08 February 2010

Minimal truths

Upon reflection, I think one could encapsulate my personality into the following:
Ockham's razor
Schrödinger's cat

These are things I believe. Things I think about. A lot. Things that pretty thoroughly guide how I experience the world.

Put another way,
(Ockham's razor) + (Schrödinger's cat) + (p=mv) = Beth

07 January 2010

Book Club

Definitely my favorite part of the day. A genuinely good group of people, and I look forward to this monthly gathering.

The Big Burn is a great book, fwiw.

06 January 2010


Favorite part of today:
Meeting with new research group and talking about exciting project: building a makerbot and using the building process as a way to explore and document how non technical folks can learn technical skills.

Best part of the meeting: the name they came up with for the project blog:
LearnMakeCupcake! Check us out.


It's only 9:53 am, but I think it's going to be hard to beat my joy at discovering comments on the last post. Thanks!

Also, thanks for letting us know your favorite parts!

Six hours of teaching in a day

It sounded like a good idea at the time. Double up my teaching in winter quarter. No formal classes in spring to allow for some fieldwork. It also sounded like a good idea at the time to schedule the classes for the same day. One undergrad, 2 hours, 2/week. One grad, 4 hours 1/week. Which equals six hours of classroom teaching on Tuesdays.

Got home around 10:30 pm, houseguest was there watching The Bachelor on her computer. Sucked into the drama while I wanted for teaching adrenalin to drain from my veins.

Fell asleep before I had time to blog.

Best thing about today (which is really yesterday): the undergrad class is that under-the-radar interdisciplinary course I mentioned in previous post. First meeting today. Students sat silent and confused at start of class. Why are there strangers from another department sitting next to me?? After a couple hours of conversations: laughter and connections.

04 January 2010

What was the best thing about today?

Historically speaking, I may be among the world's worst bloggers.
Not that I intend to completely change that. But I have a friend who has some of the best rituals with her kids. After a day out and about, she'll call out "who had fun at the party?' or "who had fun on the hike?' or whatever the event was. And hands go up in a communal and visible expression of satisfaction, happiness, joy.

I've also heard her ask "what was your favorite part of today?" which I think is an amazing way to teach your kids to be reflective about the good things in their life. It's also a lesson most of us could use a refresher course in if the hallway chitchat in my part of the universe is any indication.

So I'm going to try that.
What was my favorite part of today?

I worked on syllabi for most of the day. It was a long process, and often frustrating. But my favorite part of the day was probably meeting with Ruth with whom I'm going to team-teach an under-the-radar interdisciplinary course this quarter. We're trying to get students from my department (HCDE) and hers (CSE) working together on projects, and it's a total kludge, with some students enrolled for 2 credits, others for 5, with a false high cap in one course so we could get a room large enough to meet in, and juggled meeting times, and...well, just a parade of fixits. But now that the syllabus is almost finished, I'm super excited about our experiment! Who knows how this is going to work out, but it's an attempt to do something fantastic.

I also started book club book today, and it's extraordinarily well-written: The Big Burn.

What was your favorite part of the day?

21 March 2009

Starbus power issue

So we get some info from our interview Friday evening, but it looks like it's not going to be a carrier/transmitter issue. The new sim card doesn't seem to be solving the problem, and the band on which the local companies broadcast had indeed been one that Waylon was testing on. So, it looks like it's time to resolder and change capacitance. This is sub optimal -- more work for Waylon than is ideal, but he's optimistic about the solution. 

He and Erica go shopping Saturday morning for a soldering iron, capacitors, heat shrink tubing, and other fun things. He's upstairs soldering now.

Today is Nawruz, which is a major holiday. We we were trying to wrap up work by 2 so we could go downtown and take in some of the festivities. Schedule is slipping a bit, but we should be able to head out in a bit.

More on the overall day (including our training in usability testing!) later.

Getting on the bus

Meet with Chad at 9am to talk about the interview protocol for the study he, Rebecca, and Aidai are conducting. Discussion of sampling methods, recruitment, etc. 

Team meets with local researchers at 10, and now approved for interviews with Russian documents, we set out to talk to some bus riders around town. We meet with the local team, and establish a sampling methodology. We choose three neighborhoods, one largely in the center, one on the southern edge of the city, and one on the northern edge near a major bazaar called Dordoi. We mark the spots on Erica's map, then discuss timing for the interviews. We decide on morning commute time, midday, and evening commute time.  

