Kevin Schofield's Weblog
Musings on life, kids, work, the Internet, Microsoft, politics, orcas, etc.



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  Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ok, I'm up and running on the new site. This is the last entry I'll make on this site. Please visit me at  and here is the RSS feed.
9:13:50 PM    comment []

  Monday, May 01, 2006

OK, I've been pondering this for a long time, but now I'm finally going to do it. I'm moving my blog.

I like Radio. Sort of. I seriously underuse it. If I had the time to write code, there are all sorts of cool things I could do with this. But I don't at this point in my life, and so Radio is just overkill. Plus, I'm much more mobile and would like the flexibility to blog from multiple locations (including my cell phone). Anyway, the Radio folks have been great, uptime has been wonderful lately, and I realyl don't have any complaints other than it's just too heavyweight for my needs.

Plus, on the flip side, MSN Spaces has made tremendous strides lately. So I'm moving there. Even though I'm going to be on a Microsoft-owned site, I'm still going to be opinionated and independent. I'm going to pay my own way so that I'm beholden to no one, just as I did here.

I'm going to leave this blog up for a long time -- it has a nice archive of my last couple of years, and I don't want to throw that away. I'll probably link over to old things here too.

So the bottom line is that the only thing that will change is the URL: Bear with me over the next week or so as I figure everything out in my new digs.


9:10:43 PM    comment []

Well, the travel month from hell is finally over. The CHI conference in Montreal was very enjoyable (though it rained most of the time we were there) and my time in Princeton at the engineering school advisory board meeting was also very interesting and enjoyable. But it's so nice to be home, and it was great to spend the weekend with my daughters. I made cinnamon raisin scones Saturday morning, and I went to see my daughters' school play Saturday night. They put on The Children's Hour, which is pretty heavy stuff for a bunch of high school girls. But they were fabulous and I am so proud of them and all of their classmates.

In May, I have one trip, it's only to San Francisco, and it's only for one day. Yippee!!!


8:59:12 PM    comment []

  Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I'm in another CHI paper session on privacy issues.

Hi session -- Privacy

I'm in the CHI session on Privacy.

The first paper is on incidental informational privacy. The scenarios is that you're at work, or in an airport gate area, and someone might look over your shoulder. They surveyed a broad set of users on their preferences and behavior. Not any real surprises here, just some good quantitative results that reinforce intuition.

Second paper: Being Watched or being special. They reference a study from a study from the '70s that shows that people are much more willing to comply with impositions if a reason -- any reason, no matter how absurd -- is given. Their study shows that this extends to privacy. Fascinating.


12:32:44 PM    comment []

I'm in the CHI panel on "Why Taggigng systems work."

This is really frustrating to watch. There are representatives from Yahoo/Flickr, Google, and various research institutions on this panel, all trying to define tagging, but REALLY trying to define tagging in a way where it's more important and signficant than just metadata. In essence, they're trying to define the "tagging phenomenon" while skirting around the fact that they all have a vested interest in tagging being an important phenomenon with long-term staying power.

The one useful point raised is that in contrast to prior metadata efforts that were really designed around archiving and re-dscovery, tagging is largely focused on distribution (though certainly has an IR use too).

Out of this has grown Luis von Ahn's work on cooperative community tagging (and how to use games to do this). I'm a big fan of Luis's work at CMU.

Interesting observation/question from the audience: it seems like you need to be a "tag devotee" and pretty religiously do it to get a lot of value out of it. (panel answer: there's a fair amount of value just as a consumer for others' tags, e.g. Wikipedia)

"man on the street" video, surveying people on their own filing/searching habits. What would get people to spend 30 minutes a day tagging web sites? Two most common answers: money (i.e. getting paid to do it) or "nothing."

Interesting insight from George Furnas, University of Michigan: people overestimate their own ability to tag items accurately, and underestimate a group's ability to come up with a good diverse set that represents the object well.

Furnas is definitely the star of this panel: he has a great historical perspective and a thoughtful approach that goes beyond the obvious memes of the tagging community (something the other panel members are having trouble with).

Good audience question: will tagging make it outside of the community? Will out mothers ever tag things? (the moderator punted; he wants to come back to it at the end of the session)

A panel member cited a UC Berkeley study that showed that tags are very similar to dialects: well-connected groups of people quickly converge on common sets of tags.

When asked where tagging will go, really no clear ideas. Except fr one panel member who thinks we'll end up tagging (and thereby judging) people.

An audience emember brought up that amazon added tagging to product pages a couple of months ago and it was a total disaster. A panelist said that it's Amazon's fault because the page is too busy. (another member jumped in and also blamed the UI) A third panelist is suggesting that the implementation was too eglaitarian -- not only could everyone tag, but everyone could define new tags.

