Gesture interfaces - are we ready?

Gesture interfaces are nothing new. They come alive once in a while with a use of new technologies. Technologies used so far were cameras (regular, depth, stereo), sound in a way (like clapping sound switches (Wikipedia) for switching on and off the light) or different wearable controls like glows. While cameras have been long used for research of gestural interfaces, they are also moving to consumers products (remember Toshiba's TV from 2008 (video on You Tube)). Researchers at MIT turned the whole TV into a camera. The same lab developed also the wearable Sixth Sense (video on You Tube). But these are only a few products in a sea of gestural interfaces.

Now there's a new way to track user's movement with ultrasound.

There's certainly the market for gestural interfaces like video games for example or some short termed interactions (Dart Vader uses gestural movement to strangle people - why is he using his hands if he can do it with his minds anyway?). But there are still some problems that haven't been answered or overcame yet:

  • Gestural interfaces can not be used for long periods of time as waving hands in the air is not so easy. Gorilla arm (Wikipedia) effect was long known to be a problem on touch screens and all gestural interfaces. 
  • Another problem is misinterpreting gestures. I can not picture myself being still while watching TV. Or waving to someone and change the program I was watching without wanting it :). 

None the less gestures are used in everyday applications. Mouse gestures for example are popular in some web browsers (Wikipedia). Then we have trackpads that recognize gestures (Apple.com). And of course already mentioned touch screens that found its niche in info kiosks, ATMs (cashing machines), bars and supermarket cash registers, smartphones, PDA's and even keyboards (You Tube video) to name just a few. There are also projected interfaces used in consumer products (e.g. keyboard (Wikipedia)) which are a bit more specific gesture interfaces compared to first mentioned camera recognized movements.

Looking at all these technologies (and how "intuitive" they are?) it seams that there is still life ahead for standard keyboards and computer mice (or trackpads) :).

Wordle - Tags

Ever tried categorizing information by tags? Tags have become popular with folksonomies - when people started collaboratively taging and classifying almost any imaginable content online. Flickr, del.icio.us, Knowledge Plaza, Jumper 2.0, CiteULike, Connotea, BibSonomy, refbase, discogs.com, imdb.com, LibraryThing, IBM Dogear, Connectbeam to name just a few. 

A lot of people advocate tagging as a better organizational structure over hierarchies. Rashmi for example has a nice blog post about how tagging results in lower cognitive effort in comparison to hierarchy categorizing. Tagging also allows information items to reside in more than one category which is not possible in a file hierarchy for example (shortcuts, soft links, name them are not the answer for most users, if not all). A nice paper covering social tagging is Usage patterns of collaborative tagging systems by Scott A. Golder and Bernardo A. Huberman.

But tagging has its disadvantages as well. First of them is the lack of standard set of keywords, misspelling, words with more than one meaning, synonims, ... and spam as well (only social tagging). It was also found that when tagging is used to categorize personal information it often results in keyword tagging. A good study of tagging versus filing of personal information (email in this example) is Better to organize personal information by folders or by tags?: The devil is in the details by Civan et al. Tags have been implemented in file hierarchy as well (TagFS) but it was also found out that people do not find their information faster if it is organized by tags, folders or in a hybrid system.

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Ever wondered what your web site TAGS would look like? Try Wordle. It is not rocket science. It does a word count on an URL, copied text or del.icio.us tags. And it visualize them as an word sketch where words with higher counts are presented with larger font.

Here's how my blog's first page looks like:


Too much information and avoidance of unpleasantness

I came across an interesting article about how too much information makes us avoid unpleasant and uncomfortable issues. An example the author gives is one of the recent Time magazine covers with 18 years old Afghan girl whose nose and ears have been cut off as ruled by a local Taliban judge. This Time's cover story has for example not reached high media coverage like the story of a flight attendant (steward) who got feed up with a rude passenger.

The idea behind the article is that with too much information around us we are more likely to filter out and avoid such news while our sensors will remain focused on light news we feel comfortable with. We are more likely to miss the whole picture of the world and focus on stories that are not a threat to the humanity.

