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So at my lowest point today the convo went a little something like this:

Me: *Staring blankly out the window with a sad face on trying to emote “pay attention to me! pay attention to meeeeee!”*

A.T. : *sigh* What’s wrong?

Me: ARGHHHHHH! whiney whine whine.

A.T.: *blank stare*

Me: I just don’t wanna work on my thesis anymore!!!!! wahhhhh. *sad face*

A.T.: Don’t pout.  I’m going to nap in the park.

Me: Fine!

– temper tantrum over…but hmm maybe I’ll blog about it.

Feeling better now, although I did have to temporarily switch my music choice of Caribou to a Beyonce/Lady Gaga mix…yeah that’s how bad it got.

After today I have three weeks left to basically finish my thesis.  It has been three weeks already and time has flown!  I have a working copy *sort of* which I will post online today, no matter how nervous and uncomfortable that makes me.  I am going to start updating the version daily just like Aran (cause Aran has some good ideas sometimes). If you do happen to take the extra step and open it…which right now I hope you don’t….please be reassured that eventually it will be longer and make much more sense, and sound alot more professional.  Ok enough of that…I’m actually much more confident in my content than I seem right now, but hey, highs and lows man, highs and lows.

My plan of attack for next week is library and lab.  I have written out my rough thoughts/notes/points and now I want to expand on each more thoughtfully and concretely.

This blog post has been a nice little break. I’m sure you are all going to be sitting at the edge of your seats until the end of the(my) work day when I post up my thesis! yay! (see i told you…totally bipolar)

I have been rereading a lot of papers the last 2 weeks that I read, probably in the fall.  I am writing up my results and discussion sections, so have been reviewing papers on grounded theory, and am now kicking myself that I didn’t reread these certain papers before I began my analysis.  Not because they would have changed the way I performed my analysis, as I had already planned out my approach beforehand.  But now that I’m reviewing them again I’m realizing that all of the second guesses I was making and frustrations I was experiencing were normal and part of the process.  It probably would have saved me some time of going over them again and again, and given me some reassurance.  But I commonly do this, make things more complicated than they need to be. *le sigh*

For example, reading this before I tackled the analysis and having it fresh in my mind would have helped alot:

In summary, coding qualitative information into quantitative data is often useful and even necessary, but must be done carefully. It should be  remembered that coding adds neither objectivity nor accuracy to data, although it may appear that way. Coding is especially difficult when the concept to be coded is subjective in nature, when the terminology used to describe it varies and is difficult to interpret, and when different data sources disagree.

(p.565) Qualitative Methods in Empirical Studies of Software Engineering Carolyn B. Seaman


Collection of qualitative data is often a very satisfying experience for the researcher. Although it is often more labor-intensive, it is also more enjoyable to collect than quantitative data. It is interesting and engaging and it often gives the researcher the sense that they are closer to reality than when dealing with quantitative abstractions. Many researchers wish that their work could end there. The analysis of qualitative data is, in this researcher’s experience, not nearly as inspiring as its collection. It is sometimes boring, often tedious, and always more time-consuming than expected.

(p.565-566) Qualitative Methods in Empirical Studies of Software Engineering Carolyn B. Seaman

These words hit the nail on the head concerning what I was feeling throughout the analysis process.  Not sure why I felt the need to share on my blog…but it’s just so classic Alecia, to stress out about every detail thinking I’m doing something wrong, go over it again and again, wasting time…and then realize after the fact that I was right from the very beginning…or that the easiest way to reassure myself was at my fingertips and I just didn’t realize it.  f@%#!

Ok, so I know I said I wanted a first draft up last Friday…but it seems I was a bit too optimistic in setting that milestone.  I am now targeting next Friday (not this Friday, but the Friday after…I’m never sure how that works).  In a meeting with my advisor this morning I was saying how I’m not sure how to judge my progress. I feel like I am getting work done, and making progress, but as I’m not sure exactly how much work is ahead of me it’s hard to say if I’m on schedule or not.  He replied with asking me how many pages I have right now that I could show him.  To which I said zero (eek!), they are all notes and point form, not really in any readable format.  Ah, nothing like a talk with your advisor to give you a reality check.  I’d say out of the 5 day week I am devoting to school, I feel good about the productivity of maybe 3.  I’m going to have to do better than that.

Last week I reviewed the results again…and then reviewed the results AGAIN…and again.  Needless to say, I need a break from my results and discussion.  I fine-tuned the classification scheme I presented earlier, and by fine-tuned I mean obsessed over.  I found it pretty tough because there is no clear way to say this is how you describe a map, there are so many factors and exceptions that play into it so I can interpret it many different ways.  I can be pretty indecisive so I need to just pick a structure and stick with it and ensure I cover all of the decisions I made in my writing.

Up until last week I had only been looking at keywords and tracking how often they were being used in the descriptions.  Now I have taken a look at the context of the keywords which allowed me to see how the categories were used in order to create a description.  I guess if you take only one thing away from my research, this should be it (albeit in it’s first draft form)…

A description of a thematic map relays context through stating:

  • Query data, for a general understanding of what the map is representing
  • Jurisdiction, for a specific area the map is covering
  • Location, to give real-life names to the area of jurisdiction

The points shown in the thematic layer are described in relation to the various topographical features and landmarks through comparing:

  • Size
  • Distance
  • Direction
  • Placement

These descriptions are enriched through the use of descriptive words of the various layers and their features, which relay:

  • Shape
  • Size
  • Colour
  • Direction
  • Quantity

There were also two noticeably dominant techniques when describing the map. To choose a specific target (ie. river, lake, city center) and then describe everything on the map in relation to the target. If there was no obvious target available, participants chose to divide up the map (into quadrants, top-down, left-right) and progressively describe the maps in smaller pieces.

Here is an example that I have pieced together from the results to illustrate what I have stated above:

to be determined

This map is showing locations of facilities which reported pollutant releases in Canada in 2008.  There is a town named Springfield, which is based along the east bank of a river.  The river runs alongside the town from north to south.  Approximately half way down, the river is joined by a smaller river that arches from the left.  At the point where the two rivers join is a railway track.  There are 3 facilities shown, the first is at the terminus of the railway track.  The second point is located at the south end of the town and to the east of the first point.  There is a small park near the center of town and bordering the east side of the river, as well as an orange symbol over the river about X km north of the park.  The third point is due east of these two features, and is just outside the north-east side of the town.


Query Data =  “locations of facilities which reported pollutant releases in Canada in 2008”

Jurisdiction = “town”

Location = “Springfield”


Size = “smaller river”

Distance = “orange symbol over the river about X km north of the park”

Direction =   “The second point is located at the south end of the town and to the east of the first point.”

Placement = “There is a small park near the center of town and  bordering the east side of the river”

Descriptive Words:

Shape = “that arches from the left”

Size = “There is a small park”

Colour = “orange symbol”

Direction = “The river runs alongside the town from north to south

Quantity = “due east of these two features”

My research at UofT has been focused on figuring out the best way to describe a map in order to attach a text description to interactive maps online and therefore satisfy an important accessibility requirement.

I chose this topic not just because I am interested in accessibility and think that it’s a worthwhile cause and will hopefully contribute to peoples lives in some way…but also because it is related to what I do at my full-time job at Environment Canada.  As a government agency, we are required to satisfy the WCAG checkpoints for everything we release online, as every single Canadian citizen is entitled to access the information.  My group is a major hub for web-mapping development at Environment Canada and groups like ours across the federal government were getting alot of questions concerning the accessibility of web-mapping applications.  Web-mapping accessibility was a great unknown and there were no standards that fit with online maps.

So we did what we could in order to create an accessible web-mapping template, and we’re still working on it.  The biggest and most difficult unknown, how to describe the map, was left to my research…as it was something too far out of scope for any project we were working on.  But in the meantime we finally have a dev link that can be accessed by the public.  We made this temporary site so that other government agencies could view and contribute to our accessible template, but I see no harm in sharing it with interested parties outside of the government realm, as any feedback from Canadian citizens is worthwhile in my opinion.  This template is meant to be general and not geared towards any specific government agency even though it is being hosted by us at EC, it is the result of many peoples work and contributions.  Please feel free to test out the WMAT and provide me with any questions/comments/feedback.  If you are not familiar with the project or accessibility in general it may not be obvious as to what has motivated the various design decisions.  One of my first tasks once I get back to work is to draw this up in order to help explain it all.   There is also an ever-expanding list of features and ideas for whenever we have the resources to implement them, we would be happy to add more.

When we first made this template we basically stripped out all features and made it as basic as possible in order to allow for device-independent navigation.  We had to create two different applications, one accessible and one fully-featured as the accessible one proved pretty unusable for a general audience that is used to the world of google/bing maps.  And we still hadn’t accounted for Javascript or the use of embedded data in the map, among many other things.  You can see one of our first iterations here which might make it easier to understand where we started.

Finally though, because we had a proper basic version to work with, we have been able to slowly add more features through progressive enhancement, which you can see through turning Javascript on and off.  It’s finally starting to be more usable to a general audience…although we still have a ways to go.

So why is this a big deal you ask?  Well, I’ve always hated the idea that we had an accessible version and a full-featured version.  Ideally I wanted a working version that could be used by all, and this is a step in that direction.  Also, it’s alot easier to convince developers and clients that they can satisfy accessibility without compromising the “wow factor” (sorry, that’s a terrible term we use at work all the time, but I’m drawing a blank and can’t think of a better one) of an application when you have something to show them.

Hmm, I always mean for these posts to be short and sweet…but I really like to talk/write/chat/communicate…especially about accessibility 😉

So this whole thesis writing thing is kind of hard.  It’s taking a bit of getting used to, coming to the lab everyday instead of work.  I feel like I’m in a bit of a bubble.  It’s definitely more of a solitary existence than I’m used to, I’m not exactly a solitary kinda gal.  But I’m finding positives and negatives to it. I wonder if it’s acceptable to thank Lady Gaga in the Acknowledgments section of my thesis…because really, I don’t know what I would do without her.

There seems to be some confusion…I have NOT quit my job to become a full-time academic.  I took some short leave so I could concentrate on writing, I will be back at EC in September don’t you worry 🙂  Both my advisor AND my manager are eager to see me finish up, so it was supported on both sides.  I’m lucky to work at a place that offers the flexibility to do things like this…I know that’s not the case for everyone.   I love the environment and Canadian citizens, so how could I leave?  Plus I thrive on client interaction, they aren’t going to know what hit em when I return.  I miss my guys (and my two girls – the reality of IT work) alot…the atmosphere here in the lab is pretty different.  But again, I’m not complaining…just sharing.  I can’t wait for the graduation party my work guys throw me though *hint hint*.

What the heck…why do my blog posts keep sounding like dear diary entries lately? I think I’m feeling reflective and wistful as a result of this thesis, uhoh.  Ok let’s move on.

If you recall from my last post I was pretty gung ho about my process and framework.  Weeeeeell I got a little sidetracked and went back to the results.  It messed up my flow, but I guess I had gotten ahead of myself.  I am delving deeper into my classifications, and will post it up again as soon as it’s done. I have penciled a milestone into my calendar for friday of next week.  Hoping to have some sort of draft to put up.  And as soon as I hit “Publish” that deadline will become much more of a reality to me.

To summarize: Tuesday – productive, Wednesday – not so much, Thursday – frustrated, and Friday – I’m in love…I mean productive.

Look out weekend, here I come.

As most of you who read this blog (yes, all 3 of you) know, I am now in thesis writing mode. Today was my first day, and I told my gracious, witty, and oh so kind advisor Greg (yup, that was me sucking up) that I would try to blog regularly about my progress.

Thanks to Jorge (yay Jorge!) I now have a plan of attack. I came to the lab today with a framework of my thesis. The general structure, chapters, paragaphs, topics etc that my thesis will cover and the order. So I spent most of today going further with this and outlining the message I wanted to convey in each paragraph and writing up general notes. I started with my Background chapter (made sense), currently on the topic of Web Accessibility.

I also found that I did quite a bit of reading, or re-reading if you will.  And I think this will continue for the next while.  Quite a bit of time has passed since I first started researching my topic, and with the conducting and analysis of my research study, staying up on the topics took a backseat.  So now I guess I must review everything so that it’s fresh in my head and I can start writing about it.  Thank goodness for Delicious tagging!

What I am also finding helpful is the final project from Steve‘s class last year.  We had to design an empirical study and write-up a conference-style paper about that study.  Most of us used our research topics, and although mine wasn’t fully fleshed out yet a lot of it is still applicable to my final result.  I’ve been able to look back at it to figure out where I want to go with my write-up.  I also took a look at this over the wknd when writing up my framework.

I’m not really sure what to blog about aside from that. Should I post up the pages of notes I wrote out today? I don’t think I feel good about that, I mean I don’t exactly keep a serious face on (if ever) when I write these posts, but that doesn’t mean I want you all reading my nonsensical notes.

I heard through the grapevine that when Aran was writing his thesis he would post up the drafts even though they weren’t all shiny and glossy. That is a level of transparency that I am comfortable with, so when I have a working draft I will be sure to do so.

Aside from that, my plan is to work Monday-Friday approx 8-6 and keep the wknds for sanity. The first time in 3 years where I will only have one full-time job instead of both work and school! I allowed myself access to social media at lunch…but am seriously going to have to limit that in the weeks ahead. And I plan to meticulously track my progress so I don’t sway too far from my goal.  Ok this starting to sound like a journal entry instead of a blog-post…you may want to unsubscribe now, as in a couple of weeks these posts may just be long-winded rants of thesis writing frustration…but hey, I’m staying positive!

Oh, also, it was very hard to resist the hilarity and charm of Jono today…I hope you can all appreciate how focused I am going to *try* to be!