Then a conversation about recruitment for our different usability tests and how to schedule them. 

A couple hours later, Mirgul and Indira head to the university. Aidai heads home to take care of some errands. The rest of us head to lunch. 

After lunch, Odina, Ruth and I meet up with Indira to begin interviewing bus riders. We stop into an Internet cafe to print off the consent and information forms. It's a cafe that's part of the local chain, Shmel (honeybee). There is, curiously enough, a little gambling casino which seems to be part of the business, primarily slot machines, but a gaming table or two as well.  On the way to meet Indira, we get lost. Call Indira. She says, I am at a bus stop on Moscovska and Bolkambaeva. We look around, also at a bus stop on Moscovska and Bolkambaeva. We ask yet another person whether we are at Bolkambaeva, and indeed we are. We start describing to each other what we see around us. Eventually we realize we are standing on Pravda, not Moscovska. So we trek a couple large Soviet blocks further west, and eventually we find her at an even larger bus stop. Definitely a good choice for our interviews.  

Rebecca and Chad head off to meet with Aidai and start their interview study. First stop: Internet cafe. 

Meanwhile, Erica and Waylon have headed back to the hotel so they can look at pictures on the Internet of capacitors. Mirgul has texted me with the name of a store that carries electronic components, and Waylon is at the point where the problem with the starboxes has been narrowed down to two: either a power draw associated with differential transmitter protocols for different carriers (so he's going to try a sim card from a third GSM carrier) or it's ultimately a problem with power on the box which will mean some soldering and changing the capacitance of the boxes. So Erica is off to reconnoiter to see if the store has what Waylon will need if the last possible other explanation fails to fix things. I've already forgotten the word for capacitor in Russian.

While she's out, Erica also picks up some stickers for our computer keyboards to overlay the letters with the cyrillic alphabet to (a) make life for our translators easier, and (b) make the keyboards accessible for our usability participants. She also gets a recharge card for our phones since we're using a brand new carrier and all the kiosks we've tried outside of major stores don't yet carry recharge cards for that company. 

Cynthia spends the afternoon at the hotel working on her prototype, Anthony works on language stuff on the server and updating the server version so it's current, and Waylon continues to troubleshoot with the boxes.

After three interviews with bus riders, Indira, Odina, Ruth and I head back to the hotel to type up notes and see how the interviews went, and talk about whether we are getting the richness of data we need. On the way back, we take a bunch of pictures, and someone sees a little shop (essentially housed in a temporary shelter-turned store) called Babushkas Incorporated. Someone snaps a picture, and we are amused by the sign. Let's go in! It's a small room, filled with crocheted, knitted, and felted items -- lots of booties and slippers, socks and hats. We ask the woman at the counter about the shop. She explains that it's a cooperative of about 300 retired older women -- babushkas -- who knit and crochet and set up this shop together to supplement their pensions. I've got lots of Russian blood in me, and I really kind of already look like a babushka, so how can I help but be delighted and proceed to drop a bunch of cash on behalf of the babushkas. 

Back to the hotel. Odina and Indira write up interview notes. Erica comes back around the same time. More meetings. Then we review the notes. We talk about effectiveness of the prompts. Three changes suggested. Chad, Rebecca and Aidai are still in the field. 

I have a 6pm meeting scheduled at Beta stores cafe with brand manager for one of the newer mobile companies and a friend of his who works for what essentially seems to be a consulting/vc firm. Cynthia and Ruth are both going to come to talk about the applications we're testing. Ruth gets detailed info from Waylon about the technical problems to see if we can get any relevant information from these folks that might help with the troubleshooting. Erica is going to meet with Mirgul at 7 to do some rider interviews. Odina and Indira are going to do more interviews as well. But at the last minute we swap locations and Odina and Indira head to the neighborhood south of the center. Erica suggests that Mirgul has had a long day, and perhaps we should just do the rider interviews tomorrow. 

So three of us head to Beta, two more off doing interviews, the rest at hotel working on various tasks. Cynthia, Ruth and I have a fantastic conversation with Bolot and his friend. We talk for well over an hour and a half and only finally say goodbye when repeated phone calls from the rest of the group pull us away. They are both really interested in starbus and its possibilities, and we have a terrific chat about limitations of the current tech, possible models for sustainability, and other mobile applications that might find a good home in Kyrgyzstan. 

