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!

University of Canterbury (Christchurch, NZ)

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to update the blog. Well, after Stanford I spent a fantastic half a day walking around San Francisco, and then I got into the almost eternal flight to New Zeeland. There I was received by Carl Gutwin, my supervisor, and by Andy Cockburn, who leads the HCI and Multimedia Lab. (Note: Andy is probably the best host ever).

My last day in NZ I got to visit the lab, and meet and get to know the work of Andy’s students and David Ahlstrom, a visiting researcher. David is an expert in menu selection. Jason Alexander is just finishing his Ph.D., but he is already well known for his work on document navigation. Finally, the other student I got to spend considerable time with is Suzanne Tak, who is bulding some fancy prototypes for application switching (let’s hope that she releases the first version to the public soon!).

After that I got to briefly visit the HIT lab, meet Mark Billinghurst, and see a demo by Andy’s ex-student Julian Looser.

Christchurch has definitely been one of the highlights of the trip so far. I would like to thank everyone for their hospitality (special thanks to Andy), and for their insightful questions at the talk.

Stanford University

I’m blogging from Stanford. Bjoern Hartmann organized my visit to the HCI group (I knew Bjoern because we shared an office at Microsoft Research last summer).

After a brief tour of the facilities, I got to talk to some students (and post-docs) and their research. David Akers will be presenting work at CHI on using UNDO (as in what you see under the edit menu of your favorite programs) as a marker for the analysis and detection of usability problems. Steven Dow (post-doc at Stanford, PhD at Georgia Tech) got to tell me a bit about his studies in how prototype helps design.

Then I got to give my talk where I got a lot of interesting questions from faculty and students, but especially from faculty (Scott Klemmer, Terry Winograd, Stu Card). It was kind of imposing to talk to this audience, but I think it went well, and there was interest in my work and in some of the NECTAR students’ projects. After the talk, Andreas Paepcke had the time to show me his new Kindle, and discuss a bit about pen-based interfaces.

After the talk I could meet with some other students that I had met at UIST: Ranjitha Kumar, who is working on making web creation easier for novices and Joel Brandt who analyzes and designs for programmers information retrieval needs.

I enjoyed my visit to Stanford: people were really welcoming, the campus feels like being in southern Spain, and the weather was wonderful. Thanks Bjoern for organizing the visit!

Tomorrow I’ll get to see a bit of San Francisco.

Seattle (UW)

The plan for Monday was tight: lunch at Microsoft Research and then University of Washington.
At MSR I got to see Andy Wilson, Hrvoje Benko, Patrick Baudisch, Merrie Morris and Daniel Wigdor (another ex-Nectarine).

After that it was time to head to the University of Washington and talk to Jake Wobbrock, who did not know about NECTAR (issue corrected), and he told me about his latest research, which is focused on interaction techniques and devices for people with a disability.

Although the timing for Seattle was also awful (no possibility for a talk, no students in town), all in all
it was a very interesting visit. Also, it is always nice to go back to the awesome Emerald City…

Now I’m blogging from San Francisco, where the weather is awful :(.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions that I get:

1. How many locations in how many days? Are you nuts?
32 days, 15 locations. Yes, I’m a bit crazy.

2. How did you land such a sweet deal?
It was Carl’s idea (my supervisor), and then I had to prepare an itinerary that was later approved by the NECTAR management. It took me a while to prepare the trip too. I just hope to do a really good job as a "NECTAR AMBASSADOR".

3. How did you get convinced to do such an awful and tiring trip?
I didn’t need convincing… I love traveling. I just miss Kate.

4. You’re gonna get some air miles, eh! ;P
Well, to keep the budget low, I had to choose the cheapest flights for each leg of the trip. This means that I’m going to collect a marginal amount in five different programs (i.e. no real benefit). Besides, I hate air miles programs. I would rather just have them charge less.

5. When you travel, do you also have a life?
Yes! But not as much as I would like… In Toronto I got to see Susana, but missed Ragu, in Calgary I got to see Mike, but missed Amanda, in Vancouver I got to see Susan, but missed Janet.

6. Can I put comments in your blog?
Yes! You can access my blog from miguelissimo.spaces.live.com and do a lot more things than from nacenta.com (e.g. comment). (OK, I don’t really get this question that often, but I had to put it somewhere…) 😉