May 27, 2005

Off to IATUL

I'll be at the IATUL conference in Quebec City next week. I hope to be able to post some notes from that conference, but I'm not sure how much time or opportunity I'll have. They seem to schedule you to within an inch of your life at this conference with a wide variety of tours, receptions and field trips.

CS Roundtable Final Agenda

Here's the final agenda for the Computer Science Roundtable at the SLA Annual Conference in Toronto. It's Monday June 6 from 11:30am to 1:00pm.

  1. Introductions
  2. IEEE Announcement
  3. The incredible shrinking Computer Science Department: the effect of declining enrollments on collections and services
  4. Information Literacy Instruction for Computer Science students: is it needed, how to convince faculty and students of its value
  5. Open Access, Google and CS scholars’ information seeking behavior
  6. Safari and other technology ebook packages
  7. Lecture Notes in CS: print or online only?

I would be very grateful if someone could volunteer to help me take notes.

May 26, 2005


The Embodiment of EEVL, Roddy MacLeod, tells me about EEVL's new database search tool EEVL Xtra. It lets you search for articles, technical reports, websites and other documents in engineering, mathematics and computing. A good explanation of what it's all about and what databases it searches is here. The press release, including a the list of sponsors, is here. Sponsors, who should be heartily congratulated and supported, include: Emerald, CSA, IHS,, Morgan Claypool, Inderscience and Pro-Talk.

I used to read but it's faster to make stuff up

A great line in today's Dilbert. There was also a great one a couple of weeks ago that really struck a chord -- about when organizations like to talk about their "culture."

May 25, 2005


The theme of the latest ISTL is Open Access Journals, with three very fine articles in the section as well as articles on GIS in small libraries, marine science literature, book reviews and database reports.

Most interestingly, however, is the Viewpoints article Instruction: Teaching or Marketing? by Susan B. Ardis. Ardis's thesis is that we don't really do information literacy instruction as a way of actually teaching our students to be information literate but as a way of marketing our library services to them. To quote her last paragraph:

To sum up, information literacy instruction as it is typically practiced is not truly teaching. Rather, it is a form of marketing where the action takes place in a classroom and librarians are guest lecturers demonstrating and marketing our resources, expertise, and utility. This activity is marketing because we make potential users aware of what their science and engineering libraries can do for them. We demonstrate to users that there are places to go for help when they get stuck or when the public web doesn't give them what they need. My favorite definition of marketing is "the delivery of a standard of living." Life is definitely better when you have some "smarts." A good place to get them is at the library. And, I don't mind going around and telling people so.

Interesting, but I think limited. Sure, some (much? most?) of the instruction we do is really glorified marketing, letting students know that the library does actually provide a useful and worthwhile alternative to Google. When I show keyword searching in the catalogue, do I do it thinking that students don't understand the concept of keyword searching? In part, yes. But mostly as a stealthful way of showing them that we have books that can actually help them with their assignments. So, IL as marketing is a concept I'm comfortable with. But, Ardis seems to me to be promoting the idea that we can offer nothing else to our students, that we should not even aspire to offer something more.

Part of a student's higher education should be to engage the literature of their field, to become familiar with its patterns of scholarly communication, to learn how to become a life-long learner, to understand the social context of the information they produce and consume both during and after their time in school. (And really, see the IL Standards from a few posts ago...) Frankly, as students become more familiar with online searching and as their expectations shift towards the idea that only online information is worth bothering to use, isn't that deeper, more complex understanding what we really have to offer them? If we want to integrate our IL concepts more closely with the academic programs themselves, aren't those concepts what we can bring to the academic table?

Why Women Shy Away from Careers in Science and Math

From the latest Scout Report:

21. Why Women Shy Away from Careers in Science and Math

This article from provides a psychological perspective on Why Women Shy Away from Careers in Science and Math. The article begins, "Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation." The article reports primarily on a talk that University of Michigan psychologist, Jacquelynne
Eccles, gave at the Society for Research in Child Development conference on how parents and teachers influence children's academic and career choices. The psychologist suggests that teachers tell parents that their daughters are talented in math and science and "provide girls and their parents with vocational and intellectual reasons for studying math or science." One major problem to address, according to the psychologist, are children's understandings of what scientists do. Rather than leaving young people with the impression that scientists are "eccentric old men with wild hair, smoking cigars, deep in thought, alone," we need to promote a richer, more nuanced vision of who scientists are, what they do and how they work. [VF]

May 20, 2005

Safari U textbooks

The Future of Textbook Selection: An Interview with Jon Preston
discusses an IT profs use of the "build your own" textbook feature of O'Reilly's Safari ebook product. Basically, the prof is able to pull together bits and pieces from various O'Reilly titles and set his own text for a C# class. And not just online versions either, but a real print textbook. I can imagine this facility would be absolutely perfect for programming language or operating system courses, even for more advanced database or application oriented courses.

