Archive for: July, 2012

Friday Fun: The 5 Most Terrifying Ways Doctors Went Crazy on the Job

Jul 27 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Er, this one is pretty disturbing, perhaps not suitable for summer entertainment.

But still, sacred cows are always a target here in the Friday Fun space: The 5 Most Terrifying Ways Doctors Went Crazy on the Job.

And thankfully, I'm about mid-way between checkups so I'll have plenty of time to forget about his one...

#1. The Doctor Who Gave His Girlfriend a Corpse Hand

Everyone has done something a little embarrassing in the name of love. We've all stood outside someone's window with a guitar, or, you know, lovingly dismembered a corpse to offer as a tip for our stripper girlfriend. Wait, maybe that one isn't so common. But that's what Dr. Ahmed Rashed did back in 2002, while he was studying in medical school.

The crime was discovered when police entered the home of topless dancer Linda Kay on an unrelated matter, a matter which probably took a back seat as soon as the cops saw the severed hand sitting in a jar on her dresser.

The story goes that Dr. Rashed, who was still just Mr. Rashed back then, became friendly with Kay while he was studying and she was taking her clothes off for money. Presumably, he told her that he'd do anything for a date, and she asked, "Anything?"

The hand came from a cadaver at the university that was due to be cremated, and according to Rashed's defense, he didn't realize that what he was doing was illegal. That's right, at no point while he was standing next to a casket with a bone saw, vigorously hacking some dead guy's hand off, did he take a moment to ask himself, "Wait a second, would this be considered illegal? Or insane?"

Rashed then took the hand back to the strip club and offered it to Kay, who not only didn't Mace him, but kept the damn thing for four years. It was only then, when Rashed was a licensed physician in Los Angeles, that he had to account for the whole situation and was arrested for theft, presumably after the judge had to flip through the law books to figure out what to charge him with.


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From the Archives: Interview with CJ Rayhill, Senior Vice President at Safari Books Online

Jul 25 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview with CJ Rayhill, then of Safari Books Online, is from September 27, 2007.


Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is CJ Rayhill, Senior Vice President of Product Management and Technology at ebook company Safari Books Online. I've long been a fan of Safari's ebook model which allows participating libraries to choose content on a title by title basis rather than having to commit to a large and expensive complete collection. So, when I met some Safari people this past spring at Computers in Libraries I enlisted them in helping me find someone internally at Safari to interview. Eventually, CJ's name bubbled to the top. To say the least, I'm very happy with the results and very grateful to CJ for agreeing to be interviewed and for giving such insightful answers. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi CJ, would you mind telling us a little about your career path to this point and how you got to be Senior Vice President of Product Management & Technology at Safari.

Most of my career has been in software development and technology management within the financial services and healthcare industries. Back in 2000, I joined O'Reilly Media as their CIO, which was my first job within the publishing industry. I worked on the first incarnation of Safari Books Online when it was just an O'Reilly offering. Later in 2001, we re-launched the service as a joint venture with Pearson. So I've been involved with Safari Books Online (SBO) in some form or another for the last 7 years. SBO now represents the third largest sales channel for O'Reilly Media and is one of the fastest growing products for our publisher owners. I wanted to have the opportunity to help influence what the next generation of SBO will look like and have therefore taken a position at SBO as the SVP of Product Management & Technology.

Q1. Would you mind telling us a little about what Safari is all about?

Safari Books Online is simply the best online source for technical content available today. When you look at the computer trade book market, there are only four publishers that make up 81% of the titles offered (Pearson = 30%, Wiley = 26%, O'Reilly = 15% and Microsoft Press = 10%). SBO offers the full technical libraries of Pearson, O'Reilly and MS Press. And when you look at it in the context of the most popular books based on actual sales data, 65 of the top 100 books in almost any computer book category are available through the Safari Books Online service. There is simply no other service that offers the kind of quality technical content that SBO does. And SBO offers plenty of ways to access the content. You can choose to subscribe to the entire library or you can choose a bookshelf option which allows you to have a certain number of titles available and then rotate them off and choose new titles every 30 days if you wish. You can download chapters in .pdf format for off-line viewing. You can access videos and short-form content (Shortcuts) and you can even subscribe to books as they are being written (Roughcuts) on hot technical topics where people are hungry for information. You can search across the full content of all titles within the service and find excellent answers quickly. I think every developer, sysadmin or creative professional can increase their productivity by a minimum of 10% with this service.

Q2. Is there and all-digital business model for a book publisher? Or should I say "book" publisher?

I'm not sure what you are referring to here but if you mean is there a possibility of just distributing content through a digital service like SBO (vs. printing books) then the answer is yes. But I don't think publishers should be looking at their products as all digital or all print. I think the goal of publishers needs to be the creation of good, quality content that is offered in any way that customers want to consume it and find it useful. There will always be content that is better to be read cover-to-cover in a printed book. Other content might be more useful in digital form only. It's the combination of all of these possibilities that will create the best experience for customers.

Q3. How do you think the structure of your content will evolve? Is the collection going to ultimately rely less on adding electronic versions of paper books and instead add more targeted content that's designed to be digital rather than adapted from a different medium? Like the PDFs product for example?

I think that all forms of content will remain relevant for many years to come. Whether it is scanned images of paper books, XML, pdf's, audio or video (with or without transcription) -- they all have a place well into the future.

Q4. Safari U. is a really interesting product that seems to really take advantage of the digital, remixable, mashupable nature of your content. How's the uptake been? And what's the future of the text book? Do you think this model would apply to other disciplines as well? Physics, marketing, philosophy?

The future of the textbook market is clearly shifting. You have products like SafariU, iChapters, and CourseSmart beginning to emerge to solve a difficult issue -- the high cost of textbooks. In addition, most higher-education courses involve exposure to content from multiple sources which makes the cost of purchasing all of the required and recommended reading for students out of reach. So what happens is that students end up not even purchasing required content which must diminish the value of their educational experience. I'm not sure which model will emerge as the clear leader in this space, but SafariU was O'Reilly's initial attempt to provide a better value for both instructor's and students within the computer science/information technology disciplines.

Q5. What do you see as Safari's biggest competition, other ebook publishers or free stuff on the net?

Both! Our biggest partners (Google, Amazon, etc.) can potentially be our biggest competitors. And the balancing act is not getting any easier. Especially for technical reference-type books, how much do you give away for free on Google Book Search before it eats into your revenue stream possibilities? Does the exposure help or hurt sales? I think free content is great -- but I also think that there is a place for being able to search across and access good, vetted content from trusted sources. The next 3-5 years is going to be one of the most revolutionary periods for publishers in my opinion, especially in our space.

Q6. How does usage of a typical book on safari compare with the number of copies sold of the physical book?

I'm not sure how I would even begin to compare those two things. Online usage is a very different thing than book sales. You may buy a book, but we may never know if you read it or not. But when you access content online, we have a lot of information about actual usage of the content. This can be very helpful in informing us on what our customers are interested in and what they find most helpful. As I mentioned above, on a larger scale, SBO is the third largest sales channel for O'Reilly today, only behind Amazon and Barnes&Noble. So that's a lot of access!

Q7. Safari has mostly concentrated on the computing/software application/development side of the spectrum so far. Any chance of more engineering or other content down the road?

We are very interested in expanding the Safari offering into other disciplines and are actively pursuing other genres. It's an excellent platform and business model that we think works well for many subject areas.

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Friday Fun: Faculty Fashion? Not!

Jul 20 2012 Published by under academia, friday fun, Uncategorized

Academics aren't exactly known for their sartorial splendor. And that may be the understatement of the year.

A fun article by Daniel J. Myers in Insider Higher Ed from a few weeks ago: Faculty Fashion

Here's a quote:

What message might academics be trying to send when they flout the dictates of fashion and good taste, and ignore the color-clash pain they inflict on others? Well, it flows from the same reason we drive beat-up cars (rust-buckets that are still only automobiles in the academic sense) and refuse to edge our lawns. These choices are rarely driven by financial necessity, but rather because we take some kind of perverse pleasure in conspicuously displaying our disinterest in the material world. We wish to demonstrate that we just don’t care about these kinds of mundane trappings because we are so engrossed in the ethereal, all-consuming life of the mind.

And the first few style archetypes the author lists:

1. I’m not an Oxford professor, but I play one at Notre Dame.

2. This outfit worked at IBM in 1957, so why not wear it every day?

3. Why tuck in my shirt? I’ll just have to do it again tomorrow.

4. Bow ties say “intellectual,” are not the slightest bit nerdy and, as a bonus, they emphasize my growing midsection.

5. Versace Monday, Armani Wednesday: I’m sure to get a red hot pepper on

Myers lists 20 archetypes in all, but I'll let you explore those at the original post.

There's been a ton of articles and blog posts over the years about how librarians dress and the problems with our public images and all that, but I think it would be more fun if I let all of you out there in librarianland post and/or vent about that in the comments.

Academic librarian fashion? Have at it!


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From the Archives: Interview with Michael Morgan of Morgan & Claypool

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview with Mike Morgan is from April 24, 2007.


It's time for another in my occasional series of scitech publishing/blogger/scientist interviews. This time around I have a few questions for Michael Morgan, formerly of Morgan Kaufmann and now with tech publishing newcomer Morgan & Claypool. I first met Mike at SLA in New York City a few years ago at a party, still well before the launch of the new product, and his ideas for what became Synthesis really struck me as a terrific idea, in many ways a possible template for the future of "book" publishing in computer science and engineering. I've been happy to support it from the beginning, as I think good work deserves our support, and I'm even happier to give Mike an opportunity to talk a bit about himself and his company's new product. Thanks, Mike!

Q0. Please tell us a little about your education & career path to this point and a bit about the thought processes that lead to the forming of Morgan & Claypool.

I've been in publishing my entire career. I graduated from Connecticut College, one of the great small American liberal arts colleges. I started my publishing career at Addison-Wesley, first as a college traveller (sales representative) and then as a computer science editor. In 1984 I was invited by William Kaufmann (former president of Freeman) and Nils Nilsson (a Stanford computer scientist) to join them in founding Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. We built Morgan Kaufmann as an independent company for 14 years and then merged with Academic Press, a subsidiary of Harcourt.

At Academic Press, I became VP of book publishing and also remained as president of Morgan Kaufmann. After three years, Reed Elsevier acquired Harcourt and therefore Academic Press and Morgan Kaufmann. At that point, I had been at Morgan Kaufmnann for 17 years and it seemed like a natural point to consider doing something else so I left and took some time off. After a few months, Joel Claypool, who was engineering publisher at Academic Press, suggested the key idea behind Synthesis and we started Morgan & Claypool to develop it. Both Joel and I are book publishers. We had observed the transition of journal publishing from print to electronic and saw that there was the opportunity to pursue some interesting publishing ideas with the technology and business models that had been created.
Q1. Could you tell us a little about what Synthesis is?

Synthesis is a large (and growing) collection of original, innovative content in engineering and computer science. We publish across about 30 areas now, for example: bioengineering, computer graphics, signal processing, artificial intelligence and are adding new areas on an ongoing basis. The documents in Synthesis are called "lectures" and are essentially 50-150 page peer reviewed book-like presentations of key topics in research and development written by active researchers. They are shorter and more targeted than typical books but broader and provide more of a "synthesis" than a journal article. Also, since they are created and delivered electronically they can be revised frequently. They can also include multimedia elements such as animations, code, video, audio, etc, although we haven't done much of that yet.

The concept of a short targeted presentation that can be updated frequently turns out to be very powerful. It enables presentation of cutting edge, active research topics that are moving too fast for books but for which there is a need for a tutorial overview. Our target audience is researchers who need to come up to speed in an area outside of their own, graduate students and advanced undergraduates, and engineers who are looking into new ideas for application. Another great application of this model is short pedagogically oriented treatments of more mature subjects that can be used for courses or professional development. Since our license encourages unlimited classroom use of Synthesis faculty can assign a lecture to supplement traditional textbooks at no additional cost to the student.
Q2. In reference to Synthesis, who's harder to convince that the model is a good one, faculty or librarians? Have you had a lot of feedback from teaching faculty and students so far, or are you not getting much from them yet?

Although we have had very gratifying support from our library community, the most active initial excitement came from faculty. I have personally discussed this idea with hundreds of faculty in computer science and have never in my career heard such enthusiasm for a publishing idea. The Synthesis lecture fills the need for a vehicle to present a first synthesis of a new field for students and researchers in other areas. As science and engineering expand and become more interdisciplinary, there is a growing need to understand new areas. Most journal articles are not very useful for this since their purpose is to record new research and not to summarize and synthesize the state of the art.

On the other hand, the business model for traditional books makes them equally unsuitable for the presentation of material that will need updating within a year. Faculty are very aware of this gap since they live with it every day. A strong indicator of their enthusiasm is the number of prominent researchers who have volunteered to author, edit and referee lectures. These are typically people who would not take time from their research to write books but who have seen what a strong contribution a lecture can make to their field. Since most of our content has been published for only a few months we've not yet had much feedback from users on the published lectures other than from usage statistics.

Usage has been growing substantially. For some lectures, we are approaching over 1000 downloads within a few months after publication which is much higher than one would see for a journal article.
Q3. What have been some of the challenges so far, for example, keeping the lectures short, getting good metadata, recruiting authors?

Well, on the content side, our greatest challenge is getting authors to finish. We and our editors have been very picky about choosing authors and all of our lectures are written by invitation. The positive result is that we have been able to recruit some of the most prominent researchers as authors. The negative result is that these are busy people with the most demands on their time. We act as advocates for their future audience and give them every encouragement (translation: nag, plead, beg) to get the lecture to the top of their stack. Then, once they finish a first draft, the manuscript is reviewed by their peers. Our task is then to get them to put in the additional time to revise.

On the library side, I guess our biggest challenge, which is now beginning to diminish, has been gaining credibility. Librarians haven't seen too many new companies start in the last 10 years and they haven't seen many new original electronic content products, most have been digitization of existing print works or aggregations of the same. Also, they have only seen a few undertakings that were really serious about high quality content. Although Joel and I are well known in engineering and computer science, as professional book publishers we weren't known by many librarians. So, in the beginning, we needed to overcome some skepticism. We had strong early support from a group of visionary libraries and librarians who are actively involved in the engineering library community to whom we owe a great deal.

