I served as Student Volunteers Chair of OOPSLA 2006. People ask me what that means, and I've never been able to come up with a good answer. At least, not until today.
My job at OOPSLA was to enable it to happen. Me and my little army of Student Volunteers were there to keep the conference ticking smoothly. When we ran out of tutorial notes, it was my students who hung out at Kinko's making copies. When there was an error in the final program, it was my students who stood outside the doors of the main keynote, ready to hand out sheafs of paper with the correct information to the attendees. We scheduled the Birds-of-a-Feather meetings. We pointed people in the right direction when they were lost. We even sold our grey fleece vests to attendees who wanted them but couldn't buy them.
My job at OOPSLA is also to enable people to come together. I took some of my students out for pizza and beer on Friday night before the conference and just let them talk: about grad school, about getting publications, about the jobs they might like after graduation. I introduced students to each other when I knew that their research interests matched up. I attended the research talks that my students gave, and gave them feedback about their talk. I checked out each of my students' technical posters, and pointed them towards other people at the conference who might be interesting. I encouraged each of them to talk to people during the conference: talk to the guy sitting next to you in the keynote session, talk to random people during the receptions, don't be afraid to introduce yourself to a speaker or presenter and ask questions.
I have to admit that OOPSLA was a rough conference for me. The number of problems that I had to handle was uncountably infinite. By Monday afternoon, I was on a first-name basis with the guy at Kinko's, and we had placed bets on what my final copy bill would be. (We both lowballed it.) Thursday morning, we had to evacuate the convention centre, losing about an hour out of the day. Afterwards, my students bought cookies and chips for one of the presenters who was concerned that the people attending his talk would get hungry and leave. In all of the years that I've been involved with the OOPSLA SV programme, this was the one at which I worked the hardest during the conference.
But, you know what? It was absolutely worth it. I got to watch my students make friends with their fellow volunteers. I got to listen to them debating geek topics. They played tetrinet in the SV room during our quiet times. They took my advice and talked to the other attendees of the conference, beginning to build their own professional networks. I tried to stay out of their way and just let it happen. I hope that I was successful.
I got really lucky with the programme this year, and somehow was blessed with a hard-working and really smart group of students who were willing to help me make the conference work. This group of students was the best group of student volunteers that I've ever seen.
Now that OOPSLA 2006 is over, it's time to start working on OOPSLA 2007. I'm handing off the reigns of the Student Volunteer programme to someone else, and am taking over as Posters Chair. I have to admit that I'm somewhat ambivalent about this: on one hand, I'm really happy to take a larger technical role at the conference; on the other, I'm going to miss working with the students and enabling them to do really cool things. I hope that I continue to see them at OOPSLA in the future, submitting technical content and moving our field forward.
I put out a call on this blog last week to help me find some users who are Entourage and PowerPoint users. I had lots of responses, and as of right now, that particular study is filled. I want to thank all of you for reading that post, responding to it if you fit my needs for that study, and forwarding it on to people who you thought might be interested. That was immensely helpful to me, and I look forward to meeting those of you who will be participating in the study next week.
I'd like to remind you that you can always sign up to participate in usability studies. Whenever I make a study request, we always start with the people who have already signed up. If you signed up some time ago and some of your information has changed (your address, your phone number, your email address, or the products that you use -- for example, you've started using PowerPoint since you filled out that page), please use that form to update your information.
One of the problems about working for Microsoft is that people assume that I know everything that's happening in the rest of the company. I really don't. I honestly haven't even looked at Vista yet. I keep on telling myself that I should install it on the Windows box in my office (which I access via RDC and use it to set up my travel and submit my expenses), but I keep on not getting around to it.
So when an OOPSLA attendee came up to me yesterday and asked about MSNBC's support of the Mac, I had to say that I didn't know. He told me that he'd been on MSNBC and noticed that the videos were in Flash. I checked it out, and he's right. The video page says that it's a beta, and I haven't looked to see if this is happening on both Windows and Mac, but at least I can view videos on MSNBC now. Yay!
Ahh, OOPSLA. The week in October where I stop sleeping and eating.
Today is day two of my personal OOPSLA, but it's actually two days before the technical programme starts. I'm the Student Volunteers Chair this year, so most of my work comes early in the conference. Yesterday, I had about 20 students helping me get the registration materials ready for attendees, and then handing out the registration materials in the afternoon. Today, it's more registration, plus the tutorials and workshops started today. We do most of the tutorials/workshops before the conference begins so that attendees don't have to choose between attending the tutorials/workshops and attending the technical programme.
