a woman in a red dress holding tega, a fluffy red and blue robot

I have an article up on the Media Lab blog!

Making new (robot) friends: Understanding children's relationships with social robots

I talk about questions such as:

  • Will robots replace teachers?
  • How can robots help kids learn?
  • How do children think about robots? Are robots friends?
  • Are human-robot relationships authentic?
  • Should we make relational robots? How do we do it "right"?

Go check it out!


wood bridge with rope railing stretched over a green ravine

Learning is awesome

My favorite part of just living is how much I learn. Here are some pieces of advice you might find useful, some cool skills I've acquired (maybe you'll be inspired), and a couple other things, too:

Because lists are awesome, too...

  • A GPS is only helpful in localizing large vehicles, particularly when you're trying to use the GPS to direct navigation. When your vehicle is smaller than the error margin of plus or minus two meters (e.g., an RC car), it doesn't work so well! (This from last summer, at NASA Langley.)
  • Pens with lights attached are a fantastic invention. I got a combo flashlight-pen at GHC last year. It writes. It lights up. This pen lives next to the pad of sticky notes by my bed. Now all my middle-of-the-night ideas are legible!
  • If you're working on a big important project, always work on it, every day. Could be a thesis. Could be a novel, or a software project. Even on the days when you really don't want to work on it and you're entirely unmotivated, work on it anyway. Do a tiny little bit, then do a tiny little bit more, and maybe you'll convince yourself that you are in the mood to work on it after all. If not, at least you did a little bit, right?
  • Just how cool people think NASA is. Specifically, how cool people think it is when they find out I interned there, twice. I continue to be surprised. Quite seriously. Are my standards for what counts as super awesome too high? Do I just expect everyone else to be similarly awesome, making my accomplishments average on the scale of awesomeness? Maybe I do ... everyone has the capacity for brilliance. Maybe not everyone fulfills that capacity, but I think you're suppose to take this as your cue to go be brilliant.
  • I earned my Amateur Radio Technician's license. I am now qualified to talk on the HAM radio bands! I know more than I used to about electronics, antennae, and radio frequencies. I'm still working on learning Morse Code.
  • Philosophy of mind. I know a decent amount on the subject from my cognitive science background, but there's always more to learn! A friend and I have delved into some fun readings: Aristotle's conception of matter and form, Aquinas on the immateriality of mind, Lawrence Shapiro on embodiment and reductionism, and many more. I'm re-reading Shapiro's The Mind Incarnate, which I initially read in my second cognitive science class ever, some three and a half years ago.
  • How to successfully relocate to a new city in a new state. Yeah, I did that. It involved a lot of talking to people, a lot of driving, and a lot of paperwork and standing in lines.
  • Just how flexible my sleep schedule can be. I used to be a stickler for getting my full eight hours every single night of the week. I realized over the summer that I can function just fine on a weird schedule of eight hours, then three hours, then seven hours, then maybe five, followed by nine or ten hours to catch up... I'll write more on this sometime. Carol Worthman wrote a particularly relevant chapter on sleep for Evolutionary Medicine and Health that I plan to outline for you.
  • The rudiments of tae kwon do. According to the instructors at the Goddard Tae Kwon Do club, I have a decent roundhouse kick. I'd like to learn more -- I'm still very much the beginner white belt.

And a whole slew of technology-related items:

  • Octave, essentially an open-source Matlab.
  • R, a statistical computing language and environment.
  • The rudiments of time series analysis
  • ROS, an open-source platform for robotics work
  • Mobile Robotics Programming Toolkit (MRPT) libraries
  • PCL, the point cloud library and useful for feature detection in point clouds
  • Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms, as well as other common mapping and path planning algorithms.
  • How to use subversion.
  • Random little things about Ubuntu, including the "alt-f9" shortcut to minimize the current window
  • How to use the Tobii T60 eye tracker.
  • And so much more ...

I wonder if I can double this list by this time next year..?


the entrance arch under the library to Vassar's campus with a banner hung welcoming the newest class: of 2011

Gender, scientists, and reductionism: Why Vassar is special

This fall, for the first time in four years, I'm not returning to Vassar. What better time to muse on the college's specialness?

Over the summer, a couple divisions became more apparent to me than they had been previously:

  1. Gender in technology fields - I worked in a lab at NASA Goddard of fifty-some interns/apprentices with a large number of mentors who dropped in on a regular basis. I was the only female on my project; I generally worked in a room with fifteen guys. Only one of the mentors I knew was female, and she was a professor from a collaborating university, not from NASA.

    I should emphasize that the difference I'm focusing on here is not in treatment but in sheer numbers. Why is it that fewer women end up in technology fields? The fact that so many prominent organizations focus on promoting women in technology -- including WIT, the Women in Technology project, NCWIT, and of course the Grace Hopper Celebration, which I attended last year -- suggests there's a problem. It's at the point where it doesn't even feel weird to be the only female in the room. Is there something wrong with that?

  2. Science vs engineering - I mentioned this recently. There is a clear division between those who have been trained as scientists and those trained as engineers. Yes, each have their own goals and purposes, but why isn't there more crossover?

  3. Reductionism vs dualism - As elaborated in one of the first essays I wrote here, I'm not a dualist. A prominent place to find dualisms is in many of the world's fine religions. Some of the conversations I had with people this summer have accentuated just how different that point of view is from my own.

The fact that I noticed these differences now -- not during a previous summer or semester -- highlights just how special a place Vassar is, and how different being at an undergraduate liberal arts college is from being in the rest of the world.

My closest friends at Vassar were also non-dualists; Vassar's mix of genders is unique enough to begin with that the ratio in technology-related majors continues to be unique; Vassar lacks an engineering department and is generally full of scientists.

The rest of the world has different ratios of people and mixes of beliefs. I'm finding it fascinating to explore.


"I got these pictures off the Internet."

This is not a sentence that should ever be uttered when one is giving a presentation, yet last week, a fellow student said those exact words.

"The Internet" is not a reference.

Chapters of books, articles in journals, and individual web pages can be references. The Internet, instead, is like a library: A place to find references. You don't cite your library in presentations.

Perhaps some of the confusion arises because all the content on the Internet is accessed through the same program (your web browser of choice). Because it is all seen in the same window on your monitor screen, it must all originate in the same place, right? Intelligent people know better, yet it is still easy to fall into the trap of assuming that images in particular and digital media in general belong not to one author, but to the vast, amorphous sea of information floating around cyberspace. If it shows up in a Google search, it's free for the taking, right?

I'm not going to lecture you on copyright laws or on how to properly cite images. But for the curious, here is a long and detailed explanation of copyright and digital images. If that's too long, pop a couple words such as "digital images" and "copyright" into Google and I'm sure you'll find a summary. I'll also recommend Chris Chesher's article on blogs and the crisis of authorship, a related but not identical topic.


The Internet. Accessed November 3, 2009.