April 2005 Archives

seattle move update

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Part of my agenda while in Seattle was to find a place for us to live, so I spent a good bit of time on Thursday and Friday driving around Eastside neighborhoods and visiting apartment complexes. I also sent out several emails to Craigslist advertisers about their properties. The net result was that I finally realized that it didn't make sense to rent something before my family has a chance to get to know the area with me. I think it's very likely we'll end up in Bellevue or Redmond, but the city is seductive as well, and we should all decide together.

So we'll spend the first month of our time in Seattle in corporate housing while we look around. That will make it much easier to check out Craigslist postings, since most of those are "available now" properties.

The weather was spectacular while I was there, and I really fell in love with the Seattle area. It definitely didn't hurt that a number of wonderful people were gracious enough to have me over to their homes, and made me feel welcome and at home in the area. I met people's families, got to socialize informally, and definitely got the sense that there will be great social network waiting for us when we get there in June (for the kids, too).

The changes at MSR that I referenced in an earlier post are going to have an impact on my year, mostly in a good way. Lili Cheng, who hired me, is leaving MSR to take a great job over on the Windows team--and she's taking her wonderful development team from the Social Computing Group with her. Scott Counts and Shelly Farnham, the two resesarchers who'll be left after that exodus, will be joining Marc Smith's group at MSR, and he's going to shed his group's current name (Community Technologies) for the Social Computing moniker. So, I'll be with Marc's group.

But...after some discussion with Lili and Marc and Brady Forrest (a project manager for MSN Search), I've asked that I be able to split my time between Marc's and Brady's groups. The search team has wooed me with their search champ meetings, and I'm excited about the idea that I could be able to influence the development of live products as well as do more prototype-style work with MSR. Everyone seems amenable to the arrangement, so it looks like a definite go.

I'm feeling much more excited and enthusiastic about the whole sabbatical plan now--it helped immensely to spend some intensive time in Seattle and with the folks I'll be working with. I've got a better mental model now of where I'm going, which reduced a lot of my anxiety.

So, that's the pre-move news. Now I've got to get serious about packing and storing stuff here, so that we can actually go!

making the most of jetlag

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Home at last, home at last!

Got in this morning at 9am, then crashed hard in bed for a few hours until the boys came home from school. After that I finished prepping for the AWC workshop and headed to campus.

The workshop was fun to do, and was well-received. I managed to stay coherent for the whole thing, happily.

Now I'm home, wide awake, trying to convince my body that it's really past bedtime. So far my body is not persuaded by my arguments. So perhaps I'll try to assemble some of my thoughts from the ten days I just spent in Seattle. A mini-blogging blitz, followed (I hope) by a good night's sleep in my own bed.

teaching a workshop for awc

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Tonight I'm teaching a workshop for members of the upstate NY chapter of the Association for Women in Computing. (Jetlag and all...)

The information for this workshop can be found here; I'll stick a creative commons license on it tomorrow after I get some sleep. :)

social computing symposium kickoff

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The 2005 social computing symposium started this evening with a reception and dinner. Already I'm totally excited about the interactions I had with really interesting people. This year seems to be a more diverse mix than last year, and I've already gotten a chance to meet someone I really wanted to see--Lilia Efimova of Mathemagenic (as well as lots of other great people).

It seems as though this year there's less of a sense of us vs them, academics vs practicioners, and more of a sense of fluidity. It's a little early to make that call, I suppose, but my first sense of the group as a whole was very positive.

I've met a lot of wonderful people who are based here in Seattle, both tonight and over the past few days, which has left me feeling really enthusiastic about our upcoming move. It's so much easier to make a change like this when you know that there will be a social network to cushion your arrival in a new place.

Despite all the goodness here, however, I'm starting to get a bit homesick. I miss my boys (all three of them), and will be glad to get back home on Wednesday morning.

trillian feature

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Since I'm stuck on my PC this week, I've been using Trillian as my IM client. It's a really nice multi-protocol client, so I can use it for AOL, Yahoo, and MSN IM, as well as IRC.