O'Reilly was a bit slow tapping into the academic library market for Safari (and the product is still less than perfect for us -- poor quality MARC records being an example) and I haven't see anything about how libraries with Safari subscriptions could give access to the custom texts. I hope that's something that's coming down the line.

Information Literacy Standards for Science and Technology

And speaking of IL, check here for the latest draft of the STS IL standards for science & technology.

WILU @ The Information Literacy Weblog

There doesn't seem to be an official (or even unofficial) conference blog for WILU (or at least I can't find one), the The Information Literacy Weblog is covering it a bit.

May 19, 2005

Revitalizing Computing Science Education

An article from the most recent Computer (v38i5) by Qusay H. Mahmoud, Revitalizing Computing Science Education is a very stimulating read. The core of Mahmoud's thesis is that the decline in CS enrollments actually has many reasons. For example, he points out that CS grads aren't actually having any more problems than some other science grads getting jobs. Also, the enrollments and job situation isn't as bad in Europe and Australia as in North America so off-shoring mustn't be the only issue driving enrollments down or they would be similarly affected.

His reasons for the decline basically boil down to two things: image and image. Image in the sense that everyone thinks CS is only about programming, so someone not interested in programming would automatically not be interested in CS. Image also in the sense that the public thinks that the job market is saturated when in fact there continues to be lots of opportunities. Some of Mahmoud's suggestions are:

  • Offer multidisciplinary and crossdisciplinary programs. This would take advantage of hot fields such as bioinformatics.
  • Fix CS's image. In the sense that computing isn't only programming but can encompass a wide range of activities, some even involving interaction with other humans.
  • Move towards a Bachelor of Arts program. This would give students greater latitude in setting up their programs of study.
  • Increase women's enrollment.
  • Train high school CS teachers. Get 'em young.
  • Make CS courses fun. This will attract a wider range of students and make it easier to retain them

History of Computing

Thanks to Zbigniew for pointing out a couple of good resources:

    • Core (a computing history journal)

May 13, 2005

Effect of Guided Research Experience on Product Design Performance

The above titled articled has appeared in the Journal of Engineering Education v94i2, p255-262. It's by Gul E. Okudan and Bonnie Osif. Preprint here.

It's a great article about how a bit of library training can make a difference to the quality of student engineering projects. I plan on distributing photocopies at the next Engineering Program faculty meeting I'm at and perhaps other departments as well. A quote from the abstract: "First, the approach for incorporating guided research into curriculum is explained, and then the results of the study are presented, which indicate that a higher design performance can be achieved when guided research is added to design teaching."

Unfortunately, their argument is weakened somewhat by the actually statistical analysis they do on the data they've collected. It shows that the correlation between library training and project mark is almost but not quite statistically significant. The explain this by various factors including small sample size. Mostly good news but not quite the ringing endorsement you would hope for. via Joe Kraus on eldnet-l.

Something useful for a change -- graph paper pdfs

Via the MAKE blog, here's a great little site that lets you print off a wide variety of graph paper samples from pdf files. There's also a bunch of cute little forms that let you generate your own graph paper to custom specs. At the ref desk, we fairly often get requests for sheets of graph paper and this page will certainly be useful to students looking for a quick sheet or two.

SLA 2005 Conference Blog

The countdown has begun! As has become SOP at most conferences these days, SLA has set up a conference blog here. And what do you know, this humble blog has been selected for the Blogs of Note blogroll sidebar. Oh, the pressure...

I'm pretty sure there's going to be a PAM conference blog, and possibly other scitech ones as well, and I'll post here when I have more details. I also plan on posting my own impressions of the conference as it unfolds.

May 11, 2005

What CS means to me

For this post, I thought I'd continue with more resources on the human side of CS. The following is a list of books that I've read over the years that have given me a deeper and more human understanding of the CS field and the people that make it up. Along the lines of Ellen Ullmann's The Bug that I reviewed a while back, these books give an insight into what it's like to work as a software developer or CS academic. Of course, this round is all non-fiction, rather than a novel like The Bug. There are certainly other books out there that I haven't read (or have forgotten I've read) that I don't mention here, and any notes left in the comments about some of those would be appreciated. One that I know I haven't read but should is Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. I would really appreciate hearing about newer books from all of you out there, as these mostly date from my own initial explorations in the field when I was a CS student and later a professional software developer.

