elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Tuesday, 19 April 2005

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.

Posted at 11:17 PM in: travel

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Comment from Alex Halavais on April 20, 2005 12:52 AM (Permalink to Comment)

Hey, Jamie used to manage a shop at U Village for a while. If you want cheap eats, head across 25th, and up the street a little (

If you get a decent day, rent a kayak to take out on Lake Union. It's a nice way to check out the houseboats and maybe even cruise through part of the arboretum. Bring a camera. Don't drop it.

Comment from Alex Halavais on April 20, 2005 12:53 AM (Permalink to Comment)

Drat--bracket ate my comment.

Hey, Jamie used to manage a shop at U Village for a while. If you want cheap eats, head across 25th, and up the street a little (less than 1 block) and you will hit one of the near ubiquitous Nasia Teriyakis. Hole in the wall, but every UW student knows it's darn tasty. Maybe it's better in memory than in fact, but nothing better than a teriyaki bowl and listening to Science Friday on the radio on a sunny day. Then again, *lots* of good places to eat :).

If you get a decent day, rent a kayak to take out on Lake Union. It's a nice way to check out the houseboats and maybe even check out the arboretum.

Comment from joe on April 20, 2005 1:37 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Hi Liz, did you update to 10.3.9? Either way, you might just need to update your prebindings. I use a little maintenence app called cocktail[1] but you can also do this from the command line (type `sudo update_prebinding -force -root /`... be careful with this, though).


Comment from Liz Lawley on April 20, 2005 2:03 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Joe, I did update to 10.3.9. And fixed the prebindings. And repaired permissions. Still no luck. :(

Am sitting in the Apple Store now, waiting for my turn at the genius bar (two more people ahead of me).

Comment from Anita Rowland on April 22, 2005 9:28 AM (Permalink to Comment)

Isn't the backchannel due to too much PPT the same thing that happened at the first search champs meeting?

Comment from Liz Lawley on April 22, 2005 2:29 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Anita, it was last year's social computing symposium where that happened (this year's starts in two days...).

Last time the search champs met, we didn't use a backchannel, in part because the network connection was unreliable.

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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna