Since arriving at UW almost four years ago, I’ve been involved in student politics. I’ve not talked about it here as most of it is rather prosaic and, for those not at UW, largely irrelevant. Every now and then, though, something comes up which might be of wider interest..
In early May, GPSS, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, ran its second Science and Policy Summit, an event for academics, policy-makers, and the general public that looks at the interactions between scientific research and policy development. This year, we ran two panels, one on the impact of bioinformatics on preventive medicine, and the other on the role of science in public political discussion, focusing on the US Presidential debates. As well as the panels, we also ran a series of short talks, inspired by the TED model.
There were about 10 talks, 10 minutes each, delivered by a mix of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty, and of a very high quality. Here’s a few topics to whet your interest:
We recorded all of the talks, and they’ve now been posted to YouTube. They’re all rather interesting, and worth at least a look, even if the film quality isn’t all I’d hoped when I filmed them.
Spacey fun at the symphony last night, with Legeti’s Atmosphères and Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, both used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s Planets.
Atmospheres was subtle, relaxing, and almost entirely without melody – a piece for meditating to, if stark and slightly scary. I really needed that, as Thursday was just one of those days – at one point, I’d even been the target of a precision bombing run by a passing bird. Two things about this piece. Firstly, most recordings don’t do it justice, because it’s all about orchestral color, and that often just doesn’t come through. Secondly, it’s very quiet in places, which offers a great opportunity to really appreciate the inability of some people to simply sit still and be silent.
The opening of “Also Sprach ..”, unsurprisingly, did its best to shake my innards to jelly with awesome – the sheer weight of the music is that much more spectacular when you’re up close with full orchestra and pipe organ. Like most, I wasn’t too familiar with the rest of the piece, but I’m now inspired to fix that.
Sadly, no Blue Danube.
The Planets, being one of my favorite pieces, were up for more criticism than the rest. They played it alongside a sequence of photos and reconstructions from various space probes, many of which were awesome. Unfortunately, while most of the performance was serviceable, there were a number of missed notes in the lead brass portions in several movements. I also think the conductor stuck too rigidly to the meter in places, and as a result, certain sections came off a little mechanical and slightly too fast. That said, my reference performance was conducted by Karajan, and he’s famous for interpreting the meter and tone of a piece in his own way.
The idea is that if someone is warned of an imminent seizure in advance, say 20 minutes out, they can remove themselves from unsafe or embarrassing situations, take other precautions (lying down, perhaps), or take fast acting drugs that might stop it from happening. This is a big deal, as it helps the 30% or so of those suffering from the disease for whom conventional drug treatment doesn’t work. It may also allow some of those receiving drugs to come off them, reduce their dose, or shift to less effective drugs with fewer side effects. It might also help reduce the number of deaths from epilepsy-related accidents – 50,000 annually in the US, apparently.
The technology’s actually fairly simple. There’s three main parts, none of which appears to be particularly magical.
It’s in trials at the moment in Australia, and is apparently performing well, with no known associated adverse events.
Apparently, this all started out with Jaideep’s PhD research into the sensorimotor function of moths – he basically designed chips and implants small enough to put in a moth, then studied the different nerve signals associated with its wings as it flew. They also did trials of the epilepsy detection technology on dogs, as they also suffer from epilepsy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find copies of the cute pictures he showed in the talk.
If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a 5 minute video article from ABC News in Australia talking about it. It’s formatted a bit weird, so you might need to download it and switch to the second audio track in VLC.
Edit: Apparently the electrodes are implanted beneath the dura mater, but outside the arachnoid mater. So, between the second and third membranes that encase the brain.
I was completely unaware of this, but apparently cases of academic misconduct, as evidenced by the retraction of papers from journals and other publication venues, have been on the rise.
According to the article, retractions from journals in the PubMed database have increased by a factor of 60 over ten years, from 3 in 2000 to 180 in 2009. That’s insane!
What’s going on, then? I suspect one or more of the following:
One caveat: this result derives from PubMed, which primarily includes medical and pharmaceutical research, as well as some auxiliary technology and basic science. Does this pattern of misconduct apply in other fields, or is it particular to medicine?
Improved review processes are necessary, but it’s not clear how quickly change will come. Problems with peer review have been acknowledged for more than 20 years, with a report from 1990 showing that only 8% of members of the Scientific Research Society considered it effective as is. Despite this, in most venues, peer review functions the same way it always has.
There may be some movement, however. CHI, for example, includes the alt.chi track in which research is reviewed in a public forum before selection by a jury, which seems to offer a good compromise between open and free criticism, and peer-driven moderation. There’s also a special conference coming up entitled “Evaluating Research and Peer Review – Problems and Possible Solutions” – it was the Call for Papers for this that got me writing this post.
From my perspective, an ideal research review system would at least:
What else should a review system incorporate? How could such a system fail? Why might it not be adopted?
