I’m officially making up these new words, because they correspond to activities that I do on a regular basis and that I need to convey to my students. I hope that by giving these concepts their very own words, they will lose the threatening overtone that these remarks usually come with — because students will realize that these are all very common problems indeed!
One of the most brutal things to adapt in life after college is the sheer amount of feedback, criticism and rejection that come with real life. This happens in just about any direction one decides to go: graduate school, industry, public service or self-employment. It may not feel that way for students, but school is an overly protective environment; getting a C or even an F may seem like the end of the world at the time, but that’s nothing compared to doing the best we can in a project/job, giving it all we have, just to hear from someone we respect that what we’re doing is not good enough. I’ll talk about Academia because that’s what I know best, but these observations apply in general.
This post was prompted by a Facebook interaction regarding Dijktra’s famous “GO TO Statement Considered Harmful” article, a letter he sent to the editor of CACM back in 1968. Seen through the lens of currently accepted research reporting practices, Dijsktra’s article reads like a technical rant, something that we might find in today’s blogs, but that have been essentially abolished from peer-reviewed research publications. Here’s a person stating his strong opinion about a language construct that he dislikes, starting with a strong premise about the negative effects of that construct without presenting any data whatsoever supporting that premise! As far as anyone can tell, the premise was based entirely in his own experience and intuition — which happened to go against opinions of other famous Computer Scientists at the time like Knuth. Granted, this was just a letter to the editor, not a full-blown technical article. However, the influence of this letter is unquestionable! Following Dijsktra’s rage against GO TOs, practically all programming languages that came after it avoided that construct, and the ones that didn’t, work hard at hiding it from programmers, sort of like “oops! sorry! there’s goto, but try to avoid it, ok?” (Also, this letter was single-handedly responsible for starting the meme “X considered harmful” that has been going on in CS since then, although credit for that meme goes, not to Dijkstra, but to the CACM editor, who spiced the title a little bit from its original “A case against the GO TO statement.”)
Whether GO TO is harmful or not, is besides the point. In the process of writing my upcoming book, I spent a considerable amount of time over the past year looking through old CS literature. It’s fascinating! The topic of this post is the evolution of methods in Computer Science research for the past 60 years, and the changing ways by which ideas are considered well-argued for.
Virtual Reality is one of those ideas that has been part of the tech folklore for ever, but that haven’t quite taken off. Popularized in the 80s, VR has seen a number of ups and downs, hits and misses, hypes and backlashes — the most recent one being the rise and fall of Second Life. With VR, it’s always been two steps forward, one step back. Suddenly, a programmable, kickstarter-funded $300 headset falls in our laps from out of nowhere, and… it’s another two or four steps forward!
This is the story of Jan Vitek and I approaching the ACM Publications Board with a proposal for publishing the OOPSLA papers in a journal. Even though we did this together, the analysis and opinions in this post are mine alone.
TL;DR: if there’s any lesson to be learned from the ACM Publications Board’s policies on scientific publication is this: pay attention to their policies, then do the exact opposite.
[WARNING: this post is irrelevant for all but academics]
The market of scientific publications is such an organic mess, there’s no end to topics that can be beaten over their heads. This post is about “open access” publications. Lately there has been a push back against publishers that keep their content behind pay walls, coupled with a big favoritism for publishers that offer their content in “open access.” There’s no such thing as free lunch, ever. That’s the case here too. If readers don’t pay publishers of “open access” content, someone needs to pay. Guess who?
Serving as Program Committee Chair of OOPSLA 2013 has been an enlightening experience, and I’d like to share one more insight I’ve gained (I wrote about another one here). Specifically, I want to focus on the acceptance rate.
Some conversations I’ve been having over the past year led me to a deeper exploration of the issue of conferences vs. journals in Computer Science. The debate, so far, seems to be missing a few critical observations regarding scientific journals and our own ACM, and therefore it is somewhat incomplete. This essay lays out my thoughts on it.
Warning: No one except academics cares about this!