DREU 2013 - University of Maryland - Lulu Ye

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10


Week 10 and Beyond: August 5 - Future

I'm currently writing this from the comfort of my home. The last week of my internship was quite a whirlwind of activity. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday all involved a lot of typing, as I worked on the final report, a guide for my wristband, and a transcription of the study from week 9. The transcription probably took a total of six (rather slow) hours. We also ended up having another stud y Thursday afternoon, so I conducted the interviews one last time. Friday, my last day, was spent in Leah's office, going over the caprices of the wristband and adding some final modifications. We went out for a good-bye lunch at a campus restaurant. I couldn't believe that ten weeks had passed...

So. I'm home now. My ten weeks are done. And I've learned and experienced so much this summer, including:

  • reading 20+ papers
  • 10 weeks of research, cooking, and living on my own
  • 9+ trips to Washington, DC.
  • 4 trips to the National Gallery of Art
  • 3 crazy days in Wildwood, NJ
  • Ate through 3 jars of peanut butter
  • 2 studies, multiple pilot tests
  • created 1 website, 1 wristband (from scratch!), designed 1 study, wrote 1 research paper

The most valuable experience of the summer was working on a long-term project. (Yes, two-and-a-half-months is still "long term" for me.) The fast pace of college life doesn't allow for projects longer than a month, and I can't focus only the project for that entire month because...I'm in college. Prevailing even when I've been struggling with the same problem for a week has taught me a lot about patience and determination. Having something concrete come of my efforts--the wristband, the paper--is also a incredibly validating feeling. It's amazing to see how far I've come since June of 2013.

So what's in the future for me? First, the study isn't finished. Leah's still running studies with my wristband, and I'm still transcribing interviews and coding a separate user survey. The CHI deadline is in a month, and we're working to complete this study and write a submission for it. It would be amazing to have some of my work published, so we'll see! Second, I'm thinking about what kind of long-term projects I'd like to work on my own. Having this experience certainly taught me a lot about how valuable projects are. I've got a few ideas, and I'm excited about what I can learn from those opportunities. Third, I might search out some more research opportunities, especially when I return to Wellesley in the spring. My academic life so far has been memorizing textbooks and demonstrating that knowledge on exams, but research is a different kind of intellectual involvement. I really liked exploring the "what ifs" of the material.

Last of all, I want to thank the HCIL lab. It's been incredible getting to know you: Kotaro Hara, Jon Froehlich, Mike Gubbels, Matt Mauriello, Leyla Norooz, and Uran Oh. I'm super thankful for all the advice you've given me, the support for when my project didn't seem to be going anywhere, the Hackerspace playlist, the coffee runs, the graduate school paper discussions, and the friendships you've granted me. May that "ultimate emergency" frisbee serve you well.

Leah, thank you for being my mentor. I can't articulate this well, but I'll try: After this summer, I now feel that I can achieve further than what I thought was possible. You've definitely inspired me to work hard, think hard, and open the door to places I didn't know existed. Thanks for being a great role model and an amazing mentor.

Week 9: July 29 - August 4

You know you're a college kid when you leap at the chance for free food. And there was a lot of it this week--the iSchool hosted the Digital Societies and Social Technologies workshop, so it got a lot rowdier during the week. But, work went on...

My big thing this week was preparing for an actual participant of the study on Thursday. I practiced my study a few more times, pulling in random people from around the lab until I could execute with reasonable confidence. When Thursday rolled around, I was pacing in the study room rather nervously at 11AM, waiting for my participant to come...

Once it started, I relaxed. The study went pretty well. All I have to say is, interviewing takes skill. There's authority and ease that I lack but Leah has. Still, it's only my first study, and I look forward to growing from here.

After the study, I started working on the final paper. I'm thankful that we read and discussed so many research papers this summer! We held our weekly paper discussion at Starbucks on Friday. I'm starting to look beyond the content on the page and understanding how the paper is structured. It will be very useful when I write my report. Leah gave me an outline to follow, so next week I'll be busy typing up my study of the summer.

In other news, I had to move in the middle of the week. My sublease at my apartment was up on the 31st (something I did NOT know was going to happen before I agreed to the lease). So, if you happen to be a future DREU student and reading this, make sure to know what you're getting into when you look for housing. I was pretty fortunate, and there were a couple of options, but moving 10 days before you leave kinda sucks. I do like my new place, and am more comfortable here than my previous apartment!

On Saturday, Uran dropped by to give me some Maryland blue crabs she made for dinner. They were extremely delicious, and I was super psyched to eat them. It's been a very long time since I've eaten good seafood. The generosity of the people I've met this summer has been extraordinary.

Week 8: July 22 - July 28

It's research crunch time! The lab is getting busier as the CHI deadline of mid-September approaches. I made a lot of progress with my project this week, from finalizing the wristband to practicing my user study. Here's a breakdown of the events:

Monday - I added some ribbon and embroidery to make my wristband more tactile. I enjoy sewing and crafting, so it was fun to pick up the needle again. The ribbon also added flair to the wristband. (When Leah wore it later in the week, she said she felt like royalty.)

Wednesday - I piloted my study with Leah. The entire study took about 2 hours, since it was the first time I had ever gone over the study out loud, and we kept stopping to talk about my questions and procedure. The study is supposed to take around 90 minutes, but I'm pretty confident that we will get there.

Thursday - In the morning, I lead the graduate seminar discussion. I chose to discuss "The Future of Crowd Work" from CSCW this year, since a lot of projects I've encountered this summer take advantage of crowdsourcing. We discussed, at length, their framing question: "Can we foresee a future crowd workplace in which we would want our children to participate?" We agreed that the paper was a great overview of all the work done with crowdsourcing today, and thoroughly presents the challenges and problems encountered in crowdsourcing currently. However, there were some assumptions of the framing question that went unacknowledged in the paper. Nonetheless, I'm certainly excited to see what becomes of this field in the future.

In the afternoon, I edited the study. The pilot on Wednesday was super informative, and I changed and streamlined the questions a bit.

Friday - I held my first no-Leah pilot! Matt graciously came in to be my tester. I even blindfolded him since I was practicing my procedure for blind users. I won't say that it went without a hitch, but I thought it went reasonably well.

Weekend - I wasn't in College Park for the weekend: I went to Wildwood, New Jersey for the Wildwood Beach Tournament, the largest ultimate frisbee beach tournament in the world. Seriously, there were over 5000 people in attendance, and it was also my first time experiencing Jersey Shore. An unforgettable weekend, with a lot of sand, disc, and neon shirts.

Week 7: July 15 - July 22

This week was spent putting together my wearable and working on the study. The wearable's definitely coming along much further than the plastic-and-felt prototype of yesterweek. It looks quite a bit "cuter" and it's a lot more comfortable. I also spent a good amount of time improving the questions and the surveys. On Friday, when I showed Leah what I had, she had a few more suggestions to make it a bit more blind-friendly. I got to go shopping at Joanne's for various materials. I'll let you know what changes I make to the wristband next week with all the ribbon, cloth, and felt I bought this weekend!

On the weekend, I went to see a few fringe shows, even volunteered for them! I can now say that I've sold tickets to a burlesque show... A shout-out to Phyllis for letting me tag along with her adventures.

Last of all, I've also changed my website. After reading this week's seminar paper on users' first impressions of a website, I've made this site a bit easier on the eyes. I've also added a few images, something I've been meaning to do for a while. It doesn't look like what I originally intended it to, but that happens. What the designer initially thinks is a good idea might not turn out to be so popular with users. I've also learned to ask for feedback whenever I felt bored or indecisive with the project--user input will normally send me off working again. And it keeps me humble.

Short update for now. Next week promises to be pretty eventful, so I'll let you know what I'm up to then!

Week 6: July 8 - July 14

I'm deep in the summer internship, and what a week it's been! After about two weeks of pure struggle, I finally figured out how to connect to the iPad via the Bluetooth mate. It was one of my more ecstatic moments of the summer so far. I had contacted the Microchip guys, who finally got back to me after I sent them an email, and their HID expert, Josh, talked me through the process of changing the authentication to the right mode. Ugh. All the time I was messing with the modes...

That was only the beginning of the week. Leah also suggested that I start writing up a study plan for my wearable, so I spent some time thinking about how the study would go. She gave me a few chapters of the textbook, Interactive Design to read, co-authored by the dean of UMD's iSchool. (a small confession: I missed reading textbooks. #nerdforlife) I'm still working on the study plan, but expect to finish it up soon. So by the end of the week, I more-or-less had a prototype and the beginnings of a study plan. There are a few buttons that won't translate to the iPad, but it's definitely coming together.

In addition to the energy I spent working on my study, I got to participate in a pilot study myself! One of the projects at HCIL is called "Social Fabric Fitness," and I piloted a special shirt with a LED display that broadcasted some info like distance and pace of the wearer. I got up early on Wednesday to go on a run with a few members of the lab. Participating in the pilot study also gave me a good idea of what my study would look eventually look like. The shirts were also totally awesome.

As for the weekend, I traveled around the city quite a bit! I'm definitely putting my SmarTrip card (and my sneakers) to good use. I finally went to M Street, the area around Georgetown and George Washington University. It was a great place to be on a Saturday afternoon. I sat on the banks of the Potomac, watching the kayakers, speedboats, and paddleboarders for a while before I walked up and down M Street. I didn't stop at the famed Georgetown Cupcakes because the line was too long, but I got a cupcake from Sprinkles instead. It was a sweet afternoon.

Week Five: July 1 - July 7

This was a week of steps forward and steps back. I continued to build my wristband. I finally, finally, FINALLY got the Bluesmirf talking to my laptop. It was glorious. I was also having problem with the responsiveness of the Arduino IDE, but it turned out that a certain setting on Windows 8 was off the entire time so far I've been working...Unfortunately, during the process I seemed to have lost the connection between the Bluesmirf and the iPad. I sent out a few inquiries on Stackoverflow, the Sparkfun forums, and the Arduino forums asking about the inconsistency of the connection, but so far, no helpful responses have surfaced. I even sent an email to Microchip/Roving Networks, the maker of the Bluetooth chip on the Bluesmirf, but they haven't responded, either.

I also made a few "low-fidelity prototypes" to test out a few arrangements of the wrist band. I used a plastic bottle, strips of tape, and fabric. Easy! With the prototypes in hand, I conducted an informal poll to see what people preferred. The poll helped in moving the project forward. I often encounter these moments of indecision, but I found the solution: Ask the users what they would prefer, or at least what they think of your designs!

The rest of the week was filled with a lot of fun, as it was Independence weekend. A friend came to visit, so we went to DC on the fourth and I took her around Washington DC. It was deathly hot during those excursions, but I'm glad to say that I got to see the DC parade and experience the crazy-crowded fourth of July in the nation's capital! We came back to College Park for a closer firework experience.

It's the halfway mark...College Park is feeling much more familiar than the 1st week I was here. You might say that I'm even getting bored. Luckily, I have the capital fringe fest to look forward to.

Week Four: June 24 - June 30

I'm continuing to build my wristband. I realized at the end of the week that I was basically creating a keyboard for an iPad, and it’s pretty challenging. I don’t have an electrical engineering background, so I’m struggling a little. (But if I were having an easy time, then I shouldn’t be here!) I’ve made the potentiometers and the touch capacitors to work in sync, but the rest of the week was spent figuring out the new Bluetooth Mate.

The hardest part of building is getting the Bluetooth to communicate with the iPad. I’m having difficulty getting it to send data to the computer, though I’ve been able to pair it with the iPad and my laptop. I’ve spent a long time looking for similar projects online for some technical advice, but there isn’t an easy solution. I’ll just keep digging and trying, because that’s the only thing that I can do! In terms of research, I guess it’s a good sign that there hasn’t been anything exactly like the project—that means we’re covering a new area: There isn’t any advice because no one’s done it before.

This week’s reading seminar was on a paper that I had read earlier this summer. It was on the VizWiz Social app, where Amazon’s Mechanical Turk would help answer blind users’ questions about their surroundings. The paper classified the different kinds of questions that blind users asked, finding that a large majority of them are objective, such as asking what color some shirt was, or to have the instructions on a frozen dinner read to them. However, Uran brought up the idea that the questions were objective because of the way the app was structured, and wanted to know if blind users would ask subjective questions as well. Overall, the paper gave me insight into what the visually impaired struggle with, and was a great example of how technology can help people live more independent lives.


If you’re ever visiting UMD’s student center (called “the Stamp”), skip all the fast food restaurants on the ground floor and go to the food co-op in the basement. They have really great sandwiches and wraps, and they’re vegetarian-friendly! They also have fair-trade coffee beans, so as soon as I run out of my beloved Chock-Full-O-Nuts, I’m buying my coffee there. The atmosphere is lively, the place is busy, and the workers are super friendly. They also play pretty good music. The hippie in me was very happy when I first walked in.

***And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming***

And if you ever visit Washington DC, make sure to go to the Library of Congress. I planned to tour the capitol, but I showed up late, and it turns out that there’s a lot of security to get through before the tour. So I just went to the LoC, which sits behind the capitol. It’s definitely my favorite attraction of DC so far, which is saying a lot since there’s so much to do in Washington! They have really cool artifacts, like letters from the Civil War, old Globes, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s library. I pretty much geeked out the entire time I was there.

Week Three: June 17 - June 23

Things are getting serious around here! Leah, Uran (a graduate student who works with Leah), and I agreed on a design for my wristband. We ordered some touch potentiometers, and they came on Wednesday. The rest of the week was spent trying to make the various pieces I need work. The capacitive touch sensors were easy, as well as hooking up the potentiometers. The most technical challenge of the project is to make my Arduino and iPhone communicate with each other. We’re planning on using a Bluetooth connection between Arduino and iPhone to access iPhone’s VoiceOver feature.

