Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Visiting the Culture Lab in Newcastle

While being in the north of England I stopped by in Newcastle at the Culture Lab. If the CHI-conference is a measure for quality in research in Human Computer Interaction Culture Lab is currently one of the places to be - if you are not convinced have look at Patrick Olivier's publications. The lab is one of a few places where I think a real ubicomp spirit is left – people developing new hardware and devices (e.g. mini data acquisition boards, specific wireless sensor, embedded actuators) and interdisciplinary research plays a central role. This is very refreshing to see, especially as so many others in Ubicomp have moved to mainly creating software on phones and tables…

Diana, one of our former students from Duisburg-Essen, is currently working on her master thesis in Newcastle. She looks into new tangible forms of interaction on table top UIs. Especially actuation of controls is a central question. The approach she uses for moving things is compared to other approached, e.g. [1], very simple but effective – looking forward to reading the paper on the technical details (I promised not to tell any details here). The example application she has developed is in chemistry education.

Some years back at a visit to the culture lab I had already seen some of the concepts and ideas for the kitchen. Over the last years this has progressed and the current state is very appealing. I really thing the screens behind glass in the black design make a huge difference. Using a set of small sensors they have implemented a set of aware kitchen utensils [2]. Matthias Kranz (back in our group in Munich) worked on a similar idea and created a knife that knows what it cuts [3]. It seems worthwhile to exploring the aware artifacts vision further …

[1] Gian Pangaro, Dan Maynes-Aminzade, and Hiroshi Ishii. 2002. The actuated workbench: computer-controlled actuation in tabletop tangible interfaces. In Proceedings of the 15th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology (UIST '02). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 181-190. DOI=10.1145/571985.572011 

[2] Wagner, J., Ploetz, T., Halteren, A. V., Hoonhout, J., Moynihan, P., Jackson, D., Ladha, C., et al. (2011). Towards a Pervasive Kitchen Infrastructure for Measuring Cooking Competence. Proc Int Conf Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare (pp. 107-114). PDF

[3] Matthias Kranz, Albrecht Schmidt, Alexis Maldonado, Radu Bogdan Rusu, Michael Beetz, Benedikt Hörnler, and Gerhard Rigoll. 2007. Context-aware kitchen utilities. InProceedings of the 1st international conference on Tangible and embedded interaction (TEI '07). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 213-214. DOI=10.1145/1226969.1227013 (PDF)

Friday, 25 May 2012

Media art, VIS Excursion to ZKM in Karlsruhe

This afternoon we (over 40 people from VIS and VISUS at the University of Stuttgart) went to Karlsruhe to visit the ZKM. We got guided tours to the panorama laboratory, the historic video laboratory, to the SoundARt exhibition and some parts of the regular exhibition. Additionally Prof. Gunzenhäuser gave a short introduction to the Zuse Z22 that is in on show there, too.

 The ZKM is a leading center for digital and media art that includes a museum for media art and modern art, several research institutes, and an art and design school. The approach is to bring media artists, works of art, research in media art and teaching in this field close together (within a single large building). The exhibitions include major media art works from the last 40 years.

The panorama laboratory is a 360 degree (minus a door) projection. Even though the resolution of the powerwall at VISUS [1] is higher and the presentation is in 3D, the360 degree 10 Megapixel panorama screen results in an exciting immersion. Without 3D, being surrounded by media creates a feeling of being in the middle of something that happens around you. Vivien described the sensation of movement similar to sitting in a train. The moment another train pulls out of the station you have a hard time to tell who is moving. I think such immersive environment could become very common once we will have digital display wallpaper.

The historic video laboratory is concerned with “rescuing” old artistic video material. We sometimes complain about the variety of video codecs, but looking at the many different formats for tapes and cassettes, this problem has a long tradition. Looking at historic split screen videos that were created using analog technologies one appreciates the virtues of digital video editing… Two are two amazing films by Zbigniew Rybczyński: Nowa Książka (New Book): and and Tango:

The current SoundArt exhibition is worthwhile. There are several indoor and outdoor installations on sounds. In the yard there is a monument built of speakers (in analogy to the oracle of Delphi) that you can call from anywhere (+49 721 81001818) and get 3 minutes of time to talk to whom even is in the vicinity of the installation. Another exhibit sonfied electron magnetic fields from different environments in an installation called the cloud.

[1] Powerwall at VISUS at the Univeristy of Stuttgart (6m by 2.20, 88 million pixel in, 44 million pixel per eye for 3D).

