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my dissertation turns 10

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

In 2000, I got married, got a job, got a dog, got a new car, got a house, and … got a Ph.D. Amazingly and quite happily, I still have all of those things and will happily chat about any of them, but I want to spend some time here on the Ph.D.–in particular, that giant dissertation document that I churned out.

So who actually reads that thing? Well, I know my advisor, John Stasko, did…and used it to soak up many pens worth of ink. I still occasionally unpack a box or open a drawer that contains a marked-up chapter. I’m pretty sure my committee did, at least parts of it. I had one Ph.D. student who did, though most of the others look away and change the subject when I bring it up. Sometimes I pretend there’s others out there who’ve read it.

Oh yeah, I’ve read it. And I still occasionally read it. My dissertation had some implementation behind it (yes, I could code a little bit), and some minimal–but really cool–field work of a sort, but its primary contribution was empirical. Yes, I waded through the IRB mine fields, sat in labs while participants struggled with my animated widgets (when I was lucky enough to have them show up), poured over results with Richard Catrambone, and spent many hours writing it up.

I recall being frustrated in my early years with all the qualitative research out there, most of which seemed undirected and meandering to me. I found “undirected” and “meandering” to be highly unsatisfying–please just go ask a question, find an answer, demonstrate its correctness–so I simplified the complex interfaces of my early years to a handful of animation techniques, such that I could explore them along what became the attention-utility tradeoff and claims-centered design that was highlighted in later papers.

One of my committee members, Mark Guzdial, said he occasionally looks back on his dissertation and wonders why he didn’t do more with it afterward. I feel like I did more with it, but had to ignore (at least thus far) other roads not traveled. One thing that makes me smile: many of the results from my studies have been “rediscovered” by major networks and highly-regarded web sites 6-8 years later, reflected in the ways that they ticker and fade and blast info at us. So maybe if I’d played my cards differently, I could have parlayed my dissertation work into a nice ESPN job where design cool sports widgets all day long (hello Chris Allgood!). And perhaps it’s a flaw of academia (or just me?) that the results weren’t disseminated in a more accessible manner. But it’s nice to be right, and I’m glad the meanderers finally caught up with me ;), and maybe I learned something for next time when my students are crafting dissertations. And that has made all the difference.

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Droid

January 14, 2010 1 comment

So I became a droid owner over the holidays…just before they announce the google phone, alas. But you gotta go with Verizon in Blacksburg, so it will be a long wait for this google device.

Side effect: I’m now part of the google cloud–calendar, contacts, docs are all with google for seamlessness. So do I have to sit around and moon over their every product release (google phone?) and corporate decision (google.cn!) hoping they don’t go under as a company? I’ll feel like a Mac user!

Rand-y reading

January 10, 2010 2 comments

So a Christmas reading wrap-up as I enter one of those big birthday years. Inspired by the Churchill (mis?)quote “Any 20-year-old who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart, and any 40-year-old who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain”, I read a couple of Any Rand’s books–Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged–to see what the appeal is. Those books are near the top of numerous lists of the most influential books of the 20th century, and Rand used her novels as a vehicle for her objectivism philosophy.

So is Rand worth reading? Her extended descriptions and dialogs, often stretching for pages on end, paint an anti-socialism picture that appeals to today’s minority, but it almost struck me as humorous at many places. A bunch of capitalists living on a commune? The heroic and uncompromising architect? There’s a lot to swallow there; an odd good-evil division that just doesn’t seem to work today, unless you’re convinced that you’re right about something and are looking to justify it to yourself.

Categories: Book reviews

Happy New Year

January 4, 2010 2 comments

OK, rather than having a giant text file with links to various writings, I’ve been challenged to enter the 2000s (now that the decade is over) by keeping my ideas/readings/directions on this blog. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Categories: Uncategorized