What I didn't realize until today is that it also does automatic lookup of words and phrases in your text in the Wikipedia. So today when I was chatting with someone about when the social computing symposium starts, it highlighted the word symposium for me--and displayed this definition when I rolled over the highlighted word:

Originally, the term symposium referred to a drinking party; the Greek verb "sympotein" means "to drink together". The term has since come to refer to any academic conference, irrespective of drinking. We have literary depictions of symposia in the sympotic elegies of Theognis of Megara, as well as in two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium.

Hmmm. I kind of like the original definition.

changes afoot at msr

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Seems like a lot is going on at Microsoft this week...I found out yesterday that I'll be working for Marc Smith rather than Lili Cheng during my year at MSR, for reasons that are good for everybody involved, I think.

More details when I'm sure that it's okay to provide them.

dying powerbook


I did take my powerbook to the apple store on Wednesday. The diagnosis? A hard drive that's on the verge of collapse. I spent Wednesday night backing up files to DVDs (my most recent backup in Rochester is several months old, alas), and being grateful that I'd brought two computers with me.

The powerbook is still partially functional. I can run my browser and email programs, as well as iTunes and iPhoto, which meant I was able to backup everythign that mattered. But my aggregator (NetNewsWire) and blogging client (ecto) have already stopped working, and the email's starting to get a little flaky.

So while I'm here, I'll be working mostly with the TabletPC. I'll have our tech guys send my laptop in for repairs when I get home. (It has one other really odd problem; when I'm in an airplane, the E key doesn't work properly; I'm guessing this has to do with the effect of cabin pressurization, but I don't know if it's the keyboard or the logic board that's reacting.)

working on the road


I'm terrible at doing work from home when I'm traveling. When I'm away, I'm focused on the things in the new environment--in this case, Microsoft activities. It's easy to forget that back home, people are waiting for me to get things done. It takes an effort to remember that home isn't in a state of suspended animation until my return.

So, today I'm going to focus on RIT work. Grading, finishing up details on the upcoming lab workshops, and grant research. It's beautiful here today--through my hotel room window I can see blue sky, green trees, and mountaintops. The temperature's in the 60s. But I'll be spending the day in my room, not out in that pretty day.

Must. Work.

missing my golden opportunity


In 2003 and 2004 I marked the first "real" (to me) day of spring by posting the Robert Frost poem that the early green-gold leaves on the trees always brings to mind.

This year I'm missing the moment--when I arrived in Seattle spring was already well underway, and I received email today from my mother saying that the moment was at hand back in Rochester. Not surprising, really--in both 2003 and 2004 the green-gold moment was on April 21st.

So here's my annual tribute to this moment in time.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

--Robert Frost

well-earned downtime


While the piles of schwag and lovely hotel room (with cushy bed) may seem very generous (and it is), it's important to remember that MSN essentially got a bunch of really smart people to come in and serve as unpaid consultants for two days. And it was a pretty intense two days.

While we can't talk about product specifics, we can talk about process. We started out with too many powerpoint presentations, and too much marketing speak. The inevitable IRC backchannel sprung up after a few too many PPT slide decks, and much levity ensued during particularly dry spells. There were a number of people (champs and msn folks) who were a little upset about that. But I pointed out to one of the organizers that the people most active in the channel were also among the most engaged and interesting participants in the live discussions. If the people in the backchannel had been passive participants in the other activities, I could see some reason for concern. But just as in academia we have to focus on outcomes--are our students learning?--in meetings we need to learn to do the same thing. If your audience is participating, don't begrudge them the occasional escapes.

The reality is you can't demand people's attention for 11 hours straight, which is what happened yesterday. (Breakfast started at 7, we were scheduled to leave campus at 5:45pm.) So people escape to a "virtual hangout" when they can't (or don't want to) process what's going on in the physical room. And if the escapes escalate, or become disruptive, there may well be reason to rethink what's happening in the real-world environment. You're getting a message that your audience isn't connecting to what you're trying to tell them--figure out the cause, don't just attack the symptom.

