Archive for the 'PhD' Category

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Face-to-Face with Jude & Serene (social academics)

Jude and me wearing the same Threadless tee!
Yep, nothing beats face-to-face… yet.

The threadless t-shirt gig was totally unplanned. I had told Jude and Serene (see her here) how I saw three other guys at various hawker centers with the same tee. As a testament to the popularity of threadless tees in Singapore, after we split at Marina Square, I bumped into yet another chap wearing the same shirt! We waved like we knew each other from long before (though we were complete strangers) and naturally whipped out our cameras then. Forget eHarmony, this Threadless tee keeps it real! Obviously lots of us are upset about this so-called future, so perhaps we should have a “theyliedtous” t-shirt meme in Singapore

I got to meet Jude and Serene in person this week at the modern “durian-shaped art house” otherwise known as the Esplanade. While we were suppose to try the coffee at the Library @ Esplanade (which Jude raved about), the cafe was closed for some reason. We ended up chatting about our interests at a nearby Japanese restaurant overlooking the harbor.

As proof of how blogs connect people, Jude first contacted me last year after realizing we had similar academic interests. Via their blog, you’ll see that both of them are situated at the University of Michigan (Umich). While they are pursuing their doctoral degrees, Jude is at the School of Information studying social media and collaborative forms of learning, while Serene is at the School of Education studying the sociology of education. I think it’s the perfect marriage, not just in real life, but of academic interests.

On Education
As we pondered about the indistinguishable consumables moving on the conveyor belt, I had to ask them how they first met up. They explained that they first met in the school they taught in, where Serene taught literature and GP, while Jude taught drama. Like my parents who are teachers, they found that the local education system didn’t work for them. Apparently they were not alone… I have friends who left the teaching profession for similar reasons and I’ve seen plenty who have blogged about this. For instance, see “Why I Hate Teaching” and “Why Do Teachers Stop Wanting To Be Teachers?” These two Singaporean blog posts have since disappeared probably due to unwanted attention, but you might find a cached copy somewhere (Please tell me if you do!). As if teaching weren’t a tedious art in itself, I see that the local education system seems to focus excessively on both the present economical (think Return Of Investment) and political (think human embryonic stem cell research) climate, unlike in the States where education has independence and is more diverse (i.e. eggs definitely in more baskets). It seems to me that if I were to teach locally, it would have to be at an international university setting where I’d have the freedom to get creative with what and how I teach. Speaking of which, Jude and I agree that Singapore’s research agenda tends to focus on anything that the rest of the first worlds won’t engage in… like selling upgraded arms and cloning . If this were Star Wars, Singapore would be the Evil Empire!

On Consumerism
On a lighter note, we also lamented on the level of consumerism in Singapore. Serene recent wrote about how our visual landscape is now riddled with shopping malls and what possible trade-off this could mean to Singapore. I mentioned how in my walkabouts around town, I was fascinated by how Singaporeans seem seem to defy spatial physics since they apparently have an infinite amount of closet space, given the amount of things they seem to buy. There were lines of people everywhere, from the clothing boutiques to the hawker at your favorite makan place. It doesn’t matter if we need it, we already want it as long as it’s on sale. I know this for a fact because seeing the same products offered in both the States and in Asia, the packaging is tell-tale of how we want more for less, even though we don’t really need it. While products in the States tend to marketed using facts and humor, products in Asia are sold using adjectives such as “Now With Extra 20%” or “Buy One Get One Free!”. My favorite one is “Limited Edition” even though you know it’s machine-made and demand is artificially created. Variations such as colors and patterns are also highly valued here as seen in the greater need for personalization, from the GMask-covered cellphones to the Blue, Silver and Pink PSPs.