Dinner happens around 7.30ish, at Chaihona Jalalabad, traditional food, and a restaurant where, during the summer, you can sit up on traditional platforms covered with pillows. Those are outside, though, and it's a little cold for that right now. Rebecca is a bit tired since she just arrived, so she and Chad have dinner closer to the hotel at Steinbrau, and the rest of us have some soup, different salads, very tasty shashlik, and too much nan. Green tea. Back to the hotel. There is a party in the central meeting room where we have been hanging out working. Older couples and individuals dancing to a mix of Central Asian and remixed western music. I think I hear an Abba remix as I head up to my room. 

Saturday: an 8.30 breakfast meeting to share schedules for the day. Local researchers showing up 9 and 9.30. 

Cynthia, Ruth and I have a fantastic conversation with Bolot and his friend. We talk for over an hour and half and only finally say goodbye when repeated phone calls from the rest of the group pull us away. They are both really interested in starbus and it's possibilities, and we have a terrific chat about limitations of current tech, possible 

19 March 2009

Morning with MoSoSo

Sun is trying to shine on the snowscape outside. The mountains are visible in stunning whiteness. It's altitude-cold.

Woke up early, got some work done in the 5 am quiet. Found Cynthia at breakfast around 8 am and we caught up on how her work on the mobile social software has been going. She's finishing up the prototype of an SMS-based directory listing/rating system with which users can define shared directories with friends and family. The usability testing is scheduled to start Sunday or Monday. She's still working on the XML parts, her husband back home is working on a Flash demo, and we potentially have a working model showing up using the MSRI SMS toolkit. 

We figured redundancy was a good goal since nothing ever works quite as one expects out here. So at this point search is functional. Add and edit will be functional on Sunday. And if not, her alternate plan is to do a hack job based on the results of the usability test. mmmm...hack jobs. Also, right now from anywhere you can go to all the screens in the system, and she's implemented novice and expert modes to accommodate SMS annoyances, I mean limitations. She's setting up the demo right now, and I'm going to take a look. And Chad just came down for our 9 am meeting to go over his interview protocol before the local researchers arrive for our 10 am training/briefing/planning. 

I think our third day has officially begun.

Technical Problems, and Snow

At some point the rain last night turned to snow, and we woke up to a very lovely, very white Bishkek. We watched snow fall and worked through the morning, meeting with one of the local researchers, dealing with translations of human subjects documents, scheduling for the three studies, and waiting for Aidai's arrival from Israel.

Documents sent off, Aidai arrives, we lunch at a Turkish place across from the mosque down the street. The city is surely beautiful in the snow, but my feet are wet and cold. Last week it was in the 60s. 

Erica, Chad and I go off to a meeting at a local NGO that tracks media and technology issues, and Odina, Cynthia, and Aidai go off to the American University of Central Asia to meet with two students who are helping us out. Their goal is to plan recruitment strategies for the three studies, and make some headway on assembling teams for different tasks. Cynthia brings along the database of survey results to help resolve sampling issues. Waylon continues to work on debugging the *boxes which still aren't working. 

Meanwhile, our meeting at Internews is helpful in identifying other folks for us to talk to (my main goal in the visit), and we get some good feedback on the *bus project. The usefulness of the system for riders is apparent, but the question of the benefit to drivers is more questionable. We talk about the structure of the marshrutka system, and the interplay of municipal authorities with the private companies that run routes, and the drivers who follow the routes. The routes are related to the bus routes established by the city, but since there aren't enough buses to run the routes, the marshrutkas fill the ridership gap by providing much of the actual transport. 

There are city buses on the street, but they are few in number and rider demand vastly outweighs what the city buses can provide. We are told tens or dozens of companies operate the routes, and that licensing authority comes from the mayor's office and/or the Ministry of Transportation and Communication. We have been cautioned that it might be difficult to find people with whom we can talk about the general structure of the system. We've gotten a few different versions of how the different stakeholders are related, but more details emerge from various conversations.