Now that Synthesis has been licensed by many if not most of the top engineering schools and is beginning to be licensed more broadly this is less of an issue for us, at least in North America.
Q4. What's the future of print books in the computing field?

I think that this is very much dependent on what is available in terms of reading devices, electronic paper and personal printers. The main current advantages of econtent are in distribution, availability, search, linking and multimedia features. However, it seems that many people prefer reading in print, especially longer documents such as books. Once we have higher resolution screens, ergonomically enjoyable portable reading devices or even personal printers that can economically print and bind at the desktop, the preference for buying print books should decline. It's likely that this will happen first in engineering and computer science.
Q5. Who do you see as your main competition at this point? Other ebook providers or free stuff on the web? Wikipedia?

There are three potential fronts for competition for Synthesis: for authors, for library funds and for interest from readers. We don't feel much competition from other publishers for authors and content. Most of our authors are interested in a Synthesis lecture because their topics are moving too quickly or are too narrow for books. Also, since we give our authors the right to reuse their lecture material later in writing a longer book for any publisher, they don't have to choose. Our biggest competition for authors is for their time. For library funds, our competition is increasingly going to be other ebook providers as publishers make more of their lists available. Our challenge will be to convince librarians that the content in Synthesis is unique and valuable and that it is not just another ebook collection comprising digitised traditional print books. In terms of attention from readers, most of our content is unique but they are increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of content available. We will need to work hard at marketing, creating awareness and enabling discovery to compete against an increasing amount of noise. Although I am a big fan of Wikipedia, we don't see much competition from it at the advanced level of our content.
Q6. I had to get one Morgan Kaufmann question in -- in all the time you were at Morgan Kaufmann, what's the one thing you're most proud of? Do you have any regrets?

I am most proud of the community of authors and list of great books that we built. I think we were successful in creating a culture of collaboration and respect for authors that produced some great work. I think it's fair to say that several MK books made substantial contributions to computer science and that most faculty in such areas as computer architecture, databases, computer human interaction, graphics, networking and AI would agree.

My one regret is that we didn't keep MK independent. We merged the company with Academic Press to provide an exit strategy for our investors which was only fair to those who had made MK possible in the first place. Many of the original MK staff, especially in editorial, are still there and continuing a tradition of great publishing. It would be very interesting to be developing Synthesis in that context. On the other hand, if we hadn't merged with AP, Joel Claypool and I might not have developed the working relationship that led to the development of Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool. Ultimately, I think that Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool have the potential to make a much more significant and unique impact for our disciplines.
Q7. Finally, what's the best and worst things about your job these days?

The best thing is to be working closely with authors and librarians to do something so worthwhile. I've always worked closely with authors but it's been very rewarding to discover this new collaborative community of librarians. As a professional book publisher you don't have a community of (non reader) customers that is so engaged and knowledgable. For example, I am writing this from a UK library conference where I have spent pretty much every waking moment of the last three days in conversation with librarians, including on the disco floor until 2:30am this morning.

Frankly, there is not much that is bad. If I had to pick something, it would be the sense of feeling stretched too thin. In the traditional book world, most of the innovation is limited to content and everything else is pretty well established. With Synthesis we think about innovation in content, delivery, user experience, discovery, business models, digital archiving, and the list goes on.

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Friday Fun: Dubstep is "extra-terrestrial communication" NASA scientists reveal

Jul 13 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

This one is from the "kids today" file: Dubstep is "extra-terrestrial communication" NASA scientists reveal

My musical tastes are pretty catholic, but I gotta admit i don't get electronic music.

NASA today revealed that interstellar communications from an alien lifeform have been mistakenly interpreted as music, spawning a new sub-genre known as ‘Dubstep’.


But popular music experts point out that it’s not the first time something has been wrongly interpreted as music to critical acclaim. A recording of an owl trapped in a wind chime shop recently topped the charts after being mistakenly released as the second album by Florence and The Machine.

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From the Archives: Interview with Jane of See Jane Compute

Jul 11 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview, with Jane of See Jane Compute, is from February 20, 2007.

It's worth noting that Jane moved to ScienceBlogs in 2008 where she continued blogging until May, 2009 when she shut down the blog. Of course, I moved to SB a few weeks after that. One of the bittersweet things about my move to ScienceBlogs was that Jane Jane and I were never officially SciBlings, something I would have found immeasurably gratifying. Perhaps in another blogging lifetime.

A few years ago I did an Ada Lovelace Day post celebrating Jane's contributions.


I'm proud and pleased to inaugurate my occasional interview series with one of my all-time favourite bloggers, Jane of See Jane Compute. Her running commentary on computer science, teaching, women in science and general life in academia are an inspiration -- and lots of fun to boot.

Her best known posts are likely the Teaching: The Miniseries set of posts:

I hope to continue this series of interviews on an approximately monthly basis, featuring scitech bloggers (including librarians) and people in the publishing industry. Mostly I would really like to thank Jane for agreeing to help me jump-start this little project, proving what a fine person she is. But enough of me. On with the interview!