To their credit, the MSN folks paid attention to what we suggested for changes, and implemented them fast. Day 2 was (a) shorter, (b) much more interactive, and © significantly lacking in backchannel activity. (Thanks, Osh and Sean!)

After the much more intense interaction of today's meeting, and the always-enjoyable trip to the company store, we came back to the hotel. There's a geek dinner in Bellevue tonight, but I just don't have the energy to interact with a group tonight. I think I've exceeded my 48-hour geek quota. So I'm enjoying a few hours of well-earned downtime. I walked down to Pike Place Market tonight and got dinner (savory and sweet pastries) from a french bakery, then ate them in a little park. Then I came back to the hotel, opened a bottle of wine, and have been catching up on mail and a few blogs.

Unfortunately, my powerbook is showing signs of imminent collapse. Applications aren't responding, and I'm getting nervous. So tomorrow my plan is to head down to the market early in the morning, get a brioche from that lovely bakery, and then catch a bus to University Village where one of the Seattle Apple Stores is located. I'll see if one of their genius can run some disk voodoo on my system and make it happy again. If not, it may have to go off for repairs, and I'll make do with the tablet PC I brought along.

I do have to say that the tinier tablet has been convenient. I need to start playing more with the ink-based apps, too. And at the MS store I picked up a copy of Streets and Maps 2005 with a GPS adapter. It should be really cool to have while touring around town this week, and even cooler when I head west from Rochester this summer en route to Seattle. I figure I can give my 8-year-old the tablet with the GPS-enabled map and never again have to answer the "how far are we" question. (I do need a port replicator and external drive for the machine, though, since I can't even install the stupid software on the machine as it stands. Bet I can find someone on the MS campus to help me when I'm there Thursday, though!)

I'm debating whether or not to head to Sin City tonight with the remaining champs and a few msn staffers. I'm tempted, but I'm also tired. And I would like to get an early start on the Mac repair pilgrimage tomorrow...the bakery opens at 7am, and the Apple Store opens at 9:30. It's a 30-45 minute bus ride (depending on when I leave), so if I get my coffee and brioche early, I can be there when the store opens. That may be my best option.

Plus there's the minor detail of midterms to finish grading before Friday...yeah, I think I've convinced myself that a 9:45pm movie (that's after midnight in Rochester time) isn't a great idea tonight.

sleepy in seattle

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I arrived this afternoon in Seattle for a ten-day tour of duty. Three days for MSN Search Champs v2, followed by four days of shore leave, and then three more days for Microsoft Research's Social Computing Symposium.

The first half of the stay is in the W Hotel in Seattle...and I'm a total convert. Luxury everywhere, from the featherdown beds to the soft robes to the high-end bath products to the cushy, comfortable window seat. (Photos on Flickr tomorrow, probably.)

MSN Search has been as generous this time as they were last time, from the accommodations to the goodie-packed bag to the lovely reception this evening. If they're trying to make a good impression, it's definitely working.

What's more impressive than the money being spent, however, is the genuine interest in our opinions being evidenced by the MSN staffers mingling at the reception. It remains to be seen how much of what we say gets acted on...but my gut tells me that we're not just being humored here, that this isn't just about buzz.

At any rate, while it's only 10:15 here in Seattle, my internal clock knows it's way past bedtime. So I'm going to slip into the oh-so-luxurious 350-threadcount sheets on my bed, and try to get some sleep before my 5:30am (ack!) wake-up call. (6am online chat with my students, followed by a 7am breakfast and 8am bus to MS...)

I left my Mac power adapter at home, but my husband is shipping it out tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll be using my Tablet PC, which is a perfectly functional machine but doesn't have iPhoto. I have two fully charged batteries for the PowerBook, so I should be able to upload photos tomorrow night, assuming the hotel network remains stable (which it's been thus far...)

