Diagrams 2008 Day 2 Highlights: Tools, Tools, and more Tools

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Most of today’s sessions were all about Tools. Most exciting was a demonstration of Inkkit and LADDER by Beryl Plummer and Tracy Hammond. A colleague of mine had already told me about the exciting work done by Dr. Hammond and her Sketch Recognition Lab at Texas A&M University , but today, I actually had a chance to see it in action. Imagine entering a requirements elicitation session in a room with no whiteboard. In most cases, the requirements engineer would need to either collect several sheets of freehand drawings, or (if you are lucky enough), allow the subject matter experts to capture their thoughts on a tablet PC. In either case, the RE still needs to transcribe these drawings to Visio or some other tool. This is not only time-consuming, but transcribing introduces the possibility of errors. It was so impressive, that I think I will begin testing it in elicitation sessions.
Here is a picture of Ladder in Action. Includes some “before” and “after” the sketch recognition algorithm is applied. Note the various types of drawings:

As a side note, Dr. Hammond mentioned that designing the algorithm for the entity-relationship diagram is especially tricky, and is still not completely refined. The sticking point? Those pesky claw-foot connectors which depict the cardinality of the relationship between two entities.
Some other high points:

  • David Barker-Plummer of Stanford University gave a demo of Hyperproof. Initially, this was designed to grade logic proofs for undergraduate students, but it has been and can be extended to capture and check reasoning for any type of system.
  • A presentation of the VAST system by Peter Cheng. This tool was designed to create schedules for large institutions with many complicated interrelated constraints. The way in which so much information was presented, but yet easily understood was quite clever.

The day ended with a tour of Mühlfelder Brauhaus followed by quite possibly one of the top 5 best meals of my life: A six-course Bavarian meal with a spectacular dessert. And of course, plenty of beer from the brewery.

Oh, by the way, the winners of the best paper (and the Nokia N810s) were Atsushi Shimojima and Yasuhiro Katagiri for their excellent paper An Eye-tracking Study of Spatial Constraints in Diagrammatic Reasoning. I also had the opportunity to meet Atsushi Shimojima, and he is a really nice guy. The best student paper went to Krista DeLeeuw and Mary Hegarty for What Diagrams Reveal about Representations in Linear Reasoning, and How They Help. This paper, among other things, describes the power that visual tools can provide in helping people think about problems.

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