March 2004 Archives

confessions of a backchannel queen

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I'm enjoying this symposium quite a bit. (For more detailed coverage of content than I'm providing, try David Weinberger or Danyel Fisher.) More than I expected to, actually. I was more than a little surprised to be invited, since most of the invitees are people who have achieved great prominence in their fields, and for good reason. They've written books, started companies, shifted opinion. On the academic side, there are people whose work has been enormously influential, people whose work I've followed and been influenced by for years, like Lee Sproull and Sherry Turkle. On the non-academic side, there are people who have written books that I love (Steven Johnson, David Weinberger), and others who have started amazingly successful companies (Scott Heiferman, Joi Ito).

As if I was feeling inadequate enough in this heady company, during the breaks and meals, people keep asking me things like "So, what are you working you on now?" Seems like a simple question, no? But I'm realizing that I don't really have a "thing" that I'm working on. What I'm best at (and I've reflected on this before) is integration and commentary. I'm great at assessing what's going on, finding the key components, and putting the pieces together into a big picture. But integration is very different from creation, and my sense was that this was mostly a gathering of creators. So I came in expecting to feel a bit out of place.

safety vs censorship

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I've been thinking about filtering a lot lately. Much of that thought has been spurred by watching my kids--especially my older son--exploring social software. He's blogging now, and is reading my blog as well. He's an IM wizard, enthusiastically working with far more open conversation windows than I can manage without my brain overheating. He hangs out in Neopets, and signs online petitions to allow fan sites to post Neopet photos. He does all this wirelessly from the hand-me-down Powerbook G3 that he got for his birthday this year.

All good things, in theory. What's not to like for a parent who's as much of an Internet and social software geek as I am? Well...plenty.

msp: topping the list of airports i hate


I take back everything bad I said about Dulles and its "mobile lounges." After suffering through a change of planes at Northwest's hub in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), I've placed that airport at the very top of my "must avoid at all costs" list.

It's a beautiful airport, actually. A stunning array of restaurants and shops, many of which are quite artistically executed, and most of which are well-targeted to travelers. (Lots of bookstores, gadget stores, even a "get it here, return it at the next airport" DVD rental place.)

But getting from point A to point B--which is what a hub, after all, is supposed to facilitate--was a huge f***ing pain in the a**. (Unseemly words obscured as part of a probably futile attempt to keep my site off the "banned list".)

MSP diagramI arrived at very end of terminal B, and had to transfer to a flight leaving from F14. This involved 20 full minutes of walking at a very brisk pace, aided by an endless stream of moving sidewalks. No shuttles from terminal to terminal--they're all connected. Which means you walk. And walk. And walk. And walk some more.

As I walked, I was treated to a view of a monorail-like conveyance outside the window, but there were no clues (in signage or on airport maps) as to where one might enter and exit said conveyance. So instead, I sullenly watched it zip past me a few times as I navigated the endless corridors to my destination.

Once I did arrive at the gate, I was delighted to see large signs proclaiming the availability of wireless access--just select the SSID "concourse," said the signs. But my Powerbook didn't think it was so easy. "There is an error joining the network 'concourse'," it told me. I tried turning off my airport card and turning it back on. No luck. I restarted my computer. Still no luck. The network taunts me from the menu, so close and yet so far. Uploading of the posts I've been churning out since I left my house will have to wait 'til I get to the hotel in Seattle.

I did manage to snag an exit row window seat with a little extra leg room. Unfortunately, it comes standard with a seatmate whose elbows are the most prominent part of his body, and who figured there was not much point in taking a shower before an early morning cross-country flight.

