Category Archives: research

Planning

Here's what I need to do:

I need to come up with a list of calls for papers for conferences related to my research area. This provides me with an incentive to write.

I need to sit down with Mark Chignell, my research supervisor, to review my research plan and the calls for papers and to break my plan down into smaller milestones. This gives me a concrete action plan. Then I can schedule next actions.

If I can break it down into really small milestones in the beginning, then I'll get a better sense of how much work I can accomplish. I would like to be done with my research before Christmas, so that I can relax without having to coordinate with IBM. Ideally I would also have it all practically written up, just waiting to be translated into "scholarly writing". I can use my internal blog and podcast to think things through.

So here's a coarse sketch of a potential schedule:

Ideally, I'd like to commit the equivalent of two to three days of focused work each week for the rest of August, which leaves me time to prepare for the future and build other competencies. I remember that a former roommate of mine concentrated on her research and studies, and ended up without job offers because she hadn't done enough networking or exploration. I'd like to finish my master's with a good background in research into social computing, but I also want to be ready to be useful to small or large businesses.

I'll take classes from September to December. I'm planning to take two courses and audit a few more to expand my mind. I need to take one more MIE course, and the CS course on requirements engineering has been highly recommended. October or November can be my main data gathering month.

So: August is for reading papers, gathering background information, and learning as much as I can about the theoretical framework and how to measure the effects of an intervention. September is for analyzing the collaboration technologies against the framework chosen, and selecting a factor to modify. I may need to code a fair bit—the actual intervention plus the instrumentation I need to measure the change, so I'll probably use October to set up the experiment. I'll run the experiment in November, and work on polishing my writing in December.

My Christmas break will be a *real* break. I don't want to do IBM-related things then, aside from perhaps an evangelism talk or two at IBM Philippines. ;) I want to reconnect with family and friends, make new friends, and develop business opportunities.

Then I can come back to Canada, finish writing up my paper, have my committee review it (although I hope they'll be involved at each step), and revise it as needed. Once I finish that, there might not be that much point in going for an internship instead of a proper job, so I'll probably start looking for leads in January and aim to finish in April. Although I'd like to be able to bridge worlds and that probably means finding a good place to work in North America, it won't be a huge tragedy if I don't manage to get a good job offer lined up. There's much for me to do in the Philippines, and I might come back and join Exist or QSR or something like that. Besides, the Philippines has its perks. ;)

Yes, I could've done this earlier, but it was also important for me to immerse myself in the culture and to form ties with people who can help me find out how to go about doing this. =)

Yup, definitely sounds like a plan.

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Focus

My research manager told me that I've been conditionally approved for VPN access, which would allow me to access IBM resources without having to go all the way up to Markham (1-1.5 hour commute one way). This access will be revoked if they feel that I'm getting distracted by all the cool things I can do within IBM, such as organizing CASCON 2006. They asked me to promise to use the VPN only for things that are directly related to my work.

Sounds good to me. =) In fact, it sounds like exactly what I need. For the next few weeks—months, even—I'll be in heads-down single-tasking mode when it comes to IBM. I'll keep a research plan somewhere (possibly a password-protected page on this wiki) and post regular updates on my internal blog, and at all times my research managers will know what my next action is and what I'm waiting for.

I might need to give up a few things as part of scaling back my involvement in IBM. I have a lot of opportunities to help define IBM 2.0 and move it forward, but the IBM Center for Advanced Studies pays for my graduate studies, and so they have dibs on my IBM mindshare. I can think of my research as almost a contract. If they're happy with my proposal, then I can scope it, schedule it, do it, and be done.

I'm not too worried about missing out on opportunities. Evangelizing social software within IBM, supporting networking at CASCON, improving the experience of social computing: these all point to goals that I can achieve through other means at other times. When I'm ready to take advantage of these opportunities again, they'll reappear.

In the meantime, focusing on my work and treating it as a time-sensitive contract allows me to separate it and free up brainspace for a few other things I'd like to do, like writing and establishing an external reputation. This is better for me in the long run, too. That way, I finish my graduate studies ready to take on problems at different scales: from 300k-person enterprises to smaller gigs.

A minor downside is that I won't be able to claim a living allowance: it certainly adds up, particularly if you think about compounded interest over a long period of time. If I manage my time wisely, though, I might be able to make it worth it in the long run. For example, if I can convert three hours of sleepy commuting or relaxed RSS reading into three hours of focused writing time each day, that can lead to a lot of opportunities in the future. Getting rid of time constraints can also mean that I'll eat better (hello, breakfast!) and cheaper (hello, kitchen!). The opportunity to schedule coffee breaks with people here will also help me plug further into the local tech scene. I'm trading money for flexibility, and I think I can make it worth it.

As for IBM networking: I can do that through the Greater IBM initiative. They're externally hosted, so I don't need to use the VPN for that. What about the internal networking, the real-time collaboration I enjoyed and occasionally found useful? I'll just have to trust that people have a good enough sense of what I'm interested in and that I'm discoverable by people who might be interested in my research. Personal referrals will probably do the trick.

What might I miss out on? The IBM CAS experience, I suppose: chalk talks, lunches with random people, cups and cups of hot chocolate... I won't be one of their face-to-face Connectors, but that's okay; someone else can take that role. Most of the people I connect with are scattered around the world, so VPN won't make much of a difference. I can promise not to initiate conversations that aren't directly related to my research, and try to minimize unrelated conversations initiated by others.

VPN access might also include the expectation of greater availability, the way many people assume that cellphones make other people always reachable. To help assure my research manager that I won't get too distracted, I'll check my e-mail once a day and I'll resist the temptation to do anything unless I can explicity justify it. Sure, it's less value than I can provide IBM as a whole, but it protects the value I offer to CAS.

