Thursday, September 30, 2010

Usable Security

One of the sessions I attended on Wednesday at GHC was a PhD forum. In this special type of session, three PhD students present their research in an hour, and the audience fills in feedback forms to give them suggestions and/or praise. It's a great opportunity.

The first presentation in this particular session was given by Laurian Vega, studying HCI at Virginia Tech. Her research is all about usable security, with a focus on day cares and doctor's offices. Although I'm not a security person by any stretch of the imagination, I found the topic quite interesting. (My friend Terri is also looking at usable security in her PhD research.)

Laurian is doing a qualitative study of security in the aforementioned settings by being an active observer of their everyday practices. One of the keys here in terms of security is that the users are members of communities, not individuals. And while it has been traditionally held that humans are the weakest link in security technology, neither Laurian and Terri buy it. Instead, they say that security is just not designed with user's mental models in mind.

One of the most interesting findings from the study was the reliance the practitioners have on paper records. They like the fact that the information is physically nearby. Some like that they can put more sensitive information near the back of a file where it's unlikely anyone else would look. The files can be closed and shredded. The downsides, however, include the fact that, according to some research whose source I can't remember, 41% of the time somebody is distracted they don't return to their task. This makes files left open vulnerable when whoever is reading them is interrupted.

Laurian's work will end before a concrete design is actually proposed. I am very interested in seeing what kind of technology would work well in these kinds of settings yet still be secure. I hope more security researchers become more willing to consider the human side of the security equation.

Terri also wrote about this session.

The Impact of the Grace Hopper Celebration

In addition to my own blog, I'm writing a few posts for the Communications of ACM blog about the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

From my first post:
This year's edition of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is officially underway, and you can almost taste the excitement. Last night I had the opportunity to speak with an external evaluator about my experiences with the conference in an effort to determine what kind of impact it really has. I quite enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on my role this year and the previous two years I’ve attended.
Read the rest of the post on CACM.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sight Seeing in Atlanta

I arrived in Atlanta on Monday for this year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The conference officially started on Tuesday night, so we had a bit of time to explore before registering. There's lots of great stuff we wanted to see, but settled on the Atlanta History Center.

On the grounds are two old buildings that you can tour. The first we went to was at the old farm house.

Grace Hopper 2010-10

I found this tour pretty fascinating because my husband Andrew and I own an old farm house as well, and it turns out that the style of house found in rural Georgia in the mid 1800's is a lot like ours. The clapboard exterior matched exactly, and they had pine floors, just like us. One of the noticeable differences, however, was that their windows had a grid pattern and were thus likely made out of smaller panes of glass put together. Our windows (still original!) have just one large pane of glass for the whole upper or lower part.

We had fun posing in the kitchen outbuilding.

Grace Hopper 2010-13

After that tour, we headed to the Swan House. It's a fancy house built in 1928 in the style of an old English country home. It's massive with columns! It's very ornate inside too, where photography was not allowed. A little too ornate in some cases. Neat to see the original showers from the 20's though - apparently they thought that washing your dirt away was more sanitary than sitting in it. Makes sense to me.

Grace Hopper 2010-20

Other than that, we took a quick look at the Abraham Lincoln special exhibit that showcased a collection of original documents related to his life and presidency, and learned about the Civil War.

You can click on any of the above images for a larger view, and see the whole collection of my Atlanta and Grace Hopper shots here (I will be adding to them over the course of the week).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Who I Want to Meet at Grace Hopper

A great way to gear up for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is to decide what your goals are for when you get there. This year, for the first time, I actually have some specific types of people I want to meet, so this is what I'm going to focus on.

I recently got some business cards printed. I designed them to look like my website, and I gave myself the tagline "computer scientist, educator, blogger." Right before they arrived in the mail, I heard that I was eligible to get a free Poken to use at the conference, since I'm a student. I'm pretty excited about the Pokens (I already set up an account and installed their iPhone app), but I'm actually still excited about my business cards. I think I will try to use both together. The Poken will be a convenient way to collect online profiles of people I meet, but the business card should help the people I give it to remember me a little better.

Ninja Poken
Credit: Ninja Poken / karola riegler photography

(I'm inspired by Cate's use of CC-licensed Flickr photos in her blog posts and am going to try to be more fun and do the same!)

Now that I've started the second year of my PhD, I know what my main thesis topic will be: educational games and augmented reality. I don't know what my exact project will be. I have a few ideas, and a research project that I've been working on lately in the realm of AR should really help ground my final choice. I figure that if I get the chance to meet some others in games, AR, and HCI in general, I might get some cool new ideas! So that's who I'll be looking for.

