I’ve become a total garden junky this year. We’ve overhauled nearly 1000 square feet of landscape in our yard since March. One of our latest projects involves a bed with lots of baby plants among inches of mulch resulting in a space that’s a bit tricky to walk in without accidentally crushing a baby hosta or bleeding heart. To solve the problem the kids and I decided to create some stepping stones to set in among the mulch so we know where we can safely walk while watering and weeding. We made use of some nerve wracking burdock growing in the back yard to cast these stones this weekend. We used beds of pea gravel in pizza boxes to support the leaves and then just smeared some Quickreet onto the backs. After 24 hours we flipped them over to discover an amazing amount of detail captured from the leaves. They’re beautiful.
Those who know me probably know that after finishing my PhD a year ago I went into a little bit of an academic funk. There was soul-searching, head banging, and more than a little bit of self doubt. Imposter syndrome and other forms of intellectual angst aren’t all that unusual in academia but I had it bad. Most of the turmoil was around the fact that I’ve switched disciplines. I went from being an English geek (rhetoric specifically) to teaching and researching in a Business school. Don’t get me wrong. It’s amazing. It kicks ass in a major way. However, learning the norms and conventions of being a researcher in a discipline that is so different from where I came from has its hurdles. Add to that the typical post-PhD trouble of establishing your personal research agenda with no more faculty/advisor hand holding and there are some non-trivial growing pains to get through.
I spent about three months last year writing a research question a day just to get ideas out. Afterwards, I went through them to see what trends I could uncover in my interests. There were certainly some “Gee, I know what I was thinking about that week” kind of trends but the overall picture helped me focus on my desire to make real meaning out of big data collected from social sources. Social technologies have been my thing for a long time. I even designed a giant certification program for Kelley about social technologies in business. But in terms of research agenda, I still had some refining to do.
There are a couple of big issues related to being an academic who studies social technologies:
That being said, I’m not deterred. I know that even with hundreds of articles on Facebook alone, there’s still room for unique thoughts when it comes to research and social technologies. So where do I want to fit in and will that work in my new discipline?
I think I finally have the answer. It’s big data. It’s scraping millions of Tweets to answer big questions. It’s aggregating content created by prosumers from dozens of channels to see what we can find. I’m tired of hearing about monitoring services and clipping services that only serve to provide a biased pinhole view of the conversation. It’s time to stop looking just at the trees you think are relevant to you and start studying the forest and the ecosystem within it.
So, after all this time and all this hair pulling, I finally have it. I have my BIG question and a fairly good research agenda to back it up. My goal is to found out if there is a better way to harness and uncover insights from big data gathered from social sources. Rather than asking a question and then gathering data directly related to that question, I want to find a scalable and repeatable way to conduct ongoing analysis of this data to shed light on unexpected trends and correlations that then lead to research questions. I want to find the freaky, unexpected, surprising and yet powerful revelations that make us wonder why and dig deeper.
Having arrived at this focus I feel excited and geared up. The path isn’t totally clear yet but it’s so much better than it was and I’m optimistic that I’ve landed somewhere that I can do some interesting and important things. It’s so good to finally feel that way.
Inside our front door was an ugly closet with mirrored folding doors that screamed like a tortured cat whenever we attempted to open them. As a result, we never used the closet.
So, with a little help from the Rehab Store (Habitat for Humanity used building supply store) and about $150, we turned it into a mudroom.
The cabinet is a $15 upper kitchen cabinet with the doors removed, nail holes filled, and some trim added before painting with water-based enamel.
Making the cushion for the seat was a challenge thanks to all the corners but we managed it complete with a velcro strip along the back so the cover can be removed. It took about two weeks of evenings and weekends to find all the goodies and put it all together but I think it turned out well.
Now that I’m finally done with the dreaded PhD I can, in addition to freaking out about my research agenda (see yesterday’s post), pick up long neglected hobbies that make me happy such as knitting.
I never really stopped knitting but I did have a kind of love/hate relationship with it for a while because every time I let myself pick up my needles over the last few years I suffered endless “shouldn’t I be doing something more productive”-guilt. But not now! Now I can flip through patterns with glee! I can start something larger than a pot holder without the angel on my shoulder giving her little Tsk Tsk sounds. Now knitting is a celebration of the monkey that is no longer on my back.
Jumping in with both feet, as I always do, I reactivated my Ravelry account, picked out an awesome fair isle sweater pattern, made friends with the lovely knit shop ladies, and then spent 24 hours or so in the last week happily knitting and purling away. The result will be a pretty cotton sweater I can wear this summer. The current progress looks something like this
Tonight I’m off to my first knitting group meetup at Scholar’s Inn! Martinis and knitting. What could be better than that?
*Insert typical “I know I haven’t blogged in a while” junk here as if anyone cared anyway*
Well, I graduated. The gates of all the secret PhD knowledge are now open to me. I know the secret handshake and get to say “That’s DOCTOR Smith-Robbins to you, punk!” Unfortunately, the title doesn’t give me all the answers. It seems that I’ve arrived at a clean slate. A big fancy slate but a blank one nonetheless. I’m in this odd spot where I get to decide what I want to do rather than just completing tasks that others have assigned to me. Heck, I don’t even have to worry about a job because I already have a great one that gives me the flexibility to choose my own path. But which path shall I take?
