Thursday, April 27, 2006

Conference Recap

I just got back from "across the pond" for a conference. The conference itself was amazing. There were a very small number of participants making networking a little easier. In particular, I really connected with a corporate guy (from a company I previously worked for) who seemed interested in my research and may offer an opportunity for good collaboration.

While at the conference, I actually wrote a blog post in my note book during a talk that I wasn't terribly interested in. I would have posted it directly, but I had no internet, which was quite frustrating as I would have liked to be able to talk to a few people back home during the week but anyway, that besides the point.

After my session in which I gave my presentation, one of the other presenters in the section came up and asked me why I created a formal model of my system. My immediate, and somewhat snide, response was to say "Because my advisor told me too." The conference chair happened to be standing there and looked at me frowning and said "Well, that's a very bad answer." Realizing he had a point, I took a moment a really thought about it.

Why, in Computer Science, do we define formal mathematical models for systems, beyond of course, making the system "publishable"? Why do our advisors insist on this practice?

  1. It makes it easier to repeat your work. This is a fundamental feature of scholarly works in other sciences, but isn't always prominent in computer science.
  2. You can now prove things about your system. This is great fun! Try it sometime
  3. Now comparisons between other systems can be mathematically proven. This is related to the previous point, but focuses on the other system. Most common, you prove equivalences.

I think its because of those 3 reasons (and probably many others) that our papers become more publishable when they have formal models. The formal models increase the academic value of the work. That must be why our advisors keep telling us to make them...

And one last recap of the conference. I hate it when a student gives a presentation and their advisor answers all the questions from the floor instead of letting their student shine. This happened at the conference. I hope it wasn't because this particular student of his was female...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Puzzle Video Games

A few weeks ago Josh Tinley posted a handful of Friday readings. One of the articles he mentioned was concerning video games.

Give Grumpy Gamers What They Want is a cute little article concerning where video games are and aren't going. Now for why I'm mentioning it. The fourth point in the article concern's puzzle games, you know, "the sort of games where you wander all over and have to get the loaf of Pinochle Bread from the Demon Baker so that you can combine it with the Fedora of Unnatural Attraction to create the Yeast Golem to give to the Wicked Witch of the Financial Aid Office so she'll let you over the Bridge of Internal Suffering. " There are very few games of this sort anymore as the article mention. This makes me sad for a variety of reasons, partially because I'm a huge fan of those sorts of games ( Kings Quest is one of my favorite video game series of all time) but the more interestingly, in general, these are the sorts of video games that attract female gamers (as opposed to the classic I want to shot my friends sort of games).

I think there should be more puzzle games. I think that game manufactures should make them and market them correctly. One of the biggest things that draws people into computer science is video games. Many a talk concerning women in computer science brings up the point that guys play more video games and as a result, are more comfortable with computers and more likely to learn to program because they too want to write video games. I think one long term plan to aid women in technology involves making video games that girls want to play. And, even better, this would help game companies too because it’s a good growth sector. (There was an article about this in July 2005:
Programmers: Video Games Need a Woman's Touch

If more girls played games, more girls would enter computer science which would be better for the entire field.

Friday, April 07, 2006

United 93

Every day when I arrive at my office I start by reading the news. Some days I spend over an hour engrossed in what's going on in the world and on all the blogs I read (though comparably, my blog roll is pretty short…). Sometimes, I read a story that just merits a blog post, that I can't wait to write (other days, the link ends up in a document and may never get written about…) Today was one of those days.

The Slate is probably my favorite web-zine. I read most of it every. Today, one of the "headline" stories caught my eye:
Should the trailer for United 93 be banned? consists of a conversation about the trailer for a new movie concerning the events of 9/11. In the article, we see several Slate writers discussing this trailer. The trailer is incredible. It makes me want to go see the movie. But it also makes me wonder if America is ready for such a movie. It also begs the question of whether I'm ready for such a movie. Like many people I remember exactly where I was when I found out about the attacks. I remember the questions and thoughts that went through my head, but even more vivid then that is the numbness I felt in the time following the events of 9/11. I think its that memory of numbness that makes me ready for such a movie. I think I'm ready to see what happened that day, to immerse myself in the flood of emotions the events themselves should have evoked but didn't partly because I was living states away and partly because of my own political discontentment.

I think the US is ready for such and movie and shouldn't shy away from it even if its hard. Hopefully, the movie will allow us to look back on the events and learn the lessons that we should of learned but didn't, or maybe it will be like what the authors of the article suggest and provide us some closure for the events because it gives us a chance to see the hero's emerge in ways we could never fathom.