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Ubicomp 2003 - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2003-10-21 00:05
Ubicomp 2003

On Sunday I arrived in cold, windy Seattle at 5:10 (after having almost missed my flight due to Kinko's mishaps), and took public transit downtown. I met with with Kate Everitt and her MERL coworker Darren Leigh and we went out to dinner at a fancy Thai satay place, where we discussed Mormonism and bi-directional LEDs and all sorts of other stuff. That night I attempted to do a little homework but soon went to sleep.

On Monday morning, I pinned up my poster and chatted with various Berkeley people until the plenary. The plenary speaker, Bill Mitchell, was interesting: he discussed how city structure changes to meet changing needs (analogizing cities to various preparations of eggs), though I felt that his arguments definitely applied only to first-world cities. He discussed changes on many scales, from the city itself (walls, transit corridors, hubs) to neighborhood and even building scales (e.g. the changing structure of banks). In the session after the plenary, there were some interesting papers presented, including one about a ray-tracing approach for determining the positions of objects in rooms.

I had lunch on Monday with Tara, Kevin, and lots of Lancaster folks at Mama's Cocina, and had a lovely walk in the sunshine. After lunch came "1-minute madness," where I gave a quick spiel on Healthy Cities that several people later told me was actually memorable! Many came up to talk to me about Healthy Cities during the poster session, including a columnist from wired.com who seemed very enthusiastic about the project. In my off-times, I wandered around the demonstrations, which were quite crowded by looked exciting.

After the poster session, I went out with various Berkeley, Calgary, and MIT people for dessert, drinks, and Apples to Apples (which I learned how to play for the first time) at Palace Kitchen a block north of the conference hotel. After that, I did a couple of hours of homework before crashing.

Tuesday morning I accompanied Peter Roessler to an interview for an Intel Seattle project I'm helping with. We returned about halfway through the first session. The paper I found most interesting on Tuesday was the technote "Is Context-Aware Computing Taking Control Away from the User?" The author discussed the proper role of the user in ubicomp systems, stressed the importance of using "natural" laboratories to understand the complexities of a real setting, and advocated naturalistic observation and user self-reporting. I also thought Darren's paper on bi-directional LEDs was very interesting.

I had lunch with A.J. and a few other Berkeley and Seattle folks in a food court near the hotel, and we talked about designing for the old and for the young, and about the benefits and drawbacks of those new self-running vacuum cleaners. (Apparently one model doesn't repeat as much floor area as another, but has a tendency to fall down stairs. A third empties and recharges itself, but costs a lot.)

In the afternoon, I had a better chance to explore the demonstrations, including the cute, squishy "Platypus Amoeba," the Wishing Well, Squeeze Me (squishy biofeedback stars for kids), Proactive Displays (where I learned that my interest in "samba," mined from my website, was shared with someone else near the display), Eos Pods, and the poetry calculator Verse-O-Matic, which gave me the following poem for "nature + humor" on a small sticker which I proudly wore below my conference badge (it has now migrated to my folder):

The ant has made
himself illustrious

Through constant

So what?

Would you be calm
and placid

If you were full of
formic acid?


I thoroughly enjoyed the conference banquet on Tuesday evening in the Pacific Science Center. On the way to Seattle Center on the monorail, Anind introduced me to Ben Wong of Georgia Tech., who I talked to for most of the evening. Three hours passed very quickly, and soon the PSC staff kicked us out. I walked back with a bunch of Berkeley students, and excused myself to do homework only to be waylaid by another group of Berkeleyites, CMU students, and Europeans, who again coerced me into playing Apples to Apples (it wasn't too difficult to convince me :~)). I finally did manage to finish my pushdown automata homework, and went to sleep around 2.

Wednesday I partook in lots of tea so I could stay awake for what looked like the most intriguing papers of the conference, in terms of my interests. In the morning talks, I liked the paper "Finding a Place for UbiComp in the Home," which discussed the systematic ways people organize their information at home based on their needs and on architectural constraints: they look for information in ecological habitats, "muck about" with information in activity centers, and leave information for others at coordinate displays, and use paper the most.

For lunch, Sunny Consolvo and I went to the Dalia Lounge, where I had amazingly good pasta. Tuesday afternoon, enjoyed Kate Everitt's presentation on the UbiTable system, and found the paper about analysis of the underlying patterns of speech very interesting, if a bit disturbing in its implications. I also thought the camera system (realized in phidgets) was well-done.

Ben, who I had talked to the night before, asked a few questions throughout the talks, each time coming up as a different user on the conference's RFID-run identifier (first Trevor Pering, another conference attendee, and then Bill Gates). Unfortunately I didn't get another chance to talk to him or anyone else, because I had to catch the bus to the airport immediately after the last session. Many Berkeley people were headed back on the same flight, and we amused ourselves with brainteasers, discussions about Intimate ubicomp, and debates about the detrimental effects of supermarket "value" cards.

I'm always amazed at how much I get to know Berkeley people at these conferences in other cities. :~) But I do feel feel like I talked to lots of other interesting people, also - certainly more than I have at any other conference I've been to. I felt more at ease at this conference than I did at UPA, CHI, or Grace Hopper last year, where I lacked the confidence to hold my own with any senior researcher. And it was exhilarating to stand up in front of the conference hall for even a minute to present my poster. :~) I'm very glad I could go.
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