Friday, 26 June 2009

Making Computer Science Exciting for Children - Kinderuniversität

Petra is teaching at the primary school in Satteldorf. As there is no University close by we decided to have a university afternoon at school. The idea behind this (in German Kinderuniversität) is to get young children excited for scientific topics and show that research is fun. The lecture should make them curious and motivate them to ask fundamental questions.

My lecture was on principles and technologies for communication (in German) and we looked fundamentally at what information is, how it relates to probabilities, how to encode information, and what devices people used and use for communication. For me this was a very exciting experience and also showed that we (as a discipline Computer Science) should probably look more into didactic and how to communicate fundamentals of our subject in school. So far many students associated computer science with using PowerPoint :-( but there are interesting starting points, e.g. a German book on algorithms for school children [1].

[1] Vöcking, B.; Alt, H.; Dietzfelbinger, M.; Reischuk, R.; Scheideler, C.; Vollmer, H.; Wagner, D. (Ed.). Taschenbuch der Algorithmen. 2008, ISBN: 978-3-540-76393-2

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Aaron Quigley will become director of HITLab Australia

Aaron announced that he is going to be the founding director of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory Australia and Professor at the University of Tasmania. After HITLab in Washington and New Zealand this is the third one. It is quite a challenge- but he is the person for it!

What can one say? Congratulations and a quote from Mark Twan: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

PS: Found myself checking two things: (1) where Tasmania is and (2) when I have my next sabbatical ...

Linking the activities in the physical world to actions in the digital/virtual

Currently we have an assignment in our Pervasive Computing class that asks students to design and develop a system where actions are associated with artifacts. Technically students should develop a web based solution using RFID. Apropos RFID, … if you look for a good introduction on RFID read Roy Want's IEEE Pervasive Magazin paper [1].

We use the hardware from (Ztamp:s and Mir:ror) as the focus is on the concept and application and not on the underlying technology. To ease development Florian and Ali have developed a little system that offers WebCallBacks (students can register a URL and that is called when a tag is read).

Linking by tagging of objects has been well explored, e.g. [2] and [3], and I think it is about time that this technologies will make an impact in the consumer market - the technology gets cheap enough now (and perhaps one of our students has a great idea).

Some years back (in the last millennium) a company tried to push linking of paper adverts and digital content with the CueCat ( - I was impressed and inspired at that time but in my view it had two major weaknesses: (1) technically too early and (2) encoding of serial numbers instead of URLs. The RadioShack catalog and the Wired Magazine that included codes showed the potential - but it was too cumbersome as it was restricted to the PC …

We did some work on the topic, too around that time - at RFID reader integrated in a glove - which resulted in a Poster at ISWC [4] and a patent [5].

[1] Want, R. 2006. An Introduction to RFID Technology. IEEE Pervasive Computing 5, 1 (Jan. 2006), 25. DOI=

[2] Harrison, B. L., Fishkin, K. P., Gujar, A., Portnov, D., and Want, R. 1999. Bridging physical and virtual worlds with tagged documents, objects and locations. In CHI '99 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 15 - 20, 1999). CHI '99. ACM, New York, NY, 29-30. DOI=

[3] Ljungstrand, P. and Holmquist, L. E. 1999. WebStickers: using physical objects as WWW bookmarks. In CHI '99 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 15 - 20, 1999). CHI '99. ACM, New York, NY, 332-333. DOI=

[4] Schmidt, A., Gellersen, H., and Merz, C. 2000. Enabling Implicit Human Computer Interaction: A Wearable RFID-Tag Reader. In Proceedings of the 4th IEEE international Symposium on Wearable Computers (October 18 - 21, 2000). ISWC. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, 193. (Poster as large PNG)

[5] US Patent 6614351 - Computerized system for automatically monitoring processing of objects. September 2, 2003.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Human Computer Confluence - Information Day in Brussels

By the end of the month FET Open will launch the call for the proactive initiative on Human Computer Confluence. The term is new and hopefully it will really lead to new ideas. Today was already an information day on the upcoming proactive initiatives. I arrived the evening before and it is always a treat to talk a walk in the city.

The presentations were not really surprising and also the short intros by the participants remained very generic. Seeing the call that is now finalized and having been at the consultation meetings it seems to me that the focus is rather broad for a proactive initiative… but with many people wanting a piece of the cake this seems inevitable.

I presented a short idea of "breaking space and time boundaries" - the idea is related to a previous post on predicting the future. The main idea is that with massive sensing (by a large number of people) and with uniform access to this information - independ of time and space - we will be able to create a different view of our realty. We think of putting a consortium together for an IP. Interested? Then give me a call.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Happy Birthday - Prof. Thomas Christaller 60

It was a great honor to be invited to Prof Thomas Christaller's 60th Birthday. During my time at Fraunhofer IAIS I had the pleasure of working with him and learning from him! He has many interests and skills! See his web page at Fraunhofer IAIS and at Lebenskunst.

The symposium at Schloß Birlinghoven featured an impressive list of people and I learned more about the history of German computer science. It is impressive to see that many people that shaped AI in Germany worked at some point together in one project (HAM-RPM, HAM-ANS, see [1]). This highlighted to me again the importance of education people in research and not just getting research done - as nicely described by Patterson in "Your students are your legacy" [2] - an article worthwhile to read for anyone advising students.

