behind a glass wall and each elevator has a large windows. This enabled us to observe all the elevators on all the floors at the same time. We could easily see how many people were in an elevator and which floors they got on and off on. As an added bonus, the stairwell was right beside the elevators and also was behind a huge glass wall, so we decided to monitor the stair usage as well and compare it to the elevator usage.

This is a view of the elevators and stairs as seen from our observation point.

We recorded the gender, transportation method, number of floors traveled, and direction traveled for each person that used the elevator or stairs. We performed our observations at three times of the day: 9:00am, 12:00pm, and 5:30pm.

We gathered a large amount of data and immediately entered it into the computer and started making charts and graphs. In the end, we ended up with 11 interesting charts, most of which illustrated the obvious.

Here are some observations we made from our charts:
People travel more floors by stairs earlier in the day and fewer floors as the day goes on.

People travel about the same number of floors by elevator all day long.

People walk up stairs more floors than they walk downstairs.

People take the elevator the same number of floors whether they are going up or down.

Females tend to travel more floors than males do.

Males travel a lower number of floors than females do.

Males travel to the roof twice as much as females do. (Possible data error due to small sample size)

The same number of people travel only one floor.

Many more people travel down in the morning, and many more people travel up in the evening.

A few more people travel down at noon.

More people take the elevator than take the stairs.

People usually travel one or two floors on the stairs. Few people travel more floors on the stairs. The exact opposite is true for elevators.

Fery few people park on the first floor or roof of the garage.

People travel about the same number of floors in the morning (except the first floor and the roof).

People travel more floors at noon.

People travel fewer floors in the evening.

People travel up a few floors more than many floors.

People travel down many floors more than a few floors.

Males tend to use the elevator more often than females use the elevator for any number of floors.

As you can see, most of this data seems normal. In fact, it is.

We did come up with a couple interesting observations. First of all, we observed that most people will take the stairs if traveling two or less floors, i.e. going from the first floor to the third floor. In this case, about 75% of people will take the stairs. If traveling more than two floors, the number of people taking the stairs dramatically decreases to about 20%. We also observed that males tend to use the elevator more than females do, no matter how many floors they are traveling.

While our data does not give any immediately useful information, we believe it can be used as a basis for many other studies that can be done for both elevator/stair usage and parking issues on campus.

The Mole People

The Mole People is an interesting study of homeless people who live in the tunnels beneath New York City. It is an extensive ethnography that reveals many details about tunnel dwellers and attempts to lower the negative perception of these people.

It is written by a woman who frequently went into the tunnels and talked with and made friends with many of the homeless who live there. She wants everyone to have respect for these people, as most people hate the tunnel dwellers and view them as the "outcasts of the outcasts."

This book shows that there are many different kinds of people who live in the tunnels. Some seek shelter from the danger of the streets, some enjoy the darkness and cave-like feel, some are gangs hiding from the law, and some are intelligent people with educations who just prefer to be homeless. Some are single, some are in relationships, some have families, and some reject relationships and society altogether. There are also people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Some people have always been homeless, some ran away from home, some lost a home, and some purposefully left a home. Some want to return to the surface, and some want to stay in the tunnels.

This book describes the lives and personalities of all these types of people, illustrating the diverse nature of these people who all live in various types of tunnels at varying depths underground.

The Mole People is as entertaining as it is educational, and I enjoyed this book and found it fascinating. The author tells the stories of the various people as stories, which educate while simultaneously entertaining. Some of the stories are funny, and some are sad. They all reveal important details about the people who live in the tunnels. I would recommend this book.

The Media Equation

The Media Equation is a book which illustrates that people treat all media, including images, television, and computers, as they would treat real people. Many studies are done on groups which explore specific attributes people apply to media. The authors explore several specific topics within broad categories such as manners, personality, emotion, social roles, and form. Each chapter presents a study done in a particular area of the categories mentioned above. The hypotheses of the authors are all confirmed in each chapter, which goes to show how much people do treat media as fellow humans.

I like this book, in particular because it showed just how deep people's relationship with different media really is. I know that people treat computers like other people, but prior to reading this book I did not know just how deep that relationship goes, or that is applies to many types of media. The structure of the book makes it non-surprising, but when I pull back and think about the things it discusses, I truly am surprised that people behave in such ways. As such, I would recommend this book to others.

This book was pretty easy to read for a few reasons. First of all, the language used is aimed at a general audience. No overly technical terms are used, and any that are used are explained fully. The authors made sure everybody can understand this book. Second, every chapter comes to a positive conclusion. This makes it easy to predict the outcome of the chapter and to review the book, since the reader does not have to check to see if some experiments were failures. Finally, each chapter is organized in the same way. First, the hypothesis is presented with an explanation why the authors thought this. Second, the studies they perform are described in detail, with a few "rules" that basically summarize the hypotheses. Finally, the conclusions are presented with a discussion of why the particular results probably occurred.