Question from a panelist: does tagging scale up to large, heterogeneous groups? the panelists seem to say "no" and I would suggest that this might be a more general indictment of social software systems: they almost never scale to large-scale, heterogeneous groups.

recurring point that relates to this: one universal, flat terrain for tags probably doesn't work. You need to think about clusters of tags (potentially overlapping) and hierarchies. In other words, in classing Internet form, the tagging community has just rediscovered IR, taxonomies, and semantic hierarchies.

Audience question: how many tags to people associate with an item? On delicious, the average is two (not surprisingly, that's the same as the number of words people type into a search box on MSN Search or Google).


11:15:24 AM    comment []

I'm in the CHI panel on Mashups.

The BBC Backstage guy is giving a "Basics" talk on what Mashups are.

Why do developers get involved in building mashups?

  • new business opportunities
  • it's cool
  • they're frustrated with missing features/abilities in what the main provider supports
  • to get noticed.

BBC Backstage is BBC's developer network for supporting third parties creating mashups with BBC's data. They only support non-commercial use, and stress that all intellectual property remains solely with BBC. They offer broadcast schedule data, audio and video archives, plus travel data for the UK (train, road, etc.)

BBC launched today, a competition to re-design the BBC home page. Cool idea.

The Google guy is talking about the technical underpinnings of mashups. and why AJAX and lightweight feed protocols make it much easier to do mashup web apps. The data sources are growing faster than specific UI services are, which is a problem at one level and certainly exacerbates UI consistency issues since each mashup developer needs to roll their own.

A good question from the audience about how to address accessibility issues for AJAX applications and machups in general.

Not a lot of good answers to questions; mostly a lot of "good question, there are people thinking about that, no answer today."

The discussant is talking about the privacy and security issues behind mashups. For example: do mashups make it really easy to develop a phishing site?

Another issue: authentication for mashups. If you go to a mashup site and type in your password for another site, how do you know what's really going on behind the scenes? Will we see the return of Passport? or will Infocard pick up quickly, or will Liberty Alliance finally get going? Will SSL be required? (is that too costly in terms of getting an SSL certificate from Verisign?)

The discussant is suggesting that mashup developers should develop more like enterprise developers.

The Google guy just said that we need to be careful not to put too much burden on mashup developers to "do things the right way." and we should look for technical solutions instead. (my editorial view: there is a natural tension here, but if we really want mashups to take off, the responsibility needs to be both on the mashup enablers as well as the mashup developers)

Is there a separation between mashups on Web sites vs. cell phones? The BBC guy says no.

Some audience questions around the intersection of "citizen journalism" and mashups, and the issues of accuracy, authenticity and reliability of information. Also if there are errors, how do we build a feedback mechanism from end-users through mashups back to the original data source providers?

Another audience question: mashups are a developer phenomenon today. Is there any chance to make it an end-user phenomenon? What would those tools look like? The Google guy thinks that it will happen eventually, but will just take time.

My takeaway: the discussant (Hart Rossman, SAIC) has thought far more deeply about the issues behind mashups than either the BBC or Google guys. Mashups are very very young, and the hype has masked a number of severe limitations. We've seen a set of relatively simple mashups where the end-users cna remain anonymous (like layering data on top of maps) and that maps (no pun intended) well to 3 of the 4 reasons stated above why mashups are getitng built: coolness, frustration, and to get noticed. The real business opportunities, in order to be realized, will require actually tackling the hard issues, and we'll have to see if and how that happens -- or if not, how quickly mashups dies as just one more fad.

I'm also disappointed at how little discussion there really was about the HCI issues related to mashups -- other than to point out that the HCI/usability community is not at all involved today.


7:37:15 AM    comment []

  Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I guess we shouldn't be surprised at this point, but Bush just threw another freebie to his buddies in the oil industry. He just temporarily suspended the environmental rules on gasoline production, to try to make it easier to increase production.

Of course, it's not at all clear that the high gas prices actually have anything to do with restrictions on production. In fact, there was a study last week that showed that the profit margins of the major oil companies have shot up. By making it cheaper (and dirtier) to make gasoline, Bush has allowed the retail price of gasoline to drift lower while maintaining the oil companies' outrageous margins.

10:28:27 PM    comment []

I'm in the CHI papers session on Security.

