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Direct Manipulation 2.0: Why scientific software should also be fun for 3-year-olds

Invited Talk
Williams College Computer Science Colloquium Series
Williamstown, MA
April 15, 2011


One of the basic principles of human-computer interaction is that people are comfortable using virtual, graphical controls that can be manipulated in real time, mimicking the way we use buttons, knobs, and tools in the real world. As computer hardware continues to get faster, there are new opportunities for software user interfaces that go beyond physical metaphors and allow people to directly interact with abstract scientific concepts and information. This talk will build on two software projects that I began while I was a student at Williams: an application for sketching quantitative concepts (now commercially available as OmniGraphSketcher), and an application for exploring fractals based on iterated function systems (TeraFractal). We recently extended these apps to run on the iPad, making them even more flexible and immersive. I'll demo these, discuss some of the challenges and possibilities of recognizing multi-touch gestures, and argue that everything I've shown is just the smallest tip of the iceberg.
The talk will be jargon-free and accessible to any student interested in the future of software interfaces.
Robin Stewart wrote Williams' second Cognitive Science thesis in 2006 and got a masters in Computer Science at MIT in 2008. He now works for The Omni Group in Seattle, WA, where he designs and builds innovative Mac and iPad applications that are used by students, professionals, and even some 3-year-olds.

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