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GRAND 2011 Conference

Note: these are my notes from the GRAND 2011 conference. They were written during the conference so they are incomplete and will have lots of typos.

Day 1: Friday, May 14th

Kellogg Booth: Opening Comments

Kellogg Booth opened the day by talking about the network and some upcoming directions. Two thematic areas are being added, the environment and public engagement.

Bill Buxton: Lessons from Keith

Bill Buxton gave a great plenary talk where he started by comparing how books are reviewed and how new media is reviewed. He asked us to imagine a book review written like a new media review. It would talk about the cover, the paper, the punctuation and end with "oh, and there is a story." He called us to raise the level of discourse around new media. We need to write fewer academic papers and more public works that engage the public discourse. We need a mature discourse comparable to what we have for literature and other arts.

He then talked about the fundamentals of the discourse/education around art and music. Musicians like Keith Richards (hence the title of his talk) learned their craft through imitation in a context with a rich discourse.

He mentioned that SigCHI pays for all of the other ACM computer science disciplines. The highest impact is social technology - how you make a difference to people. Buxton challenged computing science to think of HCI and graphics as central and engaging in public advocacy. What if every CS student graduated with a literacy in human-computer interaction. Technology is not holding us back. We could eliminate every computer scientist and it would have not effect on technological progress - the need is at the interface, in the politics, with the public engagement.

Buxton then started his talk! He started by talking about sketching and how it is different from prototyping. To start you need a value system (what is right or wrong) to be able to best use your resources. He then extended the idea of sketching to construction of models. The spirit is doing it quickly, have multiples and be able to critique it. In passing he argued that E-Bay is an important sketching tool because you can find readymades and repurpose them. He can go to E-Bay, get models and use them as sketches.

"It drives me crazy walking down the street and seeing people tweeting about the world and ignoring it."

He then switched to mining. Canada is the world centre for mining. Our notion of innovation is distorted by a cult of the individual genius. He introduced his inversion of the long tail, called the long nose. Innovation takes 20 years. Anything that will be a billion dollar industry in the next ten years is already 10 years old. Most people know the new lab technologies that are compelling, but they are under the radar of politicians, industry and the public. Politicians miss things because they want the very new rather than stuff that has been around for 10 years and are ramping up. For example, multi-touch was being published about in 1984, but it was in 2007 with the iPhone that it got attention. Multi-touch was there all along, but only recently got attention.

New technologies go through an invention phase, a refinement and augmentation phase, and only at the end is there the productization phase. Corporations often don't invest in the long nose. When you invest in only applied research productivity goes down because applied research only looks at the last productization phase and fails to fund the full nose. All of the policies in place to support innovation are distorted to the last phase and ignore the long nose.

If I understand Buxton he thinks academics all want to invent (phase 1). Industry wants productization (phase 3). But, research is not just about invention, nor should industry invest only in the last phase. We need to educated ourselves to look at history and learn to refine existing ideas (phase 2.) We need to learn to do the second phase where good ideas are found, refined and adapted.

There was a great question about the value of culture. Buxton drew our attention to how we aren't treating new media as culture, the questioner asked if we are in danger of not valuing culture at all as the arts and humanities are cut. Buxton seemed to agree that we are in danger of losing any discourse around culture.

In response to another question he argued that our industry is based on three things: business, technology, and design. All three are needed, though design is often left out or left to the end.

2 Minute Maddness

We then had an event where each project had two minutes to show everything they are doing. I did the PlayPR 2 minutes so I was too worried to take notes (and it all went by to quickly.) You can see the matrix of subprojects that presented at Research Matrix.


I participated in a meeting


In the afternoon there were a series of Research Presentation meetings. I went to one about the Digilab group which I have become involved in thanks to the Knowledge Synthesis project I'm part of on games and Canada's digital economy. Bart Simon asked, how do players think of their labour? He and colleagues are looking at how players see themselves in the collapse of production and consumption. Players don't see their contributions as labour.

