Blog Category: News

FXPAL @ CHI 2018

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A collage of figures from our CHI 2018 Papers.This year FXPAL is happy to present four papers (three long papers and one case study) at CHI 2018 in Montreal. Our featured work this year investigates the themes of Human-Centered Workstyle, Information Visualization, and Internet of Things.

You can check out the papers now:

Long Papers

Case Study

Come by and say bonjour in Canada!

Information Interaction in Context 2014


I asked FXPAL alumni Jeremy Pickens to contribute a post on the best paper award at IIiX which is named after our late colleague Gene Golovchinsky.  For me, the episode Jeremy recounts exemplifies Gene’s willingness and generosity in helping others work though research questions.  The rest of this post is written by Jeremy.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Information Interaction in Context conference at the University of Regensburg.  It is a conference which attempts to bring together the systems and the user perspective on information retrieval and information seeking.  In short, it was exactly the type of conference at which our colleague Gene Golovchinsky was quite at home.  In fact, Gene had been one of the chairs of the conference before his passing last year.  The IIiX organizers made him an honorary chair.  During his time as chair, Gene secured FXPAL’s sponsorship of the conference including the honorarium that accompanied the Best Paper award.  The conference organizers decided to officially give the award in Gene’s memory, and as a former FXPAL employee, I was asked to present the award and to say a few words about Gene.

I began by sharing who I knew Gene to be through the lens of our first meeting.  It was 1998.  Maybe 1999.  Let’s say 1998.  I was a young grad student in the Information Retrieval lab at UMass Amherst.  Gene had recently convinced FXPAL to sponsor my advisor’s Industrial Advisory Board meeting.  This meant that once a year, the lab would put together a poster session to give IAB members a sneak preview of the upcoming research results before they appeared anywhere else.

Well, at that time, I was kinda an odd duck in the lab because I had started doing music Information Retrieval when most of my colleagues were working on text.  So there I am at the IAB poster session, with all these commercial, industry sponsors who have flown in from all over the country to get new ideas about how to improve their text search engines…and I’m talking about melodies and chords.  Do you know that look, when someone sees you but really does not want to talk with you?  When their eyes meet yours, and then keep on scanning, as if to pretend that they were looking past you the whole time?  For the first hour that’s how I felt.

Until Gene.

Now, I’m fairly sure that he really was not interested in music IR.  But not only did Gene stop and hear what I had to say, but he engaged.  Before I knew it, half an hour (or at least it felt like it) had passed by, and I’d had one of those great engaging Gene discussions that I would, a few years later when FXPAL hired me, have a whole lot more of.  Complete with full Gene eye twinkle at every new idea that we batted around.  Gene had this way of conducting a research discussion in which he could both share (give) ideas to you, and elicit ideas from you, in a way that I can only describe as true collaboration.

After the conference dinner and presentation had concluded, there were a number of people that approached me and shared very similar stories about their interactions with Gene.  And a number of people who expressed the sentiment that they wished they’d had the opportunity to know him.

I should also note that the Best Paper award went to Kathy Brennan, Diane Kelly, and Jamie Arguello, for their paper on “The Effect of Cognitive Abilities on Information Search for Tasks of Varying Levels of Complexity“. Neither I nor FXPAL had a hand in deciding who the best paper recipient was to be; that task went to the conference organizers.  But in what I find to be a touching coincidence, one of the paper’s authors, Diane Kelly, was actually Gene’s summer intern at FXPAL back in the early 2000s.  He touched a lot of people, and will be sorely missed.  I miss him.

New look for FXPAL web sites


Our Home Page and this Blog have a new look. It is less blue, more orange, and doesn’t have a picture of our old building on it. In theory, it also works much better on mobile devices. The home page seems to behave quite nicely. Webmaster is still working on the blog here – searching, author and category links, and the like will get better soon. But you can see posts, and our brilliant researchers can create posts. Thanks for your patience.

Sorry for the down time and happy anniversary


We moved into our new building about 2 years ago.  Long enough ago that we have quite a few energetic new employees that don’t know that we were ever anywhere else.   But the “new” place is nice, and getting better, and worthy of celebrating, at least in a little way.