We've been promised network access tomorrow during the sessions, so I'll blog to the extent that the NDA allow. And now, sleep....

through a tourist's eyes


Last week, Gerald and I went to see a wonderful concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama. The concert was at a venue we hadn't been to before, a place called German House, which is in a city neighborhood called Corn Hill South Wedge (thanks, Alan). Neither of us had been in Corn Hill South Wedge before, and it was somewhat disorienting to get out of the car in a completely unfamiliar landscape--as if we'd travelled to another city. It got me thinking about how many parts of Rochester I just don't know as well as I'd like, and how many interesting and beautiful things I've missed because I don't take the time to really explore the place I live.

Today on my way back from a downtown meeting I skipped the interstate and took local roads back to campus, driving along the Genesee river, past the Mt. Hope Cemetery where Susan B. Anthony and Frederic Douglass are buried, and through some beautiful riverside parks. Then I called Gerald and said "I know what I want to do for my birthday on Saturday!"

I want to be a tourist, right here in town. I want to start the day with breakfast at the public market. I want to walk around downtown and take pictures of the beautiful architecture. I want to walk through Mt. Hope Cemetery. I want to go to Eastman House and admire the photographs, and the Susan B. Anthony House to remember that I live in a city that's always been home to great women. Maybe visit the zoo and the adjoining Frederic Law Olmsted park.

So that's my birthday plan. Friday night dinner and drinks with friends; Saturday wandering the city with my family and my camera. Then Sunday morning I'm outta here, headed for back-to-back meetings in Seattle.

laughing out loud


Via Weez, a wonderful collection of IRC conversations guaranteed to make geeks fall on the floor and roll around laughing.

My favorite thus far:

<Cthon98> hey, if you type in your pw, it will show as stars
<Cthon98> ********* see!
<AzureDiamond> hunter2
<AzureDiamond> doesnt look like stars to me
<Cthon98> <AzureDiamond> *******
<Cthon98> thats what I see
<AzureDiamond> oh, really?
<Cthon98> Absolutely
<AzureDiamond> you can go hunter2 my hunter2-ing hunter2
<AzureDiamond> haha, does that look funny to you?
<Cthon98> lol, yes. See, when YOU type hunter2, it shows 
 to us as *******
<AzureDiamond> thats neat, I didnt know IRC did that
<Cthon98> yep, no matter how many times you type hunter2, 
 it will show to us as *******
<AzureDiamond> awesome!
<AzureDiamond> wait, how do you know my pw?
<Cthon98> er, I just copy pasted YOUR ******'s and it appears 
 to YOU as hunter2 cause its your pw
<AzureDiamond> oh, ok.

serendipitous blog-based discoveries



There's now a craigslist for Rochester!

I've been spending a good bit of time on the Seattle craigslist this week, looking at housing and furniture ads, and thinking how nice it would have been to have had one for Rochester...how did I miss that there was one already?

I found it through a roundabout way. This morning in the coffee room I introduced myself to a woman I didn't know (there aren't many of us around here, so it seems wise to talk with the ones who are!), and found out she's a grad assistant working with the HCI/eyetracking group here. She mentioned that she read my blog (why does it always surprise me, still, when people I don't know say that?), and I asked if she had one of her own. She does--and a good one, too that I've added to my aggregator.

One of her posts was related to del.icio.us, so I looked at her links there, where I found the craigslist link. I also saw how she was using colors in del.icio.us urls, which I found fascinating.

And now I have to stop exploring and get back to writing and analyzing. Much less fun.

research tidbit


I've been reviewing information about the students my colleague and I interviewed last year, and have found some interesting things. Keep in mind that we were working with a small sample--there were only ten women in the entering IT class last year, and eleven CS women. That makes it hard to generalize from our findings, but does give us some interesting avenues to pursue in terms of our larger survey project this spring.

Of the ten IT women interviewed, three changed programs during the first year. One transferred to Travel and Tourism, one into a transitional decision-making program and then into International Business, and one into CS. The student who transferred to CS has not enrolled for any classes since completing her freshman year.

