Finally, DIS

After a few years of submitting papers to HCI venues and learning how to cope with rejection after rejection after rejection*, I finally managed to get one accepted at ACM Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) 2017.

It’s a full paper, and it’s the outcome of a collaboration with Erik Stolterman. Here’s the abstract:

What are big questions? Why do scholars propose them? How are they generated? Could they be valuable and useful in HCI research? In this paper we conduct a thorough review of “big questions” literature, which draws on scholarship from a variety of fields and disciplines. Our intended contribution is twofold. First, we provide a substantive review of big questions scholarship, which to our knowledge has never been done before. Second, we leverage this summary as a means of examining the value and utility of big questions in HCI as a research discipline. Whether HCI decides that generating and having big questions would be a desirable path forward, we believe that examining the potential for big questions is a useful way of becoming more reflective about HCI research.

I’ll add a link to the draft soon, so if you find the abstract intriguing please do check back to download the paper. Can’t wait to visit Edinburgh!

*If you’re looking for an entertaining text on rejection-proofing yourself, I highly recommend Rejection Proof.

 

 

Reading

James Baldwin is a wonderful writer. I’m working my way slowly through The Fire Next Time, and the following passage just punched me in the chest:

Here was the South Side – a million in captivity – stretching from this doorstep as far as the eye could see. Ands they didn’t even read; depressed populations don’t have the time or energy to spare. The affluent populations, which should have been their help, didn’t, as far as could be discovered, read, either – they merely bought books and devoured them, but not in order to learn: in order to learn new attitudes. (Baldwin, 1993 p. 61)

Never have I ever felt so nailed by a critique. Have I ever really read to learn? Or has it always been to learn new attitudes? What’s the difference between learning [x] and learning a new attitude? What sorts of books is Baldwin talking about? And how does Baldwin distinguish between learning and learning new attitudes?

This last question seems to me to be a consequential one, and I would love to know how Baldwin makes the distinction (and if he is on record explaining it anywhere, I would love to read/watch.. so please leave a comment if you know).

I quoted from the First Vintage International Edition of the book, published in 1993.

Conferences

I look forward to the day when more conferences in my fields of interest offer alternative forms of presentation. I recently received an email from the IASDR conference, which will be held later this year in Cincinnati. Part of the email states that:

“To allow all world citizens to participate in the IASDR2017 conference, every effort will be made to accommodate alternative forms of presentation such as recorded video or real-time online video conferencing.”

I was really pleased when I read this, and my hope is that others will make similar efforts. No one should miss out on the opportunity to present research because of backwards policy..

Fear

When I think of the charge to write what I’m afraid of, these are two things I fear: (1) failing to pass a plateau and (2) mistrusting of my own past experience. I have passed plateaus before, so why do I disbelieve that I can/will do it again?

I started meditating a few months ago, and, as with any new practice, there was a period where I think I enjoyed tremendous progress. I was calmer and more focused throughout the day. I was effective at noticing when I started to daydream or worry and refocusing on whatever task I happened to be working on at the time. And I was enjoying some deeper and more refreshing personal interactions with friends and family.

But like many (if not all) new practices that I start, this one also proved to have an initial period of reaffirming progress followed by a gradual plateau-ing. I still notice when I get distracted but less so than when I started. And re-focusing can be a bit of a slog rather than a simple breathing exercise followed by a gentle calming of the mind.  And this aspect of it makes me afraid. And the fact that it makes me afraid also makes me afraid.

 

On the Amazon Echo

Note: This is an old post that I guess I never published. Hence the 2016 Labor Day reference.

 

Over labor day weekend (2016) I had some trouble with Alexa. But that’s all I know. I don’t know anything about the cause or anything about possible solutions. Here’s what happened.

On Sunday morning I asked Alexa to tell me the weather. The blue ‘listening’ light appeared and bounced around for a few moments longer than usual and then.. nothing. No ‘flickering’ lights to indicate that she was processing my request and no telling of the weather. What the heck?

And then an ominous red ring of light pulsed a few times and Alexa spoke. Something about how the echo had lost its connection followed by silence followed by “I’m having trouble understanding right now, please try again later,” or something along those lines.

No matter what I requested (or when I requested it) this same sequence of events played out so many times during the day Sunday and Monday. And I have no idea why! I opened the Alexa app on my phone to see if there might be anything helpful there. Nope. Nothing. The app gave me every indication that the Echo should be working. While it was frustrating enough that things were going wrong, it was even more frustrating that the most straightforward way I had of finding out what those things might be (the app) contradicted the fact that there was even a problem.

I use the Echo mostly for banal stuff like getting the news, weather, playing music, and adding items to digital shopping lists. I do have it paired with a smart thermostat, though. What if the Echo were an integral part of how I manage my day-to-day life and what if I had it paired with other smart devices (lights, a fridge, a car). It would be like multiple colleagues being out of the office without having giving any reason thus requiring you to change your schedule and take on a bunch of tasks that you no longer do. Not cool.

I don’t know what the takeaway is here: feedback is important, it’s better to know than not know, the Amazon Echo gives poor feedback, nodal point amenities (I’m making this up this stuff as I go along..) can make day-to-day life just a little bit better but when they fail they can induce anxiety and stress. Somehow I think this relates to the concept of faceless interaction. In the middle of the day on Sunday, staring at that broken cylindrical speaker in my kitchen, I wished, oh how I wished, for a screen.

Death and Dying

My in-laws live on a farm, and one of their horses loves llamas. For as long as I’ve known him he’s had the same llama companion. But last year the llama died. And my daughter asked where he went.

My mother-in-law didn’t know what to tell her. When she told me about this and asked me what I thought she should say, I was staring at a few bookshelves full of children’s books. Animals. Potty training. Imagination. Feelings. Lots of different topics. Lots of different purposes. Letters. Numbers. First words. And others. But none about death or dying.

And as I thought about it, it never occurred to me to buy books for her on the topic. Why would I? Why read a book about death or dying to a kiddo? They don’t need to be exposed to that. Do they? Should death be something that we only talk about in times of grief?

One of our dogs died last year. And so did a grandparent. So why not talk about death? In not talking about it do I just perpetuate it as a sort-of taboo concept? Maybe reading about it from an early age encourages thinking about it more deeply and relating to it differently.

Maybe she’ll have a richer understanding and vocabulary for coping with it when she inevitably does confront it. I don’t know. But I don’t think that death or dying as concepts ought to be avoided even if they seem untimely.

 

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