Debunking the conventional wisdom

What do you think, are younger people better programmers? Are they more productive, more clever, work longer hours? Or do older people have some advantages? Here’s a bit of research that says they do!

NC State News :: NC State News and Information » Older Is Wiser: Study Shows Software Developers’ Skills Improve Over Time:

There is a perception in some tech circles that older programmers aren’t able to keep pace with rapidly changing technology, and that they are discriminated against in the software field. But a new study from North Carolina State University indicates that the knowledge and skills of programmers actually improve over time – and that older programmers know as much (or more) than their younger peers when it comes to recent software platforms.


Yay! Coffee is good for me (again)

Well these stories appear from time to time, either saying it’s good or bad for you. What’s an addict to do?

“Coffee isn’t just warm and energizing, it may also be extremely good for you. In recent years, scientists have studied the effects of coffee on 
various aspects of health and their results have been nothing short of amazing.” (from Lifehacker)

Ivory Tower or Trade school?

One of the tensions that I have seen in teaching software engineering is whether something should be viewed as legitimate research or part of the craft of computer engineering.

It’s a slippery slope that I myself didn’t have a good articulation for.

I came across this in a newsgroup which I think is a pretty good description. The writer is referring to Researching Information Systems and Computing:

“According to the author, the major differences are that in the typical software industry is that the less that is learnt or the less that needs to be discovered the more successful the project is deemed to be. If all is going according to plan then using existing knowledge, avoiding backtracking and changing of design or avoiding having to redo analysis would be seen as a part success. Having to change your design, backtracking and redoing analysis are perceived as a negative risk which needs to be mitigated. These risks could overrun the project constraints such as time, budget etc. Therefore industrial practitioners often leave out risky or uncertain parts of a project.

A researcher on the other hand focuses on these risky and uncertain items because tackling these risks and uncertainties successfully would lead to new knowledge being created. Hence you can claim to be doing research rather than ‘normal’ design and creation through the risk taking of your software product or process. You can further claim justification for your design by using theoretical underpinnings such as mathematical formulas and or formal methods from the field. You should also be able to say how the knowledge aquired from your design can be applied generally to other situations.

Is this article a joke? “When Truisms are true”


I saw this article in the Sunday New York Times today which starts promising but then becomes a bit ridiculous and makes a mockery of serious research, in my humble opinion.

It starts with a claim that sounds plausible:

“Recent advances in understanding what psychologists call “embodied cognition” indicate a surprisingly direct link between mind and body. It turns out that people draw on their bodily experiences in constructing their social reality.

Studies show, for example, that someone holding a warm cup of coffee tends to perceive a stranger as having a “warmer”€ personality. Likewise when holding something heavy, people see things as more serious and important – more –€ œweighty” (from When Truisms are True)

But then as they go into the studies they are doing to demonstrate some of their ideas. Just casually I think of many simpler explanations than the far out conclusions they seem to be coming to:

“For example, we asked 102 undergraduates at New York University to complete a task designed to measure innovative thinking. The task required them to generate a word (“tape,” for example) that related to each of three presented clue words (“measure,” “worm” and “video”). Some students were randomly assigned to do this while sitting inside a 125-cubic-foot box that we made of plastic pipe and cardboard. The rest got to sit and think outside (and next to) the box.

During the task we tracked the number of correct responses suggested by the students. We found that those thinking outside the box were significantly more creative: compared with those thinking inside the box, they came up with over 20 percent more creative solutions.” (from When Truisms are True)


“Then we asked them to think of original uses for the objects, either while walking along a fixed rectangular path indicated by duct tape on the floor (marking out an area of about 48 square feet) or by walking freely as they wished. The differences were striking: students who walked freely were better at generating creative uses for the objects — coming up with over 25 percent more original ideas. Such creativity was assessed in terms of fluency (the number of ideas generated), flexibility (the number of unique categories that described the generated ideas) and originality (as judged by independent raters).” (from When Truisms are True)

Really? It was at this point that I looked back at the article’s start to check if this was Humor or Satire.

Three Armed Bandit?

If I could fool you into believing that a fake rubber hand that you were looking at was really your own hand, how would you react if I took a knife to it? Weird questions that Neuro-science researchers busy themselves with, but really fairly amazing. Here’s an article in Scientific American about the study:

“A knife-wielding researcher is bearing down on your right hand—or is it your hand? You see three arms in front of you, and you can feel your palms dampen with fear-induced perspiration. But is it your right hand the kitchen knife is plunging toward, or a false, rubber right hand?” (from Scientific American)

Mathematical Foundations of Consciousness?

Say what? I came across this paper; Mathematical Foundations of Consciousness. I generally love this stuff: Mathematics and writings on the nature of consciousness. When I saw this paper the title really intrigued me. Now my math is not strong enough to tackle anything like PhD level math (in fact my math knowledge beyond under graduate level is definitely uneven.)

“The self-referential qualities of consciousness place it outside conventional logic(s) upon which scientific models and frameworks have heretofore been constructed. However more contemporary mathematical development has begun to deal with features of self-reference. We shall address Schrödinger’s critique by assembling and extending such development thereby putting self-reference as a form of awareness into theory. In this way we shall frame mathematical foundations for a theory of consciousness.” (from Mathematical Foundations of Consciousnes)

As I said, my math is weak, so I am not appreciating it, but to me this paper came across as a bunch of fancy mathematics with only peripheral thinking about consciousness.

Location Proofs

The more businesses reward me for showing up at their establishments, the more likely it will be that a bad guy would want to pretend that they were there to garner those rewards.

I came across a very interesting paper that proposes the notion of ‘location proofs.’:  Enabling new mobile applications with location proofs)

From the paper: “Location is rapidly becoming the next “killer application” as location-enabled mobile handheld devices proliferate. One class of applications that has yet-to-emerge are those in which users have an incentive to lie about their location. These applications cannot rely solely on the users’ devices to discover and transmit location information because users have an incentive to cheat. Instead, such applications require their users to prove their locations. Unfortu- nately, today’s mobile users lack a mechanism to prove their cur- rent or past locations. Consequently, these applications have yet to take off despite their potential.” (from Enabling new mobile applications with location proofs)

I think something like this is inevitable, but it will have be invisible because it’s too geeky..