Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘blog’

Writing Blog Posts

In research, social media on June 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Recently I was asked about writing blog posts. I’ve written about some aspects of this before here and here. But I was asked for some more of the mechanics, so here they are…

I have approximately 30 draft posts that are in various states of draft. Some of them are almost finished and waiting to be published. And I am not alone in this. For example, I noticed somewhat recently, that Mark Guzdial is going away on a trip and has written some blog posts that he will, Internet connection permitting, publish while he’s traveling. I presume his reason is to maintain a consistency while he is unable to write a lot of posts. My reasons are less clear. I think I ought to be more regular in publishing content, but I am not. I am actually trying to batch some up to be published while I am in the UK. We’ll see if that happens though. (It did, but curiously this post was not among them…).

My drafts include a variety of materials. Some are extremely short, perhaps even just a link to an article that I want to write about when I have time. Some are based on an email I have sent, say to a student, and I think that perhaps the email might be useful for others. This type of draft involves taking the email and making it less wordy. I write very wordy emails. Actually, a lot of editing my drafts is de-wording them. I am a wordy person apparently.

The person who asked me saw me writing a post while I was at HCIC (the Human Computer Interaction Consortium). I actually find that writing posts related to ideas that come up at conferences to be very helpful in focusing my thoughts. This person may also have noticed that some remarks I made at HCIC were based on some blog posts I’ve previously written. I find the blog very useful for that. In fact, I checked my blog before making those remarks (I was invited to comment on a panel while at the conference so there was not a lot of time to prepare, luckily my blog helped me with that).

Conferences and academic meetings can be very inspirational. I have a series of posts that I wrote based on my attendance at Snowbird, and CHI gave me the idea for several posts too. And potentially a new blog theme, focused on sharing research instruments (a draft on that awaits publication). But I can’t usually get the piece into publishable form at the conference, so I tend to open a new draft and jot down my ideas. So, that’s the drafting process I use.

More on an Academic Blog

In academia, academic management, C@tM, computer science, crafts and craftiness, discipline, empirical, European Union, France, HCI, ICT4D, research, social media, wellness informatics on September 14, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I’ve written about academic blogging before, but recently I was asked some questions.

1) How did you get into doing a blog?
It was quite by accident. A colleague of mine created a private blog to capture her experiences of conducting fieldwork. She was using her blog to create a forum where she could get feedback from others and reflect on what she was learning. So I received an invitation to create an account and I did, and then I thought it would be an interesting experiment. It’s turned out to be an interesting experiment indeed.

Early on, my blog was unread and largely just a private (although entirely public) experiment. When I started pushing my posts to facebook and twitter it got more public. Another way I acquired audience was through timely posts where I just happened to have an early hit in Google searches. Another way, and this turns on my research interests, was to prepare a commentary on a Facebook meme. Using my research expertise I commented on the importance of this.

2) What is your blog about?
My blog is a mixture of topics. I’m aware that this is rather different from other blogs and I wonder whether it affects the readership. On the other hand, it’s a creative outlet and also within the scope of my research, so exploration is important.

Two persistent non-work themes:

  • Cross cultural adventures, for example, being British in the U.S. and encounters with my accent and living in France and coping with culture shock.
  • My family from whom I learnt skills that have morphed into my off-script crafting hobbies and a passion for family history and the way it transforms history from monarchy and war into ones of poverty and survival.

Work-related topics fall into four categories.

3) How much work is doing a blog?
As much as you want it to be!

When I’m writing about non-work related topics, the posts come pretty quickly and the only thing they do is share something with colleagues and friends. Although, like facebook, they start very interesting conversations. For example, the one about the convict in my family started discussions with several work colleagues at Georgia Tech and beyond. I’d written about it partially to document the journey of discovery and detective work that is genealogy, but by sharing it broadly I got not just advice on how to learn more, but also on literature that would help set context.

The work related ones take longer. Some of them do double duty, for example, I needed to synthesize the literature in ICT4D, and I was going to give a report about the workshop so I needed to have some means to collect all that information together. My blog helps me think about making arguments, it complements and extends my two decades of research experience. It’s not just a set of notes I draw on, but because it’s simultaneously unreviewed but read by scholars it improves my arguments.

4) What impact has it had on your professional life?
My colleagues in Computer Science and beyond have enthusiastically responded to my blog. The strength in diversity of topics has been that people have asked me to write on a variety of issues. I’ve been asked to discuss the disciplinary devolution, and asked to review manuscripts on this topic. I’ve written posts on writing for conferences and had others not explicitly invited picked up by the conference organization. I’ve been tweeted and retweeted. While I have not been asked to write about my cross-cultural experiences, I’ve had face to face conversations about them. This is also true of the sexual harassment post, it generated lots of community support.