The first paper is "Why phishing works."  Interesting point: both security designers and phishers use user interface techniques to accomplish their goals. Three basic categories of reasons why phishing works:

  • lack of knowledge ( e.g. about URLs, security indicators)
  • visual deception (e.g. "vv" istead of "w", overlaying windows,embedding fake address and status bar in page )
  • bounded atention (i.e. inattention to secuirty indicators) 

In their study of whether people can correctly identify real and phishing sites, participant knowledge and use of security indicators was the best indicator of success in correctly identifying the sites. Though in walking through the examples, the reasons why people made mistakes were all over the place.

Interesting suggestion: that product teams "spoof" their own design in the testing of their web sites, to see how easy it is to convincingly phish your site.

Another interesting design point: address bar prints the URL in small type that's hard to read; can you re-size the text to make it bigger and more readable?

Second paper: Secrecy, Flagging and Paranoia: Adoption Criteria in encrypted E-mail. There is an argument that people should encrypt all of their email. Conventional wisdom is that people don't encrypt email because it's too hard. Their user study showed that in fact people often don't encrypt email because there is a social meaning (in fact, a negative stigma) associated with encryption that they don't want to convey. People will use it for financial information, and for protecting secret planning information. But recipients think that if it's encrypted it must be important -- so encrypting all email would send the wrong message (no pun intended). This was a pretty limited study and it's unclear how much it can be generalized, but it's an interesting thought.

Third paper:  Do Security Toolbars Actually Prevent Phishing Attacks? There are many browser toolbars that try to help identify phishing sites. The categories of toolbars:

  • neutral info: domain name, date registered, country registered
  • System-decision: propose whether the site is OK or potentially fraudulent
  • SSL-verification: presents a logo if it's a verified site.

Recurring point: security is almost never the user's primary task and we don't want to make it the primary task, but we do want the user to be motivated and engaged to make good decisions. Their results are that secuirty toolbars are not as effective as one would hope in preventing phishing attacks. The study reinforces the notion that users don't understnad or know how to parse URL's. Interestingly, anecdotal comments suggest that false-positives in spam filters cause people to expect anti-phishing spoolbars to be wrong some percentage of the time. In other words: often the phishing web site looks more credible than the toolbar. Also, since security is a separate, secondary task, people's desire and focus on getting the primary task done overrides the focus on the secondary task. This is a bizarre dilemma: we don't want to make security the primary task, but then users will often override security in favor of the primary task and open themselves up to phishing attacks.



2:53:57 PM    comment []

I'm in the CHI panel session on "Managing Deviant Behavior in Online Communities."

The first panelist, from IBM Research, studies intranet online communities and made the point that managers should just "chill out" about extreme behavior on corporate online presences -- there isn't that much downside, there are social corrective measures, and efforts to prevent the use of these systems within a company would be a far greater negative than trying to manage their use well.

The second speaker is an administrator for slashdot and His big issues:

  • not all misbehavior is the same
  • not all misbehavior is intentional
  • not all misbehavior is bad/harmful
  • deviance is all relative to your perspective. Deviants something think that their critics are the deviants. And sometimes there are good reasons to be a deviant from a society.

The third speaker argues that managing deviant behavior online and offline are essentially the same.

The fourth speaker works with online games, and deals with issues around cheating in games. One difficulty there is how to keep the game open and emergent, encoraging exploration, without encouraging testing boundaries and exploiting rules.

The discussion is cetered around some interesting scenarios. The first was from World of Warcraft, wher ethe member of a guild dies (in real life) and the other members of the guild organize an online memorial service. a rival guild notices the public notice of this, show up in force and slaughter everyone -- to add insult to injury, they videorecord the entire massacre and post it online to flaunt their actions. What should the WoW people do?

The second one: a large mailing list where one person keeps sending irrelevant posts. Talking to the person only casues very short-term relief. What should one do?

The third one: the recurring troll on an online bulletin board system who explicityl tries to get the community stirred up. Is this any different from the second case above?

The fourth example is more of an explicit (online) dscussion of who in a community had the privilege/right to define deviancy.


12:52:31 PM    comment []

I'm in the CHI 2006 session on Schools of Information, aka "i-schools." The session chair suggests that i-schools focus on information as the central concept vs. computers or computing.

There's no single model for an i-school; some evolved from computer science, some from library science, some are hybrids of several departments. There are about 20 i-schools in North America. They tend to grow up in places where there isn't already an independent School of Computer Science, at least partially as a way to raise the awareness and importance of subfields (like HCI) that tend to get buried in a department of CS that's buried in an engineering school.

If you imagine a triangular "problem space" with information, people and technology at the points, you've mapped out the area of concern for an i-school.

