OpenUsability‘s Season of Usability is a series of sponsored student projects to encourage students of usability, user-interface design, and interaction design to get involved with Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects. Students experience the interdisciplinary and collaborative development of user interface solutions in international software projects while getting into FLOSS development.
If you are a student of design, usability, human factors, or other HCI-related field and you are interested in working on an open source project, you could work with an experienced usability mentor on a fun and interesting design project (including the University of Toronto’s OLM). As a bonus for working 10-15 hours a week between June 1 and August 31, there is a $1000 USD internship stipend at the end of the project. For more details, see the Season of Usability site.
I finished David JC Mackay’s Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air on the flight back from Ottawa yesterday. First response: brilliant. Second response: absolutely brilliant. A physicist, Mackay approaches the question of whether the UK can run on sustainable energy sources by doing back-of-the-envelope calculations—hundreds of them. How much precipitation falls in highland areas? How high are those areas? How much energy could that possibly give us? What fraction of that could we plausibly recover? Then turn the page, and he’s doing the same kind of calculations for air travel (which, by the way, is within a few percentage points of being as efficient as it ever could be). He then sketches half a dozen scenarios for sustainability, five relying primarily on one source (wave, wind, biomass), the sixth a balanced mix.
His conclusion? We’re in trouble—big trouble, especially since (as the quotes scattered through the book show) most people are either in denial or prone to indulge in wishful thinking. His book is meant to be an antidote to both.
But that’s not what I like most about this book. What I like most is that he isn’t just trying to lay out the options, he’s trying to show us what kinds of arguments and plans we should be willing to accept. That’s why I think SEWHA would be a great text for a first-year general science course: it does a better job than any book I’ve read since Epstein’s Thinking Physics (now sadly out of print) of showing readers what practical, numerate thinking actually looks like.
It’s also (to go off on a tangent) reinforced my belief that almost none of what we call “software engineering” is actually engineering. I’ve worked with enough civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers to know how important back-of-the-envelope reality checks are to their disciplines. Other than figuring out how many servers you need to meet a service level agreement, I don’t know if such reality checks are even possible for software construction. It doesn’t mean that what we study (and preach) is useless, but as many others have observed before me, “engineering” looks more and more like an inappropriate metaphor.
The City of Toronto has just launched an exciting new initiative to attract high calibre new professionals to the Toronto Public Service. The Toronto Urban Fellows program provides talented new professionals with an intensive introduction to the governance, operations and administration of Canada’s largest city through a combination of full-time work experience and participation in a series of seminars, tours and workshops.
The deadline for applying to the program is May 30, 2009. The first cohort of Toronto Urban Fellows will begin working with the City of Toronto on September 9, 2009.
For details about the Toronto Urban Fellows program (placements, salary & benefits, eligibility requirements, application process, etc.), please visit www.toronto.ca/urbanfellows. Any questions you may have about the Toronto Urban Fellows program which are not addressed by the website should be directed by email to email@example.com.
The OCE Discovery 2009 conference is happening May 11-12 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and the Department of Computer Science will have two booths on the floor highlighting several projects, including:
- Automated Ligand-Based Active Site (Abraham Heifets)
- ILoveSketch (Seok-Hyung Bae)
- Real-Time Point Cloud Alignment with a GPU (Anatoliy Kats)
- JSCOOP (Faraz Torshizi)
- SketchPad (Eron Steger)
- Using Language to Learn Structured Appearance Models (Mike Jamison)
- Precise Packet Generator (Monia Ghobadi)
- Spam Detection in IP Telephony (Alireza Sahraei)
- SnowFlock (Andres Lagar-Cavilla and Adin Scannell)
Prof. Yashar Ganjali and I will be there to answer questions on the department’s behalf as well—look forward to seeing you.
Mike Gunderloy announced this morning that he’s resigning from the Rails Activists group:
…Anyone who cares to take the time to actually talk to the women who are a part of the open source community will have no trouble getting an earful about how challenging it can be to participate…[p]eople like Audrey Eschright, Aaron Quint, Peter Szinek, and Selena Deckelmann have written about ways to address some of the fundamental problems…
But…a significant number of Rails core contributors – with leadership (if that’s the right word) from DHH – apparently feel that being unwelcoming and “edgy” is not just acceptable, but laudable. The difference between their opinions and mine is so severe that I cannot in good conscience remain a public spokesman for Rails.