Q0. I would normally ask a "tell me something about yourself" question but it's hard to know what to ask without probing too deeply into your anonymity. If there are some details you wouldn't mind sharing about your professional & educational history, consider yourself asked.

Yeah, this one is tricky to answer with the whole anonymity thing, isn't it? Well, I'll start with the obvious: I'm an Assistant Professor of Computer Science, in my 4th year on the tenure track and currently fortunate enough to be on a pre-tenure sabbatical. I'm currently expecting my first child. I'm not sure which freaks me out more at this point: going up for tenure or becoming a parent. 🙂 My background is quite varied; without getting into too many details, my research interests overlap quite a few subfields, so I've done a lot of moving around within that space. I've also worked a teeny bit in (and with) industry, which I think lends an extra richness and understanding to my research and to my teaching.

Q1. How did you get into blogging? What role has it played in your life?

I've been blogging since December of 2004. I started reading blogs in the summer of 2004--I believe Bitch, Ph.D and Barely Tenured were the first blogs I found and read. I decided to finally take the plunge and start blogging myself because (a) this new medium was really compelling and interesting to me; (b) I felt like I might just have something to say, and wanted to experiment with my own non-academic writing voice; and (c) I hadn't found many CS or scientific women bloggers, and felt that the blogosphere needed to hear more of those voices. I've never, ever been successful with journalling or any other kind of sustained personal writing, and frankly have always somewhat feared writing, so the fact that I've continued on with this for so long still amazes me.

Blogging, more than anything else, has helped me to find my voice and to realize that my experiences are relevant and shared by others. It is so easy, as a woman academic, to start doubting all the little and big things you're experiencing--"is it all in my head"? Blogging helps me voice some of those experiences, positive and negative, and thus work through them. Blogging has also helped me become fearless about my work. After all, I write all these really intimate things about my life and my fears and shortcomings for total strangers, on a regular basis! If I can do that, then heck, sending in a paper for review or trying a new line of questioning/experiments is a piece of cake. It has helped me become a much better, quicker, and more prolific writer. And finally, it has allowed me to find an incredible community of technical and scientific women bloggers who also fearlessly share their experiences.

Q2. Why do you blog anonymously? Do you think you'll "come out" once you get tenure?
To be honest, I really struggled with the anonymity issue before I started blogging. I knew that anonymity would be both freeing and limiting. Ultimately, though, I decided that I wanted the freedom to talk about my real experiences as a woman in CS: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wanted to be able to talk about my students, my struggles, my triumphs, and frivolous things without worrying that my colleagues and/or students could Google me and find these things. I also wanted to be able to talk about things without people filtering them through preconceived notions about me, my research area, or the type of institution at which I work. I think I can reach more people, and be more authentic, as an anonymous blogger at this point; I consider my blog to be somewhat of a "safe space" for discussing the life of a woman in CS, and anonymity better allows me to do this.

That said, there are things I really wish I could discuss that I can't because of my anonymity. Things like my research (which I think is really, really cool and fascinating), or things related to the type of institution that I work at, or even things related to the rhythm of the school year. And I find that even with anonymity, I feel the need to hide information, alter details, or just avoid discussing certain things altogether.

The "coming out" question is the million dollar question for me right now. I'm toying with the idea of being a bit freer with the information I give out about my field, my work, and my institution type once I get tenure, but that's probably as far as I'll go.

Q3. You share a lot about the joys and frustrations of teaching in your blog. Does this help you work through problems and issues in your teaching, helping you evolve your teaching practice? Or is just a way to blow off steam?

Both, actually. I spend a lot of time reflecting on my own teaching, because I'd obviously like to be the most effective teacher I can (without letting teaching stuff completely take over my's a delicate balance). Teaching is something that I love doing, that I feel "called to do" in a sense, but at the same time still struggle with. I've found that blogging about teaching helps me to see things--patterns and such--that are either helping my teaching or holding me back from being an effective teacher. In fact, blogging about teaching inspired me to start a teaching journal last fall, which I also found immensely useful in figuring out what works and what doesn't work (and identifying good and bad patterns). Plus, I get so much inspiration about teaching from other bloggers--I've plucked things from completely different fields and tried them out in my own classroom, some successfully, others not so much. So I also view blogging about teaching as a give-and-take: "Here's what works/doesn't work for me; what works/doesn't work for you?"

But sometimes, you just have a bad class and need to get it off your chest, so being able to just vent every once in a while is great! And often, these venting posts will result in fabulous advice from my readers--particularly when the source of my frustration is classroom management issues (disruptive/disrespectful students, etc.).

Q4. You blog a lot about women's experiences in an academic computing environment. How do you think those experiences are similar or different from women in other science/engineering/medicine disclines? Or even non-science fields like law or business?