Waylon is dealing with more hardware problems than anticipated. The sim cards will work on the debug board, but not when in the *boxes. He left one of the boxes running over lunch, and only about 27 of the 35 sent messages went through. This is much lower reliability than we had in the states. There's also the issue of the boxes just stopping working at odd intervals. He's been playing with the debugging, I learned the word for screwdriver as we borrowed tools from the hotel for him to take apart one of the boards, and right now he's focusing on the possibility of different antenna strength between the debug board and the boxes. Also, there's the possibility that the sim cards are working on a different band which is producing a different power draw than when we were in the states. Reworking the power source for the boxes is not an ideal scenario. We are currently thinking about where in Bishkek one goes to purchase capacitors. 

We sent off the translations of consent documents to UW, and we are waiting on that approval before beginning any interviews. Since I don't have access to a scanner for the signed cover sheet, I printed neatly on the form and took a photo of it. Cynthia reduced the size for email friendly -- especially since our email access here is metered by MB rather than time. Eleven documents and the cover sheet took several minutes to be happily sent. 

Late afternoon, back at the hotel, hammering through the research protocols, sampling, recruitment strategies, etc. We're considering different neighborhoods to conduct interviews with riders as well as interviews for the Internet study. The map of Bishkek is coming in very handy. We are tired. Jet lag catches us up. Dinner at a semi-Uzbek restaurant. Now back at the hotel. I'm staring at my email, wondering if I'll hear back from UW IRB before I fall into sleep. If I miss the chance to respond during this workday in Seattle, then we're set back 24 hours. 

Ruth, Anthony, and Rebecca arrive tonight at 3 am. I'm leaving them notes about tomorrow's schedule, big bottles of water, and some snacks. 

18 March 2009

Should be sleeping

 mmm...1 am wakeup call from jetlag. Working on to-do list for tomorrow. No email in the building where my room is located, so working offline to make lists, sending some text messages  to the states for some assistance. Trains rumbling by. They clatter differently on the tracks. I'm a girl who used to live 20 feet from a train line up the west bank of the Hudson, so I know my train rumbles. This is a very different sound. More jagged and a more metallic rhythm. 

The rain keeps falling. Familiar Seattle sound of the patter on roofs. The wind has calmed. Earlier it was whipping, a kind of running-down-the-mountains howl, into the valley where we are. Not a windstorm howl, or even the Wyoming wind howls I remember from days there. But intent and like an agitated conversation. 

Dinner at the guest house as we all stumbled through an early evening fog of jetlag. Kudos to Erica for the suggestion.

Data collection begins

The sunny day has turned to a cold rain, and in the background there's a train.
Our guest house is right next to train tracks, and the rumble isn't so bad -- it's the middle of the night shrieking whistles that are more notable.

We managed to get ourselves together, have lunch, change some money. Met with 6 potential local research assistants. Right now, Odina and Chad are out researching mobile providers and plans, and they'll be back eventually with 15 sim cards: 10 for our team to use for the week, and 5 for the starboxes and server to process thousands of text messages. I'm hemorrhaging cash already. 

Erica and Cynthia are out with a handheld GPS, traveling the city and marking locations so we can populate the database for user testing. It looked like a more fun task before the downpour began. 

Waylon is having some quality time with the starboxes and the server.

I'm working on hiring local assistants and getting documents translated so we can send them back to the University for IRB approval. English docs are all approved, but any translations also need to be reviewed. 

17 March 2009

Morning in Bishkek

The sun is unexpectedly shining. This could bode well for the jetlag battle.
Shockingly, no raised eyebrows at any of the checkpoints about our hardware.
Ran into the first wave of the crew at the Istanbul airport. They found a pretty swank place to camp out for the long, long layover. Well done!
Sparse flight to Bishkek meant we all pounced on our own rows once the doors closed. A much needed nap.
Now sort of awake. Odina arrived from Tashkent. Local folks come by in an hour or so for us to figure out how to assemble the team.
So, what we're doing:
1. Testing a mobile SMS directory that allows people to list and rate businesses, and define shared directories with friends and families. Usability tests of a flash mockup and a working SMS model (with luck; that's coming with the next crew).
2. Testing hardware/software designed to create a grassroots information infrastructure for users of public transportation. A GPS/SMS module that lives on a shared transportation vehicle, runs a prediction algorithm, and sends SMS messages to a server. A user then sends an SMS to the same server asking when their next bus will arrive. Potentially handy when there is a lack of posted bus schedules; especially potentially handy for inter-city transportation in areas with shared, informal transport options (incl for farmers). Paper and prototype being presented at ICTD2009.
3. Trying to figure out why, when it comes to Internet, if you build it users don't necessarily come. Internet growth over the years of our project has not exactly flatlined, but growth is slow and glacial. Availability has increased, but not necessarily usage. We're kind of curious about this.

