Monthly Archives: June 2011

A petty rant

See the title? Consider yourself warned.

OK, geek culture. I am ambivalent with claiming particular things as being geeky or not in the first place, because half the time I fall outside it. (I’m not a night person, I don’t especially identify with or even like cats, to give some trivial examples.) And if it excludes me, it must be wrong. Duh.

But perhaps we should claim being petty and pedantic. Here’s my line in the sand: you do not count discrete things starting at a zeroth thing. Well, if you do, I say it’s not geeky.

There’s a sort of a general understanding that “geeks count from zero”. Here’s where it comes from: in many programming languages, arrays begin at zero, so array[0] retrieves the first item in the array and array[1] the second and so on. This is actually somewhat confusing, and results in plenty of off-by-one errors (for example, if an array has length l, then one is tempted to ask for the last item as array[l] when it’s actually array[l-1], and forgetting that is not at all uncommon).

It has meaning: it’s fairly obvious why this is done in C, it’s because elements in a C array are stored in contiguous memory and the name “array” is already a pointer to the first memory address. Say the array starts at memory address 7, then to access the items of the array you would do:

  • array[0], which is an alias for *(array + 0) or *array, ie, find out what is at memory address 7 (the dereference operator * means “look up what is at this memory address”)
  • array[1] or *(array + 1), ie, find out what is at memory address 7 + 1 = 8
  • array[2] or *(array + 2), ie find out what is at memory address 7 + 2 = 9

And so on.

Dennis Ritchie’s The Development of the C Language shows that this notation is inherited from C’s precursor B.

And it’s not a silly way to count some things. It’s the same way we count age in the Western world: at the beginning of your first year, you are age 0 and at the beginning of your second year, age 1, and so on. The first year of someone’s life begins at birth[0] as it were.

But it’s a silly way to count objects. It is not more geeky to count, say, two apples as a zero/zeroth apple and a first apple. You could perhaps refer to the zeroth apple offset, ie, the point just before the beginning of the first apple, if you had reason to refer to that point (I never have).

Try as I might, this has always bugged me about the history of linux.conf.au: CALU was not the “zeroth because it’s geeky!” linux.conf.au. It’s like someone made that up specifically to annoy me personally. I will find you, whoever you are, and I will take your zeroth apple away from you and unlike you, I will have my first apple. And I will enjoy it.

Linkspam: academic rat race edition

A few links have been floating around among PhD comrades:

End of an ERA: journal rankings dropped:

[Australian Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr] chastised the research community, saying: There is clear and consistent evidence that the rankings were being deployed inappropriately within some quarters of the sector, in ways that could produce harmful outcomes, and based on a poor understanding of the actual role of the rankings… One common example was the setting of targets for publication in A and A* journals by institutional research managers.

Why is the Impact Factor still around?:

But even if these flaws were all fixed, the Impact Factor is of course entirely unsuited for ranking anything other than journals on principle grounds. Because the distribution of citations to the articles in a journal is so skewed, the actual correlation of the citations any individual article gathers with the Impact Factor of the journal it was published in, is very weak

The case against double-blind peer review:

How well does it work in practice? You would expect double-blind reviewing to favor people from outside academia. Yet Blank (1991) reported that the opposite is true: authors from outside academia have a lower acceptance rate under double-blind peer review.

(As a counterpoint, note the results of Budden et al, via the Geek Feminism linkspam.)

Free Science, One Paper at a Time:

The current publishing regime, [science publisher Mark Patterson] argues, locks up these functions too closely in the current, conventional version of the scientific paper — even though some of these functions can be met more efficiently by other means.

So what are these functions?

Registration is essentially a scientific claim of discovery — a marker crediting a particular researcher with an idea or finding. The current system registers these contributions via a paper’s submission date. Certification is essentially quality control: ensuring a paper is solid science. It is traditionally done via peer review. Dissemination means getting the stuff out there — publication and distribution, in printed journals or online. And preservation, or archiving, involves the maintenance of the papers and citations to create a breadcrumb trail other researchers can later follow back to an idea or finding.

Signal boost: the Ada Initiative Seed 100 campaign

Clearly I wouldn’t be here without a good reason. Here’s the reason: the Ada Initiative Seed 100 campaign!

Lovelace and Babbage: They Fight Crime

Limited edition Lovelace and Babbage print, donor reward

At the Ada Initiative, we have a vision: A world in which women are equal and welcome participants in open technology, open data, and open culture. We want women writing free software, women editing Wikipedia, women creating the Internet and women shaping the future of global society. Here’s what we are doing to make that happen.

We need your help to make that vision a reality. Join the Seed 100 funding round for the Ada Initiative today! Seed money raised through this drive will go to pay for vital but unglamorous work necessary to raise larger long-term funding. Seed money from funders like you is crucial to the success of the Ada Initiative.

The Seed 100 funding round is a high-prestige, limited availability funding round. As such, it is limited to 100 donors total, of $512 [USD] or more, between June 1st and June 30th, 2011. This is a unique opportunity to show your personal support for women in open technology and culture, at a time when a personal donation will have the most effect.

Frankly the Sydney Padua print that is a reward for the first 25 donors of $1024 [USD] and over makes me want to donate, which would be counter-productive financially. But… love it. Thanks Sydney.

We’ve been poking away at this for ages, considering various options to get startup funding for the heavy-hitting project proposals we need for larger corporate donors and program partners (basically, business plans). Small donations, big donations, lots of donations, few donations. I think what we’ve come up with is a lot of fun. As of the time of writing we already have six donors at the Analytical Engineer level (so, 19 Sydney prints to go) and three at the Difference Engineer level, about nine hours after opening. Sweet!

So far the donation rate is exceeding our expectations, so, if you’re interested in our work, donate now or help spread the word.

The Ada Initiative Seed 100 campaign: donate in June to support women in open technology and culture

Failure to blog: situation normal

Hello long neglected blog. I am actually not going to say I feel bad about not writing, because here’s what I’ve been doing with my time:

  1. working on my PhD
  2. working on getting the Ada Initiative underway
  3. working on a PHP programming contract
  4. working on the Linux Australia Council
  5. household stuff, like snuggling my boy!

I’ll be back more once a few of those things disappear from my life.