Our mini central-european tour: Munich, Konstanz, Zurich

Last week, Uta and I had the chance to take a tour of three impressive labs in Germany and Switzerland. The German and Swiss hospitality cannot be overstated, but most impressive was the range of research.
curvepublic wall displayIn Munich we visited the Media Informatics and Human-Computer Interaction Group, invited by Andreas Butz. It was really nice to see finally the curve (in the picture), among lots of other excellent research, including work by Alice Thudt, a current collaborator of Uta.

collaborative search controlrooms2In Konstanz, we visited the Human-Computer Interaction group led by Prof. Harald Reiterer. The range of research and development is very broad. A particular favorite of mine is the work on zoomable multi-display environments (the ZOIL API), and a number of other interesting experiments related to large displays.

Finally, we had the chance to visit Dr. Elaine Huang and her ZPAC laboratory; we have strong links with this lab (including Helen, another iLab graduate), but there were many other strong research reasons to visit ZPAC; most related to me is the work by Gunnar Harboe, but it was great to learn too about projects on sustainability, cultural communication, and domestic ubicomp.

Naturally, I cannot make justice to everything that all these researchers do in a few lines… maybe you should just visit them too :). We really would like to thank all our hosts for wonderful and insightful visits (special thanks to Fabian, Hans-Christian, Christian, Alice and Helen for bearing with us for so long). We are looking forward to your visits!

An exemplary move

In April this year (2011) Kate and I moved our residence from Calgary, Canada, to Cellardyke, Scotland. Our budget for the move was limited, and, although we decided not to move any big pieces of furniture, we have quite a big collection of books. Moving is something that we dreaded since we knew we had to do it in January. So… how do you go about it?

Well, we started by looking on-line for moving companies. This is one of those sectors on the internet where most of what you find is aggregated sites that ask you to fill forms, and supposedly, they will send your way a number of quotes. Generally useless because most of the time you get nothing back, but sometimes even dangerous, because we got at least one quote (from Euro Transport International) that we later found by doing a quick search on-line was basically a scam (check this out for scary stories on how a move can become a nightmare).

Finally, we thought that it would be a lot safer to go local, and it paid off. Before anyone says anything, this post is just the result of grateful clients to a wonderfully executed service, and we have absolutely no conflict of interest here. The service from Highland Movers which operate as STARLINE OVERSEAS MOVING for international relocations was wonderful, friendly, courteous, timely, and dead-on on the estimation. We chose to do groupage to make it cheaper, but it still took shorter than expected. Every box arrived in perfect state, dry, and the movers back here were also friendly and very quick. In other words, if you are in western Canada, and need to move abroad, you should call these guys. Thanks Robin!!

So you have an idea, we moved about 195 cubic feet (equivalent to approx 80 banker’s boxes), and before insurance, the total price came below 4000 $CAN. It took about two months to arrive, and it could have been less if the local movers had trusted Kate that “a 40 foot truck will not fit through our narrow street”. After the initial payment there came no extra charges, not even from customs (at least so far).

Anyways, I thought I would put this out in the interwebs: if you are moving, please, check your mover with the BBB, do not trust anyone that does not want to do a visual inspection of your stuff, and choose local if you can. Also, if they are not very responsive on e-mail through the whole process, that’s probably a bad sign (I count at least 20 e-mails sent by our moving manager in the last few months).

In Budapest for the FP7 ICT Proposer’s day

I’ve spent the end of this work week in Budapest, at the ICT Proposers Day. For those of you who do not know about this, this is a network opportunity put together by the European Comission to get together people that are interested in putting together a paneuropean research proposal on an ICT topic.

Per Ola and myself have been networking like crazy and exploring some extremely interesting possibilities. Here are a few pictures of the very successful event:

For the reception, they took us by steam train to the Hungarian train museum, where we saw a pretty cool set of old engines and train wagons (just a couple photos above).

After all the hard work, we had a bit of time to visit the centre of the city, and take a photosynth of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Atlanta – Georgia Tech

The last stop of the crazy trip was Atlanta. There is very little I can add to what you probably already know about GVU, one of the powerhouses of VR, HCI and Graphics research. There it was Alex Hill that showed me around, mostly the augmented environments lab, although also the work from other labs such as Ali Mazalek’s. It was also great to meet other students, among which Chris Alvarez.
After the talk, i got to chat briefly with Beth Mynatt, who arranged things so that I could come here.

After this, it was time to go back to Saskatoon and finally get to spend some time with Kate… Thanks to the G. Tech people and all that have made this trip possible!

Boston – Harvard

The last leg of my trip is back in the U.S. On Monday I had the honor to visit Chia Shen, who works on the IIC (Initiative in Innovative Computer). After lunch and an interesting discussion on how to increase the relevance of our field, I got to see the research that is going on there. Although it was a short visit, it was totally worth it!


