May 2003 Archives

friday's feat-ure


Last night one of our all-time favorite bands, Little Feat, was in town. My husband developed a friendship with their road manager a while back, and then with the band--helping them set up their grassroots support mailing list back before email was king.

Because my sister is getting married this weekend, we've got a flood of friends and family arriving, as well. My stepdaughter got here Thursday--she's part of a younger generation of Feat fans, and because it was her 26th birthday Friday, going to a Feat show was a perfect way to celebrate. I brought the camera, so I've got some photos to share.

social software reading list

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Some of my colleagues have asked for a summer reading list of books related to social software. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, just a few personal favorites. Feel free to add suggestions for additional items in the comments, or provide any other feedback on the choices.

Update, 5/29
In the comments to this entry is a trackback from Kieran Healy's blog, with some useful commentary on the above list. In writing my comments to his entry, I realized there was at least one more book I wanted to include on my list:

rendezvous-enabled games


I really wish there were more Rendezvous-enabled games for OS X. There are still plenty of places where I find myself with no WiFi, and when those places also contain friends or colleagues with airport-enabled laptops, a selecton of games would be lovely.

In particular, I'd happily pay for a Scrabble-like game that could be played over a Rendezvous connection rather than an Internet connection. Wonder if that's something that the LazyWeb might help with?

free at last, free at last!

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Classes are over, grades are submitted, only a few more days of meetings next week. I can feel myself unwinding--it's almost tangible. Physical tension melting away along with the mental. During the school year, there's a constant monkey on my back--the feeling that there's always a little bit more I ought to be doing. More student (or committee, or colleague) mail I should read and respond to. More attention paid to the grading of projects. More effort in the preparation for classes. More time spent answering questions. Falling asleep becomes a nightly battle to banish those "do more" demons.

The June following my first year as a professor, I remember sitting out on my back deck with my husband. As we sat there looking at the newly-planted garden, and the kids on the swingset, I realized that this job bears a strong resemblance to a very, very old joke: "Why are you banging your head against the wall? Because it feels so good when I stop."

Yes, academia is filled with petty politics and outrageous stresses. But there are many joys associated with this job--some of which were reaffirmed yesterday during commencement. Shaking the hand of each student (hundreds of them) after they crossed the stage and received their diploma (well, their diploma case) is a wonderful feeling. Hugging the many of them whose lives I know I've touched--and who have in turn enriched mine--is even better. All my resentment of academia's ills fades away when a student comes up to me during the line-up for the commencement processional and says "I want you to know that your class had the most impact on me here--it made me realize what I wanted to do, and that I could do it." Or when a parent says "He's told me so much about you, and I'm so grateful for all the support you've given him while he was here."

So the school year ends--as it always does for me--on a note of gratitude and hope, and the summer stretches out in front of me...three months of relaxed schedules, time with my family and friends, and intellectual energy freed up to devote to my upcoming grant research (more on that later this weekend). Oh...and blogging, of course.

ridiculously easy group-forming software?


I feel a little sheepish asking this, since I seem to have been dubbed an "industry expert" in this area, but I need to find a software package (preferably free) that will support group-based communication (threaded forums, basically) and maybe document sharing for a group of faculty in my department.

I'm leaning towards a very simple solution, which is to create a group weblog with all the faculty as authors, and use simplecomments to allow either direct commenting or trackback-based commenting for those few of us who already have MT weblogs.

But what I really want is something more like Yahoo! groups, but without the ads. I have access to a server that will support most scripting and db environments, so installing something is not a problem.

Anybody know of an integrated tool that provides threaded forums, and other bells-and-whistles (calendaring, for example) that can be run locally rather than through an ad-based service?

safari css bug


I think I found an undocumented CSS bug in Safari. (Lucky me, eh?)