I was thinking of bringing in donuts on Monday to celebrate, in order to follow one of Gene’s bagel rules:  If you want donuts, you have to get them yourself.   However, hard drives play by their own rules.

The FXPAL Blog is one of the few web servers we have that ran directly on server hardware, given that it started before “clouds”.   When the disk sneezed over the weekend, the site went down.  So I skipped the donut pickup to pick up the pieces of our blog.   We took this as an opportunity to virtualize and update the underlying infrastructure.   I expect there are a few plugins not-quite right, and the title bar is messed up – sorry, Tony.

Once I get it all right, I’ll bring the donuts.



Remembering Gene


We are very sorry to report that Gene Golovchinsky passed away on August 15, 2013.

His friends have created an online remembrances forum at

Gene was the heart and soul of this blog, he wrote 3/4 of the posts, and it exists solely because he pushed this admin to create it and do occasional maintenance.  It cannot be the same without him, but I hope it will not stop.

News from The USPTO

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I had an interesting an informative (if internet-free) day at the PaIR workshop at CIKM today. One the highlights was a keynote by Marti Hearst, who is currently the Chief IT Strategist for the USPTO. She outlined many improvements to the the USPTO IT infrastructure that are in the works, scheduled for rollout some time in 2013.

It was interesting to hear the details of the user-centered design process that she is orchestrating to understand the limitations of the existing tools and to guide the redesign with input from patent examiners and supervisors. Some of the planned improvements include a unified interface to various functions that are currently not well-integrated, automated suggestions for queries and terms of art for applications being reviewed, the ability to tag, annotate and share annotations on all sorts of documents, the ability to search over all material (including the annotations), etc.

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Benoît Mandelbrot, 1924-2010

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I am saddened to hear that Benoît Mandelbrot has passed away. His The Fractal Geometry of Nature excited and intrigued me when I was in high school, though I admit that while I, like many others, examined all the pictures, I read only scattered parts of the text. The talk of his I attended as an undergraduate was the first technical talk by a famous mathematician that I understood, essentially, in full.  The popularity of fractals was due to the gorgeous pictures,  and was aided by the simplicity of some of the underlying mathematics, which made it accessible to so many, and to the connection of fractals to so many phenomena. That fractals appeared at all scales in nature, from galaxies, to coastlines, to trees, I knew from looking at his book, but their tie to economics was new to me. He struck me as arrogant, but in an endearing way since his pride in his contributions stemmed from his intense love of the work and his absolute conviction of its importance. He clearly enjoyed his maverick status as someone who worked in a different way than most mathematicians, and on non-standard mathematics. Although he taught us to look for self-similar patterns throughout the universe, we won’t find the like of him any time soon.

Bell Systems Technical Journal online


AT&T Bell Labs has recently made their entire archive of the Bell Systems Technical Journal (BSTJ) available for free on-line. The collection goes all the way back to 1922. In fact, the first issue has an article on the transmission characteristics of the submarine cable. For example, in 1978 an entire issue of the journal was dedicated to a new operating system called Unix.

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Recently I joined the editorial board (web site) for Communications of the ACM (CACM), ACM’s flagship magazine. While ACM members are certainly familiar with the glossy, printed copies delivered through the mail, some of you might not know that issues (and their individual articles) are also available digitally in several different formats.

In the list that follows, I link to the resource home pages when those are available, and to exemplar articles when that’s more convenient.

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Revisualizing a past FXPAL researcher

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Traces of Gold, by Chris Culy

Traces of Gold, by Chris Culy

Chris Culy, who worked on discourse parsing at FXPAL a number of years ago, is now in Italy working as a Senior Researcher and the Language Technologies Technical Officer at the Institute for Specialised Communication and Multilingualism. He oversees language-related software development and leads a research project on linguistic data visualization. But the real excitement is that he has a solo art show, Revisualizing the visual, opening today.  His work combines his  interest in photography with his  interest in how information is structured and perceived. The software he has written to support his work transforms colors into shapes or uses color information to create rambling colorful paths based on the image. To create effective artworks, Chris carefully chooses the original photograph and tunes the algorithms to it. Don’t miss the video that shows some of this process in action!