ccsclab-swoop-ico-001The Computer Supported Collaboration Laboratory web site is now live!

The story: The CSC Lab is in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) at the University of Washington. I’m a postdoc working with Charlotte Lee, who leads the lab. HCDE students get involved with faculty research by participating in for-credit research groups. We’ll be using the lab website to report on our NSF-funded research projects and on the work the students are doing. Check it out!

My Facebook Network

Matthew Bietz —  February 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

In response to Jude and Eric, I decided to check out my facebook friend network using Nexus.


Nothing too surprising here, except what isn’t shown. I have “real” friends who don’t use facebook, but actually serve as connections between clusters. I also have friends who would connect clusters, but only show up in one because they made a conscious decision not to accept friend requests from any high school classmates. The only obvious individual that stands out is my bee-you-tee-full sistore, who connects the fam, high school, and undergrad.

Quick update: it’s looking like the NSF made it into the stimulus package after all. Good news, but I still don’t think we can relax.


Matthew Bietz —  February 7, 2009 — 1 Comment

I’m bothered by the rhetoric coming out of the debate on the stimulus package. In comments from lawmakers and the press, the arts and sciences rank high in the various lists of pork and “unnecessary spending that will do nothing to stimulate the economy.”

Right now it looks like there might be a deal in the works (with $110 billion cut from the bill), but as the NY Times is reporting, “The fine print was not immediately available, and the numbers were shifting.” But according to Talking Points Memo, the cuts proposed by a “centrist” group led by Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) include $500m from the USDA (including $100m specifically for research),$750m from NASA, $427m from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $100m from the Dept. of Energy Office of Science, and $1.4 billion from the National Science Foundation. Politico is reporting different numbers, but mostly in the same categories.

There are some really complicated economic arguments to be made, and questions about funding through “emergency” bills or the regular budget process. But the discussion instead centers on things like, why on earth should we worry about honeybees? Or the suggestion that the arts and sciences have no real economic impact.

For me there’s an obvious economic impact: the NSF is the entire reason I’m not drawing an unemployment check. I’m still hopefull that the Obama era will be different from the Bush years, but I think that we in academia aren’t doing a good enough job of explaining why and how what we do is necessary on a larger scale.

Recording Phone Interviews

Matthew Bietz —  January 31, 2009 — 1 Comment

I’ve been doing a lot of phone interviews for a study of Collaboration in Cyberinfrastructure, and many of them require international calls. In the past I’ve recorded interviews by putting a sound recorder with a microphone next to a speakerphone, using a special thingamabob that you can plug your phone cord into and it has an audio out, or using one of those weird suction cup doohickeys. All of them result in pretty low-quality recordings.

Recently I’ve been getting really good results with a combination of Skype and the MX Skype Recorder. MXSR only works on Windows systems, and it’s not free (although even grad students should be able to afford $14.95 for the standard version). There are a number of Skype recording solutions out there, but MXSR has a couple of features I really like.

First of all, it just works. I tested several other packages where, even after trying all the workarounds, I still couldn’t get a recording. I’ve been using MXSR on 3 different machines with both Vista and XP, and haven’t had any problems.

Second, it allows you to record the incoming and outgoing audio to different channels. Phone calls are mono – it doesn’t matter if you use both left and right channels for the sound. But by putting my voice on the right channel and the person I’m interviewing on the left, transcribing suddenly becomes much easier. Any time there’s cross-talk or interruptions, I can listen to each voice separately, and then it is trivial to sort out what each person said.

Of course, you have to pay to call land lines from Skype, but the rates are great, especially for international calls.

Anyone else tried this, or have a similar solution for other platforms?

Image courtesy of Goopymart.

A New Name

Matthew Bietz —  January 29, 2009 — Leave a comment

The Department of Technical Communication at the University of Washington (where I am a Research Scientist) is changing its name! We are now the Department of Human-Centered Design and Engineering. The name change represents a broader focus than traditional written communication, and better reflects the interests of many of the faculty and students.

