chimerically: (Default)
As some of you know, I am interning this summer with the IDEA team at Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, where we working on a research project focused on children, families, and communication. We are looking for participants for a study that will take place this summer, and would greatly appreciate your help. Please share the following message with friends, organizations, mailing lists, bulletin boards, or anyone who may be interested. Thank you!


Dear Parents,

As a part of a project with Stanford University and Nokia Research Center, we are studying how families with kids in early elementary school communicate, both with one another and with remote family members, and how technologies and kids' toys are a part of this. For help with our research, we are looking to hear from the perspective of families with children aged 5-9 years.

We ultimately hope to develop age-appropriate technologies to help children develop and maintain relationships with loved ones (e.g. grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends).

The time commitment required for participation is typically an afternoon or evening. We would like to interview and observe you and your family in your home in order to understand the methods your family uses to communicate and what values you have around the toys and technologies in your lives. Your child(ren) can also give us a "tour" of their toys and explain to us their thoughts on family and their favorite activities.

As a thank-you for participation, your family will receive a $100 gift certificate. You will also be invited to participate in a design workshop at Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto.

We are flexible with scheduling and will work around what is convenient for you.

If you are willing to participate or have any questions about this research, please contact me by email ( or phone at (510)387-2023.

Morgan Ames
Department of Communication
Stanford University
chimerically: (sewing machine)
My life's been invaded by robots. It all started with [ profile] dag29580863 getting a robotic dog last fall, when he was still at IBM. At the time he was exploring cognitive computing and was hoping to use it for something involving that, but when he moved to Google it came home with him.

Then I got him a Lego Mindstorms NXT kit for xmas. We've played around with ideas of building a ballroom-dancing robot and a thermostat robot with it. This quarter, in Cliff Nass's lab, I'm working with a team doing studies on human-robot interaction ... and as part of an experiment we're running on attachment to robots, I borrowed [ profile] dag29580863's kit back and built and programmed some robots to use in the study. (Yeah, I'm a terrible gift-giver in this case. "Here's a present! Now I'm going to play with it ..." I also feel like I'm back in undergraduate computer science in that I'm pulling all-nighters figuring out the advanced programming features of the NXT.) I've also talked to several friends who are doing research on various robots, including a fascinating project on the Mars Rover missions.

Finally, after recent allergy tests revealed that I am, in fact, allergic to lots of things (surprise surprise), yesterday we ordered a roomba that should arrive next week that should help us keep our place cleaner and less allergy-inducing.

I feel like my life's being taken over by robots! What will be next? Maybe I can incorporate these recent forays into robotics into my final paper for my (fabulous and fascinating) phenomenology class, just to continue the trend. :~) Or I can program a robot to sew ballroom dresses for me. (I'm trying to finish up two dresses for the performance I have this Saturday.)

Any other robots I should know about out there? Can they invade my life even more?

(P.S. Isn't this sewing userpic cool? I can't remember where I found it, but for many sewing machines are so opaque and this is just a great graphic for understanding what's really going on.)
chimerically: (dolls)
I went to a great talk this morning, and then this and this show up in my RSS feed. It's going to be one of those high-energy research-ideas days, I can tell already. (And I remind those of you who think the day's half-over already that I'm not a morning person. :~))

It does make me wonder what all these folks really mean when they talk about "ethnography," though. I'm still learning what it means myself, and I probably won't start to have a good answer until I spend a few years in the field doing it (and of course, my definition would surely continue to shift and evolve past that, too). The inimitable Jean Lave, while liberal and accepting in so many ways, holds a very strict definition of ethnography (as do many ethnographers). Among other things, she says that one must have a long-term immersion in the culture under study (where long-term is on the order of years, not days). None of this "rapid ethnography" that seems to be popular in HCI, and none of this substituting the term "ethnographic" for "qualitative" willy-nilly. Long amounts of time are necessary for many reasons: it takes time to really understand all of the intricacies and different points of view within a community (and such an understanding both pays respect to the lives of one's subjects and to the research process), it takes time to realize and challenge the assumptions the researcher brings to the table, and it takes time to collect enough data to start building hypotheses from the ground-up, based on observations rather than preconceived notions of what might be interesting. And there are many more reasons, too.

