Blog Articles 51–55

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.

2016 State of the Tools

My software toolbox evolves quite a bit, and I keep trying new things (a good or a bad habit, depending on who you ask; I’m grateful that my Ph.D adviser encouraged a reasonable amount of this tinkering). I’ve written about some of these tools before, but thought I’d compile a list of some of the important ones in my current stack.

I also maintain lists of some of the open source software I am using on OpenHub.

One of the themes in the most recent round of changes to my stack is reducing technical distance: making it easier to be able to recommend the software that I use to others, so that they can obtain a productive environment quickly. This means picking widely-available, usable software that works well (and provides modern conveniences) out-of-the-box. There are definitely places where I make exceptions to this, but I select a lot of user-facing software and development tools with this in mind.