Bart Simon is also looking at game incubation. This came out reflections on the hype around games and the game industry, primarily in Ontario. It is very hard to tell where the numbers are coming from about new jobs. As a form of activism the Montreal Games Incubator will be providing a creative space at the intersection between universities, colleges, indie game development sector and video games industry. The idea is to bring industry and indie folk out of industry to help new developers figure out how to go out on their own. This will then be treated as a research site for thinking about the DigiLab(our) issues.

There is also a digital newsroom project looking at how the digital is changing the newsroom.

A number of the articles in the current issue of Ephemera about privacy issues from the Digilab group.


Jacquelyn Burkell talked about privacy in the online world. We shouldn't reject privacy as a concern just because people don't seem to care. We should be asking about reasonable expectations. She is looking at privacy regulation frameworks in social networking applications - whose rules apply?

There was an interesting discussion about the privacy implications of the proposed Access Copyright Tariff for secondary institutions. Samuel Trosow is reading the proposed new Tariff literally in terms of privacy and is concerned about how it could be interpreted.

There was an interesting discussion about accessible privacy. Much of the discourse is not accessible to most users. People are told it is the user's choice when it is hard for them to understand choices. Burkell and colleagues are trying to explore ways of explaining and prompting privacy.

NI meeting

We then had a meeting of the network investigators to talk about the bureaucracy and reporting. I discovered that I am now a PNI (Principal Network Investigator). I used to be just a NI. This is actually a good thing as it allows us to include collaborating researchers.

Day 2: Saturday May 14th

Chad Gaffield: From teaching to learning: Re-imagining scholarship in the Digital Age

Chad started by talked about the need for humility when making predictions. What makes predictions difficult is people. For Chad it is very recent that we are dealing with the implications of dealing with humans. He went through how across all sorts of sectors the human is important.

Then Chad shifted to talking about teaching and learning. He showed a slide to the effect that lecturing is the least effective way of learning (5%). Teaching others is 90%. We have spent 200-300 years creating school systems that are based on lectures.

Chad then talked about how we often think about thinking as solving a problem or filling a gap. But, if it is a human phenomena it is a "wicked problem" that can't be solved like a puzzle or problem.

The old view was that creativity was only needed in a small percentage of the population, application was what most people did. Now it turns out that we need diversity and creativity. But, creativity is a team sport. In the humanities we need to get beyond the solitary scholar idea. Even the work authored by one person has footnotes linking out to lots of people.

His argument is about complexity, diversity, and creativity. The human makes things complex. We need to handle diversity because people are diverse. And we need creativity when thinking about the human. Chad believes we can make a lot of progress on human thought and action if we focus. He also believes that we can change. He gave the example of how smoking habits have changed.

At SSHRC they are focusing on developing Talent, Insight, and Connections. They are trying to figure out how to deal with intellectual property. He ended by challenging us, "Can we think about people in the past and present and develop a better world?"

Jason dell Rocca, Sean Gouglas, Bart Simon, and Su Skirl: Games and Canada's Digital Economy

This panel was built around the Knowledge Synthesis report that a bunch of us put together on Computer Games and Canada's Digital Economy. Sean Gouglas talked about the opportunities and barriers to collaboration between universities and industry.

Next Bart Simon talked about taking indie game development seriously. He first talked about the problems with defining what being "indie" is. It describes an ideal type that is perceived to be the opposite of whatever the mainstream studios are up to. He talked about how little we know about the long term careers of indie game designers. What is their quality of life? How do they manage families? Bart argued that the indie model is a response to the precarious labour situation in the world. Big studios have peaks and valleys as big games go through cycles of development. When in a valley many experienced designers get laid off or benched. That is when these experienced designers start thinking about independent games. Ironically the design cycle of big studios may be what spurs indie development. However, long term sustainability cannot depend on the big studios.

Bart recommended that we work with the indies in GRAND. We should cultivate trust and relationships with local indie developers; how to do it?