I'm redesiging my web site, and wanted to get down and funky with cool CSS stuff. So, among other things, I added a "before" line to my style sheet so that a paragraph with a class of "selected" would have a small arrow image prepended to it. The code looked like this:

.selected:before {
content: url(arrow.gif);

It worked perfectly in Mozilla, didn't show up at all in IE, and loaded properly (or so it seemed) in Safari. The problem was that every time I clicked on a link in Safari to reload the page (it's a PHP/mySQL driven site, so the links were reloading the page with a new query string), Safari would crash.

It took a while for me to figure out that the problem was that line of the CSS file, commenting it out (and changing nothing else) fixed it.

(And before you ask, yes, I filled out a bug report, but before I knew what the problem was. Will fill out another one now that I've isolated it.)

So, I'm doing it the old-fashioned way, and am writing out the img tag instead of letting CSS add the image. <sigh>

(Oh...the redesign can be seen in progress here. Feedback/bug reports welcomed, especially from PC users. Credit to my friend Elouise for design inspiration and Photoshop tutoring, but the end result is mine all mine.)

os x qualitative research software?

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Does anybody know of a good qualitative research software package that runs under OS X?

When I did my dissertation research, I used QSR NUD*IST, which ran on the Mac OS. But their current software (called NVivo, a far less problematic name for requesting funds from your department) only runs on Windows.

I've done some poking around, and haven't found much. So I'm tossing this out to the blogosphere. Anybody know of anything? I need something that lets me highlight and code passages in interview transcripts--similar to what's described in the NVivo information. (In the worst case scenario I'll run NVivo using Virtual PC, though I really hate to do that if I can find an alternative.)

I'm wondering if Tinderbox might work. (Jill, what do you think?)

suburban snail hunting

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We live in a pretty typically suburban neighborhood. Lots of houses, trees, lawns, kids, sidewalks, etc. But we're at the southern edge of our southern suburb, and beyond us is a more rural area. As a result, some parts of the neighborhood are bordered by woods and creeks.

Yesterday I took Lane (who just turned 9!) down to the creek because he wanted some snails. Generally, it's hard to take pictures of Lane because he mugs for the camera. But he was so absorbed by his task that I was able to take a number of nice pictures. Here are two of them.

bahama bound, baby!


June 3rd will be Gerald's and my tenth anniversary. Wow.

We were married barefoot on the beach in Jamaica, and I've been thinking about how best to celebrate this anniversary. So when I got email from USAirways yesterday telling me about their special fares to the Bahamas, it seemed like a sign.

Twenty-four hours later our flights are confirmed, and we're booked for three nights in an ocean view room at the Westin at Our Lucaya in Port Lucaya. Three weeks from today we'll be looking at the Caribbean from our balcony. As my students would say...w00t!


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Back for long enough to say that I'm very glad I didn't submit a paper to the Digital Arts and Culture conference being held this week in Melbourne. And I feel bad for the people who did, who are being publicly excorciated by one of the conference organizers in the public conference blog right now. Imagine how the "emerging researchers" referenced here must be feeling. (Horrors! Academics wanting to cite a slew of useful references?) Or how about the misguided authors who wanted their images to appear in a specific place in their texts? Apparently "digital arts" don't (or shouldn't) allow for such precision.

Even if these struck me as valid complaints--which they don't--I'm disturbed by their public nature. There are some things, it seems to me, that really ought to be limited to private exchanges rather than public posting.

feeling stretched


It's been a rough week. Lots of energy expended, not all of it in the right places or for the right reasons. Unhappy calculations that involved figuring out whose hurt was more or less important, more or less recoverable. Choices between active paths that did harm and righted wrongs while incurring risk, or passive approaches that allowed harm to go unchallenged but kept me safe. Inevitable (or so it seems) accusations of neglect and narcissism from those not focused on, balanced by gratitude and appreciation from others. Hard to know what to do or how to do it right sometimes. Feeling like I'm off balance. Taking a break from blogging to focus on other things for a while. Hope to be back soon.

the laugh i needed tonight

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Via Grumpygirl, this incomparable site-eating tool.

You feed it a URL, and it...well, it's hard to explain what it does. Here's its version of my blog. Wow.

on comments

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One of the things I love about Movable Type is its comments management. Unlike Blogger, MT incorporates comments into the blog engine itself. It's fast, efficient, customizable. And comments allow blogs to blur the boundaries between publishing and dialogues.

