August 25, 2004

Turned in.

I turned in my signed dissertation to the library today. They took it.

I am told there used to be a ritual in the early days of the Southern
California Beach Universities. When a PhD turned in his dissertation,
the members of his lab would gather on a SoCal beach on a warm
evening. Breezes blowing in their hair, they would solemly toast the
sunset, light a bonfire, and proceed to get themselves truly,
stunningly drunk.

Late that night, as they danced around the fire, they would stack
dissertation parapenalia on a small wooden raft. Old paper drafts,
rejected library prints, schedules and printouts and calendars and
critiques and door comics would all be stacked on a the flimsy bark.
At midnight, a virgin (or, according to some sources, a live chicken)
would be attached to the raft. All those around would ceremonially
pour their drinks onto the pile, a torch from the bonfire would be
touched to the alcohol-soaked documents, and six first-year grad
students would bring the raft over the waves and into a riptide which
would carry it deep into the ocean.

As the burning knowledge drifted over the horizon and gradually sank,
the assembled group would drink once more to the assembled flaming
wisdom, and to the memory of first-year grad students who couldn't

Unfortunately, those days are long since over. Beaches close at 10 pm.
Cruelty to animals laws prevent us from burning a chicken. And some
dissertations never see a printer.


So let's discard antiquated--and, indeed--fictional ritual. It's time for the


If you want to join us (this Saturday night, Orange County), email me for information.

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August 06, 2004

I survived.

As far as I know, this is the last entry in category "Dissertation." It seems that I finished, and that my committee liked it enough to accept it. So I'm now Danyel Fisher, PhD. Or "Dr. Danyel." Or just "Hey you, tall boy."

I'll be largely offline for the next week or so on family vacation--then track me in San Franscisco Bay Area for a graduation party (contact me for details) on the 21st, or in the Orange County area for a second party (contact me for even more details) on the 28th.

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July 31, 2004

Dissertation draft

... and here it is. This is the same draft as my comittee is going to see, If they want it revised (and I'll know on August 6th), your comments are welcome after that. But if they don't, then this puppy goes out on cotton-bound high quality paper, two copies, and shipped to the library with a pretty signature page.

Dissertation draft in one 214-page file, and four happy megabytes of PDF. (Why is it half the size of the chapter-by-chapter version? I have no idea).

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July 21, 2004

Dissertations are bad for your brain

Hopefully, exiting grad school will help this a little....

You're One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!

by Ken Kesey

You're crazy. This has led people to attempt to confine you to a safe place so that you don't pose a danger to yourself or others. You feel like you pose a
great danger to the man (or maybe the woman) or whatever else is keeping you down. But most of the time, you just end up being observed. Were you crazy before you were confined?

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

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July 16, 2004

Will trade food for comments.

Update: Links removed. See newer version

This is it in first draft form: most of the words, none of the prettiness.

7 chapters plus an incomplete technical appendix. 5 zipped megabytes. 4 different roman body typefaces, at last count. Microsoft Word. (Word count below the fold).

(By request, 8 happy megabytes of PDF)

Next week is entirely dedicated to making this thing look good, have a correct bibliography, and so on.

Want to give it a read? Feedback eagerly sought until July 30th. (After July 30th, and before August 6th, I'm officially going nuts worrying about my defense. Feedback eagerly sought after August 6th, but there'll be a better draft then.)

In exchange for your thoughts, I'll take you out to dinner when I next see you.

I'm particularly interested in the thoughts--even casual ones--by anyone who hasn't been immersed in this stuff for years. Does it get too rapidly geeky? Do I flit like a butterfly between important concepts, especially when I might linger more lovingly on something? (This is most likely a problem in the conclusion).

The word count:

Chapter 1: 4500 words (17 pages)
Chapter 2: 7800 words (23 pages)
Chapter 3: 4200 words (22 pages)
Chapter 4: 6700 words (41 pages)
Chapter 5: 3550 words (18 pages)
Chapter 6: 2700 words (13 pages)
Chapter 7: 1300 words (7 pages)

My dissertation, in number of pages, appears to follow a rough Poisson distribution. I'm not sure how to interpret this. Number of pages is only weakly correlated with number of words. Mysterious.