Great question! I imagine that there are universal threads that run through the experiences of strong women in any field, whether it's a more gender-equitable field like law or medicine or a field like CS or engineering that's still struggling to achieve anywhere near respectable gender numbers. Things like not being listened to, or stereotyped because of the way one dresses or speaks, or not given a chance because "you'll just run off and have babies"--these are universal parts of the experience of being a woman in our society. I think what makes the computing fields different, and from what I understand some of the "less enlightened" engineering and science fields (electrical engineering, physics), is the whole "macho culture". Women are still made to feel like they just don't belong in these fields, whether it's because of the media images (the antisocial hacker, the almost total absence of women and their contributions in discussions of technical innovations and innovators) or the things we emphasize in the CS classroom and lab (bogging our students down in details and syntax, rather than focusing on the benefits and applications of computing) or even what we focus on to praise ("my code is faster/bigger/better than yours"). And it's not just women--men who don't fit the mold experience feelings of not belonging, too, although to a lesser extent. And that's unhealthy for everyone. What I try to do through my blog is expose this culture, in all its unhealthiness, as a way of adding to the dialogue (hopefully) of how we can start to change this. I want to highlight, through my own experiences, why we should all be invested in changing the computing culture to something way more inclusive than it is now.

Q5. What's the best thing about your job? The worst?

I love the freedom that my job brings me. I can work on whatever research problem I find interesting, dabble in other subfields, even propose new classes on topics I find interesting. I also love working with students. College students are so energetic (sometimes too much so!), and a lot of them are doing amazing and remarkable things with their lives. I get a real kick out of getting to know them--their energy and passion is contagious.

The worst is definitely being the only woman in my department, and all of the stuff that goes along with that. Some days, I feel like I'm shouting into a vacuum, that it's impossible to make a difference as The Token Woman, that my colleagues just don't get it and don't want to get it. And that's really, really frustrating. But then again, I knew that's what I was getting into when I took this job, and I do think that my presence here is slowly improving the culture in our department....but progress is painfully slow, and I'm an impatient person!

Q6. What's your hope for the future, both for the field of computing and those who toil away in it?

My first and greatest hope is that we change, really and truly and fundamentally change, the culture of CS. The future of our field, I believe, depends more than anything on opening ourselves up to a wider set of ideas and perspectives. To do this, we have to have more people in general, and a more diverse set of people in particular, at that metaphorical table. We need to get rid of the macho hacker culture and replace it with the (truer) image that computing is something that is and will continue to fundamentally change society, and that we all can and should take a role in shaping this future society. My second hope is that we continue to strive towards universal access: making development and content creation tools easier to use, providing more opportunities for underserved populations to cross over that digital divide, removing restrictions on content consumption and content development, etc. Computing has the potential to be the great societal unifier, and we as practitioners should never, ever lose sight of that.

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Friday Fun: How to tell if you’re a troll

Jul 06 2012 Published by under friday fun

This one is both kinda funny and kinda sad, from the "so funny it cycles around the funniness circle to not really funny anymore" file. It's basically a bunch of survey questions that someone can take to figure out if they're a troll. And they're a pretty good indicator.

Do you dare? Do I dare? Have at it: How to tell if you’re a troll

Here are a couple of the questions. You'll have to check out the link for the possible answers and the scoring system.

1. You read something on the internet you disagree with. How do you respond?

3. You read a new book recommended by others but you don’t like it.

5. You don’t like this blog:

This is definitely a case where the 400+ comments are just as worth reading (for the good, the bad, the sarcastic and the hard to tell) as the post itself.

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From the Archives: Interview with Eugene Wallingford of Knowing and Doing

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview, with Eugene Wallingford, is from July 9, 2008.

I'm hoping to get these out weekly, but we'll see. They're mostly cobbled together in odd moments then scheduled for a few days or weeks later.


Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Eugene Wallingford, Head of the Computer Science Department at University of Northern Iowa and author of the blog Knowing and Doing. I've been following Knowing and Doing for most of the four years it's been running (Happy Blogiversary, Eugene!) and I've always been impressed by Eugene's insights into the world of computer science, especially from the educational viewpoint. Since it's been quite a while since I interviewed a CS faculty member, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see what Eugene thinks about some of the important issues in the field today. I think there's some food for thought in the interview for librarians supporting CS programs and students.

Thanks to Eugene for his thoughtful responses. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi, Eugene, please tell us about yourself, your career path and how you got to be the Head of the Computer Science Department at University of Northern Iowa.

Thanks, John, for asking me for an interview. I am honored to share a few thoughts with your readers.

From the time I was seven or eight, I wanted to be an architect. All of my career planning in school aimed that direction. Academically, I liked everything and so had a full load of math, science, literature, history, and social science.

I started college as an architecture major. While I liked it just fine, something was missing. Somehow, I was drawn toward computer science. I ended up double majoring in CS and accounting, but CS was my passion, especially artificial intelligence. I went on to grad school, specializing in knowledge-based systems. My dissertation focused on the interaction between memory and domain knowledge.