I spent many hours first trying to understand how the Bluetooth Mate works by attempting to let it communicate with my laptop. It was major headaches and struggles until a kind grad student (Thanks, Kotaro!) figured out the problem: for some reason, the Bluetooth mate doesn’t really like the Arduino Leonardo, the board I’ve been working with, and needed to switch out for the Arduino Uno. So I did that, and the Bluetooth Mate finally said, “hello world!” to my computer. Whew.

… but it turns out this isn’t quite the right Bluetooth Mate that I need for the project. The Bluetooth Mate I was using doesn’t have HID (Human Input Device) firmware—this also took a day as well as the great tech support at Sparkfun to figure out—so we ordered a new one off Sparkfun. Note to self: know exactly what you have before you spend a week messing with it. It’ll save you a lot of time later.

This week’s reading seminar was on a paper that explored people’s reactions to smart houses. The study was about participants’ reactions to some variation of this video that illustrated potential use of software agents that would monitor energy usage inside the house. The researchers then analyzed participant’s response to an idea of agent. I really like the idea of smart houses, or agents that can help lower humans’ impact on the environment—maybe an area I’d like to explore in the future?

On the weekend, I went to DC again. There’s still so much to see—this time I walked around the National Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space. My poor feet were worn out by the time I got home, but it was definitely worth it. After all, I had eaten some good food, caught a light sunburn, and enjoyed the nation’s capital.

This week seems to have gone by much faster than my first week. I wish I could have figured out the technology more quickly this week so I would have more time putting things together, but I guess that’s one of the inevitable challenges of research: learning to use your tools.

Week Two: June 9 - June 16

This week has flown by so quickly. I spent most of it learning Arduino, finally putting to use the E&M knowledge I learned in high school. I feel like I have a good, general grasp of how Arduino and Processing works. My knowledge will be truly tested when I put together the prototypes

A couple of highlights:

Wednesday – Every Wednesday afternoon, my lab gets together to play Ultimate Frisbee. It’s ridiculously fun. I actually get a double dose of Ultimate on Wednesdays—the pickup group also meets at the same time and goes for longer, so I actually play with two groups of people.

Thursday – Every Thursday, the grad students in the lab hold a (ultimate) summer reading seminar, where they read a research paper and then discuss it. I attended both last week’s and this week’s discussions. I really enjoy the seminars. We obviously discuss the subject matter, but the “seminar” is more focused on what the paper has to offer as an example of good or bad research. This week, we read a paper on Codeable Objects, where Jennifer Jacobs and Leah Buechley (both of MIT) experiment with crafts, code, and how they can be used to teach programming. This paper was of particular interest to me since I’ve been doing work with wearable technology, which is the part of the focus of Buechley’s High-Low Tech Lab. As for the paper, we decided that though the content was interesting, the paper itself lacked enough rigorousness in methodology and objective.

Friday – Leah and I met up in the morning to start deciding what designs we wanted for the wristband. We have a few ideas, but what ended up happening was that we designed a preliminary user survey. I interviewed a few people around the lab about what having swipe capability on a wristband meant. The answers were varied, and helpful in deciding our design. There are a few patterns emerging…

Saturday – I went into Washington, DC today! It wasn’t the smoothest of beginnings but I made some friends along the way. I did a lot of walking—up and down the National Mall, through the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and all around Tidal Basin. It was a short visit, and I plan on going back in next week to explore the Smithsonians further and maybe get some cupcakes.

Week One: June 2 - June 8

I’m here! After a grueling, eventful, and growth-spurring spring semester, there’s finally time to settle down and really get into what computer science is. It’s not all code out there…

This past week was long and busy. I first settled into my apartment on Sunday, which is a fifteen minute walk away from the lab. There’s a pool and a gym on my floor, and a few restaurants on the ground floor. I’ve never had an east coast summer, and I can tell that it’s going to be hot and humid; hopefully, I’ll survive.

The only thing I’d complain about is that it’s really hard to get around College Park unless you own a car. Since I’m new to the area, I’ll have to check out public transportation and find a way to get essentials, like food. For the first day, I called a taxi to take me to the nearest Target, but it’s not something I want to do every time I need to get a loaf of bread. I’ll figure out something soon.

On Monday, my internship started. I showed up at the HCIL at 9:00, meeting my mentor for the first time. We talked about my interests and experiences as well as her area of research. She gave me a tour of the lab, introduced me to everyone, and gave me papers to read.

Full disclosure: I have never read a research paper until my first day at work. I expected them to be super technical and that I would be lost right after the introduction, but I followed along pretty well. Way to go, researchers, for writing understandable papers! It was also really cool to see what the current research is in HCI, where there needs to be more work, and how my work this summer fits in.

By the end of the week, I started sketching a few ideas for a wristband that’ll communicate to an iPhone. I’ll be making the prototype using Arduino, so I also dove into the tutorials! I’m trying to make a pressure sensor matrix. Sometimes, just diving in is the best way to learn…