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Typeface and the Single Dissertation

Ok, I'm sick of staring at page after page of Times New Roman. Which is why my dissertation is now in a variety of fonts: Chapters 4, 5, and 6 in Georgia; Chapter 7 in Century; Chapter 8 in Book Antiqua.

What would you set a dissertation in?

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July 14, 2004

Dissertation progress

Well, I don't have a thesisometer on my site. (Maybe it's a lack of competition?)

But I do have one on my door that shows drafts of various chapters as they come together. And I'm excited to announce that my dissertation will soon be available on this very blog. In particular:

  • My dissertation's "reading draft" will be posted this Friday. This is without final gloss editing, but should have most of the words in place.
  • My dissertation's final draft will be posted two weeks hence, on Friday July 30th.
  • My dissertation will be defended on Friday, August 6th at 10 o'clock in the morning, in ICS-2 room 136. Feel free to drop by!
Posted by danyelf at 08:31 PM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2004

Red Ted says it for me

Red Ted also, apparently, was just told by his advisor to have something in by Tuesday:

Dear Advisor

Attached are four chapters, some polished and some still with splinters, totalling about [104] pages.

I am off to work on the fifth of my [eight] chapters. Have a nice weekend.

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May 11, 2004

A sculptor with three tasks

I feel, right now, like a sculptor who has been comissioned for a grand project: a sculpture, formed out of soft clay. Of course, to go with the sculpture must be a lithograph of the top-end of the sculpture. And last, we need a limited-edition plushytoy. Every time he makes progress on the plush toy, it reminds him of the fact that the hands of the clay version need work. Work on the lithograph requires a redesign of the plush toy. And so on...

That's pretty much the sensation of writing my dissertation (which is, in turn, assembed of various past presentations and papers), writing a book chapter (which will be chapter 7, it will be chapter 7), and putting together the hour-long presentation for job talks.

And the annoying bit is that a lot of my time is spent perfecting the color of the nail polish on the sculpture's left hand. Crucial, sometimes, but not giving me a good sense of progress.

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April 20, 2004

So how do you write about this science thing?

"The conventions for writing in the field have digressed from the research process." That was my polite answer to a friend who is working through his survey paper.

He was confused. He already knew his topic, and had a pretty good idea of where it was going. And he hadn't created his work in a particular niche; he'd started on a question that his advisor and he had negotiated out. Which literature was it meant to fit into?

When we write a graduate survey paper, at least in my department, we usually wait until we know what we're working on. We then write a "general survey of the area." It picks an area, discusses it with reasonable thoroughness, and point sto a big, gaping hole in the research. (The next section of our writing, the topic proposal, should then proudly announce that we've filled in the hole.)

The prototypical version of this was managed by a fellow member of my research group a few years ago. His survey paper presents a taxonomy of collaborative filtering systems, and a grid into which these entries might be fit, filled with system names and research projects. One hole in the grid was empty. That hole, of course, was his dissertation topic. Very neat.

And completely unrepresentative of the reseach process he'd done. The survey was a creation; he had carefully picked a taxonomy that would highlight his distinctions.

The current understanding of the scientific process requires a framework to be placed over the work--and I freely admit that the framework doesn't completely match the way we do things. A substantial part of the writing process has been, for me, constructing the framework that will lead to the meaningful conclusions, phrasing the general research concept into particular hypotheses, and choosing a subset of both my methods and my data to describe.

While it's not wrong, it's not quite what we tell kids either.

Recently, I was reading some old journals from Oxford's Internet Library of Early Journals. In particular, I was interested in the 18th century articles from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It's fascinating stuff, partially because the conventions for writing science haven't been decided yet. Is it in Latin or English? The articles haven't decided. Some dive into results up front, then go back to methods later. Some introduce with a literature search, others with a personal motivation. Some dive straight into methods (and at least one starts with the words "Figure one").

