Matt Gemmell

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Sex, drugs and HCI4

university 1 min read

One of my 4th year Comp Sci modules is HCI4, taught by the immortal Philly G and the original MC, Matthew Chalmers. Interestingly, Matthew seems rather fond of using slightly off-colour examples when discussing HCI issues.

The following examples are just from the past two weeks. First, Julie and I were having a conversation with him about our project (the aforementioned Collaborative Pimping System, or Matt and Julie’s Coffee Buddy System as it’s now seemingly called), and he brought up the obvious privacy issues involved when using such a system. He reminded us that some users may not want their status to be revealed to others on the network;

For example, you wouldn't want your boss to know when you'd gone out to visit your heroin dealer.

No arguments there. Then a friend of ours, Andy Foss (yes, really) was discussing his project, which was a system to coordinate a hospital’s fleet of ambulances efficiently, and Matthew suggested that he change the spec to instead create a drug wars game;

But you should keep the ambulances, for when people take an overdose.

In this week’s first HCI lecture on Tuesday morning, the topic was the privacy and intrusiveness issues involved in video conferencing between two offices, with an example being that users would obviously complain if the video feed was of sufficiently high resolution for remote viewers to see the detail of objects on your desk, or the actual text on your screen;

Say I had a strange sexual fetish, and I had all my toys and their spare batteries sitting on my desk. I wouldn't want you to see that.

Nor indeed would we want to see it, presumably. In the next HCI lecture, later the same day, we were discussing the intrusiveness of different types of notifications, for example alerts displayed by calendar applications;

If your boss was standing behind you, you wouldn't want a huge alert window to pop up on your screen saying "Time to go to the hospital to be cured of your venereal disease!"

Again, unquestionably true, and it certainly makes the relevant issues very memorable.

Good lecturing technique, or tell-tale signs that we’ve found perhaps the most hardcore academic in the department? Only time, and possible a criminal records database search, will tell.