Blog Articles 46–50

Thinking About Productivity

I have tried a number of different productivity systems over the years. Some have worked better than others. I’ve tried:

Recommending for Bentham

One of my favorite people-and-preference papers is Kahneman, Wakker, and Sarin’s 1997 article ‘Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility’. They report on a series of experiments that examine how people experience and remember utility, pain, or pleasure, and the ways in which it affects their decision-making processes.

This is the paper that introduced me to the peak-end rule, the principle that the pleasure (or pain) people remember an experience having is effectively the average of the high point and the end. Total utility and duration are both irrelevant (within reason, at least).

Lesson 1, if you want to make a movie people remember as funny: have a fantastic joke and a solid ending.

Affording Quality Conversations

As professors, we get a lot of e-mails. One of these classes of e-mails is the prospective student e-mail, which comes in wildly varying quality. This takes time from faculty, enough that many have written guides to e-mailing or specific requirements for e-mailing them and receiving a reply; I have a version of this myself.

The standard advice is to be specific about your interest in the particular faculty member you are e-mailing, and demonstrate at least an awareness of what it is that they are working on.

However, there is a flip side to this: if we are going to expect cold e-mailers to be familiar with certain information about us an dour work prior to e-mailing, then we need to make that information clear and accessible. If we don’t, it’s a bit like the planning commission filing notice of intent to demolish Arthur Dent’s house in a disused filing cabinet in an inaccessible basement, though perhaps with less dire consequences.

Some Cheerful Facts About Probability

In the course of training to be a scientist, you generally learn some statistics and probability theory. I’ve grown to be quite fond of the topic, but as I’ve learned it, there are a few things in particular that I’ve found brilliantly satisfying. Simple tricks, some of which may seem counter-intuitive, but for some reason fascinated me when I grasped them.

Here are a few of them.


Here it goes!

  • Started my new position at Boise State University.

  • Wrapped things up at Texas State and successfully passed four M.S. students.

  • Submitted papers from three of those students’ theses, and a poster from some of the fourth student’s non-thesis work. The poster and one paper were rejected (the paper with very helpful reviews), the other papers are currently under review.

  • Reviewed a large pile of papers for various venues.

  • Saw the Grapht paper finally go to press. That was a very satisfying piece of work, and Journal of Object Technology was a great publication to work with.

  • Founded the People and Information Research Team (PIReT) with Sole Pera. We currently have the two of us and 4 graduate students; we’re looking for new M.S. and Ph.D students for next fall, so apply if you’re interested.

  • Wrote and presented a position paper for ACM RecSys 2016 with Martijn Willemsen, who I’ve worked with for a number of years now.

  • Co-authored a paper with Jennifer for the first time. That worked really well, and she presented it at the RecSys ’16 Workshop on Recommender Systems for Engendering Health.

  • Submitted a proposal to the Google Faculty Research Award program.

  • Attended FAT ML and DAT and started to make connections in those communities. I am hoping for fairness to be a significant component of my research over the next few years.

  • Gave my first on-the-road research seminar that wasn’t a job talk at the University at Albany.

  • Launched a new writing collaboration that will hopefully produce a nice paper (or two?) next semester.

  • Took on an exciting major service responsibility that I’m sure you’ll hear more about next year.

  • Taught databases as a ‘normal’ class instead of once-a-week over ITV. I like this class, and it was useful to have something I’ve taught before as my first Boise State class to have some familiarity as I come to understand a new student body. I’m somewhat disappointed in how it went, as I know that I can deliver much better classroom experiences than the students got, but we move forward and learn.

  • Proposed a new Introduction to Data Science graduate class I hope to offer in Fall 2017.

  • Rebuilt the Recommmender Systems MOOC with Joe Konstan as a Coursera specialization, about 40% of which is currently available.

  • Added code to automatically include citation counts in my CV.

  • Made substantial progress on LensKit 3.

  • Bought a house.

  • Started building social connections and a support network outside the university. For us this primarily means finding a church community, but we have also made first steps towards connecting with local refugee support work.