I’m in this odd spot on the line between several disciplines. I’d like to bring them together in a unique way and carve our a niche answering questions that not only do I care about but that I’m uniquely qualified to ask. I have one foot in rhetoric and communication, one in social science, one in technology, and one in business. That’s a lot of feet. I know that I want to put my weight on the business foot but I’m not sure how I want to leverage the others.
I’ve started by making a huge list of things I’m interested in, questions I wish I knew the answers to, and finally knowledge areas I feel comfortable in. I’ve also decided not to be swayed by what I’m already known for because I don’t want where I’ve been to determine where I’m going unless that’s what I choose. For now I’m playing the “what would I like to be known for in five years” game to see how I feel about certain trajectories. My moleskin is bursting with lists of this and that but so far nothing is giving me that “Aha!” feeling. I suppose if it were easy to live with direction and purpose everyone would do it, right?
Still, though it may be daunting, I’m excited by all the possibilities, potentially undiscovered knowledge, and adventures that each path may lead to. And I know that going down one doesn’t mean that the others are closed forever. But which to choose first?
This is the first of a few posts I’m writing about gamification.
We’ve all played them but because of the wide variety of games it can be challenging to nail down just what makes a game a game. I think that there are three basic characteristics:
True gamification requires that all three characteristics be present. For example, if we think of Foursquare as a game (whether or not it’s a good one is up for debate) we can see that the goal is to acquire badges that earn the user reputation and a sense of accomplishment. Obstacles in Foursquare are the simple logistics of traveling to a location and taking the trouble of checking in using the application. Finally, some users may choose to compete with other users by taking away mayorship of a popular spot while others may challenge themselves to collect the badges that they see as fun or interesting.
ARGNet recently captured the story of a lawsuit against Toyota regarding an “ARG” that pranks people including snail mail, phone calls, and emails. Now Toyota is on the chain for a whopping $10 million in damages to the poor victim of their marketing. Threatening phone calls, being told that you’re on the hook to pay someone else’s hotel damages…this is NOT marketing. This is borderline harassment IF you haven’t opted in. And that’s the big issue here. ARGs work because players voluntarily follow the breadcrumbs out of their own interest in unraveling a mystery. An ARG inflicted on someone is something totally different. One can only hope that this extremely poor use of an interesting marketing and collaborative storytelling technique won’t dissuade others from creatively applying the approach.
Thus, I pronounce this particular fiasco of a campaign not an ubernoggin work but rather a good example of a peabrain idea.
Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth, gave a “talk” last night at Indiana University. First, before I dive in to comment on Dawkins, I need to give mad props to the union board at IU for inviting him. It must not have been an easy decision and I’m sure it wasn’t an affordable one either. The event was well run and very well attended.
Now, having said that, I was incredibly disappointed in Dawkins’ “talk.” He spent about forty minutes reading from his new book. It wasn’t a lecture. It wasn’t a talk. It was a book reading. He offered very little commentary or value-add to the reading. The Q&A allowed him to engage more with the audience but the talk itself left me angry. At one point in the Q&A session Dawkins, in about the same breath, said that evolutionary biologists need to do a better job of educating those who will listen and then he corrected a student for video taping the session stating “You can video but please don’t put it on the internet.” Now don’t get me wrong, I understand intellectual property. I understand that Dawkins has a right to make a living and that video taping his talk and giving it away for free may undermine his ability to make a living. But let’s be honest. Dawkins isn’t broke. Nor is he struggling to be read. His books sell very well and I’m sure he was paid over $10k to give last night’s talk. He can afford to be a bit generous for the sake of his cause. For the benefit of every kid who is being inundated with creationist teaching at school and goes on the net to find alternative ideas. He can afford to be a better teacher.
Worst of all, Dawkins had an incredible metaphor that would have made it easy for him to advertise his book while offering something more to the audience than what they could get by just buying the book out in the lobby. He explains that evolutionary biologist and paleontologists are similar to detectives who have come to a crime scene after the crime is committed. The scientist’s job is to reconstruct the most plausible event from the evidence at hand. I agree with the metaphor completely. But rather than just reading a few pages from the book, Dawkins should have engaged the audience in a bit of detective work. He should have endeavored to convert us all to be detectives and scientists. To be better prepared to make a sound argument for the truth. Instead, he stuck a few post-its in his book, read some pages to hawk the book, and left us all wondering why we came when we could have just bought the book.
Results from today’s #geekpoll on Twitter. Apparently people really don’t appreciate the viral games on Twitter. Is is the mechanics of the games? Their demand that you pass the game on to your contacts? Is Twitter a bad platform for games?
What do you think?
I can’t help but be excited about Google Sidewiki. It allows users (with google accounts) to leave comments on any website. So now, rather than signing up for forums and chats to comment or searching through dozens of pages to read customer feedback, you can simply click a button in your browser and see what people are saying.
I could be wrong. I could be overly excited. But I can’t help feeling that this is HUGE. The whole of the web now becomes a social network. Every page can have an unbiases forum tacked on that’s viewable by anyone.
Here are a couple of useful links to see what other folks are saying about Sidewiki: