The AccessSIGCHI community (a group of volunteers that are working together with SIGACCESS to identify and address accessibility concerns across SIGCHI) has put out it’s 2019 report. I’m not going to copy the whole thing over here, especially since it’s already up on Medium but I do want to call out some important things about it.
First, although the report is about AccessSIGCHI’s work, it’s also in a way about accessibility across SIGCHI, since that is the goal we are working toward. And as such, it is incredibly gratifying to see the number of people all across CHI also working to make SIGCHI accessible. There are too many to name here (but we tried to name at least those who took on official accessibility chair roles in the report).
Second, we are making progress– more and more conferences are appointing accessibility chairs, for example. And ACM is moving toward a more accessible publications format (HTML) and thinking about accessibility in the process.
At the same time, accessibility is challenging us all to rise to new levels. Lack of accessibility is analogous to an inequitable tax that some face and others do not. It can cause issues with physical safety, trigger health effects that are non-trivial to cope with, or simply bar someone from participating in their own research community, and all of these have happened to people I know in the last year.
Change often seems incremental, and can be conditioned on not only the knowledge and caring of an accessibility chair, but choices made as far back as selection of and negotiation with a venue and as far out of the control of leadership as a rude push, by a person in power, in line for food.
For these reasons, it is critical that we not only set up goals and guidelines, not only hire expertise, but also work every day to raise awareness, to give a voice to those in our community with disabilities, and to empower them.
Accessibility is a hot topic in CHI research right now. It was one of the top keywords among submissions to CHI 2018 for example. If you are doing accessibility research, which benefits your career, but not accessibility service work, which benefits the careers of people with disabilities, ask yourself if you should change this. If you already volunteer, thank you!We need more volunteers, and we also need more representation and inclusion of people with disabilities in SIGCHI!
While we should not expect people with disabilities to do the service work necessary to improve accessibility, we should empower them to do so. This means giving people with disabilities a chance to be represented among the leadership where they can help to make decisions, address structural inequities, and have power to go with their strong voices. We must cultivate leadership and provide opportunities for people with disabilities. And we should focus those opportunities where they will have the most impact.
Last, while volunteer efforts go a long way, accessibility work sometimes costs money. It makes a big difference when it is possible to hire an expert to review a website, assess legal requirements for site accessibility, or hire a firm to provide captioning services. Budgeting for accessibility from the get-go, or having voices in the room where budgeting decisions are being made, will help to shift the balance from accessibility constantly being a burden to it being a standard.
Accessibility is a wicked problem, as I’ve said before. Even with the best of intentions and a lot of hard work, it is easy to miss something or get it wrong. But if we continue to dialogue about it and work together, I do believe we can make SIGCHI even more accessible. Mistakes will happen, but with dialogue we can learn from them. By working together, we can record them so others can learn too. And in the process we will show all of SIGCHI that they are welcome and respected in our community.
A wonderful photo of the make4all group members who were able to celebrate the start of the new year and CHI together at my home. Thanks to everyone for coming, Megan for organizing and cooking, and all of the dishes and sweets that everyone shared. Happy birthday to Minxuan as well!
I hesitated, a few weeks ago, to participate in a radio conversation with with Stuart Reges and a host. Reges is the author of the now notorious post titled ‘Why Women Don’t Code‘. Since then, I’ve found myself asking what happens if I leave the podium, who’s left to speak out?
I declined, I admit, because I was afraid — afraid that I would say the wrong thing in a situation where I’d have to think on my feet, perhaps overclaim or make a statement that the literature (which is not directly in my field) does not support. I silenced myself rather than take a chance to make a difference because I lacked the self confidence to participate. But finding my voice
means speaking out even when it makes me uncomfortable.
That’s why I spent the last week working on a medium post titled “Why Don’t Women Want to Code? Ask Them!” In it, I argue using a series of anecdotes that one of the ways in which we fail women is by assuming that we know what is influencing their decisions. As my friend Sandy Kaplan said, after providing feedback on my medium post, “Assumptions shroud in mystery that which must be exposed to light to heal.”
This post was not easy to write — it required hours of work, and was improved by the generous feedback of many people. I note this because the labor of telling this story needs to be acknowledged. Many thanks go to my sister in law, spouse, friends, and fellow faculty.
