November 2008

I was listening to the folks on NPR talk about Thanksgiving recipes this morning, and so I thought I would reprise my turkey tips. Here are my 5 steps to the perfect turkey:

  1. Brine it
  2. Dry rub it
  3. Don't stuff! Don't baste!
  4. Tent it
  5. Use a digital thermometer

For lots of detail on these steps, check out my earlier post: Thanksgiving Turkey That Will Make Your Fall Over. I've never failed to make a flavorful, juicy turkey with these steps.

The experts on KQED were commenting that they prefer not to cook the bird whole, under the assumption that the breast and the legs are just so different in their cooking times, their fat contents, that they need different treatment. This is certainly one way to go. But then again, people cook chickens whole and they turn out great. The problem is magnified in a bigger bird, sure, but the way to deal with this is #4 above: the tent. A dry turkey breast is the biggest worry you should have. But using a foil tent to slow the cooking of the breast while the legs and thighs get done will work out great.

One last thing. The most flavorful part of any fowl is also one of the least appreciated: the oyster. Follow the thigh around the back of the bird to where it meets the backbone and you'll find a little round indentation of firm, juicy, flavor-filled dark meat. Dig your finger in and it'll come out whole. It's bite-size and scrumptious. Don't let that go into the stew – you want to eat it now!

I just got back from CSCW 2008 in San Diego, which was wonderful, relevant, and thought provoking. Among the papers that most piqued my interest was one by Aniket Kittur, Bongwon Suh, and Ed Chi called 'Can You Ever Trust a Wiki? Impacting Trustworthiness in Wikipedia'. The authors do a really interesting study to examine how much a visualization that presents factors related to 'trust' can push around a participants perception of the 'trustworthiness' of a Wikipedia article. Ultimately they find that the visualization can, in fact, push perceptions in both directions.

Now, this is a really neat paper, and it won the best note award this year. But you might be able to tell from the title and the scare quotes above what my problem with it is. This is a paper that's all about trust, but it's treatment of trust is completely insufficient, uncritical, and confounds what would otherwise be a neat study. We can break the problem down into two big issues:

  1. The authors' do a poor job of defining what trust and trustworthiness mean.
  2. For a paper that has the word trust in the title, the authors spend few words discussing what it means. And it's not like there's been any magical clarity about its definition that allows us to take the idea of trust for granted. If you look at the huge body of literature on trust in HCI (which I did while I was at Yahoo! this past summer), you find out that there's huge variety in definitions of trust. As evidence, note how many papers about trust begin with long sections of literature review and analysis to make sense of what trust means. This paper needed that. As it is, the authors use the following definition from Fogg and Tseng (1999):

    "…[trust is] a positive belief about the perceived reliability of, dependability of, and confidence in a person, object, or process."

    Worst. Definition. Evah. The only part I'm on board with is that trust is positive. Otherwise, this definition legitimizes the colloquial usage of trust by lumping many, many distinct ideas together: interpersonal trust, credibility, reliability, security, privacy, and confidence about people, things, and systems. Wow. That's not a definition, it's more like 12. Ignoring the definition of trust isn't unique to this paper though. Many in the HCI community seem blissfully ignorant of the problems around trust, and completely unwilling to unpack it. But we have to unpack it if we want to say anything meaningful. Otherwise, we don't even know what we're talking about. Otherwise my feeling about the factual accuracy of a sentence on Wikipedia is the same as my feeling about whether the seller on eBay is going to come through with the genuine article. But even worse:

  3. We have no way to interpret what participants thought 'trust' and 'trustworthiness' meant.
  4. Whatever definition Kittur et. al chose, it would have been fine if they'd communicated that to participants and asked them to respond to it. As it is, they just asked participants to make judgments about 'trustworthiness' without providing any clarity, so we have no idea what that construct means, how participants interpreted it, or how its interpretation differed across participants (I'd bet it differed a lot!). Now, you might say (and I'd agree) that people tend to define trust in their own way. That's great, true IMHO, and something we need to investigate and deconstruct soon.

    But if you're going to make a scale, you'd better be clear about what that scale represents or else your reliability and validity are completely shot. As it is, the best we can say about these results is that providing visual feedback on Wikipedia articles was correlated with changes in participants' response to a scale measuring unknown perceptions related to interpersonal trust, credibility, reliability, and who knows what. In that respect, the note is a great first start to show that some forms of feedback can influence perceptions. But the authors missed a huge opportunity to say much more. Hopefully this is on tap for future work.

Note: Today I'll be invoking the 'journal' quality of my blog. I'm blogging for me. :)

Today I have two main thoughts, the first profoundly happy, the other like the thick swallow you take before throwing yourself out of a plane, trusting in the parachute.

  1. Barack Obama could very well turn out to be a decent president. Good, even. A President we remember fondly, like Bill Clinton maybe. If that's the case, maybe yesterday won't seem so memorable in 10, 20, 50 years. But then again, if Obama is the kind of transformative President I so badly want, and we as a country so badly need, then I'll remember a lot about yesterday. I'll remember filling in the line on my ballot and touching the names of Obama and Biden a little bit. I'll remember the faint echoes of joyous whoops in my neighborhood, and the tears on Tamar's face when we heard 'Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States,' even though the polls didn't leave us with much suspense. Right now these memories are very vivid, and I hope they stay that way.
  2. It's a funny thing. At the end of 2 years of long, hard fought campaign in which every conceivable difficult issue was batted around, after endless interviews, rallies, miles traveled, and angry back-and-forth, maybe the toughest campaign ever, after all of that, the prize that Obama has earned for himself is only the hardest job anyone could have. Last night, I thought Obama seemed ever-so-slightly sobered by that weight as he gave his victory speech. It's a lot of trouble, a lot of battle, a lot of repair, and a lot of expectation that's waiting for him.