Sunday, October 21, 2007

taking the reins

While I was gone, I got assigned to a "team" to do projects for the class. I'm always a little nervous about "teams". I've had some good but also some rather unpleasant dealings in corporate culture over that word.

I'm also a little unsettled because I got assigned to a project app that I wasn't involved with discovery or research or storyboarding about it. And apparently no one else on my team was either. They're not worried though. Well, actually, I've only heard from one teammember. The other is not responding to email. (Apparently gone for the weekend.)

When I asked "If there were no users involved at any point in the process, how can it be "user-centered" design?" I mean, I thought that was the point of what we're supposed to be learning. So - his response: "we're all users ourselves."

We're NOT the users in this project. We're the designers - which automatically makes us too close to the product. The users will be the ones who use the app when we're not around. The ones who have to try to figure out how to get the right settings to get the right info without going crazy, who have to figure out an interface they didn't create. It *matters*. HCI isn't just about technical solutions or about following some w3c guidelines. HCI is about *humans* being able to use the technology without getting headaches over it, it's about apps not being designed by geeks for geeks, it's about thinking about the person who will use this app and about what matters to them.

So - being me, I decided to create a googledoc and invited them to it so we can all write down questions (and answers) about what we'll be prototyping. Even if we haven't been able to do the contextual inquiry, we can have a specific "user" to prototype around.

Anyways - we'll see how they respond. I am just not going to walk in on Tuesday and sit down to make something up. If the class was just about generic "innovation" and "making stuff up" - I can do that. But that's *not* what we're supposed to be doing in this class.

So - we'll see how this "team" works out.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Too tired to post

Just got back from lunch with some of the women from the conference. The last morning was really good and lunch was great. I'm definitely going next year to GHC in Colorado.

So - I'm gonna gnap now and I'll update more later. And do homework. (Gotta do my takehome test that's due Monday.)

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Why doesn't everyone do this?

I have a great laptop. It's dualboot, XP and linux (ubuntu).

I just found out something *awesome* that ubuntu does.

You know how sometimes you go to enter your password, and you happen to have your Caps Lock Key on? Ubuntu has a comment show up right below the password textfield that says, "You have the Caps Lock key on."

Until the capslock gets ripped out and removed from every computer, this should be the *standard* procedure for *any* log-in. Yay for ubuntu!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Just to show GHC rocks!

(and to point out that I'm not going to post *only* about angst), Kori from SIG-CHI (who I met at the HCI panel today) sent me a link to papers by students that had been accepted at the CHI conference. I was inspired enough that I just sent a study proposal to my advisor. GHC rocks!

And now I am going to bed. For real this time. And staying there. ;-)

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Rollercoaster day

I had some trouble focusing this afternoon - just feeling down. Worried about school, about networking, about whether I'm "doing it right", worried that my, ahem, forthright manner will alienate the very people who might be deciding internships, jobs, information interviews, providing contacts. It's hard sometimes, feeling like I've got the worst of both worlds - I'm not social like most women, but I'm not as technically focused as most men. I worry that I'll graduate with no prospects, or that I'll "settle" for another dead-end job, or worse, that my past spotty career (mother, housewife, office work, temp work) will be held against me in jobseeking and I'll end up with no job. I worry that I won't realize early enough when I need to apply for internships or that there are other expectations that I'm supposed to figure out for myself.

I know - you're not supposed to talk about this sort of anxiety out loud. I figure, someone out there might be going through this sort of thing too, and knowing they're not alone might help.

In spite of the worries, I managed to meet some really kewl women today. I got to have a really nice chat on the bus with a grad student from my program at school. It was nice to make that connection. We'd not had much chance to get to know each other before. She gave me some helpful advice about getting to know the grad students in the program and not relying solely on my advisor.

