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Just one more class

I couldn’t help myself from signing up for another class this term. Technically I don’t need to take any more classes, but by the time one reaches a PhD program, is one really taking classes because she needs to? I think not.

So, what class could I not resist? Video Ethnography! We had our first session on Tuesday, and I am so glad I decided to enroll. I’ve found a room full of people (I think) who want to start with hunches that something interesting is happening rather than with some abstracted research question. To you, this may sound insignificant or even backwards, but I AM SO EXCITED! I would love to start from “hm, that’s interesting” rather than, “I hypothesize that,” and now I’m not alone. Yes, I realize I’ve probably not been alone all along, but that’s not the issue right now.

Curtis LeBaron is teaching the class and visiting at Michigan for I think just this term. Normally, you can find him at BYU.

Taking the video ethnography class allows me to learn a new method, hopefully one that I can use for my own research, and to spend some serious quality time with other qualitative researchers. Especially after two days surrounded by computer scientists, that will be a welcome change. The “scientific method” slide I saw yesterday made me sad. It perpetuates the myths that science is a straightforward endeavor and that there is one best way to go about “doing science.” You know better.

Argh. Again.

I’m having trouble convincing myself that staying involved in big science projects is a tenable arrangement for me. Big science drives a lot of SI’s money, and I’m starting to feel a bit like a puppet. Sure, I think big science is interesting and valuable. Who doesn’t want an anthrax vaccine or concrete that bends? I just don’t want to spend all my intellectual time and energy watching people make those vaccines or bend that concrete. I’m tempted, again, to leave big science collaboration studies to someone who cares more about technology. After spending a couple days at an NSF symposium ostensibly about cyber-enabled discovery and innovation, I am even more convinced that NSF and its CISE program are not the place for me to make my splash. Sure, NSF money is nice in that it’s often big and makes work possible. But do I want to do that work? I don’t think so. This symposium has served very effectively to convince me, at least for now, that my summer enthusiasm about using these big science collaborations as cases for a general study of collaboration was foolish. Right now, there are equations being projected. Equations. I came to Troy, NY to wave the sociotechnical banner and learn about physics, apparently. I think I’d rather dump the banner and put my “social” t-shirt back on.

So now I’m done presenting, and I feel a little better. Perhaps some of my earlier crankiness was due to my stress over having not finished my presentation to include said crankiness. In the end, I got to wave the sociotechnical banner and ask for funding to support social science enabled by computation. Not bad for a day’s work.

Before I hit “Publish,” let me mention one more battle raging at this symposium. Gender. I was the second woman to present in as many days. We’ve seen a new presentation about every 20 minutes. This is not only shocking and accurate, it’s unacceptable.

Sociotechnical Road Show

I’m off to Troy, NY tonight to wave the sociotechnical banner at an NSF workshop. I’ll be giving a short (~10 minutes) talk on Thursday afternoon, and I’m working on my talk notes. Some of you already know I like to give a different kind of talk – minimalist slides, helpful pictures and videos, lots of movement – but I’m not sure how such a talk with fly at this workshop. I chickened out in 2005 when I gave a talk about RideNow at the GROUP Conference, but I’m going for gold this week. The role of graduate students in these workshops is unclear to me, but it’s obvious that I have an audience I wouldn’t normally encounter.

Here’s the white paper I submitted. One of the organizers must have liked it because they invited me to come and talk during the doctoral student forum. I’ll be talking about how the data generated by wireless sensing technology may be used/studied for understanding the structural health of our civil infrastructure (think bridges). Real-time data about the health of a structure could be immensely useful for engineers monitoring its needs for repair, for rescue workers responding to a fire or other calamity, and researchers looking for ways to improve structures (and wireless sensing, for that matter). It’s pretty easy for me to get excited about studying how first responders and rescue workers would use such data and the information flows it produces, but I think I need to stay closer to engineers in this talk. We’ll see though, I guess.

