Mathias Frisch Defence (VIVA) in Magdeburg

This week I had the honor to attend the defence of Mathias Frisch, student of Raimund Dachselt at the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg (now moving to the new lab in Dresden). I was very happy to review such excellent work, (in a committee that includes Prof. Reiterer, from Konstanz) but also to take part in the traditions of doctoral graduation. I think that it is very valuable that a doctoral graduation is approached as a festivity, and loaded with symbols of what it means to be a scholar. These include the new doctor having to wear a very heavy chain (that represents the loads awaiting in his future career),

wearing a hat representing the knowledge of the candidate (physically and literally),

being taken on a pageant through the city, escorted by a troupe of people in medieval outfits (I guess to let the town folk know that there is a new doctor around),

having to drink an “unusual” concoction (in this case tomato juice + coffee + salt and pepper),

as well as later on having to go through the “real exam”, in which the supervisor has to show knowledge and commitment for the candidate in multiple odd ways.

In any case, it was a wonderful day for me, full of good HCI, fun and food. Congratulations Mathias!!

Launch of the Centre for Geoinformatics at the University of St Andrews, 27 June 2012

Our great colleagues at the Centre for Geoinformatics at the University of St Andrews are launching their research institute in style, with a day-workshop with a distinctively multi-disciplinary flavour. It is a free one-day event with international speakers.  See all the details here, and let them know that you want to come here before June 8th.


“A Delicate Agreement” gets an Alberta Digital Award!!

Congrats to Lindsay MacDonald for getting the prestigious Alberta Digital Award for her work (with us) in the digital piece A Delicate Agreement.

She received the award on Monday the 6th at the Hotel Arts in Calgary.

We are only hoping to see more awards coming… way to start a PhD Lindsay!!

Some more coverage here.

Also congrats to Jon Haber for getting his QEII scholarship! It’s nice to see students/collaborators getting prices!

Standing on the shoulders of… nobody? – Connected Research, Related Work and Discussion sections in Human Computer Interaction

Disclaimer: this is purely personal opinion

This is a great time for Human-Computer Interaction. It seems that society and computer science’s awareness of how important it is to find new ways of interacting with the real world, engaging with our data, and finding our way in virtual communities keeps increasing. However, there seems to be an increasing discontent about some aspects of the community and the work it is generating. Some people complain about how difficult it is to publish real systems that perform real tasks and evaluate real scenarios. Others have suggested that forcing research to include empirical studies can kill new promising ideas in our field, but also that empirical research rarely replicates previous results, sometimes because it is considered incremental.

I agree with most of these concerns. I believe that our role as researchers in this community is to find the new, disruptive technologies, as well as to establish true and tried ways to improve people’s way of creating and interacting with their new interactive space. In my opinion, however, one of the main problems of this community is that work is disconnected. Probably one of the reasons why our empirical knowledge does not seem lead anywhere is because so many authors have no interest in taking others’ research further, but rather to publish their bit as fast as possible, or find some new original bit, without regard for how this advances the overall field.

I believe this is reflected in much related work sections of new works (particularly of interaction technique papers), probably as a symptom of how papers are written. I am tired of reviewing papers that have very weak related work sections that go like this:

  • Our work relates to [very famous early reference]
  • Some people have done work in the general area [X,Y,Z]
  • Author P did AB (superficial discussion of what they did), but not C, and their work is therefore
  • Author Q did BC (same problem), but not A
  • Author R did AC (same problem), but not B
  • We did ABC (and therefore our work is worth publishing – and better than P,Q, and R’s)

Many related work sections like this get published every day (and much worse). I myself might be even guilty of some of these. The main problem is that this is very superficial. These related work sections are often written only after the research is done, and they are written only because reviewers will not accept a paper if it does not mention certain basic references, and sometimes their own work.

However, this is not enough. The problem is that these connections with previous work are very weak. It should not only be about connecting nodes in the networks of publications. It should be about the quality of these connections. These related work sections mention other research, but they do not connect to other research meaningfully; they do not build knowledge. We are trying to find our little hole, the only clear snow where nobody has stepped before (and step on it), but not to build something upon each others’ work. How are we supposed to build a strong discipline, to stand on the shoulders of giants?

Perhaps one of the ways of solving this problem is to ask more of our related work sections. Related work sections should include all relevant work, and help the reader understand how the presented work builds upon it; moreover, related work sections should be paired with a part of the discussion, where the connection from previous work and current work is explained and developed. How does our work contradict previous findings? How does it support previous speculation? What are its possible limitations?

A related work section like this probably needs to be written before much of the research of the paper is done. In my opinion, this would prevent of bad papers to even come to life, will increase the connectedness of our work, and save a lot of time to researchers and students that find (to their dismay) that after all the research and a study, what they have done is a (bad) replication of previous work, which does not teach us much. I am also inclined to think that better connection with previous research would even increase our incentive as a community to replicate research: if we are to stand on each others’ shoulders, we will want to know that the fundamentals are solid, and this will require replication and an improvement of our methods.

I’m I crazy? Is this only a rant? Too prescriptive, not accurately descriptive? Will this all lead to disaster? or does people even care? Any examples of good related work sections?

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.