Update 2012-05-09: It’s not clear whether the aforementioned study relied on the same set of journals each year, or whether they used the full PubMed database each year. It’s probable that the PubMed mix has changed over the decade; for example, the NIH’s public access policy requiring publicly funded research be placed into PubMed was trialed in 2005, and made mandatory in 2008.
I spent Saturday at the HCI for Peace workshop representing the Voices from the Rwandan Tribunal project. It was fairly informal, with only 10 participants, which made it easy for everyone to participate in the discussion. Several participants presented projects they’ve worked on, including:
Also in attendance were Juan Pablo Hourcade, an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa and organizer of the event; Lisa Nathan, an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, co-PI on the Rwandan project, and a former student at UW; Daniela Busse, from Samsung Research; Daisy Yoo, a student and colleague of mine at UW also working on the Rwandan project, and Kelsey Huebner, an undergraduate assisting Juan-Pablo with running the workshop. Neema Moraveji, director of the Calming Technology Lab at Stanford, was not present, but gave a short presentation on his work in ‘calming technology’ via Skype.
As well as individual project presentations, we also discussed the place of HCI in peace-making, peace-keeping, and harmony. A number of points and questions were salient:
In the time available, it was impossible to come to any detailed consensus on these issues, and it was generally agreed that further thought and development would be necessary. Interactions magazine has offered us a spot as the cover article in an issue later this year, and we’re hoping that this will give us an opportunity to address these concerns in more depth.
All up, a fascinating and rewarding way to spend a day. Not to mention an excellent lunch and tasty pizza and conversation at the end of the day!
Took a break to play Jonas Kyratzes’ recent short game “The Fabulous Screech“.
It was very sweet, and characteristically humorous, but sad. Without wanting to spoil it for anyone, let me just say that anyone who owns a cat will be able to relate to the main character, the eponymous Fabulous Screech, a cat who runs a circus featuring trained humans. Who knew they could talk!
It won’t take more than 20 minutes to play, and though it’s point-and-click, it, like Jonas’ other Lands of Dream games, is the sort where clicking inspires curiosity, not frustration, as almost every visible feature in every scene is clickable, and every clickable feature is visible.
Anyway, go play it. And click on everything. God’s bookshelf is particularly interesting – I was not surprised to learn he’s a Carl Sagan fan, and it was moving to see how all the other gods sent him birthday cards like that – there might be a culture war here on Earth, but it’s nice that all the various deities can be above all that.
PS – for those who read my last post on patronage, Jonas operates under another variety of patronage that you might find interesting – for a small fee, he and his wife, Verena, create pages of an encyclopedia detailing the Lands of Dream, dedicated to and based on guidance from the contributor. I gave a while back, and got in return the World Mushroom, an entry that captures some of things I treasure rather excellently. For a little more, he’ll even frame and send you the original.
I’m feeling pretty jazzed at the moment about patronage as a funding model for creative endeavours.
It’s a pretty simple idea: instead of today’s dominant practice, where creative works are funded and owned by someone expecting to make money back from advertising or sales through a limited distribution channel, under patronage, creators fund their work by appealing directly to potential fans, asking them to put up funds in advance in return for various rewards and input into the work. Historically, patronage was widespread, and meant that artists, musicians, and philosophers gathered in the courts of sympathetic nobles to seek funding, lending their creativity to the glory of kings and emperors. In return, nobles gained prestige as patrons of the arts as well as substantial influence over the works created.
Today’s patronage models are a little different, in that they rely on a much more broader base of patrons. Instead of seeking out extremely wealthy individuals to fund entire works, creators can appeal to a worldwide audience through the internet, collecting many small contributions directly from the people who care most about their work. This is a good thing for creators and patrons alike:
It might be that patronage isn’t the best funding model for all creative works, but here’s a few examples where it’s been successful:
There are many more – these are just the few I’ve paid close attention to.
As traditional publishing industries that rely on firmly controlled distribution of hard-copy works continue to erode, it’ll be very interesting to see how patronage evolves. The fact that big box book stores are dying doesn’t mean people don’t want to read, and the collapse of newspapers has little to do with the public’s interest in the news. It’s just that the old business models are increasingly being undermined. I don’t foresee corporate creative endeavours going away, but I do expect them to become less dominant in the long term, and patronage seems a likely means of that happening.
Questions for comments:
While driving back from Akaroa this evening, I got to thinking about enjoyment and time, probably as a result of the flow that navigating windy roads always brings. It seems to me that you can think of enjoyable or otherwise positive experiences as existing in four possible temporal spaces:
Two short observations, then:
Played in Big Gaming Week 2011 this week, a gathering of friends now scattered around the world as part of the NZ diaspora, drawn home for Christmas and New Years. We’re in our eighth or so year now. In addition to the normal LAN, board, and RP games, we added a few things to line-up, including a big group brunch, a wine tasting (with games, of course), and Artemis, a 6 player starship bridge simulator. I had hoped to try a 24-hour game design activity of some kind, but it didn’t happened.
