active again

With a recent re-alignment of priorities, I expect to be posting here more often. Feel free to add comments to this post if any of my previous research topics interested you!

Crosspost: microblogging sillyness

I recommend to those who follow my research to read this post about microblogging sillyness. I have further concerns about how microblogging dumbs down reflective thought, and sells semi-synchronous communication far short of its potential.

I have had two submissions accepted for publication: at IASTED WBE 2009 (paper), and at ICEL 2009 (poster). I’ll post more details here soon.

synchronous successes

This term in 1609 I have been coordinate discussions for a group effort (case study) through IRC, a synchronous discussion system. So far the discussions have been very productive, the first with 4 participants, and the second with 8 (of 10-11)!

I’m starting to see how introducing synchronous discussion after a few weeks of asynchronous discussion is different from the reverse. Each sets up particular expectations - in depth of discussion, evolution of ideas, language used.

Social presence is something that is much more perceivable in synchronous enviornments than in an asynchronous format, especially when working on small group work. It is more obvious how many individuals are talking at once, how many are contributing, what their opinions are than it is in, say, KF - where it’s very easy to overlook who’s making the comment at all!

Agency is a concern, in that some participants were new to the medium, or had simultaneous commitments (children, dinner, etc.) Yet the overall reaction to the discussions seems to be positive. I’d like to follow up with the participants with some sort of a survey to ensure my observations are unbiased, but overall I am pleased with the success and the progress being made on the case study.

My OISE office

I’m finally getting settled into my OISE office (11-283) - I expect I’ll be here at least half of the Wednesday afternoons every month. I always had a desk in that office, but for various reasons (primarily, I can’t handle sitting with my back to a door) I never really set up “home.” Today I brought in a small collection of books (from visual design and architecture through comics into research, statistics and education, finishing out with autism), a teapot and some teas, some yerba mate with a mate gourd and bombilla, some art postcards, and an extra power supply for my laptop.

I also brought two lovely items I picked up in Japan, part of a set I keep at home: miniature replicas of famous designer chairs, about 8cm high. I’ve never been a doll person per se, but these pieces speak to me. They remind me of the beauty inherent in simple design, how form follows function, and how materials one might not expect to be comfortable (e.g., fiberglass) can be moulded into something inviting and artistic. I think appreciation for this form of art was something I found at a very young age, when my grandmother used to take me to the Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans. Despite the pastoral appearance, this estate has an amazing collection of Modern works, and served as my introduction to Picasso, Vasarely, Agam, Laurens, Gabo and others. (My early appreciation for “op art” developed into a deeper appreciation for the Bauhaus school and the Modernist movement in general, extending beyond paintings and sculpture into architecture, music and general ethos.)

Hopefully these two miniature chairs will keep me focused on design in this bleak building:

Designer chair 1

Designer chair 1

Designer chair 2

Designer chair 2

I’ve been nervous about establishing an OISE presence in person for two reasons: first, I am by and large a remote collaborator. I deny the assertion made by many of my KMDI colleagues that the only true collaboration comes from co-located efforts. My achievements to date have been primarily distributed efforts, and have been enriched by that possibility. I don’t deny that remote work has its challenges and requires additional discipline to maintain. That said, I fully expect my thesis to consist in large part about distinct issues surrounding distance collaboration.

Second, perhaps a bit selfishly, I have a very nice office in my house, one that would be expensive and cumbersome to re-establish at OISE (if not impossible!) Still, I see the advantage in occasionally being near the library, and popping around to chat with others who are in the building. I acknowledge the power of “face time,” especially with those who do not themselves engage in frequent remote computer-support collaborative work (CSCW).

So it seems that my painfully slow OISE office computer is actually not all that bad: officially it’s a Dell OptiPlex GX280, service tag GYTF561. This configuration has a P4 @ 3.2GHz, 1GB RAM (2×512MB DDR2 PC2-3200), 80GB HD, a Radeon X300 video card (PCI Express x16, R300 based, or about 6 years old - nothing great), but perhaps most exciting: a motherboard with an LGA 775 socket. That means a simple processor swap could put a Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad in there! The motherboard is Intel i915P/ICH6 based, which means 4GB of DDR2 533MHz is the most I can put in it. Still, a Core 2 Duo with 4GB of 533MHz RAM would be a distinct improvement. Update: i915 chipset can’t handle a Core 2 Duo. Sad. Oh well.

