Thursday, March 29, 2012

Links links

40 hour work weeks are actually better all around than longer ones.

Academics: going to publish a paper? Check if that journal supports you keeping an archive version yourself with SHERPA/RoMEO. (yes, it is terrifying that some journals don't let you do this. also, it is less useful for my field, because it's all conferences. still, I guess HCI folks write journal articles sometimes, so check on that!)

Sometimes when I lose my overwhelming unflinching optimism, I get down on the idea of "raising awareness." Great, I know about Joseph Kony now, but I will do nothing about it. Going viral on Facebook might or might not mean anything in the real world. I guess KONY 2012 did something; we're sending some troops in now? But that feels like a pithy response to appease voters, not a rational consideration of what needs to be done. Furthermore, it reinforces the belief that nothing happens unless we rich powerful Americans buy stuff and send in the army.

Here's an article about neat office projects that starts off with a pretty good recap of why sitting is bad for you. This stuff intrigues me because it feels like a plausible win-all-at-once thing: tweak your exercise routine to get 10% fitter, force yourself to exercise more to get 40% fitter, or just use a standing desk and get 100% fitter! (Numbers made up.) Plus, it's mentally easier; no need to force yourself to do something you don't like.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grad schools: and then there were two.

Done all the visits! They were all great. For each school, I'd rather do a PhD there than not do a PhD there. And for each city, I'd rather live there than not. But I've got to decide...

I think it's UW or CMU. (Which is weird, right. Ask me a month or six months ago and I'd say I want to try something new! I want an adventure! ... I feel a bit like Harrison, but also feel pretty confident that CMU or UW would be the best choice.)

Why not Georgia Tech or Toronto? Ask me in an email, I guess; anything I say to the internet in general could be misinterpreted negatively. They're both awesome schools.

UW CSE is organizationally more traditional: it's a Department of Computer Science and Engineering, within which there are a bunch of great HCI people. But the HCI faculty are mostly a bit younger, and really inspiring. Microsoft Research is right next door, and interning is super common (there and elsewhere). Their graduates win all sorts of awards. Their recent grads (since, say, 2007) are about 55% industry, 23% faculty, 20% postdoc.
Surprising good thing: I had more than one really inspiring conversation about grad school and research while I was there, both with students and faculty. Very idealistic, very pure scientific motives. This is, I think, a good sign in a grad school.

CMU HCII is organizationally more innovative: it's the Charles Xavier academy for HCI researchers. There are about 20 faculty and 40 students, all working on HCI primarily. So instead of learning all about computer science theory and systems and stuff, you learn some CS, some design, some behavioral science, some general HCI research methods. Something like half their graduates have gone straight to faculty jobs (which is unheard-of; faculty jobs are really hard to get). They steamroll through conferences: I think they have the most papers at each of CHI, Ubicomp, and UIST. (though UW is not far behind.) Their grads are 20% industry, 44% faculty, 26% postdoc.
Surprising good thing: it's like a big family! Everyone knows, and supports, everyone (faculty and students). They go to conferences together, have parties together, even buy houses together. And (surprisingly for CMU) I found them all wonderfully charming, with only an endearing touch of CMU weirdness. (we arrive at a party and I'm greeted with "hi! talk to me." "what?" "tell me something!" "uhh... er, what do you want to know?" "you're terrible at this!" Oh, CMU!)

But more important than any of this, I suppose, are the particular faculty and students. I've talked a few times with most likely advisors at each school, and I'd love to work with them both.

To do still: make lists of other profs at each school and their specialties, make lists of students to make sure I remember the atmospheres pretty equally, send some emails, sit quietly and think a lot, and sit quietly without thinking a lot.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Negotiating grad schools with my subconscious

I'm deciding where to go to grad school, right, and where to spend the next 5-6 years of my life. It's a tough choice with a lot of factors. Our slow sequential rational minds are not great at processing these huge multi-dimensional choices, but luckily we've got these built-in hacks called "emotions". They're capable of doing massive processing, but they're tricky! For example, the weather has a big impact on which school you attend. Also, I like feeling accepted by people I respect. So I've got to understand what my emotions are telling me and then decide which ones to listen to.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Georgia Tech

  • The wearable computing contextual computing lab (and neighboring BCI lab). When I heard about magic piano gloves, I was ready to sign on the dotted line right there.
  • The other students visiting along with me had mostly done something else before coming back to grad school. Of course I'm biased, but I think that's a good sign.
  • Atlanta's cooler than I expected.
  • The "Aikido problem": if I decide to try some new thing (say, Aikido), will there be a studio nearby? If it's driving distance, I won't stick with it. I want an atmosphere where growth is not only possible but actively enabled; does Atlanta have that?
  • I feel like family already.
  • They are so tight with Microsoft Research, Intel, Google, and y'know other companies too.
  • I met a lot of fervent supporters. People who, if you asked them to rate their time at UW on a 1-5, would say 5.
  • And I had a couple of think-really-big conversations. Students and profs interested in big important work, not just publishing papers. I think their heads are on straight.
  • I'm not really looking forward to going back to Seattle, oddly, and I'm not sure why. The rain or something? The homogeneous Stuff-White-People-Like-ness?
U of Toronto
  • The prof I'd work with seems very sharp, enthusiastic, flexible, and interested in growing his lab.
  • Toronto is an amazing city. I like it so much. And U of T is right downtown.
  • HCI is not such a focus there as it is at CMU, GA Tech, and UW. (doesn't mean there's not cool stuff going on. but CMU/GA Tech have whole schools for HCI, and UW has a big group.)
  • I met a couple of folks who might rate their time there as a 2.
  • There's a whole school dedicated to HCI; the class mix is different than I'd get elsewhere (for better or worse).
  • I have a few friends in Pittsburgh. Plus, Pittsburgh is cool and cheap.
  • I'd feel a little weird being back at CMU, too, and I'm not sure why.
To be continued!

