Sorry for the down time and happy anniversary

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We moved into our new building about 2 years ago.  Long enough ago that we have quite a few energetic new employees that don’t know that we were ever anywhere else.   But the “new” place is nice, and getting better, and worthy of celebrating, at least in a little way.

I was thinking of bringing in donuts on Monday to celebrate, in order to follow one of Gene’s bagel rules:  If you want donuts, you have to get them yourself.   However, hard drives play by their own rules.

The FXPAL Blog is one of the few web servers we have that ran directly on server hardware, given that it started before “clouds”.   When the disk sneezed over the weekend, the site went down.  So I skipped the donut pickup to pick up the pieces of our blog.   We took this as an opportunity to virtualize and update the underlying infrastructure.   I expect there are a few plugins not-quite right, and the title bar is messed up – sorry, Tony.

Once I get it all right, I’ll bring the donuts.

 

 

Copying and Pasting from Video

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This week at the ACM Conference on Document Engineering, Laurent and Scott are presenting new work on direct manipulation of video.  The ShowHow project is our latest activity involving expository or “how to” video creation and use. While watching videos of this genre, it is helpful to create annotations that identify useful frames or shots using ShowHow’s annotation capability directly, or by creating a separate multimedia notes document.  The primary purpose of such annotation is for later reference, or incorporation into other videos or documents.  While browser history might be able to get you back to a specific video you watched previously, it won’t readily get you to a specific portion of much longer source video efficiently, or provide you with the broader context in which you found that portion of the video noteworthy.  ShowHow enables users to create rich annotations around expository video that optionally include image, audio, or text to preserve this contextual information.

For creating these annotations, copy and paste functionality from the source video is desirable.  This could be selecting a (sub)frame as an image or even selecting text shown in the video.  Also, we demonstrate capturing dynamic activity across frames in a simple animated GIF for easy copy and paste from video to the clipboard.  There are interaction design challenges here, and especially as more content is viewed on mobile/touch devices, direct manipulation provides a natural means for fine control of selection.

Under the hood, content analysis is required to identify events in the video to help drive the user interaction.  In this case, the analysis is implemented in javascript and runs in the browser on which the video is being played.  So efficient means of standard image analysis tools such as region segmentation, edge detection, and region tracking are required.  There’s a natural tradeoff between robustness and efficiency here that constrains the content processing techniques.

The interaction enabled by the system is probably best described in the video below:

Video Copy and Paste Demo

Go find Scott or Laurent in Florence or contact us for more information.

Remembering Gene

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We are very sorry to report that Gene Golovchinsky passed away on August 15, 2013.

His friends have created an online remembrances forum at http://genegolovchinsky.blogspot.com.

Gene was the heart and soul of this blog, he wrote 3/4 of the posts, and it exists solely because he pushed this admin to create it and do occasional maintenance.  It cannot be the same without him, but I hope it will not stop.

Looking ahead

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It is reasonably well-known that people who examine search results often don’t go past the first few hits, perhaps stopping at the “fold” or at the end of the first page. It’s a habit we’ve acquired due to high-quality results to precision-oriented information needs. Google has trained us well.

But this habit may not always be useful when confronted with uncommon, recall-oriented, information needs. That is, when doing research. Looking only at the top few documents places too much trust in the ranking algorithm. In our SIGIR 2013 paper, we investigated what happens when a light-weight preview mechanism gives searchers a glimpse at the distribution of documents — new, re-retrieved but not seen, and seen — in the query they are about to execute.

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In Defense of the Skeuomorph, or Maybe Not…

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Hard drive iconJony Ive is a fantastic designer. As a rule, his vision for a device sets the trend for that entire class of devices. Apparently, Jony Ive hates skeuomorphic design elements. Skeuomorphs are those sometimes corny bits of realism some designers add to user interfaces. These design elements reference an application’s analog embodiment. Apple’s desktop and mobile interfaces are littered with them. Their notepad application looks like a notepad. Hell, the hard drive icon on my desktop is a very nice rendering of the hard drive that is actually in my desktop.