The thing that I love about making the Student Volunteers programme happen is giving students from around the world the opportunity to meet each other and meet the top minds in this particular piece of computer science. I have a small army of students who help me make this conference happen. My students come from universities in New Zealand, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, China, Brasil, Russia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, South Korea, Israel, Slovenia, Mexico, and the US. Even my US students come from all corners of the country: Oregon (these are my local students), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee, Nebraska, Maryland, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, North Carolina, Michigan, Georgia, and California. 16 countries, and 14 American states. That's pretty nifty.
And my students are just fantastic this year. Several of them are presenting technical content during the conference: papers, posters, workshops. I'm immensely proud of them.
I might blog from OOPSLA later in the week. I caught a quiet few minutes now, so thought that I would just publicly say how much my students rock. This is especially true for the student who brought me chocolate from New Zealand (which is what prompted someone else to make the comment that is the title of this blog).
Edited to add: This study has now been filled. Thanks for signing up!
I know that I’ve asked our readers to participate in our usability studies before. I have a very specific need this time, and I’m hoping that you can help me out.
I’ve got an upcoming usability study that covers new features in both Entourage and PowerPoint. Thus, I need users who use Entourage at least once per week and PowerPoint once per month. This study will be conducted at our lab in Mountain View, California in early November. If this describes you and if you're in the area, fill out this contact form and use 'usability study' as the subject. If this doesn’t describe you but does describe a friend, please direct them to this post. :)
In exchange for about two hours of your time, you get to help shape the future of our Macintosh products, and see new features and the new UI of Entourage and PowerPoint. You will also receive a Microsoft software or hardware gift of your choice, such as Office:Mac 2004, Microsoft's new Mac-only keyboard, an Xbox 360 game, or several other things (even Windows Office 2003, if you'd like to give it to a friend).
If you have questions, you can email me.
This was cross-posted to Mac Mojo. Sorry for the cross-posting, but I really need users who fit this profile. :)
I'm probably going to be incommunicado for the next week or two. I'm in Redmond right now for some training and a couple of big meetings. On Friday, I fly to Portland to attend OOPSLA (and if you're coming to OOPSLA, say hi! -- the students who are working at the Info Booth will always be able to track me down), and I'll be there through the following Friday. I'll get back into my office in SVC on Monday. I might find some time to blog about OOPSLA while I'm there, but I make no promises.
In my OOF  message, I included a quote from Neil Gaiman. Sadly, it's not quite having its intended effect, since I'm getting people responding to my OOF message saying that they love Neil or think that my quote is funny. So here's the quote:
If you're reading this and I owe you an e-mail, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. There's a host of you. Cohorts. Legions, even.
 OOF stands for Out Of Facilities. I'm always amused to hear people say in meetings, 'I'm going to be OOF next week'. But I use the acronym too, so I can't really complain.
You know what else rocks about working in MacBU? The cheesecake. Seriously. And every October, I'm guaranteed a piece of it. Learn more about it in my post at Mac Mojo: trash talkin'.
I’m a heavy instant messaging user, and always have been. I started back in my first undergrad, when I got an account on my college’s VMS system. It was quickly discovered that you could write to someone else’s terminal, and we used that a lot like you’d use an instant messenger today. In 1996, ICQ came out, and I quickly hopped on board, using it to keep in contact with friends and family around the world. It was the coolest thing ever. I haven’t let up ever since. I’ll even admit to sending an IM to someone when I’m sitting in the same room as they are. (Sigh.)
I’ve noticed that, even though IM clients have gotten a lot more fully-featured, I just don’t use all of these extra features. At heart, I’m a text girl. If you ever chat with me, you’ll find out that the most advanced thing that I use is a smiley, but I really only use two (the basic smiley and the sticking my tongue out at you).
Earlier this week, I was talking with one of my MacBU co-workers about this. He laughed and agreed with me. He’s got a sibling living overseas and another in Chicago. They all got webcams and said that they’d video chat all the time. It’s never happened. Why is that?