The press release about the name change also mentions the effort to coordinate the human-computer interaction work going on all over campus. I remember when I started working in this area at the University of Michigan School of Information, and worrying that it was all so new and might not catch on and I’d be an academic outcast wandering in the interdisciplinary desert. Sometimes it still feels that way, but it’s great to know that there are oases where research on the human side of computing is in full bloom!

Being Thankful

Matthew Bietz —  November 27, 2008 — Leave a comment

Nice post today by Jonathan Eisen about What Scientists Should Be Thankful For. A great list. “8. Study Subjects or Objects” seems especially important for those of us in the social sciences. I’d never be able to do what I do without the kindness and patience and time of a lot of very busy people. So to everyone who has ever shown up in my lab or sat down for an hour to talk to me, Thank You!

Scientific Collaboration on the Internet

The Scientific Collaboration on the Internet book has (finally) been published. Check out my chapter (with Gary Olson and Marsha Naidoo) on the work we did with international AIDS research collaborations.

From the MIT Press website:

Modern science is increasingly collaborative, as signaled by rising numbers of coauthored papers, papers with international coauthors, and multi-investigator grants. Historically, scientific collaborations were carried out by scientists in the same physical location—the Manhattan Project of the 1940s, for example, involved thousands of scientists gathered on a remote plateau in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Today, information and communication technologies allow cooperation among scientists from far-flung institutions and different disciplines. Scientific Collaboration on the Internet provides both broad and in-depth views of how new technology is enabling novel kinds of science and engineering collaboration. The book offers commentary from notable experts in the field along with case studies of large-scale collaborative projects, past and ongoing.

Last week I went to someone else’s conference. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my field, but I don’t often attend conferences so far outside my own domain. But as part of a cyberinfrastructure study that I’m working on, I went to the Metagenomics 2008 conference. I was happy to discover that I could follow the general idea of most of the talks (although, of course, I was usually baffled when speakers got to the highly technical details).

But as an outsider, I found myself frequently turning to the person next to me and asking, “Is this cool?” or, “Is (s)he anyone?” Understanding the science is a prerequisite, but in order to really be a member of the community, you have to know to whom or to what to pay heed. I’m at a conference in my own field this week, and last week’s experience has made me more sensitive to this phenomenon. Today I overheard someone explaining to a conference newbie why one session was likely to be more interesting than the other, and I realized that a) I completely agreed with him, and b) to know that required a lot of knowledge that wasn’t in the conference program.

Google’s Way

Matthew Bietz —  October 27, 2008 — Leave a comment

I don’t like it when software insists that there is only one right way to do something. Most of the time it doesn’t matter (or I don’t care) if I have to click A before I can click B. And while I generally like the clean design and ease of use of Google products, even they have their moments of “Our Way or No Way”:

a) Labels (not folders): I don’t mind labeling things. I believe that for some people labeling works extremely well. And from a technical perspective, labels aren’t all that different from folders. But folders operate on the idea that a message can only be in one place at a time. I arrange my e-mail by project (rather than topic). I am a frequent filer (I like an empty inbox). I delete a LOT of e-mail rather than saving it. And I like folders. But GMail makes me feel like I’m a weakling for not joining the hip crowd and throwing off the oppressive folder paradigm.

b) Search (don’t sort): Sorting is a really efficient way to find things, especially if you don’t remember the exact words. Try sorting your spam box by subject sometime – I bet you can skim for false postivies it much faster. But not in GMail – they won’t let you sort.

c) Full feature widget (not the simple one): I use iGoogle as my home page. iGoogle used to have a great GMail widget that gave a really simple count of unread messages, showed previews if you wanted them, and allowed you to hide the previews if you didn’t. Recently Google decided they had a brand new whiz-bang widget that made the old one useless. So they took the old one away. But the new one is significantly different, especially in that you can’t hide the previews (so that subject line about the Richard Simmons dolls you are bidding for on eBay shows up on your home page at work). Doesn’t matter that a lot of people prefered the old one – we can’t have it any more.

I admit, Google is not the only company who does this stuff, and they aren’t the worst offender. But every once in a while I hear someone tell me about how amazing Google is and how they can do no wrong, and I cringe.