Category Archives: social
…after an overlong gap…
I haven’t written a blog post here in more than three months. Zowie. I can’t say I’ve been any busier than usual, so I really don’t have any excuse. But a lot has happened since my last post. Here are the highlights.
At the CHI 2014 conference (Toronto, late April – early May) I participated in the Doctoral Consortium, two days of discussion with 13 other PhD students (there were supposed to be 15 of us in total but one couldn’t make it) and six “faculty” members who gave us feedback and other useful information. Most of the presentations were excellent, I thought, and I got some very useful and valuable feedback on mine. Each student had a principal “discussant”, who began the conversation after the student’s 20-minute presentation/summary; after the discussant’s comments the other faculty members gave their feedback, and sometimes other students asked questions or offered comments as well. Each of us took notes for one of the other students. My discussant was Bill Buxton, and his first comment just delighted me: “I had all sorts of questions from reading your submission, but in your presentation you answered them all.” He did go on to make some suggestions for things I might consider, as did the other faculty members. More than one of them sent me emails with suggested readings.
Then there was the rest of CHI. Other than hearing interesting talks and seeing people I care about and don’t get to see elsewhere, the best part was meeting, quite by accident, Nathan Matias of the MIT Media Lab, who is interested in digital pilgrimage (a type of techno-spirituality, no?) and who expressed interest in collaborating with me on such a project. We have yet to set up a time to have a more in-depth conversation about it, but I am confident that the mutual interest is there.
Here’s my PowerPoint presentation to the doctoral consortium. I’ll upload my submission later.
Visit to USA
After CHI, since I was already on the west side of the Pond, I took myself down to the States to visit family (North Carolina) and friends (Maryland, mostly, but also other parts of the DC area). This time I stayed in an AirBnB room — I didn’t want to burden people I’d stayed with before, and almost everyone else I know well enough to ask for hospitality has cats (to which I am, sadly, allergic). I met with my accountant and got my 2013 taxes straightened out. I had dinner(s) with some close friends. I went to CSC Headquarters to talk about how I might fit into the reorganized group to which I have been assigned. And I conducted interviews for my PhD research. I came back to the UK with eleven new recordings and some really good data. (I am still transcribing them.)
Northumbria Research Conference
In late May I gave a shorter version of last year’s DPPI talk, “Meditations on YouTube” at the two-day Northumbria Research Conference. At this venue the technology wouldn’t cooperate and so I couldn’t play clips of the videos, but I think it went OK.
Scottish Unitarian Association
I had been invited to lead the service at the end of the Scottish Unitarian Association’s annual general assembly (I think that’s what they call it), so I drew on what I’ve been learning about awe and wonder in my reading of literature on spiritual/numinous/transcendent/peak experiences and made it about awe and wonder. People said they liked it and it gave them something to think about, so I’m happy. (I will be giving a slightly longer version to the Newcastle Unitarians in October.)
I took an extra couple of days and explored Dundee, where the meeting was held. I stayed with a member of the Dundee congregation, and I feel I’ve made a new friend. She told me I have “a very Scottish face” — a wonderful compliment to receive from a native. (I have noticed that Scots tend to treat me as a native [until I open my mouth, of course :-)], but it’s nice to hear it expressed outright. Now, if Scotland would just go independent and relax their immigration policies to include anyone who can prove Scottish ancestry within the last 300 years… (I do have a Gaelic surname, after all!)
NordiCHI paper accepted
Just before CHI, my supervisor and I had submitted a paper to the NordiCHI 2014 conference*, to be held in Helsinki, Finland, in late October. About the end of June, we received word that it had been accepted! Mark is first author on this paper and we don’t know who will be going there to present it, but I do hope it’s me. (He agrees, but it’s not entirely up to the two of us, so we’ll see. Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed!) The paper is called “Chatbots of the Gods: Imaginary Abstracts for Techno-Spirituality Research” (Mark is truly a genius at writing titles), and it combines our work on imaginary abstracts (a type of design fiction) and techno-spirituality with the treatment of spirituality and religion in science fiction. Here’s the abstract:
This paper reflects on the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI) with techno-spirituality and science fiction (SF). We consider science fiction treatments of spirituality, religion and “the numinous” — a mysterious presence that evokes fascination, awe and sometimes dread — as stimulus for exploring techno-spiritual design through “imaginary abstracts”, a form of design fiction. We present an imaginary abstract — a summary of a paper that has not been written about a prototype that does not exist — to explore possible user reactions to an artificial intelligence system that provides spiritual advice drawn from diverse sacred texts as relevant to the user’s question. We argue that SF is a valuable resource for creating design fiction and may help HCI build a vocabulary for techno-spiritual experiences.