There's another factor Jean Lave talks about in realizing and challenging our implicit assumptions, the second point above. Ethnographers seem to traditionally require that the culture under study is sufficiently different from the anthropologist's because otherwise, important cultural influences are as invisible as water is to a fish (or as the air we breathe is to us, I suppose). While having this as a hard-and-fast rule has been questioned and stretched to an extent, most still recognize that cultural familiarity does breed many assumptions and unspoken understandings.

Speaking of which, this is one thing that makes me most uncomfortable about quantitative studies. They can be immensely powerful, summarizing more data and investigating more users than a qualitative study ever could, but naturally there's still a degree of interpretation that is often not discussed: what is interesting to focus on, what kinds of data is collected, what kinds of hypotheses are made and what assumptions are built into them. There aren't as many opportunities to "test" assumptions "in the field" when one is doing quantitative research, and it's so easy to miss what's really important or find oneself at a loss when challenged with questions of why or how a community does what it does. Here it's unclear whether having familiarity with a culture is more of an asset or liability: it can lead to the same kinds of assumptions but it can also give you insights that you couldn't get from the data alone. It's a drawback on quantitative research generally, I guess. Just one of the many reasons I'm trying to figure out how to walk the line between the two ...

Another thing that intrigues me about the talk this morning is how the speaker integrates design into the research process. It seems that many social scientists, even those doing research on technological artifacts in various ways, don't think directly about design ... even though some fora where they present their work expect it, as Paul Dourish said so well at the recent CHI conference. Others are more adept at design and system-building, and their social analyses seem to, at the very least, be lacking from the point of view of social science communities. But here's someone who seems very adept in both spaces, and that's impressive to me. I'd love to get the chance to work with this person (and also folks like Genevieve Bell and Ken Anderson at Intel ... just while I'm naming names :~)) and find out how to do the blending effectively.
chimerically: (Default)
I'm very excited about my work at Yahoo! this summer. I'll be doing research on Yahoo! Groups, following up on some of the quantitative surveys being conducted by a few others in Yahoo! Research with more in-depth, mostly qualitative investigations. Though I strongly disapprove of some of their policies (and I wish I had my TV-B-Gone for the two very annoying TVs in the cafeteria!), nowhere else would I have this kind of opportunity to do open-ended research on such a large, diverse, active, and long-lived online community. There are millions of groups, and the archives go back ten years! Some Yahoo! groups are incredibly active ... even Craigslist was a Yahoo! group way back when. Where else could I get something like that?

Such opportunity is at once exhilarating and completely overwhelming. With a data set that big, where should I start? What should I focus in on? I spent a week just reading about other community research my boss threw my way and brainstorming long lists of ideas. Finally we decided that it would make sense to start with an investigation of how various groups form, grow, and, in some cases, die -- in itself a complicated question, of course, but still something around which we can focus investigations. I imagine that once we start playing around with the data, other research directions will become apparent. This seems to be the way I like to work anyway, whether in research or programming or usability: I assume that it's impossible to anticipate everything that I'll want to do, so I just jump in early, get my hands dirty, and iterate. I'll do my best to write periodic updates on what I'm learning.

Oh, and the title above is my working moniker for the project. Tipped hat to the late Jane Jacobs (one of the main inspirations for my undergrad research project on "healthy cities").
chimerically: (dolls)
Wow. Incredible workshop on "reflective human-computer interaction" today, with Phoebe Sengers and others. Hopefully I'll find time to write it up when I'm less jet-lagged. For now, I'll just link to the workshop site for those who are interested.

What a way to get in my student volunteer hours! :~)

Update: here's the conference poster. Click the link for a bigger version.

("Lift here for naughty words.")
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I finished a second reading of Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High-Energy Physicists and discussed it in Jean Lave's ethnography class today. When I have more time, I really want to write about this class. But for now, I'll just share a quote I heard years ago that the book helped me recall. It says a lot about physicists and the culture of physics, as I have experienced it and as Traweek wrote about it. :~)

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."
- Ernest Rutherford

Utah Quicksilver, Park City and Salt Lake City's best transportation service
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I've been told often enough throughout my life that I need to "get out there" more -- be more assertive, be more aggressive, be more social, or just plain talk more (dammit!). However, when it comes to teaching, presenting, hosting a party, or interacting in other social situations, I can do just fine, and I even enjoy public speaking (as evinced by my years teaching planetarium shows at Holt Planetarium and dance lessons for UCBD). But being "out there," especially for long periods of time, and especially in unstructured social situations such as parties, sure does wear me out. I've never been a partier: I often get to know more of the books on my party host's bookcase than strangers at the party. In high-school psychology I realized I was just introverted, and throughout my life I've learned to "cope" with my "impairment." Well, a couple of years ago, an introverted writer decided to speak out. Nothing's wrong with being introverted, he said, and there's a lot that's right. And further, introverts are rather inconvenienced by the smalltalk and sociality that is expected of them. "Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts." And from a later interview: "Extroverts should understand that if someone is being quiet it doesn't mean they're having a bad time; it doesn't mean they're depressed; it doesn't mean they're lonely or need psychiatric help or medication. A lot of the battle is making the extrovert world more aware."

