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Matthew then

Matthew now

Matthew Stone '92

I took Math 35 with Tom in Fall 1988, my freshman year at Brown. We students were working in three dimensions for the first time, and found ourselves facing infuriating but rewarding struggles in understanding everyday objects like saddles and teacups. Through practice, we gradually improved at thinking of things in space, defining them, rendering them, and, when necessary, calculating facts about them. When we almost thought we had it, Tom opened up a FOURTH dimension. Suddenly all the work we'd done was repaid, and in ways we couldn't have imagined before (literally). I couldn't resist the new challenge and excitement; I took topology with Tom my senior year, too.

Research work with Tom brought the same kinds of twists and turns. Our focus at first was just to make satisfying mathematical images in an interactive setting. I was part of the group independent study working with Tom on Vector in Spring 1989, with Jeff Achter, Cassidy Curtis, Curtis Hendrickson and Greg Siegle. It was the first time I'd programmed something because I wanted the results, and I was swamped by the details. But Tom's mentoring and support of our group continued through the summer (I particularly worked on Vector's rendering of implicit surfaces), and by next spring, we had a system which really could (with effort) illustrate mathematical ideas effectively.

That just meant, of course, that we could now take things to the next level! Scott Draves and Nick Thompson had just developed fnord, which included a language (fnorse) to connect input controls and output renderings through general mathematical relationships. The new system allowed Tom and his team to program a new kind of interactive visualization: fnord sessions could be customized to offer more meaningful interactions with the mathematical objects under scrutiny, and so could now focus students more precisely onto the mathematical properties and insights at play. Exploring this brought lots of challenges, which I continued to help with after Scott and Nick graduated, off and on up through my first year of graduate school.

After leaving Brown in 1992, I did a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Since graduating, I've been an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department and Center for Cognitive Science at Rutgers. My work now finds its main audience among researchers developing natural language dialogue systems, so I'm sometimes content to describe myself as a computational linguist. But in fact I usually like to offer a more general description of what I do: I study human-computer interaction, and focus on computational models of communicative actions and processes. This is what I've really been interested in, since fnord. As anyone who has spent any time with Tom will recognize, peoples' exchanges of ideas pale when we cut out the presentations, demonstrations and other expressive actions that accompany, complement and reinforce what we say to one another. Where fnord succeeds, for example, it's because its interactions allow us to use its visual presentations to make a point. I've always found it provocative and productive to maintain a view of dialogue that acknowledges visual elements as first-class citizens — a perspective which I am happy to attribute to the enduring influence of my experiences with Tom and his research group.

[Matthew's web home page has links to his research and teaching interests.]

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Created: 11 Oct 2003
Last modified: Oct 31, 2003 11:00:21 AM
Comments to: dpvc@union.edu
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