The morning presentations on HCI were interesting. There was an interesting diversity of approaches to HCI. My favorites were a woman who is designing a lighting configuration voice response system who talked about using Wizard of Oz discovery for how users actually talked about their lighting needs; a woman who was switching over capture and assessment processes for therapists from handwritten notes and forms to a digital paper and pen for taking notes, and a system that provided the notes and data points, along with video connected with the data points; and another woman who chose to, rather than using online software collaboration tools, had her users use an analog process for discovery, to see how they interacted, and discovered that much of the temporal "flow" of the visual information decision systems probably has more to do with the software constraints than with how they would naturally approach the project. Oh - and one woman had the *kewlest* slide - this 3d data visualizer that turned so you could see it from multiple sides.

Lunch with Systers was great. I met a really kewl woman who lives near me and I think we'll keep in touch. It was also great to discuss rss feeds vs email listservs with women of varying backgrounds.

Oh yeah - and today there was a great presentation on HCI as a gateway to computing for women. I loved it. I think the fundamental user-centered, pragmatic approach of HCI allows people to look at what's really going on, rather than just the theories, and accept that the current paths into tech aren't working for far too many women. HCI isn't a stopping point for many women - a lot go on to CS or other tech pursuits, or come away with increasing awareness of how computers can be useful in whatever they want to do. In any case, it's an entry point that a lot of women *and* other diverse people appreciate. It was great to hear the responses to a question about "isn't HCI just a way of getting away with doing 'easy' stuff"? Humans are the ones with real problems that need solving. Doing the tech is the *easy* part - figuring out these "pesky" humans is the real hard part.

After that, the afternoon was kindof a bust for me - and I went back to my room eventually to nap before dinner. Dinner turned out to be at Universal, outside. Eep. There I was in a silk skirt (boiling) carrying my jacket, expecting more airconditioning. Turned out I wasn't the only one confused about that. (I was glad to hear that.) Toward the end of the evening, I ended up at the piano bar, which was really fun!

It's far too late, but I've needed time to wind down. (I got to do video iChat with my husband when I got to my hotel room - which was great. It's nice having a supportive husband - he loves having a smart geek wife.)

I am looking forward to tomorrow. There's some workshops coming up that look quite intriguing, and I am expecting to learn a lot. Good night all!

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Trying to keep positive

I checked my course website for a class, and found out I'd gotten 42/50 on the 3rd assignment. The mean was 45. I felt really bad about that. Like I'm not really very good at this, what am I doing here, stuff like that. It probably doesn't help that I'm tired. The mean was 45.9 on the assignment. The standard deviation was 4.42, so I'm at least within one SD.

I've been talking to myself - reminding myself that I got perfect scores on the first two assignments, and that the 2nd assignment was worth more points. So no, I don't suck.

I did a shoddy job. I was pissed off that the assignment wasn't clear enough (I didn't realize that in time) and I'd done a lot of research on something that I couldn't use, and didn't find out until the day before. So I had to do something "in a hurry". And I didn't really care about the topic. I know - bad attitude. And that was reflected in my work and in the grade. I am hopeful about the 4th assignment though - I think I did a good job on it. We'll see.

The next (5th) assignment should be interesting... I've been assigned to a group - with people I don't know, working on something together that I haven't even found out what. Uffda. I'm a little nervous about it, particularly since I'll be gone until late Sunday. It's a group project and I'm not there. I just hope I can catch up okay (I hate playing "catchup") when I get back.

So I ran the numbers:
I'm right *at* the mean overall for the assignments and just below the median:
Me: .946, Mean: .945 Median: .96

Okay - so, that's not so bad, I guess...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

First day at GHC

Some really good talks. (There weren't any that were bad.) Some highlights:

The Keynote Speaker, Donna Dubinsky, talked about Numenta: a startup with Jeff Hawkins who wrote On Intelligence, which is using biological brain-based concepts (spatio-temporal persistence, heirarchical structures, nodes) to create a new platform. They're looking for interns. Later, their principal architect gave a great tech talk on the platform. It was wonderful to hear that this is possible! That there are people doing this sort of work, commercially. I had had the impression that such things were only available in academia, pure resarch programs.