So, effective immediately, I’m resigning my position with the Rails Activists.
I realize that some people will see this as an act of prudery on my part, or a lack of a sense of humor, or some other personal failing. That’s OK, I don’t mind. Other people…have attempted to convince me that I could do more good by staying involved with…Rails…and trying to work from within to change things. At this point, unfortunately, I feel sufficiently outnumbered and unwelcome that that option is no longer open.
If more of us had Mike’s courage, this problem would have been solved a long time ago. Three cheers, and thank you.
And speaking of cheers: this is a good time to send some to the members of last week’s open source panel at U of Toronto. When I brought up the under-representation of women in open source (roughly 1 in 200, compared to 1 in 7 for the industry as a whole), they all addressed the issue thoughtfully and head-on. It’s quite a chance from four or five years ago, and very welcome.
Not that I’m bitter or anything, but…
Cost of the NSERC Science Grant Peer Review System Exceeds the Cost of Giving Every Qualified Researcher a Baseline Grant
Richard Gordon (Department of Radiology, University of Manitoba)
Bryan J. Poulin (Faculty of Business Administration, Lakehead University)
Using Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Canada (NSERC) statistics, we show that the $40,000 (Canadian) cost of preparation for a grant application and rejection by peer review in 2007 exceeded that of giving every qualified investigator a direct baseline discovery grant of $30,000 (average grant). This means the Canadian Federal Government could institute direct grants for 100% of qualified applicants for the same money. We anticipate that the net result would be more and better research since more research would be conducted at the critical idea or discovery stage. Control of quality is assured through university hiring, promotion and tenure proceedings, journal reviews of submitted work, and the patent process, whose collective scrutiny far exceeds that of grant peer review. The greater efficiency in use of grant funds and increased innovation with baseline funding would provide a means of achieving the goals of the recent Canadian Value for Money and Accountability Review. We suggest that developing countries could leapfrog ahead by adopting from the start science grant systems that encourage innovation.
Update: I sent the link and abstract to the faculty in my department. Four have replied so far: 1 said, “That’s crazy!”, another said, “I think they’ve cooked their numbers,” and two (both very senior) said they were very skeptical. One went so far as to say:
It would be more convincing if the second author was not from lakehead which would do very well from getting rid of refereeing!
When asked, though, both of those senior faculty admitted that they hadn’t actually read the paper…
Second update: the (junior) prof who thought they had cooked their numbers sent the detailed analysis included below, which I think is more useful (and fairer) than dismissing the paper unread because of where the authors are from…
Look at table 3. The only lines which make a difference there are the time spent by the faculty members & students writing the grants, and the administrative cost of NSERC. For the former, they provide no support for the number of hours PIs or trainees spend on writing the grant — I think the number 120 should be much lower. I spent ~3 weeks writing my NSERC, but this was while doing several other things in parallel, so the number is at least twice too big in my case, and it was my first experience writing a grant—I think I can do a decent job in about 40 hours now. The additional 2 weeks of work on each grant by students/postdocs I think is really unsubstantiated. Almost all PIs write the grants on their own; if they ask a student for something it is a figure that the student can also use in their paper.
Secondly accounting for administrative cost by multiplying the admin costs by discovery/all grants ratio does not take into account that DGP are 5 year grants, while other grants tend to be shorter, and hence have higher admin overhead. I am too lazy to do this, but I’d be curious to see what fraction of all grant applications the DG are—the number shouldn’t be hard to get.
And finally this does not take into account that grants are very easy to recycle—people who are rejected at NSERC resubmit substantially similar proposals to other funding agencies (or NSERC next year), so I think the real costs are much, much lower. There are also advantages of writing grants—I actually find that writing a grant helps me organize my thoughts on the topic—better preparing me to write a paper on it, or helping figure out what to do next in a certain field.
http://wiki.eclipse.org/Eclipse_DemoCamps_Galileo_2009/Toronto has the details.
The slides for the talk I’m giving today at the NRC on empirical software engineering and how scientists actually use computers are now up on SlideShare. Weird how some graphics are messed up and others aren’t, but I think it’s all still readable.