I have been asked in a couple of different forums about how I have gone about parenting my children with respect ot technology. What came out of that thinking lacks any formal reference to literature, but it does represent my experience. I’ve always felt that despite many potential negatives (and despite being mostly a homesteading luddite sort at home), technology has an important positive role to play as well in my children’s development.
Technology today is a human creation; underlying that creation is a set of crafting skills. The ability to imagine an artificial action in the world, create an image or a movie, print a mechanical object, or send a message all depend on these skills. Yet many of our children never progress beyond simply consuming the artifacts and messages that others create. This article explores, through a series of anecdotes, my personal parenting experiences with technology and tries to shed light on some of the challenges and opportunities my family faced.
My daughter is 2 or 3 or 4. She sees phones around her, and is fascinated by them. Relatives give toy phones that light up and ring to my dismay. Parents are begged for phones. Swiping an iphone or ipad is so intuitive she can do it with ease. We work hard to put computers and phones away in front of the kids, and to do housework, play, singing, and other acts of togetherness when parenting them…. A few months (or a year) pass. I am sick with chronic Lyme disease for many months and years, and find myself learning to parent slowly rather than trying to do everything. We build a cloche, two screws at a time, cuddle, and nap together. One day I am too exhausted to get off the couch. In a fit of desperation I give in to repeated requests… to teach the children to knit, something I know is usually not introduced until first grade at their school. Am I a bad parent? One session and suddenly they’re off and running with this skill they have seen in almost every moment of quiet sitting.
We work hard as parents not to use technology in front of the children, and generally include them in our life rather than structure ours around theirs. All the same, as a parent, the questions I find myself asking about technology readiness and craft readiness are not that different whether it is digital technology, music, knitting, or anything else that the children so desperately want to participate in sometimes before they are of the traditional ‘age readiness’. I wonder why and whether one thing is worse than another. We settle on the rubric that physicality and creativity are important, but balance is equally important. Are they getting social time, exercise, play? Are they learning to handle frustration and self entertain? What is any activity substituting for that would be prefered? We try to minimize the ones we don’t like the answers for.
We are on a train. The train ride is 9 hours long, my children are 4 and 6 if I remember correctly. We have brought a movie, books, felt, yarn, conductive thread, LEDs, batteries, buttons, a multimodal cornucopia of ways to engage. We read, make yarn sculptures, walk the train. Sometime during the train ride I have the goal of learning how to make felt bracelets that can light up. The kids are fascinated. We lay the bracelet flat, but have to think about its top and its bottom and the circle that it creates when the snap is closed. Where does the thread need to go to create this effect? Can we make anything other than bracelets? What about a bookmark, that can tell you which page you were on? You could have two snaps, and fold it over to connect to one or the other depending on which page! The excitement is palpable, and the craft is more than do-able by both children. We make mistakes, plan badly, correct, eventually succeed. I wonder if I am breaking some rule by trying out a 6th grade exercise involving electricity on my 4 and 6 year olds, but I see nothing but pleasure and creativity in their response.
As a computer scientist, what has always fascinated me about technology is the power of arcane acts to create whatever I can imagine, and the importance of imagining good, useful things to create. Around this time I was also beginning to think about how to bring technology into my childrens’ middle-school curriculum, and this project was a first attempt. I am delighted by the invention of the bookmark and by the immediacy of the experience as well as the way it builds on the crafting skills my children already have.
We are leaving on sabbatical for a year. The children are 5 and 7. EBooks are big, it is 2011. Taking a library along would be impossible, but there is a plethora of free and excellent children’s literature (60 years old or older) available on amazon for the Kindle. We buy one and take it on sabbatical along with a drop spindle and a big pile of wool. We also buy the Rosetta Stone software. By the end of the year of travel, we have read innumerable books aloud. The children are used to kindles and have discovered at least one game which we ask them to stop playing. We have invented as many stories as we’ve read, and spun enough wool to knit a pair of socks by the end of Fall, which are completed just in time for Winter.
