This category contains 24 posts

Response to [The Ambient Calendar] by Phelan et al.

One Sentence

This paper presents a design of calendar that encodes and embeds the information in symbolic visual elements which together form an ambient display to inform people of their calendar events, subscribed blogs, transit schedules, etc.

More Sentences

+ “An initial impact study was undertaken and found a high sense of usefulness and curiosity in the finished application and in the field as a whole”

Key Points

  • … peripheral information sources. These are of general interest to users, but do no require or typically command constant focus or attention.
  • Instead of explicitly telling a user that there are events in the calendar, the system conveys this implicitly by putting clouds in the sky. By glancing at the display and seeing a cloudy sky the user can tell that they have a busy day ahead.
  • A novel aspect of The Ambient Calendar is that it locates proximate Bluetooth devices and personalises the display’s content for nearby users.


  • Two questions regarding the use of information art and alike:
    • how can users learn how to read the visualization?
    • how to ensure accuracy (or not at all; just for awareness)?
  • This is also an unorthodox design, worth mentioning and compared to Spalendar.
  • Ambient Display on Mobile Devices?

Response to [Ambient displays: …] by Wisneski et al.


This paper, back in 1998, proposed an idea called ‘ambient display’ where, as opposed to conventional GUI, researchers perceive the architectural space as the media for displaying information, mostly in a subtle and peripheral manner. The paper describes two projects to illustrate this idea. The ambientROOM is an artificial room mounted with various devices in order to create a room-sized ‘computer’ that informs people what is happening in the environment. The other project, Ambient Fixtures are standalone installations that convey (more global) information in similar ways as the ambientROOM. The authors also discuss some interesting issues that arose from this idea, including mapping information sources, foreground/background thresholds and transitions, and learning effect.


  1. Ambient Displays presents information within a space through subtle changes in light, sound, and movement, which can be processed in the background of awareness.
  2. Ambient Displays takes a broader view of display than the conventional GUI, making use of the entire physical environment as an interface to digital information.
  3. … and into future visions of wearable computers people might have on their bodies.
  4. Awareness is the state of knowing about the environment in which you exist; about your surroundings, and the presence and activities of others.
  5. The choice of modality for the background media should be considered with the person’s foreground task in mind.
  6. The mapping of data from information source to ambient display is a key consideration and challenge for ambient media.


Generally speaking, ambient displays is about making *everything* a display, while with various levels of attention and focus. This dawns on me that our body is also part of the environment that surrounds us. Should/Can we design ambient display on our body? The biggest answer might be wearable technology. But is there something more?

Response to [Mapping Time, …] by Richards

God made the days and nights but man made the Calendar.

– Anon

“In another meaning of the word, a calendar is an almanac, a program of future events or a record of past events, each assigned to a day or a year.”

“The calendar is thus a human invention…”  – then there must be more than one way to invent it.

The trail of people using calendar

Travelling around, need cues to predict weather, food, etc. for survival.

-> learnt to grow crops and to domesticate animals – more reliable to seasons

-> cities, armies, civil engineering, tax, wars and empires … came into being, all of which call for a calendar

-> need for sacrifice and rituals emerged – should be recorded by calendar

A Mixed Sense of Temporal and Spatial Variations

The picture below was taken surrounding a spot on Sounio, Greece. I guess the idea was, the photographer fixed the camera on a spot, rotated it 360 degree in 24 hours and took a picture every 15 minutes (that is about 3.75 degree for a single picture – imagine a sector of this degree exposed on the camera len) and then spliced them all together. The result is: as one sees the difference from day to night, the spatial difference also follows so it is a mixed sense of temporal and spatial variations, which is different from the installation of Last Clock.

Response to [Between Aesthetics …] by Skog et al.


This paper describes an example of designing an ambient information visualization that leverages the two factors: aesthetics and utility. The authors discussed the design of an informative art that also serves as a bus schedule located in a station. The visual design is based on Mondrian styles and a couple of graphical encodings convey the underlying information. The design process involves several user feedback and redesigns, with four lessons concluded for future work in designing ambient information visualization.


