I’m in one of the worst phases: no experiments to prepare, and only stuff to write up in various shapes and forms. Since I seem to be one of those people who works better when there are others around, this sometimes makes it hard for me to focus. Contact with other people makes things better, but at the moment my office is empty, except for me. I’m actually not sure what happened to the student they moved in, I haven’t seen her yet this year.Also, there’s nobody online.

Anway, to help myself find motivation and some accountability, a list of all the things that need doing:

– processing comments on journal article

– turn journal article into chapter 4

– write introduction & theoretical background for chapter 6, then mesh it together with the methods and the results

– write chapter 2, based on articles

– write chapter 3, based on other articles

– write chapter 1, a.k.a introduction to the whole thesis

By that time I should have received feedback on a number of things, so I’m sure I’ll be able to add those to the list.

Also, it’s strange how getting a new PC can be a boost and a downer. Boost because, hello pretty, and you’re so shiny and pretty and fast! Downer, because, hello, everything still needs to get its own place and my iTunes ratings don’t transfer, and lots of the artwork seems to have gotten lost in the process.

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’.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m daft, trying to use a program from ’97 to assess whether or not my data are multidimensional. Especially when said program refuses to give understandable error messages! I’ve never known much about Fortran, but now I know more than I ever aspired to, and it’s still not explaining why I get a “memory allocation error”. Because which command couldn’t it load? After all, my output file seems complete?
Now I wish I was back at the run-time error=M6202, or run-time error=M1603 stage. At least I’ve got those solved!
Maybe this is one of the reasons I so much enjoy being a pilot-tester: at least there’s the option to give direct feedback and see the program/application change for the better.

As the time to submit something for the scientiae carnival draws nearer, it was very difficult to decide on the challenge I want to share. Partially, this is because too many details and anonymity is out the door. Partially because it looks like my biggest challenge is now.

There’s only a couple of months left for me to finish my PhD, and a part of that is resolving around 4 datasets that should give the same results but – very frustrastingly – aren’t. Let me explain.

Dataset 1A was gathered in 2006 and gave very interesting results. Another student was engaged to follow up and this and ran a partial replication, giving us Dataset 2A (2007). However, results from 1A and 2A turned out to be opposite. This was rather distressing, since I’d published about dataset 1A by then!
After much hemming and hawing, I decided to do a full replication of both 1A and 2A. The data were gathered last year, so now I have also datasets 1B and 2B.
And while 1A and 1B are reassuringly similar (down to having the same fit problems due to a one-dimensionality assumption), 2A and 2B are not similar. Considering that 2 is already a partial replication of 1, it is rather difficult to explain WHY neither 2A nor 2B give the same results as 1A or 1B. But wait… it gets better! 2B also doesn’t replicate 2A! So the past couple of months have been soent with looking at other ways to analyse these data: some very in-depth explorative data analyses and some new ways to try and find out about the possible multi-dimensionality of these data.

The data have my tearing out my hair (almost literally), because in my planning I’d already finished this off by now and moved on to another dataset. And while all this hassle may prove to be the connection that I’m looking for, and while it is very interesting, I’m also on a deadline.
There’s another meeting with my supervisor in two weeks, let’s work so that there’s progress to report by then.

Also, before I added this sentence, word count was 333.

Looking back, the list for InaDWriMo probably was a wee bit optimistic with the things that should be able to get done. One of the things that I still have trouble with is giving up my weekends. For a long time there would be a very vague blur between the weekends because I would be in Original Country during weekends and in Current country for the week. Now that that border isn’t there anymore, it seems as though other things try to act as borders and one of those is a very serious feeling of resistance. This feeling of resistance has to go, because it interferes with my concentration and ambitions, but it is entirely unclear at the moment how to work it out.

After visiting my osteopath this morning, things are somewhat clearer, also because he pointed out to me that maybe, considering all those stress-points in my life that it woulnd’t be a bad idea to get somebody to help me work through them in a different (maybe more constructive) manner. Not necessarily advisors / supervisors, but somebody else altogether.

Anyway, accomplishments:

– workshop proposal (should be hearing about that next week)

– studyguide (mostly finished, need some more revisions and get the co-teacher to decide which papers he wants to use)

– 1/4 of revisions to technical note for inside Company

Still to be accomplished:

– tutor instructions (cannot be done before deciding on assignments for students)

– introduction and theory of journal article

Feelings on this: mixed. Happy about the accomplishments, but realise that the still to be accomplished part now has to be done in what’s left of december.

there was a workshop which was crying out to be organized. And it looks like it’ll happen! Provided I get my act together and write an actual proposal, that is. Project3Leader is willing to cooperate and organize. It’s not entirely his field, but at least he’s willing to throw his weight in. Partially this is because he also wants Company to gain more recognition in the research field, partially because he also wants to gain more knowledge.

One of the requirements of the conference organization is that the proposed workshop organizing committee cannot all work at the same institution. There was one interested person to help organizing a methods and techniques oriented workshop, but he’s more into designing for accessability so I’m not entirely sure that we can maintain the same focus. So this weekend I should read up on the course I’m giving next semester, write a workshop proposal and visit my parents and several friends.

People tell me I have good organizing skills, but maybe some extra practice shouldn’t go amiss. Especially since, after talking to Project3Leader, it is pretty clear that he really needs somebody to work on the user-system interaction, interaction design, field-tests and let’s not forget about the businness models either, please. Neither of those tasks can be executed by me, but supervising students doing this should be an option. Next question: am I ready to juggle 3 students, my Phd, teaching load, some semblance of social life and stay somewhat sane and patient? Sounds like a cliffhanger to me…

I heard through my ComnpanySupervisor that CompanyManager apparently has a rather skewed image of me, which seems to be largely non-Company, which doesn’t bode so well really for our future relations. The problem is that he has never really shown any of this to me, so I couldn’t really try to rectify this through actions (since that would probably be best). So, how now to proceed?

Part of the problem is the financing of PhDs within the Company: they’ve hit on a new scheme (again) and that always makes it harder to place the longer-busy PhDs somewhere appropriate. In terms of “So, to which project can I give a valuable contribution?” especially, since that’s certainly expected. The biggest problems arise when the project you started working in is all of a sudden quit – but your PhD isn’t finished yet, or you’re still doing a more fundamental part and at the moment can’t show anything concrete? Apart from publications in peer-reviewed conferences, obviously.

Part of the problem is that CompanyManager and I have a very different background and that means that things can get messy in complicated in the translation. According to him, I should have more peer-reviewed journal articles by now, but I have at least 6 peer-reviewed conference articles, in highly-regarded conferences. I guess I really need an impact factor for conferences also, maybe. Also, I probably was a bit more vocal when he couldn’t use it, and/or took some things I wanted to discuss more personal than I intended them. Meaning he might now see me as more of a jammer than a valuable employee… All of this is obviously conjecture on my side, since although CompanySupervisor told me some of what he said, I can hardly go and ask CompanyManager since he would probably deny most of it.

The end-result at the moment is that I’ll have to spend more time at the Company rather than the University (4:1), and show as much goodwill as possible while remaining myself. Also, refrain from making comments during meetings, even if I am really rather puzzled by the hows and the whys of the management-goingson at the moment. Meh.