5) How would you advise a student concerning the advantages and disadvantages of academic blogging?
I tried to answer this, and then decided that I would answer it in the form of some different questions.

What do I write about?
Things you’d feel comfortable with an audience of a) your Dad whose an academic b) your Mum who started her own business (intelligent layman with interest in “application”) c) your community of practice and d) anyone else reading. Perhaps you could explain a paper in your field? Assume that the authors are in your audience and as its been published the members of your community have not deemed to be serious.

Perhaps you could write about the related work in your area. Synthesis is a challenge in academic writing. Related work is not a stream of text that describes each paper in turn. It synthesizes the results from multiple papers, groupings form pro and con arguments that help make your case. The case is a) the aggregate findings that your research builds on and extends b) the novelty of your approach and c) the contribution of your research. Synthesis is also an exercise in being inclusive and humble, how do you engage and invest a community in your results otherwise/

What about your experiences in graduate school? What are your time management strategies? What do you know about the Ph.D. program at various points in the program.

Anonymous versus known?
There are good reasons to write an anonymous blog. Anonymity supports candor. Career experiences can fit into this category. The downside of anonymity is that no-one knows you. When it comes to your research, it’s good to be associated with it! Academic branding requires being able to associate a name to the research brand.

What Happens when you admit to Sexual Harassment in a Post: Another Blog Learning moment

In academia, computer science, research on May 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I’ve written about some of the things I’ve learnt from both having a blog and watching other people’s blogs.

In the last month I’ve learnt something new.

Last month I blogged about the untimely death of a scholar, it was an expression of what she’d meant to me. First and foremost there was and remains her scholarship.

But she was also a reason (she and the others I spoke to… thank you all) I stayed in graduate school and in the research community after I’d experienced sexual harassment. She gave me great counsel, it helped at a time when my faith in Computer Science was less than zero.

At the time of writing the post, what was foremost in my mind was how grateful I was for having had the opportunities I had to interact with and learn from her. All of them. Prior to putting that on my blog, I’m not sure how many people even knew about the incident. Some colleagues at Irvine. I don’t think I talked about it much (I’m a fairly open person) but I’m not sure who knew.

That’s changed.

I think the revealation would have attracted some attention had it been in a post on its own, but of course it was embedded in a post about a person about whom many many people cared. So a week later my blog has had more traffic than its ever had before. Most of the traffic is coming from google search terms, people looking for information about her passing.

And so now nearly 1000 people know that I was sexually harassed in graduate school. And I am not precisely sure what to make of that.

I’ve had a number of interactions based on this admissions. I thank you all for your support. A number of people have thanked me for speaking up on the topic. So, since I’ve started.

It happened once again, at a conference workshop. I got felt up (to be blunt). I took my pen and rammed it into the offending hand. I think I brought tears to his eyes but he moved seats very quickly and kept a safe distance from me for the remainder of the session. BTW: I am not sure I recommend this particular solution, it was just the first thing that leapt into my head (and I should also say that my conselor in no way inspired this particular response, she just inspired me not to quit the business the first time it happened). And, since I’m sharing, it really messes up the pen, so I’d recommend a pen you’re willing to throw away afterwards.

Nothing physical has happened since then. The only thing that happened afterwards was that I went through a phase where I started to get the distinct impression that my relationship choices (although distilled to my assumed sex life) was of more interest to gossips than those of my male peers. Now perhaps that’s really true, but I don’t think so. I felt then that this was an attempt to enforce double standards through whispers. I was just trying to form a relationship, following what I assumed were well-accepted standards of behavior for a woman living in the United States — something about having equality in the process… but that’s hardly news, only I was told that my behavior somehow was… I remember trying to channel the pithy observation that it’s better to be the subject of any rumours than to be ignored, but somehow that didn’t really satisfy me.

It’s been a very long time since anything has happened that’s made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I’ve aged, both physically and academically. I have some standing within my research community. I think it’s the classic bullying tactic, you don’t go after those you can’t control or silence. But, I fear that it still happens, which infuriates me. I worry that seniority can sometimes make me think that things have changed. I can hope, but I try to remind myself that hope is not always the same as reality. And I hope that by admitting my own experiences that it in some way helps. If nothing else, I think it’s important for senior people (myself included) to be reminded of and vigilant to what is some of the worst behaviour a research community can engage in.

