12 Months of HCI

A notebook for Carnegie Mellon’s Masters of Human Computer Interaction program

January 8th, 2008

Korean Food is a State of Mind

When I first visited Korea, I found it somewhat difficult to eat.  Not because of the food itself, I had eaten at (and enjoyed) Korean restaurants many times before.  Rather it was because of the way that a Korean meal works.  Its typically not based on any one dish but consists of rice, soup, and a 10 or so shared side dishes.  Thus after each bite I had to think about which side dish I wanted to eat next.  Eating at Korean restaurants hadn’t really prepared me for Korean meals.  At a restraunt there was always a main dish that was mine to focus on.  The side dishes were just that: side dishes.  In a Korean home the side dishes are the focus.

However, the fact that Korean food is more about an approach to the meal and less about the food came into focus on my most recent trip to Korea.  I was sitting in a Bennigans of all places having a large family meal with my relatives.  Two cousins of mine were sharing fajitas.  While one of them did occasionally wrap a single piece of meat in a tortilla, for the most part the meat, sauteed vegetables, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole were treated as a set of side dishes.  They would individually eat a vegetable or a piece of meat.  The tortillas were mostly left alone.  And the sour cream and guacamole were hesitatingly picked around.  Thus although the ingredients were faithfully reproduced, the concept of a fatija just wasn’t there.  Although its rarely explicitly recognized, the meal resides in the mind of the person eating it, regardless of the food in front of them.

December 25th, 2007

Jewish Christmas in Korea

I just spent my first Jewish Christmas in Korea and I have to report that they don’t really celebrate Jewish Christmas in Korea.  Now this may seem obvious as there aren’t that many (any besides me??) Jews in Korea.  But it doesn’t really take many Jews to have a Jewish Christmas.  Just alot of Christians.  And Korea has plenty of Christians.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, Jewish Christmas is the most modern and surreal of Jewish Holidays.  It commerates the fact that you have off from work, yet all your non-Jewish friends are busy with family and all the restraunts and stores are closed.  Thus you have nothing to do.  Its a holiday defined by oddly empty streets and rows and rows of closed stores.

Like all Jewish holidays, Jewish Christmas begins at sundown, in this case on Christmas eve.  It is traditionally observed by gathering your Jewish friends together and going to a Chinese restraunt (traditionally the only restraunts open).  After diner, you go to the movies (again, about the only other thing open).

However, despite the fact that about half the population of Korea is Christian, Christmas seems to be just another day.  The streets of the shopping district were packed on Christmas eve.  All the stores were open, yet people didn’t seem to be doing last minute shopping.  We ate at a Korean restraunt for diner without having to even worry about it being closed.  In fact, as far as I can tell, every where had normal business hours throughout Jewish Christmas.  Even the 3 hour train ride on Jewish Christmas day to visit my parents-in-law was packed.  None of the Christians in Korea appartently thought to get to their families before Christmas started so that they could leave us Jews to have cheap, half-empty transportation on Jewish Christmas.

So for the first time that I can remember in my life, I missed out on the chance to experience the bordemn and surreal feeling of everything being closed that only comes once a year on Jewish Christmas.

November 15th, 2007

The Affect of Analog Clocks

I admit that I’ve never been very good at reading analog clocks. I’ve always used digital ones myself. But when I moved to Pittsburgh and no longer had a cable box with a digital clock on it to tell the time in the living room, I discovered that digital wall clocks are really, really hard to find. So I got an analog clock for the living room and between that and the Brain Age clock training game, me and analog clocks were slowly mending our relationship.

Then the subject of displays came up in Human Factors and the teacher insisted in class that analog clocks were faster for telling the approximate time than digital clocks were. Alot of people in class disagreed with her and I really disagreed with her, verbally, even after she gave further reasons for analog clocks being faster for approximate times. Granted, we both agree that digital clocks are faster for telling the exact time. And I think that part of the issue is that my brain doesn’t work with approximate times. It wants to know the exact time and will sit and look at the analog clock to calculate it.

Anyways, the interesting/unfortunately part of all this is that I’ve noticed my time telling skills on analog clocks have gotten alot worse since then. When I look at my clock on the wall, all I can think about is how many extra milliseconds of cognitive processing time it takes to compare the two hands of the clock to figure out which is the minute hand and which is the hour hand, the time needed to realize that the hour hand is slightly before the”10″ and that its thus only 9:55, not 10:55, etc. Its as if all my gripes with the class have been transferred to the clock and my time telling ability has suffered for it because my mind focuses on the argument against analog clocks rather than figuring out how much time I have before class.

August 27th, 2007

First Day

I’ve just finished my first day of classes at CMU and so far so good.  During the orientation the previous HCI graduate students said that on the first day of the HCI Methods class last year the professor told everyone that they were already a week behind in their reading.  Thankfully that didn’t happen today. In fact we have no homework (yet).  The class still looks like alot of work, but hopefully it won’t be as insane as it was made out to be.

My biggest issues have been with the non-CMU parts of Pittsburgh: Verizon screwing up my internet connection, my landlord loosing track of payments I sent them (twice),  Pennsylvania alcohol laws that seemed designed to make the purchase of alcohol an all around unpleasant experience.  But the CMU parts are all good.  My fellow MHCI students are smart, friendly, and diverse.  The classes look interesting and useful.  The trickiest part of the semester looks to be the logistics of scheduling meetings and work for the various group simultaneous group projects.