Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How to be black

I really liked today's "conversation" in the Washington Post, "How to be black" Baratunde Thurston. He's a comedian and writer, and wrote an auto-biographical book, some of which is excerpted in a slideshow on the WP website.

Worth a look. I really loved #11 "How to speak for all black people", and #13 "How to be the black employee", because I think they are also applicable to being a woman or other underrepresented person in technology. (I think I had a post on this?.... ah, yes, I did.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

My student is so good you can't have them

It's been positively fascinating reading recommendation letters for prospective graduate students. The majority are fairly normal, but a few are kind of clingy.
"Ms. Hopper is awesome and will do great at your university, except I really don't want her to go there, I want her to stay with meeeeeeeee."
Sometimes, the clingy professors will trash the student too, sort of like in the way I tell people, "this chocolate cake is TERRIBLE, you definitely don't want any."

While it's true good students are hard to find, and showing some level of adoration and commitment toward them is a good idea, clinging too tightly is bad practice professionally and managerially. And in fact, I've heard some stories of clingy advisors that cross me as borderline abusive.

Maybe in other fields this sort of thing is tolerable, but a graduate student in CS, even a bad one, can get a job anywhere, and make 5 times as much as they would as a PhD student. So it doesn't cross me as particularly clever to treat them poorly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Paper top 40 predictions

I've decided I am absolutely terrible at predicting which papers will be "a hit" and which papers will never get cited or read.

Like most academics, I'm usually working on several papers at the same time. In my mind as we're preparing and submitting, I often place bets on how the reviews will come back. Formulating my prediction involves not only the content of the paper, but also the publication venue, who I expect the reviewers might be, and other misc. variables.

I'm nearly always wrong.

And post-publication, the papers I am most proud of are never cited. The papers I am most ashamed of are frequently cited. I am considering employing reverse psychology as I write.

Either that or switch into mobile computing. Those people are so connected every paper has a gazillion citations.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Signal Boost: Stop the Internet Blacklist Bills

If you went to google.com, boingboing.net, wikipedia, or dozens of other sites on the net today, you may have noticed they have been blacked out in protest. This was done to bring the public's attention to two bills before congress: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).

Why the protest? Well, these bills were intended to curb online piracy and copyright infringement (good), but did so in a really technologically uninformed and dangerous way (bad).

In addition to these bills not actually helping curb online piracy, they grant an incredible amount of leeway to allow the government and companies to arbitrarily censor and monitor the communication of people using the internet, both in our country and abroad. A few fun nuggets about the PIPA bill, quoted from publicknowledge.org :

  • PIPA is overbroad. By including "information location tools," it makes nearly every actor on the Internet a potential violator.
  • PIPA is bad international precedent. By sanctioning government interference with DNS, it would be used as justification for other countries to hinder freedom of expression of online.
  • PIPA is ripe for abuse. By creating a "private right of action," rights holders could directly go after payment processors and ad networks.
  • PIPA speeds fragmentation of the Internet. By targeting DNS, it could lead to a fragmentation of the Internet, running contrary to the U.S. government's commitment to advancing a single, global Internet.

There is a lengthy list of reputable organizations protesting these bills, including legal scholars, human rights organizations, industry groups, and engineers. Also, Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab and fellow CS blogger, has a great post summarizing this issue, as does Trevor Trimm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

I urge you to take action and urge your congress members to reject this bill. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

More thoughts on unsolicited professorial advice

One other thing you get a lot of advice about as a new professor is how to run your show.

"Don't spend too much time on teaching"

"Write every day"

"Don't take too many grad students your first year"

The thing is, like anything, do what works for you. You want to spend 14 hours on making Teh Perfect Slides for your first class, do it. You want to get up at 4am and start writing, go for it. Want to relax all weekend playing Facebook games while occasionally picking at your grant proposal, sounds grand!

The trick is to know what makes you happy and know your own style, and work that way. You have a lot of flexibility in your schedule, the trick is figuring out how to best structure it so you're most productive. And to factor in recharging time, for whatever that means for you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fun with Google

You know that game where you type something into Google and note its wacky suggestions? I have no idea why, but I tried it today with 'Professors are'. This is the result:

So it would appear I am a candy bar, overpaid, and super-mean. Excellent! Ready for the Spring semester to start.

I also tried 'Computer Scientists are', and this is the result:

I suppose 3/4 ain't bad (I kind of like the blank one...)