On Jude’s Work
After getting our fill of rice-encrusted seafood, we transitioned to Marina Square which recently saw a transformation which somewhat resembled the new Vivocity mall from the inside. We stopped at one of the infinite Kaya toast franchises to talk about our academic work. While I talked about my teaching plan this semester at SIM (WTH… they went k10k on me!), I focused on my plan to engage students in “collaborative competition” with one another, by meaning of blogging, exposure to one another’s work and exposing themselves to the world (aka blogosphere). Jude then share with me his upgraded thesis which was really about that. Check out his “Learning by Tagging: The Role of Social Tagging in Group Knowledge Formation” paper via JOLT (open access / HTML) or via ACM Digital Library (subscription required)! He also has a relevant paper on JCMC entitled “From Shared Databases to Communities of Practice: A Taxonomy of Collaboratories“. They say great minds think alike, but dull ones also barely differ, so it’s debatable (hah!). Anyway he’s looked at the social network of his students’ blogs and watched how they comment and rate one another’s work through a class aggregator. In his latest paper, he look at how students tag their class posts, by looking at tag frequencies. From there you can determine the amount of consensus and cooperation among them, and what how they formulate meanings in their research.

On Gaming the Class
In about a week’s time, it’ll be my turn to put some of these ideas into practice. I can certainly add on to Jude’s collaborative education research. One common problem us instructors face is the lack of connectivity between students in class. Even when we have them blog their assignments, few take the initiative to comment on one another’s work, nor to link to one another’s posts (i.e. trackbacks). Jude said he experienced the opposite effect, where competition was high and his students were writing between one another. Perhaps his secret was that these were graduate students (my side worked with undergrads), and that he made his students blog five times a week (vs. our students made to blog just weekly), making it logical for them to gain postings by making meta-blog posts, ones that are reflexive to one another. I might try to institute some rule like that, and to script all this as part of a game they play with one another and with the blogosphere. By setting up the syllabus in th form of game rules, I can have students compete for various awards (e.g. exceptional posts get special web badges for their blogs), and to score extra points when they get mentioned in the blogosphere according to Technorati authority (which gets reflected on a leaderboard, realized on the class aggregator and as a blog widget). Man, I wonder if I can pull this all on my own…

To get a better idea of what I’m trying to achieve with students, take a look at Johnath’s blog post entitled “The Aeroplan Game: An ethnography“. In it, he talks about how reward programs (e.g. flyer miles) is almost like a game, since it has rules, a scoring system and prizes. Using the framework laid out by Amy Jo Kim, online community building guru, there are some patterns we can follow, including: Collecting, Points, Feedback, Exchanges and Customization. Here’s a quick Google persistent search using these five terms to show you how it’s been applied in regular social networks such as MySpace, Youtube and so on. I’m currently done with my syllabus, and will be throwing them on a new wiki I called Theorywiki. I’ll let you know when it’s ready and do contribute if all this makes your cup of tea.

UPDATE: Jude has blogged about his meetups while in Singapore. Though he’ll be flying back this Thursday, distance will be no matter when we’ve got the Net.

Call for Papers for “Internet Research 8.0: Let’s Play!”

Brisbane Day Six

It’s too bad that the “State Of Play IV: Building the Global Metaverse” conference in Singapore had to be postponed indefinitely. Meanwhile, here’s something I’ll be gearing for this year.

The Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) conferences are a real blast, since they tend to be open-ended, multi-disciplinary and naturally more cutting-edge. I enjoyed last year’s conference in Brisbane (Australia) so I’m really looking forward to attending this 2007 one set in Vancouver, Canada. The focus is on “play”, which extends beyond the realm of gaming. For example, think of ways we make work or learning more fun. On the side, word has it that there may even be a tour arranged for attendees to visit the numerous gaming studios over there! If you’re going, drop a comment like it’s hot!

Internet Research 8.0: Let’s Play!

