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23 April 2015 / erikduval

Space trouble…

I’ll just pretend I’m a planet invaded by Russians from space station Vir.

You know: “viruses”…

OK. Sorry. Just trying to lighten up the mood.

 

Will report back when I’ve kicked them back into space…

25 March 2015 / erikduval

VISLA15 reflections…

Like Simon, I attended LAK15 last week in cold Poughkeepsie…

On Tuesday, we had our VISLA workshop on “VISual Approaches to Learning Analytics”. The workshop went really well, I think.

Attentive VISLA15 workshop audience ;-)

Attentive VISLA15 workshop audience

I had asked all presenters to spend one third of their time on presenting their own work, one third on comparing it with that of other presenters at the workshop and one third on discussion with the audience. For me, that is a way to add value to the papers at a face-2-face event. I don’t like workshops or conferences where people just present their paper, basically because I can read the paper much faster than they can present it to me ;-) … Most speakers followed my instructions and, when they didn’t, I gently (I hope!) forced them to…

Sven presenting our work at VISLA15

Sven presenting our work at VISLA15

A recurring theme at the workshop was how we can make visualisations as simple as possible, but not simpler. Sometimes, all you need is a traffic light where green means “you’re fine”, red means “you’re in trouble” and yellow means “we’re not sure”. But sometimes, you want to give more information than that, for instance to indicate how reliable the traffic light is (see Xavier’s presentation). Yet, how much more information and interaction can you provide before the visualisation gets in the way of the learning? Of course, it depends on the target audience and context…

During the breakout session, participants discussed how we could organise a VISLA16 event that would ground visualisations more in the problems that they try to address. Maybe we could organise a “call for problems”. It would be really sweet if we could connect this with datasets that participants could use to show how their visualisations addressed the problems…

VISLA breakout session discussions

VISLA breakout session discussions

I like this idea, as it makes things very concrete. It could also tie in nicely with the hackaton that was taking place in parallel with the VISLA workshop. Maybe we should combine our efforts in 2016…?

Another nice outcome of the workshop is the google document started in one of the breakout groups: the hope is that we can develop this first attempt to define research questions into a full research agenda. This would be quite useful, as it is clear that visualisations play a central role in learning analytics, as also witnessed by a number of papers on this topic in the main conference. In the mean time, you can find the VISLA15 papers and presentations on the workshop web site.

15 March 2015 / erikduval

Not (just) mr. Cancer Guy anymore…

Since a year, most of my posts here have been about my struggle with cancer.

Well, struggle… Let’s say that cancer tried to kill me, and that I underwent the chemo treatment and tried to stay alive, with the help of many friends. It didn’t feel like a struggle, it felt more like hanging in and hoping that the light I could see at the other end of the tunnel wasn’t an approaching train…

Anyway, I never stopped working. That is one thing that kept me sane. It was nice to think about other things than Life and Death. After my autologous stem cell transplant late November, I also started going back regularly to the office in January. And, after a short trip to The Netherlands 2 weeks ago, I will also start Real Work Travel again tomorrow, with a trip to New York for the LAK15 conference.

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That means that there will be more non-cancer posts here in the coming weeks and months. I actually hope there will be very few cancer posts after a while, as that would probably mean cancer has become a non-issue in my life, or at least a much less important issue. I do have a next checkup scheduled for end of April, and will continue to have these checks for years to come. I also give talks and the occasional interview about my experience, but I don’t want to live the rest of my life as mr. Cancer Guy.

So, if you really enjoy my cancer posts, then there may be some more coming. But I hope you will enjoy my other posts even more. Technology! Learning! Computer science! That sounds even more fun than cancer, no?

13 March 2015 / erikduval

History of Human-Computer Interaction

This is the history of Human-Computer Interaction according to my students

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They start in 1951. That is actually not too bad: I’ve had students start in 1750 or in 1985 before…

And this is how I see it

I keep being puzzled by how fast things seem to go on the one hand (I learned to program using punch cards. Which makes me about 350 years old according to some of my students), yet how slow it seems to go on the other hand (We haven’t made that much progress since Doug’s original vision.)…

3 February 2015 / erikduval

Cancer day…

Apparently, tomorrow is World Cancer Day

I’m not sure about this concept of having days for specific topics. I mean: is there a World Ebola Day? A World Political Prisoners Day? A Let’s-get-rid-of-religious-and-other-bigotry Day? There are only 365 days in a year and so many worthy causes…

Still, I was asked to reflect a bit on my experience over the last 10 months, and ended up thinking about how cancer is maybe a bit ‘different’ from other diseases…

First of all, being told you have cancer makes you think in a rather direct way about … dying. (I was told my cancer was ‘not a good one’ and that ‘maybe now would be a good moment to start writing my memoirs’.) Of course, unless we make some rapid and dramatic progress, most of you who read this will die eventually (see video below though). But most of us sort of ignore this most of the time, if not all of the time.

I had wondered before how I would cope if someone would tell me that I only had a small amount of time left. Maybe I would panic, or go mad, or become ultra-religious? Actually, it may sound bigger than it is, but, if anything, the last 10 months taught me that I can cope with dying. Not that I especially want to die. Certainly not any time soon. But I think it is possible to make reasoned decisions about what you want to still say to whom and what you still want to accomplish when you start running out of time. I was OK having that conversation with myself – and with a few others… In that sense, this was actually a Good Experience: it gives me peace of mind thinking that I will be able to cope if, or rather when that time comes.

BTW, thinking more about being mortal also made me very aware of how lucky I’ve been so far: I’m very fond of my family, I have a great job, I have no material worries, etc. I’m very privileged. (Chances are that you are very privileged too!)

Second, what is a bit weird about cancer, is that it is the therapy which makes you feel sick, not the disease. My lymphoma was discovered by accident. Besides some swellings in my neck, there was nothing I had noticed. Nothing that hurt. And then I started treatment, and that is when I started feeling really awful. There’s something that feels wrong about that experience: if you have a head ache and you take an aspirin, you feel better. With cancer, I felt fine, and then I started taking medicine, and then I felt really sick.

In general, the logic of cancer often escapes me: sometimes I would get really sick from chemo, sometimes not. I still can’t see a small bottle of water (like the one in the hospital) or smell soup, without feeling nauseous. Every morning around 10am, I get a bad taste in my mouth. Why 10 am?

Third, cancer apparently isn’t really a disease. It’s a family of diseases. I’m not a medical expert, but some cancers can be treated without too much effort and have a 100% survival rate, others never go away, but can be treated in a chronical way. Some require chemo, some radiation therapy, some surgery, some a combination of two or all three. Some are very common, some are very rare. (Yes, I almost felt a bit proud and ‘special’ that my type is a pretty rare one…)

That is why it was sometimes a bit silly when someone told me they knew someone who had had cancer and survived, so I would be OK too. I would look up the details of their specific kind of cancer and it would be an extremely benign one. “You call that cancer?”, a little voice inside of me would yell.

Fourth (and I will stop here, otherwise I will go on forever), cancer has its nice sides too. Not only is it a great excuse when you need one (“I’m sorry that I didn’t finish this in time, but I really suffered badly from chemo this last week.”), but also, it has made me so much more aware of the value of friendship and support.

Yes, people are sometimes a bit clumsy in how they express themselves. (“Don’t stop fighting!” What do you mean: all I do is sleep and feel miserable. That doesn’t feel like fighting. It feels more like … waiting for bad stuff to go away.) But still, I’ve been so terribly fortunate in receiving unexpected messages of support, sometimes from people that I don’t know all that well. Each of these messages gave me that little extra energy and hope, that “they haven’t completely forgotten about me” feeling that helped me get through the day.

I’ll certainly try to be more supportive to others too. When in doubt, do send that message of support. Don’t think too long about it. A simple “thinking of you” will do wonders. Well … maybe not wonders. I don’t believe in miracles. But it wil still be a Good Thing. Actually, that’s something you could do for World Cancer Day. Stop reading. Send someone that message that you think of them and wish them all the best! Even if that someone doesn’t have cancer. That’s fine too…

16 January 2015 / erikduval

All clean, beta release

Rather good news: my PET scan this week showed no remaining signs of lymphoma. None. No suspicious areas that might or might not be problematic. All clean.

(Well, there were some traces of pneumonia, but who cares about pneumonia when you worry about lymphoma?)

I just learned that my hemoglobin level is low, but apart from that, my blood levels are fine too.

This is the best result we could hope for. After 10 months of treatment, it looks like I will spend a lot less time in hospitals in the coming months. (This is where you should hear triumphant loud music, something from Haendel for instance…)

My next doctor’s appointment is in four months from now. Next PET scan in a year. Seems a bit unreal still…

Of course, there’s a roughly 1/3 chance that this is not over yet, and that I will relapse. But, for now, I’m not worried about that. Bad Things can happen to all of us, all of the time – who cares?

(My family came up with this nice plot for a movie yesterday evening: guy battles cancer for a year, wins but gets run over by a car the very next day. Maybe a Woody Allen movie? Guess I’ll pay extra attention when crossing the streets today…)

In any case, this seems as good a time as any to announce the beta release of Erik2.0. Not version 1 just yet, as fatigue is still a bit of an issue – though getting better. Nausea and sickness are gone now, so definitely an improvement over the earlier alpha release.

In fact, I was told yesterday that I can start jogging again! I doubt that my first run will take much longer than a minute. And I’m sure I will be overtaken by people twice my age. Who are just walking. But still, I’m looking forward to put my running shoes on again.

You’re not rid of me yet!

23 December 2014 / erikduval

Pfffww…

It’s been a while. The reason is really simple: I’m a bit tired…

Take that in a very literal sense. I’m not tired of blogging, or life or something like that. I’m just tired. Really Tired. I’ve discovered new levels of tiredness. Can you imagine that reading half a page would make you so tired that it actually makes you sleep for 3 hours afterwards to recover? No, until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have imagined either.

Since almost a month, I was just too tired to blog or tweet or Facebook as well. Some of you actually noticed and sent me sweet and sometimes clearly a bit concerned messages. I’m afraid I may have been too tired to answer. But I did enjoy the support: it’s really nice to see you care. I can’t begin to explain how privileged I feel to be surrounded by people like you…

In software terms, I would say I feel like an early alpha release of Erikv2.0: I’m kind of functional, but one of the nasty bugs is that my battery is exhausted after sometimes just a little bit of activity and then takes forever to recharge. Another bug is the occasional nausea and sickness. But my body is working on the bugs and a more stable beta release is imminent.

Erikv2.0 is here and very much alive and Getting Better.

Music continues to help me a lot in this period, like when I feel a bit helpless… Enjoy!

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