I've had comments on my blog since it started, and value the way they allow anyone reading to join in the conversations. My first ventures into the blogosphere were through comments on other people's blogs--which were warmly received, and made me feel like I had a voice that could be heard. (Thanks, Joi. :-)

So my decision today to turn off comments on a post was not made lightly. I posted in haste, and have time to repent at leisure. I shifted between deleting the post entirely, and simply turning off the comments...and decided on the latter.

Why? I just don't have the energy to debate the gender issue right now. The first few comments were so *(^$ familiar. And I know it's not malice that spurs them. But at the moment I just don't want to go there.

So what's the difference between a mailing list and a blog? Why is my turning off comments different from Dave Winer announcing he won't approve mailing list posts?

That's easy for me to answer. This blog is not a public space, it's a private one. It has never been presented as anything else. In many ways, it feels like my online home. I welcome visitors, and enjoy discussions with them. I've had plenty of people disagree with me in comments, and that's fine, too. But there are times when I just don't want to have another discussion on the same divisive topic in my living room. I don't want to stop others from having that discussion--I just don't want them to have it here.

Trackbacks are still enabled, so people with trackback-enabled blogs can write about any of my posts to their hearts' content, and--through the magic of trackback technology--a pointer will appear back to their sites.

And because I'm drunk with the power of it all, I'm not even turning comments on for this post. :)

where the boys are...

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...isn't where I want to be these days.

Shelley convinced me to join the blogunlimited list, after the blogrollers list went south with divisive and defensive interactions. So I did. And I've been reading it for a little while, but not participating.

Here's how the story goes, so far as I can see:

a) Shelley posts an interesting query about the semantic web
b) A discussion begins, with posts from a number of people with interesting ideas
c) Shelley responds with questions and ideas, at the same time that predictable people begin posting predictable rants about predictable topics (RSS, for example. OPML. what constitutes an ad hominem attack. yada, yada, yada.)
d) Shelley's points are essentially ignored in favor of the same-old-same-old peacocking and posturing among the boys.
e) Shelley gets mad.
f) Shelley gets noticed only because she got mad.
g) People like me unsubscribe because the signal-to-noise ratio is getting worse by the second, and they'd rather read blogs than wade through cross-posts and arguments.

Am I being sexist? I'm sure I'll be accused of it. But it gets easier all the time for me to understand why there are so few women on the technical lists, at the technical conferences, doing the technical work. Who needs all this bickering? Personally, I get enough of that from my kids. And my co-workers.

Maybe it's the perceived impermanence of the e-mail (as opposed to the blog entries) that encourages the pettiness, and that allows interesting ideas to get lost in the swell of mutiply-quoted messages. Or maybe it's the fact that because reading blogs is a pull rather than push technology, it's easier for me to detach when the discussions head in a non-productive (for me) direction. Regardless of the reason, I'm finding myself increasingly disenchanted with mailing lists, and correspondingly appreciative of blogs.

Now I'm going to go re-read Jeneane's post about Halley's blog. Chicken soup for the blogger's soul, don't you think?

For the first time since I created this blog, I'm closing the comments on an entry. I'm simply not interested in a debate about this post. It was me venting, on my blog. Don't agree with me? Your prerogative. Post about your difference of opinion on your own blog.

i knew it, i knew it, i knew it!

