Shared editing is still hard – why?

Having coordinated the editing of a shared document with about 100 pages I still wonder why I have not come across a really good solutions that work in a real life context. We were 10 people working on the document which also contained about 100 references various tables and graphs, which originated in spreadsheets. Our solution using (different version) of Microsoft Word and Excel on different platforms (Win and Mac) was at best sup-optimal. Track changes works great if I write something and someone else corrects it – but with a larger number of people creating and reworking the document just seems unmanageable.

We tried google-docs before, which is nice for joint editing but lack essential functions and is to my experience unreliable. We lost most of the document we created at some point. The same happened to one of our students writing up his project…

The purists argue that Latex and SVN is the solution – however if you have ever worked with real people outside the geek world you will know that it is not 🙂 and it would question if there was any progress in text processing in the last 20 years at all.

Is it only me who does not see the solution? Here are the requirements:

  • Shared editing of a document of considerable size (100+ pages)
  • Functionality required for larger scientific documents such as styles, (cross)-reference, creation of tables, etc.
  • Comfort functions in editing, such as spelling and grammar checking, auto completion, tracking of changes
  • Works in a heterogeneous environment including Macs and Windows and across administrative domains (e.g. people can be behind different firewalls)
  • Automatically creating a backup of the document every few minutes
  • Integration of other media (e.g. images) and data sources (e.g. spreadsheet tables)

What is your solution? I think mine (email and copy and paste) is not really the optimal one….

In comparison to some years ago awareness, video and audio conferencing with skype works very well – but again for application sharing I have not seen a perfect solution that works in real live – any suggestions?

PS: our final and printed document missed 115 spaces (a known error from exchanging docx between Windows and Mac)

Finishing my term as External Examiner at Trinity College Dublin

Over the last three years I have been regularly to Dublin to act as external examiner for the Ubicomp MSc course. For me this was a good experience to see how serious The School of Computing at Trinity College takes external quality control and how well processes are managed. And besides the administrative part I saw a great many interesting MSc dissertations over the years. Even though the term has come to an end I hope to travel to Dublin in the future too – perhaps on Holiday to see more of the city (which I did not really manage …)

PS: recession seems to have hit Ireland – I have never seen such short queue in Dublin airport – and it is definatly not the selfservice machines that reduced the queue …

Print on demand for newspapers available at Munich central station.

It is about 15 years that I came across the idea of newspapers – printed in the shop where you buy them (sometime when I studied in Ulm). Today I have seen an advert for print on demand newspapers in the international newspapers kiosk in the central station in Munich. They have 850 titles from 70 countries available – as print on demand. The display copies had a decent quality – looked like A3 size color laser printouts – perhaps I can fetch a copy tomorrow.

I wonder how long it will take to move more (low volume papers, local supplements, etc.) to print on demand and how in the short term the split between e-ink and print on demand will be.

It was great to see in Munich so many people I previouly worked with!

New Power Plug in the Street – charging your e-car

Why would I write a post about a power plug? Perhaps in some years this may be so common that we do not know when the first appeared 😉 And here is my reference point for Essen, Germany.
There is a German news article about these chargeing points – there are 22 in Essen and they started sometime back in Berlin (where they plan to have 500 by the end of the year).

It looks very much like an ordinary power plug and I have not figured out how it really works – e.g. How to pay? How to reserve that parking in front of it? How to make sure that nobody unplugs may car and used my energy to drive a huge stereo? We will probably see how it works over the next months. I will add a new post when I actually see a car recharging there.

new post on the topic:

ebook, tangibe programming, iPhones bring back wired telephony

Having used the Sony PRS-505 now for a few weeks (mainly to read dissertations and project reports) I have quickly gotten used to carrying less weight. The user interface requires some learning – as the screen is pretty slow pressing a button does not give immediate feedback and that feels strange – more than expected. I wonder if there are studies on traditional interacton with electronic paper? Another issue: it seems to depend on the crew whether or not it is OK to read from an eBook during the entire flight (including take-off and landing)…

While reading a thesis I was reminded of an interesting paper on tangible programming [1] from a special issue of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing we did in 2004. The paper situates the topic historically and gives an interesting introduction.

