13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...


  25 June 2007

  Affectionate writing reduces cholesterol

Came across today at Torill's blog:

From the journal Human Communication Research, vol 33, number2, April 2007, 'Affectionate Writing Reduces Total Cholesterol: Two Randomized Controlled Trials' by Kory Floyd, Alan C. Mikkelson, Colin Hesse and Perry M. Pauley.

This is also a good reason to write on research topics you care about :)

More on: passion writing 

  24 June 2007

  First steps of independence

Alexander is starting on solids. When I cooked and mashed his veggies today I was sad as he was going to leave the house and get married tomorrow. I know that babies are supposed to grow up and that slow process of gaining independence is a part of it, but it feels sad to start with the first steps of it.

Fortunately, he is still too young to get married, so we have a bit of time together ahead of us (and he wasn't that happy with the veggies :)

More on: parenting 

  23 June 2007

  On things that hide behind typical formats of reporting research

Another quote:

Agger (1989) has informed us that the typical article format in sociology is used to claim scientific validity. Techniques such as the citation of authority and the display of methodology convince the reader that they are partaking of an undistorted view of reality. [...] Merton (1968, 4) complained that sociologists do not inquire into "the ways in which scientists actually think, feel, and go about their work," and as a result there is little public discourse concerning how social science is actually done. Moreover, Merton (1968, 4) believes that textbooks on research methods exacerbate the problem by teaching:

how scientists OUGHT [emphasis his] to think, feel, and act, but these tidy normative patterns, as everyone who has engaged in inquiry knows, do not reproduce the typically untidy, opportunistic adaptations that scientist make in the course of their inquiries.

He describes immaculate, bland, and typically impersonal sociological presentations that lack any accounting on the intuitive leaps, false starts, mistakes, loose ends, and happy accidents that comprise the investigative experiences. I further suggest that these presentations disguise the eminently social character of the production of knowledge, scientific or otherwise. By attempting to organize articles neatly into literature reviews, methods, findings, conclusions and so forth, all thinking is forcesed into a mold yielding an account of the research process that ignores, indeed counts as irrelevant, issues such as who the researcher is and what his or her motives are for the researching the topic of interest.[pp.420-421]

Ronai, C. (1995) 'Multiple Reflections of Child Sex Abuse: An Argument for a Layered Account', Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 23: 395-426.

Given that the quote on lack of inquiry into "the ways in which scientists actually think, feel, and go about their work" is from 1968, I guess I should check is there is any research on those things.

Also: I never really realised how the format of reporting research is inded used to claim validity. Now I realise that in her discussion of quality criteria Ulrike Schultze brings the format of writing explicitly as an evidence of plausibility [check when at work!]. I never questioned it...

However, if you look into that it looks suspucious - the difference in reporting style doesn't really change what you did in your investigation. Or does it?

If it does not, then using the "right" format to claim quality is pretty much hiding behind the words.

If it does, then writing itself is an added value activity, rather then "just" reporting. And then we are back to writing as a method.

Something to think about...

More on: methodology writing 

  21 June 2007

  Time flies: 5 years, 5 months

Today is five years since I blog. Time flies. Writing to a weblog gives me an extra evidence of it - time becomes more tangible when you see it as a timestamp on a story that feels so recent. But having it there, written, also gives it depth - showing that the path between then and now has been long.

AlexanderToday Alexander is 5 months old. Time flies, faster then I'd like to. Sure, we wait for every new development (when will he start sitting by himself? crawling? talking?), but every time I hold him in my arms I want to make time running slower. May be I should write more - to stretch those moments, at least on the screen...

More on: life parenting time writing 

  20 June 2007

  You either live, or write

One more on writing, from Gabriela (emphasis added, I just loved this nesting):

A lot of people have blogged about reboot - I gave up the idea because I wanted to focus on what was going on. A Romanian writer said once: "you either live, or write", which might seem a bit odd to a blogger. We're living while we're writing - or is it vice versa? writing while we're living? Anyhow, this time there were so many better bloggers around, that I felt like letting go!

