Why do I tend to go for the hardest choice? Sometimes because it’s more fun, but when you’re running the actual experiment and have to turn away participants because, sadly enough, they’re not the target group, things can feel a little sour.

Less than 4 months before my funding is up. Scary. 3 more weeks before this experiment will be finished. Also scary, the last experiment I might run in a while. Until I find a post-doc, that is. In which case I need to get my butt in a chair, and write the proposal draft this weekend. This post is meant to remind me of that bit. There’s more to life than data-entering and exploration, even while running a massive experiment.

Lately, I’ve been having doubts about my PhD. Is it really worth all this trouble? Do I really need this?

On the other hand are signs that things are falling into place. A cooperation, a proposal for a post-doc. Good research results, only one more experiment to go before the final writing up. Right now, plenty of energy, but it’s possible that that’s because there’s another deadline tonight, for one more paper.

It’s relatively easy to talk myself down. It’s a lot more difficult to be motivated, but having my energy back after a serious cold helps a lot!

Sometimes I wonder what kind of person I am. I feel awake at the weirdest times. Between 5 and 7 in the morning, between 5 and 7 in the evening, around lunchtime and after 10 in the evening. I wish I could make those hours collide so I could work at a better stretch. It’s also not very practical for scheduling my days really. And unfortunately there’s no place to take a short 30-minute nap at work.

Anyway, life was weird lately. Two master students graduated. I'[m very happy for both of them, although with one it’s more happiness that they finally finished enough to be able to graduate. It’s a bit of melancholy time as well, especially since I just my first email saying: hey, you’re leaving Company soon! Here’s a list of things you should make sure you’ve done. There’s still a talk with my manager scheduled in a week and a half, where we need to discuss an extension. Which I could really use, if only for the facilities (I mean, come on, giving up my laptop now?!), but also for the money. Because about two weeks ago Mr FAW and I decided to get married soon in a couple of months. This means regular freak-outs about money and random yelling of ‘Oh My God, We’re Getting Married’! By both of us, I might add. It’s given us a whole new topic to talk about, but there’s a system. We have a date, and witnesses, and a checklist. Checklists are very very important at this stage on my PhD, and if I don’t get a checklist I get very unhappy and uncoordinated. Somehow, checklists manage to make me work. The things one learns about oneself when doing a PhD…

There was also no vacation involved, except for the part where I got sick for about a week. Nothing major but it took a while to get back on my feet. However, there was one weekend where I got to use my live action role-playing sword and hit loads of people. It’s an awesome way to get rid of all that extra frustration and energy that had been storing up, and probably even better than stress-management coaching.

The analysis of the 4 datasets I have has finally paid off, and results are very interesting. I’ve written up a structure for the article we want to get out of this, but so far haven’t had the opportunity to discuss the structure. Partially laziness, partially sickness, partially scared that again it wouldn’t be good enough yet…

But the structure will be discussed a week and a half from now, with the whole committee together so I had better get my act together.

My other research is panning out as well, albeit not was fast as hoped. First there were technical difficulties, and do I ever not like programmers who think their mission in life is to fill their hours, rather than getting a good product and a satisfied client! Next there are participant difficulties, mostly in terms of getting enough participants rather than anything else. Especially when you are going to do something like exploratory factor analysis or principal components analysis it’s important to have enough people give answers, otherwise there’s not enough data to see patterns in the first place. And yet, even knowing that, I think I wouldn’t have changed my current experiment.

Recently, one of my colleagues at Company started a story on how his closest friend’s daughter committed suicide. Obviously, very sad, and a tragedy. Then he continued that he blamed her mother because she was always a bit lost in this cloud of feminism, you see. Uhm, no… I don’t?
According to his reasoning, women can either have a career or a family, but not both because, you see, that’s how evolution made them. And men can, because you see, they are biologically different. And then he had the gall to call upon evolutionary psychology to support his theory.

*eyeroll* I told him flat-out he was talking bullshit and wandered out of the coffeecorner, because there was no way I was gonna get pulled into a long drawn-out discussion where he would barely listen to my arguments because he’s made up his mind.

One of my master students is almost graduating. It took a while, with lots of tears, sweat and blood (on both sides, I believe). I spent yesterday and today a grand total of 5 hours, correcting the last version of their thesis.
Now, is it fair to not want to give this student a high grade because of everything they didn’t learn in the whole process? Or should I reward them for the bit they did manage to pick up in the whole process?
We tend to grade students on three different things: the process they went through, their final presentation and their final thesis. When it comes to the process I’m highly minded to give them barely a pass, the final presentation is still to come, and so is the final thesis. However, considering all the help we’ve given over the past 1,5 year, I would have expected a better penultimate version. Not one where I had to spend another 5 hours correcting. Although, granted, 3,5 hours were correcting on paper and 1,5 hours were making sure they came in a constructive form in Word.

Still, can I detract that effort from their final grade? Or should I let that depend on how well the final version of their thesis is? I find this a difficult position to be in, really. Although,  at least now I’ve been through it, so maybe I’ll be able to handle this better in the future.

Jeff Atwood’s post yesterday stroke a very sensitive chord. He claims that nobody hates software more than software developers, because they actually know what’s going on. This is probably not true for every industry, but certainly something that rings true. So who is going to protect us from incompetent software developers?

I’ve never met somebody who hasn’t had issues with software (even Mac users, yes :P).
As Scott Berkun so aptly states:

If you look deeper, you’ll find that when people say “this sucks” they mean one or more of the following:
* This doesn’t do what I need
* I can’t figure out how to do what I need
* This is unnecessarily frustrating and complex
* This breaks all the time
* It’s so ugly I want to vomit just so I have something prettier to look at
* It doesn’t map to my understanding of the universe
* I’m thinking about the tool, instead of my work

Unfortunately, people who create something are also very sensitive about it (well, yes, I did recently get my teaching evaluations, why do you ask?). This is the part where it’s sometimes more useful to let anybody but the creator do the user-testing. When testers can only express their frustration through “This sucks” and “I hate the way it works” it can be very helpful to have a translator at hand. So, contact your friendly user-experience expert and ask them to help you out here, because apparently the feedback is so bad that all you can do is become defensive.
While this isn’t really the reason I started in Human-Computer Interaction, I do have to say it’s one of the more challenging and satisfying aspects of the ‘job’.