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Golden Doctorate – 50 years since Prof. Gunzenhäuser completed his PhD

It is 50 years now that Prof. Rul Gunzenhäuser, my predecessor on human computer interaction and interactive systems at the University of Stuttgart, defended his PhD. Some month back I came across his PhD thesis “Ästhetisches Maß und ästhetische Information“ (aesthetic measure and aesthetic information) [1], supervised by Prof. Max Bense, and I was seriously impressed.

He is one of the few truly interdisciplinary people I know. And in contrast to modern interpretations of interdisciplinary (people from different working together) he is himself interdisciplinary in his own education and work. He studied Math, Physics and Philosophy, worked while he studied in a company making (radio) tubes, completed a teacher training, did his PhD in Philosophy but thematically very close to the then emerging field of computer science and became later a post-doc in the computing center. He taught didactic of mathematics in a teacher training University, was a visiting professor at the State University of New York and finally became in 1973 professor for computer science at the University of Stuttgart staring the department of dialog systems. This unique educational path shaped his research and I would expect his whole person. Seeing this career path I have even more trouble accepting the streamlining of our educational system and find it easier to relate to a renaissance educational ideal.

Yesterday evening we had a small seminar and gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of his PhD. Our colleague Prof. Catrin Misselhorn, a successor on the chair of philosophy held by Max Bense, talked about “Aesthetic as Science?” (with a question mark) and started with the statement that what people did in this area 50 years ago is completely dated, if not largely wrong. I found the analysis very interesting and enlightening as it highlights that scientific results, to be relevant, do not have a non-transient nature. For a mathematician this may be hard to grasp, but for someone in computing and especially in human computer interaction this is a relief. It shows that scientific endeavors have to be relevant in their time but the lasting value may be specifically in the fact, that they go a single step forward. Looking back a human computer interaction a lot of the research in 70ties, 80ties, and 90ties looks now really dated, but we should not be fouled, without this work we would not be in interactive systems where we are now, if this work would not have been done.

Prof. Frieder Nake, one of the pioneers of generative art and a friend and colleague of Prof. Gunzenhäuser, reflected on the early work of computers and aesthetics and on computer generated art. He too argued the original approach is 'dead', but the spirit of computer generated art is stronger now than ever, with many new tools available. He described early and heated discussions between philosophers, artists, and people who made computer generated art. One interesting approach to solve the dispute is is that the computer generated art is “artificial art” (künstliche Kunst).

The short take away message from the event is:
If you do research in HCI, do something that is fundamentally new. Question the existing approach and creates new ideas and concepts. Don’t worry if this will last forever, accept that your research will likely be 'only' one step along the way. It has to be relevant when it is done, it matters less that it may have little relevance some 20 or 50 years later.

[1] Rul Gunzenhäuser. Ästhetisches Maß und ästhetische Information. 1962.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Share your digital activities on Android - AppTicker

If you share an apartment with a friend you know what they do. There is no need to communicate “I am watching TV” or “I am cooking” as this is pretty obvious. In the digital space this is much more difficulty. Sharing what we engage with and peripherally perceive what others do is not yet trivial.

Niels Henze and Alireza Sahami in our group have made a new attempt to research how to bridge this gap. With the AppTicker for Android they have released a software, that offers means to share usage of applications on your phone with your friends on Facebook. You can choose that whenever you start a certain app (e.g. the web browser, the camera, or the public transport app) this is shared in your activities on Facebook. In the middle screen you can see the means for control.

The app provides additionally a personal log (left screen) of all the apps that were used. I found that feature quite interesting and when looking at it I really started to reflect on my app usage patterns. If you are curious, have an android phone and if you use Facebook, please have a go and try it out.

The App homepage on our server:
Get it directly from Google Play or search for AppTicker in Google Play.

To access it directly you can scan the following QR-Code:

Monday, 14 May 2012

Our Research at CHI2012 - usable security and public displays

This year we have the chance to share some of our research with the community at CHI2012. The work focuses on usable security ([1] and [2]) and public display systems [3]. Florian got together with the researchers from T-Labs a best paper award for [3].

Please have a look at the papers… I think it is really worthwhile.

Increasing the security of gaze-based graphical passwords [1]
"With computers being used ever more ubiquitously in situations where privacy is important, secure user authentication is a central requirement. Gaze-based graphical passwords are a particularly promising means for shoulder-surfing-resistant authentication, but selecting secure passwords remains challenging. In this paper, we present a novel gaze-based authentication scheme that makes use of cued-recall graphical passwords on a single image. In order to increase password security, our approach uses a computational model of visual attention to mask those areas of the image that are most likely to attract visual attention. We create a realistic threat model for attacks that may occur in public settings, such as filming the user's interaction while drawing money from an ATM. Based on a 12-participant user study, we show that our approach is significantly more secure than a standard image-based authentication and gaze-based 4-digit PIN entry." [1]

