Light themes – cool idea but with usability flaws

Over new year we went for a short skiing trip to Bödele in Austria. It is a small ski resort but great for learning to ski (and this is what Vivien did 🙂
We stayed in Dornbirn (not far from Lake Constance) in at Hotel Krone and had a really nice room – and it had a remarkable light installation. 

There were several lights (like you have them typical in a hotel room), then there were many switches, and finally there was a full page manual how to use the light – welcome to ambient intelligence! Instead of switching on and off individual lights one can chose a predefined light theme, e.g. a setting for working on the desk, a setting for watching TV, a setting for reading, etc. All lights are switched and dimed to fit this situation (or at least as the designer thinks it would fit the situation).

The basic idea of having light themes is quite interesting but when being in the hotel room with 3 people it gets really difficult to set the lights. Even after a lot of trying out I could not manage to set the lights so that I can work on the desk (desk lamp on), Petra can read in bed (reading light at on bed on), and Vivien can sleep (her bedside lamp off). 
Nevertheless one should not underestimate the entertainment of previously simple tasks – We spend have the evening exploring potential settings, rhythms, and speeds of the colored wellness light 😉

PS: (1) There is a good natural science museum in Dornbirn – inatura and (2) 3D projections are still not convincing…
PPS: using a GPS tracking device to record your skiing activity (including speed) is cool!

Illusions 2.0, Talk at the Museum Ludwig in Köln

In Cologne in the Museum Ludwig I gave in the afternoon a talk on „Illusions 2.0 – embedded interactive media“ at the Forum Mediendesign. The talk focused on the new qualities of magical experiences we will be able to create with pervasive computing technologies in the future and linked this to Alan Kay’s notion of user illusion and metaphors. I looked at trends that are ingredience for creating Illusions 2.0 – in particular ubiquitous communication and display, constant tracking and logging, and the decrease of value of traditional content (text, audio, video, software, tv, statistical data). I highlighted one development that have already happened and has impacted our lives with the following statement. The question „If I only would know when the others come and where they are now…“ was common to people born before 1970 but is completely alien to people born after 2000. Mobile communication has changed this and tracking will add more change over the next years.

Based on some examples from recent popular fiction (Harry Potter) I showed that things that we have considered magical are becoming rapidly community products (e.g. marauders map). Spinning this idea forward I asked how far are we with regard to other human dreams such as looking into the future or never forgetting anything we have seen or heard. And the answer in short is: we are close 😉 for more see the slides of my talk on Illusion 2.0. There is an upcoming paper we wrote for IEEE Multimedia Magazine on this topic – will tell as soon as it is published 😉

In the morning I had some time for sightseeing and Vivien and I went to the chocolate museum. The museum is brilliant and I learned how the hollow chocolate santas are made 🙂 In the top floor they have a table top projection for a quiz – it is very well done (as the whole museum) but the technology did not work on the table close to the window. As we know from our experience if you have sun light your camera-projector systems may have trouble 😉
PS: it was interesting that the whole organization was done by students as a course in project management – and they did it really well.

Visit to the Arithmeum in Bonn

For people who already arrive on Sunday, the day before the conference, we organised some museum visits: Arithmeum, Haus der Geschichte, Deutsches Museum, and Art Gallery. I only had time to see the Arithmeum ( which was pretty impressive. Hiroshi Ishii (the keynote speaker of the conference) and Brygg Ullmer (last years conference co-chair) joined us, too.

It was unexpected how close the displayed artefacts are to our current research on tangible interaction. We had a very good guided tour by Nina Mertens, who gave us an interesting overview from counting tokens to calculation machines. Some of the exhibit we could even try out our selves.

I found the aspect of aesthetics in some of the calculation aids and machines quite fascinating. Especially the fact that some were so precious that they were not really used for calculating but more for showing off is a concept that is amazing. Similarly interesting was one artefact that was mainly built as a proof that calculation can be automated.

Mechanicals aids for addition and subtraction

In the school museum I came across two very simple pen-based computing aids. The devices are very simple mechanical tools that help to do addition and subtraction. It was called ADDIATOR.

The utility is limited to addition and subtraction and it provides a very simple mechanism to deal with carry-over. If the number which is to be moved is white the calculation is without carry-over and one pulls it down. If the number is red then there will be a carry over one has to pull up and around the semi-circle (this is the mechanism for carry over). A carry over beyond the next position is displayed with a special sign and has to be resolved by moving the next position. The curator told me that he remembers people in shops used them and that people where very quick with them. It seems they have been popular till I was born.