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Abstract Deadline: February 1, 2007
Conference Submission: July 31, 2007
Pre-Conference Workshops: October 17, 2007
AoIR Conference: October 18-20, 2007

Call for Papers
Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR)


We call for papers, panel proposals, and representations from any discipline, methodology, and community, and from conjunctions of multiple disciplines, methodologies and communities, that address the (playful) blurring of boundaries online. The following TOPICS are suggestions simply intended to spark initial reflection and creativity:

– Mundanity implies normalcy, and thereby, the efforts to understand and regulate online interactions in ways that are analogous to and consistent with offline practices and norms (e.g., privacy protection, norms for community interaction, efforts to regulate information flows involving pornography, hate speech, etc.). As internet/s become interwoven with ordinary life on multiple levels, in what ways do these alter ordinary life, and/or how do prevailing community and cultural practices reshape and “tame” such internet/s and the interactions they facilitate?

– Global diffusion: how do internet/s, as they exponentially diffuse throughout the globe facilitate flows of information, capital, labor, immigration and play and what are the implications of these new flows for life offline?

– eLearning: how can such practices as distance learning and serious games utilize the liminal domain (the threshold world of dream and myth, in which important new skills, insights, and abilities are gained in the process of growing up) to go beyond traditional ways of learning? Are they necessarily better, or easier, to use or to learn from?

– Identity, community, and global communications: how will processes of identity play and development continue, and/or change as the role and place of the Internet in peoples lives shift in new ways including the expansion of mobile access to internet/s?

– E-health: what do new developments in sharing medical information online and expanding telemedicine technologies into new domains imply for traditional physician-centered medicine, patient privacy, etc.?

– Digital art: from downloading commercially-offered ringtones to facilitating cross-cultural / cross-disciplinary collaborations in the creation of art, internet/s expand familiar aesthetic experiences and open up new possibilities for aesthetic creativity: how are traditional understandings of aesthetic experience affected and how do new creative / aesthetic / playful possibilities affect human “users” of art?

– Games and gaming: the average gamer in North America is now a twenty-something whose lifestyle is more mainstream than adolescent. As games and gamers “grow up” and as games continue their diffusion into new demographic categories while they simultaneously continue to push the envelopes of Internet and computer technologies what can we discern of new possibilities for identity play, community building, and so forth?

Sessions at the conference will be established that specifically address the conference theme, and we welcome innovative, exciting, and unexpected takes on that theme. We also welcome submissions on topics that address social, cultural, political, economic, and/or aesthetic aspects of the Internet beyond the conference theme – e.g., in CSCW and other forms of online collaboration, distance learning, etc. In all cases, we welcome disciplinary and interdisciplinary submissions as well as international collaborations from both AoIR and non-AoIR members.

For details, see

State Of Play IV: Building the Global Metaverse @ Singapore

State Of Play IV conference @ Singapore

Frankly speaking, I’m really looking forward to this conference. I first learnt about it via Jude Yew, who is currently pursuing his PhD at the School of Information, University of Michigan. As part of my interest in Second Life, this State of Play conference isn’t just what the doctor ordered, but it happens to be held in Singapore at the same time I’m going to be there! From the looks of it, it’ll also be accessible via webcasts and podcasts. I only hope that registration isn’t crazy-expensive!

Here’s the gist of what State of Play IV is about:

  • State of Play IV: Building the Global Metaverse, the fourth annual State of Play conference on the future of cyberspace
  • The academic conference will be held at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, on January 7-9, 2007
  • Organized by Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, New York Law School, Trinity University, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore
  • Like the recent AoIR conference I attended, the hallmark of the conference is its multi-disciplinary perspective
  • Virtual worlds are global in scope, but seem to remain disparate in how they are managed across cultures (e.g. Eastern vs. Western).
  • The absence of cross-cultural dialogue means that virtual worlds are being set up and run without sensitivity to diverse cultural, legal and social norms.
  • This lack of cross-cultural understanding can manifests itself in the social tensions emerging online.
  • Last June, close to 10,000 Chinese players rioted within The Fantasy of the Journey West to protest the presence of what they thought was Japan’s national flag. Two years ago, players of Lineage II teamed up to slaughter game characters perceived to be “Chinese gold farmers.” Meanwhile, thousands of Chinese players complain that Western gamers in World of Warcraft apply racial profiling, excluding Chinese players from social groups based on language skills and recognizably Chinese surnames.
  • These virtual worlds are crucial building blocks of global civil society. There lies a promise for relationship-building and cooperation across national borders.
  • You can read the entire About page here.

