Sunday Selection 2012-12-09

Around the Web

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Academia

As my third semester as a PhD student draws to an end, I’m starting to think about what to do in the long term: what kind of a career I want to have, what kind of problems I want to focus on, etc. This piece is an interesting look at how research in computer science can coexist with making an impact in the real world today.

Trouble at Code School

I’ve been a Teaching Assistant for two semesters, but I haven’t really been on the front lines of teaching students. That being said, from what little experience I have introducing newcomers to programming that both teaching and learning beginning programming is no easy task. Luckily, with the growth of education-based startups and the resurgence in academic CS programs we’ll probably see interesting approaches in the near future.

GitHub vs Skyrim

Giles Bowkett manages to come up with interesting perspectives on a regular basis. This article talks about about GitHub and Skyrim and how the way they encourage team dynamics may lay the foundation for a new way of organizing companies and teams. Perhaps the most insightful idea is that the very definition of an office or workspace is not only changing, but gradually becoming irrelevant as work becomes increasingly distributed.

From the Bookshelf

Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman

I first read this book years ago in school and it was probably the first book to show me that you can fill a life with equal parts work and fun. This book probably played an important, though subconscious part in my decision to stay in academia for the time being. Even if you’re not a scientist or and academic, this book is worth reading and learning from. Life is supposed to be fun.

Goodbye Netflix, hello reading

I cancelled my Netflix subscription yesterday because I’d been using it both too much and too little. I had both the streaming service and one DVD out at a time. While the DVD option has a much larger selection than the streaming, I found myself hardly every using it. In fact I’ve only checked out out a handful of DVDs since getting a Macbook Air without an optical drive over a year ago. Even when I did check one out it took me days or weeks to actually watch and return it. At the same time, I watched too much over streaming. It’s far too easy to just sit and keep hitting the next episode button for hours on end. It was taking up far too much time that would be better spent elsewhere.

I’m not giving up TV completely. We have a large TV in the living room and my roommate has a Roku box and Netflix streaming. However I’ve been spending more time at my desk and trying not to sit on the couch for more than short periods of time. I also plan on keeping the watching down to a few hours on the weekends (if that). I have Amazon Prime (plugged into the Roku too) and while Amazon and Netflix have mostly overlapping free selections, there’s more available to rent on Amazon. That makes it possible to watch something when I really want to (like The Avengers over the weekend) but keeps me from contiuously browsing.

I do however, want to spend more time reading actual books (not blogs or websites and certainly not “social media”). I have a Kindle which I love (and would like to use more) and Amazon occasionally has really nice deals. Cornell also has really big libraries with great collections which I want to make more use of. Personally I find myself being much calmer and more collected if I spend half an hour or so just reading without thinking about anything else. It’s a pretty relaxing and it feels even better if I’m actively learning something from it.

Michael Fogus (who writes a great blog) has posts on “extreme reading” and “reading for the rushed” which offer some great advice for reading more and better. I’m already a pretty fast reader (reading a couple of technical papers a week will do that to you) but one thing I’m interested in trying out is taking notes while reading. I normally hate marking up books, so I’m getting a small notebook (Field notes or Moleskine Cahier) and using that. I don’t know how this will work for fiction but for non-fiction I tend to come across lots of interesting facts that I would like to remember. For example yesterday while reading Martyn Amos’ “Genesis Machines” I found out that Turing was prompted by a friend’s death to start thinking about the possibility about moving human thought to non-biological substrates. These are the types of things I’d like to remember and maybe come back to later.

I’m leaving for India in a few weeks time which means lots of time on planes and away from reliable Internet connections. That in turn means lots of time and opportunity for reading. My Kindle is already well-stocked and I hope this time at home turns into a good start for a year of reading. Ideally I want to read at least a book a week. That might be a bit ambitious, but I won’t find out without giving it a try. For the time being though, it’s back to finishing “Genesis Machines”.