Data is ones and zeroes. Software is ones and zeroes and hard work. Welcome to the Third Bit.

Greg Wilson Welcome to Greg Wilson's personal blog.
The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.
Nov 18, 2014 IP Communism
Back in August, the editor-in-chief of Communications of the ACM wrote an editorial in which he wrote, "It is regrettable, I believe, that the open access (OA) movement found itself in the IP communist camp." Before you dismiss this as out of touch, please go and read the comments on Mark Guzdial's post about the editorial, particularly this one, in which he points out that most of the SIGCSE community (i.e., most people studying computer science education) don't have research funding, and hence are reliant on the money raised by the ACM's paywall to support their activities. But please then...
Nov 10, 2014 Sarah Mei on Software Engineering Research
Sarah Mei tweeted this in response to news that researchers at Rice were getting $11 million for a souped-up autocomplete: These Rice University folks do realize that "coding" is about 5% of what software developers do. Right? http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/09/darpa-pliny-coding/ Hope they can optimize the shit out of that 5% with their 11 MILLION dollars. That is surely a good use of my taxes. Academic research on software engineering has been a decade behind current practice since I've been practicing. Some contributing factors: 1) The folks with PhDs often haven't been practitioners for years (if ever). They don't know what state of...
Nov  5, 2014 Politics for Current Physicsts
Richard Muller's Physics for Future Presidents and its sequel Energy for Future Presidents are both really good books, even if you're not planning to be president. Each one explains the key scientific ideas behind a pressing everyday issue in a way designed to help people make informed decisions. They're everything good science popularization should be. After discovering how many kids in my daughter's school aren't vaccinated because their parents have bought into fashionable yuppie angst about autism, I'd really like a book called Public Health for Future Presidents (see also this tweet), but more than that, I'd like someone to...
Oct 27, 2014 Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship Application
I just submitted an application for a Shuttleworth Foundation fellowship, and as a believer in openness, I figure it's only right to post it here as well. If you're interested, you can watch the five-minute video, or get more details from the Q&A below it. Describe the world as it is. Scientists spend an increasing amount of time building and using software. However, most of them are never actually taught how to do this - they pick up bits and pieces by osmosis and good luck. As a result, it takes them weeks or months to do things they could...
Oct 22, 2014 Massuni Kickstarter Has Launched
I'm very excited that Massuni's Kickstarter has launched. They're bringing custom furniture design to the web: you can use an in-browser tool to design exactly what you need, and they then manufacture it using a mass customization process. I know I'm biased—its founder is a family member—but this is what the word "revolutionary" is meant to be used for.
Oct 20, 2014 Beautiful Lessons
On May 17, 2006, I sent the following email to a couple of hundred programmers and computer scientists whose email addresses I had gleaned from the web: I hope you don't mind mail out of the blue, but I'm working on a new book project with O'Reilly called "Beautiful Code" and would like to ask you to contribute an article-length section. Profits from the book will be donated to Amnesty International. The book will be a collection of master classes in software design. In each chapter, a well-known software developer will present one of his or her favorite pieces of...
Oct  2, 2014 A Better Software Engineering Course
I've taught several university courses on software engineering over the years, and haven't been happy with any of them. Like most professors, I build these courses around team projects, and had students work in small groups to design, build, and test a sizeable (ish) piece of software. I realized after a couple of years, though, that students weren't actually learning what I wanted them to learn in these courses because: We were putting them in impossible situations. Having two bosses is hell; having five is—well, it's actually quite normal for students who are taking that many courses from faculty who...
Sep 16, 2014 Mentioned in the Paris Review
Blake Winton pointed me at this article by Vikram Chandra in the Paris Review titled "The Beauty of Code". It opens with a hairball of a dependency diagram, then quotes from Yukihiro Matsumoto's essay in Beautiful Code (but doesn't link to it). Chandra's own book Geek Sublime has mixed reviews on Amazon, but is now on my reading list...
Sep 15, 2014 Stray Thoughts
My friend Bob told me a story once. He spent a winter in a cabin outside Whitehorse with only a dog for company. When the thaw finally came, he and his dog got into his truck and headed into town to pick up supplies. Suddenly, without warning, a thought popped into his head: "I wonder if I have enough money?" He said it didn't feel like it was his thought. It felt like it was something from outside him that had just been floating around looking for a brain to land in, in the way that a mosquito might cruise...
Sep 11, 2014 What Sciences Are There?
