Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Public Displays and Responsibility for Content

Antonio Krüger at the University of Münster is running an infrastructure of public displays that show various kinds of information. Using a web editor a select set of people (mainly staff at the department) can input and manage the information chunks that are presented.

In our discussion it became obvious that running such public displays comes with a lot of responsibilities and that people are very quick at complaining about content (may it be censorship or offending content). This leads then to more or less closed and controlled system – but I wonder if we are not overcautious or the expectations around us are too high.

I took a picture of one door in a restroom in the University. It is converted in a public display by people (anonymously) using a pen – and its content is neither politically correct nor suitable for children. However this is rightly blamed on the people who do the damage and not on the administration or designer that decided that the doors are white and made of a material one can write on.

Visit at the Institute for Geoinformatics in Münster

Yesterday we had the opportunity to see a set of research demos at the lab of Antonio Krüger at the University of Münster. We had some time to discuss research projects and in the afternoon Nigel and I gave a talk at the Geoinformatics seminar.

We saw exciting work in progress - a nearly ready large scale multi-touch display based on frustrated total internal reflection – according to Antonio the world-largest at the moment. The principle of operation of such a display is very appealing and the demo was convincing. For a comprehensive introduction on the topic see Jef Han’s UIST 2005 technote “Low-cost multi-touch sensing through frustrated total internal reflection . I really think we should build one, too (obviously a bit bigger than Antonio’s ;-)

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

On the Mobile Phone While Working?

It seems that recently I come across many people that speak on the phone while they do their work. In Toronto on the bus to the airport the driver spoke on the phone (telling someone how to find and edit a file in Windows) while driving. Here in Bonn I saw it in shops and on the ferry – it felt really awkward to interrupt people in their phone conversation just to pay my ticket or bread.

At the moment most people speak while holding a handset – but given they use BT-headsets one could image new working practice ;-) e.g. driving a bus and doing a call center job on the side. I would expect there will be some regulation soon…

Friday, 18 May 2007

Public Displays – Making Life More Predictable

On my way home from Toronto it was surprising how many public displays I saw that provided me with ”information about the future”, e.g. telling me when I will be out of time to cross the road, when the next train is due or when my luggage will arrive. These kinds of predictions or contexts are simple to gather and easy to present and best of all: the human is in control and can act on the information. Overall it is reassuring even if the context information is wrong (this is another story about my luggage ;-).

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Pervasive 2007 in Toronto

The internatonal conference on pervasive computing in Toronto had an exiting program.

The keynote was by Adam Greenfield on “Everyware: Some Social and Ethical Implications of Ubiquitous Computing” – matching a number of issues we discussed the day before at the doctoral colloquium. The talk was enjoyable even though I think some of the statements made, in particular with regard to opting out and informing the users (e.g. logos) are over-simplified. Furthermore the fact that our society and its values are changing was very little reflected, e.g. privacy is not a constant.

The best paper (by Rene Mayerhofer and Hans Gellersen) “Shake well before use: Authentication based on accelerometer data” was my favourite, too. A further very interesting paper was “Inference Attacks on Location Tracksby John Krumm. Two papers from ETH Zürich were also quite interesting: “Operating Appliances with Mobile Phones - Strengths and Limits of a Universal Interaction Deviceby Christof Roduner et al. showed surprising results for the use of phones as remote control (in short – more usable than one thinks). And “Objects Calling Home: Locating Objects Using Mobile Phones” by Christian Frank et al. showed that phones have a great utility as sensors (in this case to find lost objects.)

We presented a in the video proceedings the smart transport container and a novel supply chain scenario (cutting out all intermediaries and enabling producer to customer transactions).

The tutorial day was excellent - I think the set of tutorials presented can give a good frame for preparing a course or lecture on pervasive computing.

Pervasive 2008 will be in Australia!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Pervasive Computing and Ethics

Together with Boriana Koleva I organized the doctoral colloquium at Pervasive 2007 in Toronto. We had 9 students presenting and discussing their PhD work with us.

One central observation was that we come to a point where we have to make more and more ethical decisions. Many things that are technical feasible and harmless within the lab may have sincere implications in the real world. If technologies for tracking, tracing and mining (e.g. social network analysis, location based services, context-aware systems) are deployed beyond the lab the question of choice becomes a real issue – are users aware of it and can they opt-out?

In the area of context-awareness technology has moved on since I started my PhD on the topic nearly 10 years ago – but amazingly scenarios did change little. Automatically detecting a meeting is still on the students slides. The more I learn and understand about context-awareness the more it becomes apparent that this apparently simple use case is amazingly hard!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Public Displays in Restaurant Bathroom

After the Ubicomp PC meeting we went to a nice restaurant in Toronto for dinner. In the bathroom they had mounted TFT-screens above the urinals showing a TV program or adverts (was hard to tell in the short time I was there). It found it was quite distracting. The displays reminded me of a poster I saw at CHI 2003: You’re In Control: A Urinary User Interface by Maynes-Aminzade and Raffle ( Given the distraction experienced, I wonder if a design where visualization and control is spatially separated and hence control is indirect make sense for such applications.

In summer during the soccer world championship in Germany I saw a low-tech version of a bathroom game: a ball on a string in a goal. Here control and visualization is in the same place and it felt more natural to use. (sorry for the low quality pics – they are done with my old phone).

Friday, 11 May 2007

Observation at FRA, Terminal 1 B

The number of power plugs available to the public seems to be very close to zero at Frankfurt airport. If a persons sits somewhere on the floor in an odd corner it is likely that there is energy for the laptop or phone.

