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Buskerfest and other fun things

| ibm, research

Catch amazing street performers at the Toronto
BuskerFest, which runs from Aug 24
(Thursday) to Aug 27 (Friday). I went to the one last year and I was
impressed by people’s skill and flair.

I love watching street performers. Every time I watch one, I learn
more about stage presence, drama and suspense, comedy and patter, even
how to invite audience participation. I see many tricks again and
again: juggling random dangerous objects, riding a unicycle, juggling
random dangerous objects while riding a unicycle. Each performer
brings a certain spin to things, though, and I enjoy their
achievements just as much as the rest of the audience does.

The 2006 BuskerFest starts tomorrow—and the strange thing is, I
feel more excited about going to IBM. I know that BuskerFest will
delight and amaze me, but I don’t want to just be delighted and
amazed. I want to participate, to push the edge, to make things

Somewhere in the sunlight, I know there will be kids laughing at the
jugglers’ demos and ooh-ing and aah-ing at the acrobats’ antics. No
one will miss me there; no one would even notice if I went. But in
IBM, I can do something cool, learn tons of stuff, and be appreciated
for it. Given a choice between watching a show and being part of
one—you know what I’d choose.

I’ll sleep early tonight. I don’t want to feel tired tomorrow. I want
to be wide awake and bursting with energy! There are so many cool
things to do, so many people to reach out to. =)

What a terrific feeling!

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Research report: Met with Mark

| research

Met with my research supervisor, Mark Chignell. Told him about the cool stuff I’d seen at IBM Cambridge’s InternFest last week, and revised my research plan to include fewer interviews and more numbercrunching. Whee!

I like coding. I might as well play to that strength.

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Research report: Schedule

| research, school

I like these one-on-one meetings. I find myself in the zone, asking
questions and figuring things out. I had another good meeting with
Mark Chignell, my research supervisor. This
time, we worked on my research plan. I’m happy with the result, and I
think IBM will be happy as well. We’ll do a historical
pseudo-experiment looking at factors that may have affected the
adoption of social computing across subgroups within IBM. I’ll see how
I can visualize the data.

Some considerations:

Mark will be in Japan from January to mid-March, and again from April
to June. Options for masteral exam:

I’ll be able to make it to June convocation, and I might have a few months of vacation before real work.
I’ll be under stress because of the tight schedule, and I probably couldn’t take spring classes.
Less stress from schedule, can take additional courses in spring, more time around tech scene here.
Need to renew my visa, which is not a bad thing. I’ll miss the June convocation, and will need to make it to November convocation instead. If I find myself working in Canada, then I can still probably graduate with pomp and circumstance. ;) My parents won’t like winter, though, but hey… If I’m not working in Canada, then no pictures or ceremony. Oh well, s’okay. Must check fellowship.

Here’s the March schedule:

August Resume my commute to IBM. (Waah!) Find as many sources of data as I can.
September Data analysis. Start applying theoretical framework to IBM as a whole.
October CASCON. Start on subpopulation analysis.
November Analyze technology diffusion across subpopulations through interviews.
December Write up research.
January Vacation in the Philippines!
February Write up research.
March Possible date for exam because Mark will be in town?
April Pass thesis just in time for June Convocation
June Graduate
July Vacation
August Vacation
September Work

Here’s the August schedule:

August Resume my commute to IBM. (Waah!) Find as many sources of data as I can.
September Data analysis. Start applying theoretical framework to IBM as a whole.
October CASCON. Apply theoretical framework to IBM as a whole.
November Analyze technology diffusion across subpopulations through interviews.
December Analyze technology diffusion across subpopulations through interviews.
January Vacation in the Philippines!
February Write up research.
March Write up research. Paper 1 (thesis).
April Study #2: case study of Dogear
June Study dogear adoption.
July Write up research.
August Write up research. Paper 2 (dogear case study).
September Review papers. Exam.
October Something happens.
November Graduate
December Work?

Whichever schedule we choose, my next action is to hunt for as many
data sources as I can and figure out how to mash them up. I need to
decide which schedule to follow before I go on my Christmas vacation,
because I’ll probably renew my US visa then. (That is, unless I can
renew my visa from Canada.)

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Research report: The value of meetings

| cascon, research

I had several very helpful meetings today. =)

The first was with Greg Wilson about a really
interesting experiment in social bookmarking for software engineering.
I wish I could have the brainspace to do it justice, but my research
supervisor feels I should concentrate and get my primary research out
the door first. Greg Wilson is way cool,
though, and I should definitely share ideas with him. =)

I discussed my research plan with my supervisor,
Mark Chignell. I described the waterfall-ish
division of time that I blogged about yesterday, and was relieved when
he suggested that instead of holing myself up in a library and reading
everything that’s ever been written about the topic, I should instead
capitalize on my strength at prototyping things. I can build all these
little systems and watch what people do with them. When I see
something unusual, then that’s the time for me to go and figure out a
theoretical framework to use in order to explore and evaluate the
situation. How nice it is to have a research supervisor who knows how
much I like to hack—and how hard I sometimes find it to focus on
something purely theoretical!

He also told me that he’d be happy if I could go for maybe one
conference and one journal paper. That’ll probably be CSCW, then. This
means I don’t have to worry too much about breaking my project into
publishable things. Think simple master’s thesis, not PhD

My original plan was to be almost done by April of next year. He
thinks that’s doable but ambitious, and that we’d both be better off
(read: less stressed) if I target June instead. From his experience,
masters students generally take two months to finish writing – April
and May. I need to have something reasonably promising by October in
order to convince IBM to keep funding me. My nearest milestone is
August 17, the intern day at the Cambridge lab: must have something
cool to talk about then.

Mark also suggested that I take his statistics course (“Every educated
person should know statistics”). Knowing my interest in business, he
also suggested the course on the business of software. I wouldn’t mind
crossing over into Rotman for a business course, although it’s also
offered under CS.

The last meeting was with Steve Easterbrook, Greg Wilson and Mark Chignell. We talked about CASCON. I like Greg’s suggestion of a Ruby on Rails + mashups hands-on session that leads naturally into a student-oriented Hack Night. That would be great! I’m excited again. =)

If all my meetings could be like the ones I had today… wow!

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Posted: - Modified: | research

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

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

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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Posted: - Modified: | ibm, research

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

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!

| research

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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