Of the eleven CS women interviewed, four changed programs--two into IT, one into Biotechnology, and one into Sign Language Interpreting. In addition, one woman has not enrolled at RIT since completing her freshman year, and another changed from the CS BS degree program to the CS AS degree program during her sophomore year.

By comparison, none of the ten (randomly selected from a pool of 200) IT men we interviewed changed programs during their first two years. However, two of them took leaves of absence at the beginning of their sophomore years, and another was suspended and has not returned to classes.

i hate apartment hunting


I thought I was done with this forever...that once we bought our nice suburban house and I got tenure that we'd never have to do the apartment-hunting thing again. But I didn't factor in sabbaticals.

So I've spent countless hours over the past few days bouncing between rent.com, apartments.com, and apartmentratings.com, trying to figure out where I should spend my time looking during the four days I have free in Seattle between the MSN Search Champs meeting and the MSR Social Computing Symposium this month.

All the pieces we need are out there--prices, floorplans, maps, feature guides, resident ratings. The problem is they're not in one place, they're not easily aggregated, and they're nearly impossible to print in a reasonable way. That means that I had to:

  1. Search in rent.com for places meeting our criteria (Lake Washington or Bellevue school districts, 3 bedrooms, reasonable floor plan, pool and playground for the kids)
  2. Locate the floorplans--some were already in rent.com, others required me to go to apartments.com
  3. Look up the places meeting our criteria on apartmentratings.com, in order to see how many people had taken the time to say "this place is awful"--one or two complaints is no big deal, but a bunch of them saying the same thing is bad news (like, for example, the place where five different comments said that when new management took over their water bills went up by ~$50/month!)
  4. Print out the remaining options
  5. Use scissors and a glue stick to literally cut and paste the floorplan pictures back together since they broke in the middle of the page

There's really got to be a better way.

I realize this is in many ways better than it used to be--to be able to screen locations at all in advance of going out there is a great advantage, and when I get to Seattle I'll have a good sense of what the price ranges and expectations are. But still, it's a lengthy and tedious process, and it makes me glad we'll be coming back home to our own house in a year.

magical moments

This morning you and I were playing on the floor in your bedroom -- I was hiding the phone and you were crawling all over my torso and legs to find it -- and you suddenly stopped, your face very close to mine, and you leaned in and pressed your nose to my cheek. We stayed in that position for several spectacular seconds, a hesitation that altered history, a moment so intimate it felt like it could end wars. I could feel you grinning on my skin and even though I wanted to scoop you up and cover you in kisses I let you hold your face there for as long as you would. I know there are only a handful of moments like that in life. Thank you for that one.

No, thank you, Heather. Your monthly "newsletters" -- love letters, really -- are always moving. But this one, in particular, gave me a shiver of happy recognition.

Even now, with my boys well out of toddlerhood and into their "tweens" (aged 8 and almost-11), there are still remarkable moments like that in my life. Moments when they throw their arms around me with abandon, and I bury my head in their hair and soak up the smell and feel of them. Moments when I wake in the early morning and find that one of them has snuck into our bed and snuggled up against me while we slept. Moments where I can step outside of myself for a moment and see how gloriously blessed I am to have these two children in my life.

Thanks for the reminder.

google prefetching links


Via Cameo Wood, I found out why it is that I'm occasionally getting unexpected requests to set a cookie for other sites when I search in Google--it's because Google is now using the "pre-fetch" functionality in some browsers (like Firefox) to automatically load the first result in your search in the background, whether or not you click on the link.

This is annoying for several reasons. First of all, if your company is monitoring where you go on the net, it makes it look like you've gone to that page--the page is in your cache, the cookies are set on your computer, etc. Second of all, it messes up the logs on that site's server, by making it look like you went to their site from a Google search even if you didn't click on the link.