Did I mention that I'm really tired of traveling?

silver linings

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I'm getting better at this traveling thing (though not more enthusiastic about it). Packed in about ten minutes flat last night, into a suitcase small and light enough for me to hoist into the overhead compartments without assistance (now that they hand-screen checked luggage, it's immeasurably faster to go the carry-on route). Everything I need in route easily accessible from the backpack. Magazines for when the computer needs to be stowed, three fully-charged batteries for when it doesn't, and good-quality Sony earbuds for music and/or Audible audiobooks. (This year for my birthday I want some Shure E2C sound isolating earphones. Actually, I really want the E5C's, but there's no way I could justify buying--or using--$500 earphones!)

Even more effective, however, has been my new power-blogger online/offline tool setup. Between Shrook for reading blogs and news offline, and Ecto for writing posts offline, I'm finding airport and airplane time ideal for catching up on both reading and writing. (More about Shrook in my M2M post...) I can mark posts for later review in Shrook, then respond and link to them in Ecto...all without a network connection to be found.

I'm also rediscovering magazines--the print kind. They're a lot lighter to cart around than, say, a hardcover copy of Quicksilver. When I'm not traveling, I seldom have time to read them, but on these recent trips I've realized that I've become far too accustomed to getting my content online--and have missed a lot of great writing as a result.

On my last trip, I passed over People, and instead bought a copy of The Atlantic, intrigued by the cover image and headline "Dispatches from the Nanny Wars," and the story listed below it, "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement, by Caitlin Flanagan." A book review that turns out to be a full-length, fascinating essay on working women and domestic labor, it was worth more than the price of the magazine (and will probably result in a lengthy post to this week). But an added bonus was the range of great writing in the issue--from a chilling story on Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their Reagan-era Dr. Strangelove plot to subvert presidential succession in the event of a catastrophe, to the delightful "Word Fugitives" column on the last page, in which readers recount situations in need of a simple descriptor, and others write in with brilliant suggestions (e.g. "the phenomenon wherein a mechanical or electronic device, having gone on the blink, resumes working perfectly while the repair person examines it"--which yielded suggestions of devious ex machina, deus hex machina, afixia, refixicidivism, rekaputulation, on the wink, and hocus operandi.

So yes, I'm tired of traveling, tired of airports and airplanes and hotels and shuttle buses and unshakable coughs and not being with my family. But I'm also grateful for the opportunity to sit quietly and be offline--reading, writing, or just staring out the window.

Expect heavy, rather than light blogging on this trip, particularly now that I've mastered this Shrook/Ecto integration act. The symposium I'm headed to will be full of interesting people, ideas, and conversations, and I'll do my best to report my take on it while I'm there, here and on M2M.

microsoft social software symposium


My colleagues and students (not to mention my family) have been making pointed comments lately about my absence. And while I'm worn out from traveling, and tired of being away from home, the last few months have been a great opportunity to extend my contacts in the technical world, and get a sense of what other people are doing and thinking about in emerging technologies.

Tomorrow morning I leave at the crack of dawn for my last scheduled trip this spring--I've been invited to the Social Software Symposium that's being held by the Social Computing group at Microsoft Research (along with IBM Research and FX/Palo Alto).

There've been some complaints about the invitation-only nature of this gathering , which is understandable. There's always an inclusion/exclusion issue when you try to keep a popular activity restricted in terms of size in order to enhance the quality of interaction. I know I was bummed not to be at FooCamp, or at Clay's social software gathering a while back, but I was still glad to be able to see the ideas that emerged from both.

I am delighted to find that the symposium will be recorded, and the recordings made publicly available--and that those of us attending will be allowed/encouraged to blog and otherwise disseminate what's going on. I'll be blogging while I'm there, and hopefully using what I hear and learn to inform the things I'm working on curricularly and that I write about online (here, and there, and there).

Private note to Scott Koon: I would like to think that I don't smell only of "soap and old books," though as a librarian and a mom, I know that I probably do carry the permanent scent of both. And while I haven't met many of the people who'll be at this symposium, I know for a fact that danah boyd, Clay Shirky, and MImi Ito are all pretty far from most people's ideas of stuffy Ivory Tower academics! :)

distributed audiobook development


AKMA's got a great idea. Take advantage of the Creative Commons license that Larry Lessig put on his new book Free Culture by having a bunch of people each record a chapter of it in audiobook format.