A little over three years ago, we were nearing the end of an interim department head's term. I'd never given much thought to being an administrator, but I saw many ways in which we could improve and thought for a moment that I might be the right person to help us get there. I am now ending my first 3-year term and have agreed to continue on for three more years. Looking back, I see some improvements but, frankly, had hoped to have accomplished more. This is a tough job. It lets me be a computer scientist in some ways but takes time away from doing all of the CS I love. I'm committed to helping us move forward for another term, and then we'll see.

Q1. Do you have a theory of blogging? What got you started blogging and what do you get out of it and what keeps you going? I'm sure all your faithful readers are hoping you can add comments to your blog at some point.

I don't think I have a theory of blogging. I first started because I had things I wanted to say. Every computer I had ever owned was littered with little essays, reviews, and conference notes that no one had ever seen. I'd been reading several blogs for several years and thought that starting a blog was a way to make some of my writing more permanent. If others found it worth reading, all the better.

My blog consists mostly of short pieces connected to my professional life as a computer scientist and faculty member. I make connections among things I read, write, see, and do. My one personal indulgence in writing is running, and I've written quite a bit about my experiences training for marathons. Some of my more interesting pieces in this category have made connections from training and running to software development.

Occasionally, I write something that is purely personal, or something that made me smile and laugh. I don't think anyone really wants to hear about what I eat for meals or who I am voting for in elections, so my blog has never veered in that direction. But readers get to know me as a professional person, and I do think that knowing something about the person on the fringes adds depth to how they read my other pieces.

Comments... Yes, I understand. When I first started blogging -- four years ago today (July 9)! -- I planned to add comments. The tool I use to blog is very simple and didn't make that easy. I've just never gotten around to it.

I read many blogs in which comments make a valuable contribution to the message. In others, they add little. There are many ways in which I would relish an ongoing conversation with readers. Adding comments is still on my wish list.

Q2. You blog a lot about teaching computer science. Do you have a teaching philosophy? How do you think teaching computer science differs from teaching other disciplines?

There was a thread recently on the SIGCSE mailing list about teaching philosophies. Many schools ask job applicants for a statement of teaching philosophy, and some folks think that's silly. How could new Ph.D.s have teaching philosophies when they have spent little or no time in a classroom?

I've been on the CS faculty for sixteen years now, and I can't say that I have a coherent, pat teaching philosophy even now. Were I to apply for a new job, I would have to do what those new Ph.D.s have to do: scour my mind for bits of truth that reflect how I teach and how I think about learning, and then mold them into an essay that captures something coherent about me on this day.

My blog exposes some of these bits of truth as I write about my experiences in the classroom. It will be a wonderful resource the next time I have to write a statement of philosophy.

Thinking back to all I've written in the last few years, I can see some themes. Learning is more important than teaching. Students learn when they do. Students learn when they want to do. What I can do as a teacher is to create an environment where students come into contact with cool and powerful ideas. I can organize ideas, skills, and tools so that students encounter them in a way that might spur their desire. Ask students to write programs and solve problems. Ask them to think about how and why. Ask them to go deep in an area so that they learn its richness and not its surface chemistry. Oh, and show as often as I can and in as many ways as I can how much I love computer science. Show what I learn.

That paragraph would get me started on a philosophy statement.

Computer science is an interesting mix of mathematics and programs. Most people don't realize that it is a creative discipline -- a discipline in which making things is paramount. In that sense, we can learn a lot from how writers and artists (and architects!) learn their craft.

Q3. Another of your favourite themes is how computing is infiltrating all the other sciences -- in other words we're getting to the point where it's computational everything. What got you interested in that trend and where do you see it going?

This is not as new as it might seem. Computer science has always been about applications: creating solutions to real problems in the world. The discipline goes through spurts in which it looks inward, but the focus always turns back out. When I was in college in the first half of the 1980s, there was a lot of talk about end-user programming, and even then that wasn't new. Alan Kay has been talking for forty years about computing as a new medium for expressing ideas, a medium for every person. Before that, pioneers such as Marvin Minsky said similar things.

What's happening now is a confluence of several developments. Computing power has continued to grow at a remarkable pace. Our ability to gather and store data has, too. We realize that there will probably never be enough "computer scientists" to solve all of these problems ourselves, and how could we anyway? Biologists know more biology than I ever will; likewise for economics and astronomy and geography and most other disciplines. We are reaching a point where the time is right to fulfill the vision of computing as medium for expressing and testing ideas, and that will require we help everyone use the medium effectively.

Q4. Enrollment has been an issue in the CS community for a while now. Are you happy with the current levels of enrollment? What do you think are some of the ways to get enough students of all kinds interested in CS and willing to consider it as a major? How can we improve the diversity of the students willing to give CS a shot?