A good interface

Hey there, I'm here to tell you about a good user interface I have been experiencing for the last few months: my iPod touch.

I know the iPod touch/iPhone is famous for its excellent interface, but I want to tell you a little bit about it anyway.

With all the varied features (music, video, photos, wifi, applications, e-mail, etc.), the interface for such a complex device is easy to get wrong. There are several reasons why Apple seems to have got this one right. Here is my list of a few design elements that make the iPod touch easy to use.

1. Few buttons: The iPod touch has 2 physical buttons and a volume rocker. This limits the confusion that can come with many buttons. Furthermore, each button only does 2 things. The power button on top puts the iPod in standby mode when pressed and turns it off when held for a few seconds. The home button goes home (duh) and switches to music controls when double-clicked. Because of the many features of the iPod touch, it would not make sense to have a few physical buttons to control the wide array of features. This would give too many functions to one button, which would be confusing to use.

2. "Natural" navigation: The iPod touch contains several navigation features that add to the usability of the device. For example, when looking through lists, web pages, e-mails, documents, etc., you just "flick" the screen and the document scrolls. This gives the user more precise control over the scroll speed and feels pretty natural. The icons on the home screen scroll in a similar fasion if you have more icons than the screen can display. The screen on the iPod touch is a "multi-touch" screen. The screen can detect 3 different points of contact instead of the usual one, which eliminates even more buttons and zoom bars, among other things. The iPod also contains an accelerometer, so different modes can be accessed if the iPod touch is held sideways. All these things help eliminate clumsy, tiny buttons. These all add up to greater ease of use.

3. Automation: The iPod touch automates many tasks and remembers many settings so the user doesn't have to press as many buttons. For example, when you come in range of a wireless network you have accessed before, the iPod automatically connects to it, and remembers the password if there is one. It also automatically scans for updates for any "apps" you have downloaded and notifies you if any are found. When opening the e-mail app, it automatically checks for new mail and downloads it. If you remove the headphones, the music automatically pauses. This all helps the usability of the device.

These are just a few things I have noticed about my iPod. I really like this device, and it is just as useful as it is entertaining. It is easy to use all the features and get the most out of it.

The Design of Everyday Things

This is a pretty cool book. Basically, the author, Donald A. Norman, discusses various pitfalls in the designs of many everyday objects. Norman, a psychologist, discusses the ways that humans respond to new devices and how to design them so they are immediately usable. Many examples are given illustrating bad designs and common problems people have with them. He mentions many common, everyday errors all people make and how simple mistakes in the use of badly designed objects can lead to catastrophe. This book is a good introduction to understand the necessity of good design and user interfaces.

This book was very easy to read. Norman uses plain English in a conversational tone to explain his research and discoveries. No overly technical jargon is used in presenting the material. In addition to this, he gives many simple, real-world examples that perfectly illustrate the concepts he discusses.

A few topics in the book piqued my interest. First of all, Norman mentions many common household items, such as light switches and doors, that millions of people have problems with every day. This strikes me that such simple things should be so hard to use. What is even more striking to me, though, is that little or no effort seems to have been made to change standard items like these on a large scale. Light switches today are functionally the same as light switches fifty years ago.

Another topic that I found fascinating was the tendency of people to blame themselves when having trouble with what should be a simple object. In fact, the improper designs of these objects do not give some sort of natural mapping or clearly illustrate the proper use. The result of such poor designs is really to blame for the troubles people have with telephones, air conditioners, refrigerators, and many more seemingly simple items.

Finally, the last thing I enjoyed from this book was the presentation of many common slips and errors that people make on a daily basis. This may be partially because of the humor in the examples, but also due to the ability to personally relate to the topic. For example, people frequently start a sentence over, stutter, or pause many times during speech, implying that many small errors are being made. People are so used to such errors that many go unnoticed. Norman presented several common types of errors people make all the time. For example, many people start performing a frequently-done activity when trying to do something else, like driving to work when intending to drive to the store or throwing a dirty shirt into the toilet instead of the laundry bin. I found the somewhat formal description of several different, specific types of error fascinating, as I could relate to all the types he presented. Perhaps this chapter helps people feel less clumsy, since it shows that all humans have many slips.

This book was definitely a good read, and it is definitely one of the most interesting books I have read for any class. I think it was a good introduction to Human-Computer Interaction, even though it doesn't deal with computer interaction. It presents the fundamentals of good design for anything.
I just wanted to type something.