Archives for posts with tag: celebration

First and extremely importantly, we have more lab celebrations. Gareth popped back to Brighton from his new job in Shanghai this week to mount a successful defence of his thesis! Definitely worth making the trip. There were some bubbles shared after the event. Huge congratulations to Gareth.

So from a departing lab member today we turned to a new lab member. Marianna Obrist joined at the start of October, and today she gave us a little more of an introduction to her previous work and where her research is heading. She joins us after spending two years with the Culture Lab in Newcastle as a Marie Curie fellow and prior to that Marianna was an assistant professor for HCI and Usability at the University of Salzburg. This has allowed her to work on a wide variety of projects, of which Marianna described just a handful.

The first project she talked about was the Citizen Media – Social Change project, which ran from 2006-2009. It focussed on engaging communities in user-generated experiences (of the type that we are now, thanks to smart phones, extremely familiar with) and how to use those to allow the communities to change things in their areas. One of the big things that Marianna took from this experience was that engaging with and building interest in a local community for research purposes was really interesting, but dealing with that community at the end of the project, when there is no further funding and the researchers are moving on, is difficult.

She  was the lead of a module in the Christian Doppler Laboratory on contextual interfaces. One of the main aims of this module was to examine the way that traditional HCI methodologies carry over into less traditional settings – e.g. in the case she showed us a clean room environment. Clean rooms are kept as free of contamination as possible, with all objects coming into and out of the clean room needing to be carefully controlled. This precludes the use of paper, making note-taking rather difficult.

Then there were a couple of games that Marianna has worked on. One of these is called Ludwig. This is an Austrian game looking to teach people about renewable energy sources and other ideas in physics. This has moved on quite a lot since Marianna worked on it, and is being integrated with the Austrian school curriculum. The other game that Marianna told us about was the Emotional Flowers (“EmoFlowers”) project, which used the facial expressions of players as the game mechanic. This was a result of a participatory design process with groups of children.

When Marianna became a Marie Curie fellow she had more space to define her own research projects. She noted that almost all of her work so far, and in fact in HCI in general, focusses predominantly on visual and auditory channels. She started to wonder about the other sensory channels, such as touch, taste and smell. How can we study these areas? So last year she started with touch, and found that a language for discussing the different sensations was needed. Different haptics designers and engineers needed a shared language for different sensations, and an understanding of how those sensations could be generated. So Marianna worked with a neurophysiologist (where another shared language needed to be developed!) to identify the different receptors in the skin and to design ways to stimulate these receptors. This device was then used with an explicitation interview technique. The different descriptions were then analysed and the results were published at CHI last year.

Touch work

This year she has been working on taste (gustatory experiences) and smell (the olfactory channel). The research sounds interesting and tantalising, and happily she will be talking about it at this year’s CHI!


First and perhaps most importantly, Katy submitted her thesis this morning! To celebrate she baked a rather lovely lemon drizzle cake for the rest of the lab to enjoy. She says it’s ‘just’ a BBC Good Food recipe, but it was much enjoyed by all those who turned up.

Katy cutting the cake

The rest of the meeting was spent talking about what software we use, how we use it and whether it works!

We started out by talking about how Katy had used Word for her thesis. Rather than writing one extremely long document, she preferred to keep her chapters each as a separate document. This was partly to help with getting feedback on specific chapters from her supervisors, and also because she chose not to reduce the quality of the images she was using until very late on, so the size of the documents was pretty large even when kept as separate chapters.

Gareth is using LaTeX for his. He says the learning curve is worth it in the end, and avoids some of the problems Katy had with references.

We also briefly discussed Scrivener. Both Ellie and Liz had tried using Scrivener, and both found that it just didn’t really fit with their method of writing. Liz felt rather more strongly than Ellie! One of the big problems Ellie found with Scrivener was in getting feedback from her supervisor and maintaining any changes in Scrivener. This wasn’t to say it wouldn’t work for others though.

For referencing Katy has used Endnote. She had a few problems right at the end of her thesis preparation with Endnote misplacing the references in the Word documents, but she felt that was her fault for having multiple copies of the Endnote libraries around with the same name. Liz thought she’d seen the same behaviour with other causes, although she’d found a way to spot it. Another problem raised with Endnote was that although there are university-wide licenses, if we wanted to work on personal computers we had to buy a license at not-inconsiderable expense. For that reason the rest of us seem to mostly be using Mendeley, which is free but may not integrate so well with other pieces of software.

Note-taking was mentioned, with Evernote being used by both Ellie and Gareth. Ellie recommended Evernote Clearly for use in browser. Liz showed off her Livescribe pen and pad, which records as she writes and allows her to create electronic notes directly from her handwritten ones. Ellie uses Note Taker HD on her iPad, mostly with a stylus but was using her finger in this particular meeting. She doesn’t attempt to OCR the results, but uses the tagging along with different folders to keep track of things. Edgar uses Note Plus on his iPad, but admits that he’s still struggling to learn to write using the stylus.

SPSS was mentioned, and Ellie admitted that she’d been manually calculating stats using Excel because she hadn’t got to grips with that yet! This was compared to starting your car by cranking a handle at the front.

And we pretty much ran out of time there, without reaching any of the more interesting/esoteric software we may or may not use. This may be a topic we come back to in the future, possibly with more focus on specific tasks and maybe even with demos…