Amazing...I was thinking exactly the same thing today, about both Lessig's book and Cory Doctorow's eastern standard tribe.

Not only does this make the book more broadly accessible, but it has the added bonus of being a chance to hear real voices from the bloggers I know and love.

I have no strong preference on chapters, though I suppose the librarian in me likes the idea of Chapter 9 ("Collectors"), and the title of Chapter 11 ("Chimera") is fabulous!

I nominate my friend Weez, who has a marvelous voice (which she uses as co-host of a local PBS radio show), for the Preface or Intro. Weez, you in?

brain eaters

Whenever I'm overwhelmed with work tasks, I become far more susceptible to the siren call of brain-eating games. I lost more hours than I care to admit to WEBoggle this week. Now I find myself confronted with the ingenious InfocomBots--AIM bots that allow you to play the best of InfoComs classic text adventure games using nothing more than an AIM client. Ack!

My susceptibility to the appeal of these games was probably fueled by my recent sleeplessness and drug-induced fogginess, which in turn resulted from the annoyingly persistent cough I've not been able to shake for the past 2+ weeks. I finally went to my doctor Tuesday, and she diagnosed a bronchial inflammation. She put me on prednisone for a few days to reduce the inflammation,and I'm already sleeping better. So perhaps I'll be able to resist the siren song of online games, and get some actual work done.

overwhelmed: please do not disturb


All this traveling has left me hopelessly far behind in all the things I need to do, at home and at work. Expect light or no blogging while I try to dig myself out from under this mountainous to-do list.

I wish that life was like a hotel room, and came with one of those nice "do not disturb" signs for the door (not to mention maid service and room service).

cult member and proud of it


Via my friend (and sxsw roommate) Kelly comes this article from The Black Table entitled "The Cult of Diet Coke."

The Cult of Diet Coke is strong and slavishly devoted, making their beverage of choice the undisputed leader in diet sodas for the last two decades and the third-most popular soda in the United States, trailing only Coca-Cola and Pepsi. And nowhere is this cult stronger than in the worlds of media and politics, where publicists, pundits and the people they orbit demand the Real Thing.

The list of who's addicted ranges from REO Speedwagon and Elton John to Donald Trump and the Clintons.

Since my husband and I go through cases of the stuff each month, I'm glad to know we're not alone in our devotion.

(And, of course, my first contact with Joi Ito was over his Diet Coke post, so it played a significant role in my social networking experience.)



Got home at 1am on Wednesday morning...less than 48 hours later, I'm back in DC.
Tomorrow I'll spend the day at NSF, evaluating proposals for funding. Home again tomorrow night. I am not cut out for this kind of life.

To make matters worse, I seem to be sharing a hotel floor with dozens of teenagers, here on some kind of school trip. Happily, I'm at the end of the hall, far form the elevator and the vending machines. Perhaps I'll get a little sleep. Perhaps not. Good thing I brought that cough syrup with codeine.

On a side note, traveling to DC requires one to be bombarded with scary messages. In Pittsburgh, an armed guard checked IDs at the door to the plane, and the captain announced that we would not be able to stand up at all during flight, since by the time we finished our take-off, we'd be 30 minutes from DC, and we'd be required to stay in our seats for that 30 minutes.

On the Metro in from the airport (aside: What was I thinking? It would have been well worth the $10 for the cab to avoid the lengthy wait for trains...), there were several announcements telling passengers to "help avoid what happened in Madrid--if you see a bag on the floor, kindly ask others around you if belongs to them; if not, report it immediately to transit police."

