Archive for the ‘collaboration’ Category

Creativity and Cognition 2011

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Just back from Creativity and Cognition 2011, which was truly ace. I gave the paper I wrote with my co-supervisor, Prof. Ernest Edmonds, which people seemed to like. Saw some thought-provoking presentations and met a number of inspiring and wonderful people. Everything one could wish for in a conference, really.

Guy Claxton gave a truly thoughtful keynote. Creative-Mindedness: When Technology Helps and When It Hinders. He pointed out that formal education as it’s currently instituted systematically destroys the creative habits of mind. In response to a question on how precisely it does this, he referred to his chart of those habits. For example, one creative habit is inquisitiveness, which is damaged by the focus in structured curricula on requiring students to study questions they have not asked. Another is creative stamina & resilience (exemplified by Einstein, who said that it was not so much that he was especially clever, but more that he stayed with problems for longer). This is damaged by the scheduling of classes that require every problem to be solved in an hour.

The papers continued through the next few days – but there were also a  lot of excellent posters. Apparently as there was only a single track for papers, the organisers could not accept some submissions that were actually very good, so those people were encouraged to resubmit as posters. Which meant that the quality of work in the posters was pretty impressive.

Of course, it’s Creativity and Cognition so there was also room for art – my favourite works were Matt Ruby’s Sympathy for Pacman and Jack Stenner & Patrick LeMieux’s Open House: Interaction as Critical Reflection. To top it off, the conference was held at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and we were permitted an after-hours tour. As well as some tragically unmoving Calder mobiles (which really don’t belong in temperature controlled rooms), there on a wall was perhaps my favourite artwork of all time: Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved. Yes, you have to know the story for this one to work properly.

So finally: a few people asked for my slides, so after the break I’ll embed a Quicktime movie of them. Thank you everyone at C&C 2011, and especially the erstwhile organisers for providing such a great atmosphere for collaboration and creativity.


Notes from a SIGGRAPH Panel on Successful Collaboration Across Time & Space

Monday, August 8th, 2011


  • Tim McLaughlin – Texas A&M University
  • Tommy Burnette – Lucasfilm Singapore
  • Tim Fields – Certain Affinity
  • Jonathan Gibbs – DreamWorks Animation
  • David Parrish – Reel FX Creative Studios


Email and Trust

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

DISCLAIMER: This email message and any accompanying attachments may contain confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient, do not read, use, disseminate, distribute or copy this message or attachments.

Translation: We don’t trust you.

If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete this message.

Translation: We don’t trust email.

Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender, except where the sender expressly, and with authority, states them to be the views of the University of Technology Sydney.

Translation: We don’t trust our staff.

Before opening any attachments, please check them for viruses and defects.

Translation: You should not trust this message.

Gerhard Fischer at CCS

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

To our great delight Professor Gerhard Fischer is visiting my research group, the Creativity and Cognition Studios this afternoon, at the invitation of our own Professor Ernest Edmonds.

Earlier this morning Prof. Fischer delivered this HAIL lecture on Meta-Design and Social Creativity at the CSIRO. And as social creativity is a central research concern for many of us here, we’re quite excited to have him here.

Personally I’m hoping to talk about mixed reality and tabletop systems as opposed to immersive virtual environments for collaborative creativity at a distance. Or the role of Collaborative Place. Or whatever comes up ^_^