In recent meetings as well as in airports around the world one can observe a trend: wired telephony! Whereas people with traditional mobile phone walk up and down and talk on the phone iPhone users often sit wired up to the next power plug an phone… seems apple has re-invented wired telephony 😉 and other brands will soon follow (make sure to reserve a seat with a power connection).

[1] McNerney, T. S. 2004. From turtles to Tangible Programming Bricks: explorations in physical language design. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 8, 5 (Sep. 2004), 326-337. DOI=

Statistical Data on phone usage and ICT

Ever wanted to cite the number of “Mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitance” in Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, …., United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia or Zimbabwe? Or the spending on mobile telephony or the computer penetration in these countries? Then the website I just came across may be interesting for you too:

Here are the direct links to documents containing data:

Some of the figures seem really high to me – but I have not looked into detail. They have also publish a handbook on how to measuring ICT access and uses:
MANUAL for Measuring ICT Access and Use by Households and Individuals

Mobile Boarding Pass, the whole process matters

Yesterday night I did an online check-in for my flight from Düsseldorf to Manchester. For convenience and curiosity I chose the mobile boarding pass. It is amazingly easy and it worked in principle very well. Only not everyone can work without paper yet. At some point in the process (after border control) I got a hand written “boarding pass” because this person needs to stamp it 😉 and we would probably have gotten into an argument if he tried to stamp my phone. There is some further room for improvement. The boarding pass shows besides the 2D barcode all the important information for the traveler – but you have to scroll to the bottom of the page to get the boarding number (which seems quite important for everyone else than the traveler – it was even on my handwritten boarding pass).

Poster on mobile advertising displays at HotMobile 2009

We put together a poster discussing some of our recent work on mobile displays for HotMobile. While presenting the poster I got a number of interesting ideas and concerns. One idea is to widening the idea of advertsing and fuse it with traditional classify ads by private people (e.g. advertising a flat or telling the world that you lost your cat). The big question is really how to measure audince exposure and eventually conversion. There are several ideas how to do this – but looks more like another master project on the topic than a overnight hack 😉

The abstract for the poster:
In recent years many conventional public displays were replaced by electronic displays hence enabling novel forms of advertising and information dissemination. This includes mainly stationary displays, e.g. in billboards and street furniture, and currently first mobile displays on cars appear. Yet, current approaches are mostly static since they neither do consider mobility and the context they are used in nor the context of the viewer. In our work we explore how mobile public displays, which rapidly change their own context, can gather and process information about their context. Data about location, time, weather, and people in the vicinity can be used to react accordingly by displaying related content such as information or advertisements.

When spending some time in Montain View I was suprised how few electronic screens I saw compared to Germany or Asia. But nevertheless they have their own ways of creating attention… see the video below 🙂
Some time back in Munich we look at how interaction modalities can effect the attention of bystanders, see [1] for a short overview of the work.

[1] Paul Holleis, Enrico Rukzio, Friderike Otto, Albrecht Schmidt. Privacy and Curiosity in Mobile Interactions with Public Displays. Poster at CHI 2007 workshop on Mobile Spatial Interaction. San Jose, California, USA. 28 April 2007.

Light themes – cool idea but with usability flaws

Over new year we went for a short skiing trip to Bödele in Austria. It is a small ski resort but great for learning to ski (and this is what Vivien did 🙂
We stayed in Dornbirn (not far from Lake Constance) in at Hotel Krone and had a really nice room – and it had a remarkable light installation. 

There were several lights (like you have them typical in a hotel room), then there were many switches, and finally there was a full page manual how to use the light – welcome to ambient intelligence! Instead of switching on and off individual lights one can chose a predefined light theme, e.g. a setting for working on the desk, a setting for watching TV, a setting for reading, etc. All lights are switched and dimed to fit this situation (or at least as the designer thinks it would fit the situation).

The basic idea of having light themes is quite interesting but when being in the hotel room with 3 people it gets really difficult to set the lights. Even after a lot of trying out I could not manage to set the lights so that I can work on the desk (desk lamp on), Petra can read in bed (reading light at on bed on), and Vivien can sleep (her bedside lamp off). 
Nevertheless one should not underestimate the entertainment of previously simple tasks – We spend have the evening exploring potential settings, rhythms, and speeds of the colored wellness light 😉

PS: (1) There is a good natural science museum in Dornbirn – inatura and (2) 3D projections are still not convincing…
PPS: using a GPS tracking device to record your skiing activity (including speed) is cool!