This is a great project which encourages academics to share stories about their teaching and how it changes: http://www.sharingpractice.ac.uk/homepage.html . Join in and share your stories!
Bah to secure document delivery from the British library! Can't print pdf. Can't read pdf on my iPad. *Can* take a photo of the sodding paper on my phone and read it on the move that way! This is only the editorial as they couldn't get me the whole issue due to evil publisher restrictions. Will have to actually personally pay for the other articles with my credit card. Grumph.
My esteemed co-authors have been busy writing more of Granite University - our multi-authored episodic novel set in academic. Add this feed to your reader http://www.spires.info/pg/blog/theauthor?view=rss to be entertained and horrified by the wicked world of research.
[Cross posted from CACM blog. I'm not sure what possessed me to write this. I just got fed up with student feedback and wanted to read something interesting for a change!]
I have fallen down a rabbit hole into the fascinating world of cooking interfaces – would you care to join me? I came across an article in the most recent issue of Computers in Entertainment entitled “The art and craft of making the Tortellino: playing with a digital gesture recognizer for preparing pasta culinary recipes”. How could I not read it? It’s about a system which encourages visitors to an exhibition to appreciate the culinary heritage of the city of Bologna, Italy by learning how to make tortellino. Yum! Users watch a video of a character illustrating how to perform the steps of making the pasta dough and then try to mimic the hand gestures of each step. As the authors put it: “A video camera standing above records the movements the visitor performs to imitate the delivered instructions, while feeding them to a software module, which interprets them and checks for their culinary correctness”. Only in a computer science paper would you encounter the phrase “culinary correctness”. I would have thought that culinary correctness would normally be measured by a biological sensory/digestive analysis of the product rather than a computational analysis of the gestures used in the process. That is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Quibbles aside, it’s a really interesting use of Wii hardware and gesture recognition for culinary cultural heritage.
Of course, computer science educators have always liked to use cooking as a way to introduce the concept of algorithms. The Toque system extended this notion into a whole new cooking based programming language which children can use using the Wiimote as an input device. The children instruct a virtual chef on the steps required to follow delicious recipes such as baked cheese and tomato sandwiches and hot chocolate. There is an interesting mapping between the physical gestures the children perform and the language: physical actions can be thought of as functions to which the children have to supply parameters by selecting objects or primitives. For example, if the user makes a cutting gesture, the virtual cook asks a series of question such as “What should I cut?”, “How many slices?”, “What should I cut with?”. The user selects pictures on screen to represent the ingredient which should be sliced, or the implement which will be used to perform this action and enters integers to indicate quantities. The researchers found that their child design team found the cooking metaphor made programming more interesting, and that they enjoyed the pair programming aspect of making recipes together.
After reading these papers, I was moved to wonder whether other research groups were developing systems to support cooking. A quick search in the ACM Digital Library turned up 20 papers in the last 2 years, including a whole workshop on Multimedia for cooking and eating activities. Some of the research covers systems to support users with various disabilities such as visual or cognitive impairments in the kitchen. Others focus on providing support for healthy eating. My favourite was the inimitable Yaminable Yammy – I defy anyone to produce a wackier or tastier system.
The cool thing about Yaminable Yammy is that it doesn’t just mess around with virtual food. No, sir. The Yaminable Yammy is a physical cooking pot which can change the mixture of real spices which are poured into it using an arduino and a solenoid. It comes with an iPhone app which instructs the Yaminable Yammy to dispense particular spices according to an emotional analysis of email messages sent to the user. The user will have decided in advance what the mapping of emotional words in emails to tastes should be. The paper is a bit sketchy on the details, but as far as I can see there are different canisters in the spice container. You might fill up one canister with sugar and then specify that input emails containing the word “love” would result in this canister opening into the pot, and the accompanying photo from the email being displayed on the screen on top of the pot. “What about culinary correctness ?” you might ask. Wouldn’t you just end up with something which tasted truly vile? The authors have thought of this: “As you add in more kinds of feelings to Yaminabe YAMMY, it will become a mixture of various tastes. Hence, it is more like an amusement than a meal, which provides fun, thrills and laughter to the users.” Apparently it is based on an established custom in Japan where they “have “Yaminabe”, which literally means a hot pot in the dark. Yaminabe is a hot pot of unusual ingredients and color eaten in the dark with close friends.”
Enough of this techno-gastronomic porn. I must return to the rather dull world of marking assignments. After a quick trip to the cafeteria.
Izumi Yagi, Yu Ebihara, Tamaki Inada, Yoshiki Tanaka, Maki Sugimoto, Masahiko Inami, Adrian D. Cheok, Naohito Okude, and Masahiko Inakage. 2009. Yaminabe YAMMY: an interactive cooking pot that uses feeling as spices. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Advances in Computer Enterntainment Technology (ACE '09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 419-420. DOI=10.1145/1690388.1690479 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1690388.1690479
M. Roccetti, G. Marfia, and M. Zanichelli. 2010. The art and craft of making the Tortellino: playing with a digital gesture recognizer for preparing pasta culinary recipes. Comput. Entertain. 8, 4, Article 28 (December 2010), 20 pages. DOI=10.1145/1921141.1921148 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1921141.1921148
Sureyya Tarkan, Vibha Sazawal, Allison Druin, Evan Golub, Elizabeth M. Bonsignore, Greg Walsh, and Zeina Atrash. 2010. Toque: designing a cooking-based programming language for and with children. In Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2417-2426. DOI=10.1145/1753326.1753692 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1753326.1753692
It's been a while since my last (somewhat psychotic) update on the student social area (aka crush area aka Learning Zone) and there have been some interesting developments. You might recall that the furniture was set up and that we were waiting for the screens to be installed and Goat Lady. Both are now here.