Obivously we've developed conventions partially to tame this mess. Reading a paper, I know it will have methods--they'll be in the third section. It'll link itself to other papers in either the second section, or the seventh. There's a little variation, but not a lot. The survey paper may force the issue into an odd shape--but it guarantees that you cover all the right stuff.

Of course, as the comment above illustrate, the research process has changed. Lots of CSCW isnt a science, not in the hypothesis-materials-and-methods sense of the word1.

Should we work out new conventions? Perhaps borrow them from CSCW's many parent fields, and write to each other in anthro. language, or sociological language, or design language as needed? Or do we stick with the language of science, and accept that we will spend a chunk of time bending our work to fit the format?

1 Lots of science isn't a science, either... read Feyerabend, Latour, Kuhn, and pretty much anyone in the "Social Studies of Science" area after 1950 or so.

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March 17, 2004

Yet more JUNG/Soylent

(Ok, I'm sticking this one in the extended entry. Unless, you know, you're really hooked on social network diagrams. Warning: yet more black and white graph pictures attached.)

So I've been ginning up images for the CSCW paper. In my last paper, I talked about the Butterfly Pattern, one in which a single person connects two contexts.

When I processed it, I noticed that it spanned two chronological periods: the white wing is an "early" wing; the dark gray is a 'later" wing.

classic butterfly.png

All this is fine so far. But, you know, a little ugly. It's not really a butterfly: Kafo there kinda is leaning hard to the right side, even if he is the sole bridge between two clusters (the definition we're using). Part of this is because the right cluster is so ... plain. They're all structurally equivalent -- which means, in this case, that they're all on the same mailing list. So my program cleverly draws them as a single chunk. Kind of dull.

Then, looking through one user's data, I found this marvelous diagram. This is pretty much as perfect a butterfly pattern as a guy could want. Two contexts. Two wings. "My friends from school." "My friends from outside school." And, joining them, "my girlfriend."

perfect butterfly.png

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March 15, 2004

More JUNG/Soylent pictures

This is the deadline week for CSCW papers, so I'm not actually terribly functional this week. But deadline weeks are also when I go through my image libraries to find things to illustrate my papers with.

Here's a few tweaks to JUNG, and a few tweaks to Soylent, and we get something that--I think--begins to tell a little bit of a story. Darker colors are more recent; lighter colors are older.

And this person, at the large square in the middle, has three different interlinked clusters around him, roughly arranged by date.

As before, if this is a snapshot of my mail, it's centered on one friend of mine (noted with a larger square). We read an edge on this graph to mean "I have made a connection--by mututally emailing both--between these two people." And now an edge, and a node, is labelled by my MOST RECENT encounter.

Note that some edges are a little lighter or darker than the edges around them--that suggests a relationship that continued a little longer than the ones around it.

Some nodes are darker than the edges they connect to. That means that my relationship with the person at the end of the edge has continued on beyond my interaction with the pair of them. For example, that's how "I still chat with both of them individually, even though they're no longer dating" would look. It's also how "colleagues A & B worked with me on a project a while back" would look.

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February 25, 2004

Indexing by people

Back at HCIC, I saw a talk by a team at NASA Ames. They were discussing their shared whiteboard system; it's used for part of the Mars lander team. Their system is based around shared data spaces that are keyed to the author of the docment, and a set of "interested people." Also, by default, files are named by the date and time of the file.

That is: you can't necessarily easily see the name of a file. But you can find out what type it is (and what data it applies to); you can find out who did it; and you can find out what day it was created.

This is a sort of reductio of my dissertation. The interface is nothing but people and times. I'm curious to see--as the work develops--how they analyze this information and what they find about that interface. However, it seems from their first pass that the users weren't working to subvert the system: they were pretty happy with indexing by this fairly sparse data.