I must add that the biggest “players” in virtual worlds are going to be there…
Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash (must read!)
Cory Doctorow, Canadian Fulbright Chair (2006-2007), USC Center on Public Diplomacy (Author and Boing Boing-er)
Nick Yee, Palo Alto Advanced Research Center / Stanford (His interview and The Daedalus Project)
Ge Jin, Director of Gold Farmers, Doctoral Student in Communication, UC San Diego
Constance Steinkuehler, Cognitive Science and Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Wagner James Au, Second Life Explorer: New World Notes
• Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun
Kjartan Emilsson, Producer of Eve Online (Sci-Fi MMORPG)
Mike Wilson, CEO,
Danah Boyd, social media researcher at UC Berkeley and Yahoo!
• And many more…

If you’re attending this and would like to meet up, indicate so on this event page. While you’re at it, make sure to join and subscribe to our Social Media Conference group over there. For official details, stay tuned to the State of Play IV: Building the Global Metaverse web site.

Update: For those living around NYC, you can also attend the State of Play/Terra Nova Symposium on Dec 1-2 at the New York Law School.

Starting our own social media group…

Social Media Meetup #1
Derek’s with his arms up saying “What me worry?”. I’m not pictured as I was in Second Life attending the SL Library opening (as seen on the laptop above)…

Being the only few “Web 2.0-ish” doctoral students in the Communication department, Derek and I got our first social media research group off the ground. I kept feeling that the both of us were in the wrong crowd, but I was proven wrong! Fellow graduate students who showed interest gathered in a public space at the Alfiero Center last Thursday at 7pm. Surprisingly, the meeting ended up being so stimulating, it went on till 9.15pm!

At the meetup, we started by exchanging stories on what we were academically involved in. I could tell that many of us had unrealized aspirations when it came to doing research, so this gave us the perfect opportunity to shine. This idea naturally became one of the prerogatives for our research group. Being free of official channels, we get to do our own thing and rekindle our lost passion for academia. As a deliverable, we’ve made plans to collaborate on a social networking paper and to eventually get it published. I can’t share our work at this point, but I can share the social media conferences calendar I’ve been pimping.

If you’re in graduate school and feel like you’re not getting anything done, try starting your own gig like ours. Collaborative tools such as Google Groups and Wikispaces make it so easy to self-organize. I’ve got pictures to share if you’d like to be inspired. Wish us luck!

AoIR Presentation: Building Social Capital for Online Youths

Building Social Capital for Online Youths

In a few hours, I’ll be presenting my paper on “Building social capital for online youths”. While building might not be the most appropriate word in relation to social capital, it does get the message across. I’ll be focusing on real-world examples of web services which helps foster greater Social Contact and Civic Engagement, elements of a well-connected and vibrant community. I’d like to thank Dr. Pauline Cheong who initially taught me all about social capital.

Fri 29 Sept. 14.15 – 15.45. Redlands Room
Building social capital for online youths: A Singapore case study
Kevin Lim • University at Buffalo, USA

The Internet can strengthen the community fabric by facilitating personal communication, but it may also privatise leisure time and reduce social interaction. Using a classification of the emergent types of social capital, Borgatti, Jones, & Everett (1998) have produced a standardised set of analytical tools for social capital research. This research would reveal the relationship between the Internet usage of youths and show how related organisations could encourage social contact and participation in civic engagement. The results would be useful in understanding how the Internet can be used to build a vibrant youth community that would be vital for any nation.