From Scripting News, today:
From a trusted correspondent, talking with a contact who works at the Netscape part of AOL/Time Warner. "He said they had decided that weblogs are the next killer app, and that most of the work at the Mountain View office was going into building a weblog component for AOL. He also mentioned that about 400 people are working on that software. This is in constrast to about 20 who are working on Mozilla."
From me, in October, just after starting my blog:
So I'm talking with one of my colleagues about blogs, and explaining how only twice in my life have I had this sense that a technology was about to become really important. We're both reminiscing about the early days of post-BITNET e-mail, and the first wave of web sites (remember O'Reilly's Network Navigator?). And then the conversation turns to "what happened to all that promise"? I remind him of the day the AOL floodgates opened and usenet and e-mail were never the same. What's going to be the effect on blogging when/if the exponential curve takes its sharp turn upwards?
Update, 9 May 03
A article on the topic disputes Dave's numbers:
Could Winer's trust be misplaced? After news of AOL's plans broke on the site Good Experience, AOL confirmed it did have some kind of blogging application up its sleeve. AOL told Random Access that it would say more about it in June or July, but not before then. But those familiar with AOL's plans called the head count reported on Winer's blog implausible at best. "La-la land" is where one AOL insider placed the 400 number, pointing out that AOL has long had tools that let people post content of their own and making the leap from those tools to blogging software would not require anywhere near that amount of staff.

linkedin: first impressions

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You know something is happening when you get five separate requests from people you know--in a two-hour period, no less--to join a new networking service. So last night I gave in to peer pressure, and accepted the invitations to join LinkedIn, a new business-focused networking service developed by Reid Hoffman (formerly of Paypal).

I posted my first impressions over at Joi Ito's blog, but I thought I'd expand upon them a bit here.

The site has a nice look to it, and the interface is reasonably straightforward. doesn't do much for me. I'm not really a "businessperson," I suppose, and maybe I'm missing the mark here. But I dislike being asked to draw these boundaries between my "social" interactions and my "business" interactions. My relationships are more fluid than that. How do I classify my relationship to people like Joi Ito and Marc Canter and Shelley Powers? Business associates? No. We've never "conducted business." Friends? Well, sort of. As much as you can be without ever having met someone in person. Colleagues? In a virtual, distributed way, maybe. Part of my social network? Absolutely! Valuable contacts for me in professional and personal contexts? For sure.

Friendster wants to be for dating and socializing. Group-formers and business people need not apply. (And their refusal to remove the often obscene BBS posting titles from the main page is a strong indication that they want to keep it that way.) LinkedIn wants to be for serious business networkers only. None of that fraternization stuff here. Neither one gives me the environment that I really want--a way to visualize my connections to the people I have relationships to, and build on those relationships to find connections to others.

Specifically, here's what I don't like about LinkedIn.

  • I can't see people's pictures. No, this isn't a deal-breaker. But dammit, Adam's right. It's Friendster's killer app, and it's the one thing in that system that makes me go back to it again and again. At least one person has told me that this is to "discourage dating," which I find to be an unconvincing argument. We put photos of speakers on conference pages, and I doubt they get trolls for dates as a result. Context is everything.
  • I can't browse the network. Specifically, I can't see my contacts' contacts. Why would I want to do that? No, not because I'm looking for a date. I'm happily married, thankyouverymuch. Because I want to understand the nature of the social networks I'm involved in. If I'm going to share my connection info with the system, I want it to give me something back. Let me see out to at least one degree of separation.
  • The searching is seriously hampered by the fact that users can only declare themselves as part of one primary industry area. To accurately describe myself, I need to indicate higher ed and technology. And there are several areas of technology that are appropriate. Plus I'd like to throw my library science background in there. No can do. People have to pick one to search on, and I have to pick one to label myself with. That means lots and lots of people won't find each other.
  • Once I've located a person I'm interested in contacting, and initiate the connection, it starts out fine. I tested this out with two people I know--one who was already a contact (Ross Mayfield), and one who was in the system but not yet explictly my contact (Pete Kaminski). I specify what kind of contact I want with Pete. It tells me the contact has to go through Ross (until that point, I don't know how Pete and I are connected.) Ross gets email telling him I want to make this contact to Pete. If he approves it, the request goes to Pete. Pete's interested, so he says "ok." Now, here's the fatal flaw. After Pete says yes--not before--the site tells me I have upgrade to get Pete's contact information. WTF??? This guy is sitting and waiting for me to complete the contact I've initiated. If I don't do it, I look like an idiot now. But to do it, I have to give money to LinkedIn. Bad, bad model. Left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. Want to make money of the site? Fine. But don't make the most basic use of the system contingent on that money. Prove its worth to me first. Then give me a reason to want to upgrade.

Yes, I'm a curmudgeon. But I really am frustrated by this artificial categorization of my social network, and the barriers imposed by centralized systems that ask me to characterize for them the nature of my relationships, and then give me relatively little flexibility in how that information in used.

Adam Greenfield thinks there's still room for a hybrid that brings together the best of Friendster and LinkedIn (and Ryze, and...?). I'm increasingly unconvinced. The centralization is the problem. The system designers seem unable to keep themselves from imposing their view of how relationships are defined onto the users of the system. A decentralized approach would help reduce that problem. It would also address the problem of having to re-enter your personal data in every single new system, which is driving me nuts.

So I guess I'm slowly but surely being lured into the DigID discussions, which obviously impact on this whole issue of defining myself, and defining my connections. Once I get through the end of this quarter (two weeks and counting 'til the last exam is given!), I'll have to start digging a little deeper in that area.

hoppy toad alert

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When I was child, I remember reading a version of Charles Perrault's fairy tale "Toads and Diamonds." I'm not sure if it was that version (which is from The Blue Fairy Book). I don't think so, because I distinctly remember the term "hoppy toads," as opposed to simply "toads," from the version I read.

There are days when I wake in the morning and I know that it's going to be a hoppy toad day. Usually it's because I'm wrestling with issues internally that I can't find a way to express in a reasonable way, or that for one reason or another it's not appropriate for me to talk about. That's hard for me, since talking (and/or writing) things out is a big part of how I understand and resolve them. So when I can't discuss things that are bothering me, it tends to make me cranky. When I'm cranky, I get defensive, and tend to interpret much of what's going on around me as criticism and attack (often incorrectly). And when I feel attacked, my facility with language makes it easy for me shape words into deadly projectiles that leave my mouth with a level of speed and force that's almost guaranteed to do damage. Poisonous toads and venomous snakes.

This is not, needless to say, my most lovable personality trait. Happily, as I've gotten older, my ability to control those verbal projectiles has improved...but I'm still not perfect. So when I find myself in a "hoppy toad" mood, as I do today, I generally try to stay away from people. Trying extremely hard to not to open my mouth, for fear of what will emerge if I do.


Updated 29 March 2011 to fix broken links to the story text.

kicking the carb habit


Gerald's been on a low-carb diet (actually, a low Glycemic Index diet) for about a month now, at our doctor's urging. It's not Atkins...just an attempt to stick to foods with a low 'glycemic index.' I was a little skeptical, but in that month he's lost 15 pounds. That's pretty impressive.

Last weekend he convinced me to try it. Considering I'm the queen of carbs, that was not an easy decision to make. Much to my surprise, sticking with it has been fairly easy. We've been eating lots of fish, chicken, and beef. For lunch, I've been opting for fruit and yogurt parfaits. I'm eating hearty breakfasts of eggs, cheese, and sausage. And for desserts I've been having cookies & cream drinks made with whey isolate (high protein supplement).

I did this in moderation. I started skipping all the breads, potatoes, pastas, chips, cookies, etc that I generally eat, and focused instead on the meat, cheese, fruit, etc. When we got sandwiches at the faculty meeting, for example, I ate the roast beef and cheese, but skipped the bread--and the cookies. (But when I attended a luncheon where excellent desserts were served, I did indulge in some cheesecake!)

I stayed away from the scale during the week, but finally my curiousity got the best of me, and I hopped on yesterday morning. (It's a very nice scale. A Tanita body fat measurement scale that he got me for my birthday.) Much to my amazement, I'd lost at least 2 pounds. (The scale said 3.5 pounds, but I know there's some fluctuation based on water retention, etc--so I'm rounding down.)

So I guess there's something to this approach. Will stick with it for a bit, and see what happens.

wealthy friends


shareholder.gifSo, all my favorite blogs seem to be top earners in the blogshares market. Hopefully, Shelley's still willing to give me some shares. (Though the "official logo" I'm authorized to show off here on the blog now is probably worth more to me...and the fact that she's still burning is worth even more!)