The kindle feels like a technology win. I like the fact that it is easy on the eyes, and that it lets us dig into so much great literature. Rosetta stone is like a game, but it also feels like a win. It is amazing how easily the kids can pick it up, and it helps lay the groundwork for them to learn two languages during the year we travel. I love the fact that it is so synergistic with other things we are doing (practicing as a family, working with a tutor, immersion in school). It turns out that the human tutor we see most often in the Rosetta stone software actually lives in Zurich, where we are as well. The connections between what we do in our technology, and what we do in our lives are rich and deep and our choices feel positive and right.
The children are older, maybe 3rd and 5th or 4th and 6th grade now. They have learned a little about Scratch programming, another technology that almost any crafty parent could pick up though of course I bring an ease and expertise to this because of my background. We try Raspberry Pis as well, a tiny computer that costs around $30, which they can experiment with and even destroy. We assemble 3D printer kits together because of my research.
I also want to set good examples of creative media use. I try to help with the computational things. All are unsatisfying. Scratch is so artificial. The Pis are slow, and hard to understand for the kids. Joint work is much harder in this realm. Meanwhile, technology’s negative side starts to rear its head. Among my own children and other children we know in the same age group, shockingly considering the age, some are caught reading pornographic fan fiction on a kindle, looking at pornographic videos, having their identity ‘stolen’ to text a hurtful message in their name, watching a spoof of a popular song dance video that turns out to be extremely raunchy.
I start to wonder what I have brought into my children’s lives and how I will proceed. We have many conversations about pornography, about privacy, about how every online act is essentially public. This feels similar to sexual education. Talking more, and earlier, but of course in age appropriate ways, is the foundation on which positive parenting can happen. Parenting this requires vigilance, openness, learning, and attention. This wondering is not confined to technology, however. A child’s awakening to the larger world is a fragile process and I conclude that I need to be as involved and aware as possible, but I have no answers.
These early years set the tone for our work as parents in a technological world. Hard limits in the domain of ‘media consumption,’ with the understanding the forbidden is sometimes more attractive than that which is experienced, discussed, and controlled. Concrete examples of positive uses of media such as learning language, reading emails together from far-away relatives and reinforcing what they are learning in school about searching for information online and evaluating what is trustworthy. Strong support for creative uses of technology, in collaboration with local organizations that support these activities in camps and after school sessions help foster this as well. We ultimately choose to allow unlimited use of the most challenging and creative of applications of technical skills, to support passion, and to teach balance with physical and social activity, as well as other hobbies.
To foster this in a positive fashion, we create a rich home environment that included homesteading activities, craft activities, music, cooking, and we gave them both the opportunity and responsibility to participate in that. We teach them to love the act of creation in many domains. We moved into a neighborhood where both children have friends nearby. All of these things helped to fill their time and create a healthy competition with technology. We’ve reached an equilibrium where the computer is just one of many hobbies, to be used for those things it is good at. Mixed in with all of this, we allow ourselves to enjoy and be amazed by their successes, whether online or offline. And the journey continues…
It has been two years since the SIGCHI Accessibility Community first published a report on the state of accessibility within SIGCHI, summarized in [Mankoff, 2016]. This report was the first of its kind for SIGCHI, and reflected a growing awareness in the SIGCHI community of a need to directly engage with and improve the accessibility of both conferences and online resources sponsored by SIGCHI. The report argued that “SIGCHI can attract new members, and make current members feel welcome by making its events and resources more inclusive. This in turn will enrich SIGCHI, and help it to live up to the ideal of inclusiveness central to the concept of user-centered design”and that ACM’s own guidelines clearly argue for a standard that SIGCHI was not meeting.
The report laid out a series of five recommendations for improving the accessibility of SIGCHI, including the accessibility of conferences (R1) and content (R2). Additional recommendations include a better process for handling accessibility requests (R3), increasing representation of people with disabilities within SIGCHI (R4) and assessing success at least once every two years (R5). This update is our attempt to fulfill R5.
The rest of this report starts an executive summary of the biggest accomplishments of the last two years (along with the data sources used to draw those conclusions). The remainder is organized by recommendation, highlighting the goals set out and what has been accomplished.
