“When is the pen mightier than the keyboard?”

April 4, 2007

I attended a lecture recently with this title given by Andreis Van Dam from Brown University. It was a demonstration lecture on computer software applications his research team is developing which uses a pen rather than a mouse or a keyboard to interact with the software. The demonstrations were amazing to say the least and I was awed and inspired by what I saw.

Dr. Van Dam said that pen-centric computing takes advantage of the pen which is more than a high resolution mouse. The pen interprets “digital ink” in an appropriate context for characters, symbols, gestures, etc. He said that the best example of this so far is how the Palm Pilot feature called “graffiti” that interprets users’ gestures for alphanumeric characters. He also said that pen-centric computing is best if it is used with speech and other modes.

One application he showed us was one in which you can write music. You use a pen on something like a tablet PC and you make simple gestures to indicate the notes you want. So how do users know which gestures to make? Well, the software is designed so that the gestures correspond to what they are already familiar with in that given context. One thing that was suprising was that users are only willing to learn 12 new gestures: they are not willing to spend alot of time learning all the gestures, especially if the gestures are unintuitive.

I will write more entries on this lecture at a later time.


Information and Documentation: A look at restaurant menus

April 2, 2007

What is information and what is documentation? I started thinking about this last week when I was dining at California Pizza Kitchen with a friend. I lost about 30 lbs. during the summer, and I try my best to lose even more by eating healthy. You know how some restaurants have symbols denoting certain health information about their menu items. Some places place a chili by an item description, signifying that it is spicy; sometimes they place a heart by a dish that is supposedly low cholesterol/low saturated fat.

Obviously, each menu item has a plethora of nutrition information. Information exists everywhere, whether we are aware of it or not, but it is documentation that allows us to know what that information is and make meaning from it. I like Suzanne Briet’s idea that a document is information from the natural world that has been captured and made an object of study. Some restaraunts choose to capture some of the nutrition information and document it using symbols like a heart or chili. But why don’t restaurants document all of the nutrition information including calories, fat content, and cholesterol? Does the absence of a heart next to a menu item mean that it is a “heart attack on a plate?” Why does a heart signify heart-healthy? Why can’t a heart next to a menu description mean that it is a heart-attack on a plate? I bet we can find many menu items at restaurants that are unhealthy. A fellow colleague from the department told me that she doesn’t mind advertisements because they are merely free information. True, but not all of the information is documented. Only the information favorable to them is documented. It’s always important to remember who is doing the documenting. I doubt that a restaurant like Chilis or CPK would ever want to document all the nutrition information on each menu item (probably because most of it is unhealthy and nobody would eat there if they knew that what they just ordered has the calories equivalent to three days of eating).