This "i-school movement" raises lots of hard questions:

  • is HCI more central/relevant to i-schools than to Computer Science?
  • will it make HCI even less central to CS?
  • what publications are important for tenure decisions?
  • is research biased toward studies and away from actually creating intellectual property that could be commercialized?
  • over time, will i-schools "silo" to the detriment of interdisciplinary subfields (like HCI)?
  • what's the difference between a "school of information" and a "school of informatics"?
  • within i-schools, is HCI in danger of becoming too diffuse?
  • will i-schools buck the trend of the overall decline of enrollment in CS programs?

This is a very frustrating session. There's a long list of audience members waiting to comment or ask questions, so I'd never make it to the mike before the session ended, but they're asking all the wrong questions.  They're focused on branding, identty, and how to facilitate interdisciplinary work. The right questions to ask are all more basic:

  • what kind of jobs are your preparing people to? (one of the panelists said that he hoped that their graduates would go to work in other i-schools!)
  • have you actually talked to any employers to see if they value what you're offering?
  • How do you "market" i-schools to the rest of academia and to industry?
  • where do researchers in your field publish? (besides CHI)
  • Is it easier of more difficult to get funding for research when you're in an i-school vs. a CS, engineering or other school?
  • will i-schools create anything that will ever get commercialized? (I realize this is in my list above, in a slightly different form)
  • is this really anything more than an attempt to get HCI and interdisciplinary work more respect wthin the university?
  • What kind of degrees do people get from an i-school, and do they mena anything to anyone? Is the undergraduate degree BS or BA? (similar question for the master's degree)


9:28:48 AM    comment []

The plenary session this morning at CHI is an "expert critique" of the XBox 360. Two of the user experience managers for the XBox team are presenting a photographic history of the design process, followed by a panel of experts giving their critique, followed by opening it up to the audience for comments and critique.

I applaud the XBox team for doing this; it's pretty brave to stand up in front of a highly critical set of experts (and an often MS-unfriendly group to boot) and lay it all out.

The expert critiquers are asking mostly slow-pitch questions, which is a little disappointing. But there was one zinger so far: it took one of the experts 90 minutes to set up a new XBox 360, most of that time taken up with reading the EULA.

6:21:12 AM    comment []

  Monday, April 24, 2006

I'm in the "alt.chi" session, which is a collection of papers that are very interesting projects but for one reason or another would not compete well against traditional research papers to make it into the conference programs.

First project: incorporating digital technologies into a playground.  Their first prototype was a mat (looks sort of like two sets of train tracks, side by side) that kids could step or run on, and hitting pressure mats would activate motors. In their second iteration, they got the kids involved in making spinners to put on the motors. Then they observed how kids used it and experimented with it, including inventing their own games.  Their big goal: use technologies toaugment playground equipment without compromising the nature of unstructired play?

Second project: Tokyo Youth at Leisure, supporting the design of new meida to support leisure planning and practice. A user study of young adults aged 18-25 (the only age group that actually has free time) to see how they plan and participate in their leisure outings. Relaxation and companionship were the most important leisure qualities; finding new romance was the least. People and TV were the top resources for planning outings, mobile device was very low (though distinguish planning from coordination, where mobile and PC are used extensively).  "downtime" is essential; they often spend it alone, but hyper-connected (via email and mobile phone). For group outings, you choose the set of people you want to be with first, then decide what to do. Planning a meeting place for a specific activity is the process of minimizing the commute and maximizing opportuinities for other serendipitous activities. One interesting take-away: lots of cultural hype of mobile phones' hyperuse as distinctly Japanese, but the PC was used a lot more than was expected; people liked the large screen for viewing information and planning activities.

Third project: RoomBugs. simulating insect infestations in elementary school classrooms.  Kids use computers to run a simulation over several days of insects in the classroom, as a science experiment where they need to quantify can classify the infestation. PC's act as stations around the room and show the virtual equivalent of a "sand trap" where they see insect tracks as virtual insects walk voer them. Kids were able to correctly count and identify 94% of over 1500 insect tracks that they were exposed to over a 2-week period. Yow!

Fourth project: Orbital Browser. How to connect up components in a ubiquitous computing environment.

Fifth project: Quill: a narrative-based interface for personal document retrieval.


2:30:40 PM    comment []

I'm listening to a panel on how to manage international user research -- whether you're trying to build a product directed at a far-away market, or trying to design for a worldwide audience.

There's fair consensus that international research is budget constrained more than anything else -- in fact, Microsoft keeps coming up as an example of a company with the "luxury" of having user researchers in many parts of the world and the money to send them to others (as if making those investments weren't a difficult budget decision just like at every other company).

Susan Dray made the good point, though, that deciding to do international research is usually a strategic decision, not a tactical one. That usually puts it in a separate decision-making process for investment.

