teaching, research, etc.



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all writing all the time

Deep Thought: a phd writes things
Tuesday, December 10th

It is difficult to explain to students—at any level—the importance of being able to write. There are many aspects to writing well, and it is hard to master them all.

  • Connected. Good writing does not leave the reader guessing from one point to the next.

  • Clear. Good writing is direct, and avoids jargon.

  • Concise. Good writing is brief.

I rarely achieve all of these in my own writing, because it is hard work to achieve these things. What do I mean by hard work?

I recently submitted a paper to an academic venue. It was limited to 6 pages (11pt, standard MS Word formatting), including figures and references. This is tiny, as far as I’m concerned. I spent roughly 18 hours on this paper, total. The last four hours of work were divided between increasing clarity (growing the paper from 6.5 to 9 pages), and increasing concision (shrinking the paper back down to 6 pages).

I am also working on my fourth-year self evaluation. This is a document that critically reflects on my teaching, research, mentorship, and service to my institution and community. It is pushing 20 pages, with some assorted appendices thrown in. I have invested roughly 48 hours in this document, possibly more. I started it months ago, and have been writing and revising, as time allows, throughout the semester.

Today, I started revising my curriculum vitae, or CV, which is an academic resume. Translated from the Latin, curriculum vitae means “course of life.” It grows throughout an academic’s life, and reflects everything they have done professionally. Publications, grants, reviewing, presentations, committees… it all goes in.

I spent two hours today just poking at the CV. I probably have another 4-8 hours of work to bring it up to date, as well as transform it from a “generic” CV to an “institutional CV.” This means that it will reflect more detail about my life as a member of the Berea community than I would include if I was (say) applying for jobs at other institutions. This transformation takes care and attention to detail, and will likely require several rounds of revision with senior colleagues.

I also write webpages, produce videos, informational diagrams… I produce all kinds of media to support my students’ learning in and out of the classroom. I enjoy that kind of media production. But none of that matters, really. It isn’t my ability to make videos that helped me get the job I have now, nor will it help me keep my job as I go into my pre-tenure and tenure evaluations.

My ability to write clear, concise, connected prose is really all that matters.

If you’re considering a career in academia, then I recommend that you start writing, and keep writing, and revise, and talk with people about your writing, and revise, and talk some more, and throw away what you wrote, then start again, and just keep writing. Reading lots of papers—and reading papers about reading papers—will help you learn how to structure your writing (if you’re paying attention and reflecting on what you read, structurally), but ultimately, you’re just going to have to write.

Every day.

If that sounds awful, you should not consider pursuing an academic career. All we do is write.

tis the season

Deep Thought: XKCD nails it.
Monday, January 21

got the keys

Deep Thought: actually, it feels good.
Monday, January 21

Tonight, we got the keys.

toys here and there

Deep Thought: As if I need more hardware...
Friday, January 04

A few toys have crossed my path lately, and it might be worth pointing to a few. Some might serve as the basis for some cool student projects or parts of classroom experiences.

  • Digi-Comp II
    A mechanical computer from Evil Mad Scientist labs. A definite possibility for a computer organization course.

  • MK808
    A tiny Android computer-in-a-box. Useful for plugging into a projector to demo Android apps… but, of course, you have no accelerometer. Still, cute. Perhaps in an OS course?

  • The Parallella from Adapteva.
    A no-brainer; this is a 16-core device (with a 64-core on the way) that we could run occam-pi on. This could definitely be a board for use in an organization course or an operating systems course. This would be a processor for which we could definitely build an Arduino-esque occam-pi board.

  • Font Awesome
    Neither here nor there, but I really like this icon set.

  • Pebble Smartwatch
    Like many, I backed this campaign. Given that I have two courses on Android programming this term, perhaps I’ll turn some students loose on developing something awesome for it.

  • Gamestick
    I’m currently a backer; I think the theme is “cool Android devices I could use in my classroom.” Hack in some App Inventor support, and you’ve got a really neat device for introducing game programming to students.

  • Bluestacks
    A high-performance Android-in-a-window experience. Works on Mac and Windows… and, surprisingly, presents itself as an emulator to App Inventor.

more time for writing

Deep Thought: damn't jim, i'm a college professor, not a time lord!
Friday, December 21

I really, really need to block time into my next semester for writing every week. Or hacking code. Either way, I have a research project that won’t go anywhere if I don’t make the time. And, I can guarantee that no one else will make that time for me.

If I have any desire to ever use the concurrency.cc tools for ongoing work, they need to be updated.

  • VMs need to be set up for builds.
  • Updates to the IDE are needed for Windows 7, 8
  • Updates to support current Arduino platforms are needed. (And, to do that, I need current Arduino platforms.)
  • The book needs to be expanded.

In the end, I’m most interested in working on the book.

Time. Where does it go?

methodological testing

Deep Thought: A small heater in the basement works wonders.
Tuesday, December 18th

Two articles that I caught in the feed reader: Whose bug is this anyway?!? and Redis Crashes. Both are great “war stories” about bugs in software, and the process that is involved in tracking them down. I’m thinking I need to find spaces to have students read more of these stories, so that they get a sense of what kind of hard work is necessary to be successful.

And, related to success, Why Won’t Anyone Talk To Me? digs into the current state of affairs regarding the recruiting market for CS grads.


Without the school or the job history, your best bet is going to be to do some side projects. Writing an iPhone or Android app is easy – it just takes an idea, some determination, and the ability to work through a tutorial book one chapter at a time. Alternatively, you could get involved in an open-source project. For example, Linux Kernel Newbies is a good place to start if you want to get involved in Linux development (I guarantee you, being a Linux kernel or Apache project contributor with merged diffs will catch a recruiter’s eye). There are plenty of options, but the key is that you have to finish something, ideally multiple somethings, in a public way (e.g., published in an app store).


Again, required reading for our students. And, for us as faculty: I need to be thinking about what kinds of opportunities I can help create for my students (in and out of class) that will help them move towards success.


Deep Thought: Working in the basement is a quick way to make iced coffee.
Sunday, December 16th

I’ve written roughly 800 blog posts since 2002, but only four in 2011. The last post I wrote in 2011 was in May, meaning I wrote zero posts during the 2011-2012 academic year. However, I think it is important to have a place to write and explore ideas, if nothing else to model this communication medium for my students. That, and a lot of jadud.com was out of date, so the move to Berea College is as good an excuse as any to reboot.

When I have the time, I’ll clean up the 800+ posts from years past and bring them back into an archive; for now, they’re in the repository, waiting.