More later.

Schipol...sunny and showerific

Made it to Amsterdam where I am currently in the lounge, enjoying free wifi and waiting for my name to be called for a shower. Flight was not so bad, lots of movies I hadn't seen (primarily because I haven't seen a movie off a plane in about 4 or 5 months), and a little nap squeezed in. Two more flights to go, but this is the longest layover.

I'm starting to schedule meetings for when we get on the ground. And figure out the round robin of tests and interviews for the three different research projects we have going. Of course, much depends on what happens when we pop a local sim card into the servers for our two systems. Who doesn't love a little suspense?

I haven't yet talked about what we're actually going to be doing.
Suspense, remember?

16 March 2009

Ready, Set...

Sitting in Seatac, chronicling in my mind the things I've forgotten to pack. Most crucial thus far: the bag of swag Waylon got from the CSE department. Hmm....we'll try to get the crew flying out Wednesday to help us fix this.

So this is the start of 10 day adventure with 10 folks, testing some hardware and software we've developed based on the social science research done by the CAICT project over the years. We have a terrific crew of undergrads, graduate students, staff, and faculty from UW, plus a UW grad and a grad student from Israel joining us on our adventure.

Since my regular blog got disappeared, I'll blog here for the duration. It's quick and easy, even if it makes me look technolame (which I am, actually).

I'm off to Amsterdam and then Istanbul where I'll meet up with the rest of the first wave, and then we fly into Bishkek together for a 3 am arrival on Wednesday. Hooray! I love the 3 am arrivals. Almost as much as I love the 3 am departures.

Ok, going to churn through some email before boarding. More on the other end from Amsterdam.

16 August 2007

Catching up

I haven't blogged in a long, long time. Lots happened since May.
Let's see if I can remember it all.

I went to Maker Faire in San Mateo.
I went to Banff for the WWW conference.
Then I went to Kyrgyzstan for some consulting.
Then I went to FOO camp in Sebastopol.
I wrapped up my stint at Microsoft Research.
Then I went to Beijing.
Then I went to Defcon in Vegas.

I think back in April I went to San Jose for CHI. I feel like there was another Bay Area trip in there somewhere, but I can't remember.

Pictures of most of this on flickr.

Soon I start the commute to Cambridge for a fellowship at Harvard's Berkman Center.

I'm still getting the hang of sabbatical.

My current aspiration is to spend a sunny afternoon in a park reading a paperback novel. It's good to have goals.

17 May 2007

New discourse communities

Last weekend was ToorCon Seattle, a beta version of the full ToorCon down in San Diego. It was also my second attempt to learn some vocabulary in a new field. At Shmoocon I had Bre to explore with, and he was back in Seattle for this event. It's very good to have another non-native speaker traveling along in order to help navigate.

Headed down to Maker Faire this weekend, where I will get to see David and Sarah (yay!) and San (yay again!).

In other news, I'm diving into python and the wonderful world of SMS. Here is one of the coolest scaffolds out there -- an SMS toolkit for folks who want to build an SMS service. Developed at Microsoft Research India; it's pretty amazing. But check the license before you use it to launch your next startup!

14 May 2007

Sabbatical hair

Hair that says I'm on time off." Such was my hairdresser's assessment.

11 May 2007


More MoSoSo
I'm in Like with You

I'm so not the target demo, I lied about my age. For the first time since I was a kid parading around with a fake id to get into clubs.

I still want to see creative MoSoSo not centered around the hookup.

I'm in Banff at the moment, at the W3C Conference, where I gave a paper on my research group's work on mobile social software for the developing world. The paper is on our website, but mainly we want to think about scaffolding tasks of everyday life with MoSoSo -- not just in the developing world. Not that drinking and flirting aren't awesome daily tasks. But there's a bit more to the everyday.

Isn't there?

06 May 2007

rehearsal vs. performance

learning vs. teaching

work vs. play

rehearsal vs. performance

23 April 2007

Mo MoSoSo

An amazing compendium of social networking sites, including MoSoSo.

Btw, the 18 months story is migrating. If you want to read it, let me know and I'll tell you where to find it.