Thursday, March 1, 2012

SIGCSE 2012 Thursday Report:Fred Brooks, Science Fiction and More

I'm here in Raleigh, North Carolina for the SIGCSE conference. Along with making appearances at a National Science Foundation showcase session on the COMTOR project, and helping run a Birds of a Feather session on the same project, I did my very best to visit as many interdisciplinary sessions as possible. There were too many to hit them all, especially as there were overlapping sessions and I haven't learned how to be two places at once yet - years of trying not withstanding. Here are some of my abbreviated observations and general thoughts on the conference today. This certainly isn't comprehensive.

The keynote speaker this morning was Fred Brooks, author of the famous "Mythical Man Month". He spoke about teaching as a design task and as a dynamic critiqued practice. He sprinkled his discussion with interesting historical notes. Perhaps my favorite was his reference to having learned to program, in 1952, in "octal absolute on the 701". Several of us in my row of seats began trying to guess what this referred to. 701 was probably the IBM 701. Octal absolute was a bit trickier. Some quick pondering suggested there was an Octal Absolute and an Octal Relative, and that Octal Absolute may have meant no assembler. I always loved that low level of dealing with the machine (I was about to say "of addressing the machine" :) ; fun to think about.

I attended a Special Session about the NSF funded Interdisciplinary Computing project that I participated in over the past year and reported on here. It was interesting to listen to the organizers (Boots Cassel and Ursula Wolz) present a recap of our progress and findings over the year and to then hear audience feedback. It was refreshing to hear spontaneous upbeat comments about how there are always people in other departments who are willing to work beyond traditional boundaries - we have to look for them. There were some useful comments about how to get started with obtaining funding in interdisciplinary computing before you have a track record. Part of this was addressed when one of the NSF program officers spoke briefly about the many program solicitations that are good fits for interdisicplinary work. Other suggestions, from the audience, included getting letters of support for your proposal/work from well known people who have a track record, and when appropriate, pairing with someone as a co Principle Investigator who has a track record. There was a fair amount of talk that started from the question of "is interdisciplinary computing scaleable?" and went in a several directions.

After lunch I boogied on over to hear a session on Science Fiction in Computer Science Education. I had to find out what all this was about and was it for real? It was. Several computing faculty described some very interesting ways they used sci-fi novels, books and movies as focus or starting point for deeper computing concepts. One faculty used an older story called "Maxon's Master" to launch into a series of discussions about algorithms, search algorithms in particular, AI and issues of cognition and robotics. Eventually a programming assignment materializes in a seemingly natural way. Other panelists used sci-fi literature and movies to get into virtual reality, virtual relationships, and the ubiquitous information stream and social capital. On of the writings she uses is "Super Sad True Love Story", a newer work. These were just two of the speakers in this session.

On a completely tangential side note, Michelle Obama is going to be in Raleigh tomorrow and staying at one of our conference hotels. Tomorrow is going to be interesting, as they are closing down portions of the streets, hotels, and the conference center. It would be nice if she dropped in for lunch but I'm not holding my breathe on that!

Artistic post to prevent you from driving your car up the sidewalk. Taken at night.

1 comment:

  1. Great summary of the Thursday session. Enjoyed hearing about the Sci Fi session as I wasn't able to attend that one. Mary L