The Google FAQ on this "feature" does tell you how to disable it in Firefox or Mozilla:

  1. Type "about:config" the address bar.
  2. Scroll down to the setting "network.prefetch-next" and set the value to "False".

relocation stress reduction


We're getting closer and closer to moving time--my official start date at Microsoft Research will be 7/5/05, which means I'll be moving in about 2-1/2 months. Ack!

We'll be renting out our house while we're gone. Rather than moving our household goods cross-country and then back again (a non-trivial expense), however, we're going to try to simplify the process as much as possible. We'll be storing our furniture and many of our possessions--some of it in the basement, and the rest in climate-controlled storage at Store-to-Door--they drop off a bunch of storage "vaults" in your driveway, you pack them up, then they cart them away to their storage warehouse. Neat idea, and reasonably priced. It means we don't have to rent, drive, and unload a truck...just cart things out to the driveway and pack them up.

We'll ship our personal belongings to Seattle--clothing, housewares, linens, kids' toys, a few books, some electronics. We'll rent furniture while we're there, which doesn't look like an outrageous expense, and purchase a few pieces for the kids's rooms while we're there.

Microsoft is being quite helpful with the relocation process; while the relocation benefits for visiting researchers aren't quite as generous as those for new full-time hires, they're better than most people get for a sabbatical year, and I'm so not complaining.

Since I'll be in Redmond for a couple of professional activities in April, Gerald's going to come out and join me from 4/20-24 and we're going to look for an apartment or townhouse on the eastside. I've done some poking around online, and it looks like there are a lot of options. We want the Lake Washington or Bellevue school district because of their good support for homeschoolers. We also want an apartment complex with a fitness center and pool and playground for the boys. Rent.com shows a lot of places that meet our criteria, and I suspect the Microsoft relocation folks will have suggestions, as well.

Alex and I will probably drive out to Redmond in mid June in my car, with Gerald and Lane following in the van at the end of the month. That gets both our cars out there, since we'll need them, but doesn't involve two kids traveling together. And it means I can get there early enough to settle in a bit before starting work, without forcing Lane to leave before the school year is out--something I'd promised him he could do.

So, it's getting more real all the time. And the "oh my god how will we do this" is giving way to "this is going to be so cool"--which is a very good thing.

cloudy weather

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Via this meteorological data site, which shows annual averages for cloudiness:

  • Seattle: 71 clear days, 93 partly cloudy days, 201 cloudy days
  • Rochester: 61 clear days, 105 partly cloudy days, 199 cloudy days

Hard to believe it will be better in Seattle, but it sure looks that way.

the joys (yes, you read that right) of grading

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(No, this is not an April Fool's post, despite the title.)

I mentioned in an earlier post that this quarter my students in the grad class "Current Themes in Information Technology" are maintaining blogs, in which I've got them posting their responses to the readings, and answer to homework questions I pose each week.

Because reading and grading written work by IT students is not always the most enjoyable task, I've been putting that off this week. But today I'm holed up in Panera Bread, trying to get through the blog entries.

And it turns out, much to my delight, that some of my students are not only competent writers--they're downright thoughtful and even entertaining writers. Take, for example, Alexander Pita's response to one of last week's readings, a research paper from Bell Labs entitled "Architecture as Metaphor":


I like to think that I'm a pretty well rounded guy, which a decent appreciation of the arts, humanities, etc..., but I think the authors of "Architecture as Metaphor" need to take a deep breath and read "How to Deconstruct Almost Anything", by Chip Morningstar [1]. "Grounded theory is based on asking questions about the phenomenon in question." As opposed to what? Not asking questions about the phenomenon in question? Asking questions about some other totally unrelated phenomenon? "Each concept was captured on a card and thrown on the floor. In grounded theory, this is called open coding." In English, this is called "taking notes, messily". Talk about peacock feathers.

It made me literally laugh out loud (which required me then to remove my earbuds and explain to Weez, who's working across from me, why I was laughing when I was supposed to be suffering the miseries of grading).

And now, back to work...

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