Monday, September 19, 2011

How to make your journal editor happy

And in today's Hints from Heloise...

If you want to make your journal editor / reviewers happy when submitting a revision for review, use colorful highlighting annotations in your PDF document to show what's new. This makes skimming a 48 page manuscript so much more pleasant, and as an editor I am far more likely to click, "Hoo-rah, accept!" than I otherwise would.

Recently I read one manuscript where the authors put their new text in yellow and their revised text in blue. Just this simple gesture made it so easy for me to check if they'd made the required changes.

You'd like to think your reviewers are not this easily manipulated, but I can tell you at least one of them is. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dear Software Designers Near And Far

Dear Software Designers Near And Far:


Because frankly I can't figure out a damn thing on any of your new fancy, textless toolbars. Yes I know the magnifying glass icon means zoom. I know the printer-looking icon means print (if I can see it). I know "X" means "close". But that's it. I should not have to go through 18 menus to say "turn text labels on". I should not have to hover over every single picture to figure out what they mean. Just tell me, with words. 

Many people cannot read, and I respect that you want to make these interfaces accessible to them. But please make them accessible to me too.


(*) Since I actually do care about any readers who use screen reading software, these labels are meant to say: "Please, please, please put labels on buttons."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kudos, ACM!

Kudos to ACM for featuring two prominent Female Computer Scientists on in this month's Communications of the ACM (CACM) -- Jeannette Wing and Barbara Liskov (via Valerie Barr). I especially enjoyed reading Valerie's article about Barbara's keynote at Grace Hopper. Barbara is the second woman to win the Turing Award, which is basically the Nobel Prize for Computer Science. I liked this:
"Liskov talked about her technical work that ultimately led to the Turing Award. Much of her work was motivated by an interest in program methodology and the questions of how programs should be designed and how programs should be structured. So, after receiving the Turing Award, she went back and reread the old literature, discovering anew that there is great material in old papers and that her students were unaware of it. So, she is now pointing people to these papers and encouraging people to read them. 
For example, three key papers she cited are:
  • Edsger Dijkstra, "Go To Considered Harmful," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 11, No. 3, March 1968, pp. 147–148.
  • Niklaus Wirth, "Program Development by Stepwise Refinement," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 14, No. 4, April 1971, pp. 221–227.
  • David Parnas, "Information Distribution Aspects of Design Methodology," IFIP Congress, 1971."
I recently had a similar "everything new is old again" epiphany. I was looking up a paper that everyone cited and realized it was far too recent. So I went down the citation rabbit hole and found the original paper, written over 30 years ago. And, wow, great ideas - but they completely got lost in the whisper-citation-down-the-lane effect.

Anyway, good stuff, check it out if you have the chance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Postage linkage

I'm unfortunately too busy to post something oh-ridge-a-nal today, so instead I will highlight three posts from fellow Computer Scientist bloggers that I really enjoyed.

1) The Five Stages of Conference Paper Writing, by Amy Dalal over at This is What a Computer Scientist Looks Like.

I laughed my head off at this post. It's so true, every word of it.

2) Programming != Computer Science by Matt Welsh over at Volatile and Decentralized.

This is really apt as well. There's such a big difference between how you envision projects in industry vs. in academia. This is one reason why it's really nice for students (both undergrad and grad) to do summer internships in industry. It really helps bring perspective and changes how you think about software development.

3) Hello Android by John Reghr over at Embedded in Academia.

I just want to say that giving an A to any student who legitimately makes $100 on a mobile app developed for class is a brilliant idea. If I ever teach a class that involves mobile app development, I'll have to steal that one!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11's (and Google's) effect on technology

Marketplace had a great piece today on Alessandro Acquisti's work on his Face Matching Algorithms of Dooooom. As in, he takes a photo of the NPR interviewer with his iPhone, and it immediately pulls up everything about the guy.

From a technological perspective it's all fascinating, but from a privacy perspective it's downright terrifying. This is all reflects a lack of citizen and governmental understanding of data. You share some information with your grocery store, get a frequent shopper card, you don't realize how this data is being brokered, merged, sold, to countless numbers of people. Furthermore, a photo you post with some friends at a party, even if you don't tag it-- all you need is one identifiable photo (Driver's license registry?), and BOOM, there it is.

Add this to fraudulent SSL certificates running amok, and I really feel like we're up a creek.

This is a great time to become a security researcher. Grad students, forget all those other CS topics - do security. Or systems. Or both! There are plenty of important problems that need solving ASAP.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My view on "safe" research

What's that old proverb that everyone used to forward around in the 90s?
Work like you don't need the money; dance like no one is watching; sing like no one is listening; love like you've never been hurt; and live life every day as if it were your last.
I basically view my research program this way now. I met with a senior colleague recently who started to dispense the "play it safe until you're tenured" advice, then stopped themselves midstream and said, "Actually, if you play it safe you probably won't get tenure."

I think the game is all about finding exciting problems to work on and having the motivation to work on them (and getting students excited about working on them). It's also about aligning yourself to what people want to fund. We certainly seem to be in an era of applied research being popular - which is great for most computer scientists, though I do feel bad for my colleagues in theoretical fields.

Still, I think it's possible to be well-aligned with the desires of funding agencies and administrators while also pursuing dangerous ideas. It's all about spin.

Monday, September 5, 2011

All in a day's work

Today I received my first "Yo Professor!" email of the semester*, had a student sitting in my office providing an unsolicited out-of-the-blue trashing of some colleagues, and, during the meeting, had a student who I've never seen before just walk in to my office asking to borrow a stapler.**

Last week another female STEM professor and I were walking down the street and a car of young men drove past and started honking and shouting. And another almost-student posted very bizarre ethnic and racial slurs online.

I think we need R. Lee Ermey to give the opening speech at orientation, whoever is doing it now is clearly too much of a softie.

Apparently it's not just me having fun encounters with students this week! Must be all the crazy weather.

(*) Actually, at least he called me Professor instead of Mrs., or, worse, Mr. (That gender confusion happened last week, actually. "I'd really like to talk to Dr. FCS about his research program.")

(**) Ok, so it's Labor Day, so maybe the main office was closed. But it seems to me he could have knocked. And left when he saw another student was in my office. And, apologized and/or left when I growled and scowled. @Piggie(Oh, Ermeyyyyyyyyyy).