Monday, May 28, 2012

Advice to people submitting things for review

Dear Author(s): 
Generally, when editors/PC members volunteer hours of their time to read your paper, read reviews of your paper, and give you helpful comments to improve your work, you should be polite, kind, and thankful toward them. That way, if your paper is borderline, we are far more likely to cut you a break.  
If you are a big jerk, and your science is suspect, there is little hope for you.  
I am always shocked when authors say, "I am brilliant, u r dumb" to people in a position of power over the fate of their paper / grant. As if that will really help their case.

Now, there are certainly cases where reviewers are wrong, or they ask something that's well outside of scope of a minor revision. But this is the exception, not the rule.

I am reaching the conclusion that "be a good citizen in the scientific community" classes might be beneficial during new student indoctrination. (Along with some sort of professional writing course that includes a unit entitled "'Yo Professor!' and Other Letter Writing Atrocities.")

Monday, May 14, 2012

What the hell, Dell?

Last month, Dell ran a summit in Copenhagen with over 800 attendees, including Michael Dell himself. As an MC for the event they hired Mads Christensen, who apparently is well known in Denmark for making racist, sexist, and other sorts of remarks in bad taste.

Christiane Vejlo was in the audience and tweeted and blogged about some of the comments Christensen made. He started out by noticing the majority of people in the crowd were men and said:
"The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out. The quota of women to men in your business is sound and healthy". 
Then he points out the very few women in the room and says, "What are you actually doing here?" 
After the break Mads Christensen shares with us his whole “show” about the bitchy women who want to steal the power in politics, boards and the home. “Science” he calls it and mentions that all the great inventions come from men. “We can thank women for the rolling pin,” he adds.  And then the moderator of the day finishes of by asking all (men) in the room to promise him that they will go home and say, “shut up, bitch!”.
The worst part is apparently Dell's response to complaints were along the lines of, "But, of course we support women! We were just trying to be funny. Ha ha. Can't you take a joke?"
I guess they realized this wasn't a good reply, so then they said something along the lines of, "We're sorry if we offended anyone." That "if" suggesting it is a woman's (or man's) fault if they were offended.

Molly Wood at CNET recently wrote about the event, and noted that apparently Dell has a precedent of being rather anti-women. In 2009 they had a marketing campaign suggesting women only used computers for dieting and shopping (you forgot knitting!), and it also settled a $10 million lawsuit over pay discrimination.
Dell, I am shaking my rolling pin at you. (Which I can do when I'm not baking your face off.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May CACM: Women Say What?

So I was reading the May issue of Communications of the ACM* today, and came across one of those lovely field naval gazing articles, "An n-gram analysis of Communications 2000-2010", by D. Soper and O. Turel. You don't really need to know what n-grams are for this blog post, suffice to say it's a way of analyzing gobs of text to try to figure out word usage patterns.

The tagline in the magazine for this article is, "Applied to almost 3,500 articles [this article] reveals computing's (and Communications') culture, identity, and evolution." This description is pretty apt - as I said, lots of field naval gazing.

So I get to the point in the article where the authors start discussing changes in writing style in the magazine over the past 10 years, and came across this nugget:
Our n-gram analysis also revealed changes in Communications' use of gender-related terms from 2000 to 2010. On average, masculine pronouns (such as "he", "his", and "him") appeared 277% more often than feminine pronouns (such as "she", "hers", and "her"). Moreover, the gap widened from 190% in 2000 to more than 290% in 2010. One possible explanation is the gender gap between male and female computing professionals also grew and was wider in 2010 than it was at any time in the previous 25 years.
Say what?

A far more likely explanation is writing bias. In 2012, the primary staff columnists at CACM are men (10 of 13) and the primary editorial board members are men (9 of 10). How often do the staff columnists call female computer scientists for quotes in articles? How often do they profile the research of women? How often does the editorial board correct authors who use gendered language in their contributed articles?

I agree there is a gender gap in computing, but I do not believe that explains Soper and Turel's pronoun results very well.

* For the non-Computer Scientist readers out there, Communications of the ACM (or CACM) is a monthly magazine put out by our primary professional organization. In addition to the typical society magazine stuff, it also contains peer-reviewed research articles.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to get started with programming

I am often asked:
How can I teach my kid to program?
How can I learn to program?
I'm glad you asked! I probably should have answered your questions during CS Education Week, but it appears I'm about 5 months too late for that.

For kids, two of the best resources I know of are Scratch and Alice. I also think Computational Fairy Tales and Computer Science Unplugged are excellent resources for kids.

For girls in particular, there is Dot Diva, for girls of color, Black Girls Code.

For older kids and grownups, and those with a perchant for Art and visualization, I highly recommend Processing.

For grownups, I recommend Udacity.

This should be enough to get you and your kids up and running. Have fun!