Lots of discussion about the cultural issues -- both in terms of the "content," i.e. discovering cultural issues that affect your design; and in terms of the user research process and how certain practices (and certain questions) are not culturally appropriate in some countries.



12:54:13 PM    comment []

I'm in the first session on privacy issues. Clare-Marie Karat is presenting a paper on a system for how to express formal privacy rules in natural language.

Here's a useful and simple definition of a privacy policy:

Who has access to what personal information:

  • for what purposes
  • to carry out what actions
  • under what conditions
  • with what obligations

Many of the question revolve around ways to handle exceptions -- which is the downfall of most data and workflow automation systems.

Karen Tang presented a paper on how to preserve privacy/anonymity in mobile location-based services. Person-centric applications reduce the fidelity of queries to increase anonymity. But location-centric services/queries are different in some ways and does the fidelity-degradation approach work? (no) so what does work? The discussion of the work point out that this is really an application-layer system, and that there are many threats from other layers particularly if the application layer system is dependent upon lower layers to accurately label locations.


Kirsten Boehner is talking about "Advancing Ambiguity" Ambiguity is "the admitting of multiple interpretation" (Gaver, 2003).

Generally more information and awareness reduces ambiguity, but sometimes there are exceptions. "If you have one clock, you always know the time. If you have two clocks, you never know the time."

Wendy March talked about "Girls, Technology and Privacy: Is My Mother Listening?" Question: do you make phone calls sitting in your closet? It turns out that lots of teenage girls do. (so their parents can't overhear)

Important learning: girls pay attention to "location privacy" -- don't trust IM to be secret, just voice calls. But they don't feel like home is "their place" and will take phone (cell or cordless) somewhere that they can have a private conversation. Will only use computer for private conversations if they can physically move it somewhere private.


9:58:11 AM    comment []

I'm going to try to blog at regular intervals this week while I'm at CHI in Montreal. They have the student volunteers organized to do this too, so it should be an interesting collection of entries on the official CHI blog site by the end of the conference.

The opening plenary this morning, by Scott Cook of Intuit, was great. Scott is a very genial, affable guy who quickly builds a cnnection with the audience. The official topic for his talk, which he generally stuck to, was "Creating game-changing innovation."

He had many interesting insights into the business of innovation, many cribbed from Peter Drucker (in a good way, with appropriate credit given). Of particular note was his list of five "models of innovation inside a company:

1. the lone genius
2. the boss is the genius
3. copy competitors' innovations
4. cloister the geniuses in a lab
5. make the people the geniuses

and of course he subscribes to the last one.

The heart of his talk, though was about five principles of innovation and invention. His principles:

1. Invention comes from mindset change.
2. Mindset change comes from seeing differently.
3. Savor surprises -- as learning.  (and 3a. celebrate your failures for the learning you derive from them)
4. Focus managers on a customer metric
5. Nurture and protect teams that are doing innovative work.

Cook talked a lot about how Intuit has a culture of always starting with the customer need. He gave several examples of how Intuit products were created directly out of customer studies that gave them key insights about how they weren't solving the needs of their customers.

It was a fun and inspiring talk. If you get an opportunity to hear Cook talk, I would strongly encourage you to do so.

8:37:55 AM    comment []

  Sunday, April 23, 2006

In the summer of 2001, commercial air travel was incredibly painful. Lots of delays, passengers were treated like cattle, every plane was packed, schedules sucked -- it was just plain a rotten way to spend any significant amount of time at all. Then 9/11 happened and lots of people stopped flying.

Well, we're back to the way things were pre- 9/11. Air travel is just miserable. All the old complaints are once again true, with new additions.

1. Food, or lack thereof. A bag of peanuts is a luxury. Airlines want you to bring your own food on board, or to pay them extraordinary amounts for things disguising themselves as food.

2. Code-shares. You no longer know what airline you're flying when you buy a ticket, or whether you're getting the best price. Code-sharing is a huge scam, and the customers are the suckers. How this officially works is that one airline buys a set of seats on another airline then re-sells them under their own brand at whatever price they want. Go do a search on Expedia, and more likely than not you'll see the exact smae flight offered by two different airlines are radically different prices. What's worse, in most cases when you get to the airport the airlines won't have anything to do with each other -- you get a rude awakening when they send you down to another ticket counter to chek in. Here's what happened to me Friday:  I was originally booked on an Alaska Airlines flight to Chicago, connecting to an Alaska code-share flight to Montreal that was really run by American Airlines. But between the time that I booked the flight and Friday, my connecting flight was removed from the schedule and replaced by another one that was NOT a code-share flight. So my reservation went into airline purgatory and my travel agent wasn't notified. Neither Alaska nor American took responsibility for re-booking me on another flight, and when I tried to check in Alaska no longer had a record of a connecting flight for me. In fact, it's worse: the Alaska agent checked me in for the Chicago flight and told me I needed to go to the American ticket counter to check in for the connecting flight in Chicago, but neglected to tell me that she had only checked my bag through to Chicago. I caught this as I walked away fromt he counter and my bag was disappearing into the back on the converyor belt. I grabbed the attention of the supervisor, who was very nice and called down to the baggage handlers to grab my bag off the belt while she called over to American Airlines to sort out my conencting flight. Fifteen minutes later, I had a reservation on a connecting American flight and a promise that the Alaska baggage handlers would re-tag my bag to get it to Montreal. The good news is that my bag did in fact show up in Montreal, but I had to spend all day wondering if that particular miracle would happen.