  1. “(ambient infovis) … must strike a balance between aesthetic appeal and usefulness.”
  2. “Informative art is a subset of ambient information visualization”
  3. Four lessons:
  • “by finding information that is relevant to the place where the ambient display is located, every person spending time at that place becomes a potential user”;
  • “the rate of change in the information should be frequent enough to promote relevance, but the developer can affect the visual appearance by slowing down the changes of adding a small amount of animation”;
  • “basing a visualization on an artistic style need not hinder – and might even support – the readability and comprehension of an ambient infovis installation”
  • “letting features of the information source affect the visual encoding, thus providing a mnemonic to remember the mapping, is a good way to support the comprehension of the display”


  1. We can think about our own ambient infovis by relating it to the four lessons.
  2. At-a-glance infovis: can we provide users with such bold, easy-to-read, limited but sufficiently useful insight or information at a glance?

Response to [Bubble Sets …] by Collins et al.

Given an existing visualization e.g. a tree, a map with representations of single data items, how can we secondly group these item according to another different rule? This paper answers this question.

Firstly, the authors surveyed previous methods such as using layout, coloring, clustering, etc. to highlight different group memberships. The method used in this paper is called Bubble Set which resembles grouping items with a bubble that almost exactly contain every single member (other than including non-member items).

One similar technique is convex hull. Similarly, the first step of the two techniques is determining the bubble set boundary. The boundary is not unique, nor minimized. The convex hull results in introducing non-member items while Bubble Set solves this problem by routing virtual edges (edges computed in the first step) to avoid non-member items. The process is a trial and error of moving edge points from within a non-member item to its corner until the point is at a legitimate location.

The technique also offers basic interactions such as adding, moving and removing items. The case study shows several application possibilities such as used on a tree, a timeline, a map and a scatter plot.

Response to [Toolglass and Magic Lenses …] by Bier et al.

My understanding is that this paper provides a new (albeit as early as 1993) solution to the selection problem.

Before this paper came out, for example, to change the color of a certain object, we have to click and select that object, or drag and highlight a line of text, or drag and group a set of objects, followed by picking color, confirming, etc. There are at least two problems in this conventional selection method. Firstly, it is not easy to select. The size, shape, color, etc. of objects add to the difficulty of selecting them. For example, even with the latest version of Photoshop, it is still quite tricky to select, say, the face of a person. Secondly, it is not convenient to do the following steps. Spatially usually we need to travel to somewhere like a panel to change the color, font styles, etc. Microsoft Office offers a close-up widget available instantly after you select some text. This idea is similar to Toolglass and Magic Lenses. Reducing the spatial distance can reduce multiple steps.

Hence, to solve the selection problem, this paper offers a two-step approach, namely, Toolglass and Magic Lenses. Toolglass is like a transparent layer between application objects and conventional user cursor. This layer can help us make selection by, for instance, amplifying local area or reducing visual cluster. The second step is called Magic Lenses, which makes the following steps readily at hand (close to the layer). Compared to drag and group and then clicking on a side panel, this two-step approach is more efficient and user-friendly.

What is similar to this framework is the focus+context concept in visualization. I would say Toolglass and Magic Lenses express a more general concept including some of the ideas in visualization, e.g. amplifying local area. However, what it fails to address is offering context. Judged from the paper, the Toolglass and Magic Lenses result in a discrete two-layered view of the application – users might lose the context.

Visualizing Friendship on Facebook

An intern in Facebook did a really aesthetically pleasing visualization of friendships on Facebook. Not surprisingly, China is without ‘lighting’ points. But how about Russia? Looks like the largest country disappears in this visualization.

Response to [Casual Information…] by Pousman et al.