Su Skerl talked from a developer's perspective. The games industry is a creative industry. Su has been an art director, but also a teacher reaching out to youth. She talked about how the industry can meet us in the middle. She felt that industry needs to deal with what to do with the down time. Another issue is maintaining communication lines - this is hard when designers move around. She feels that industry needs to be less insular and reach out a lot more. She talked about how we can help the indies. Universities can help indies. We can get people talking. We can host meetings and provide learning opportunities. Many indies can't afford to go to the big conferences. Local universities can help.

There was then a discussion about where indies are. It seems to be a Montreal and Vancouver phenomenon.

David Dill: Electronic Voting in the US: How Technologists Affected the Debate

David Dill started by talking about democracy and the importance of the losers accepting the results. If there is a hint of cheating in an election then people won't accept the results. He then talked about how paper ballots are a transparent and fairly robust system. Furthermore people understand how paper works so they can figure out whether to trust paper ballots.

After the 2000 US Presidential election there was a boom in DRE Voting Systems (Direct Recording Electric). The problem with DREs is that they are black boxes which we can't trust. The box could have all sorts of problems. The question is whether you could design a black box that is reliable. Dill argues that computing is not presently up to the task. There are three problems:

  • Program bugs - obscure and unpredictable bugs cannot be effectively
  • Computer security - How do we know a system is secure? We don't.
  • Is the system what you think it is? A voter has no way of checking that all the parts of a DRE are what they are supposed to be.

Voting is not like online banking. With online banking I can check my monthly statement and know something happened. With electronic voting systems there is no way to check.

Dill then talked about the history of American election technology. Americans started paying attention after the hanging chad debacle in the 2000 Bush/Gore election. In 2002 there was funding for states to update their voting technology. The states bought the fanciest electronic stuff they could. The first concerns are voiced about un auditable e-voting systems. In 2003 a bunch of computer scientists issued a "Resolution of Electronic Voting". They called for "voter verifiable audit trails." With this you had experts (computer scientists) warning people - the people with authority countering the claims by vendors. In 2003 researchers analyzed the source code of the Diebold machines and showed how poor the security was. As a result a number of states passed laws and went back to paper.

Dill then talked about the problem of persuasion. How do you persuade politicians and the general public about an issue like this. Part of the issue is when you go against a business interest. Businesses will attack scientists when they have invested in something. People also underestimate familiar risks. They underestimate the risks in technology as they use it daily.

One way that computer scientists can be persuasive is to demonstrate how you can hack a system. That convinces people who were not moved by abstract arguments.

The "next dumb idea" is voting over the internet. People think it is modern and will increase voter turnout. Washington D.C. deployed an open-source internet voting system in 2010. A team at the U of Michigan hacked the system totally and discovered other hackers in there from places like China and Iran.

If you want to get involved go to

Seth Cooper: Solving Challenging Problems with Games

Seth Cooper is the director of the Center for Game Science where he looks at how to leverage gaming to solve scientific problems and teach about science.

Games are good frameworks for solving problems. They motivate people. Gamers are used to working in teams. Foldit is is a game where players try folding proteins in different ways. They take problems from scientists and set them up as puzzles for the community of over 100,000 people who have downloaded the game. The solutions are gathered and sent to the scientists. They continually update the game to keep players interested.

Foldit gamifies the work. Players are trying to get a high score. There is a leader board where players are ranked. Players can also form groups and have a group leader board.

In their surveys of players they found diversity and that many players have no training in biochemistry. Games can help find people who have skill in an area tha they didn't know. They have also found that players have been organizing themselves and all sorts of new phenomena are coming out from the players.

They are now building a game where people take pictures of the world (buildings) and upload them to a site so they can then be synthesized (with Photosynth?) into 3D structures. This can be found at

Seth talked about how problem solving or puzzles are fun. People don't need to know the background information if you can make something an interesting puzzle. They might learn the background to be better at a game, but that comes later.



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