Later, a panel on interdisciplinary research (ID) was great. I was worried at the start, because I thought it was going to be all academic. There was one woman there from Intel, named Susan, whose ID is anthropology and user experience research - ethnographic discovery - to determine real users needs and convey that to the developers. That sounds awesome!

There was a great talk about re-inventing CS1. Three speakers talked about how they're turning CS1 into a kewl class (or rather, set of class options) that are based around 3D animations, or personal robots, etc. Kewl, fun stuff. And most of it is in Python! Woot!

The talk on "landing your dream job" - I asked a question about women in transition - changing careers. The average person changes careers 3 to 5 times! according to some studies. I wanted to know how do companies (recruiters and hiring committees, interviewers) view career changes. The best piece of advise was that: most recent grads have no life experience and that I can bring my life experience and perspective to the table - present those as strengths.

It was nice to see several women at the conference who are mothers (even grandmothers) and are managing to find ways to maintain.

I actually was a bit worried about what to wear. The diversity of clothing was amazing. Women in jeans and tshirts, suits, slacks, dresses, headscarfs, capris, ... I was pleased to see it. Tomorrow, jeans and tshirt for me. (Today was capris and a sports tanktop.)

After the last talk, I skipped the BOF sessions and went back to my hotel room (I'm staying across the street from the conference hotel) and dropped off all my stuff, and took time to change. I'm *so* glad I did. Not everyone, but *most* people had dressed up for the banquet.

I got to dance with Frances Allen! (The first woman to win the Turing Prize.) She was a lovely older woman, who climbs mountains (she was telling about a recent "hike" at 14000 feet!) and dances rather energetically. She led us in a snake dance - holding hands and winding in and out... That was fun.

I had a good day, but it's way late. I'm going to try to sleep. Tomorrow is another day, as the saying goes...

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cool, hot, cold, loud, dry, too much, too little

Sensory update

Cool: lots of really interesting talks. And dinner was nice.
hot: 90 degrees outside, room full of women dancing
cold: airconditioning in the hotels so i had to carry (and often wear) my jacket a lot
loud: the music was so loud I couldn't stay for long, and eventually left the room with some other women to chat
dry: I didn't drink nearly enough water today.

Too much: sensory overload, people, people I don't know, noise
Too little: bandwidth, clocks, handy maps, bathrooms, sleep, downtime, quiet

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Learning by computer

Okay - this is clear as mud, but I was typing while listening and then the wifi went down (again)

Internal representations:
better to let object with both A and B characteristics be represented by both A and B active rather than learning something as AB. Better for generalization.

What goals:
current focusing on image recognition
want to recognize variations of a picture of an object

starting with an end result, suppose I don't know the structure of the data
can try to build a heirarcy
N^2 algorithm

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I'm seeing Python in so many places today.

The Numenta guy's application is built in python. (It says so on the side.)

and a lot of the "fix CS1" programs are starting to use Python to introduce CS to people from diverse backgrounds, providing fun, accessible learning of concepts. Using Python to make "gateway" classes instead of "gatekeeper" courses is useful to increase the diversity of students taking and staying in these intro classes. "but wait" says the CS hardcore geek - "What about the lower levels and pointers and recursion and all the hard stuff people need to learn". PYthon isn't "dumbing it down" and these classes that are being produced are providing learning without having to do it dryly. For example, people in class decide they need to have a function call itself and ask how to do that - this way they learn recursion because they have a use-case.

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Brain and Computer

Great talk. I wanna work at Numenta. Applying model of brain to building computers. Propagating information up in heirarchy. Can use Bayesian techniques to disambiguate.

I am so torn (still) between work like this, applying neuroscience directly to computer architecture vs HCI which applies a variety of human sciences to computer interface.

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GHC update

So the network was down earlier. I'll update about morning sessions later, but right now I'm in a great panel on Interdisciplinary (ID) Research. It's nice to see that there's industry jobs rather than just academia. Common that ID people feel like they're not able to keep up as much in each. Also was nice to see a person who got into CS/IT sideways like me.