Assessing the vulnerability of magnetic gestural authentication [2]

"Secure user authentication on mobile phones is crucial, as they store highly sensitive information. Common approaches to authenticate a user on a mobile phone are based either on entering a PIN, a password, or drawing a pattern. However, these authentication methods are vulnerable to the shoulder surfing attack. The risk of this attack has increased since means for recording high-resolution videos are cheaply and widely accessible. If the attacker can videotape the authentication process, PINs, passwords, and patterns do not even provide the most basic level of security. In this project, we assessed the vulnerability of a magnetic gestural authentication method to the video-based shoulder surfing attack. We chose a scenario that is favourable to the attacker. In a real world environment, we videotaped the interactions of four users performing magnetic signatures on a phone, in the presence of HD cameras from four different angles. We then recruited 22 participants and asked them to watch the videos and try to forge the signatures. The results revealed that with a certain threshold, i.e, th=1.67, none of the forging attacks was successful, whereas at this level all eligible login attempts were successfully recognized. The qualitative feedback also indicated that users found the magnetic gestural signature authentication method to be more secure than PIN-based and 2D signature methods."[2] There is also a youtube video:

Looking glass: a field study on noticing interactivity of a shop window[3]
"In this paper we present our findings from a lab and a field study investigating how passers-by notice the interactivity of public displays. We designed an interactive installation that uses visual feedback to the incidental movements of passers-by to communicate its interactivity. The lab study reveals: (1) Mirrored user silhouettes and images are more effective than avatar-like representations. (2) It takes time to notice the interactivity (approx. 1.2s). In the field study, three displays were installed during three weeks in shop windows, and data about 502 interaction sessions were collected. Our observations show: (1) Significantly more passers-by interact when immediately showing the mirrored user image (+90%) or silhouette (+47%) compared to a traditional attract sequence with call-to-action. (2) Passers-by often notice interactivity late and have to walk back to interact (the landing effect). (3) If somebody is already interacting, others begin interaction behind the ones already interacting, forming multiple rows (the honeypot effect). Our findings can be used to design public display applications and shop windows that more effectively communicate interactivity to passers-by." [3]

[1] Andreas Bulling, Florian Alt, and Albrecht Schmidt. 2012. Increasing the security of gaze-based cued-recall graphical passwords using saliency masks. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 3011-3020. DOI=10.1145/2208636.2208712
[2] Alireza Sahami Shirazi, Peyman Moghadam, Hamed Ketabdar, and Albrecht Schmidt. 2012. Assessing the vulnerability of magnetic gestural authentication to video-based shoulder surfing attacks. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2045-2048. DOI=10.1145/2208276.2208352
[3] Jörg Müller, Robert Walter, Gilles Bailly, Michael Nischt, and Florian Alt. 2012. Looking glass: a field study on noticing interactivity of a shop window. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 297-306. DOI=10.1145/2207676.2207718

Introduction to the special issue on interaction beyond the desktop

After coming back from CHI2012 in Austin I found my paper copy of the April 2012 issue of IEEE Computer magazine in my letter box. This is our special issue on interaction beyond the desktop. Having the physical copy is always nice (it is because I probably grew up with paper magazines ;-).

This guest editors’ introduction [1] is an experiment as we include photos from all papers on the theme. The rational is, that probably most people will not have the paper copy in their hand. When having the digital version the overview of the papers is harder to manage, that is why we think including the photos helps to make readers curious to look at the papers in the issue. Please let us know if you think this is a good idea…

[1] Albrecht Schmidt and Elizabeth Churchill. Interaction Beyond the Keyboard. IEEE Computer, April 2012, pp. 21–24. (PDF). Link to the article in Computing Now.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Book launch: Grounded Innovation by Lars Eric Holmquist

At the Museum of the Weird in Austin Lars Erik Holmquist hosted a book launch party for his book: Grounded Innovation: Strategies for Creating Digital Products. The book uses a good number of research examples to highlight the challenges and approaches for digital products. The book has to parts: Methods and Materials and shows how both play together in the design of digital products. There is a preview for the book at Amazon.

Over 10 years back I worked together with Lars Erik on the European Project Smart-Its (, where we created sensor augmented artifacts. The book features also some of this work. To get an overview of the project have a look at [1] and [2]. The concept of Smart-Its Friends is presented in [3]. Smart-Its friends proposed the idea, that products can be linked by sharing the same context (e.g. connecting a phones and a wallet by shaking them together).