The worst part about the machines in here is that they are running Windows 2000. I didn’t think I’d be the one saying this, having been resisting Vista constantly since its release, but: W2K looks dated now. XP is a far better system. Font rendering is probably the worst problem I encounter daily; I cringe at the poor rendering on the LCD screen.

So now the question: do I wipe it and put Linux on it? Or should I put Windows XP on it - there’s an XP license number affixed to the machine, so clearly it was a departmental thing that they got re-imaged with Windows 2000…. Though this system could handle Vista, I don’t see that as a useful exercise. Or, I could put OSX on it…yes, the hardware is actually supported by Apple, though the effort of putting Apple’s operating system on non-Apple hardware is a bit of a legal grey area.

Let me know if you have an opinion on OS choice! Today I’m just using a Linux live boot CD to be more productive. ;)

comedy in science writing

They found that variation in a section of the gene called IMl33t were more likely to use insufficiently large samples, confuse their research, and make uncalled-for generalizations.

Yes, it’s a joke :)

New schedule, new priorities

I’ve moved to a new schedule that allows me more time at OISE. Good things are coming out of this, not the least of which was that I got to spend all of today updating the GRAIL Blogging system, reworking the authentication system, and enabling video posts. I’m also working on some new conference submissions.

My studies are seem to happen in fits and spurts, but at least progress is being made.

Here’s an interesting reference I found yesterday that speaks to synchronous CMC in distance learning environments, and praises them for increasing teacher-student interaction.

Marantz, B., & England, R. (1992). Closing the distance: a CMC learning contract tutorial. Retrieved September 24, 2008, from

crosspost: owning your online experience

crossposted from my personal blog

ok, it’s probably painfully obvious at this point that I’m a bit of a net libertarian - or at least, anti-corporate-net-ownership. I hate online profiling, detest advertisements (to the point of not owning a TV!) and generally resist having my activity monitored.

Here’s a quick video if you’re not familiar with this concept, told in allegory:

Do something about it. Visit to find out more. I don’t believe this is about republican vs. democrat, or liberal vs. democrat…again, it’s about owning your own online life and content.

opensocial vs. facebook

OK, so since I started the topic, let me back it up with some data:

In short, the data says that OpenSocial is more open (though it’s still controlled by Google…), that there’s huge overlap between Facebook and MySpace (the progression seems of users from system to system seems to have been: LiveJournal first, then MySpace, then Facebook…and next OpenSocial? Oddly LiveJournal wasn’t included in the overlap stats), and finally that most use of apps in Facebook are for socializing, dating, music and text/image communication (no surprise there).

I think we do need to tap a GRAIL-like system into this, and determine what (if any?) function GRAIL serves in a larger social networing environment…at the same time, if unfettered synchronous communication is the key (as I still have a gut feeling it is), it’s not going to really matter where this happens, just that it does happen. And that we have the ability to capture it experimentally. This is why I still think we have to have a sandbox, much as I am loathe to admit it…

We just need to not reinvent the wheel.

social frameworks

All the kids like Facebook these days. Jim Slotta likes to say that “Facebook is a verb.”

2 years ago, it was MySpace.

4 years ago, it was LiveJournal. How much substantive difference is there between the LJ Quiz and the average Facebook “application”?

People keep reinventing the same thing, just like I presented @ CASCON two weeks ago (my case study was IRC).

Is it unreasonable to predict that OpenSocial will eclipse Facebook? It’s certainly a cleaner API. Not to mention that teachers will, at least for the time being, resist Facebook - since their students are there.

Though, for a GRAIL 2.0, shouldn’t we be coding against the most open-source metaphor possible? If that’s not OpenSocial, then is it Google Base, or perhaps

Finally, I acknowledge that GRAIL needs to stay somewhat closed, otherwise it loses its experimental validity as a closed system — though we may not be able to have that luxury much longer. The real concern here is around ethical validity and approval of ERBs. If this is still a major concern, as I expect it will be for the foreseeable future, then an API is only useful if data added can be partitioned from the “live” internet. This sadly means we must continue to maintain the entire framework ourselves…


Free Mashup Starter Kit from IBM

IBM’s released their Mashup Starter Kit for free on alphaWorks for a limited time.

It’s designed to “…enable users to assemble their own Web 2.0 mashup applications, solving business problems without aid from information technology (IT) specialists.” (link mine)

Anyone in our research group who’s not an IT specialist like me care to take them up on their challenge? Hedieh? I could work with you…despite their assertions, it looks like it’d take an IT specialist to at least get started.

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