We've started to see a small bounce in our enrollments, and I think this trend will continue for a while. I'm not sure that we will ever see the large growth we saw in the 1980s and 1990s, but that's okay -- as long as we recognize our need to broaden the base of people who can use computing in their own disciplines.

Figuring out how to get more students to major in CS or to learn how to use computing in their own disciplines is not easy. If I knew the answer, my school would have a lot more majors and students! There are a lot of things we can do: tell our story better; help more people to understand what computing is and what we do; introduce our ideas to more students earlier in school. One thing a lot of us have noticed over the years is that most people learn about CS as something "hard", a discipline that requires special wiring in the brain. While it's probably true that not everyone is suited to do academic research in CS, I think that everyone can learn to use computing as a medium for expressing ideas. If we can find good ways to introduce computing in that way across the population, the number of majors and the number of interested non-majors will take care of themselves.

Q5. Could you tell us a little about your research interests?

As I mentioned in my history earlier, I started in the area of artificial intelligence, a field in which computer scientists work with many others in an effort to make computers do ever more impressive tasks. Most of my work was in Knowledge-based systems, a sub-area that focused on how systems with deep knowledge of a class of problems can organize, access, and use the knowledge to solve those problems. In the mid-1990s, I began to move in the direction of intelligent tutoring systems, which are programs that help people to learn. This was probably a natural evolution for me, given my interest in how my students and I learn new areas of expertise.

In the late 1990s, I found myself drifting toward work in the area of software design and development, which led me more toward programming languages. Notions of design and language were central to my interest in AI, but I found the concreteness of supporting software developers attractive.

As a department head, I don't have much time for research. When I do have time, I work on how to provide support to programmers as they write, modify, and manipulate code. Of particular interest is how to support refactoring (changes to programs that preserve their intended behavior but modify their structure) in dynamic languages, which do not provide all of the cues we need to ensure that a modification preserves behavior.

Q6. Being a librarian, you know I have to ask what journals, conferences, etc., you find most helpful. I'm also curious about any search engines you might use, be they commercial ones like INSPEC, Web of Science, Scopus or "free" ones like CiteSeer, Google, or Google Scholar? Or anything I haven't even mentioned.

Google. That's the answer for so many things! It's my primary tool for search to find new articles. It links me to more focused technical tools like CiteSeer and the ACM Digital Library, as needed. But so many articles are now available directly on the web from their authors that the journals themselves become more like convenient packaging devices than essential units themselves. It's akin to the change in the music industry from the album to the single. Singles fell out of favor for a while, but the advent of iTunes and other music services have really changed how most people come into contact with their music today.

I don't read many journals cover to cover anymore. I do subscribe to the Communications of the ACM and am looking forward to its new format. I also follow the bulletins of several ACM special interest groups (programming languages, AI, and education).

Q7. Again, being a librarian, I'm also curious about any CS-related books you've read that you've found useful or inspiring, either recently or in your formative years.

A few years back, before I had a blog, I created a webpage for sharing books with colleagues and students:

I haven't added to that list lately, but it lists most of the CS books I'd recommend yet today, including Abelson and Sussman's The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Peter Norvig's Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming, and the Gang of Four's Design Patterns. It also lists books that are not technically about CS but which might change how someone thinks about computing and software, such as Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn -- a marvelous book!

One glaring omission from this page are the works of Christopher Alexander, the inspiration for the idea of software patterns. Most everyone recommends The Timeless Way of Buiding and A Pattern Language, and I concur. But I also strongly recommend The Oregon Experiment, which describes Alexander's experience implementing his ideas on a college campus. This is a thin little volume that I found rewarding.

Most of my CS-specific reading lately has been on Ruby.

Q8. I find it interesting that computer science students still seem to be relatively high users of print books and I was wondering about your take on that phenomenon. Is it still the same or is it changing?

Philip Greenspun has described CS as pre-paradigmatic in Thomas Kuhn's sense, which means that books play an important role in how new ideas are shared and disseminated. Computing has always been rich in print books, from timeless works down to skills books with a shelf life limited by the rapid change in technology. I know many publishers are thinking about ways the market might shift into electronic versions, and more and more books are available on-line now, sometimes in their first run.

A lot of my students are reading books on-line more now than in print. A recent favorite is Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, available at To my knowledge, this book is available only on the web and not in print. I'm curious to see how this trend develops. My guess is that individual authors will create most of the ideas that change how we read their works, which will cascade down to how we publish.

This comes back in to some ways to blogs, which seems like a good way to close the circle on this interview. One thing I love about my blog in comparison to the essays and comments I used to write in regular text files is the ability to link directly to other works. When I drop a short piece onto my blog, it often takes its place within a web of related writings and software pages. The connections among these works adds value to what I write by giving my readers a way to find and explore related work. That is so much more convenient than a list of references at the end, even if it is also a whole lot messier.

Thanks again for asking me to contrib

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