Download Powerpoint presentation

UPDATE: And now we have the presentation video…

Dealing with Statistics: The Hopeless Student Edition

Statistics for the Utterly Confused

Statistics is something I don’t practice all the time, so it’s easy for me to forget how to operationalize what I’m trying to find. Three things came into play recently, which I hope would assist me in conquering this quantitative beast.

1. I found a book called Statistics for the Utterly Confused (2nd Edition)”. Most stats textbooks I found were way too theoratical (wordy) and thus only added more confusion and displeasure in learning. This book by Lloyd R. Jaisingh makes the functions easier to understand, by having concise outlines on each statistical task you are interested in. You’ll understand why and how you would use each function, complete with illustrated examples and exercises (practice is necessary).

2. I found “The Dummy’s Guide to Data Analysis Using SPSS”, an eleven page guide (downloadable PDF) by mathematicians from Scripps College. For most social scientists, statistical packages like SPSS are our friends. Given the verbosity of options possible, it can be daunting seeing all those settings without a guide. When you turn to the SPSS manual though, half the time you feel like you’re trying to flip through a thick phonebook. The Dummy’s Guide tells you exactly what you need to do for each function you’re trying to achieve. Since it was produced in 2001, it might not be exact for newer versions of SPSS, but anyone should be smart enough to figure what works by then. Once you know how to operate SPSS, you can then try you hand at tweaking the settings for your own customized calculations.

3. I found help to simplify the problem. For the past few weeks, I’ve been meeting up with a new faculty member in my department who teaches Organizational Communication, but does research on communication technology and human-computer interaction (HCI). Dr. Michael Stefanone has been helping me make sense of my “blogs and purchasing decisions” research, which I’ve been struggling with far too long. Since my experimental survey results turned into a monster quite complex for me to handle, he showed me why and how to bring all four of my datasets down to one single spreadsheet/dataset in SPSS, thereby simplifying the problem to something accessible in one sitting. “Simplifying the problem” is very much part of the “Getting Things Done” process, and this can be a potential problem in itself since you’ll need to understand what’s involved before you can do anything about it. He showed me just that, so I’m able to take that step forward.

Photos: Communication Graduate Students BBQ

I just realized how I have very few photos of the people from my communication department, so this evening’s gathering should make up for it. Ben Elbirt and Jessica Akey organized a BBQ for the incoming and senior graduate students, as well as faculty. Funded by the Communication GSA, this event was one of the rare occasions where most of the people in our department could actually meet face-to-face. That is, for those people who want to… *Oh Snap!*

Poisonous people…

redrum” by ae_salazar

No matter how you try your best as a person, there’s bound to be someone out there who finds joy by leveraging on the demise of others. I thought of letting others in on the misinformation about me, but instead, I’ll just say thank you for reminding me to buck up. I’ll let my work do the talking.

PhD or Die Trying: The Stress-Testing Semester

scientology stress test
Giving a stress test by MutantFrog

After seeing plenty of beady-eyed freshmen prepping themselves for their first college experience here at UB, I’m reminded of the excitement I once had coming here to study. I never had prior visits to Buffalo, but thanks to some helpful souls, I got settled down pretty fast. As I recalled, it was quite a good experience.

Now, contrary to how I once felt fresh off the boat, this Fall semester is going to get really bloody for me. While others go merrily about their classes, I’ll be sweating buckets worrying over getting things done in time. If I thought writing during the summer break was hard, writing while sitting in on classes (which I’ll be teaching next time) as well as re-taking that forsaken Advanced Stats class, all while working as usual, is going to be like putting my brain in sixth gear with a broken pedal to the metal.

As my advisor once warned me, taking up a PhD isn’t something you do out of fancy. I think he was trying to tell me that it has to literally be your calling. Thing is, I would have never known if I had not tried it. Now that I’m in it, do I know?

Being the only surviving Informatics graduate student to crossover to the Communication department for the doctoral program, I feel privileged but frowned upon at the same time. Frankly speaking, my interest in the social media doesn’t seem to lend me strong ties with my traditional communication faculty. Other than my advisor who’s a maverick in his own right, I doubt anyone there really understands or appreciates what I am trying to accomplish. Getting the typical “I thought you graduated” from the very faculty whom you work under isn’t exactly heartwarming either.