I admit, I’m nervous about the workshop. Every list of invitees or participants that I’ve seen is incredibly male- and computer science-dominated. I’d rather not deal with gender and disciplinary politics at every turn, but such is life. I’ll try not to let the various layers of politics derail me this week. I’ve been given an interesting opportunity in being invited, but I’m not quite sure what that opportunity offers. I’ll follow up from Troy later this week.

My Dissertation Topic (for real!)

I met with Stephanie today and showed her “my paragraph.” I finally managed to get my dissertation topic into less than 300 words, and it feels fantastic! You might’ve read my other post on Collaboration and Identity, and this topic is something close to that. Obviously there are ambiguities in this paragraph; it’s an introduction, and it will take an entire dissertation to explain. I need to tweak the paragraph a bit, but here it is in its rough glory:

I am proposing to conduct a qualitative study that focuses on participants of interdisciplinary collaborations where the collaborations are designed to a) encourage team science and b) marshal practices from multiple disciplines to address problems too large and/or complicated for a single discipline to solve. The emphasis will be on understanding how a research community changes its practices when collaborating with participants from one or more different communities. I employ an understanding of practice from Wenger — practice connotes a repertoire of resources for accomplishing work; it includes experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems (Wenger, 1999). I contend that a community’s practices, the way it thinks of itself, and the way it thinks of other communities influence 1) its adoption of innovations and 2) its collaborations with other communities. It is also important to consider the nature of the work involved, the funding mechanisms supporting the collaboration, and a community’s prior experience in collaborations. Funding agencies and experts have highlighted team science as a high priority, and even called it a scientific necessity (“Who’d want to work in a team? [editorial]”, 2003); the push in team science provides interesting opportunities for studying this kind of interdisciplinary, distributed collaboration. My study will provide insight into how a community’s sense of itself, its practices, and its sense of others affect collaboration so that we may be better equipped to encourage successful collaboration. The research will incorporate in-depth interviews with members of two interdisciplinary collaborations (one in biomedical research and one in civil engineering), observations of their work (both independent and collaborative), and analysis of the funding and policy mechanisms supporting these collaborations.

Communities and Technologies 2007 – Power

I’m in East Lansing for the Communities and Technologies conference, and I have some thoughts to share. First, the world needs more power outlets or wireless power. I’m glad I have a MacBook with a long battery life, but my MacBook often refuses to wake from sleep but does spin the hard drive as fast and hot as its little heart can. That, not surprisingly, runs down the battery, and then I’m stuck with no way to take notes. Remember, paper and I don’t travel together. I walked over 7 other power cords to get back to my seat in a conference presentation room about an hour ago, and now I’m among a select group of people laptopping outside the auditorium. I’m all charged up, so I’m on a couch in the middle of the room. The other 6 people are lined up against the wall, slightly clumped near the few power outlets available in this room. The outlet scarcity does encourage some impromptu communication, I guess; I’ve had to ask irresponsible outlet users to rotate their plugs so I can use another plug on a multi-plug outlet or powerstrip too. Apparently we don’t like to plug our computers in right next to someone else’s. Every powerstrip I’ve seen has power cords spaced like single movie-goers – at least one empty plug between cords. I understand infrastructure like electrical wiring is pretty tough to change. Maybe I should start traveling with a portable power strip. Wouldn’t it be great if it could fold up as small as my power cord and then pop out when I needed it? (Or maybe a wireless extension cord – found while I was looking for the link about MIT’s wireless power project) Surge protection plus outlet multiplication = bliss!

That’s a wrap!

We finally finished shooting around 8:00pm tonight, and now I’m not sure what to do with myself. Some of you got email updates during the filming, and I appreciate you being there to hear my rants and excitement. Filming takes a lot of flexibility and patience, and it was quite an experience. I managed to get everyone involved to sign my IRB consent forms too, so all the data I so painstakingly gathered should be usable! Woot!