Also: Real-time conference blogging: reporting vs. reflecting

More on: blog writing writing 

  Writing as a method of data analysis

Pretty much on what I tried to say in Mangrove effect: the value of making things explicit - but narrowed down to writing as a method of data analysis:

I use writing as a method of data analysis by using writing to think; that is, I wrote my way into particular spaces I could not have occupied by sorting data with a computer program or by analytic induction. This was rhizomatic work (Deleuze&Guattari, 1980/1987) in which I made accidental and fortuitous connections I could not foresee or control. My point here is that I did not limit data analysis to conventional practices of coding data and then sorting it into categories that I then grouped into themes that became section headings in an outline that organized and governed my writing in advance of writing. Thought happened in the writing. As I wrote, I watched word after word appear on the computer screen - ideas, theories, I had not thought before I wrote them. [p.970]

And another one, just because it takes to the extreme some of my feelings (=I'm more moderate about audit trails and data saturation :)

And it is thinking of writing in this way that breaks down the distinction in conventional qualitative inquiry between data collection and data analysis - one more assault to the structure. Both happen at once. [...] Data collection and data analysis cannot be separated when writing is a method of inquiry. And positivist concepts, such as audit trails and data saturation, become absurd and then irrelevant in postmodern qualitative inquiry in which writing is a field of play where anything can happen - and it does. [p.971]

Both quotes are from Richardson, L. & St.Pierre, E. A. (2005). Writing: A method of inquiry. In N.K.Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 959-978). SAGE Publications.

Wikipedia entry on rhizome in philosophy: I don't understand much, but the fact that Carl Jung used the word "to emphasize the invisible and underground nature of life" is intriguing.

  18 June 2007

  Trustworthiness of messy research: using research audit?

Annette Markham, here (emphasis is mine):

Years of studying, utilizing and teaching many methodological approaches helped me realize two important things about qualitative enquiry. First, very few textbooks detail the actual process of doing research, including all the activities that disappear in the published report, such as making mistakes, revising research questions, changing the method of analysis, and other emergent activities inherent to qualitative enquiry. Second, what we call simply "method" is actually a multilayered set of inductive and non linear processes, guided by the context and research questions. The challenge is stopping at critical moments or junctures in the project to reflect on what one is actually doing so as to: find a good fit between one's activities and one's theoretical premises, balance learned procedure and new contexts, and alter methods of interpretation so to better suit the contingencies of the situation.

One of my long-term frustrations with scientific methods is that many of those (the easier to defend ones) require a plan-ahead structured way for analyzing your data. Even with more exploratory methods, eliminating the "plan-ahead" element to a degree (e.g. grounded theory), the analysis stage still requires using a specific set of procedures and rules.

Somehow for me this doesn't fit the way I see (experience and read in papers) how knowledge is constructed (in a broader sense, not necessarily as part of scientific tradition) – with a space for uncertainty, implicitness, intuition, recognising patterns in a mess, conversations and dependencies. Scientific knowledge, at least in complex domains, shouldn't be that different.

However, with scientific knowledge you want to make sure that the results of a study you lay down on a paper are also trustworthy. One way to do it is to use a proven methodology, following the steps that others took and successfully defended. In this case you have to prove that you had a good reasons to go for a particular methodology and that you followed it well (or deviated for reason).

Another option (as I has been told by multiple professors ;) is to be very transparent about what and how you did, allowing others to judge by the detail. Taken to the extreme, that would involve research audit*, where an external auditor can examine the decisions and actions of a researcher.

In my case that would be a way out, however, there are a few issues around it.

  • Confidentiality: there is data I can't share (due to legal or ethical considerations).
  • In my actual process (especially in the data analysis part of it) there are many unstructured, intuition-based, non-linear decisions and actions that are difficult to describe in a linear document in a way that allows examination by an external researcher.
  • I'm not sure about the return of investment of time spent crafting an audit trail, especially given that lot of things has been documented – online in my weblog and in various working documents.

I'm thinking of comparative alternatives, but that would take a bit more time...

*If you want to know more about research audit you can start from the work of Sanne Akkerman:  

  • the references and the audit procedure in detail - Akkerman, S., Admiraal, W., Brekelmans, M., & Oost, H. (in press). Auditing quality of research in social sciences. Quality & Quantity - .pdf
  • examples of audit trail and auditor report (part of Sanne's PhD research)
More on: emergence methodology PhD 

  13 June 2007


I almost forgot how does it feel - when ideas run in your head back and forth waiting for you to catch them and to turn into a text. When you don't think much about things that might not work, but, instead, focus on making things happen.