3. Airline staff who care, or lack thereof. The supervisor at the Alaska counter was the rare exception. My best guess is that airline personnel are so worried about their company going bankrupt and being out of a job, or the courts invalidating their union contract, that their thoughts are just elsewhere. I'm sure they're well-meaning, and that they have their own struggles with the state of air travel today, but they sure do seem checked out.

4. Security checkpoints. As if everything else wasn't enough of a pain in the butt, you literally have to run the gauntlet. Jacket off. Zip-up sweatshirt off. Shoes off. Belt off. Watch off. Cell phone, keys, change out of pockets. Laptop out of carry-on bag. Fight other harried passengers for enough grey buckets to put all this stuff in. Remember to keep boarding pass with you. Hope you don't get randomly spot-checked. Then on the other side, as carryons and buckets accumulate and run into each other, struggle to put your shoes back on, sweater and jacket, belt, watch, put the laptop back in the carryon, make sure you didn't forget your boarding pass (which you had to set down to re-dress and pack up everything again). Then get out of the way fast. On days I'm travelling, I find myself dressing for the sole purpose of speeding my trip through the security line.

Whil in general I'm not living my life to accumulate large quantities of money, I find myself increasingly wanting to get rich just so I can afford to buy a private plane and get a pilot's license, and/or fly executive jets, just to avoid commercial air travel whenever possible. It would be money well spent.

10:05:04 AM    comment []

I'm in Montreal for CHI 2006, then on to Princeton for an advisory board meeting for their engineering school next week.

I'm working up a really good rant about air travel, snce my flight out here very nearly went wrong on Friday. But I'll save that for another post.

Friday morning I dropped my kids off at school, and headed for the airport. On my way in the car I was listening to Marc Broussard, and the untitled/uncredited song at the end of the CD came on.

I wish you freedom
I wish you peace
I wish you nights of stars that beckon you to sleep
I wish you heartache that leaves you more of a man
I wish I could be there, but I can't

I wish you places that sit so still
Where people never ever change and never ever will
I wish I could hold you and make you understand
I wish I could be there, but I can't

Be good for your mama
Cause she'll need a hand to hold
Boy, she loves you
More than you'll ever know
There are rhymes and there are reasons
And times when nothing stayed the same
But you know my love still remains

I wish you wisdom
I wish you years
I wish you armies to conquer all your fears
I wish you courage for all that life demands
I wish I could be there, but I can't

Be good for your mama
Cause she'll need a hand to hold
Boy, she loves you
More than you'll ever know
There are rhymes and there are reasons
And times when nothing stayed the same
But you know my love still remains

I wish we were together
I wish I was home
I wish there were nights where I was never alone
I know I've said it but I'll say it once again
I wish I could be there, but I can't

Damn. I wasn't ten miles from the airport and my heart was already achng to turn around, stay home, and spend more time with my kids. Particularly since I missed a performance of my daughters' choir on Friday night, and I'm going to miss opening night of the school play this coming Friday. In three years they're graduating from high school and heading off to college, and here I sit in a $^%&! hotel room in Montreal, two thousand miles away from them.

I really look forward to CHI every year, but this year the conference hasn't even started yet and I'm already dying to get home. But thanks, Marc, for reminding me where my priorities should be.


8:11:05 AM    comment []

  Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Microsoft Research recently partnered with the Research Channel to host a collection of research lectures and Visiting Speakers Series talks for public consumption. You can find the collection here.

There is tons of great stuff here -- hours and hours of compelling talks. Enjoy.

10:05:08 PM    comment []

  Sunday, April 16, 2006

Danah Boyd wrote a thought-provoking piece on the trials and tribulations of having a Wikipedia entry -- or really more to the point, the ongoing identity crisis of Wikipedia.

If you put all of the pretensions aside, I really like Wikipedia. There's lots of thoughtful, well-researched content in there, and it makes for interesting reading and in some cases a really good complement for more authoritative information resources. There's also some crap in there, and the David-slaying-Goliath talk from some of its supporters gets a little tiresome.