The afternoon and evening was much too short to catch up with everyone. It was great to meet Christian Bauckhage, who took over my office in Bonn, in person. He is now professor at B-IT and at Fraunhofer IAIS and I hope we have a chance to work together in the future. At WWW2009 he published a paper on a new approach to social network analysis [3] applied to Slashdot. This approach which discriminates negative and positive connections could also be an interesting approach in social networks that are grounded in the real world… seems there is already an idea for a joined project.

After telling Karl-Heinz Sylla that I am currently teaching a software engineering class he recommended me the following book: Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C. Martin [4]. The books looks good and one interesting argument is that programming well in the small (clean code) is a pre-requisite for large systems - or the other way round you break big software systems by bad programming in the small. Perhaps there is some time over the summer to read the book.

PS: Thomas chose an interesting option for birthday presents: bicycles for Africa - a quite remarkable project. I will see if I find the URL and post it in a comment...

[1] Wolfgang Hoeppner, Thomas Christaller, Heinz Marburger, Katharina Morik, Bernhard Nebel, Mike O'Leary, Wolfgang Wahlster: Beyond Domain-Independence: Experience With the Development of a German Language Access System to Highly Diverse Background Systems. IJCAI 1983: 588-594

[2] Patterson, D. A. 2009. Viewpoint
Your students are your legacy. Commun. ACM 52, 3 (Mar. 2009), 30-33. DOI=

[3] Kunegis, J., Lommatzsch, A., and Bauckhage, C. 2009. The slashdot zoo: mining a social network with negative edges. In Proceedings of the 18th international Conference on World Wide Web (Madrid, Spain, April 20 - 24, 2009). WWW '09. ACM, New York, NY, 741-750. DOI=

[4] Robert C. Martin. Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship. Prentice Hall International. 2008 (Amazon-Link)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Steve Hinske defents his PhD Thesis at ETH Zurich

"Sounds like a fun project" was my first reaction when I read some time back the first paper on Steve's work on augmented toys and augmented games. Reading through his thesis and seeing more of his papers it seems there was a lot of hard work, too.

Thinking more about it I was wondering how toys are really going to change in the future and to what extent this is going to happen. Technically a lot is feasible as it is well demonstrated by Steve in his thesis (photo from; if you do not have time to read the thesis I recommend to look at two of his papers: [1] and [2]. They give a good overview of the systems he created. In the discussion we could see that there can be very interesting business model involving third party developers for such toys.

… but nevertheless the playing experience is something very special and I would bet the augmented toys will come but the ordinary non-augmented dolls will stay.

PS: The cafeteria at ETH provided another example of my collection "if you need a sign/label - you have got the UI design wrong" - great example how gestalt law would have been so easy and arrows look so bad ;-)

[1] Hinske, S. and Langheinrich, M. 2009. W41K: digitally augmenting traditional game environments. In Proceedings of the 3rd international Conference on Tangible and Embedded interaction (Cambridge, United Kingdom, February 16 - 18, 2009). TEI '09. ACM, New York, NY, 99-106. DOI=

[2] Hinske, S., Langheinrich, M., and Lampe, M. 2008. Towards guidelines for designing augmented toy environments. InProceedings of the 7th ACM Conference on Designing interactive Systems (Cape Town, South Africa, February 25 - 27, 2008). DIS '08. ACM, New York, NY, 78-87. DOI=

Monday, 8 June 2009

Automotive UIs - conference update, cool UI

The automotive user interface conference has received nearly 40 (to be exact 37) high quality submissions - we are really thrilled about the contributions - and now the review process is on! We will have more details on the program in a number of weeks.

Not a submission to the conference - but nevertheless cool: the MINI center globe UI - a 3D display concept for cars:

Thursday, 4 June 2009

ebook, tangibe programming, iPhones bring back wired telephony

Having used the Sony PRS-505 now for a few weeks (mainly to read dissertations and project reports) I have quickly gotten used to carrying less weight. The user interface requires some learning - as the screen is pretty slow pressing a button does not give immediate feedback and that feels strange - more than expected. I wonder if there are studies on traditional interacton with electronic paper? Another issue: it seems to depend on the crew whether or not it is OK to read from an eBook during the entire flight (including take-off and landing)...

While reading a thesis I was reminded of an interesting paper on tangible programming [1] from a special issue of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing we did in 2004. The paper situates the topic historically and gives an interesting introduction.

In recent meetings as well as in airports around the world one can observe a trend: wired telephony! Whereas people with traditional mobile phone walk up and down and talk on the phone iPhone users often sit wired up to the next power plug an phone... seems apple has re-invented wired telephony ;-) and other brands will soon follow (make sure to reserve a seat with a power connection).

[1] McNerney, T. S. 2004. From turtles to Tangible Programming Bricks: explorations in physical language design. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 8, 5 (Sep. 2004), 326-337. DOI=

Interesting articles in Wired Magazine

In Miami airport I picked up the current issue of the wired magazine - and Airberlin gave me plenty of time to read it - was nearly through when we finally departed after 2 hours without air condition in the plane :-(

Not really complaining as there is a set of inspiring articles about the digital economy:
hope you find a more comfortable place to read them ;-)