  • Lammers, Susan. Programmers at work, 1st series: Interviews. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press, 1986. This is the best of them all, with interviews with many of the pioneers of the personal computing industry: John Warnock, Bill Gates, Wayne Ratliff, Bob Carr, Jaron Lanier and many others. Read this book.
  • Weinberg, Gerald M. Understanding the professional programmer. New York: Dorset House, 1988. Really, any of Weinberg's books on the life of the programmer are good.
  • Weinberg, Gerald M. Becoming a technical leader : an organic problem-solving approach. New York: Dorset House, 1986. Like this one too.
  • Weinberg, Gerald M. An introduction to general systems thinking. New York: Dorset House, 2001. Or this one, a recent edition of a book that taught me a lot about thinking like a programmer.
  • DeMarco, Tom and Timoth Lister. Peopleware: Productive projects and teams. New York: Dorset House, 1987. A classic.
  • Yourdon, Edward. Decline and fall of the American programmer. New York, Prentice Hall, 1992. Yourdon was amongst the first to raise the spectre of outsourcing & off-shoring. This is a great book about the field. Haven't read the sequal Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer.
  • Glass, Robert L. Software conflict: Essays on the art and science of software engineering. New York: Yourdon Press, 1991. Great book on why building systems is hard.
  • Brooks, Fred. The mythical man-month : Essays on software engineering. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995. New edition of a classic.
  • Shasha, Dennis Elliot and Cathy Lazere. Out of their minds: The lives and discoveries of 15 great computer scientists. Another book of interviews, this time mostly with academics. Featured are big names like Donald Knuth, Edsger Dijkstra and Fred Brooks. Cool web page by one of the authors here.
  • Stephenson, Neal. In the beginning was the command line. New York: Perennial, 1999. See my post on this book here.
  • Shore, John. The sachertorte algorithm: And other antidotes to computer anxiety. New York: Viking, 1985. A fun book.

Latest What New @ IEEE for Students

From the latest issue:

Effective technical presentations are vital to engaging an audience of non-experts. Writing in the IEEE Professional Communications Society newsletter, Jean-Luc Doumont identifies three simple steps can help to improve technical presentations: the ability to communicate concisely; to orient an audience with visual cues; and to define the objective of the research. Such steps can make even the most complex theories accessible to non-experts. Read more:

The United States placed 17th in the annual Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Programming Contest, the worst ranking in the last 29 years. In an interview with CNET, ACM president David Patterson points to several possible reasons why the U.S. fell behind. Unlike other countries that have fewer computing resources, he says, America is used to being at the forefront of technology, and so students see little recognition for a win. In Russia, for example, finalists get to meet their country's president, while in America, that honor goes to sports players who win championships. Patterson also argues that because poorer countries are struggling to compete in today's technological marketplace, many of their funds and grants go toward implementing and promoting programming education. Conversely, in America, there is little encouragement for college students to pursue IT research. Read more:

The first item is of course very useful, as more and more emphasis is placed on interpersonal and communications skills in science and engineering programs. The second item is, of course, much more important in the long run. The interview talks a lot about the declining status of CS in society and is a useful addition to the posts I've made in the past about declining CS enrollments. Really interesting is the reader comments at the end of the story where students and practitioners get to vent a little. Canada? North American champion Waterloo placed 4th. See the contest results here. Of course, perhaps the two items are really related. Maybe if CS and related disicplines were seen as less geeky and more "human" then more people would be interested.

May 9, 2005

Ever wonder how LOCKSS works?

Over in the ACM Transactions on Computer Systems, v23i1, is a long article explaining just that: The LOCKSS peer-to-peer digital preservation system by Petros Maniatis, Mema Roussopoulos, T. J. Giuli, David S. H. Rosenthal, Mary Baker. Much of the article is very accessible to non-CS academics and is a very interesting explication of the LOCKSS project. Oh yeah, Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. Preprint here.

May 6, 2005

What it's really like

Via InsideHigherEd, being a female faculty member in a computing department still ain't easy.

May 5, 2005

JERIC special issue on gender-balancing computing education

The latest issue of ACM's Journal on Educational Resources in Computing is a very welcome issue on gender-balancing computing education, or more specifically, bringing more women into computing. An important topic, and this is a significant contribution. For this one, I'll list the whole TOC:

I found a few online, but it's too bad the rest aren't there too especially since CS people have a reputation for getting their stuff up on their own web sites. Also, here's a reading list I found on women in CS.

Why I became an engineer

Not me, actually, but six other people. The March 2005 issue of ASEE's Prism profiles six different engineering educators (4 men, 2 women), exploring why they chose the profession. My favourite pull quote from the article: " I like to tell people that I used to want to be a lawyer but then I decided to do something useful for society, so I became an engineer." I sure lawyers tell similar stories... In any case, the full text is here.

Latest ACM Interactions

The v12i3 issue of ACM's Interactions is a theme issue. The theme is basically "Who owns the UX field" with UX being User eXperience, ie human-computer interaction, interface design, usability, information architecture, human factors, whatever you want to call the range of inquiry involving how people interact with systems. It's quite an extensive selection of articles, a small selection of which are:

May 4, 2005

Don't Panic

This Slate article compares the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the Wikipedia. via Locusmag.