In the article and follow-up interview, the author stated that we live in a world that favors extroverts. I would agree completely for the physical world. (I've been lucky in that pretty much all the people I've been close to have been introverts. As an aside, a high-school classmate of [ profile] dag29580863's once said that he'd only ever heard D say three words in all of high school. D, in his usual inimitable style, retorted, "Make that six.") But I would argue that the virtual world can be as well suited to introverts as extroverts. Online I can take my time responding, walk away, or sequester myself completely (... at least with most of my friends). It lets me stay connected to friends, but on terms I am more comfortable with -- less intense and more ambient, like the occasional connection one has when working independently but with someone else in the same room.

Are you introverted too? Do you also like the affordances of online communication? Does it also help you extroverts out there feel more connected?
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A prof in my department sent this article to one of the department mailing lists. I don't know if this guy objects to the way "academics" have been doing Internet research for the last 15+ years or if he just has his head lodged deep in some pre-Internet hole, but he obviously hasn't even tried to find or acknowledge the many studies on exactly what he says is lacking.
chimerically: (Default)
Seen at Albertson's yesterday:


The boxes in the stars say something like "just fill in 5 unless you're not highly satisfied."
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I'm thinking of forming a reading group on technology and feminism next semester, probably starting with Judy Wajcman's book Technofeminism. I haven't done much reading in this area besides some stuff on women studying computer science, but I've been interested in it for a while and also might be taking a course on gender studies in the sociology department, so it seemed like a good time to do it. Who's in? (Of course, we'll have to see how my time for it fares between classes, research, and another reading group for the photos project. But the more interest there is, the more likely it will happen and keep happening.)

Aside: in looking for a link for Technofeminism I found a link to the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies ... take a look at the "concordance" and "text stats" below the fold. Wow! When did Amazon start doing this kind of stuff?

"So what?"

Oct. 15th, 2005 12:12 am
chimerically: (Default)
I got my project proposal for my social psychology class back today with less-than-glowing comments. I was hoping to carve off a piece of my ongoing research on photography and cameraphones, and proposed studying the ways in which people create identities (e.g. through constructed memories and self-representation) with photographs, narrowing my scope to those online for the purposes of a semester project. The professor responded with, "I don't think I buy 'online photo-sharing identities' as something of sociological interest. I'd encourage you not to do this project. If, however, you are really sold on it, come to my office hours and try to sell it to me." At first, I felt devastated. Why wasn't it interesting? I thought it was interesting ... I was even thinking of expand it into a master's thesis next semester. The fact that I'm getting some "so what" responses from both sides - technological and social - worries me and eats away at my self-esteem. And I just don't know enough about the fields of social psychology or science and technology studies to effectively justify my work to those audiences. But then I thought about the readings of the course, many of whose themes focused on various forms of racial and gender discrimination. Is that what he's expecting? What does he mean by "something of sociological interest?" So it's my plan to review the readings this weekend and try to formulate a rejoinder for office hours next week, and a few questions for him. We'll see how it goes.

In the late afternoon I practiced ballroom for a couple of hours. Practices the last couple of weeks have been really good - we have some new choreography and I feel like we're making headway on some technique issues our coaches have been mentioning for a while now. Tomorrow night we're competing in the Autumn Classic at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in SF, if anyone's interested. :~)
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I was invited, in stead of my advisor who is on sabbatical, to give a lecture in Mass Communications 10 today about the cameraphone project. Luckily, I didn't have to do it alone: I recruited mroth to help, and we traded off speaking throughout the hour. And we also had slides my advisor had presented a month or two earlier to work from. All things considered, it went well. You can see our slides here (be patient: it's 105 slides in a 5MB pdf file). I'm sure we made a few fans by ending 10 minutes before the class was scheduled to end, too, after 1 hour of lecture and 10 minutes of questions. Afterwards, the professor thanked us several times for a "wonderful lecture," and the two students who I knew from ballroom said that grad students should talk about their research more often. :~) Two other undergrads expressed interest in getting involved with the project. Overall, I was happy with how it went.