The Software Carpentry pre-assessment questionnaire for bootcamp participants ask them to tell us what field they're in. The options we give them are usually some variation on: Space sciences Physics Chemistry Earth sciences (geology, oceanography, meteorology) "Macro" life science (ecology, zoology, botany) "Micro" life science (microbiology, genetics) Neuroscience Medicine Engineering (civil, mechanical, chemical) Computer science and electrical engineering Economics Humanities and social sciences Library sciences Other: ______________________________ People frequently use the "Other" field to tell us that their specialty doesn't fit any of our categories, or that the categories themselves don't make sense. I agree with the complaint, and would...
Sep 10, 2014 Please Help Trans Tech
Naomi Ceder's talk at PyCon 2014 about her transition from male to female was the highlight of the conference for a lot of people. She recently posted this; I think it's a great cause, and they'd be grateful for your support. Un- or under-employment. Harassment and violence. Suicide. These were the sobering possibilities I considered as I prepared to transition, the risks that I run as a transgender woman in our society. And as frightening as those prospects were and are for me, they are orders of magnitude worse for trans people who are young, who are poor, who are...
Apr 24, 2014 Hand Made
Sadie made this for me. It's super-cuddly.
Apr 15, 2014 This Is Why I Don't Write Any More
Thursday: fly to Montreal for PyCon. Friday: give a talk at McGill. Saturday: tell people at PyCon what I know about education. Sunday: help Michael DiBernardo run a reviewing sprint on 500 Lines or Less, the fourth volume in The Architecture of Open Source Applications, then forget to mention him by name in a lightning talk about the project. (Sorry, man...) Monday: teach a one-day version of our instructor training course while a dozen other people are teaching three Software Carpentry bootcamps in parallel and a bunch of volunteers are sprinting to gather names and genders of speakers at computing...
Mar 14, 2014 Is Learning at Scale Just Another Name for Ubiquitous Surveillance in the Classroom?
Last week, I attended an ACM conference called Learning@Scale. It was the most depressing meeting I've been to in years, both because of what was said and done and because of what wasn't. According to its blurb: This conference is intended to promote scientific exchange of interdisciplinary research at the intersection of the learning sciences and computer science. Inspired by the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)...this conference was created by ACM as a...key focal point for the review and presentation of...research on how learning and teaching can change and improve when done at scale. That sounds cool, and...
Jan 24, 2014 The Other One Per Cent
Over the past year, there's been a minor rage storm on the internet (and oh yeah, in print, I guess) about the widening gulf between academic haves and have-nots. One theme that's come up over and over again is the unexamined privilege of the tenured few who run academia (see for example this post, and more importantly this follow-up). I'm on the side of the ragers, but I think many of them don't realize that they're part of a different "one per cent" when it comes to information. I no longer have an academic position, so I can't (legally) access...
Nov 10, 2013 Three Old Men Drinking Tea
Years ago, a friend took me to see an exhibit of Chinese paintings in Edinburgh. I liked one so much that I picked up a print (which I have long since lost). for one called, "Three Old Men Drinking Tea." As near as I can recall, the text said, "The first figure is the Buddha: he is frowning because the tea is bitter. The second, Lao Tzu, is smiling because the tea is warm, while the third represents Confucius, who is ignoring the tea and studying the cup very closely." I think about those three old men a lot when...
Oct 23, 2013 A Simple Exercise
Every teacher has a few favorite assignments. Here's one of mine, which I gave to two undergraduate software engineering classes that I taught at the University of Toronto: According to Statistics Canada, about 6% of Canadians are from East Asian or South Asian backgrounds. However, roughly 75% of students in Computer Science are ethnically Asian. Your task is to write two short essays, each roughly 1000 words long. In the first, you are to argue that this proves Caucasians and members of other ethnic groups are intrinsically less interested in or capable of programming than Asians. In the second, you...
Oct  8, 2013 Assuming the Problem
Gizmodo ran a piece recently titled What Happens When Cities Fall Apart? about the work of David Kilcullen, an Australian military theorist who believes that many future conflicts will take place in lawless urban areas—what he calls "feral cities". For me, this was the most important, and most saddening, passage in the article: ...if cities—particularly in the world's coastal, developing regions—are such a hotbed for future aggression...then how can we develop a new understanding of the city that would help us to...design away this growing problem? How can both civil infrastructure and urban governance be made more resilient to become...
Sep 24, 2013 To Tell You the Truth...
Sep 15, 2013 PyCon 2014 Proposal
I submitted this proposal to PyCon 2014—win or lose, I hope to see you all there. Submitted by: Greg Wilson Category: Education Python Level: Novice Audience: scientists, educators, and community organizers Objectives: Attendees will learn what we know about free-range teaching and learning, why very smart people still mostly can't program, what's wrong with MOOCs, and what the #1 priority for creators of new programming languages ought to be. Duration: I prefer a 45 minute slot Description: This talk will explain how Software Carpentry has grown to run over a hundred training events a year, what we've learned along the way, and...
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