But the dirving forces behind Wikipedia can't quite decide what it is and what people should compare it to. Is it an encyclopedia? Well sort of, but from a consumer's point of view (and as Danah points out) it's really hard to know what entries I should expect to find in Wikipedia. How much should I trust the content? Well, hopefully a lot, but there are edit wars between people with divergent points of view and in some cases (as Danah points out) the definitive experts on a topic are not allowed to contribute.

I wistfully hoped that Wikipedia would aspire to be something akin to the First Foundation in Asimov's books - a compendium of human knowledge. Why wouldn't you want an entry on everyone, instead of just some subset of "notable" people as determined by a vague guideline and people's personal biases. And why shouldn't people get to cotnribute to their own entry? That doesn't mean that they get the last word, but they certainly are an authority on the subject at hand :-)

So the Wikipedians now have a problem: managing their success. They have to stop walking the middle of the road and decide what it is that they want Wikipedia to be. Good luck to them (sincerely).

4:13:17 PM    comment []

The White House Easter Egg Roll has become a major political event this year.

Gay and lesbian families are organizing to participate this year, including wearing rainbow-colored leis so that they can be easily identified.

In turn, the White House has changed the time-honored process of handing out tickets to make sure that none of them are at the opening ceremonies -- and will thereby be excluded from most of the press coverage and anything resembling a formal interaction with the White House that might be interpreted as approval.

12:27:15 PM    comment []

  Wednesday, April 12, 2006

According to CNN/Money, the best job in America is Software Engineer.
10:32:14 PM    comment []

  Thursday, April 06, 2006

OK, here's the deal.

Last Friday, I flew down to Northern California to visit with my family and participate in my fantasy baseball league's auction draft on Saturday.

Sunday I flew to DC. OK, that part's theory. In practice, I got as far east as Phoenix, missed my connection by 10 minutes, got rerouted to Las Vegas then on to a red-eye to Newark, then Monday morning caught a shuttle flight to DC.

Why, you may ask, did I put myself through that kind of hell to get to DC? Because I testified in front of Congress; specifically, the House Government Reform Committee, on exactly how broken the current processes are for trying to get a visa to enter the US. (short description: submit application, wait 3-5 months, come in for interview, get asked a few irrelevant questions, get random answer). So by getting to DC midday Monday I still had time to get briefed and prepped to testify (and get some sleep -- I arrived at our DC office on exactly one lousy hour of sleep).

Side note: I was flying US Airways/America West. They just merged -- sort of. The tickets and flight numbers are sort of merged. The branding is not -- it's a huge, confusing mix. And most of all: the employees are totally, utterly checked out. Zero customer empathy -- they don't care, and they can't be bothered. DO NOT FLY US Airways or America West. They don't deserve your business.

Testifying went well. Yo-Yo Ma was also on the panel with me, talking about how difficult it is for artists and performers to get into the US as well. The committee was very receptive.

Tuesday afternoon I spent 4 hours on the Mall in DC with my camera. Took almost 500 pictures. I've culled down to about 50 I like, and am cleaning them up for posting to my Flickr site. Stay tuned...

Wednesday morning I flew home and went in to work.

Tonight I head out with my daughters and their school choir (on another red-eye, two in one week) to Philadelphia and DC (another two-fer-one special this week).

So I'm behind on everything. Sorry about that. Next week will be better. Promise.

6:15:31 PM    comment []

  Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Here's an interesting story -- a scandal in the making, if anyone actually cared.

Background: last week Google was added to the S&P 500. Which on its own is actually neutral -- it signifies that a company is big and important, but doesn't really signal anything about expectations for the stock to go up or down.

But here's the thing: all of the S&P index funds suddenly need to have that stock represented in their holdings, so they have no choice but to buy it up. So whenever a stock gets added to the S&P 500 or any of the other big indices, it immediately has a bump up.

Apparently someone got wind of this and made a bundle just before the announcement. Put aside that Google (the company) is involved, because it may not have involved anyone at Google. And, in fact, it may not even be illegal since the S&P 500 is not a publicly traded company and thus falls outside of SEC regulations for insider trading.

But someone clearly made the system work to their advantage last week.

11:51:51 AM    comment []

Today on 10 the show features Forest Ridge School, where both of my daughters are in high school (and have been there since 5th grade).

The school has required all students to have laptops for a long time. Starting this year, they've standardized on a tablet PC. They make fantastic use of it -- all the way down to 5th grade.

Check it out.