The SIGCHI Accessibility community has made significant progress over the last two years, particularly on short term goals set out for R1 (conference accessibility), R4 (increasing representation) and R5 (assessing success). Less progress has been made on R2 (content accessibility) and R3 (handling accessibility requests). Most significant among our progress are the release of new accessibility guidelines for conferences collaboratively with SIGACCESS (http://www.sigaccess.org/welcome-to-sigaccess/resources/accessible-conference-guide/), publication of a CACM article on accessibility efforts within SIGCHI [Lazar, 2017], addition of an accessibility representative to the CHI Steering committee, and establishment of a facebook group, sigchi-access
Despite our progress, there are major steps that still need to be taken in every category. In addition, the last two years’ effort has made it clear that the five goals represent a more ambitious program than a small volunteer community can easily achieve all on its own. We are very grateful for the help of SIGACCESS and members of the SIGCHI leadership, which have made a huge difference in what the community was able to accomplish in the last two years. However, as long as we remain an all volunteer effort, the SIGCHI Accessibility community will have to decide what to prioritize over the next two years: Continued effort on R1, or other goals. For these reasons, we strongly recommend that both the SIGCHI leadership and the community consider what funds might be available to help move this effort forward, what tasks can be transferred to contract employees of SIGCHI such as Sheridan, and fundraising efforts to support these changes.
Analysis of SIGCHI Accessibility Metrics
The SIGCHI Accessibility Communities efforts focus on the digital and physical accessibility of SIGCHI resources. As such, important metrics relate to the experiences of people with disabilities who consume those resources as well as the overall percentage of the resources that are accessible. As will become evident in this report, our current focus is on online videos, pdfs, and conference accessibility. Thus, relevant metrics might include, for example, the percentage of new videos that are accessible, the percentage of PDFs that are accessible, the percentage of conferences that have accessibility chairs, and surveys of conference attendees.
For this report, the Accessibility Community combined several different sources of data. As with the previous report, much of our data is focused on conference and meeting participation, and we use the same categories: We refer the reader to the original report for details on these categories. To briefly summarize, we include direct observation, experiences reported by SIGCHI accessibility community members and survey data from conferences (CHI and CSCW 2014-16). Appendix A has the survey questions that were asked. We did not conduct a survey of our own of community members this year.
Overall, there is a trend toward increased accessibility at CHI, based on the conference surveys. However, these numbers are difficult to interpret since the direct question about access needs was not asked in 2016. In addition, it is possible multiple people might report on the same person not being able to attend, some of these answers are about financial barriers rather than disability, the sample is self selected, most people who cannot attend may not be remembered by attendees filling out the survey, and people with disabilities who attend may not want to disclose.
For all of these reasons, it is in many ways more instructive to look at the categories of issues reported. However, in our analysis, the majority of specific data reported was CHI 2016. Thus, we cannot easily describe trends over time. Here are the major categories mentioned in the open ended responses to the CHI 2016 survey: Difficulty of networking; lack of ramps for presenters; need for speech to text or sign language interpretation; need for accessible digital materials (program, maps, pdfs); distance between rooms; lack of reserved seats in the front of rooms (e.g., for the hearing impaired); cost of attendance for people with disabilities; prioritization of robots over people with disabilities; accessibility of robots; food issues; need for a quiet room or space; bathroom usability.
In addition, there were several issues that have to do with educating the community. These included the need to coach presenters to remember some people cannot see their slides, the importance of an SV orientation training segment for special needs work, the importance of publishing accessibility issues up front (before conference paper submission).
In terms of hard metrics, conference accessibility is increasing. In the chart below, a score of 1 means that either there was a page on the conference website that mentioned accessibility or an accessibility chair of some sort on the organizing committee (2 means both). The Total (bottom bar) is the total number of conferences that year that had at least a score of 1.
Video accessibility is also increasing, captions are now included in all videos uploaded through the official SIGCHI Video service (see R2). PDF accessibility is low, and not improving, hovering around 15% [Brady, 2015; Bigham 2016].
R1: Achieve Conference Accessibility
Ensure that 100% of conferences are accessible, have an accessibility policy and have a clear chain of command for addressing accessibility issues.1
The first recommendation from the 2015 report dealt with conference accessibility. The community set out a series of short term goals:
[Not Met] Have an accessibility chair for every conference by the end of 2017. This goal has not been achieved. However, the SIGCHI accessibility community now has representation on the CHI steering committee, and was asked to present to the SIGCHI Executive Committee. Both groups voted to ask all conferences to have a web page documenting their efforts to be accessible (or acknowledging a lack of accessibility), specifically on a /access subpage of their conference URL.