Goat Lady is a reclining size 16 mannequin covered in goat hair and fibre optics. She lights up where you stroke her. She is an exhibit created by the artist Helen Storey and the real name of the exhibit is First, Last and Everything . She is currently on loan to us from our School of Textiles and Design. Originally she was designed to produce pheremones but we had to remove those as I was convinced the equipment for releasing them would be a fire hazard and we also though the pheremones had gone off after months in storage. Here is Goat Lady, with one the lecturers from Textiles and Design.
When we started arranging the loan of Goat Lady, there was some disquiet about how she might offend female students. Or enflame the passions of the male students. In fact, the School of Textiles and Design refuse to display her for reasons of this kind. But you know what? It hasn't been a problem at all. In fact, people ignored her as best they could until recently. You'll see in the photo that I made a sign which says "stroke me" because people would never ever interact with her. At least not in public during the day. A few weeks back someone made another sign to put underneath mine which read "No, it's creepy". Which just about sums up how most people seem to feel about it. I personally am rather fond of Goat Lady. I like to stroke her because her fur reminds me of my big white cat. (Mr Bitey also likes to stroke her presumably because unlike the big white cat she doesn't run away.)
In the last week events have taken an unexpected turn: people have started leaving offerings for Goat Lady! First there were coins left in front of her at night. Then origami birds. No-one knows why these offerings appeared but it is the subject of much spectulation! It has fascinated the staff in my department and is the main topic of conversation on the staff mailing list. We hope it removes the need for tuition fees in this difficult economic climate. I have claimed the title of Goat Lady High Priestess, and it is now officially one of my admin duties in my boss's work load database.
Some of the wonderful PhD students and postdocs took on the task of finding things to display on the screens. Stefano wrote some code to visualise incoming tweets from a twitter aggregator in a pretty way.
Pawel is working on a slideshow app which enables users to identify inappropriate content using QR codes. The thing we are now realising about a public display is that it needs a lot of content because it's switched on for such a long time and the material cycles very quickly. We found that the screens were mysteriously being switched off - we think because people were fed up of looking at the same content. Which (predictably) irritates me. There's a message on the screens which clearly explains how to add more content. So in my view if the lack of content annoys you, you should either do everyone a favour and add more, or put up with it, but not passively agressively switch the whole display off. I spoke to some students about it and they seem annoyed by the screens and their lack of content as if their inalienable right to be entertained had been violated. So now they find themselves working on a project to produce content for the crush area. Hehe. I have another group of students working on producing an interactive application using Kinects for user input so we will see what that produces. Maybe some kind of app for GL to keep track of her devotees?
[The first installment of a multi-author serial novel about academic research]
[Sunday edit: This really is fictional! It's going to be a regular section for the SPIRES website, SPIRES being our network for researchers. Ruth, Greg and Morag have all volunteered to write too and we're going to have guest authors so let me know if you want to chip in. None of the characters I have invented so far are intended to be like anyone I know.]
It was raining again. Everything was grey: grey sky, grey buildings, grey institutional chairs and now he came to notice her, even his student was grey around the edges. Professor Jenkins peered more closely, causing her to flinch. He liked to position visitors next to his window so he could gaze slightly above their left shoulder in a disconcerting way. That, combined with the fact that he had adjusted his own chair to to several centimetres higher than the visitor's chair, gave him the upper hand in most encounters.
On further scrutiny it did appear that Teresa was looking rather worse for wear this week. He tuned into what she was saying briefly.
“Oh Professor Jenkins, I'm so worried about this chapter. Is it good enough? You don't think it's too long do you? And what about the literature section you told me to revise last time? Is it OK now?”
He vaguely remembered a discussion about Smith and Hodge's results at the last meeting. On the other hand, it could equally well have been with Simon Slater, his other PhD student. He tended to mix them up, which was entirely understandable given that their thesis topics were almost identical. Neither Teresa nor Simon had realised this yet but he was looking forward to the day they did. It would lead to a Darwinian struggle to find the mentally fittest PhD student which would be amusing, but also lead to higher quality work from the triumphant but terrified survivor. Today his money was on Simon winning out. Teresa was looking at him with those big puppy dog eyes, clearly waiting for him to say something. He glanced at her references section – ah yes – Smith and Hodges was there.
“How can you justify your interpretation of Smith and Hodges argument on p6?” he asked, selecting a page number at random. As he had hoped, this caused a great shuffling of paper and hasty reading. He was free to pursue his contemplation of the weather once more. It was still raining. It always rained in Granite University.
His secretary Gwen popped her head round the door with an envelope.
“Mail for you, Prof dearie!” she said breezily and bounced away again.
Teresa looked up, aghast at this term of address but Jenkins had ceased to notice anything his secretary did many years before. For her part, she turned a blind eye to his appalling rudeness to other people as long as he was polite to her. They suited each other very well.
The Professor opened the envelope and withdrew a letter from the Research Council. At that point he realised that the letter was not in fact addressed to him at all. It was intended for the newly appointed Dr McGee. He swiftly read the reviews of Dr McGee's grant proposal.
“Very interesting” he said aloud.
Teresa stopped in her stumbling attempt to come up with a sensible answer to what seemed to her to be an odd question. “Really?” she gasped. She blushed a vivid pink and returned to her monologue with renewed hope.
“At least she's not grey any more” he thought idly before returning to his colleague's mail. So – Dr McGee seemed likely to get this large grant based on these glowing reviews. Just one or two minor changes to make to the proposal and the money would be hers. Assuming of course that she made the changes in time. Assuming that the Research Council letter reached her in time.
He looked out the window with a smile. The sky seemed brighter already.