And that I actually feel like writing after evening play - bath - milk - sleep routine with Alexander :)

More on: life writing 

  12 June 2007

  Tools to find similarity between two texts (weblog and papers)

I'm playing with an idea of comparing (parts of) my weblog with some of my published papers (and with the dissertation as a whole when I'm done). So far I'm interested in two things:

  • how much of the text is reused
  • how conceptually close two texts (weblog and a paper) are

Thought of a couple of ways to do so:

  • One way would be to use all kinds of weblog analysis tool from Anjo. One of the difficulties there would be to figure out how to find similarities between weblog text, which is relatively self-contained microcontent pieces, and linear "build upon previousely said" academic papers.
  • Another option would be to use some plagiarism detection tools. Only wonder if you can configure those to compare target paper with a specific weblog, rather than with "everything published".

Any ideas?

  Blogger thought group and attributing ideas

Browsing my archives and realising that I'd better quote those comments to Context and attribution (12 Feb 2004!) in a blogpost, which is easier to find later.

By Alex Halavais (#):

This is, arguably, easy enough with words, but much harder when it comes to ideas. I came up with some thoughts that, I will assert, are my own. Someone noted that these followed closely some things you had written about in your blog. I am a regular reader of your blog, and I think it is likely that these entries--at the very least--prompted my thinking in a particular direction. This tendency to remember the ideas but forget their source--the "sleeper effect"--has been shown in communication research several times over the last 50 years.

You actually know about this, because someone else made the connection and hyperlinked it. But otherwise, I would have been abscounding with your ideas without due credit. As interersted as I am in encouraging hyperlinking as attribution, there has to be a limit.

I wonder whether a standing set of citations (your "Regular reads/dialogues") constitutes a kind of "thought group"--an indication that your ideas are at least in some part attibutable to the people you communicate with every day?

By Piers Young (#):

Crikey - all sounds like we're beginning to enter the murky world of Intellectual Proprty Rights. Have a few brief comments: 1) that this trail is happening at all is a good thing. It underlines the fact that there is value (however intangible) in blogging. 2) I don't think the "thought group" idea's is quite enough. Most, or at least many blogs have a "thought group" anyway: a blogroll. Most, or at least many bloggers have diverse interests: they may be into KM and skiing, KM and whiskey or KM and needlecraft or - you get the picture. One of the great things about links is that it allows me to get an idea which blogs most interest me. Without specific citations, I - as let's say a needlecraft afficionado - would have to wade through a whole load of stuff on marketing, whiskey and skiing. Links, along with a whole load of other good things, help you filter. 3) That said, I agree there has to be a limit. In many cases it just isn't practical to search all the citations and make all the links. But surely you do as much as you've got time for? And with the joys of trackback, bookmarklets etc, you almost by definition have time for one.

Alternating between typing, reading, browsing my weblog and walking around (usually means writing flow :)

  08 June 2007

  Parenting: traditional wisdom and modern life

One of the highlights of Reboot for me was talking to Rob Paterson. Behind his slides on early human development (on that in a blog post) I saw traces of things that occupy my mind for a while now.

Funny enough, during our conversation Rob recommended the book of Jean Liedloff The continuum concept, which came as a reference from someone from totally different context the day before we left Reboot.

The book is based on insights about human nature that were a result of spending "two and a half years deep in the South American jungle with Stone Age Indians". I'm still waiting for my copy of it to arrive (=I haven't read the book), so this is how the concept is introduced online:

According to Jean Liedloff, the continuum concept is the idea that in order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings — especially babies — require the kind of experience to which our species adapted during the long process of our evolution. For an infant, these include such experiences as...

  • constant physical contact with his mother (or another familiar caregiver as needed) from birth;
  • sleeping in his parents' bed, in constant physical contact, until he leaves of his own volition (often about two years);
  • breastfeeding "on cue" — nursing in response to his own body's signals;
  • being constantly carried in arms or otherwise in contact with someone, usually his mother, and allowed to observe (or nurse, or sleep) while the person carrying him goes about his or her business — until the infant begins creeping, then crawling on his own impulse, usually at six to eight months;
  • having caregivers immediately respond to his signals (squirming, crying, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of his needs, yet showing no undue concern nor making him the constant center of attention;
  • sensing (and fulfilling) his elders' expectations that he is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he is welcome and worthy.