Makes me glad I live in a relatively obscure city these days.

new ad

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One of the talks I enjoyed most at sxsw was the keynote by's Eli Pariser and Zack Exley. They were articulate, committed, and inspirational.I'm delighted to see that MoveOn has acted quickly to put together an ad based on Rumsfeld's "Face the Nation" appearance on Sunday. Well worth watching. Send it to a friend.

never a dull moment in the life of a frequent flyer


So I got safely to Dulles...where, as expected, things didn't go according to anybody's plan. Here's a peek into my evening. As Dave Barry says, "I am not making this up!"

blogging sxsw (or not)


Obviously, I've not been doing much conference blogging on this trip. I was thinking a bit about why that was, and there are a number of factors. First is that I'm starting to oversaturate on conferences and travel, so it's harder to get excited enough to want to blog anything. Second is that while I've heard some interesting things here, not much of it has been been really new to me--there's a lot of overlap between the presentations I've heard thus far and the things I've heard at other conferences this year. Third is that there are other people doing a marvelous job of blogging some of the presentations I've been at--most notably Heath Row, who's blogging the sessions he attends at Fast Company and the sxsw conference blog. (If you haven't seen Heath's conference blog reports before, you're in for a treat; he's amazingly good at capturing not only extensive detail from a presentation, but also the tone and context.)

Thus far, SXSW for me has been less about the presentations and more about the people. I'm having a chance to meet a lot of people who I've long admired, but have never met in person, as well as getting to know some people better who I'd only met briefly in the past.

I'm hoping that tomorrow and Tuesday bring some new ideas and inspiration--but even if they don't, the interactions and connections are well worth the trip. Relationship building, in the long run, is worth a lot more to me these days--professionally and personally--than information consumption.

great lines from shneiderman's talk

These are some of the things Ben Shneiderman said yesterday in his talk at RIT that really caught my attention--and some of the thoughts that those lines sparked in my mind. Much of this deserves more attention than my sleep-deprived brain can give them on a 6:15am flight from Rochester to Chicago (en route to Austin for SXSW/Interactive), but at least it's a start.

Visualizations never give you answers, they only give you insights into questions.

Ah, what's not to like about this if you're a qualitative researcher at heart? I love data visualizations--at ETech, some of my favorite presentations were the visualizations of Usenet participation by Microsoft's Marc Smith, and of Technorati link data by Dave Sifry. But Shneiderman nails my interest--unlike many of my colleagues, I see these visualizations not as answers, but as a starting point for asking questions. Thus my interest in better defining the nature of blog genres and interconnections, going beyond the data curves that Sifry can show us based on large data sets.

personal medical devices

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One of the more interesting topics that came up at lunch today was the work being done by Ben Shneiderman's students on interfaces for "personal medical devices"--like the monitors used by diabetics to record blood sugar, for example. Coincidentally, one of the faculty members at the lunch was a diabetic, and she was wearing an automated insulin pump--which spurred some interesting dialogue.

Shneiderman told us about a physician he's been working with at Johns Hopkins who wants to work on how these devices record and report data, so that they (a) better match patient needs for record-keeping (think about all the ways Cory Doctorow criticizes human metadata assignment, and then extend to the even more critical data that medical patients are often expected to record about themselves...the potential for accidental or intentional error is enormous), and (b) better match physician needs for analysis. Even when a patient properly records blood sugar 4x/day in a 30-day log, for example, that information isn't generally in a form that's useful to the medical practicioner.

But, says Shneiderman, NIH is unwilling to fund research into interfaces to devices, and visualization of data--because medicine has traditionally not focused on these "peripheral" areas. In Leonardo's Laptop, Shneiderman uses some other disturbing examples of medical interfaces gone wrong--with disastrous results--and points to Peter Neumann's document Illustrative Risks to the Public in the Use of Computer Systems and Related Technology. (Neumann is the moderator of comp.risks on Usenet, as well as chair of the ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy.)