We got some excellent feedback from our three reviewers (I totally adore informed, thoughtful reviewers!) and are now preparing the camera-ready version, which is due next Monday. I’ll post a link to that when I am allowed to provide the publication version (with ACM copyright notice and all).
Tallis Scholars Summer School 2014
Earlier this month I spent a week in the East Midlands of England, in a picturesque and charming town called Uppingham, to spend a week singing the music of (mostly) Thomas Tallis and Willliam Byrd, composers of the middle and late 1500s. This was my second year there, and as I had last year I enjoyed it greatly. On the Friday, the last evening of our week there, we went to Lincoln to sing evensong at Lincoln Minster Cathedral, where Byrd had served as organist for several years. Here are my photos of the cathedral.
*I make no apologies for NordiCHI 2014’s illegible logo.
In other words, the rest of this trip to London
After leaving the embassy I was tired, and I also wanted to get my cell phone back, which meant picking up my bag at King’s Cross. I didn’t want to lug my bag around or pay yet another £9 to store it while I gallivanted around town, so I just went to the home of the friends who were putting me up, and I had a very nice rest-of-the-afternoon and evening in congenial company.
Friday was the day of the seminar on usability in government systems that my book co-editor and I were giving at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design at City University, (and the reason for my trip to London). She and I were meeting at 11 to get the last bits of our act together before having lunch with one of our chapter authors (a Reader* in the department) and then doing the seminar. I left my friends’ house in what I thought was plenty of time, but I had not counted on the complexity of the streets around the Centre, and I got lost. Google Maps on my phone was no help, either. I asked directions of a couple of people and phoned Dianne a couple of times, and finally (after I was close) I asked the driver of a small truck. He definitely knew. :-) At that point I found myself thinking how fortunate I am to live within a 20-minute walk of downtown in my city (and less from my university), and how London might have its appeal but this commuting thing would get old very quickly.
The seminar itself went fairly well, I thought, although it would have been nicer to have had more participation from the attendees. But we were told afterward that, except for a few staff, they were mostly master’s students who had been there only about two weeks and were still finding their way around the program. Dianne and I sat in the break room and talked with HCID people for a while, and I mentioned to two of them that I felt a little strange there because they had made me an offer (for PhD funding) and I had chosen Northumbria instead. Simone just declared that I should “get over it”, and I grinned and replied, “Got it. Done!” George (the aforementioned chapter author and also the guy who would have been my supervisor had I done my PhD at City) and I made plans to go to dinner, and I spent the wait time working on a CHI paper review. At the end of the work day a few of us went to a pub before dinner, and a Twitter friend I had never met in person joined us. Much lively conversation was had! Then George and I went to a pleasant, fairly informal Italian restaurant where all the staff spoke Italian and the menu contained only one spelling/grammar mistake, and we talked until they put the “Closed” sign on the door.
Saturday was a day for sleeping late(ish) and working on CHI reviews. And not going out except to buy Chinese take-away dinner for all of us.
This morning I attended the service at Newington Green Unitarian Church, in north London. (That’s why I stayed over until this afternoon.) It was much more like UU services in the US than it was like the services at Newcastle Unitarian Church — plus it had 4-5 times the attendance and infinitely more children (none in the Newcastle congregation) — and I felt very much at home. I don’t know how much of the US-like nature is due to the minister’s being American (although he’s been with this church for seven years), but it seems to be working for them. I also floated with the minister the idea of giving my service there, and he expressed real enthusiasm.