The series is likely to air near the end of the year or early next year. I’ll let you all know as soon as I can. You can see me in my little blue polo talking shop. I also did an excellent job prepping my advisor, and she did a great job during her part. Well, everybody did a great job, but I was mostly concerned with Stephanie’s part since it was a direct reflection of my ability to tell a good story about what I know about the engineers’ work so far. The engineers assured me that I do “get” what’s going on, and that was a relief. Now you can all ask me about ECC, and I can give a decent 30 second soundbyte. The show itself will focus on the material’s properties, but my piece focuses on supporting and improving collaborative science and engineering work. Stay tuned for big news about how to get civil engineers from around the world to agree on a testing method for ECC.

Next up, transcription! I’ve started running Boot Camp on my POS MacBook, and so far, it works ok. I got a student version of Atlas.ti for my qualitative analysis tool, and I’ll be poking around in there tomorrow. I have less than an hour of video, but I have pages and pages of notes. I also have about 200 pictures, but I’ll spare you most of those.

Heat and Hard Hats

Man, it was hot in Michigan today. Fantastic!

Today was quite exciting for this lowly graduate student. I got to spend the day following a documentary film crew who are shooting footage for use in a Discovery Channel show. The shoot is sponsored by the same Office of Cyberinfrastructure that sponsors yours truly’s education and research assistantship. They’re shooting for a show called “Material Worlds” from which we’ll all be able to learn about properties of various materials, including the “bendable concrete” the civil engineers I work with developed.

We started our day with a few hours at Brighton Block & Concrete learning about concrete in general. Mornings are exciting at concrete plants. Trucks are coming in and out pretty rapidly; guys are driving around on fancy forklifts moving heavy stuff.

We took a lunch break at Sidetrack in Ypsilanti (home of the famous burgers). I was surprised by the ease with which all the producers, cinematographers, civil engineers, and chemists were able to chat about everyone’s work. The producer on our shoot also produced all the exterior shots of Washington, D.C. for the movie American Dreamz. You probably didn’t see it, but I did, and I remember those shots.

After lunch we headed to the Grove Street bridge in Ypsilanti. The Grove Street bridge crosses I-94 and has 42 cubic feet of engineered cementitious composite in a link slab running through the middle of the bridge. I’ve heard hours of interview about the Grove Street bridge and the ECC in it, and transcribing some of those hours is what I’ll be up to tonight.

Standing in the sunshine in my hard hat, capturing the process on SI’s Handycam, I got excited about the project again. Data makes me so happy. Maybe the lesson here is that if I’m gathering data, about anything really, I stay motivated. So, I just need more field days to make this thing work for me intellectually. That’s the hypothesis I’ll be testing anyway. Earlier in the week I got to see my first tensile test in the ACE-MRL lab, and I got to keep the ECC specimen we stretched out. That little souvenir may go a long way toward maintaining my emotional investment. Isn’t it amazing what artifacts can do? Sorry, couldn’t help but put a little 504 back in to the mix. Take it up with Radley.

Drafts – new section of libbyh.com

This morning I started a new page called “Drafts” that you can access from the right navigation bar.  I intend to keep that page updated periodically with drafts of papers on which I’m currently working.  Yan Chen rallied a bunch of us to join her at SI North on Friday mornings to sit and write for an hour.  This proved to be a very useful practice today, and I hope to attend many more “writer jams.”  You can expect updates to the drafts section on Fridays, I think.

Back from Connections 2007

I made some notes during the Connections 2007 conference about things I should post to my blog, and I’m just getting around to doing so.  The conference was very useful – especially in forcing me to prepare a coherent presentation – and I recommend it to other iSchool doctoral students.  Some things I noticed:

Grad students are good speakers

Plenty of people complain about the inability of most academics to give interesting talks or appropriately use PowerPoint or similar tools.  The students who presented at Connections were a couple standard deviations above the mean.  Their slides had the right amount of text; their diagrams were illustrative.  They seemed knowledgeable and prepared and did a thorough and thoughtful job answering questions.  I hope we can all keep those presentation skills as we continue into “real” jobs.  Even presentations about work far from my own had me paying attention.  It was a lovely, welcome change from other conferences I’ve attended.

