Monday, April 06, 2009

CHI2009 -- day 1

I'm in Boston for CHI, a conference about human-computer interaction. It's interesting, although some of the language in the talks is a little fluffy: lots of people doing research through design to explore a process of discovery that reveals empowering affordances.

Some of the actual stuff people are coming up with is pretty cool though, so I don't meant to knock the work itself. These designers have a genuine interest in making technology work better for people, so they're trying new interface techniques all the time and reporting on how well they work for people. For example I saw today some multi-touch pressure-sensitive mousepads, only with no mouse. Simple idea but it works very nicely, and probably a lot cheaper than multi-touch sensitive screens.

There are also some wacky muppet-labs kind of inventions, like the "crowdsourced haptic interface" where you let anonymous strangers give you backrubs over the internet. I'm not sure what problem that solves, but I guess it was worth trying.

After a reception tonight, some nice MIT grad students took a bunch of us over on a tour of the CSAIL building, where we saw roombas watering plants, Richard Stallman's office, discarded dusty robots lurking in corners, and we walked the whole length of an infinite hallway. CSAIL is housed in a Frank Gehry building, and all the plants died when they finally plugged up all the leaks that had been watering them.

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