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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.



I got a workshop paper accepted at CHI! Looks like I'll be attending the workshop for Designing and Evaluating Sociability in Online Games

I'm pretty excited. I've really enjoyed the conferences I've been to so far, particularly the workshop I attended at Fun and Games. This looks like it's right in my area, so I'm bound to get some interesting (possibly painful? I'm trying to see it all as useful, good or bad) feedback. It will be good to meet people working in this area too. 

Of course, then I looked at the price of the conference. Oooooch. That's the bit people don't mention so much. Still, academia and research demand publishing, conferences are the best way to meet other academics, it needs to be done. So the money will be found, the Eurostar will be booked, and accomodation will be sorted. At least I'm on the right continent for this one! 

(Probably not looking at staying in the campsite in the Bois de Boulogne in late April - tent and Brompton might be a cheap option, but there are limits.)

But yay! CHI! 


Thesis tech

I started trying to write my thesis.

That sounds pretty big and scary right there, especially as I only have half my data at the moment. Still, half my data means I can write a good chunk of thesis, and there's no time like the present to get going.

This means that I sat down and thought about what tech I want to use, given my "writing process" (ha!). I know I like to have a choice of writing locations, and I like using IAWriter on my iPad. I know I don't particularly get on with Scrivener (still not entirely sure why, I think it's the formatting difficulties as much as anything else). I also know I don't want to work on one looooooooong document. I want to be able to send individual chapters to my supervisor, and deal with the responses in a single place (again, I had problems doing this with Scrivener). I also know that my supervisor likes to read and comment on PDFs on her iPad.

What I've finally hit upon is the following: 

  • I'm going old skool, and learning LaTeX. I'm used to HTML and CSS, how hard can this markup be? (Actually, as I've started already "not very" seems to be the answer.)
  • I have an unofficial LaTeX template, and I'm creating separate tex files for each chapter. I add a start and end bit to each document that I can comment out when I want to compile the entire thesis, or leave in to compile each chapter. It's 3 lines.
  • I'm sticking that in a Dropbox folder. Instant backup, plus easy access in IAWriter.
  • And in GoodReader, so when I've compiled on my desktop I can instantly get access to the finished PDF on my iPad to show someone, or email it on if needs be.

This seems to be working for me so far (although granted I'm only 3 pages in). It separates out the writing from the look - I can stick in the markup knowing that it will look ok eventually, and it's semantic enough for me to read it in text form. Equally, reading back and editing seems to be best done from a compiled version. I'm a programmer, I'm used to that kind of set up.

I was sort of thinking I'd wind up testing this on one of the main sections, having seen advice to leave the intro and conclusion to the end. But my supervisor actually suggested starting with the intro, because that kind of sets the framework for what you're doing throughout. You can always go back and edit if your analysis doesn't match. The conclusion should end up mirroring the intro, apparently. We'll see when I get there! I don't imagine for a minute that the rest will be done in order.

Today I used my setup to write up until a meeting with my supervisor, take the latest version in to talk about, get feedback and go back to writing on my desktop almost seamlessly. Fingers crossed it continues to be (technologically speaking) that straightforward throughout!


Weak weekly reviews

Hm. My weekly reviews have gone again, haven't they?

I've been a little busy, a little focused on finishing the code and horribly aware that it hasn't happened yet. In fact, my reaction in our weekly lab meeting when someone suggested attending an event which really does sound right up my research alley (as it were) demonstrates that I'm more than a little tense about it all.

In fact, I'm willing to hazard a guess that that's part of the reason the reviews have dried up. I am desperately not thinking about the work when I get home, and that is normally when I write my weekly review post.

So, what's been happening? I got my second set of data a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't had time to deal with it yet. I think that's making me nervous too. What if the data is no good? (By which I don't mean it doesn't show what I want it to, I mean what if it is incomplete or not enough?) I still haven't learnt to use SPSS or any other stats package, or really feel I've gained any insight into which stats tests I should be doing and what they really tell me either, so what to do with the data to process it? I've not done any writing for weeks. I've written a mountain of code, but it doesn't feel like the outstanding amount is diminishing so focussing on what I've done isn't really helping.