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February 02, 2004

TellMeAbout demo online

I've been building a social network application at the core of my dissertation. While I've had a (semi)stable version of a complete package up for a while--one that reads messages into a database and shows views of the output, it's hard to get that one going.

It takes somethng like half an hour to scrape all the headers into the database. I'm working on improving that code, but I don't expect it to get much better.

So as a preview of how things look, I've put up an application pointing to my own data. I've loosely anonymized all the names--so you can just make up the stories around them, if you like.

Check it out:
DEMO of Soylent

(Warning: 1 MB jar download, followed by a few megabytes of SQL query, followed by more information when you click on a name. Fast, it isn't.)

Let's take a moment to figure out how this image works. Remember that all this is pretty new; the interface changes frequently.


This display is a view of my email interactions with one other person. I am said to be "interacting" when I send them a message; I also think about connections, which are the people to whom I have carbon-copied a mesage.

When the UI is up, you'll see something like this four-panel view. The left side has a list of people (names encrypted); in this case, I've chosen the fifth down (Hnrvng VKXW). The top panel is scrollable, and tells me that I've exchanged 522 messages with Hnrnvng.

The second panel shows the frequency of, in order:

  • Outgoing messages TO Hnrvng
  • Incoming messages FROM Hnrvng
  • Outgoing attachments TO Hnrvng
  • Incoming attachments FROM Hnrvng

indexed by date. (Yes, the dates across the bottom are a little small to read. But the range runs from March 2001 out to December 2003). You'll note that Hnrvng and I haven't exchanged much mail since August 2002, except a few sparse messages here and there.

In the bottom panel, you can see (and click, a little bit) the three people with whom I collaborated most with Hnrvng: "Qqoxwujs", "Ncuo", and "Qcxp". The color of the tie gives a rough idea of its age: yellow is recent, red is old. That is, it's been quite a while since I connected Ncuo to Hnrvng (I co-TA'd with Ncuo when I first arrived at UCI); some time later, I worked with Qqoxwujs and Hrnvng more recently (when we collaborated on a paper with the three of us as co-authors); most recently, Qcxp was involved in some of my bureaucratic hurdles. (You'll note that Qcxp has a prominent spot at the top of the display; he has been a major figure in my work life.)

Got it? Great. Here's a screen shot of a more complex image, with a person who has been involved in several different social contexts...
View image

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January 31, 2004

Writing Science

The way I figure it, while I'm working on my dissertation, it's not a distraction to read good science writing. Indeed, it keeps me in good writing form.

That's why I'm leafing through Galileo's Commandment: 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing

I'm reminded how alienating technical writing can be in a tongue-in-cheek essay by John McPhree (from Basin and Range:)

Rock that stayed put was called autocthonous, and if it had moved it was allocthonous. "Normal" meant "at right angles." "Normal" also meant a fault with a depressed hanging wall. There was a Green River Basin in Wyoming that was not to be confused with the Green River Basin in Wyoming. One was topographical and was on Wyoming. The other was structural and was under Wyoming. The Great Basin, which is centered on Utah and Nevada, was not to be confused with the Basin and Range, which is centered in Utah and Nevada. ... To anyone with a smoothly functioning bifocal mind, there was no lack of clarity about Iowa n the Pennsylvanian, Missouri in the Mississippian, Nevada in Nebraskan, Indiana in Illinoian, Vermont in Kanas, Texas in Wisonsonian time. Meteoric water, with study, turned out to be rain. It ran downhill in consequent, subsequent, obsequent, resquent, and not a few insequent streams.

Sure, in my field, we pride ourselves on using terms that everyone understands. Then we redefine them: "social navigation"? "awareness"? "collaborative spaces"?

A "Friend" on Friendster is different from a friend in person, and an "egocentric social network" isn't a way to describe P*ris H*lton. A "visualization" doesn't involve finding a happy place, and the "graph" that I draw doesn't come in pie or bar forms.

In other words, even the technical terms I use aren't the same as the technical terms they're stealing from.

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