Furloughs: First Person Experience of Social Media in Crisis

In empirical, research, social media on April 23, 2010 at 9:12 am

On Monday April 19th I was on furlough. I had already written about the volcano and the online experiences I had seen. But that was just 24 hours after the eruption had started (and as the disruption was only beginning to become clear). I was also still at the CHI2010 conference, and so it was before the #CHI2010 became #CHIstuck2010 as people ended up stuck here in Atlanta. It was because there were people who ended up stuck in Atlanta that I had written a blog post, a way to disseminate information about Atlanta. So, I was already beginning to explore the social media in crisis space. But largely as a matter of trying to be helpful.

One of the interesting challenges about furlough is that the Institute requires that I do no Institute business during furlough. So, I was at home. It’s not clear to me what the boundaries of “Institute business” are when you are an academic, but I do enjoy not having to respond to email at the same speed. But, what to do on furlough? Suddenly I had this crazy novel idea, what if I tried to spend the day exploring social media in crisis? No, it’s not scientific but I am sure I am not alone when I say that experience is a good place for starting to think about scholarly endeavours. I am in Interactive Computing, and what is Interactive Computing if it is not the myriad of information generated by social media in crisis. Highly interactive, highly responsive, oh yeah, it’s got it all going on.

So, while GVU/CHI was working on accommodating our new guests, I decided to channel my advisor’s advice, to experience first hand. I would be a citizen journalist, or a computational journalist. What follows is what I learnt.

Experiences from the volcanic frontier.

I would like to thank the Reykjavik Grapevine for great reporting. It’s very sobering to see the pictures of the volcanic darkness that parts of Iceland are experiencing. But I would also learn that it was very valuable to have a range of sources, in English and not Icelandic, that were local to the scene of the volcano.

April 19 was a “good” choice for a furlough day. It was on April 19 that a new question emerged: Has Hekla erupted or not? Hekla is a volcano somewhat North of Eyjafjallajokull it consumed the twitter stream. My notes as follows:

The Twitter stream #ashtag has been very active and full of conflicting reports about whether a second volcano (for smaller but equally confused discussion follow #hekla). Some are saying that RUV are reporting it has, others are suggesting that the camera RUV had pointed at Hekla had been turned towards Eyjafjallajokull to capture images. You can see how complicated viral media like Twitter are when you look at the #ashtag stream. Google News has yet, when I last checked, to pick up any of this (either way, or the apparent confusion now generated). I have absolutely no idea how to confirm this. I thought about turning to the Icelandic state media but I can’t find them because I don’t know a) whether they exist and b) how to google for that in Icelandic, and then also (because I grew up in the UK) the BBC. I’ve now decided that perhaps waiting on Google News might work, seeing how much of the yes/no they pick up. So far, BBC and Google News remain silent, while #ashtag is off the charts in terms of numbers of tweets around this confusion, and MSNBC seemed to pick it up and now seem to have dropped the story (at least the difference between the two times I visited their home page).

Now, just a couple of hours later that meme seems to have passed, Google News and the BBC still remain silent, and a couple of people I see on Facebook have removed their Hekla posts, and it still seems to have disappeared from MSNBC). AShtag is still going strong, but I think it’s calmed substantially from earlier.

Now the Reykjavik Grapevine is advising that Hekla has not blown, but rather the camera pointed at Hekla has been rotated to focus on Eyjafjallajokull.

And now the Huffington Post reports on the initially false twitter reports. Some people on twitter are also discussing how Twitter self-corrected pretty quickly. How good is good enough seems like an interesting question here.

One reason I camped out on the twitter stream, on several tags, was to take information and retweet it to the #chistuck2010 tag which people stuck after attending CHI were following. Initially I was putting it into my blog, but that became increasingly time consuming. It was also a challenge to switch among the various streams, there was so much information coming in so quickly. I felt constantly behind. I started following various twitterers including the airlines, NATS. In fact I was surprised by how many institutions have twitter accounts. Time passed as I worked on trying to sift and filter information and get it to the right place. A substantial proportion was also devoted to deciding that yes that information was correct. So, I now understand the nature of the work, the nature of critical thinking that is required… and perhaps not everyone does critically think, but I was struck by the discussions of information quality and accuracy that I saw.

Other responses to the situation that’s now into it’s 5th day have focused on humour. It’s not just in Iceland that people have been laughing at how hard it is for non-Icelandic people to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. It’s also in New York: we got it too. Fortunately, one Icelandic person has set the name to song, that helps. Other forms of humour (which I can only assume were partially a stress relief) included some tag lines that were quite popular on the tweet stream.

