Biography of Ed H. Chi

Longer Biography of Ed Huai-hsin Chi

(rewritten on June 16, 2000)


picture of Ed H. Chi 10yr old In the beginning, Ed is known as Huai-hsin. I am the third and last child of two professors in Taiwan, and grew up on the campus of an elegant college campus called Tamkang. My dad is a bookish scholar. My childhood memory consisted of playing in the various rooms in the house, with ceiling-to-floor bookcases (doublly-stacked) surrounding me as I played Legos. I shared a room also with floor-to-ceiling bookcases with my brother Tim. As they say in Chinese, two generations in the family are surrounded by the perfume and aura of the books.

The plan was to have a quartet in the family. My brother learned the cello, and my sister played the piano, and my dad and I were to be both violinists. I played for some years, but found other hobbies, whereas my siblings chose to continue to carry on with music. Tim and Susan are both studying for their doctorate in music, while I defected and moved into high-tech computer research.

picture of Ed H. Chi This move wasn't as earth-shattering as it may sound, because my father is quite a computer-nut himself. We acquired an Orange Plus, a semi-illegal clone of the Apple II Plus computer when I was in third grade at Tamsui Elementry. Beside the stereo equipments, it was the most expensive piece of machine we had in the house, but dad and I were totally fascinated by the things that it could do. Dad eventually acquired an IBM PC, and left the Orange to my care. I learned to program my first assembly program on that machine, staring into the green little monitor we had. The seed of a computer scientist had been planted then.

A turning point in our family's history came in 5th grade. My dad had received an exchange-professorship to a small college in Minnesota, in the US. With little comprehension of what this meant, I came to this land of opportunity, not knowing what an frozen tundra we're about to step into. And frozen Minnesota is, for about six months out of a year, to be exact. But as a 10-year old, I didn't care. I played, and made friends, and learned English (as most other subject was just a piece of cake compared to the Taiwanese education.) After a year of this, I went back to Taiwan with my dad, while the rest of the family stayed to finish up their studies (which led to most of us taking permanent residence in the US.)

picture of Ed H. Chi Little did I know that going back to Taiwan meant that I was going to be studying my butt off. I slept 4-6 hours on most week nights for the next three years, spending most of my waking hours studying basic topics from Chinese to Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Biology. The only easy class was English, for reasons that should be obvious. It was one of the toughest period of intense study that I can remember. Yes, even tougher than the Ph. D.

A dramatic change in 1988 came when my mother decided that she was not to be out done by others, and that she wanted a Ph. D. as well. This time to Minneapolis, a metropolis, but still in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. To think, she could have chosen Hawaii instead. I came as a 9th grader into an unusual diverse inner-city school that had the most number of National Merit Scholars in the state.

I was known as a brainy student and a computer hacker who liked pottery and guitar. The first year, I was new and very different from everyone, being the only foreign student there. Being different is not necessarily a "good thing" in high school, especially if you want to fit in. Luckily, our school is so diverse that people are much more likely to accept differences. By the second year, I started making friendships that would later change my life. Brook is a handy guy who can fix just about anything, and played the guitar. We played in garages, bedrooms, and on local bridges. Chad became a potter, and we threw pots together and share bad poetry with each other. Laura is a beautiful brunette who gave me my first pet---a gold fish, and Ingrid is the center of a love triangle between Brook and Chad. It was a time of discovery, of ourselves and each other.

College was a breeze, but I worked hard to finish early. I had set my goals, and nothing was going to stop me from becoming a famous computer scientist. Little did I know how hard it is to do that. It was the fortune of a young punk who didn't know the limit, and tried anyhow. This drive, which I still carry to this day, was the major reason of being where I am now. At the University, I liked going to the Weisman Art Museum on campus to relax. Also, I enjoy talking to people over a cup of coffee about life, philosophy, or just to have a good time. A favorite spot was Espresso Royale in Dinkytown. Friends and I spent many nights there.

During this time of five years of intellectual pursuit, I received my Bachelor's and Master's degree, and worked at the Geometry Center, where I worked on one of the first visualizations of the Web called "WebSpace". And I also spent 3 years as a computational molecular biologist, doing various system research and developments. After being tired of being a tool-maker, I wanted to do something that would put visualizations right in user's hands. In 1996, I started my Ph.D. research in Information Visualization. A concept called "Spreadsheet for Visualization", which enable users to compute with graphics that represent data in a spreadsheet-like environment, with cells containing large data sets. In 1997, I came to Xerox PARC for a summer internship with Stu Card in the User Interface Research Group, where I worked on Visualizing the Web. I returned in 1998 to combine the Disk Tree and Time Tube Visualization with the Visualization Spreadsheet. The rest of my carrer followed naturally after that. In March 1999, I finished my Ph.D. degree and am now working full-time at Xerox PARC with Stu Card and others in the User Interface Research Group. My main interest has been in the area of information visualization, user interfaces and computer-human interaction, computer graphics.

There is nothing more shocking than the realization of becoming someone who needed change, because of the single-track focus I had. Toward the end of my Ph. D. in early 1998, I started to change my life philosophy and went through a personal metamorphosis. Before this period, I had rejected the possibility of ever becoming a true Renaissance man, because I had thought that, given all the knowledge in the world, it was impossible to be a good and true Renaissance man. But I gradually realized thta it wasn't the END GOAL of being a Renaissance man that mattered, but that the PROCESS of trying is what really mattered.

From this point of departure, I became more outgoing, and more exploratory. Whereas I tended to live in the future before, now I live more for the present. My emotional development finally had a chance to catch up with my career developments. My expanded range of interests is a direct result of this metamorphosis. I also restarted pottery and photography again. Since moving out to California, I've made sure to keep my range of interests in my Play time separate from my Work time. Work Hard, Play Hard. I am trying again to get my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and am enjoying the sport tremedously. My life feels balanced, and happy. I haven't felt this good since I was a little kid playing in my childhood neighborhood on the college campus.

The big question: what's to come? I am not sure, but I'm excited to find out. I wake up in the morning and my life is waiting. Waiting, so that I can make this story more complete. I am not sure you wanted to know all this. But if you've read this far, then you have to send me email to let me know!


Ed H. Chi (chi [at] acm.org)
Copyright 1996-2014 Ed H. Chi