I could very well do most of my work downtown even now, although I'd still like VPN so that I can share my progress internally. I don't think I'm allowed to blog even my research proposal externally, so unfortunately I'll have to stay dark about it here. I'll try to write about other things I'm learning, though. If I omit IBM-specific information, I might be able to stay out of trouble. =)

My personal blog is my call, and as long as I follow my proposal and submit my deliverables, things should be good. I should be able to blog about cooking or tango or DemoCamp without my developer sponsor freaking out. =)

Sounds like a plan.

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Productive week!

I've made a lot of progress on nailing down my research topic. Yes, yes, I know, I keep saying that, but this time my research supervisor and I actually have step-by-step plans for my study! Whee!

Happy girl.

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Random Japanese sentence: 私は猫がその犬を追いかけているのをみた。 I saw a cat running after the dog.

Blah

One of the things I need to learn is how to write when I don't feel like it. Today was a pretty blah day. I fixed the bug in my visualizations, took a couple of screenshots, and sent the results to my research supervisor. I met someone for lunch. I puttered around a bit with some drafts for an article that I've been meaning to write for a few months now. Argh.

I can understand why the article's so important, but I'm gettig paralyzed by the thought of my words being in print! Uneditable! Gasp, gasp.

I really should just whack myself over the head and tell myself that as long as I get _something_ in, that's better than nothing. This is not alwys true, of course, but it generally is.

Life is about showing up.

I need to break that article down into even smaller things. Lots of little blog posts on my internal blog, if I have to.

As long as I get it done.

The other trick I need to learn is keeping a whole bunch of ideas that I love writing about. I breezed through the ten speeches for the Competent Communicator certification because I had so many things I'd been wanting to talk about. If I have a file with all sorts of things I can write longer pieces on, then I can almost always write about something I'm passionate about - whatever that passion is at the moment.

<wry grin> I know! Maybe I need to stop looking for interesting people and start surrounding myself with the most uninteresting people instead. ;) That way, I'll be sure to be the first person in the lab each morning and the last to leave it each night.

Right. <laugh>

Must learn how to hack this. I need to be more in the mood to write, and I need to have the discipline to write even when I'm not quite in the mood to do so.

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Random Japanese sentence: A spot of shut−eye は、また猫のいねむりともいわれている。猫は1度に2〜3分しか寝ない癖があるからだ。 "A spot of shut-eye" is also called a cat nap because a cat is in the habit of sleeping only a few minutes at a time.

On the way home after a late night

I'm starving and my hands are a little bit weak. I've had nothing but hot chocolate since lunch, too pressed for time to even raid the vending machines near the cafeteria. The data I needed for my paper only came in today, and with deadlines for both the CASCON paper and my article on social bookmarking for the lab newspaper, today was... well... challenging. =)

It didn't help that I spent most of the morning puttering about the blogosphere, welcoming people in and updating my blog. I knew I was supposed to work on the social bookmarking article and I had bits and pieces of what I wanted to say, but I couldn't quite sit down and do it. On Monday, I think I'll get that out of the way before I even start catching up with the blogosphere.

Yes, yes, way too much hacking. Along the way, I'd installed a few more extensions for my browser, including one that made it easier for me to paste some boilerplate into textareas (good for blog newbie tutorials). I wanted to chat with other IBM student bloggers at lunch, so I wrote a quick and dirty Ruby script that generated an OPML file given a set of e-mail addresses so that I could import that OPML file into my blog reader. I turned up only three bloggers, though: me, Pranam, and Kevin. Oh well. We'll get there eventually...

Even the fresh data I received distracted me. I couldn't wait to slice and dice it in interesting ways! It was a good thing that Mark scheduled a 3:00 phone call in order to check up on me. (Yay fantastic research supervisor!) He reminded me about the CASCON deadline, but also reassured me that it was doable and that he was around to help. =)

David also called me up to talk about some complications in the data set. We figured out how to deal with some missing data, and I think the workaround we came up with was okay. Then I went back to 1panicking. Fortunately my editor moved the deadline for my social bookmarking article to Monday so I could concentrate on my research.

So all I had to do was code the visualizations. I felt myself performing a bit more sluggishly than I'm comfortable with - too little sleep, not enough food - but I slogged through it anyway. Fortunately I knew enough Ruby to squish the data into a form I could easily work with, and I had learned enough about the Prefuse visualization library to add filters to the dataset, allowing me to get snapshots of the data. Yay.

So that worked out. My timing was perfect, too. I dumped screeshots into (gasp) a Microsoft Word document, blogged a couple of interesting things on my internal blog, and ran to catch the bus. I waited around five minutes for the bus - ompletely anxious, of course, as those buses run only once an hour!

So now I'm on a bus - the second on this trip - a little bit weak - I really should always bring emergency food in my backpack - but I'll be fine.

The coding was almost fun, even, playing around with Ruby for text processing and Java for visualization...

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Random Japanese sentence: この種の猫にはしっぽがない。 The tail is absent in this type of cat.

Telecon

I was panicking all morning because I didn't have the teleconference details for something at noon, but fortunately I remembered that I could e-mail a friend in IBM and ask him to send a message to the teleconference organizer. I then used Skype to call in for free. Hooray for Skype! Voice quality is a bit variable, but it does the job, and it's saved me from getting another phone line...

I'm so excited about the tagging panel. It looks like such an interesting lineup!

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Random Japanese sentence: 飼い猫の毛のつやが悪くなった。 Our cat's fur has lost its luster.