Thursday, October 22, 2009

Research Volunteering? Caveat Emptor with Tiffany Cheng and Hannah Wiberg

This past spring, I saw an announcement through Asperger Adults of Greater Washington (AAGW) that Tiffany Cheng of Ithaca College wanted to interview an Aspie for her Disease and Lifestyle course. I responded, and she introduced me to her research partner Hannah Wiberg. I told them that I would be happy to participate as long as I received a copy of the final project, and they agreed to proceed. Also, they subsequently explicitly repeated their promise to send me a copy when the work, including a class presentation, was completed.

On that basis, I answered many questions in substantial detail, including some notes from my personal life. When the semester was over, I asked Ms. Cheng and Ms. Wiberg for a copy. Only then did they tell me that there was no written document and hence nothing they could copy for me. In fact, they had been specifically instructed not to even include any words in their PowerPoint slides. In short, they lied to me, implicitly and explicitly, to get my cooperation.

I have discussed Ms. Cheng's and Ms. Wiberg's conduct with their professor, associate department chair, department chair, IC's human subjects research review board chair and IC's vice president for student affairs. (I had to begin by tracking down their professor; apparently IC policy was also violated when Ms. Cheng and Ms. Wiberg did not provide that information from the beginning. They also did not honor my request for same.) I do not know what, if any, sanctions have been or may be levied against them.

I have also warned the good folks back at AAGW about this problem. To be sure, assisting with research can be a good thing. It can help others understand us better, and it can help us understand better how we're perceived. I for one will continue participating. We just need to keep in mind that not everyone is honest, in this or any other field.

What do you think?

UPDATE: The student affairs VP and human subjects research review board chair have told me, through the department chair, that "As the issue has been addressed, there is no need for further communication from you to anyone at Ithaca College about this issue."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Internet Anniversary

Good morning,

Today's my anniversary - I got my first Internet account 18 years ago today, having just started as a graduate student at George Mason University. (Thank you, Tracy Holt, wherever you are!)

Back then:

  • Spam was a food. Mass emailing didn't affect most people. So when you did get email, it was probably for you personally.

  • File exchange was via anonymous FTP (File Transfer Program). You would "ftp" to the other site, enter your email address for the password and upload or download whatever was appropriate.

  • There are few private discussion boards. Instead there was Usenet, a spontaneous arrangement between different sites to carry various topics of posts. See the first point above for why this changed.

  • There was no World Wide Web, let alone search engines. If you wanted to find out about something or someone, you would still need to ask actual humans - though you could do the asking on Usenet.

  • Also no Facebook, MySpace or similar social media. For getting to know people in general or someone in particular, see above.

  • Last but certainly not least - no blogs!

Have a great Interwebbed day!

PS: If you're a net.oldtimer like me and you'd like to share reminiscences, the comments field is open (or feel free to drop me a line)!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friendliness vs. Friendship

Last night I stopped by my local supermarket to get a whole bunch of groceries. Since moving there a couple of months ago, I've shopped there many times, and gotten to know a few of the people there - particularly a supervisor who gives great service.

So while standing in the checkout line, I happened to see him with his back to me and said "Hi Bill, good to see you again" (not his real name). He turned around and shook my hand, and asked me for my name, which of course I gave.

He said "Great to see you here all the the way, is all this stuff yours?" "Yes, it is." "OK, great to see you again." "You too, Bill!"

Next thing I know, some announcement comes out that my checkout line got some award. I figured the cashier just got a prize for handling so much stuff well (this was a major shopping trip for me). Imagine my surprise when another worker (whom I also recognized) handed me a durable cloth bag full of stuff. It seems it was their way of thanking me for doing so much business there.

And it was indeed for buying lots of things, not for being "buddies" with anyone there. Would the supervisor have noted how much I bought if I hadn't recognized him and called him by name? Maybe...maybe not.

There's a few lessons here:

  • Merit is necessary but not sufficient. You also need to be noticed. And getting noticed means reaching out to be people and being pleasant to be around.

  • This is business friendliness - not friendship. It's not like we know each other well or would go through a lot for each other. They appreciate the fact that I spend money there (and that I recognize them and conduct myself sociably). When interpreting how people appreciate you, note the context. In particular, if you're spending money there, they don't necessarily appreciate you the same way as if you and they were personal friends. A friendly manner makes life more pleasant; you can't buy actual friendship (though people will be happy to take your money to give you a pale imitation).

  • It's how you're expected to behave on the job. You need to separate people's friendly behavior toward you from how close they actually feel - particularly when you're spending money. Conversely, when people are giving you money (or giving money to others who pass some of it on to you), you need to separate how you actually feel about them from how you act towards them professionally.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Refreshingly Blunt (If Likely Apocryphal) Australian School Voicemail Tree

If you cannot access the embedded video, try this link.

UPDATE: Yep, it's a hoax all right - as confirmed by Principal Boyd Jorgensen of Maroochydore State High School, whose voicemail system it had supposedly come from. Thanks to Sai Emrys for taking the trouble to find out for sure.

(In case you were wondering, the person who originally brought this video to my attention requested anonymity.)