This is one of the great frustrations for me (and many others) in academia--the pigeonholing of research, and the difficulty in obtaining support and funding for research that crosses over disciplinary boundaries, no matter how important it may be. My hope that weblogs are a start towards breaking down those boundaries may be naive, but I cling to it anyways...

the dam has broken


Lunch today (and the talk Ben Shneiderman is giving right now) has finally gotten me unstuck. Just posted to Many-to-Many about today's lunch with Ben, and expect to be writing more there and on misbehaving later today.

shneiderman at rit

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Tomorrow Ben Shneiderman, HCI guru and author of the recent book Leonardo's Laptop, will be doing a lecture on the RIT campus from 1-2pm.

I've been invited to the luncheon preceding the lecture, so I'm doing some quick reading tonight. Shneiderman's web site seems a bit out of date (it doesn't even mention the new book, for example). I was rather hoping that I'd find a blog there, but no such luck.

I did find a few blog entries that mentioned a talk he'd given last year--one by Lilia Efimova, and one by Jay Cross.

Seems like some of what Shneiderman's working on these days regarding visualization of large data sets would be well-suited to the world of YASNS. Visualization is a weakness in most of the systems I've seen. There's all that data there, but it's awfully hard to make sense of except in the simplest of ways. (Hmmm. That needs some teasing out. Maybe tomorrow after his talk.)

dry spell

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Haven't had much luck with generating blog posts lately--other than a few travel reports, my writing well seems to have gone dry.

I'm not quite sure how to jumpstart my brain on this. The guilt associated with non-posting to three different blogs isn't helping things, either. (I know, I know. No reason to feel guilty. There's no requirement that I be posting. But guilt is seldom rational.)

Meanwhile, I'm watching my colleagues at M2M churn out a slew of great posts (check out latest YASNS post--"I have 30 million years of primate social experience wired between my ears."). Not to mention all the great content coming from people like AKMA and Dervala and Weez and Halley and Jeneane. Seems like I'm the only one blocked these days.

Maybe SXSW will help get me unstuck. Then again, maybe it's the constant traveling that got me there in the first place. I'm feeling uncentered, out of touch with home and sense of self. Three more trips in the next three weeks. Then things will calm down, and perhaps the creative juices will flow again.


As I sit here on the interminably long plane ride home, organizing my photos from this amazing trip, one thing really stands out about our experience in Japan--the enormous generosity of our hosts in Tokyo, Masako Suzuki and her husband Akitoshi.

Masako and Akitoshi Suzuki

The picture shows Masako and Aki in front of some of Aki's most treasured possessions. He's an avid collector of antiques and art, and these are some of his most beautiful items, which he gave us a private showing of the morning we left Japan.

My mother met Masako over ten years ago during a 3-month stay in Tokyo, and they've stayed close friends since then. Masako, a retired teacher, comes to the US for about 6 months of every year to study English and explore the country, generally staying with either my mother or my sister on her trips. She's really become a part of our family--my kids know her better than they know many of their aunts and uncles. When my mother stays in Tokyo, Masako is a wonderful and generous hostess...and that hospitality was extended to me and to Lane on this trip. Not just through the offering of living quarters in her house (though that in and of itself was a wonderful gift), but also through the time, energy, and expense she invested in us during our stay--from wonderful restaurants to the indescribable experience of a hot springs resort in Hakone to the hand-written directions she provided us with each time we needed to venture out.

It's interesting now, contrasting our time in Shanghai with our time in Tokyo. We were quintessential tourists and foreigners in Shanghai--even with a friend to show us around, the hotel experience is very removed from day-to-day life in a big city. But even though Tokyo is just as foreign a city to us (and Japanese just as foreign a language, to me at least), Tokyo felt welcoming and comfortable. Not many first-time visitors to Japan get the experience that Lane and I had, living in someone's house, visiting with their friends. We didn't get the "Lost in Translation" experience, by a long shot. There was no sense of disconnection, of disassociation.

On Tuesday night when I went to Dan Gillmor's Tokyo bloggers meeting, I spent some time talking with Gen Kanai, and told him a bit about our trip. He noted how unusual it is for visitors to Tokyo to get a chance to see inside a Japanese home--and we were given that opportunity not just once, but five times during a ten day stay.