The project sponsor (who has no understanding of software development at all) is expecting a game yesterday. That's bothering me somewhat.

And although I'm enjoying the effect of having more organised lab meetings and I'm proud of the lab blog, I'm starting to resent the time and the apparent assumption of the rest of the group that I will therefore organise everything. (I suspect they may not really think that! But no, I will not organise Christmas, and no, I don't have a solution for the lab calendar...)

I've just written a 2-page to do list. With a bit of luck that will at least help me to feel slightly less anxious at any rate. We'll see.


That was week 104

Getting this one in just before week 105 starts. 

A lot more code written this week. The tasks are really getting there. There are a few more to add, but the system itself is now mostly in place. So I've moved on to sorting out the weather. 

I've got a bit of an issue with where and how I keep the hard-coded data that might eventually change. So the crop details, for example, or the weather and the effect it has in each season on each crop. Or the seasons themselves, and which tasks get done when. The approach I've taken for the tasks and seasons and I'd like to take for the weather is to have an abstract class defining the list and the item (e.g. a SeasonList and a Season). I then override these classes with the game-specific versions (e.g. CoreEarlyRainsSeason and CoreSeasonList). These are hard-coded with the right details, but wouldn't take much work to change out to use different seasons (or tasks). 

With the crops (and all the game assets) I did that earlier on in the process, and stored the details in the database. In some ways this is neater, because they use the same hibernate code structure as everything else. In other ways this is harder to change if the game assets were to change in other extensions to the game. I'm not going to have time to go back and alter this now, so it stands. But it's causing me some thought now, as the weather spans the two different types of code I have in place. 

I know that sometimes getting something in place is the most important thing, and code structure can always be altered. I still spend what feels like too much time agonising over it though! 

Other than that we had a lab meeting on Tuesday, with Judith reprising a talk she gave at AWARE in Edinburgh. Katy successfully defended her thesis in her viva, so we had to have a little champange on Wednesday. Edgar brought in a cheese fondue on Tuesday for us all to share, and Jim has had a really bad cold that is quite similar to the one I had (which makes me feel a little guilty). 

I did more exercise, but didn't feel too bad for it. So fingers crossed from here on it should just get easier. Let's hope!


That was week 102 & 103

I'm getting bad at doing this weekly, huh? Problem is that I'm mostly writing code at the moment, which is feeling quite tedious. That in itself is a problem though, so it's time to show myself I'm a) making progress and b) doing other things too.

I have made a lot of progress actually. Using trello.com I can see that I have created and closed a lot of issues, even if more do keep cropping up. I now have most of a task system in place, and adding a new task type is taking less time each time I do it. There are still a few things to sort out in a general way (e.g. at the moment you can't delete a task you've created, you can only edit it), but the framework into which I can slot my tasks is nearly there. In addition to that I've sorted out one of my long-running "I must sort that" bits, and mouseover texts finally appear on top of everything! Sounds small, but it's important.

I've started getting organised for my next study, for which I'm hoping to use a game that would be taking place anyway. It's now all good to go... If she can find enough players. On the positive side I will get more data from this one, but at the moment we're still 10 players short apparently. Fingers crossed.

The lab meetings started again, and I got the first meeting all written up. Pejman and I tried to sell the rest of the group on trello.com, but there was some resistance. There did seem to be a need to find something to replace the online booking system for the lab though, so maybe at a future meeting we should look at that. 

I do seem to be well at the moment (and fingers crossed I haven't just brought the worst cold eve down on myself), which means I'm bumping up the exercise again. I'm trying not to over-do it, but I think it might help so I probably am pushing it a little. Lots of early nights to balance it I think. Jim has a stinking cold, so I'm desperately hoping I don't catch it!