June 2008 Archives

my excellent air force adventure


Way way back in 1995, I gave a talk at the national Computer Training & Support Conference on the topic of "Training the Internet Trainer." This was back when the Internet was still pretty new, and Internet trainers were very hard to come by. One of the people in the audience was a military employee from Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, and he rushed back to tell his colleague Sheila Brennan that she absolutely had to hire me to do some Internet training at the base. And thus began a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

I gave talks at WPAFB in November 1995, February 1996, August 1996, and Februrary 1997. (Sheila, we were wrong; I wasn't there when I was pregnant with Lane, who was born 5/94, I was there when I was pregnant with Alex, who was born 10/96!) Sheila brought some of her colleagues down to meet me in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (where I then lived) in early 1997 so that I could help them develop a structure for a web-based database of training opportunities. And in 1998, after she'd taken a management job at Ramstein AFB in Germany, Sheila brought me out again to do training for foreign nationals on basic Internet concepts. (We also took a lovely trip through the Alsatian wine region, and spent a fabulous weekend in Paris!)

After that, Sheila dropped a little bit out of sight. I received occasional e-mails from her, including one saying she'd come stateside again, and was director of human resources at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston, but for the past ten years we've not had a professional relationship.

Then a few weeks ago I got an email from her asking me if I could come do some training on "social media" (blogs, wikis, social networking sites, virtual worlds) for her staff at Hanscom. The timing was perfect, since it's summer and I'm not based in Seattle this year. So I spent yesterday and today giving talks on basic concepts of social media ("What is a blog?" "How does RSS work?" "What is an avatar and why should you have one?") to members of her staff.

Once again, it was great fun to work with Sheila, who's one of the most intelligent, focused, and tenacious managers I've ever known. It gives me an incredible amount of hope to know that people like her are working for our military, and helping to push things in a direction that could make a difference!

Hopefully, it won't be another ten years before I'm back to offer assistance on technical topics. In fact, my next few weeks will include the process of trying to get my consulting business onto the GSA schedule, so it's easier for her to hire me. Wish me luck...I can't imagine that process will be a whole lot easier than the one I just went through to be able to get paid :)

best n95 software EVER


I've had a Nokia n95 phone for nearly a year now, and for the most part I've been indifferent about it. I like that it has a high quality camera, and I've used the GPS functionality for walking directions in unfamiliar cities. The RoadSync software I bought gives me full Exchange sync capability, which is always important. And the voice dialing is really nice (no need to record names for people; say the name and the voice recognition software matches it in your contact list). There were a lot of UI issues for me, though.

I was planning to purchase an iPhone next month to replace it, and wasn't expecting to miss the n95 much. Until today.

I just downloaded some software called Jaikuspot, which turns my n95 into a mobile wifi hotspot, sharing its 3G connection with my computer. As a result, I'm sitting in an office on an Air Force base, where I have no network access, happily posting to my blog. (And checking my email.) Now that's useful. Really, really useful.

Yes, it's a little slow. I don't even have 3G in this location, so I'm sharing a poky Edge data connection to the computer. But I'm online, when I otherwise would not have been online, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

Color me impressed!

how (not?) to get paid by the government


My trip to Boston is to do some training on social media at Hanscom AFB. It's been ten years since I last did any training for a base, and boy have things changed. Back then, when I completed a training job I'd mail them an invoice, and then I'd wait--often for a verrrry long time--for my check. It was frustrating from a length of time standpoint, but at least it wasn't very labor intensive.

Fast forward a decade, to the wonderful world of web-enabled databases. That ought to improve the creaky, slow payment system, wouldn't you think? No, of course you wouldn't think that, not with the government involved.

When this training was arranged a couple of weeks ago, they asked me if I could accept a procurement card (credit card) for payment, and while I haven't done that in the past, it sounded like it would be worth the cost of credit card processing if I could speed up the payment process. It would be particularly nice to get paid before the credit card bills for the airfare, shuttle, hotel, and rental car come due. But to do that, I had to apply for the not-free Paypal website payments pro account, which took several days (and involved updating my very neglected business website, since Paypal requires an active business website as proof that you're not going to try to scam people...)

Over the past two weeks, I've spent more hours than you'd believe entering data about myself and my consulting business into first the Paypal site, then the government's Centralized Contractor Registry (CCR), and then the government's Online Representations & Certifications Application (ORCA). Those took days to process.

I thought I was finally done last Friday when I finished the ORCA registration, but yesterday while I was flying home from Seattle I got a frantic message (or two) from the contracting office saying they needed my tax ID # (which, of course, had already been entered into CCR and ORCA), so I called from the Atlanta airport and gave them that over the phone.

This afternoon the contracting office called me again to say that for some unnamed reason (I called back to ask but couldn't get through) they could not pay me with a procurement card, and that I'd need to register in yet another online system--the Wide Area WorkFlow (WAWF)--in order to have my invoice processed. (I'd link to that one, but apparently their security certificate isn't valid...inspires a lot of trust, no?) That system has a 25-page instructional guide, with twelve separate actions and registrations you have to complete.