In large part because of the hospitality shown to us in Masako and Aki, by Joi and Mizuka, by Tokuko and Yoshioh and Hajime, by Inego and Eri and Jim and ado, that I'm now planning to apply for a fellowship in Tokyo for the 2005-2006 academic year. I fell more than a little bit in love with the city and the people there, and I hope to be able to spend more time there, combining my research and my interest in the culture...and trying to repay some of the kindnesses shown us during this visit.

homeward bound


We leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow for our long trip back home. Shanghai to Tokyo, Tokyo to Detroit, Detroit to Rochester. Our longest flight leaves Tokyo at about 1pm on Saturday, and arrives in Detroit at about 11am the same day, which is a bizarre time-traveling feat that I understand rationally but am boggled by anyways.

Lane's been a trooper, but I think he's really ready to head am I. Hard to believe that classes are starting Monday. It won't be an easy transition back to real life for any of us, I suspect, but it was well worth it.

It's been an amazing trip, and I'll do some retrospective blogging on the return trip, with more details on both Tokyo and Shanghai. I'll leave you with this picture, taken this evening from our hotel window.


goodbye tokyo, hello shanghai



My son is sick of hearing me say it,

I was sad to leave Tokyo, but Shanghai is an extraordinary city, and I'm so glad we're getting a chance to see it.

Not much time to blog details now, but I've posted a mini-album of today's highlights. More later.

poisoning feeding pigeons in the park kamakura


Lane feeding a pigeon in KamakuraWe had a great trip to Kamakura this weekend, where my former student Kotaro Ai and his wife Midori--along with their 3-year-old daughter Yuki and their newborn son (whose name I have, to my dismay, forgotten)--gave us a wonderful tour.

This was one of the high points of the trip for Lane, in large part because of Kotaro's generosity. In addition to spending most of Saturday showing us around, he arranged for rickshaw rides for us--which was a wonderful experience for all of us, but especially Lane.

After the rickshaw ride, we went by train to see the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) of Kamakura, which we also really enjoyed.

Kamakura is really beautiful, and I hope we have a chance to return again to explore it further.

I'm exhausted now, having finally finished my grading (w00t!), so I'm off to bed (it's midnight here in Tokyo). Tomorrow I'm off to meet Ado for coffee in Akasaka, then back to Kawaski to pack our bags, then back to Akasaka for Dan Gillmor's Tokyo blogger gathering.

I'll try to find some time in there to write about our wonderful (for me; not so great for Lane) trip to the hot springs in Hakone. In the meantime, here are some photos from Kamakura.

books and bully pulpits


Lane's had his blog for a few months now, but he didn't use it for much until we came on this trip to Asia. It's become a powerful tool for him to communicate with his class back in the US; he writes about his experiences on the trip, they read about it in school, and then the teacher has them do research so that they can ask him questions about his experiences. (Major props to his teacher, who's enthusiastically embraced this process and incorporated it into the classroom.) Lane has found he enjoys writing for an audience (who among us doesn't?), and it's wonderful to be able to see the dialog unfolding.

It appears, however, that now that he's started, Lane has really begun to grasp the power of personal online publishing. He's been pondering some political issues lately--specifically, the motivation behind book banning and censorship. He's got at least one friend whose parents have forbidden Harry Potter books, and this frustrates him.

A few days ago, he asked: "How much does it cost to write a letter to the newspaper and have them publish it?"

"You can't buy that," I replied. "They have to like what you wrote enough to publish it."

He thought for a bit. "But I could publish it for free on my blog, right?" I stifled a grin. "Why, yes. You could. But be careful how you write it, since I know that the people you're talking about are probably reading your blog. Before you post it, let me look it over."

So he wrote. And I read. And I didn't change a thing, aside from a few typos. I'm awfully proud of him, for both his ideas and his writing.

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