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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.

Entries in stress (3)



I'm not sure if this is normal, but one of my biggest fears about running studies with real live people is that when I come to process the data, they'll all have decided to just spoil the questionnaire rather than answer. This fear makes me leave the pile of questionnaires untouched for far longer than necessary while I fret. Processing them only normally takes about an hour, and immediately makes me feel better, but I procrastinate about it for ages.

I just processed the questionnaires from the online game. I have 15 questionnaires, almost completely filled out. I haven't run the stats yet, but I'm not really concerned. They look like an interesting set of data compared to either of the other games I've run, and as long as I can tell a story about the outcome I am not wedded to a particular idea. I mean, that's what research is all about, isn't it?

The 'almost completely' is interesting. A couple declined to tell me their age, and one chap didn't answer two questions. So now I have to make a decision on what to do with that. But that's ok. I have data. I have a comparable amount of data to the other two conditions. I can work with that.

What a relief!


Back above the parapet

After our lab group play session the work went kind of crazy for a bit there. I am slowly surfacing, coming out from the bunker, and preparing to stick my head back above the parapet and share what's been going on. 

Quite apart from the small(!!) matter of attending CHI and getting an application and subsequent paper in for DiGRA (more soon on both, promise), we had a substantial milestone for the game and project last Sunday (19th May). Last year we offered an extra-curricular activity in the middle of the STEPS summer school programme, where particpants could come and play the Green Revolution game. This year we offered the same activity, except this year we were using our game - African Farmer. 

Of course, this meant that all of the interface problems found by the lab group had to be reduced or (preferably) eliminated. Any back-end bugs had to be squashed with extreme prejudice. As much of the functionality that could be implemented had to be, and had to work and be straightforward. The very worst bugs we could tolerate needed to have a work-around. 

We had a major interface redesign after the first lab session, with money put aside to allow us to employ asilia to give us a consistent and much lovelier look and feel. That went brilliantly, but of course meant a reasonable chunk of time to put the new assets into the game. My model/view/controller separation was good, but nothing is going to protect you from a total asset change! On top of that, the bug-fixing and testing cycle was intense, particularly for the last two weeks before Sunday. As we cleared the most obvious bugs more insidious underlying issues became apparent, and slowly, slowly we got through those too. It wasn't a case of late nights and massive hours, just constantly working at a fairly intense level for the 9.30-5.30.

(I also got a cold after CHI. I had it for 2 weeks - a definite sign that I was pushing my system a little harder than comfortable!)

My poor partner had to put up with me being almost entirely unable to form coherent, completed sentences on Friday night. But we were pretty confident that the system would be robust enough at that point for Sunday. 

And you know what? It actually was. We had 15 participants in the end, working in 7 family groups. They came from all over the place, Africa, India, South America, and even the UK. After intros and so on we played for around 3, 3.5 hours, and got through 3 game years. It got a lot faster once we'd got through the first season, but even that first season the difficulties were mostly around decision-making and not our interface. 

At the end of the last cycle our project sponsor John lead the reflective discussion, and we honestly could not have paid for better results. They mentioned almost all of the learning points you could want, decisions around schooling, better understanding of why that didn't happen much, a feel for intensification and the importance of saving seed over providing the best possible diet all came up. What didn't come up was the interface. It disappeared, in exactly the way it ought to have. 

In short, it was more successful than I have ever dared to dream it could be. 

We possibly made it a little tough - more people died than we meant. There are things we could improve, things we might need to include for a fully featured game. The poor game manager at the moment needs to constantly manipulate the database directly, rather than work with the game interface. There's still one irritating occasional bug that needs a browser refresh to clear it. But over all, it worked, it was fairly solid, and it produced the kind of learning and reflection that the table-top games have always caused. 

The only thing I can compare my feelings at the end of the day to is finishing a marathon: exhausted, proud, pleased and a little bit startled to have got there. In reality I'm probably running a 50k (or 50 mile? Hopefully not) ultra, but at least the 26.2 has broken the back of it! 

(This would also be a great time to thank the lab group, who actually came back and played the game again for us and highlighted issues we would never have found without them. Thanks everyone!)


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.