A blog from a North-norwegian human-centered technologist

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#1 Windows 8 advice from my perspective

  • At any point in time: hit Windows key (four squares key) and start typing what you are looking for

My hypothesis is that over half of the people who genuinely dislike Win8 has not found this feature. -And why would they – it is completely invisible!

Since I am now a part of Microsoft I am frequently confronted with how difficult Windows 8 is compared to older versions of Windows. Since my knowledge and competence resides within human computer interaction it seems fair to confront me with such issues, even though – people point out – I do not work with the OS and user interface, and have a limited time with the company so far. Even so, I feel it appropriate to at least share an advice from my own adoption of Win8 about one year ago (I was a daily Mac OS X user from 2007-2013). People tell me that they have really tried and make an effort, but cannot seem to overcome the hurldes of the new mental models introduced with Win8. Being “stuck” in a touch user interface seems to be high on the list of issues. How do I find my programs and documents? Where is the Start button?!

My advice is very simple – and has been tested on my closest set of test-users with great success. It is even a search-advice, which also is appropriate since I work with search!

win8(key) + query


WIN+your search – simple and powerful.

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International Womans day research news: women can be better (faster) than men in spatial tasks – if the display is large enough!

It feels appropriate to blog about my own research on this day, since it is all about the women today.

In a recently published article in Scandinavian Journal of Psychology we describe our findings of how we found women to outperform men in the cognitive (spatial) task of “mental rotation”, despite a traditional male superiority in this task. Moreover, even though “common knowledge” is that men tend to be better in cognitive spatial tasks, mental rotation (MR) is the only task where a significant and persistent advantage has been observed favoring men in the past. MR is the task of deciding whether two arm-like (three dimensional) structures are the same, when one object is either a rotated version of the other or a different object. In order to compare the objects one have to imagine to rotate one object and to try and fit it within the other. Here are some example stimuli:

What we did was to enlarge the traditional stimuli to about twice the normal visual angle (occupied by the objects) and compared performance between males and females on normal sized stimuli to performance with the enlarged stimuli. What we actually found was that with the enlarged stimuli males’ performance with respect to task efficacy (speed) was degraded with large objects so as to produce a female advantage of about 20%. That is, females had 20% faster response times with larger stimuli. Since the results were relatively surprising we repeated the experiment to confirm the findings. The replication study confirmed our findings that males’ performance was negatively affected by larger objects so as to produce a female advantage on large objects. The details of the study can be found in the online version of our paper:

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Finally (2) – publicly defending a PhD dissertation

This Monday I defended my PhD dissertation publicly at University of Tromsø at the Faculty of Science and Technology. First, I held a trial lecture about Visual Analytics (“State of the Art and Challenges”). The thesis’ final title is “Display Scale in a ‘Document’ Perspective: Size Matters”. After a 45 minutes presentation of the highlights of my work the two main opponents asked critical questions about my work and the whole defence lasted about 3 hours.

Publicly defending a dissertation in this manner is an exhausting affair. I have never been so mentally tired – depleted – in my life. Even though I was well rested and quite “fresh” in the morning it was a very intense experience. I guess this is also related to the process leading up to the defence. About three weeks before, I was presented with a report of the committees work where they scrutinise the weaknesses of your work as well as describing strengths and significant contributions in their view. Then, two weeks before the defence is planned I got the topic for the trial lecture to be held an hour before the defence commences. This topic of the lecture is not to be on or about central topics in the thesis (but rather something that you have read about and digest current research about) and is to last for 45 minutes.

First having to present something that is somewhat unfamiliar to you two weeks before – and then – after the committee decides whether or not this was a satisfactory performance – having to present (also for a public audience) and defend your work is, I guess, also from an objective standpoint – quite an undertaking. I can confirm that it was for me – a huge task.

Even though it was a strenuous experience it was actually great! It was an honour to be able to present something that I have worked with so long and hard for that many people (many whom I know very well, friends and family, but also others) – for such a long time (almost 3 hours) without anyone leaving the room or falling asleep. It seemed like it was engaging and to some extent interesting for most of them (thank you, by the way, who were in the room – for giving me that impression!) Something that I will remember from this day, in particular, was the construction work in progress next to the Science building. Several times during my presentations the engineers detonated explosives. The timing of the detonations even sounded well-planned (like when the leader of the defence, professor Smalås, presented the main advisor for this work: Gunnar Hartvigsen <BOOOM!>)

All in all it was a perfect day. It was exactly as exhausting as it is supposed to. I felt the presentations went well, and were well-received by both the public and the opponents and the defence was as critical (but fair) as it should be and that my replies and the discussion that followed were quite all right. It is an indescribable  relief to be able to finish such a long process in what I feel is a decent – or actually (if I may say so myself) a quite good manner. Again, I thank all the people who contributed to this end, both in creating the work reported in the thesis/defence and those who were present on Monday and the committee in particular.

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Usability Week, London 2012

I am currently attending Usability Week (Day 1 today) and in that regards I have blogged for my co-workers in our techno-blog at UiT: Those who follow my twitter feed might have noticed this as well..

After the first day I’d say that the conference meets my (high-) expectations and I am looking forward to the following days with more hands-on practice.

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New page: Publications

I have long thought to add a page where I would write a little something about the papers that I have written. A great deal of work goes into creating these documents, but very few get any metadata added after publication and I thought: if anyone ever should be interested in reading something about these works then they should be able to find something in my personal blog. So – here you go: Publications.

So far only one paper mentioned, but it is a start!

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Ok – so now I have submittet my thesis (this Thursday, as a matter of fact). Almost 8 calendar years of work – and little over 4 years of actual work (!). A very long process has come to an end. The work summarized in the thesis has been a significant part of my life for longer than what most PhDs take to complete. Since my better half has been a student I have been able to (and required to-) stay at home with both of our current children for the first year of their life.

We have lived for one year in California (2007-2008), in Davis, CA and I have visited UC Davis as a researcher with the Department of Health Informatics. Our oldest son was 2.5 years when we arrived and switched mother tongue while in Preschool (Montesorri Country Day). A lot of wonderful memories and lessons learned.

Eight great years have come to an end. The last two I have worked at the IT Dept. at University of Tromsø, though – and have not been able to work with the PhD other than nights and a couple of weeks now and then. I am, of course, thrilled to be done with the work, but – still – it is almost as if I am a little sad that it is over. Since I was little kid I have wanted to “become a researcher”. These eight years have certainly taught me how to do research but it has also been a fascinating journey. -Although not an easy ride – it has provided a fair share of disappointments and challenges as well – in the end I am very greatful to the people and “circumstances” that has allowed me to fulfill my dream: to one day become a researcher!