11:44:44 AM    comment []

  Tuesday, March 28, 2006

New sitcom on TV tonight: Teachers. For some crazy reason, I thought it might be worth watching.

Boy was I wrong. In the first ten minutes, there were sexist jokes, gay jokes, lazy teacher jokes, geeky math teacher jokes, and a REALLY ANNOYING LAUGH TRACK.

The next five minutes were worse.

I just turned it off, for good.

So much for "Everything Bad Is Good For You." Sometimes it's just bad thorugh and through.

9:45:06 PM    comment []

  Monday, March 27, 2006

The latest Downing Street Memo (aka smoking gun), as reported by the New York Times. This came to light the second week in February -- which makes you wonder why it took six weeks to make it into print here...

When I first read this, I thought to myself  "Why aren't the Dems jumpng all over this???" And then I remembered: if they impeach Bush, Cheney takes over. If they impeach both of them, Hastert takes over. If they have a big democratic victory in November and take back the House, then impeach, we could end up with a Democrat in the White House.

Is that worth waiting for? Perhaps.

6:02:49 PM    comment []

  Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bush is very fond of signing statements, which is when the President, upon signing a bill into law, attaches a statement that gives his interpretation of it. Bush has issues hundreds of signing statements, and many of them have in fact said that he has no intention to abide by some or all of the bill.

Case in point: the re-authorization of the Patriot Act. Upon signing it into law, Bush attached a signing statement saying that rather than obey the letter of the provisions on oversight and reporting to Congress, he will keep his own counsel as to what information needs to be passed on to Congress.His claim is that the President's Constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch gives him the right to do this.

10:51:32 PM    comment []

My blogroll got way too long, so last week I started culling from Newsgator the feeds that I never get around to reading, went dead on their own, or where the signal to noise ration dropped too low.

Groklaw has been on my blogroll almost since day one, but alas, no more. I started reading it because in the early days there was interesting commentary about the SCO case, and because I think it's important for anyone who works in a company to know what their detractors are saying about them. Listening to your critics is an important first step towards intellectual honesty. And of course, I thought it was really cool that a paralegal would take it on her own to help to drive thoughtful discussion of legal issues using her experience in the legal profession.

But for the past few months, Groklaw has really just felt like a bunch of shrieking and mudslinging, branching out beyond SCO to regular, somewhat deranged attacks on Microsoft and unquestioning fealty to Linux and the open-source community. It's really a shame to see someone with the critical thinking skills that Pamela has lower herself to this kind of O'Reilly-style attack persona. Microsoft is not an evil, faceless corporation, and not everything that the open source community does is good. Microsoft joins a standards body; it must be up to no good. Microsoft innovates in the interface of Office, and all she can say is "wow, lots of retraining required for the disabled community." C'mon -- throw Microsoft a bone every once in a while. Microsoft has been a real leader in making software accessible over the past decade.  A CNET reporter writes an article criticizing Stallman and GPL 3.0, and it's suddenly subversive Microsoft FUD. Because no one in their right minds would think that Stallman was a whack-job, or that the new GPL license might have serious issues, unless Microsoft put them up to it, right?

So I'm done, and Groklaw is off my blogroll. Pamela, good luck, I hope you continue to have success with Groklaw, and at some point you stop the screeching and find more of a balance in your writing. Believe me, I know how hard that is; every day I have to restrain myself from just letting loose at the Republicans and ranting about what I think they're doing to our country. On my good days, I remember to question my sources as well as my conclusions. It's never easy, but it's absolutely required.

5:11:22 PM    comment []

Here's an interesting article about the never-ending debate surrounding Wikipedia, trust and authoritative-ness (if that's even a word).

Do you know what the Wikipedia folks' mistake was? The decided to call label it an encyclopedia. In doing so, they set up a direct comparison form day one and ensnaring them in a debate that they can never win. They let themselves be measured on the competition's terms.

There's some very interesting stuff in Wikipedia. Hell, the taxonomy of terms itself will be a significant contribution -- probably more than the actual prose.Wikipedia will far outgrow encyclopedias because of the sheer manpower as well as the lack of "editorial voice" trying to manage it down to some individuals' definition of an interesting set of entries.

But as Simon points out, what we're really doing is trusting the authors and/or the editors, and since wikipedia's are without reputation, it will never reach the trust bar of a real encyclopedia. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be consulted, by any means, or that it's useless (it's not). But it will always have an air of "truthiness" (as Stephen Colbert would say -- continued here) to it. Wikipedia feels the world at us.

(I really encourage you to view the Colbert videos above -- because the way he talks about truthiness captures the practical spirit of Wikipedia, Slashdot, and so much of dialogue on the Internet today)



4:37:25 PM    comment []

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