As I was riding the bus from the Tube stop to the church and back, and also thinking about how much I had enjoyed Friday evening, I couldn’t help noticing (again) the appeal of living in London — commute or no commute, high rent or no high rent. I am seriously thinking I might live there while I finish writing my thesis. I don’t have to decide on this any time soon, of course, but it’s helping my mood to imagine it. London is a better social and cultural environment for a single woman my age, I think, provided she learns how to navigate and/or avoid the unsafe areas. Plus, early music. All that early music.
*Note to US folks: “Reader” is a UK academic position that is roughly equivalent to Associate Professor.
Recently I’ve been thinking about some of the advantages of starting a PhD as a “mature” student. (In the UK this means being over the age of 25, but my thoughts are about being well beyond that.) I have a long career in industry backing me up, in which I gained much knowledge and experience that I have found, for the most part, very beneficial in doing my academic work and that I know will help with teaching when I start doing that. I also have a certain level of confidence that I didn’t have 30-35 years ago.
Plus, I get senior discounts and free prescription medications. (This isn’t about being a student, admittedly, but it does help reduce the cost of doing what I’m doing.)
This morning a certain disadvantage was brought home to me. I attended a training session on how to become certified (not “accredited” as I wrote last night) to teach in higher education in the UK, and seated next to me was a very cute guy from Greece. Very cute indeed. Just my type, as well as warm and genuinely friendly; and the small-group activities gave us many opportunities to interact. If I had been half my age, I would have asked him out for coffee. I’m not half my age, though… and he is. So I just enjoyed the experience for its own sake, with a little wistfulness thrown in.
Several months ago I took a class on “public engagement and impact” of research at Northumbria. The university wants its research to become known to the public and to be useful to their lives. At this time I had already agreed to do a service on technology and spirituality at Newcastle Unitarian Church, and during this class I thought about how what they were saying could apply to that service.
A week ago yesterday, I gave the service. Attendance was slightly higher than usual, and the service was very well received. I was gratified to hear everyone’s comments. Almost immediately, the people who attended from the Stockton-on-Tees church invited me to give it there. Then yesterday we had a visitor from the Edinburgh church, and she said she’d bring it up to the committee on which she serves (which, if I understood correctly, is for the four Scottish congregations — Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and I think Aberdeen) and commented that Glasgow would probably be very interested, as they are more humanist than the other congregations and also have no minister of their own. I could do Edinburgh in a day (the train takes only 90 minutes and costs me less than £20 round trip), but Glasgow would give me a jumping-off point for a short trip to the Hebrides (I’m thinking Islay, although Mull would take less time). I need a peat fire.
I met briefly with my supervisor on Friday, and he asked how it went. He wanted to know what the service involved, so I quickly ran him through the readings, the guided meditation, and the sermon. When I mentioned that the sermon included a brief description of the kinds of techno-spiritual products that my research has found and explored so far, he exclaimed that I’ve started my public engagement.
Which of course I knew. :-)
Oh, and I have become a member of Newcastle Unitarian Church. I’ve been attending services regularly for eight months now, and I feel integrated into the congregation, tiny though it be — so a couple of weeks ago I decided to go ahead and apply for membership. Now I’m even more integrated. :-)
Just in case you may not have noticed (haha): I am a foreigner where I live. I’ve lived in the Newcastle area for seven months and a week, and in my flat for six and a half months. But I am not a British national; I am a foreigner. I can get lots of things that are offered to residents: a public library card, a visitor parking permit (I could get a resident’s permit if I had a car), and a pass for local transportation. And, by virtue of my status as a full-time student, I get free medical care from the NHS (which I consider I’m paying for in part with my international student tuition fees, as I’m paying the difference between the “home fees” charged to UK & EU students and the full “international fees” charged to all others). The UK doesn’t even hold my international status against me for prescriptions: I’m over 60, so I get my prescription medications at no charge.
I cannot vote.
Mind you, I’m not complaining about this. I’m not a citizen, and I don’t expect to have a say in how the country is run. This is normal and appropriate.
But how much should I expect to be able to express my opinion?
I’m pondering what seems like a gray area: What are my rights and responsibilities as a non-citizen temporary resident? What is appropriate for me to do as a member of the community? What should I avoid doing?