On Thursday I headed to Paris (Berlin to Paris, via London… I know!). Friday I had the honor to visit LRI, where Michel Beaudoin-Lafon, Wendy MacKay, and Nicolas Roussel showed me around. This group is working on many important projects, although I was particularly impressed by the effort to create new paradigms and architectures of interaction for software, and support them through actual software infrastructure. Check for example the already well known (but still evolving) Metisse – the last iteration of which was shown to me by Olivier Chapuis, and iStar (Stéphane Huot). This doesn´t mean that they forget about building stuff and creating new interaction techniques. Emanuel Pietriga showed me a sweet new interactive/multi-display installation that I would love to see working soon, and his most recent papers in CHI.

It was also great to meet recently hired Prof. Caroline Appert, and two students that are working on issues related to mine: Ghomi, Mathieu Nancel. Finally, I spent a lot of time with Tomer Moscovich discussing about tabletop, multi-finger, HCI and many other things.

Thanks to all for the warm welcome and, especially, for the amazing discussions.

Berlin/ Hasso-Plattner Institut

I arrived to Berlin on Tuesday and went directly to the Hasso-Plattner Institut, which is part of Potsdam University. Potsdam is actually a small satellite city of Berlin. Patrick Baudisch was recently hired to lead HPI´s Human-Computer Interaction group. I had the privilege to work under Patrick this past summer… if you want to see cool stuff, check his page.

Patrick already has two Ph.D. students: Sean Gustafson and Christian Holz. It is a little early to tell what their main topic of study is going to be, but they are already preparing some stuff for publication.

The next day I got to give my talk, which was recorded on video for the first time, and also to talk to Christina Dicke, based in New Zealand´s HITLab, who is starting an internship with Patrick.

I love Berlin, and I enjoyed seeing Patrick and Sean again. Thank you very much for enabling my visit to Germany!

A note on airports

I used to think that all airports are equivalent: just very large boring buildings that "warp" you from one city to another. However, I am starting to have my favorites and, above all, my hated ones.

If you are flying to or from Europe, you should avoid Frankfurt airport (a.k.a. Fraport). Apparently is one of busiest of the world, and that should have made them streamline the flow of passengers… well, not exactly. Waiting times for security are awful, (and I´ve been more than a handful times through this), eternal connections between terminals, bad signage and, as a consequence of all this, angry and annoying passengers.

One of the things I dislike most of an airport is when they make you go through the middle of the duty-free shops to get to the gates and/or security. Kind of funny that, in this age, the commercial benefit seems to be way more important than the comfort and safety of passengers. Plenty of this in Frankfurt.

Another instance of the disdain for the passenger is present in most airports but most obviously in Heathrow: dynamic monitor graphs everywhere that almost make the departure monitors invisible.

I´m writing from Dublin airport, and so far this is the second worse (narrow corridors, long lines, unfriendly staff). I´m still to go through Atlanta (never been there, but I´m not expecting anything good).

It is often by seeing the really bad that you realize about how good it is what we are used to. Models of my favorite airports: Schiphol (Amsterdam) and Pearson (Toronto). Also, smaller airports such as Saskatoon and Christchurch are much more pleasant than the larger ones, although I have to admit that the architecture of some of the bigger ones could be worth admiring (e.g. Charles de Gaulle – Paris, and Singapore).

A model of efficiency is Berlin TXL airport. Here the check in and the Gate are in the same place, so you don´t waste your time having to navigate the whole building.

Behavior at airports never ceases to amaze me. Why do people insist in waiting in line the very second that the boarding is announced (usually for premium flyers and families)? Do they really enjoy being in the crammed space of the plane so much? A similar effect happens the moment that the plane lands…

My final word of gratitude is for the obnoxious woman that keeps trying to get in front of you in the line, as if she were more important than anyone else and we were all idiots. Good thing that she will not really arrive earlier than anyone else…


After Singapore it was time to go back to Europe. First stop: Copenhagen.

On Monday I got to visit Jakob Bardram, at the IT university of Copenhagen. Jakob is applying the idea of activity-based systems to a number of domains; he has already been very successful in Health Care. Among others, I got to hear from Jonathan Bunde-Pedersen, and Juan Hincapié, and met Jens and Neela.

Tuesday I had just enough time to visit the Department of Computing, University of Copenhagen, where Mikkel Jakobsen (good friend and ex-colleague intern from MSR) had organized a meeting with Professors Kasper Hornbæk, and Erik Frøkjær.
The discussion was very interesting, and after that I got to play some foosball with Mikkel. Finally, I got to see some of the work by
Esben Warming on Music and Tangible Interaction.

Copenhagen seems like a really wonderful place to live and work. Thanks also to everyone there for making my stay so interesting and comfortable!

Singapore/Mixed Reality Lab

I’m writing from Heathrow airport, which gives you always plenty of time to work with the computer ;).

Last week Friday I had the opportunity to visit the Mixed Reality Lab, at the National University of Singapore. Unfortunately, Adrian Cheok was not available this day, but he made sure that the visit went fine. I got to meet Dr. Newton Fernando, who showed me around the lab, and introduced me to the students and collaborators of the lab, among which Roshan Peiris, James Teh Keng Soon, and Eng Tat. You might know of these students from the famous Poultry Internet and Age Invaders projects (check their website above if you are wondering what Poultry internet might mean).

Thanks to all that made this visit possible!