Presentation room setup is a pain

I like to move around while I present, and that was just not an option this time.  Please, when designing rooms for presentations, use mobile mics (or proper acoustics that don’t require mics to reach the back row), put the podium on wheels so it can be turned to accommodate remote controls, and don’t require that the speaker be in the dark in order for slides to be visible. I have many other pet peeves about presentation room setup, but these three were the most troublesome during this particular presentation.  I’m a Mac owner and Keynote user.  I like to use one word per slide.  It’s important for me to be able to move around and still use my remote.  I’m also pretty loud.  So a room where people in the back row can’t hear me has sound issues.

Keynote rocks

I love Keynote.  It’s presentation view and rehearse options dominate the competition.  It’s easy to make slides and to insert pictures and other files.  I’m officially switching.

Bendable concrete is not my passion

More on this later.  I presented some discussions of diffusion of innovations and identity based on what I’m seeing in the bendable concrete project.  While I find those theoretical frameworks interesting, I’m not sure how sustainable my interest in the bendable concrete project really is.  I understand that one must wax and wane during a dissertation, but it seems early in the game for me to be waning every time I hear about something more exciting.  If you have recommendations for more personally exciting places for me to study innovation, collaboration, communities of practice, and/or identity, please share them.  I’m still mad at Bill Frist for making my poker studies impossible.  Stupid online gaming finance laws.

Drag queens and king sized beds

You may be wondering what those two things have in common. It’s simple, really. They are both things that my four days in Philadelphia have that my life in Ann Arbor does not.

I’m in Philadelphia for a few days so I may attend Connections 2007. I’m presenting innovation diffusion research on Saturday morning. I’ll post my presentation sometime this weekend so you can see what I had to say. The conference looks pretty interesting, and I’m looking forward to the chance to meet other iSchool grad students.

The drive from Ann Arbor to Philadelphia is not one I’d recommend. Police in Ohio have nothing to do, apparently, and so they set up shop every 500 feet on the turnpike. I drove from Ann Arbor to the Pennsylvania border, and my heart was pounding the whole time. I’m sure you all know how hard it is for me to obey speed limits, and so you must understand. I also drove us from the Lancaster Plaza to the Comfort Inn, and that portion of the trip was enjoyable despite the late rush hour traffic they have here. Traffic makes me feel urban, so I don’t mind it in cities outside Ann Arbor. Well, that’s not entirely true; the Dan Ryan project makes me pretty cranky.

Our hotel is next to the Ben Franklin bridge, and what a beautiful structure! I’ll take a bunch of pictures and post them here next week. It’s blue and wonderful. I like to think that I would’ve liked it even if I didn’t study bridge building.

The drag show Jude and I saw was at Bob and Barbara’s on South Street. Apparently they host this show every Thursday night. I have to say the drag king was much better than most of the drag queens we saw. Pictures to come. Bob and Babara’s has a crazy drink special – a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jim Beam for $3. Yes, that’s just three American dollars. You may be thinking that such a combination would lead to a night of drunken horribleness. At first, I worried about that too. Then, I drank my Jim Beam and realized that no, such a combination ensured sobriety. Jim Beam burns and does not taste good. PBR is one of my favorite domestics, but I couldn’t even finish my can after that shot. It was a cheap night out with decent entertainment. Thanks, Philadelphia!

Now my cheap night is over, and I’m retiring to my king size bed. I should look in to getting one of these. It’s quite lovely. Although the folks over at bettersleep.org seem to think a king size bed is for couples and/or people with children (and that single sleepers should get queens), let me speak for all the other single, childless people out there when I say, “We deserve roomy sleeping accommodations too!” Sleep well, all!