If you're interested in education, games, and/or augmented reality, and want to meet up, I'd love to set up a time to chat with you! I'll be in Atlanta from Monday until Sunday. Contact me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts on Writing My First CHI Paper

I've been working on a paper for CHI2011, one of the (or the?) top conferences in human computer interaction. I'm aiming really high with this and know full well that it's a competitive conference that I can't expect to get into on my first attempt. The way I see it is that I have a 100% chance of not getting in if I don't even try, and if I do get rejected, I'll hopefully receive feedback useful for the next iteration of the paper no matter where I plan to submit it next. Plus, this goal encourages a much better paper than I might have written otherwise, because we're not going to submit something we know isn't good enough for CHI.

To make things even harder on myself, it's the first time I've ever written a paper like this one. I'm proposing that designers use a certain set of useful cognitive theories when creating augmented reality (AR) systems. These theories are also useful for explaining why AR is good and to influence the design of user studies, but for this paper I'm concentrating just on design. It's a theoretical paper, and I don't know how well received it will be by CHI reviewers. But more interestingly, I only learned about cognitive science in a class I took in the fall. After all, I'm a computer scientist and we don't usually talk about these things.

Because I am somewhat out of my element on this paper, I have been noticing a few things that I didn't really think about when writing previous papers. For instance, going through a few iterations has been key. I always get a little stressed before the next meeting to go over issues, but I'm usually relieved by the fact that a lot of the missing elements are things I've had inside my head but not managed to get out onto paper yet.

One of the things I was constructively criticized for was not being assertive enough in my statements. Especially in this type of paper where the contribution is not experimental results, I need to be less afraid to say with confidence that "this is the way it is." At least, that's how I'm interpreting the advice; we'll see how well I can incorporate it as I start my next iteration.

A related issue I've been struggling with is how much I can say without citing something to support it. For example, I want to just describe what I think AR is, but I have been limiting myself to saying it in a way that others have said it. It's kind of stifling so for my next iteration I'm going to try to allow myself more freedom, and see what the others think. I can always backtrack.

With just a week left before the submission deadline, I'd welcome any advice on a such a paper for CHI. With very open arms. Please and thanks. ;)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CompSci Woman: Technology is Women's Work

Have you seen the new CompSci Woman blog yet? No? Well get over there and check it out! And better yet, if you happen to be female and have any kind of computer science background, consider contributing to the blog as well.

I just wrote up my piece for this month's theme on "how I got into computer science." It's called Behind the Screen:

I once considered attending a local specialized high school called Canterbury. It’s an arts school, and I wanted to attend for creative writing. After all, I had won a writing contest or two in my day, so I thought I was pretty good at it.

Unfortunately, the bus ride was far too long from my rural home, so I never went. Fortunately, I never let go of my creative side, which also included a love for drama, music, and now photography.

You'll have to read the rest of the story over at the blog.

Cate Huston is one of the two creators of CompSci Woman (Maggie Zhou is the other). Cate shared some of the "why" behind it all:

What brought it home so strongly, how hard it had been to be a minority, is that at the time I wasn’t. Extreme Blue Canada had an amazing number of women in the program this year. There was a girl on every team - two on some, including the team I was on. It was noticeable compared to the US teams at expo - Canada had exceeded the magic ratio, at which the women were not minorities, but normal.

It was different for Maggie, who was one of two women in her building. We talked about this - we had very different coping strategies. Towards the end of the summer, I floated the idea of a blog to her - the natural next step from the many conversations we had that summer. We thought that whilst you might not want to brand yourself as a woman in CS (every woman in CS I know is so much more than that, perhaps it’s like evolution, only the most awesome/stubborn/motivated/interesting survive), you could brand a platform, provide a forum for women who don’t have the time, or inclination to run their own blog. Maggie was excited by the idea as well, and we started to sketch out a vision and pitch (EB gave us a lot of practise in that) our idea to people. They were interested. They promised to blog for us. CompSci Woman was born, although unnamed.

With your help, we can build a platform, and a community. Because more people means more mentors, and more role models, and more inspiration. And that - well, I hope it’s just the start.
Inspired? I hope so! Now get out there and write your piece! I'll look out for it in the next few weeks. ;)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to School (If You Ever Left)

Today is the first official day back to school, even though classes don't start until Thursday. I used to get very excited about this new beginning, but lately I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy it. That's because I never really left.

Still, I get to enjoy the hustle and bustle that is Frosh Week thanks to my involvement with CU-WISE. Tonight we have a booth at the clubs and societies fair, Carleton Expo. We'll be setting up our booth with some nice swag to give away and getting a bunch of new students to sign up for our mailing list. Tomorrow, a few of us will speak at the Faculty of Science orientation, where we will reach both males and females. A few others have already been involved with the special engineering events happening on campus.

It's a weird feeling, still being in school. Grad school is very different from undergrad, but it's still school. I still have at least three or four years of it, too. It's difficult to imagine leaving school for good simply because it's been so long. The longest I've been away was for my eight month co-op terms, and I can't even remember what that was like anymore. If I end up staying in academia when I graduate, I might never remember!

Anyway, I just wanted to wish everyone a happy back to school. If any of you are doing anything exciting or want to share how you feel about that first day back, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.