  • Put bag w/30B euros in unmarked bills by gate of Icelandic embassy in London & we’ll turn off volcano
  • We said send cash not ash
  • The dying wish of Iceland’s economy was to have its ashes scattered over Europe.
  • I’m no volcanologist but has anyone tried throwing in a few virgins?
  • Save the planet? Planet must be saying, “Save yourself idiots, I will be fine”
  • Red moon at night, Vulcanologist’s delight.
  • Just been to Iceland. They have a special offer on Ash Browns.
  • I trust everyone is learning to spell Eyjafjallajokull for this week’s pub quizzes

And then of course people had to generate accounts for the volcanos and the ash cloud.

  • @theashcloud: an account that tweeted :The Ash Cloud is a little worried that because I am not from the EU my dust will not be allowed to settle in the UK”, and later “You think I’m bad. Have you seen Björk when she’s pissed?” and then of course “The Ash Cloud is wondering…is grey the new black?It’s always been my color anyway!”
  • but there was also a competing icelandashcloud
  • (who is apparently a lava not a fighter)
  • (a volcano which has a history of erupting alongside Eyjafjallajokull but is, thankfully, quiet for now)

Another set of responses invoked the Second World War.

Of course this reflects my orientation to the English language tweet stream (although oddly I find 140 characters helps me read French and German tweets also). Dan Snow, a BBC reporter lead a small D-Day like effort to retrieve Britons stuck in France. The Daily Mail picked it up as: “Operation volcano! Navy armada ready to pick up thousands of stranded Britons after France scuppers DIY rescue mission”. But others reported far more personal accounts, including the following reflection on WWII and two CHI 2010 attendees talked about how they met a WWII veteran who had been captured in the Normandy Landings, and was delayed in returning home by 6 months. As they said not only did it add perspective, but they also commented on how they’d shared this with the BBC via their WiFi connection. They shared it with me via Facebook. Our communications networks do make something of a difference.

Another thing I found interesting about the references to WWII was that the lived experience of WWII is increasingly limited. I can’t quite put my finger on why that matters, but I find it curious.

Some of the pictures that have been shared, and commented on, talk about the remarkable beauty in all the danger (and frustration). I include some here: Group 1Northern Lights, Group 2, Group 3.

So, I also asked myself what are people doing? Rideshare is huge. As I tidy this up on April 22, rideshare is still dominating #ashtag and it is an astonishing testament of how many people are displaced at this time. And of course, there’s also the life styles of the rich and famous approach to solving the problem. John Cleese became visible for hiring a taxi home from Norway. And then I saw this on the tweet stream:

There’s a Barcelona taxi outside Gare du Nord in Paris. Someone paid a lot to get here

I said before that this really highlighted how interconnected we are. I followed reports about taking an Atlantic ship home, the Queen Mary 2nd. But the next transatlantic voyage 4.22 is already sold out and the waiting list has more than 1000 people on it. For some reason I’m under the impression that cargo liners can some times take passengers. And then there are the reports of how hard hit industries who rely on air freight are. Kenya’s farmers have been severely impacted by the European flight ban. And because major hubs for international air delivery are located in Germany and France, so the notion that you can get world-wide delivery of items quickly has also been turned on its head. I apologise if this seems like a statement of the obvious, but I can’t help being reminded again of how disruption reveals so much about the silent and invisible work that infrastructure does for us. The airlines play a central role in this. I used to know someone who studied air cargo movements and the ICTs that make this possible, I think of him and Susan Leigh Star again as I write this post. Another person who sums this up well is Peter Greenberg. As did Al Jazeera in a thoughtful report about how we expect what is not local.

And while many are not benefiting, demand for teleconferencing systems has gone way up. Also, environmentalists note that the amount of CO2 that the volcano produced is less than the amount saved by the cessation of flights.

For others it’s an educational opportunity, to discuss Iceland’s volcanoes. Ars Technica has a nice piece. Important to know is that Iceland is not a subduction zone, i.e. one plate not moving beneath another, which is the situation on the West Coast of the U.S. Rather, and I think this is correct, it’s where two plates are moving apart. Look at terrain view of the Atlantic Ocean and you see a long spine of mountains that are roughly in the middle of the Atlantic. Most of them are under the water, but HELLO ICELAND.

And so that’s what I saw and experienced.

Woah, in which I ended up with a Blog

In research, social media on July 18, 2008 at 4:23 pm


For a while I’ve thought, well I ought to have a blog.  But, you know, I have a busy job, and I figured that I don’t have time for a blog.  And then, a colleague of mine whose on a grand adventure decided to add me to her blog, and in so doing I signed up for wordpress, and clicked on that link that says “make me a blog”.  And here we are.

What will I write about?  I have no clue.

Will I write? I have no clue.

But we’re here, and it’s live, and well lets see what happens.