Friday, March 09, 2012

More interesting things on the internet

Some studies, mostly from Richard Wiseman via Eric Barker, about people that I find maybe useful:
Smelling rosemary makes you smarter?
Owning a dog (not a cat) is apparently really really good for your stress levels. Bummer, because I don't want to own a dog. Maybe watching them on Youtube is just as good.
Selective attention seems like a good thing. Maybe I should buy a lab coat.
Swearing (at the beginning or end of a speech) is fucking magical.
Sleep more! It helps willpower. I've been recommended this book too, and I'm looking forward to it.
Put a mirror in your kitchen, put a plant in your office, and touch people on the arm.
We can do conversation betterHere are 27 specific ways.
Your name matters a lot. Helps to have a positive name, especially one that starts with A or B, and good initials. If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to wander into absurd territory now and wonder if my initials, DJT, have made me more likely to be a college DJ. My sister and mom are both CAT; seems appropriate!

Got too far into absurd territory? Remember, it's easy to manipulate stats! More importantly, it's hard not to manipulate stats. You want some effect to happen, so you'll subconsciously do all sorts of tricks to get a statistically significant result. Even worse, stats will be buried deep in any paper you read (or might not appear at all). The burden is on us, researchers, to not do this!

Back to the real world- nah, hold up, let's stay in somewhat speculative territory for a while. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) sounds like a silver bullet for quick easy flow. However, with any brain silver bullets, lots of caveats: might not be the same thing, might have side effects, might only work on some tasks, might completely fry your brain. It feels to me like trying to repair your car's engine wearing boxing gloves. But the greedy futurist in me is excited.

Okay, real world. What should you do? Something difficult. Something that you'd like on your tombstone. Something productive.

A new site urging publishers to open up their damn academic journals: Who Needs Access? You Need Access.

Introverts and extroverts: I like this, because I feel similar. But what makes someone an introvert, and not just shy or unconfident? I don't know, and until I get a straight answer to that, I'm going to be a little tentative when I talk about introverts. It feels a little like nerd-pride: "I like Star Wars and that makes me different and that's okay!" is better than "I like Star Wars and that makes me different and I'm ashamed!" but it's less good than not feeling the need to assert that you like Star Wars in the first place.

Learning that pain is not suffering by investigating the pain. This feels like connoisseurship. I think if I started talking about being a pain connoisseur, people would look at me funny, but that feels like a good way to learn how to deal with pain (both physical and psychological).

Sunday, March 04, 2012

How do you get over phobias?

I'm viscerally afraid of bugs and needles. Seeing a bug (a big one, a stingy one, or a cockroach inside) makes my blood run cold. Seeing a needle or needly blood (drops of blood, surgical cuts, large quantities, etc) makes me lightheaded and faint. This is a little bit limiting in everyday life: bugs go from nuisances to really bad events, and getting a shot becomes an ordeal. I'd like to be free of both phobias, particularly the needle one.

How can I do this? Should I jump in and just get a big dose of it, or should I wade into the water slowly? Is it impossible, and should I just avoid needles as much as possible? Or is there a fourth option? (hypnosis? meditation? ... iron deficiency?)

Due to my experience with needles, I think jumping in might not work. I tried to give blood twice and fainted or almost fainted each time. Last time I had blood drawn for a doctor's appointment, it had the same effect.

Due to my experience with bugs, I think wading in slowly might work. India helped, especially the retreat where our bathroom usually had one large spider in it. The spiders didn't move much and they never came into our bedroom, so I could see a spider every day and get to be more or less okay with it. Roaches still freak me out, but I now know that I can see one without a house being infested, so it's not the end of the world. So I'm thinking, little bits of exposure to bugs will help me overcome my fear of bugs. And my bug phobia is not so bad anyway.

So I'm thinking about wading in. Maybe by watching Dexter. But it's tough; a full episode makes me lightheaded. Do you, dear reader, have any tips?

Watchin' movies on planes that could have been better except for dumb folk wisdom

or, "Dan gets mad at pop culture twice."

Limitless. Well, this one was actually not bad. It's fun. Guy finds drug that makes him mental Superman.
First: "You know how we only use 10% of our brain? This drug lets us use 100%." Can we stop this? It's just silly.
Second: the guy was a burnt out loser, but after he takes the drug, he tells his girlfriend "It's okay now. I'm back." She says "Who's back?" "I am." "That's not you. That's the drug." Can we stop this too? It's voodoo, tribal folk myths, the idea that you have some magic "life force" or identity, and when you take a drug, that magic life force leaves you and the drug possesses you. Reminds me of D.A.R.E.

In Time. This movie was actually awful. But such a good premise: in the future, time is the currency. When you turn 25, you stop aging, and instead you get a clock with one year on it; when it expires, you die. You can buy/sell/trade time. So the rich people live for thousands of years, and the poor people just try to scrape together enough time-currency to survive another day.
The problem: "We're not meant to live forever." This is kind of the bias behind the whole film, and it's never defended or discussed, it's just accepted as a given.

On the other hand, one movie that gets it right: Moneyball. Statistics work. Just like in the real world. But they don't magically predict the future 100% of the time, just on average. Again, just like the real world.

A movie I didn't get: Scarface. But then, I didn't get The Godfather either.
A movie that was pretty good, and god bless them for trying something different and pulling it off: The Artist.
A movie that's hella cute: My Neighbor Totoro. Also, I have a new answer for "if you had to get a pet, what would you get?"