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CHI 2006: Third Day

The third full day of CHI went very well, with a healthy mix of interesting papers and presentations. At night I (and some colleagues) went to the "Hospitality" events hosted by several of the companies and universities. These are essentially big parties with free food and free drink.

IBM's was particularly nice due to a live band playing. Google's was disappointing because they ran out of food by the time we got there. Microsoft's was lame because they didn't have any alcohol (what, you think giving out nerf arrows is going to make up for it? I think not!).

We were on our way over to the University of Michigan's area when the fire alarms went off in the entire mall (which we were attached to). We pondered staying behind and plundering all the unattended food and drink, but determined that it would be wiser to err on the side of caution. Who wants to risk staring in a re-enactment of The Towering Inferno?

It took the six fire engines that showed up almost an hour to determine that it was a false alarm. After that the parties were pretty much over, so the group I was with headed out for a quick bite to eat before returning to our respective hotels.

Looking back over the day, here are some of the projects/presentations that deserve a mention:

  • Embedded Phenomena: Supporting Science Learning with Classroom-Sized Distributed Simulations
    Tom Moher, my adviser here at UIC, gave a great presentation on all three of the embedded phenomena that our group has created: RoomQuake, RoomBugs, and HelioRoom. While I obviously think the world of him and his work, it was great to see that his paper also won a coveted "Best Paper" award (only 3 papers received this honor from the 600 papers submitted).
  • Add a Dash of Interface: Taking Mash-Ups to the Next Level
    Ben Metcalfe (project lead for BBC's developer network), Bret Taylor (project manager for Google Maps) discuss the current state of publicly available APIs and how users are combining the services with interesting results. There was talk about security and the technical aspects of providing developers access to these public APIs. The discussion only touched briefly on what I see as the biggest threat to mash-ups: if companies that provide such free access to data streams could (or should) realize profit from that access. For instance the very powerful mash-ups that are using google maps (e.g. visualizing the results of rising ocean levels, finding sexual predators near your home, seeing where all your online contacts live) depend on Google continuing to provide them free access to their mapping data and API. I fear the day that these free data streams begin to contain advertisements or demand payments.
  • Visual Exploration of Multivariate Graphs
    Easily one of the more beautiful applications, PivotGraph (paper) is a very slick visualization technique for graphs with nodes that have several attributes each. The basic idea is that you can pick a handful of attributes to compare across the entire graph (similar to pivot charts in Excel). What makes this project so cool is the very beautifully rendered graphs and smooth animated transitions between comparisons. I know eye candy cannot sustain meaningful work, but oh it is just so sweet!

The pic for this blog entry is of three people playing "Age Invaders," an interactive game designed to include the elderly and youth in a physical game of space-invaders. Yes, you read that correctly. They balance the playing field by slowing down the children's firing speed. There are also "online" players who can see the entire board and insert things like blockers or health bonuses.

To be honest I thought "Age Invaders" was lame because it tried to target itself as a unifier between different age groups. Yeah, right. It was a cool game to play with peers... period. This doesn't make it unique, but at least it's a more believable use.

[note: This post has been backdated to correspond with the date of the events described]

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