At this point you might be wondering what’s the point of me telling you all this. Perhaps I’m looking for some advice to making it all work. I feel like I’m fire-fighting everyday as I try to write but end up with blank sheets of paper. The worst thing is that the longer this goes, the more dissimal I feel as I grow older with loved ones waiting on me.

Time is running out.
No, I shouldn’t quit.
Not without a fight.

Flying to Brisbane for IR 7.0: Internet Convergences (soon!)

Lunch: Corn bread w/ Bologna
Say hi to my lunch: Corny Bread, Tasty Bologna, and Minty Honest Tea

From September 27th – 30th, I’ll be down under in Brisbane, Australia for the IR 7.0: Internet Convergences conference organized by the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). For people like me, I believe this is a seminal event to go for, not just because of your CV, but for networking with the most diverse gathering of Internet researchers around. To illustrate how huge this is, AoIR has received around 440 conference submissions this year, most of which around 220 should be presenting.

I’ll be torturing the audience with my research entitled “Building Social Capital for Online Youths: A Singapore Case Study“, which is a cumulation of my previous study on how we can measure attributes of social capital, and applying them to case studies (i.e. content analysis, telephone interviews) of community-oriented web sites in Singapore. While we have numerous social platforms online now (e.g. blogs, photo/video sharing sites), I see this study as a precursor to how the social aspect of the web could be further advanced. In essence, I wish to figure out how to push our existing online architectures to be more socially useful than before.

All said and done, this conference is going to make me really broke.

First, flying from Buffalo to Brisbane is a major ouch. I think it’s as bad as flying home to Singapore in terms of financial cost and time spent tossing around in economy. Then, there’s the official IR7.0 conference hotel which is the five-star Brisbane Hilton. Even though it’s said to be heavily discounted, the going rate is around US$160/night. The conference registration itself (which also gives you 1 year of AoIR membership) is $180. But wait, that’s not all… there are optional things to go for which aren’t cheap either, such as workshops and a Conference dinner ($42). In all, I am expected to dish out at least $2,600 for the 3-day conference.

What am I going to do?

First: Cheaper air fare.
Fatwallet has a great FAQ on “How to find the best airfare deals“. While I found Orbitz to be quick and cheap compared to Expedia, I just used since it searches all the travel fare sites for me. I eventually found a deal for my trip to be around $1,737 (including taxes & fees). Incidentally, Orbitz also offers several RSS feeds for travel deals so it’s something worth tracking for next time.

Second: Cheaper accomodations.
I scope out the area around the official conference location to find a cheaper hotel. My advisor got the Marriott Hotel for around $100/night via Priceline, so I might try that. Usually when I bid on Priceline, I always check for the lowdown on how low people managed to get with their bids based on time and location. I couldn’t find many people posting their wins on hotels in Australia, but I know it should be about $100/night.

Third: Cheaper social functions.
I’m really not sure it’s worth spending $35 for conference workshops, let alone a $42 conference dinner. It makes me wonder how financially-gifted students have to be in order to succeed. I’ve half the mind to organize my own social event by emailing interested student attendees to gather at a designated location for the poor student version of the dinner conference. We’d be bring our own food and meet somewhere public so we can concentrate on one another, instead of our thinning wallets.

Finally, I’m applying for conference funding from my university’s Graduate Student Association. It’ll be $400, which isn’t even a quarter of what I’ve to pay, but it’s better than eating dustballs for months. Sucks to be middle-income poor… you’re neither here nor there. What can I say… snakes on a plane man… snakes on a plane.

Aside 1: I’d love to meetup in Brisbane… if anyone of you lives around there, give me a holla!
Aside 2: What’s the future of cheaper air fares? Check out these price prediction experiments!