Maybe it shouldn't be Computer Science

I had an interesting conversation at lunch yesterday when I met a CS professor at a local college. He's got nearly 15 years industry experience, in addition to a decade being in academia, so exposure on both sides of the fence. During the course of the conversation I asked him what triggered the transition. His response was that he didn't really enjoy programming.

There's nothing wrong with that answer. I'm always jarred by it when I hear it from folks, because programming is what I love. But everyone's different, an there is a lot more to computer science than just programming.

Over the course of the day that statement kept coming back to me, and I realized I'd heard it a lot of times in the past. The vast majority of CS profs I had during my graduate degree were in the same camp. Friends that are in CS academia, tend to lean the same way.

Art and music programs in liberal arts schools are a combination of practitioners and theorists, attempting to build a well rounded art student on both fronts. So why is CS still mostly theory in these environments?

The theory parts of CS wouldn't have been my thing as an undergraduate either. Much like calculus being pretty boring in high school, but becoming down right compelling in my college physics classes when it was a tool to solve a problem, and not just theory that stood on it's own. Without a body of work that's tangible, the theory is much less relevant.

So maybe it's time to call it something other than Computer Science. Software Engineering has the no no of the word Engineering, which doesn't go over well at liberal arts schools. Apparently, Informatics is the monkier in much of Europe, and given the rise of data analysis, that's probably as good an idea as anything else.

Upcoming Talk: Getting Involved in Open Source

We're circling around on January again, which means it's time for my annual talk at MHVLUG. One thing that's really fascinated me over the last year is recovering and revitalizing open source projects whose maintainer has wandered off. The talk was mostly going to be about that, but after a bunch of conversations, I realized that I probably needed a talk of more broad appeal.

The new talk is going to be: Getting Involved in Open Source. This is going to be both a personal journey, as well as a list of lessons along the way. The successes and failures are going to be basically mine alone. After over a decade working in open source, I've got bumps and bruises all over the place, but fortunately no mortal wounds.

I've already got slides and talking points spinning in my head, things I haven't thought about in years. This is going to be a really fun talk, and should be very educational to people with all levels of open source development.

Stop Online Privacy Act

Apparently the only thing that can get bi-partisan agreement right now is destroying the internet. The hearings in the congress were basically stacked with big media executives, with the only vaguely technical person being a lawyer (not an engineer) from Google.

The creators of the internet have signed an open letter about how damaging this could be.

Call your congressman, get this thing stopped. Use some of those extra cell phone minutes, or unlimited long distance, to keep the internet a place where new ideas can incubate, instead of being stomped out by big media companies.

Freakonomics off the rails

Great post at American Scientist about how Freakonomics has gone off the rails.

In our analysis of the Freakonomics approach, we encountered a range of avoidable mistakes, from back-of-the-envelope analyses gone wrong to unexamined assumptions to an uncritical reliance on the work of Levitt’s friends and colleagues. This turns accessibility on its head: Readers must work to discern which conclusions are fully quantitative, which are somewhat data driven and which are purely speculative.

I loved their first book, but as the author says, the strongest part was around Levitt's own peer reviewed research. As they've gotten further away from that over the years, the methodology has become a lot more hear say and writing to a deadline.

Fund this Sci-Fi Film

This project on kickstarter jumped out at me, both because it's a hard Sci-Fi short film, and because it's being shot an hour north of here in Hudson, NY. They've already passed their kickstarter goals, and are closing in on their new budget which would add a number of new elements to the film.

Given that cable TV has basically given up on Sci-Fi (fake wrestling and fake haunted houses having nothing Sci about them), it's nice to see an independent Sci-Fi movement taking hold. If you want to see more things like this, please throw in your own support.

You've Probably Read Enough

Loved this post:

To get started on one of your lingering interests, you probably don’t need to read about it as much as you think. Go. Do it. And learn from there.

Learning is not a passive experience, it's an active one. Once you have some basic knowledge, stop talking about it, stop reading about it, stop thinking about it, and just dive in and start doing.

Tux Cookies

Wednesday is the last MHVLUG meeting of the year, as well as the last MHVLUG meeting at the Mid Hudson Library System Auditorium. In honor of that, I decided to make Tux Cookies.

First I made regular sugar cookies...

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Then I made chocolate sugar cookies... which turned out to be a bit more challenging as the recipe didn't call for enough flour. I'll fix that next time around. So they are a little closer to brownies.

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All of which was made possible by Ed Nisley's Tux Cookie Cutter that he made me using his Thing-o-matic. Whether he intended it or not, Linus made a really good tux shape for the kind of packing problem that cookie cutting is. As basically a triangle you can pack in the Tuxes really tightly.

The early folks at the MHVLUG meeting on Wed will get first dibs.