Keep Working, Worker Bee!


Big two-day update!

Though I haven't been working like a fiend, I have found myself for two days in a row working from the early hours into the late; that has cut into my Worker Bee! updating time, alas.

On Tuesday, I spent the morning installing Gentoo for a particular purpose. Gentoo I feel like is more than a little absurd as a concept, but the installation guide at least is pretty thorough and if you're willing to think about what you're doing isn't too bad to get working. The afternoon was all spent doing secret stuff for the programming contest, which was fun and is progressing nicely.

After work, I had to get home quickly because I had a meeting with the psychologists about the speed-dating project. It occurs to me that I may never have explained what the speed-dating project is, so I suppose I ought to do that before I continue: during my first year as a graduate student, I had a friend doing a PhD in psychology at Northwestern, which is also in Chicago. There was at the time a new faculty member there who had planned a big year-long longitudinal study that had an essential web component, and he found that due to a particular methodological twist he wanted it was impossible to find anyone who could write the web part for him. Said new faculty member was banging his head against a wall and about to give up on the whole project when he happened to ask my friend whether she knew anybody who wanted to do psychology programming on the web for cheap. She knew that this is an issue I've been interested in ever since undergrad, so she gave him my name, he called me, I roped in a friend of mine and long story short we made him a web site. We even wrote a little paper about it afterwards.

Now we go to February of this year. Psychologist wants to do another online study, and since the first one went so well with me he writes me and asks me again. This one is about speed dating; he wants to study people's initial attraction to each other and he thinks a speed-dating type event is a great way to get people interested in participating and generating the reams and reams of data he'd want to collect from them. Speed dating generally has web site support and his study will definitely need a lot of it, so he asks me. I'm intrigued, I'm interested in exercising my web programming muscles again, and so I say what the heck.

The speed dating site turned out to be intensely more complicated than the first study was, and I was doing this one myself so it was a pretty major task. But I ended up making it work, and 160 little speeddaters used my software and 7 speed-dating events went off with -- well, not without a hitch, but with few enough hitches that it certainly seems like a success rather than a failure. The study's not done yet, but all that's left now is the speeddaters come to the website every 3 days and answer some tracking questions; they'll do that for the next couple weeks and then the whole thing will be over.

So Tuesday night I met with the psychologist and his grad student (who actually was the leader of this particular research project). I did this for free in exchange for a co-authorship on the paper, but I think they feel like I got a raw deal (I don't think that myself, incidentally) and they ended up buying a Cuisinart fancy food processor and a digital cooking scale as a thank-you present. Woot! Thanks guys!

Then we spent the evening talking about two things: firstly, they are somewhat interested in turning the speed-dating thing into a product we could sell. Second, the data had to be stored into a relational database this time, and they understand why that's good but have no clue how to write queries sophisticated enough to answer their questions. I'll need to either teach them or do the queries myself. Maybe there's some magic report-writer software out there that'll let them do all the queries they want without having to know any appreciable sql? There are lots of fancy things necessary for this data, though; things like self-joins and and left joins and aggregation and sql builtin functions and so on. The meeting broke up around 10PM.

So that's Tuesday. Today was spent basically worrying about my ICFP submission, the reviews for which I will get to see on Friday but had hoped maybe would magically get sent out two days early (they weren't). I also spent a lot of time working on doing a more proper job typesetting some of the multilanguage stuff and doing some proof stuff; I'm going really slowly on it, I fear, because the straight-ahead inductive proof misses the elegance of the model and thus I fear misses an important opportunity to avoid re-establishing things we already know to be true. (This is difficult to talk about without explaining everything; if you see me in person and you care, ask me and I'll explain it further.)

I did discover several things; among the most interesting was whizzytex, an incremental LaTeX viewer as an Emacs minor mode. From those ever-impressive French hackers at INRIA. They point out that it works best with Active-DVI, an allegedly-superior xdvi replacement also out of INRIA and written entirely in OCaml. I really need to learn OCaml one of these days. I've heard it called "the Common Lisp of ML" where that phrase was intended as a pejorative, but as I program more and more I think I've decided there's an important place for the world's Common Lisps.

Then tonight I called up my friend who worked with me on the original psychology study, who now lives in Boston and with whom I hadn't talked in at least a couple months or so. I told him about what I'm doing, and he had yet another possible application for the multilanguage research I'm doing — I tell you, everywhere I look there's somebody else with some problem I think my system could solve, I'm really thrilled about it. Then we talked for a very long time about making a viable, potentially commercial version of the system we've been talking about since the original psychology study. He's interested in going for it, especially if there's actual money involved. That's great; I'm not sure I'll be able to join the business venture myself, at least not until I get my PhD, but since everyone else seems willing and able to start on it right away I think it'd be foolish for them to wait on me. I really hope we can get something good running, though, I think the social science world can really use this sort of thing.

Things are looking pretty exciting on that front. Right now, though, the most important thing is for me to stay on target research-wise, so that's what I'm going to do.


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