[1] Lars Erik Holmquist, Hans-Werner Gellersen, Gerd Kortuem, Albrecht Schmidt, Martin Strohbach, Stavros Antifakos, Florian Michahelles, Bernt Schiele, Michael Beigl, and Ramia Maze;. 2004. Building Intelligent Environments with Smart-Its. IEEE Comput. Graph. Appl. 24, 1 (January 2004), 56-64. (PDF) DOI=10.1109/MCG.2004.1255810

[2] Hans Gellersen, Gerd Kortuem, Albrecht Schmidt, and Michael Beigl. 2004. Physical Prototyping with Smart-Its. IEEE Pervasive Computing 3, 3 (July 2004), 74-82. (PDF) DOI=10.1109/MPRV.2004.1321032

[3] Lars Erik Holmquist, Friedemann Mattern, Bernt Schiele, Petteri Alahuhta, Michael Beigl, and Hans-Werner Gellersen. 2001. Smart-Its Friends: A Technique for Users to Easily Establish Connections between Smart Artefacts. In Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp '01), Gregory D. Abowd, Barry Brumitt, and Steven A. Shafer (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, London, UK, UK, 116-122. (PDF)

Monday, 7 May 2012

CHI2012 opening Keynote by Margaret Gould Stewart – Empowerment, Disruption, Magic

Margaret Gould Stewart, a highly regarded user experience designer currently leading UX design at YouTube, presented the opening keynote at CHI2012.  She started her talk with reminding us that humans are story tellers – they always have been and probably always will. What is not constant is the medium – as technologies change so do means for storytelling and sharing.

The topic started out with talking about video connects the world. It extended to a larger view – changing the world through experience design (in the context of video). I often wonder what designers are and she added another quite interesting explanation: designers are humanist. By putting up the definition for humanism she made her point clear that this could apply to good people in design, essentially it is down to caring for humans in their works.

To show the power of video in connecting people she used the following example: the film “Life in a Day” and as it said in the credits “a movie filmed by you”. I have not seen it yet, but the trailer made me curious to look at this one (see the film on YouTube).

By asking the question: what are the things that make sites like YouTube have impact? she introduced 3 principles. Sites have to be:
  • Empowering
  • Disruptive
  • Magical
She outlined what these 3 principles mean for user experience design.

For empowering she had very strong examples: how photo sharing, video sharing, and social networks changed what we see of natural disaster and the effect on people. It also changed way we see it and how we can respond to it. The concrete example was the information coverage on the Hurricane Katrina 2005 (pre-video-sharing age) and the recent flood in Asia. Empowering = helping people to share their stories.

Disruption is in this context the change in use of media and especially how it changes how we perceive the ubiquitous technology of TV. The capabilities of video sharing platforms has, are very different than those of TV – at the same time it is disrupting TV massively. She had a further example of how such technology can disrupt: The Khan Academy (basically sharing educational videos) is challenging the education system. As a further step she had an example where a teacher encourages students to make their own instructional videos as means for them to learn. Disruption = finding new ways that are challenging / overthrowing the old approach.

Magic is what makes technology exciting. There is a quote by Arthur C. Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The term “magic” has a long tradition in human computer interaction. Alan Kay talked about it with regard to graphical user interfaces. We had some years back a paper  a paper on Magic beyond the screen [1]. In the talk Margaret Gould Stewart used as another example Instagram, as software that provides magical capabilities for the person using it. Another example of magic she discussed is the GPS based “moving dot” on a map that makes navigation in mobile maps easy. Even without navigational skills people can “magically” find their way. Her advice is “do not get in the way of magic” – focus on the experience not technology in the back ground. In short she summarized:  “Magic disrupts the notion of reality”.

She combined the principles in one example in the design of YouTube. She discussed the page design using an analogy to a plate.  A great plate makes all food presented on it look more attractive and the design goal of the YouTube page is to be such a plate for video. It should make look all videos look better.

Another example used to highlight how to empower, disrupt, and create magic is the Each participant can manipulate one frame of the video (within given limits) and the outcome of the whole video is amazing. Cannot be described, you have to watch it.

Related to the example above an interesting question comes up: How much control is required and what type of control is applied. Here one example is twitter, which limits how much you can write but it does not limit what you post (limiting the form but not the content). She made an interesting argument about control. If you believe that democracy works and is good you can assume that people in general will make the right decisions. One further indicator is, that positive things go viral much more often than negative things. One of the takeaway messages is to believe in people an empower them.

To sum up, there are three questions to be asked when designing an experience:

  • How to empower people?
  • How to disrupt
  • How to create magic?

A final and important point is that there are things that cannot be explained and she argued that we should value this.

[1]  Albrecht Schmidt, Dagmar Kern, Sara Streng, and Paul Holleis. 2008. Magic Beyond the Screen. IEEE MultiMedia 15, 4 (October 2008), 8-13. DOI=10.1109/MMUL.2008.93