Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I think I may have coined a new word. Here's its entry:
stenocoder [stəˈnɒˈkəʊdənoun. One employed to transcribe dictated software source code.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wisdom of Pearl

Excerpts from an interview that Judea Pearl gave for the June 2012 issue of CACM:

On causation and its importance:
Simulating intervention, by the way, was an idea that was thought of by economists in 1943. Trygve Haavelmo had this idea that economics models are a guide to policy-making, and that you can predict what will happen when the government intervenes and raises taxes or imposes duties by modifying the equations in the model. And that was taken on by other economists, but it didn't catch, because they had very lousy models of the economy, so they couldn't demonstrate success. And because they couldn't demonstrate success, the whole field of economics regressed and became a hotbed for statistical predictions. Economists have betrayed causality. I never expressed it this way before, but in all honesty this is what it boils down to. In computer science, we remain faithful to logic and try to improve our models, while economists compromised on logic to cover up for bad models.
 On interfaith dialogue:
... religious myths are just metaphors, or poetry, for genuine ideas we find difficult to express otherwise. So, yes, you could say I use computer science in my religious dialogues, because I view religion as a communication language. True, it seems futile for people to argue if a person goes to heaven from the East Gate or the West Gate. But, as a computer scientist, you forgive the futility of such debates, because you appreciate the computational role of the gate metaphor.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stories That Work

Nathan Myhrvold eloquently points to The Scientific Method as his favorite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation in his response to Edge's 2012 Annual Question. In the conclusion to his response, however,  one finds him unusually off guard. It has an "analogous to evolution" argument that plays straight into the hands of creationists since the explanation behind evolution is itself obtained by the favored method. Excerpt here:
It's hard to overestimate the importance of the scientific method. Human culture contains much more than science—but science is the part that actually works—the rest is just stories. The rationally based inquiry the scientific method enables is what has given us science and technology and vastly different lifestyles than those of our hunter-gatherers ancestors. In some sense it is analogous to evolution. The sum of millions of small mutations separate us from single celled like blue-green algae. Each had to survive the test of selection and work better than the previous state in the sense of biological fitness. Human knowledge is the accumulation of millions of stories-that-work, each of which had to survive the test of the scientific method, matching observation and experiment more than the predecessors. Both evolution and science have taken us a long way, but looking forward it is clear that science will take us much farther.

Friday, February 10, 2012

An unfair indictment

The first chapter of the textbook, Engineering Long-Lasting Software: An Agile Approach Using SaaS and Cloud Computing (Alpha Edition), for the Software Engineering for Software as a Service free-class offered by Armando Fox and David Patterson in Spring 2012, has this to say about formal methods:
This, if anything, is a sorely mistaken portrayal of formal methods and analyses. There may be any number of reasons not to discuss formal methods in the course, but they not being applicable for evolving software isn't one. I hope that the authors' better-informed colleagues at UC Berkeley will correct them soon enough.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Treading on dreams

Sir Ken Robinson, in this TED talk, quotes W.B. Yeats:

“Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with gold and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

and follows it thus, with his message:

“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.”

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A missed story

Here's an excerpt from Manu Joseph's recent article:
... we have a situation where a corporate PR person, representing two companies with interests in telecom, is mediating between the Congress and its ally when a battle is on for the telecom portfolio. This is the kind of story any journalist would love to report. How could [Barkha] Dutt miss that? Dutt’s situation reminds me of a magic realism novel that a friend had written, in which a lowly journalist is in search of a great story. Every day, when he comes home defeated, he speaks to his talking lizard. I find this novel absurd because any journalist would know that a talking lizard is the greatest story ever in the history of journalism.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Golden Rule of Authoring

Here's an exerpt from Moshe Vardi's editorial in the July 2010 issue of CACM:
... we are the authors and we are the reviewers. It is not "them reviewers;" it is "us reviewers." Hillel the Elder, a Jewish scholar, 30 B.C.-10 A.D., said "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." This is known as the Silver Rule in moral philosophy. The Golden Rule, which strengthens the Silver Rule, asserts "do unto others as you would have them do to you." Allow me to rephrase this as the Golden Rule of Reviewing: "Write a review as if you are writing it to yourself." This does not mean that we should not write critical reviews! But the reviews we write must be fair, weighing both strengths and weaknesses; they must be constructive, suggesting how the weaknesses can be addressed; and, above all, they must be respectful. After all, these are the reviews that we would like to receive!
I'm inspired by this. So inspired that I decided to hazard a conjecture for the Golden Rule of Authoring: "Write a paper as if you are writing your last paper and you would like it to be your best paper, ever." A conjecture that by no means should be a surprising one.