Herewith my thoughts:
Participating in neighborhood civic activities
About a month ago I participated in the Big Tidy-Up in my neighborhood. Organized by two of the Newcastle City Councillors for my area, it involved residents spending two hours one Sunday morning, picking up litter along the streets and back alleys where we live. I’m a civic-minded person with a pretty good community spirit, so I gave up my Sunday morning at Newcastle Unitarian Church and joined the good folk of Sandyford in this important project. I also figured I’d meet a few people and become more integrated in the community.
Now, I have no doubts whatsoever about the appropriateness of my joining the Big Tidy-Up. Although it was civic more than social, it was a right and good thing for me to do. But it doesn’t involve expressing any sort of opinion about governance.
Talking to political activists
Several times when I’ve been downtown I’ve encountered people promoting one issue or another. First it was women handing out leaflets urging people to help save the Newcastle Public Libraries. I told them I don’t have a voice in city government but I wished them all success in their efforts. Perhaps I could have joined in: I do after all have a library card, and if I were not a full-time student I’d be paying Council Tax. Maybe I will do so if this comes up again. I suppose this isn’t really so gray an issue.
Twice, however, I happened on demonstrations about immigration. The first involved people holding signs that said “Stop Immigration, Start Repatriation”. I wanted to ask them (with all due snark) if they wanted to send me back too, or if they were concerned only about people of color. Instead I took a photo of them and posted it on Facebook, with that comment. The second demonstration was called “Hope not Hate” (see photo at right) and was pro-diversity and apparently opposed to the racism of the other group. These people, I stopped to talk with; I had no disagreement with them (as far as I knew) and wanted to convey my support. After hearing about their goals from one of their reps, I told them I appreciated what they were doing and wished them all the best.
This past weekend the English Defence League (EDL) held a march in downtown Newcastle, and 1500-2000 people attended. The news article said they were opposed by a group of about 400 people from a group called Newcastle Unites. I don’t think I would have wanted to be around for that, but I admit to being curious. It’s one thing to make a big production of going to the National Mall for a huge march on Washington DC, and it’s another when I can get there by walking no farther than the distance from my house in Maryland to the Metro. I can’t see that I have any business participating in any such demonstrations, however; they are about national political issues and I definitely have no voice in those. But to watch from the sidelines might be interesting sometimes.
Expressing opinions on city governance issues
When I was talking to one of the Councillors (who belongs to the Labour Party, and I’m still uncertain what bearing that has on things), I expressed my reservations about expressing opinions about governance issues that affect the neighborhood. He replied that he represents the whole district, not just those who can vote, and said he would be happy to hear my views at any time. So we’ve talked about a few things, most notably the collection of recycling and household waste and the appropriateness of turning a partially vacant office building into 140-bed student housing. But those topics directly affect my quality of life as a resident of his jurisdiction, and I feel perfectly OK in taking him at face value wrt his representing us all.
OK, back to writing my paper. I will have something to blog about with respect to that, in a few days.
Tonight I went to my first rehearsal of the Cappella Novocastriensis (warning: dreadful website!), hoping to join. I had been told that the procedure was to attend a rehearsal and then have an informal audition afterwards. I had never seen any of this music before, and although I do read music I don’t do it quickly, so it usually takes me a few times of going over something before I’ve got it. But I managed to keep up, for the most part — largely by listening to the other woman on my part. I am singing First Alto in this concert because it’s what’s most needed this time, and the range of my assignments goes from low D (below Middle C) to F two octaves above that. Whew!
I asked the director afterward what he needed from me, and he said, “Nothing; I was watching you and you seemed to be keeping up pretty well, so I think you’ll do fine. I’m glad to have you.”
Yay! (Knowing the idiom of that kind of music makes all the difference.)
And then some of us went to a nearby pub. I’m so glad to have some social connections outside the University.
I will have to learn the names of the types of notes. Why in hell do they call a quarter note a “crotchet”? grumble, grumble
Also, I got my phone sorted out today, moving my iPhone to T-Mobile UK. I have unlimited Internet, unlimited phone calls, and unlimited texts, for only £21 a month. I won’t be allowed to call overseas with it for the first three months unless I pay a deposit, but I figure I’ll probably use Skype for that anyhow.
Posted in social