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Client-side search

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When we rolled out the CHI 2013 previews site, we got a couple of requests for being able to search the site with keywords. Of course interfaces for search are one of my core research interests, so that request got me thinking. How could we do search on this site? The problem with the conventional approach to search is that it requires some server-side code to do the searching and to return results to the client. This approach wouldn’t work for our simple web site, because from the server’s perspective, our site was static — just a few HTML files, a little bit of JavaScript, and about 600 videos. Using Google to search the site wouldn’t work either, because most of the searchable content is located on two pages, with hundreds of items on each page. So what to do?

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CHI 2013 Video Previews are live!

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CHI 2013 logoYou might remember a while ago, we solicited some examples of videos for the Video Preview program for CHI 2013. Well, it took a while, but the CHI 2013 Video Previews web site is now live.

The Video Previews are a new feature for the CHI Conference series, replacing the long-running CHI Madness daily plenary session to save time in the over-crowded schedule. But really, the Video Previews is more than just a reason to sleep in a little longer: the goal is to make it easier to understand what the presentations are about, before, during, and after the conference.

The previews were intended to serve multiple purposes:

  • To provide a preview of what will be presented at the conference, so that attendees could plan their schedule
  • To be played on-site on large displays throughout the conference venue to give people an idea of what’s coming up next
  • To be distributed to attendees as part of the electronic proceedings on the USB stick, and on the iPhone and Android apps.

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Details, please

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At a PARC Forum a few years ago, I heard Marissa Mayer mention the work they did at Google to pick just the right shade of blue for link anchors to maximize click-through rates. It was an interesting, if somewhat bizarre, finding that shed more light on Google’s cognitive processes than on human ones. I suppose this stuff only really matters when you’re operating at Google scale, but normally the effect, even if statistically-significant, is practically meaningless. But I digress.

I am writing a paper in which I would like to cite this work. Where do I find it? I tried a few obvious searches in the ACM DL and found nothing. I searched in Google Scholar, and I believe I found a book chapter that cited a Guardian article from 2009, which mentioned this work. But that was last night, and today I cannot re-find that book chapter, either by searching or by examining my browsing history. The Guardian article is still open in a tab, so I am pretty sure I didn’t dream up the episode, but it is somewhat disconcerting that I cannot retrace my steps.

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Slow down!

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The prolific Jaime Teevan has decided to blog, as evidenced by the creation of “Slow Searching” a few weeks ago. In a recent post, Jaime wrote about some ways in which Twitter search differed from web search, among which she included monitoring behavior, running “the same query over and over again just to see what is new.” Putting on my Lorite hat for a minute, this seems quite similar (albeit on a different timescale) to the “pre-web” concept of routing or standing queries. At some point, later, Google introduced Alerts, which seemed to be its reinvention of the same concept. And of course tools like TweetDeck make  it much easier to keep up with particular Twitter topics.

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Anonymity

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The skilled adversarial reviewer can find reasons to reject any paper without even reading it. This is considered truly blind reviewing. [Cormode, G.]

Many conferences request that submitted papers be anonymized by removing the authors’ names, tweaking the references, removing mentions of the authors’ organization in the paper, etc. The goal of the double-blind review process is to reduce the bias (positive or negative) that reviewers might have based on their knowledge of who wrote the paper. SIGIR, for example, included the following on their submission page for the 2013 conference:

Anonymity. SIGIR reviewing is double-blind. Therefore, please anonymize your submission. This means that all submissions must contain no information identifying the author(s) or their organization(s): Do not put the author(s) names or affiliation(s) at the start of the paper, anonymize citations to and mentions of your own prior work that are directly related to your present work, and do not include funding or other acknowledgments. For example, if you are using your product that is well known in the domain and you think it will be easy for an expert to identify you or your company, we recommend that you use another name for your product (e.g., MyProduct_ABC, MyCompany_ABC). If your paper is accepted, then you will replace the original name in the final version for the proceedings.

Papers that do not follow the above Style, Language, Anonymity instructions will be rejected without review. [emphasis mine]

And, apparently, in some cases, they followed through on this policy. In my opinion, this is too harsh.

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