Students coming in - probably the biggest crowd I've ever presented to (except for my silly 5 minute talk at graduation)

After we finished, I rushed back for the last part of my second identity and storytelling class. I took a gamble signing up for it at the beginning of the semester without knowing anything about it, but so far it has been fabulous. I regretted that I missed most of it today, especially since one of the guest panelists was the creator of Flickr (though the topic was gaming, not photography). I would summarize the class content, but the class blog is doing a better job of that than I could do with limited time. I'm hoping to write about narratives in photo-sharing of various kinds for my paper for this class, perhaps extending it into my social psychology final project on identity and self-representation in photography.

I stayed on for Howard Rheingold's participatory media class, 7-9 on Tuesdays (so late!). I loved the lecture he gave as part of SIMS' Distinguished Lecture Series, but I haven't been as crazy about the course - it seems disorganized and nothing in it has really grabbed my interest. Summary of talk )

On the topic of the cameraphone project, there are plans afoot for three joural publications, and I'll be going with my advisor to 4S next week to see her present the work (and to see a friend and get to know the community). Stress! Excitement! I'm going to have to make this a short update, alas - I have two papers to work on, both due Friday. My dad's website is coming along, though more slowly than I (or he) would like. So much to do! I'll post more later when I have a bit less on my plate.
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I learned today that my Healthy Cities poster got into UbiComp, and got great reviews besides! *cheers*

Yesterday my car did not pass smog. What kind of environmentalist am I? (Answer: a broke one. I'd buy a Civic hybrid if I could ... or use public transit if it were more reliable! Speaking of which, the bus was 18 minutes late yesterday, and the driver was a prick. Good thing I'm finally close enough to campus to rollerblade - and maybe my neck is better enough to bike again.)

Today I started yoga, databases, and compilers, and talked again with A.J., my research advisor at U. Washington. Today was also the first class of Political and Economic Development in the Third World. The professor is an incisive, expressive fellow from Guyana, full of stories and anecdotes and seditious comments. Each student has to lead a panel discussion this semester, and I asked him if he could add a panel on information technology in developing countries. I also volunteered to make a website for the class, of course. Here are a few anecdotes from class:

The US economy depends on continuous expansion of demand. If the mean income in the US drops, the very basis of our economy - spending as much as possible, the sale of luxury goods, etc. - starts to erode, investments drop, people spend even less, fees go up, and we spiral into depression. Your interests are vested in the system, even though the system is unsustainable; in this way, we are all exploiters, just by living in this country.

What about Cuba? The income range in Cuba is $15-$25/month, but they don't have to worry about education, health care, or housing (10% of your income covers housing). They have trouble imagining a system where you have to worry about having a high income to cover housing, transportation, and health care - just as we have trouble imagining a system where there is no clean water, sewage, or access to food and other goods.

How do you get out of an unsustainable system, like the US? How much would nationalized health-care make a difference? How would nationalized health-care be paid for, and how would it affect the current economic situation?

Overseas work is cheap - more in the range of $1/day, rather than the US $20/hour (for comparable work with benefits etc.) - and transportation is cheap also, so it's no wonder companies export labor.

What convinces people that they have to pay $120 for Nike shoes? The shoe is produced for $9 - labor is cheap since conditions are poor, there are no benefits, and factories employ women - and the rest is marketing, plus maybe pumps, lights, etc., changing every three months. The differences go to the shareholders; it accumulates wealth, generates taxes, and creates the conditions for infrastructures and public education.

How does the system justify exploitation? There are concepts of "deserving", along income, racial, gender, etc. lines. Presumption of innocence goes to the wealthy, and excuses emerge. Why does A. Shwartzenegger deserve to run California? He's from Europe, white, wealthy, and male. Say a qualified woman originally from Rwanda was to run - people would presume that because she's from Africa, black, female, she couldn't possibly be in a position of power. A.S. claims the Horatio Algiers story - his family in Austria was poor, and he came to California with little - and since he made it when others didn't, he's obviously more deserving. We all believe we deserve what we have, or more ... and all it takes is more effort, morality, or to get more.


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