The bold is mine. Another quote, from Who's in Control? The Unhappy Consequences of Being Child-Centered explains it a bit better:

[...]the Yequana [the indians Liedloff lived with] are not child-centered. They may occasionally nuzzle their babies affectionately, play peek-a-boo, or sing to them, yet the great majority of the caretaker's time is spent paying attention to something else...not the baby! Children taking care of babies also regard baby care as a non-activity and, although they carry them everywhere, rarely give them direct attention. Thus, Yequana babies find themselves in the midst of activities they will later join as they proceed through the stages of creeping, crawling, walking, and talking. The panoramic view of their future life's experiences, behavior, pace, and language provides a rich basis for their developing participation.

Now to my point. I believe in wisdom of traditional societies, especially when it concerns birth and babies. I also read modern research (e.g. recently finished fascinating What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life), that confirms that early years are extremely important and explains why and how in a language of science. What I miss is a connection between those two worlds.

Liedloff's observations are coming from the context that doesn't fit the way I live. There is no extended family around to share the load of caregivers (once in a while you have to do things incompatible with holding a baby in your arms). I tried to carry Alexander while "going about my business", but he gets tired easily from the noise of networking at events and gets bored while I sit in front of the computer and type. He is interested to look at moving things on a screen, but I'd rather show him the wind moving leaves in our garden (the only problem that 'my business' involves lots of typing in front of a screen).

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant HygieneMy husband summarised the issue pretty well when I bought Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene: he looked at the cover depicting a child playing naked in a grass and said that we could go diaper free if we would live in a field...

I don't want to sound too critical here. The books mentioned are well worth reading, but it takes a bit of imagination and lots of experiments to figure out how traditional wisdom could be applied in a modern life.

Blurring work-life boundaries mean that being with your child while going about your business could be an option. Now the only "small" thing left is figuring out how exactly.


More on: parenting Reboot 

  07 June 2007

  'In Web 1.0 no-one had any children'

A quick detour from PhD work into Reboot stuff (I'll blog more on it, only now things are much slower).

Ivan Pope in comments on my experiences of going to a conference with a baby:

Here's my joke: Q: What's the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0? A: In Web 1.0 no-one had any children.

I went through the nineties in the internet industry. No-one had any children. Mine were born in 1997 and 2000, so they just about bracket the crazy years. Now I'm doing the internet again, but this time everyone has kids. It does place a lot of constraints on what is possible (no jumping onto an aeroplane for a meeting at short notice), but it adds a hell of a lot too. As you say, it's a grate icebreaker and subject for smalltalk. And it has mellowed us as well, we're not so crazy for stuff, not so crazy to party and get on with work.

Raises a lot of questions. Why kids are becoming more visible at work now? Is it web2.0 or something else? More on that later.


More on: parenting Reboot 

  Bibliography conventions when writing on weblogs

One of the practical problem when writing scientific texts about weblogs is dealing with citations. Apart from ethical issues (e.g. blog research ethics, respondent identification) there is a practical problem of combining references to "traditional" publication sources with references to weblog entries. 

In my case weblog entries are also referred to in two ways - (1) as a reference to attribute an idea or support an argument and (2) as a data source used for an illustration - and it could make sense to distinguish between those two. There are also references to my own weblog, which serves an additional role of research diary.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do for my dissertation, but I'm collecting some inspirational ideas.

Vivian Serfaty in The Mirror and the Veil provides references to weblog posts quoted in the footnotes. Bibliography section is split in a several categories: works cited, diaries cited, archives and webrings, political blogs cites, miscellaneouss.

In Uses of blogs references, weblog links and notes are included in endnotes for each chapter. There is also a bibliography at the end that includes "key sources" (mainly published articles and books, but also a few online essays; weblog entries are not included).

The reflexive thesis by Malcolm Ashmore provides another example. It's not about weblogs, but a good example of referencing all kinds of sources for his dissertation (published as a book in this case). Below is truncated version of TOC:

  • Foreword, abstract, etc.
  • Introduction
  • Chapters 1-7
  • Appendix. Nonbibliographical sources and other secrets
    • Interviews
    • Correspondence
    • Referees' reports
    • Research proposals
    • Early drafts
    • Conferences: discourse and relexivity workshops
    • Telephone conversations
    • Sources of some of "my" textual techniques
    • Other secrets
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Any other suggestions?

