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Showing posts from April, 2010

Why I am a Computer Scientist

As a counterpoint to my last, somewhat pessimistic post on the future of CS, I thought I'd post something more upbeat today.

Ed Lazowska from UW gave the colloquium at Harvard this week on Computer Science: Past, Present, and Future. This is a talk he has no doubt given many times at many places, though it was the first I had heard it, and it was fantastic. More than anything else, his talk reminded me of why I am a computer scientist, and of how many great problems we have to work on in this field. I can't imagine wanting to do anything else.

Ed's talk started off reviewing what computer science has accomplished in the last 40 years, since the ARPAnet came online in 1969. This New York Times story from 2009 reported on the "Top 20 inventions of the last 30 years" and nearly all of them are derived from computer science in one fashion or another -- the Internet, PC, mobile phones, and email top the list. Although there's no surprise here at all, it was a gre…

Will DARPA save computer science?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the role of academic computer science research vis-à-vis the state of the art in industry. When I was in grad school at Berkeley, we were building "big systems" -- the 200+ node cluster that I did all my research on was on the rough order of the size of sites like Inktomi and Google at the time. Since then, industry has scaled up by orders of magnitude, leaving academics in the dust. These days it's not clear that it makes sense for a university research group to work on systems problems that try to approximate industry: not only do we not have the resources, we simply have no idea what the real problems are at that scale. My friend and colleague Steve Gribble told me that after doing a sabbatical at Google, he decided that there's no way a university group could compete with what they're doing.

So what should academics be spending their time on? Too many academic systems researchers, I think, are doing "ind…

Should Harvard's Intro CS class do away with grades?

We've been having some discussion amongst the CS faculty over the last few weeks about whether CS50, the intro computer science class at Harvard, should do away with letter grades and instead switch to SAT/UNSAT. Recently, the Harvard Crimson reported that CS50 is going to do away with letter grades, but this is not true -- the issue is still being debated by the faculty, and has yet to have any formal approval. (I don't know what led the Crimson to report it as though it were a fait accompli.) Given that my opinion seems to differ from most of the CS faculty, I thought I'd put my two cents forth here. Of course, this only represents my own thoughts on the matter, not the CS faculty as a whole (so if you are a Crimson reporter, don't go around reporting this as the final word).

For the record, I used to teach CS61, one of the two follow-on courses to CS50, so the output of CS50 directly feed into my course, and I have a vested interest in the intro course maintaining a …

HotOS XIII Call for Papers

I am pleased to announce that the call for papers for the Thirteenth Workshop on Hot Topics in Operating Systems (aka HotOS XIII) has been announced. I am fortunate to serve as the program chair and we have put together a fantastic program committee for the workshop, which will be held from May 8-10, 2011 in Napa Valley (think good wine and fantastic food... No promises yet on whether Thomas Keller will be doing the catering). While it's a long ways off, it never hurts to start thinking ahead about what you want to submit! The paper deadline is January 15, 2011.
A few words about HotOS and my own philosophy behind the workshop. HotOS has been the flagship venue for bold new ideas in the systems community over the years. It is often the first place that we hear about new projects and exciting ideas, and it's also a place for grad students to float their crazy thesis plans before submitting full papers to places like SOSP and OSDI. Just to be clear on the format: HotOS submission…

Reviewing papers on an iPad

Following up on my recent post on Mac tools for profs, I wanted to share some early thoughts on the use of the iPad for reading and reviewing papers. (This seems to be 60% of my job these days, and it was the main reason I got an iPad in the first place.) For the last year or so I've gone paperless with paper reviews: I read PDFs on the laptop screen and have a separate text editor window open to type up my review. So the iPad seemed like the perfect way to carry the proverbial stack of papers around with me and write up reviews anytime, anywhere.

I've been testing a bunch of iPad apps for paper reading and annotation. Verdict: The software for this is still immature, but it's clear that the potential is there. In a few months I hope this will be a lot more straightforward.

Good news first: Reading PDFs on the iPad screen is fantastic. Although the screen is a little smaller than a 8.5x11" or A4 page, you can still read the text quite clearly and every reading app lets …