The number of Bluetooth IDs visible when scanning is amazing. It seems that many people have it switched on continuously now (quite different from 2 years ago). The friendly name used by people seems fairly boring, mainly the preset model name of the phone, combination of first name an phone model, initials, full name and the occasional “hi there”. These observations are quite encouraging for one of our projects.

Looking at the scans I wonder if it is likely that people who travel together have similar phones (e.g. same manufacturer).

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Nothing Matches Real Experience

During our strategy meeting there was time for a canoe adventure and some late night reflections. To get the full experience we chose the rainy afternoon for our trip on the river Lahn. Even though we were pretty wet after the trip (some more some less ;-) it was a great experience.

When comparing real experience vs. virtual experience (e.g. second life) it becomes clear that the central issue is, that the virtual is risk-free with regard to our immediate physical well-being. This sounds great in the first place. But what does it lead to when we live in a risk free environment in the long term? How will it shape our perception in the further?

Enjoying the real experience inspired some ideas for mobile adventure games that take place in the real world with real experience but including virtual aspects. A central design goal would be to create a game, where the technology becomes invisible and the user only realises his or her activity in the real world.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Audio Tapes Soon be History, Printed Paper Next?

News papers in the UK have reported that sales for audio tapes at Currys were down from 83 million in 1989 to 0.1 million in 2006 and hence Currys is going to stop stocking them. We recently discussed how expensive talking toys (in particular dolls) were just twenty years ago. The were based on mini records or endless tapes. By now storage chips are so cheap that a good birthday card can sing you happy birthday.

How long will it take before electronic paper will replace printed paper in the large? At least it is close enough to seriously think about applications and business models that arise.

Ensuring Privacy - trust in the physical

After having a really interesting discussion on privacy with a student at CDTM with regard to implicit interaction I saw the depicted privacy solution on the train back to Bonn. The woman had her notebook camera disabled – not in software – but physically with a scotch tape and a piece of paper. Such solutions are not uncommon and remind one impressively that people want tangible control over their privacy. It seems that people trust in the physical much more than the virtual – and for a good reason.

I reduced the size of the picture as she was preparing an exam paper (school, 7th grade math) and in full resolution details are readable - so much about privacy. One could make that mental note not to edit/view any private document on the train even in small print as it is very quick to talk a phone (even with a phone) and read it afterwards ;-)

Monday, 7 May 2007

Lecture at CDTM in Munich

The CDTM is a joint elite study program from LMU Munich and TU Munich ( It offers a set of complementary course for students from different backgrounds including math, business studies, engineering, computer science and media informatics. In their course on multimodal HCI I gave today an introductory lecture on the motivation for and the basics of user interface engineering.

In the seminar room was a real typewrite – in fact a travel type write. It was a real good prop to discuss micro- and macro-efficiency.

One question about the sustainability of a competitive advantage based on user interfaces made me really think. As the user interface is visible it is really hard to protect the competitive advantage and IPR are difficult on this topic. Desktop GUIs are a good example how quickly ideas propagate between competing systems. The only real option to maintain a competitive advantage is to continuously innovate – keeping the status quo means falling behind. The fact that one can not keep new user interface concepts secret (if one includes them in a product) is one of the most exciting aspects of user interfaces research – it is fast moving because everyone shows off their results!

Friday, 4 May 2007

Our Presentations at CHI’07 in San Jose

At this years CHI - the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - we presented 3 contributions: a full paper, a CHI-note, and a work in progress paper. Have a look at them!

Holleis, P., Otto, F., Hussmann, H., and Schmidt, A. 2007. Keystroke-level model for advanced mobile phone interaction. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (San Jose, California, USA, April 28 - May 03, 2007). CHI '07. ACM Press, New York, NY, 1505-1514. DOI=

Atterer, R. and Schmidt, A. 2007. Tracking the interaction of users with AJAX applications for usability testing. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (San Jose, California, USA, April 28 - May 03, 2007). CHI '07. ACM Press, New York, NY, 1347-1350. DOI=

Holleis, P., Kern, D., and Schmidt, A. 2007. Integrating user performance time models in the design of tangible UIs. In CHI '07 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (San Jose, CA, USA, April 28 - May 03, 2007). CHI '07. ACM Press, New York, NY, 2423-2428. DOI=

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Visit at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne

Today I was invited at the Citizen Media seminar to discuss mobile and ubiquitous computing topics with people working in the project. Fraunhofer IAIS and the Academy of Media Arts Cologne are both partners in the European Citizen Media project ( It is a difficult question how to create and support a mobile community. The provision of software and infrastructure is obviously required - e.g. Alexander De Luca and Michael Müller (students I supervised in Munich) designed and implemented an open source software as a basis for mobile blogging (mobile reporter) - but the process that forms and evolves specific community is still little understood.

It was great to meet Georg Trogemann, who is professor for audiovisuell art and computer science at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Only after I had left I realised that he is the author of a quite interesting book a recently got (Code@Art; ISBN 3-211-20438-5).

We had an interesting discussion on how to most effectively involve users in the design process of novel products. In particular when we expect that technology drives innovation and when future user needs are to be anticipated. I reported from our very positive experience with technology probes (article at IEEE Percom). To me it is central to involve users from the very beginning and throughout all stages of a project and at the same time allow technology to drive innovation beyond current users’ needs.

We had much too little time to see all the interesting projects that are going on there so we have to go back there ;-) the lab and setup in Cologne reminded me of Bill Gaver's group at RCA (when we worked together in Equator some year ago).