The Communications Web site, http://cacm.acm.org,
features 13 bloggers in the BLoG@CACM community.
in each issue of Communications, we’ll publish excerpts
from selected posts, plus readers’ comments.
Writing Apps, and
Creating a Professional
Greg Linden reveals his new approach to reading research
papers, Mark Guzdial discusses how to encourage students
to write computer programs, and Tessa Lau shares her ideas
about the importance of Web visibility.
from Greg Linden’s
Research papers take a
long time to read. They
are dense, narrowly focused, often seem abstract and detached from practical issues, and occasionally require much knowledge
of prior work to grasp.
Given all that work, why bother?
After all, as many of my colleagues
in industry say, due to the many assumptions about the quality of the
data, needs of the users, performance
of the algorithms, or size of the data,
academic research often is unusable
to them as is.
What I find most valuable about
research work is that someone smart
has spent a long time thinking about
a particular problem. Someone
has spent much effort describing a
problem, why it is important, what
has been tried in the past, and what
should be tried.
The authors are working to advance
the state of the art, but the solution
often is less valuable than the journey. For those who are trying to solve
similar problems, it is the discussion
of the paths taken and not taken that
illuminates the road.
If you also believe this, then the
way you read papers might change.
Years ago, I used to turn first to the
implementation and experimental
results, then push the paper away if I
found the evaluation lacking.
Nowadays, I turn first to the introduction, related work, conclusion,
and future work. I seek to understand
the problem, why it is important,
what has been tried, and what still
needs to be tried. I try to see why the
authors chose to spend part of their
lives pursuing solutions to this task
and what insights they gained. I think
about how I would solve the problem
myself. And only then do I turn to
Read this way, it is much easier to
bask yourself in the flow of academic
publications, letting the thoughts
and insights wash over you. The
papers become an easy joy to read,
like having a conversation over
coffee with the authors. It becomes
what research should be, the sharing
from Mark Guzdial’s
“‘There’s an App for
That,’ and You Could
The Apple ads for the
iPhone, with the catchy
phrase “There’s an app for that,” seem
ubiquitous on television these days.
They suggest that for whatever one
might want to do with an iPhone, from
printing a label to finding an apartment near campus, there’s an application ready and waiting to help you do
just that. Ready and waiting, but who
One of the challenges of computing education these days is convincing
students that there are new programs
to write, programs that they want, and
that they are the ones to write them.
Computing is a new literacy. As Chris
Crawford said, “Programming is the
new writing.” How do we convince students that they also want to write? It’s
hard to come up with a compelling
argument for students that they need