I got as far as the fourth step, which involved enrolling in the Electronic Document Access system, and then I was informed that the system would take five days to process my application. Who knows how long the next eight steps will take?? Un-freaking-believable. I'm hoping against hope that once I get to the base tomorrow we'll be able to get this sorted out, but I have a baaaaaaad feeling about how long it will take me to get paid.

The end result? At least a full workday's worth of redundant data entry into poorly designed and disconnected databases, all to get me to the point where I can submit an invoice and wait to get paid. Again. Feh.

travel woes

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travel fatigue

I arrived back home yesterday at 5pm eastern time, which required me to get out of bed at 3am pacific time. My travel home was remarkably snag-free, which I should have known would be short-lived.

Tonight my flight to Boston was delayed by over an hour. When I got to the Rochester airport, I realized I'd forgotten to make a car reservation. No problem, I thought, I'll hop online and do it over the airport's free wifi. Except I couldn't get a valid IP address. Finally I found a working router in the middle of the terminal, and quickly discovered that every single car rental vendor at Logan airport was completely sold out for the night.

So, instead of picking up a rental car at the airport and zipping to my hotel (in Waltham) when I arrived, I had to take an expensive shuttle (which costs more than a day of car rental) to the hotel, picking a car in Waltham in the morning (the hotel website claimed Enterprise had a desk here, but they lied; I guess Enterprise will come pick me up instead), and paying a surcharge to drop the car off at the airport on Thursday night. So my ground transportation costs (which I pay out of pocket and then cover out of my training fee) are double what they should have been. And there's no telling how long it will take to get paid for this gig, either (see my next post for details on those trials and tribulations).

When the shuttle dropped me off here at the Holiday Inn Express in Waltham, I found I'd have to carry my two bags to the "annex" building behind the hotel, which required a trek through a puddle-filled parking lot. When I got there, my room cards didn't work, so I had to trek back. They gave me two more cards, and I returned, only to find that those didn't work either. So I called the front desk, and one of the clerks came out and found that the new keys she'd made still didn't work. So she let me in with a master key and someone else came out 30 minutes later to give me a keycard that worked. And while there's free wifi here, it's incredibly slow. There's no room service and no hotel bar, so no glass of wine in my room tonight.

I think that about wraps up my whining for the night.

On the bright side, I made it to my room before midnight, I remembered to bring some granola bars so I won't go to bed hungry, and it's entirely possible that things tomorrow will go more smoothly than I anticipate. And when I get home Thursday night, it will be two weeks until I have to travel again!

selective sharing and access


I'm narrowing in on my MSR research topic for this summer. It looks as though I'm going to focus on assessing issues of selective sharing and access in social software systems. This would focus on boundary issues in many ways...who has access to what, and when? From LiveJournal friend groups used to limit access to specific blog posts to the way that changing relationships (from leaving a job to graduating from a college to breaking up in a relationship).

If you know of any interesting research or analysis already done on these issues of shifting boundaries for sharing and access, I'd love to hear about them!

I'm trying to figure out what to use for managing the citations I collect. del.icio.us isn't ideal for citation management for research. It's been a while since I looked at the features of CiteULike and Connotea...is one significantly better than another for this?

I'm also considering Zotero, which I love for a personal research tool, but I'm not sure how well I can share my collected references with others using it. Similarly, our library gives us access to EndNoteWeb, but I don't think there's any way to share a set of citations with anyone not using the system.

Suggestions for balancing these needs are welcome :)

summertime, worktime


What started out as a wide-open, unplanned summer is filling up quite quickly.

Turns out I will be working for MSR again this summer, but as a contractor rather than a visiting researcher--which means for the first time in three years I get to spend summer in my own house! I will, however, be taking two trips out to Seattle. The first will be next week, from 6/16-23. While I'm there, I'll also be giving two talks at the annual Special Libraries Association conference--one on trends in social computing, and another on gaming in libraries.

The day after I return from Seattle, I'm headed to the Boston area for a quick two-day trip where I'll be doing training for HR folks at Hanscom AFB.

Then I'll spend a few weeks at home, working on a variety of research projects--some for MSR, some on my own. That includes starting the planning for this year's social computing symposium, doing some analysis of Twitter uses and users, and working with a local organization and a high-profile expert to start development of a very cool ARG project.

On July 10-11 Lane and I will be in Madison for the 4th annual Games, Learning & Society conference. He and I will be doing a "frag 'n' chat" session entitled "Games as Gateway Drugs."

After that I head back to Seattle July 20-30 for the MSR Faculty Summit and week of working with Lili Cheng and Jonathan Grudin at MSR.

So far, that's all I've got (which is plenty). I suspect there will be some travel in August, but so far that month is looking blissfully clear :)

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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