[Met] Educate the community. While there is always more work to be done, the SIGCHI accessibility community has participated in several education efforts, including the publication of an interactions blog post and article [Mankoff, 2016]; a CACM article on making the field of computing more inclusive [Lazar, 2017]; a 2016 SIG on the state of Accessibility within SIGCHI held at CHI [Rode, 2016]; the creation of a facebook group called SIGCHI-access; and the aforementioned presentations to the SIGCHI leadership.
[Met] Create updated conference accessibility guidelines in collaboration with SIGACCESS. This goal was completed, and the guidelines are available at http://www.sigaccess.org/welcome-to-sigaccess/resources/accessible-conference-guide/ In addition to providing general guidance for making a conference accessible, the guidelines provide instructions specifically for how to generate the content that can be placed at the /access URL
To summarize, we have made some progress but not achieved our most important goal of widespread adoption of accessibility practices across conferences. In addition, we have not yet started the longer-term goal of best practices and financial viability. That said, we hope that the /access URL will move us toward the ultimate goal of having all conferences start planning on accessibility from the very beginning.
R2: Achieve Content Accessibility
Ensure that 100% of new content such as videos and papers meets established standards for accessibility and develop a process for achieving this.1
The SIGCHI Accessibility community has not focused as much attention on this goal as on R1 in the last two years. Our short term goals for content accessibility include assessing current status, creating guidelines to use as a standard, and developing a process for addressing accessibility. These goals need to be addressed for multiple types of content — papers, videos, and websites.
The SIGCHI Accessibility community, and others within CHI, have mainly focused on papers and videos in the last few years. No work has been done on websites. With regard to paper accessibility:
[Partly Met] Assess current status. We do not have a comprehensive assessment of current status. However, some statistics on paper accessibility are available in the CACM article [Lazar, 2017]. Specifically, pdf accessibility of CHI papers from 2013 through 2016 is mentioned in that article, and the numbers hover around 15 percent in most years.
[Not Met] Create guidelines to use as a standard. This is an open problem, particularly because in the case of paper accessibility, the most recent ACM revision of the SIGCHI template is less accessible than the 2016 version. SIGACCESS is experimenting with an HTML5 format that SIGCHI may want to adopt if it is successful.
[Not Met] Develop a process for addressing accessibility. Multiple methods for paper accessibility have been tested so far (giving authors notifications of their accessibility flaws in CHI 2014, having a team of people making fixes on request in CHI 2015). It’s clear that the most effective approach used so far (based on the data in the CACM paper), is a contract-based approach that includes professional support, underwritten by conference or journal budgets. Such an approach will be more effective and consistent than one that relies entirely on author/conference volunteers.
With regard to video accessibility, progress has been very successful. A process for video captioning was piloted with the help of the SIGCHI CMC in 2014/2015, and has now been adopted as part of the SIGCHI Video service: “SIGCHI provides conferences with equipment to record talks… Conferences only pay for shipping the equipment, captioning and one additional student volunteer per track for recording” (emphasis ours). An external company (rev.com) is used to write up the captions, and SIGCHI’s video program chairs ensure they are uploaded with the videos.
Currently, more than 400 videos have been captioned (all keynotes and award talks, all talks from CHI 2015 and 2016). Additionally, this program has been expanded from just CHI to include all upcoming specialized conferences that use SIGCHI video equipment. Conferences added this year include UIST, ISS and SUI.
To summarize, progress has been very successful for videos, but is slow on pdfs, and nothing is known about websites. The SIGCHI Accessibility community believes that the primary barrier to meeting these goals is having enough volunteers to focus on them, and having a commitment to hire professional support to execute them. The success of the videos in comparison to papers is evidence for this. In addition, it is likely that better participation in R1 will be needed before process goals in R2 can be met effectively.
R3: Handle Accessibility Requests
Create a process for handling accessibility requests within SIGCHI1
[Partly met] Create a single point of contact for accessibility questions and advertise it SIGCHI wide. The community has created a single point of contact for support and discussion through the facebook sigchi-access group6. However, there is still not a well known, established mailing list for more formal requests, conference chair support, and so on.
[Not Met] Study the legal context. No effort has been put into this at the moment. However, external work to the SIGCHI Accessibility community has resulted in a first publication on this topic [Kirkham, 2015].
The progress on R3 is very slow. Visibility among the SIGCHI leadership, which has recently increased, should make it easier to establish a communication structure for supporting conferences and we are optimistic that this will change before the next report two years from now. Studies of the legal context is a costly proposition that may be harder to act on, and consideration should be put into what would best lay the groundwork to make this possible.
On the positive side, the SIGCHI Accessibility community has met its long term goal of establishing a position focused on Accessibility among the SIGCHI leadership, specifically with respect to representation on the CHI Steering committee mentioned above. Other long-term goals such as a SIGCHI-wide budget for accessibility have not been met yet.
R4: Increase Representation
Increase representation of people with disabilities within SIGCHI1
[Goal Met] Run a networking event. This goal was met in 2016 in the form of a SIG on accessibility at CHI. In 2017 this was formalized through the addition of accessibility as a component of the Diversity and Inclusion lunch at CHI. Finally, SIGACCESS and the SIGCHI Accessibility community held a joint pizza party at CHI 2017. We hope to see these types of events continue on a yearly basis.
Our short term goal was met for R4, however the larger issue of inclusion is not resolved. It has been gratifying, though the SIGCHI Accessibility community takes no credit, to see the increased use of Beams to address accessibility, as well as the addition of remote committees to the CHI program meeting and the announcement of funding to increase diversity and inclusion events. Both of these help to increase access. However what is not clear is whether there is an increase in participation by people with disabilities or how we would measure that. In addition, there are other long term goals mentioned in the original report that we can consider working on in the next few years, such as fellowships, mentoring, and increased outreach to related stakeholders.
R5: Assess Success
Assess SIGCHI’s success in meeting accessibility guidelines at least once every 2 years1.
[Goal Met] Produce regular reports. This report represents our success on the basic goal of reporting on progress, based on post-conference surveys and other data.
Our immediate goal of assessing and reporting on progress is met by this report. However, we have not established a sustainable approach to collecting the appropriate data on a regular basis, it is still very ad-hoc. Some metrics are ill defined or not tracked.
Assessment of program committees, awards, and so on, has not yet begun. However, we have been working with SIGCHI to ensure that conferences are assessed in a consistent way from year to year. The tentative survey questions we have designed for this purpose are:
Did you request any accessibility-related accommodations for the conference? Yes or No?
If yes, were your requests met? No, a little, some, a lot, Yes
What did you request and how could we improve your experience?
Possible additional questions if the chair wants:
Because we cannot know who did not attend the conference for accessibility reasons, it would be helpful to know about the existence of such issues. Please tell us if you are aware of a situation we should consider, while respecting the privacy of relevant parties.
Finally, the long term goal of taking the burden of reporting off the shoulders of volunteers has not been met. The SIGCHI Accessibility community should consider raising funds to support these efforts over the next few years.
Appendix A: Conference Survey Questions
At conferences, the following questions were asked:
CHI 2014/2015 Did you request any accessibility-related accommodations for the conference? If yes, were your requests met in a timely manner?
CHI 2014-2016 Do you know of any researchers, practitioners, educators or students with disabilities who wanted to attend the CHI conference, but could not because they required specific accommodations? What accommodations could we provide to help them attend?
CSCW 2015 Do you have any suggestions for things the CSCW 2016 planning team should particularly attend to in order to make sure the conference is accessible to people with disabilities?
All years: Sometimes generic questions about the conference received accessibility-spceific responses, which we also analyzed.
Appendix B: Changes to ACM SIGCHI Conferences Policy
ACM strives to make conferences as accessible as possible and provide reasonable accommodations so individuals with disabilities can fully participate. In many countries this is a legal requirement, and compliance should not be taken lightly. We recommend appointing an Accessibility Chair for your conference. SIGACCESS and SIGCHI’s accessibility community have developed guidance for conference organizers that steps you through all stages of conference planning from site selection to the event itself. The SIGCHI accessibility community (reachable at SIGCHIaccess on facebook and email@example.com), SIGACCESS (reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org) and ACM support staff stand ready to help you make your event as inclusive as possible.
[Mankoff, 2016] Mankoff, J. (2016). The wicked problem of making SIGCHI accessible. interactions, 23(3), 6-7. DOI 10.1145/2903528
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week we ran a 3D printing summit which focused on the intersection of computer science and additive manufacturing. We had an outstanding lineup of speakers who explored topics ranging from the challenges faced by users in understanding tasks both simple and complex to the applications of optimization and machine learning to design to a wide variety of materials to printing in the large. Each talk was wildly different and hugely fascinating.
One of the best parts of the event was that each speaker led a discussion group after their talk in which attendees had the opportunity to dig in depth into questions they had about the topics presented. To me, those discussions were often the highlight of the event.
One topic I want to highlight was applications of additive manufacturing and the constraints they bring with them. The discussion ranged widely here from fuel nozzles to tooling to jewelry. Important distinctions that came up include the size of the market (jewelry and tooling are both surprising large for example) and the degree of oversight needed for products to succeed.
Another very interesting question that came up was the extent to which the automated algorithms we saw presented are able to capture the whole toolchain. The toolchain itself is a topic for another day, as from an end user’s perspective it is needlessly complex. Worse, details such as the size of a printer nozzle may have profound implications for high level design decisions. If we can capture these relationships in models, they are more likely to succeed.
I was only able to attend about a third of the discussions (since they ran in parallel), and glancing at the notes from other groups I see topics as wide ranging as 3D scanning, the value of hardware vs software advances, wireless charging, and carbon fiber. I wish I could be a bird on the wall in every one of these discussions!
As I’m ramping up for the CHI deadline once again, I find myself not only writing, but teaching about writing. I was lucky enough to learn writing from some experts during graduate school, and have had a lot of practice since. This year, in response partly to a request from my students, I’m trying to put excerpts that feel like nuggets I’ve repeated many times all in one place. So here are some common writing issues that I’m commenting on in CHI papers this year (in no particular order):
Introduction: What is the main promise, obstacle, and solution of the paper, at the level that you address it? I.e. don’t tell me that cats would be better off if their owners could only be more subservient (promise), cat owners don’t know what their cats want from them (obstacle) and we contribute a tool that helps cats and cat owners communicate (solution). In addition to being too high level, the promise and the obstacle don’t even entirely match up. Instead, tell me the specific communication problem you are probably working on (such as cats needing their litter box cleaned right away being fastidious), the specific obstacle (owners tend to place it where they can’t smell it) and the specific solution (a litter box smell sensor smart phone app?). Then generalize (this is an instance of better cat/owner communication etc etc). I’ve only been a cat owner for less than a year, so those of you who know cats better can probably think of a better example :).
Section structure: Every section needs some sort of story, which you should lay out in an overview paragraph (if you feel your text is redundant, fix that later, first get the goals down in overview form). Then there’s the section meat, and hopefully something at the end about what we learned. Not all that dissimilar from the whole paper. Every paragraph needs the same thing. Something along the lines of why the paragraph exists (i.e. a topic sentence that ties to the rest of the section in some way), the meat, and then an ending (what we learned). Again, redundancy is better at first and then you can streamline.
Related work: Each related work paragraph should start with a topic statement explaining what it is about (presumably with respect to those topics since you have established them as important). If there are other things you cover in related work, explain what they are and why you cover them in the paragraph where you touch on them. You might also try to end each related work paragraph with a summary sentence that restates the major benefit and open questions left by the work you just described. This should not be about your research, just about the gaps that are present.
Vocabulary: Papers often have jargon in them. For those of you who have a tendency to use too much jargon, pick a small number of new terms you will use, introduce them, and then use them consistently. For those of you who have a tendency to use too little jargon (i.e., if you find yourself saying ‘our model’ even when there are three different ones in your paper), follow the same advice :).
Keep a list of your writing quirks, whatever they are, as your editors uncover them for you. Inconsistent use of -? Lack of italics on latin? Forget to check that your reference program didn’t introduce errors? Excess word phrases such as ‘in order to’? When you get comments about wording, spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and formatting add them to a hit list of things you spend 10 minutes checking before you send out each draft (and especially before you submit!). This will make life much easier for your reviewers.
Cutting … that should probably be a whole separate post. Just remember that more concise writing is usually better writing, so you almost always should cut words before content.