Imaginary tablets

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Imaginary tablets
[posting this now as text-only; will upload photos of my prototypes shortly]
For those of us interested in how humans interact with our machines, how socio-technical systems are made and how they make us, this is a precious moment. Tomorrow the probability waveforms collapse, Schroedinger’s cat will be let out of the bag; Apple will reveal the form of their long-rumoured slate. In the realisation of a new kind of computing device many decisions are made. Not many companies are equipped to make and execute those decisions well. At the moment I can think of two: Apple and Palm. And as Palm is otherwise engaged, it falls to Apple to bring us the first fully-realised such device.
That’s why today, the moment before the Apple tablet is unveiled, is precious. From tomorrow it will be impossible to imagine a slate without reference to Apple’s design, just as now all smartphones are compared to the iPhone.
The iPhone is Alan Kay’s Dynabook in the deck-of-cards form factor. Now Apple are ready to make the full-sized version; the paperback form factor. Kay put it at 8 by 5 inches – 10 inches diagonally. The size of a small paperback book, or a sheet of A4 folded in half (which is to say, A5). We know that this form factor is important. But it’s been hard to stop thinking of computers as anything other than television-typewriters.
The TV-typewriter form factor has found its epitome in the laptop as we know it: hinged keyboard-and-screen, trackpad and desktop metaphor. Shall I enumerate its faults? Too big and fragile to carry in an ordinary bag, we must instead heft special laptop bags with padded compartments and room for little else. Too energy-hungry for sustained use away from power. A screen that doesn’t work in sunlight. Too heavy to use while carrying. When equipped with processors fast enough to run a modern desktop operating system and 3D graphics, it’s too hot to actually use on a lap. The laptop is wonderfully portable, but not truly mobile.
The A5 dynabook won’t be better for all tasks. However it will afford different activities to those afforded by the laptop, desktop workstation and handheld device, and thereby expand the range of human creativity. That makes it exciting.
However Apple’s version will have its own affordances and constraints. It will be optimised for certain tasks; there’s more than one way to skin a universal computing device. From tomorrow we are in danger of forgetting that.
I’m conducting PhD research into creativity support tools, through a process of building and testing prototypes. Some of the prototypes have been slates, of various shapes and sizes. Form factors made from foamcore, weighted with aluminium; interactivity simulated with my (jailbroken) iPhone. I’ve been carrying them around and imagining how they fit into various scenarios. Here are some things I’ve learnt:
1. Size & Weight, and thus Connectivity
– 7-inch tablets beat 10-inch for portability. You can fit one in a coat pocket or a purse. But they’re small enough that  you can actually lose one. You’ll want a GPS tracker in that thing.
– Say a 10-inch tablet is 500g, splitting the difference of four iPhones or iPods Touch. That’s the weight of a medium-sized book, and much less than a laptop. For example a Macbook Air is 1360 g and a 15” Macbook Pro is 2490 g. That weight is great for portability and reading, but for one-handed interactivity you actually want lighter. The lighter you go, the more you can do and the more likely you are to carry it around. No hard drive. A Flash drive is light enough. For longevity put a memory card slot in the thing; then as memory prices plummet it’ll keep getting more useful. When costing this thing out for engineering, the primary cost you care about isn’t dollars, it’s weight.
– The most effective way to lose weight is to put things outside the tablet.  Files, and also processing. Voice recognition, 3D, video editing: control them from the tablet, but do the processing somewhere else. You should be able to control a desktop workstation from this, and also invisibly use all kinds of services that run on remote servers. This implies full-time connectivity; not just wifi but 3G and whatever comes next. It doesn’t matter how you get the connectivity there: people will still carry phones so tethering is an option.
2. Colour and Form
A black bezel is a terrible idea for e-reading; you want a white margin around a page of text. Ideally the margin is interactive and can hold annotations anyway, so you just want all screen. If there has to be a bezel, make it as seamless as possible (and possibly accepting touch input). If there’s a rim, it should be white or silver.
3. Keyboard & Other Inputs
– A 10-inch tablet can fit a full-size on-screen keyboard in landscape orientation.
– Typing on a full-size keyboard with one hand is a pain. Set it down on a surface and it works. Or turn the slate to portrait, and you have a keyboard that you can use with one hand while you hold the slate with the other.
– If you’re writing long documents, a bluetooth keyboard is fantastic.
– Enable other input devices too. Game controllers, motion sensors, everything. Artists want a stylus for pressure-sensitivity. More inputs multiply possibilities. But ensure that you can use the stock configuration with multitouch alone, because every input is also a dependency.
4. Collaboration
– A slate in a meeting room is nothing like a laptop in a meeting room. A laptop naturally faces the user; a slate naturally goes face-up on the desk. If you flip it up for privacy then it’s obvious that’s what you’re doing. So:
– Slates afford information sharing in meetings. Sketch, pass it around the table. And here we find an implication for design.
Design problem:
In meetings sketching is a common form of expression and communication for creative ideation. When teleconferencing, remote participants are either left out of this sketching process, or it stops.
Tablets can help, because digital sketches can be transmitted between locations. Draw on a tablet here, have it appear on a tablet there. The remote participants can then add to or annotate the sketch; communication is enhanced and the flow of collaborative ideation is unbroken. Win!
People also like to sketch with concrete tools (pencil and paper, arrangements of sticky notes, whiteboards, butcher’s paper etc). Tablets could have a camera or even a full-surface scanner, and thereby capture those analog sketches in digital format. This affords greater sharing with remote participants, review and archiving of materials, and with OCR and metadata, search & retrieval.
5. Capture & annotation
This leads me to an affordance I haven’t fully understood yet: slates afford rich annotation. You need a responsive screen: e-ink won’t do, but a Pixel-Qi transflective or something similar is ideal. But if you have that, then you can capture images, either by drawing or photographing. And then you can start to annotate the images, directly manipulating them on the device. The surface is large enough to work with, and the infinite depth afforded by zoom means there is plenty of room. Every image can be a rabbithole; a portal to an information space without inherent limit. 10 inches in the diagonal, and infinity in the z-axis.
Right. I have more, but it’s unformed. Let’s hope that after 5 AM Sydney time tomorrow I can still think clearly about imaginary tablets as well as the real.

For those of us interested in how humans interact with our machines, how socio-technical systems are made and how they make us, this is a precious moment. Tomorrow the probability waveforms collapse, Schroedinger’s cat will be let out of the bag; Apple will reveal the form of their long-rumoured slate. In the realisation of a new kind of computing device many decisions are made. Not many companies are equipped to make and execute those decisions well. At the moment I can think of two: Apple and Palm. And as Palm is otherwise engaged, it falls to Apple to bring us the first fully-realised such device.