The wine tasting, though, worked out well. It grew from our inability to secure transportation for a Waipara trip, and ended up as a day long tasting in Tony’s living room.
All up, we had 14 bottles, of which 11 were tasted by all, one (a rosè) was consumed by Naomi and Steph during the whites tasting, with a little help from myself, another was corked, and the dessert wine got left too late. Hamish, now a professional wine blogger (thanks to the spectacular largess of Naomi & Tony), blogged tasting notes for reds and whites. I struggled throughout the day to put notes into CellarTracker, but the backwardness of the UI got in the way, and I eventually gave up to play Borderlands with Paula. Later, though, I discovered the beta-version of CellarTracker, whose interface is much improved, and put my notes together into what they call a ‘tasting story’, being basically a collection of notes structured into a write-up. Worked out quite well.
That CellarTracker is finally doing something about its user interface is really great news – it’s always been the most comprehensive wine tracking service out there, and being built and maintained by a committed wine-enthusiast who just wants to make a living building a tool that he loves, it’s likely to remain that way rather than settling into being ‘good-enough’ like many commercial systems end up doing once the user base and revenue streams are solid. I can now happily recommend it to others, provided you’re using the beta interface; if you’re not, expect to be frustrated.
Anyway, much great wine was consumed; my picks were the Taylor’s Shiraz 2009 and the 3 Stones Pinot Noir, with honorable mentions for the 2011 Saints gewürztraminer, and the 2009 Two Tracks chardonnay (though only if you like them oaky and buttery). Shall have to buy a few more of these for posterity, I think..
The topic of in-character (IC) conflict has come up a little recently in my Dragonlance campaign. I’ve not really thought about it a lot in the past; it’s always been there, of course, but I’ve never dealt with it directly before. So far, in this game, it’s not been a definitively negative experience as it’s engendered a lot of character growth that’s been really interesting for me as GM, and hopefully for my players. That said, there have been a couple of times where it’s ended up slowing things down significantly, to the annoyance of some. Sometimes, too, it seems to bring rise to a vague undertone of personal conflict that I’m not terribly happy with.
Most recently, we had argument between characters over how to treat a pair of captured draconian prisoners, with questions arising over interrogation, torture, execution, and so on. The eventual decision was to execute one of the prisoners behind one character’s back as it was deemed to know too much while letting the other one go in return for information. I’ve never been satisfied with glossing over the moral implications of this sort of thing in play, but while the character interactions and eventual outcome were quite interesting, the whole affair took a long time. After discussing it at the end of the session, it became clear that we need a better way of handling this sort of situation, which got me thinking..
Firstly, I don’t believe that IC conflict is an inherently bad thing, merely something that requires careful handling during play. For it to be a good thing, however, I think the following have to be true:
IC conflict normally seems to occur in first-person role-playing. It makes sense that it would originate there, but it seems that resolution often requires that it be pulled up to third-person play, with players collaborating to decide on an interesting and meaningful outcome, then doing any necessary role-playing to bring it about. This avoids the necessity of people saying nasty things to each other that their characters might say to each other, affording a layer of abstraction that protects everyone from any potential offense. It also allows players to discuss the pros and cons of different resolutions – it turns conflict into opportunities for collaboration. To that end, then, it seems that techniques from collaborative story-games could be employed at the meta-game level to deal with these sorts of situations.
In my Dragonlance game, the party has just slain Onyx, bringing the first module “Dragons of Despair” to a conclusion. Since several of my players are heading away on various trips over the next couple of months, we’re putting the campaign on hold until October. This gives us the opportunity to try out a few story-games and select some mechanics that we like. We’ll probably follow a template something like this example, which is inspired by matrix games:
Any time a player thinks that there is IC conflict in need of resolution, they can call for it to be resolved out of character. The GM determines what questions or actions are at issue in the conflict; that is, what will be decided as a result of resolving it. One at a time, each conflict participant states their desired conclusion followed by any arguments they have in its favour, presented as short statements. If they wish, non-participants may also present arguments and conclusions. If there is an obvious compromise, it may be accepted by consensus. Otherwise, the GM assesses each argument and uses some mechanic to determine the actual result, which must be limited to the original conflict issues.
I’m certain there are more elegant or interesting mechanics out there that we could try – the Smallville RPG, for example, has a really interesting system for handling IC conflict (which is at the root of that game). I’m certain there’s many others, but I’m not well read enough to know where to look – suggestions?
In the end, conflict is an inevitable part of role-playing games, and one of the essential skills in being a good role-player or GM is handling it in a way that moves the game forward and creates fun for everybody. Since role-playing is an inherently collaborative activity, though, and since collaboration is somewhat antithetical to conflict, intentional IC conflict is, I think, one of the most challenging aspects of role-playing – handled badly, it can literally destroy a gaming group. Handled well, however, it can bring a great deal of depth to a game as characters become more independent and human, and situations become more diverse and meaningful.