More on: blog research PhD writing 

  04 June 2007

  Reboot 9: experiences of going to a conference with your baby

Babies at Reboot. By LuditaAlthough we did it on a smaller scale before (project meeting and BlogWalk), this was a first experience of going to a full-scale conference with a baby. I thought I'd share my experiences (in case you consider something similar ;)

Context - 2 days of Reboot, mama, papa and 4 months old Alexander, ~700km by car to get there.


It's nice to feel accepted. Bringing your child to a conference still sounds strange for many people, so small signals that it's 'normal' are important. Seeing other people with kids, babysitting downstairs, general smiles and nodding make a lot of difference (I also loved the 'role-model' picture it gave to still-single-geeky-guys :). A few people I talked to said they would consider bringing their kids next year.

Your primary channel is babychannel. Forget blogging, be happy if you manage to go to the sessions you want to go and participate in some conversations. I put my laptop away pretty soon after Reboot had started – it's an extra weight to drag around, my hands were usually occupied with toys and there were hardly any moments than I could give online world some attention.

So I missed quite a lot. Not that much of the sessions, but mainly of networking around. There were extra things to do during the breaks and we had to skip some evening activities (including missing pre-/post-conference parties, eating in turns and need to 'evacuate' at the moment my dessert was served).

But being there with Alexander also added a lot. Not only he was a great ice-breaker / conversation starter (from 'how old is he' to 'my kids are…' to blogging/technology/work :), but I also enjoyed moments of sharing parenting experiences with others. It was also about fun, closeness and feeling empowered experiencing that it is possible to be a parent and a professional at the same moment.

Logistics at the conference 

  • Baby-friendly periphery. By Ton ZijlstraFinding a place on the edge (on the back, along the walls, in a doorframe) – where I could play with Alexander, feed him without attracting too much attention, move around to calm him down or escape if he starts being too loud (or just before the applause would wake him up after so much effort to put him asleep).
  • Easy clothes – not only for discreet breastfeeding, but also for sitting on the floor (which makes bigger and safer playing area).
  • We brought our stroller and bouncing chair as we use them a lot at home, but we hardly used them – there was too much stimulation around and it felt better to have Alexander close to give him a sense of security in the middle of people and noises. We used our baby carrier (Baby Bjorn) a lot – this was probably the most important item to have with us.

Logistics around the conference

  • Papa needs his hands for networking. By Mark WubbenTaking more time for driving. Driving to Copenhagen in one day was a bit too much for Alexander even given all the breaks we took (it's too boring to be awake in the car and one can only sleep so much during the day). I was happy we could drive back home in two days, having a nice stop-over at a little beach town in North Germany.
  • A place to stay. We booked B&B outside of the city centre. I liked the independence and quiet time it gave to us, but it also didn't give us any opportunity to do any meaningful things to do in the evening. I wonder if staying in a hotel with other participants, downstairs lounge and good-enough babyphone reception would give us an opportunity to have some time to network and be with others after Alexander went for his night sleep (on the other hand – missing late night buzz gave us enough rest to enjoy the baby and the conference the day after). I was happy we were in a place with more than one room, so we had somewhere to go in the evening.
  • Did I tell you that we haven't seen any of the Copenhagen? Staying in the city center would probably make a difference here, although we would probably have lots of parking problems.

 Some other things

  • Wii playing at babysitting areaBabysitting. We hardly used it (probably since Alexander is so little), but I guess it was helpful for parents with older kids. It was definitely helpful for grown-up kids, giving them a very nice wii-break :)
  • Name tags for kids. I asked Reboot crew for an empty one and made a name tag for Alexander, so he could fully participate :) I can imagine that for an older kid this could be fun.
  • T-shirts. I was extremely happy to find out that there were kid sizes of Reboot T-shirts and then very sad since we didn’t manage to get one for Alexander. I guess they were taken by parents with kids at home as souvenirs… This could actually turn into a very nice twist for the conference T-shirt theme – making those to take-away for your kids (I never take T-shirts for myself, since I don't wear them, especially those of a nightgown variety).

And, most important thing – I'm very happy that I get support of Robert in all this. The logistics around the conference make it too difficult to do it alone and it actually helps that there are moments to enjoy the conference 'old-fashioned-pre-baby-way' knowing that your child is happy at another session with your partner.

Photo credits: Ludita, Ton Zijlstra, Mark Wubben

More on: parenting Reboot 

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This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 09/12/2007; 17:18:18.