After talking, we agreed that it was two things. First of all, a video chat seems like it’s asking a lot out of the other person. If I send a text message to someone and they don’t respond immediately, I assume that they’re busy or not at their computer. If I call someone and get voicemail, it’s just not a big deal. But video chat somehow feels ... I don’t know, bigger maybe.
The other issue is one that I hesitate to admit to, but everyone probably knows this already. If I’m IMing with you, I’m probably multitasking. It’s exceptionally unlikely that I’m sitting with Messenger open waiting breathlessly for your next message. Likewise, with a phone call, it’s possible for me to multitask too. (This is the only way that I maintain my sanity when talking to my mom. Do I really need to know what Oprah was wearing today?) The only way that my desk gets cleaned is because I’m digging my way to the bottom of the stack of papers on it while I’m on the phone. But I can’t do that during a video chat. The video chat has to have my 100% undivided attention. I can’t work, I can’t surf the web, I can’t clean my desk.
So I just don’t do it. I wonder if the first reason would go away if I were to just get in the habit of video chatting. Maybe it only seems big and invasive because I don’t do it. But the second ... oh, that second one is the deal-breaker. Does my mom really need to know how many times I roll my eyes during our conversations? (Even worse, does my manager?) (That’s a joke, boss!)
I just go for the basics. There’s nothing that I do in an IM client that I couldn’t do back in my VMS days. Okay, the IM client gives me a graphic smiley instead of my colon-bracket one, but I could easily live without that. Maybe my IM usage goes back to those days, in using text and only text to get my message across. If I had begun IMing when there were more advanced features, would they be a part of my standard usage?
I’m going to add a huge disclaimer here. What I am writing here is in absolutely completely 100% unrelated to any MacBU work on Messenger. This isn’t intended as a justification of not having AV support in Messenger yet. I’m only exploring my own use of IM, and being a little bit afraid to realise that I’ve got IM conversation histories that are 10 years old. I'm not about to say that my use is representative of anyone's use other than my own (and maybe the colleague that I was discussing this stuff with, but I wouldn't even go that far).
Warm up your downloading engines. It's update time!
Messenger got an update to solve the login problems that some users were experiencing. If you're interested in learning more about this issue and what we did to solve it, you can read Mary's post about it at Mac Mojo.
Office:Mac also gets an update while we're in the updating mood. Office:Mac 2004 is now 11.3.0, and Office:Mac X is now 10.1.8. Both of these include security and stability fixes.
As always, you can download the latest and greatest on Mactopia, or you can go to Help->Check for Updates.
Book title: Innummeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences
Author: John Allen Paulos
The problem that resulted in this book is far-reaching: the public simply doesn't understand mathematics. Statistics, ranging from a 10%-off sale to the sort found in opinion polls, are unfathomable to the general populace. Probability, especially in the context of gambling, is understood by only a scant handful of people. The list of misunderstood mathematics is nearly endless.
In the first few chapters of the book, Paulos describes various issues that the innumerate (that is, those who don't understand numbers and math) often have issues understanding. He describes the issue to a reasonable level of detail, then derives answers for them. Don't let the use of the word 'derive' scare you off: the answers are readable and readily understandable to a general audience. In some cases, if you're really rusty, you might need to read them a second time to grasp the solution.
Later chapters, however, are not written for the innumerate. They are attempts to convince the reader that mathematical education needs to be improved. I think that everyone agrees that education should be improved, but he offers suggestions that are impractical or nonsensical.
Ultimately, the problem of this book is a lack of focus. Paulos could have written either a book that tackles basic mathematical issues that the general public doesn't understand, or he could have written a book that describes the consequences of innumeracy. He tried to do both, and stuffed both topics into a single slim volume. In doing so, he shortchanges both audiences. The result is a book that is good, but does not fully address the needs of anyone.
For me, this book was preaching to the choir. I have a maths degree, which I put to use more than I ever imagined. I am consistently amazed, and disappointed, to find out how many people cannot (or have convinced themselves that they cannot) perform basic mathematics. I am especially disappointed by the number of people who distrust statistics, but don't know how to evaluate the statistics that are presented to them. Questioning statistics is an excellent exercise, but simply questioning them because they are statistics and not questioning them on their
content or the methods used for reaching them is nothing short of ignorant.
personal website of John Allen
Paulos (complete with annoying animated gif of rotating dice)
archive of Paulos'
monthly 'Who's Counting' column for abcnews.com
Amazon's page about this book