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Conference morning

I got my storyboarding assignment in last night. I actually was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. I think I came up with some creative ideas. The upload wasn't working, so I finally gave up and just emailed a zip file to the TAs.

On the shuttle to the hotel last night, I met 2 women also going to GHC. One had been before and she was really excited to be coming back. That was nice to hear about.

Of course, I cannot remember my assigned blogging sessions - I have a meeting at 8am, and I hope that'll give me the information.

I've been a little apprehensive about this conference. Looking forward to it, but also nervous. I don't think I've ever been in a group of women this large. I'm accustomed to computer conferences - being just one of the guys. I actually had a couple moments of "fashion panic" - worrying about what I'll wear! Ugh. Anyways - I've gotta shower and grab some breakfast now, and then head across the street to the conference.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My typical response

So, I had to code a program using bigrams to generate sentences based on two very different corpora (wsj and shakespeare). I coded it up yesterday afternoon and evening. It took about 2 hours (aside from discussing data structures with Alex - I got to use the collections.defaultdict for the first time.) I sent it, and then suddenly panicked. What if I misunderstood the assignment? I do that sort of thing pretty often (particularly in this class, for some reason). What worried me was, it was so easy to code. I must be doing something wrong. I had actually done it okay. I just had trouble *believing* that I'd done it right.

I run into this regularly - if it's hard, I worry I won't be able to do it at all, or that I'll need too much help from Alex; if it's easy, I worry I did it wrong. It couldn't possibly be that I'm finally getting enough practice and experience coding to be able to do easy things reasonably easily... could it? Nah. That would require me to admit that maybe I do know some programming after all. And, as I've repeatedly stated, "I'm not a programmer; I just use python to get things done."

I'm beginning to think I may have to change that motto. I am not a professional programmer. But, I do program. So, does that make me "a programmer"? I'll have to let that one percolate for a while...

Creative living

There's a class being offered on campus thru the transfers program I guess. It's called "The Art of Living Creatively" or something like that. It's about paying attention to your own creativity and learning to foster your creativity.

This is, I think, great timing. I recently declared my major concentration: HCI, and one of my biggest fears is whether I'll be up to the challenge. I'm dealing with "imposter syndrome" - I am starting to maybe believe I can program a little bit. At least sufficiently to do the homework we've had so far. But, beyond that, I'm worried that I'm just not creative enough for a job in HCI. After all, one can learn all the rules, but still not be an artist. I believe I have enough background and am able to learn how to recognize "when it's bad", but that doesn't mean I'll be able to do it right myself. I'm afraid that it may be as much visual art as it is science, and I'm not sure I'm able to do that.

So yes, learning that I *do* have creativity, and knowing I can tap into it, will be quite useful as I proceed upon this path.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Grace Hopper Celebration

Wednesday, I will be flying to Orlando Fl, for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I've never attended, but I'm really looking forward to it. I've volunteered to be a blogger for the conference, so you'll be reading a lot about the sessions.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Slowly but surely...

First it was my computational linguistics class.
Now, my HCI prof was recommending Python as a great prototyping language.
Of course, I just *happened* to be wearing a Python t-shirt at the time...

Even if it's not being taught as a course, Python's recognized by many as a useful, general-purpose, easy-to-learn and use language.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


So apparently, Descartes and Spinoza had a disagreement about whether, faced with a new proposition we:

D: Comprehend
Accept or Reject

S: Comprehend and Accept
Consider and possibly reject

This reminds me, actually, of a recent CDC study I heard about, from the same source, about how people misremember so-called "myths" that are being refuted, as being true AND that the source of the "truth" was the mythbuster.
In other words, Spinoza could have predicted the CDC's quandary.

Popperian assumptions

I hadn't realized how much my views of science are based on Popper. I had no idea that that's where they came from.

"willing to overthrow pet theories based on data"

Those apparently all come from Popper!