Card et al. coined visualization as the use of computer-supported, interactive, visual representation of data to amplify cognition. The premise of this paper is “Information visualization has often focused on providing deep insight for expert user populations and on techniques for amplifying cognition through complicated interactive visual models.” Counter to this concept, this paper proposed a new subdomain called casual infovis which “complements the focus on analytic tasks and expert use”. A reflection to this description would be: casual infovis is not necessarily for specific analytic tasks or oriented to expert users.”

This paper is NOT providing a taxonomy within infovis. Instead, they adopted the prototype theory, which basically states that whether a belongs to category A is less of a binary relationship but more of a matter of degree.

The paper presents three kinds of “Infovis at edges”

* Ambient infovis: “systems that sit in peripheral locations and provide abstract depictions of data…”

* Social infovis: visualizing social information such as web bookmarking, news, public space, etc.

* Artistic infovis: “… works of data-driven art”

Given these reviews, the authors summarize four characteristics of casual infovis:

* User population – “includes a wide spectrum of users from experts to novices”

* Usage Patttern – “momentary and repeatable …, or contemplative …”

* Data type – “… personally important”

* Insight – not necessarily analytical.

And the definition of casual infovis would be: “… the use of computer mediated tools to depict personally meaningful information in visual ways that support everyday users in both everyday work and non-work situations.

Then the paper spends some words discussing multi-facet insights of casual infovis. Starting from analytic insight, which belongs more to the core inforvis, is about amplifying viewers’ cognition. Awareness insight relates more to ambient visualization where maintaining awareness is emphasized. Social insight comes from social visualization where users need to interpret the visualization by keeping the social context in mind. Reflective insight is commonly conveyed in artistic visualization where defamiliarization is used to help users get to re-recognize mundane and everyday.

Finally, when it comes to evaluating casual infovis, it seems to be more difficult than evaluating core inforvis partly because of the taskless nature and longitude effects of casual infovis.

“CasualInfovis systems share many of the properties of more traditional systems, but with an increased focus on

activities that are less task driven,

data sets that are personally meaningful,

and built for a wider set of audiences.”

Response to [Spatiotemporal …] by

Spatiotemporal analysis of sensor logs is a challenging research field due to three facts: a) traditional two-dimensional maps do not support multiple events to occur at the same spatial location, b) three-dimensional solutions introduce ambiguity and are hard to navigate, c) map distortions to solve the overlap problem are unfamiliar to most users.

  • Coordinates on 2-d plane -> the actual positions of different sensor nodes.
  • Amount of time -> number of pixels in a ‘bounding’ circle’. Hence the more visits in certain time period, the larger the radius.
  • Different colors -> different sensor nodes in different regions. There are three kinds of sensor nodes: water place, ground floor and higher floor.
  • Varying color intensities -> temporal property of the subjects’ activity. Gradient is used to indicate the elapse of time.

The goal of the visualization is to find similarities and extract patterns of interest in spatiotemporal data by using humans’ perceptual abilities. For example, but recognizing the ‘darkness’ of the color of circles, viewers can tell when there are the most number of visits.

More issues:

  • Besides the Growth Ring Maps, the authors also considered two other approaches, namely, the temporal aspect of mice movement and the movement between sensors in a matrix representation of the sensor.
  • To cross-validate the results, the authors use MDS ( Multi-Dimensional Scaling).

Implications for project:


  • Using gradient should be an option to visualize the past and the future
  • The size of the representation matters (Maybe we can show how busy one is in the current week).


  • The nature of this paper is more task-centered whereas the calendar visualization is more of a casual visualization.
  • This paper focuses on the fact that how often where when was visited while ignoring the relations between different visits (we do not know what happen between these visits). The calendar visualization, on the other hand, focuses on 1) where I was, 2) where I am and 3) where I will be.
  • This paper use color-encoding to solve the third spatial dimension whereas such dimension is not an issue in the calendar visualization.
  • Fundamentally, the visualization in this paper is for closer observation while the calendar visualization is for public ambient display.

Twitter Updates