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Reflections on CHI 2005

Marla Nordt reflects on the CHI 2005 experience.

As a newbie to the CHI conference I wasn't sure what to expect as a student volunteer. So with an intrepid spirit I boarded the plane and arrived safely in Portland with everything except a toothbrush and toothpaste (which can lead to some very awkward networking moments when you are trying to avoid your bad breath from being noticed). Fortunately, the lack of materials was soon remedied and I was off to the bag stuffing event in which the student volunteers spend several hours putting many little pieces of paper into the nice CHI bags for every attendee. For those not familiar with the process let me sum up the next few hours as follows:

for (int i=1; i<=bags; ++i)
{
pickUpPapers();
putInBag();
}

However, the effort did have its rewards because afterward we had a lovely dinner at the Old Pizza Factory in Downtown Portland with the SV Co-Chairs Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Rivera-Loaiza and Louise Barkhuus and fellow student volunteers. With only registration to work on Saturday, many of the volunteers had time to explore the "City of Roses" aided by the MAX (a great public transit system).

The following two days of pre-conference activities were filled with numerous tutorials for everyone and “super-secret” workshops in which the participants were pre-selected based on their position statements on the subject matter. Fortunately, the workshop participants shared their discussions with us via posters in the Commons. One workshop poster which was hard to miss was Workshop #18 (Designing Technology for Community Appropriation) filled with an assortment of bright colored paper, pictures, straws, ribbons, wooden ball-shaped objects, cardboard tube, and several unidentifiable objects. However, the most popular attraction of the workshops and tutorials were the coffee breaks held promptly at 10:30 and 15:30. One tutorial leader, in a moment of weakness, divulged his secret to getting great ratings for his tutorials – “I make sure my group is the first out to the coffee break.” His promptness was again well received by his group this year, especially Saturday morning with everyone suffering from the dreaded “Daylight Savings Time.”

By Tuesday morning, most people knew what time it was in Portland, and a large crowd made it to the 9:00 Open Plenary talk given by Randy Pausch. Unfortunately, I only remember smelling my green crayon. Please consult your conference program book for more information on his talk.

After his talk, the rush of activities began with Papers, Panels, SIGs, Short Papers, Posters, alt.chi, Interactivity, Design Expo, and the Student Competition. With so many interesting topics, it was extremely hard trying to decide which talks to attend. As it would be impossible to sum up the entire three days of presentations, I will instead offer a few random quotes from my Tuesday and Wednesday notes: “engaging”, “built to look for motion”, “never assume anything is new”, “bubble pop”, “messy board”, “make a promise”, and “cricket.” By Thursday I was too tired to pick up a pen and attempt note taking.

For the student volunteers, one of the highlights of each conference day, were the VIP lunches in which big names in HCI community would join us for a meal and conversation. Where else could we sit down with people like Aaron Marcus and in one sentence discuss a dissertation topic and in the next sentence find out why he started wearing a funny hat with green, pink, and yellow horns sticking out of the top while teaching tutorials? To all those who joined us for lunch, thanks!

And least one thinks the conference was all work and no fun, I must mention it will be a long time before I forget marching down the streets to the beat of drums with the CHI Parade to the Conference reception at the Crystal Ballroom. At least one Portland native asked, “What are you all protesting?” Well I guess he did not know how much fun psychologists, computer scientists, graphical designers, educators, communication specialists, industrial designers, and people from many other disciplines have when they get together.

Overall, what amazed me most about the CHI Conference was the wonderful opportunity it provided for discussing and sharing such an abundance of diverse and truly interesting ideas in the SIGCHI community. (And no, nobody is paying me to write this.) And finally, since I don't plan on having kids anytime soon and consequently can not name my firstborn after Erika Orrick I hope she'll settle for an article dedication. Over a thirty minute lunch she convinced me to focus my research effort on HCI and volunteer for the CHI conference. (I hope she never decides to become a politician because she can be extremely convincing.) Actually, there is a lot more to the story but that would require another article. But in all seriousness, I believe it highlights an important point that the best advertisement for the SIGCHI community and this conference are the people themselves and what they bring to industry, academia, government and the community as a whole. I had a great time at my first CHI conference and hope to see everybody again next year in Vancouver.


Tuesday morning before the opening plenary....the two most commonly asked questions were "Where's the coffee" and "Where's the bathroom."


Randy Pausch during the open plenary.


Saul Greenberg with excited student volunteers during Wednesday's lunch.


Gerrit van de Veer (Conference Chair) in the interactivity chamber.
 

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