There might be other reasons (besides information overflow) why our societies avoid such news:

  • In the past (before Internet age) such news were less likely to come to us and maybe we still do not care much about places far from us. My grandma used to say that there are too many bad things going on in the world after watching news on the TV every day and that she will not watch news anymore. I always replied that this kind of stories were not shown on the TV a few years ago, and if she doesn't like them just avoid them and stick to her old habits.
  • Media has become more and more driven by capitalism and politics, that even in the so called developed world where the right of speech is thought of as one of the main rights, it might not be so. We might be bombarded with so much unimportant stories to divert our focus from serious issues to more pleasant stories. Military has also become more skilled with media wars as they were in the past!
  • There are also so many people that try to exploit every possible people's tragedy and natural disasters with fake news and fake money raising web sites, and fake people going from door to door that we maybe try to avoid scamming (or not care about these stories). I still receive emails about the same people that had an incurable cancer 10 years ago. And even if we donate goods to "right" organizations often these goods do not reach the people in need.
  • Maybe we are just to fearful (and a bit selfish). Although I would not like to say this but we are likely to avoid serious issues even in our close vicinity. I was listening to a BBC radio 2 show a few months ago about how to help friends who were diagnosed with a lethal disease and so many people called in to tell first hand stories of how they avoided their friends in the time of need and were later very sorry (often too late).   
  • A also read a study about how people tend to rely on news from newspapers, TV channels and web sites that are in favor of their political party, vision of the life, world and such. We do this to be more happy as we are likely to be more happy to read a news story that we like than the news we dislike - which has nothing to do with information overflow.

Maybe there are other reasons as well. But on the other hand we do not fear horror movies, violence and blood in Hollywood mainstream production. Is is because we know these are not true stories? Maybe.

Overall I still think a lot of people do not avoid this kind of stories. To have a bigger picture of e.g. the war in Afghanistan we do have to get information from various sources (even the mentioned NPR article) with different insights and opinions (do not fear opinionated stories). We cannot be well informed if we do rely on one source of information only. This is why information overflow on the web is also good. And this is why reading comments on stories is good as well (Web 2.0 really changed the way information is delivered and disseminated). Who wants to get well informed has a chance to do so, while others will remain focused on whatever they think is important to them. We have options and this is what matters. Even if we miss a TIme's cover we can still know (or think to know) the whole picture of the war in Afghanistan.

Hipmunk - the new approach in searching for cheap flights

We all like to fly cheap. And to find cheap flights a lot of us use flight search web sites. Sites like Expedia and SkyScanner are very popular. But all return results on the list like in the below examples:

Figure 1: Expedia


Figure 2: SkyScanner

It is sometimes very difficult to visualize the flight and compare it with other flights based on takeoff and landing time, the amount of time of the whole trip and other flights that might be available from near airports. I always check for example flights from Venice, Treviso, Ljubljana, Trieste and Pula to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and London. And then all these routes on different dates. It takes some time to find the cheapest available route.

An answer to such queries can be the new flight search engine Hipmunk. It automatically includes the nearby airports, visualizes time and transfers while all different searches can be held in tabs. On the below example I searched for the flight from Trieste to Liverpool and got results from several other airports in nearby vicinity.


Figure 3: Hipmunk

The only thing I'm missing is to be able to look a few days before and after the selected date. I can do this in a new tab but I have to enter all data again for each date. SkyScanner for example (see Figure 2) allows users to change the date by one day with clicking on left and right arrows around the date. Ryanair for example shows a weekly overview of all the flights from and to choosen airports as can be seen on the picture below.


Figure 4: Ryanair

Other than this Hipmunk really is a nice search engine for the cheap flights. Looking forward for improvements.

EDIT: There's Matrix 2 software of ITA (you might have heard of it because it was bought by Google recently). Besides a list view they provide monthly view of flights as well.


Figure 4: Matrix 2


PS: The searches I did do not make much sense. There are no direct flights from Trieste to Liverpool. There are direct flights to Liverpool from Treviso airport which is the closest to Trieste. Or from Trieste to Birmingham.

PSS: It is also worth checking the web sites of air companies to get some special deals :).

Taps 4

Another tap. This one is a mixed tap and it's of a nice shape. The reason it is mentioned here is its cold/hot water signs which are not visible in a "washing hands position". The blue/red sing is visible only if someone bows and bothers to look under the handle. Which doesn't really make sense - but I did it because I was wondering .... :)