Niggles: I always assume that if I have a niggle, so will my reviewers (kind of how if one student asks something in class, probably others have the same question). So if you have a niggle of a doubt about anything, add a comment to your paper, or try to address it, or talk it over with someone.
I’m sure I will have more, but this is a start (and feel free to add your own ideas in the comments).
At the CHI 2016 conference this week, there were a slew of presentations on the topic of fabrication. First of course I have to highlight our own Megan Hofmann who presented our paper, Helping Hands, a study of participatory design of assistive technology that highlights the role of rapid prototyping techniques and 3D printing. In addition, Andrew Spielberg (MIT & Disney Intern) presented RapID (), a joint project with Disney Research Pittsburgh which explores the use of RFID tags as a platform for rapidly prototyping interactive physical devices by leveraging probabilistic modeling to support rapid recognition of tag coverage and motion.
I was really excited by the breadth and depth of the interest at CHI in fabrication, which went far beyond these two papers. Although I only attended by robot (perhaps a topic for another blog post), attending got me to comb through the proceedings looking for things to go to — and there were far more than I could possibly find time for! Several papers looked qualitatively at the experiences and abilities of novices, from Hudson’s paper on newcomers to 3D printing to Booth’s paper on problems end users face constructing working circuits (video; couldn’t find a pdf) to Bennett’s study of e-NABLE hand users and identity.
There were a number of innovative technology papers, including Ramaker’s Rube Goldbergesque RetroFab, Groeger’s HotFlex (which supports post-processing at relatively low temperatures), and Peng’s incremental printing while modifying. These papers fill two full sessions (I have only listed about half). Other interesting and relevant presentations (not from this group) included a slew of fabrication papers, a study of end user programming of physical interfaces, and studies of assistive technology use including the e-NABLE community.
Two final papers I have to call out because they are so beautiful: Kazi’s Chronofab (look at the video) and a study in patience, Efrat’s Hybrid Bricolage for designing hand-smocked artifacts (video, again can’t find the paper online).
I’ve been teaching a course on using data for three years now, and it feels ‘finished’ enough that it is perhaps worth writing about. When I began the course, I had the goal of (1) exploring the human side of data, meaning the ways in which what we know about people impact our ability to make, process, interpret, and use data (2) make the course accessible to a broad variety of people (not just programmers) and (3) organize the course around modules that would produce nice portfolio items. The result is the course at data.cmubi.org. While it has evolved over the years, it’s always included at least a few beginner programmers, and the projects have been interesting opportunities for students to explore issues like interactive machine learning, data visualization, and topic areas they care a great deal about.
A big emphasis on the course is on data cleaning –understanding deeply the flaws in your data, from bias in data collection to missing values in data files. Many (hopefully most) of the projects below have significant sections documenting their sources and efforts / decision making around this topic.
Another big emphasis in the course is on understanding what the data will be used for, and by whom. Tied to this, we talk extensively about intelligibility in machine learning, the importance of narrative in visualization (and visualization in general), and the importance of defining the question you are answering.
Here are some of the highlights over the last three years:
Bus bunching is a phenomenon that can impact bus wait times. One of my 2016 students has been collecting data and extensively studying the phenomenon. His final project in the class drew on this data set and explores visual representations of the phenomenon.
Yelp data is always an area of interest. In 2014 … In 2015 students explored which state has the best pizza :). In 2016, the ‘Bon Yinzers‘ developed a wonderful series of visualizations of factors that affect popularity of Pittsburgh restaurants. They uncovered some interesting phenomena such as the unexpectedly off-cycle checkin times of the most active Yelp users in Pittsburgh.
San Francisco Crime Alert explores the likelihood of different types of Crime in different SF area neighborhoods. Their prediction algorithm gives you a way to explore the prevelance of major and minor crime in terms of time of year, time of day, and location.
In 2015, a group collected and analyzed data set of tweets by potential ISIS supporters, with the goal of ultimately engaging others in helping to label such data and understand how ISIS supporter accounts differ from other accounts with sometimes similar tweets (e.g. news accounts or bloggers).
Often, a goal of class students is more about policy than about end users. In 2015 Healt$care explores the quality of healthcare and its relationship to dollars spent across the U.S. in a highly visual fashion.