Getting busier

The good weather is gone (for now), but our place is just as beautiful in the rain. Today, I will try for a run in the evening, but for now you can check out the photosynth (a kind of panorama) that I made just north of Cellardyke during my run:

I’ll try to keep these coming! 🙂

A piece of art that knows where you’re looking

The ultra-talented Lindsay MacDonald, student of CMD (computational media design) and a prominent member of the iLab in Calgary, has finally released her Master’s art piece to the masses, which I helped create as a co-artist and co-engineer. It’s titled A Delicate Agreement, in reference to the subtle social interactions that take place in elevators.
Of course, it is best to come and see it yourself (you can visit it at the Taylor Family Digital Library‘s lobby, next to the real elevators), but for those of you who cannot wait until the piece tours somewhere close to you, the video is the second-best option:
You can get more information about the piece by visiting its website.
A view of the elevator in its original location.

The elevator at its current location in the TFDL

Making fun of ourselves

My time at the iLab and as a member of InnoVis is coming to an end. As many of you know already, in May I will be joining the brand new SACHI group, at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland.

As a farewell “gift” to all those colleagues, students, and mentors that have been so good to me in Canada (specially at the Interaction Lab (UofS) and the Interactions Lab (UofC)), I made a spoof video that I hope will make you laugh.

It has been a great time, thank you Canada!

Please, remember that we also do real research :).

The video’s other actor is John Brosz. We got help from Sean Lynch and Lindsay MacDonald.

SICSA Summer School on Multimodal Systems for Digital Tourism

Hi all,

Prof. Aaron Quigley with Eva Hornecker, Jon Oberlander and Stephen Brewster are putting together a SICSA workshop on multi-modal systems for digital tourism. Applications are open now.

What better place to learn, play and build digital tourism apps than St Andrews? Come join us from June 27th to July 1st! Below is the original call for applications:


Applications to attend our SICSA Summer School on Multimodal Systems for Digital Tourism to be held in St Andrews from June 27th – July 1, 2011 are now open. Full details can be found on our Summer School website at Thanks to everyone in SACHI for helping out with this summer school (and we mean everyone!).

The focus of this summer school is to introduce a new generation of researchers to the latest research advances in multimodal systems, in the context of applications, services and technologies for tourists (Digital Tourism). Where mobile and desktop applications can rely on eyes down interaction, the tourist
aims to keep their eyes up and focussed on the painting, statue, mountain, ski run, castle, loch or other sight before them. In this school we focus on multimodal input and output interfaces, data fusion techniques and hybrid architectures, vision, speech and conversational interfaces, haptic interaction,
mobile, tangible and virtual/augmented multimodal UIs, tools and system infrastructure issues for designing interfaces and their evaluation.

We have structured this summer school as a blend of theory and practice. Mornings are devoted to seminars from our international speakers followed by guided group work sessions or focussed time for project development. We are proving a dedicated lab with development machines for the duration of the school along with access to a MERL Diamondtouch, a Microsoft Surface (v1.0), a range
of mobile devices, arduinos, phidget kits, pico-projectors, Kinects and haptic displays. As we expect participants from a range of backgrounds to attend we will form groups who will, through a guided process, propose a demonstrator they can realise during the summer school which they will demonstrate and showcase on the final day.

In addition, Ben Arent a leading interaction designer based in Dublin has agreed to host (subject to sufficient interest) a day long Arduino workshop for interested participants on Sunday June 26th.

Seminar Topics
– Multimodal Interaction for Digital Tourism
– Multimodal Interaction with the Android platform
– Creating Engaging Visitor Experiences in Museums and Heritage sites
– Multimodal Interaction with spatial data
– Speech-driven, hands-free, eyes-free navigation
– Haptic Tabletop Interaction for Digital Tourism
– Natural language generation for Multimodal Interaction
– Mobility as a challenge for interaction design, Tourism as a special case
– Multimodal Augmented-Reality Interaction for Digital Tourism
– Designing context aware-systems

– Stephen Brewster, University of Glasgow
– Tristan Henderson, University of St Andrews
– Eva Hornecker, University of Strathclyde
– Antonio Krüger, Saarland University
– William Mackaness, University of Edinburgh
– Miguel Nacenta, University of Calgary
– Jon Oberlander, University of Edinburgh
– Antti Oulasvirta, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology
– Aaron Quigley, University of St Andrews
– Albrecht Schmidt, University of Stuttgart

The deadline for applications to attend is May 3rd, with notifications
by May 9th. Participation is limited to 30 and we expect a mix of both
national and international participants. The registration fee is £450,
which covers four nights of accommodation (Mon – Fri) in St Andrews,
breakfast, lunch, dinner and summer school materials. Also
included is a welcome reception and farewell dinner. An optional
Arduino workshop (with Sunday night accommodation) is an
additional £70.

The Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA)
is providing 16 grants to cover the £450 registration fee for PhD
students from most Scottish Universities. See SICSA website
for details:

See the summer school website for a full programme, biographies
of speakers and full details for applications:

The school is directed by Aaron Quigley (University of St Andrews),
Eva Hornecker (University of Strathclyde), Jon Oberlander (University
of Edinburgh) and Stephen Brewster (University of Glasgow).