Jonathon Delacour's quite valuable these days, too, though he's not yet claimed his stock. And my blogeny/prodigy Andy Phelps is quite successful. (Should have bought more shares yesterday, before he was snapped up, and his value rose!)

Still, it's fun to look at my bloshares portfolio and see the people whom I personally value most in the blogosphere. So, if you're on my blogroll, and want to trade some shares, let me know...I'll give you some of mine if you'll give me some of yours. (And that's not an offer I make often!)

I'd love to claim Many-to-Many (and, of course, distribute the shares among the five authors), but since the content management system it uses doesn't ping, and I forgot to do so when we launched, it doesn't know we exist. I tried to post to it last night, but the CMS choked on an HTML entity--é, to be exact--which is a bit of problem since it was part of four of the words in the post. Even that would be okay, if it hadn't then stopped letting me post anything to the blog. *()^%. Made me really, really appreciate MovableType, and how seldom it has ever caused me any problems in trying to publish the information that I want.

a morning with microsoft


Well, not really just with Microsoft. But I liked the alliterative title.

This morning, I attended a breakfast sponsored by the Upstate New York Chapter of the Association of Women in Computing. They hold this breakfast annually to announce the selection of the IT Woman of the Year. Given that we have Xerox and Kodak in town, as well as the University of Rochester, and a plethora of tech-related businesses, there are a lot of amazing women in this town, and a long roster of impressive candidates for this year's award.

The winner? Our department chair, Eydie Lawson. Woohoo! It was a well-deserved honor--she's built this department from the ground up to the amazing, vibrant place it is today.

After the award ceremony, there was a keynote address by Bonnie Robertson, whose title is "Director, Partner Organizational Development, Microsoft Business Solutions." I was prepared for a morning of software evangelism, but ended up very pleasantly surprised.

Bonnie, who has a background in sociology, talked about societal trends driving innovation, and her talk set the stage perfectly for the kinds of social software curriculum development that I want our department involved in. Nothing she said was hugely groundbreaking--but she was saying it in front of the people whom I most wanted to hear it. She talked about the growing number of "faceless interactions and transactions" that we all have to deal with, and the resulting increased desire for community and connections. Swinging from high-tech to high-touch...but, eventually, to high-tech-touch. She ended by saying "How do we adapt? Foster relationships and trust using technology."

All in all, it was a lovely morning. It's not often I get to spend time around hundreds of other women in technology. And when that pleasure is combined with watching someone you admire win an award, and hearing a good speaker...well, it was an awfully nice way to start the day.

an afternoon with the public printer

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Okay, so it's not quite "dinner with Larry Lessig," but today I spent some time with the US Public Printer, Bruce James. In addition to overseeing the US Government Printing Office (GPO), he's the president of RIT's Board of Trustees. He brought about a dozen members of his management team along, as well. Our department was their last stop on the tour, so I didn't expect they'd be paying a lot of attention after a long day of touring.

I was in for a surprise. I talked about our new XML course sequence, which got approved today by our grad curriculum committee. (Well, the first three courses; I still have to write the fourth.) It includes an Intro to XML course that focuses on DTDs, schemas, metadatas, and general XML concepts, an XML Transformation & Presentation course that covers XSLT, XSL-FO, XPath, XPointer, and XLink, and an XML Programming course including tools for parsing XML, and web services approaches. The last course will be a "Semantic Web Seminar" where students will tackle a real-world information problem and develop an XML-based solution.

They really got it. They were scheduled for a half hour with us, but stayed at least an hour, asking questions, making suggestions, and appearing genuinely supportive and enthusiastic about the curriculum. I think we'll be talking more about partnerships--which is really exciting. I think there will be some great co-op opportunities for our students, as well.

On a side note, I was the only woman in the room. Me, three male colleagues, and (at least) a dozen male GPO executives. Hmmm.

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