That’s why today, the moment before the Apple tablet is unveiled, is precious. From tomorrow it will be impossible to imagine a slate without reference to Apple’s design, just as now all smartphones are compared to the iPhone.

Mockups in scale

Mockups in scale

So before it’s too late, here’s what I’ve learned from six months living with iSlate prototypes.


Creativity and Cognition 2009

Monday, October 26th, 2009

In a few hours I’m off to Berkeley for Creativity and Cognition 2009 to participate in the Graduate Symposium. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ben Shneiderman, Jane Prophet and my advisor Ernest Edmonds will be among the speakers. I’m quite excited about the whole thing… updates to follow, or see my twitter feed in the meantime.

The longer it takes you to catch on, the more visionary I get

Monday, August 31st, 2009

[With apologies to Bruce Sterling]

Take a look at the wonderful Immersive Workspaces from Linden Lab and Rivers Run Red. Wonderful because it’s a great piece of work and a real breakthrough, but also because it’s not done yet. That is, if its goal is as stated “a complete collaboration solution”, and “the ultimate destination in real-time collaboration”.

Immersive Workspaces - viewing slides in a meeting room

Immersive Workspaces - avatars view slides in a virtual meeting room

You see, what they’ve built looks like a great solution for real-time communication and coordination – but that’s not the same thing as collaboration. Let’s take a look. I’ll wait here while you watch the the video [link updated].

The system provides the following task-oriented headings: News, Team, Meetings, Actions, Media, Journal, Stats, Admin, and Go 3D. This is looking like the next generation of groupware, with that last link promising a sprinkle of social avatar-chat sugar on top, courtesy of Second Life.

The use case shown is called a “collaboration session” – but let’s look at what the participants (Laura, Adam and Sakura) actually do.


Tap tap tap – a case study for distributed collaborative creativity.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Taptaptap make iPhone apps, but they’re not an old-fashioned development shop. Times have changed.

We have no central office and everyone involved is in a different part of the world.

They’re a cross-disciplinary, geographically distributed team. Which raises the question:

So how do we work efficiently on our projects?

They tried asynchronous work but then started getting better results with synchronous chat sessions, sending images back and forth. Then breakthrough – they introduced a shared workspace, which they describe as a virtual room. It’s one-way and ad-hoc, but it’s working. And there is definitely a design opportunity for better creativity support tools in this space.

Ad-hoc workspace sharing prototype

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

I’ve been IKEA-hacking. There’s a great community that does this for real – do you think mine counts? I’ll explain first.

I recently posted an idea for ad-hoc workspace sharing for under $US 500/person. The idea is simple: get one of the new LED-based micro projectors, tape it to a webcam and point them at a surface. Then everything the camera sees can be projected back onto the same surface, or more interestingly to a remote setup along the same lines. Now two people at different locations can share a workspace.

When figuring out how to prototype this, I then thought of the ubiquitous angle-poise task lamp. Apparently Anglepoise is actually a brand, which I did not know – it’s the true original, designed by George Carwardine in the UK in 1934. It’s this lamp that Jac Jacobsen found in a shipment of sewing machines, licensed and redesigned in 1937, resulting in the classic Luxo L-1 luminaire. Some version of this architects’ lamp then inspired John Lasseter to animate Luxo Jr., the short film that became the spirit of Pixar.

Now, I’m going for low-cost, ad-hoc and ubiquitous. I’m not going to use a $200 Luxo L-1 or Anglepoise Original 1227. Not unless I find a new source of funding, anyway 😉 In any case, it’s more appropriate for me to use the most low-cost, ubiquitous version of this superbly functional modern design: IKEA’s TERTIAL. $18.95 from my local IKEA in Sydney, $8.99 in the US.

The height is perfect to throw a 30cm/12″ diagonal display from the 3M MPRO110 Micro Projector, and if you remove the lamp assembly the projector fits beautifully in its place, with room to spare for a webcam. Here’s my blueprint and a shot of the design in situ. If you make one too, we can try them out.
TERTIAL blueprint Tertial Augmented Workspace

Next is to design and implement some user interaction methods. One quite nice thing is that the field of view of the camera is wider than the lightfield of the projector. This means that we can use the projected area for direct manipulation of things in the mediaspace, and use the area around it as a gestural interaction zone for anything that effects the mediaspace as a whole. Some sketches:

rosegarden1.jpgRose garden interaction sketch 2

Dear Alain de Botton, here’s why we don’t tweet about Descartes’ Second Treatise:

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

There is no Descartes’ Second Treatise.

(I’d have called this post Notae in Programma Quoddam, which is funnier, but only four people would have got it).

I must first confess that I thoroughly enjoy Alain de Botton’s works of popular philosophy. I love his writing, his way with words and ideas. Tragically however, he is a living philosopher that people have heard of. He is therefore being asked to comment on various contemporary matters, pretty much at random, without regard for whether he’s thought about them properly. Even worse, he’s being asked by Britain’s Sunday Times.

My own research is into collaborative technologies. I’m mostly interested in interaction design, and don’t know as much about the social side as some people, but I can spot a clanger when one is pointed out to me in a none-to-subtle yet hilarious and scathing parody.