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2017-6-11 How To Criticize Computer Scientists

How To Criticize Computer Scientists


or
Avoiding Ineective Deprecation And
Making Insults More Pointed

In recent exchanges, members of the faculty have tried in vain to attack other Computer
Scientists and disparage their work. Quite frankly, I nd the results embarrassing -- instead of
cutting the opponent down, many of the remarks have been laughably innocuous. Something
must be done about it because any outsider who hears such blather will think less of our
department: no group can hold the respect of others unless its members can deal a devastating
verbal blow at will.

This short essay is an eort to help faculty make their remarks more pointed, and help avoid
wimpy vindictives. It explains how to insult CS research, shows where to nd the Achilles' heel in
any project, and illustrates how one can attack a researcher.

The Two Basic Types Of Research

Most lousy insults arise from a simple misimpression that all researchers agree on the overall
aims of CS research. They do not. In particular, CS has inherited two, quite opposite approaches
from roots in mathematics and engineering.

Researchers who follow the mathematical paradigm are called theorists, and include anyone
working in an area that has the terms ``analysis'', ``evaluation'', ``algorithms'', or ``theory'' in the
title.

Researchers who follow the engineering paradigm are called experimentalists, and include most
people working in areas that have the terms ``experimental'', ``systems'', ``compiler'',
``network'', or ``database'' in the title.

Complex Theor y And Simple Systems

Knowing the tradition from which a researcher comes provides the basis for a well-aimed insult.

Theorists Favor Sophistication

Like mathematicians, theorists in Computer Science take the greatest pride in knowing and
using the most sophisticated mathematics to solve problems. For example, theorists will
light up when telling you that they have discovered how an obscure theorem from
geometry can be used in the analysis of a computer algorithm. Theorists focus on
mathematical analysis and the asymptotic behavior of computation; they take pride in the
beauty of equations and don't worry about constants. Although they usually imply that
their results are relevant to real computers, they secretly dream about impressing
mathematicians.

Experimentalists Favor Simplicity


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Like engineers, systems researchers take pride in being able to invent the simplest system
that oers a given level of functionality. For example, systems researchers will light up
when telling you that they have constructed a system that is twice as fast, half the size, and
more powerful than its predecessor. Experimentalists focus on the performance of real
computer systems; they take pride in the beauty of their code and worry about constants.
Although they usually imply that their results can extend beyond real computers, they
secretly dream of ling patents that apply to extant hardware.

The Insult

Knowing that CS can be divided into two basic groups helps immensely when criticizing
someone. There are two basic rules: identify the type of the researcher and issue an insult for
that type. Avoid saying anything that inadvertently compliments them. If performed well, an
insult will not only stun the researcher (who will be shocked to learn that not everyone agrees
with his or her basic value system), but will also intimidate others in the audience.

Identifying A Type

Identifying the type of a researcher is usually easy and does not require a strong technical
background or real thinking. It can be done using keyword matching according to the following
lists.

Detecting Theory

You can tell someone is a theorist because they slip one or more of the following keywords
and phrases into lectures and technical conversations: ``theorem'', ``lemma'', ``proof'',
``axiom'', ``polynomial time'', ``logarithmic'', ``semantics'', ``numerical'', ``complexity'',
``nondeterministic'' or ``nondeterminism'', and ``for large enough N''. They write lots of
equations, brag about knocking o the ``extra log factor'', and often end their lecture with
an uppercase ``O'' followed by a mathematical expression enclosed in parentheses. You can
also recognize a theorist because they take forever to prove something that may seem
quite obvious. (I once sat through an hour lecture where someone proved that after a
computer executed an assignment statement that put the integer 1 into variable x, the
value in x was 1.)

Detecting Systems

An experimentalist will slip one or more of the following keywords and phrases into
lectures and technical conversations: ``architecture,'' ``memory,'' ``cpu'' (sometimes
abbreviated``CISC'' or ``RISC''), ``I/O'' or ``bus'', ``network'', ``interface'', ``virtual'',
``compile'' or ``compiler'', ``OS'' or ``system'', ``distributed'', ``program'' or ``code'', and
``binary''. They talk about building programs and running the resulting system on real
computer systems. They refer to companies and products, and use acronyms liberally. Their
lectures often end with a graph or chart of measured system performance. You can also
recognize an experimentalist because they describe in excruciating detail how they set up
an experiment to measure a certain value even if the measurement produced exactly the
expected results. (I once sat through an hour lecture where someone carefully explained
how they used three computer systems to measure network trac, when their whole point
was simply to show that the network was not the cause of the problem they were
investigating.)

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Forming An Insult

The key to a good insult lies in attacking whatever the researcher holds most dear and avoiding
whatever the researcher does not care about. Thus, an insult lobbed at a theorist should focus
on lack of sophisticated mathematics such as the following:

Despite all the equations, it seems to me that your work didn't require any real
mathematical sophistication. Did I miss something? (This is an especially good ploy if you
observe others struggling to understand the talk because they will not want to admit to
that after you imply it was easy.)
Isn't this just a straightforward extension of an old result by Hartmanis? (Not even
Hartmanis remembers all the theorems Hartmanis proved, but everyone else will assume
you remember something they have forgotten.)
Am I missing something here? Can you identify any deep mathematical content in this
work? (Once again, audience members who found the talk dicult to understand will be
unwilling to admit it.)

In contrast, an insult lobbed at an experimentalist should imply that the techniques were used in
previous systems or that the work isn't practical such as:

Wasn't all this done years ago at Xerox PARC? (No one remembers what was really done at
PARC, but everyone else will assume you remember something they don't.)
Have you tested this on the chip Intel got running last week in their lab? (No one knows
what chip Intel got running last week, but everyone will assume you do.)
Am I missing something? Isn't it obvious that there's a bottleneck in the system that
prevents scaling to arbitrary size? (This is safe because there's a bottleneck in every system
that prevents arbitrary scaling.)

How To Avoid Having An Insult Backre On You

A misplaced insult can backre, turning into an embarrassment for the attacker and a victory for
the intended attackee. To avoid such occurrences, remember the following:

Never attempt to attack theoretical work as not considering constants, as unrelated to real
computer systems, or as requiring too much sophisticated mathematics. (The intended
victim is likely to smile and thank you for the attery.)
Never attempt to attack a system as too small, too simple, or as lacking sophisticated
mathematics (Again, the intended victim is likely to smile and thank you for the attery.)
Never attempt to attack systems work simply by saying that it's so simple and obvious that
you could have done it. (For years, people said that about UNIX and the TCP/IP protocols.)
In fact, this is merely an extension of a ploy used by children on a playground: ``Oh yeah? I
could have done that if I wanted to.'' Don't try using it or someone will tell you to grow up.

Attacking Crossover Work

Although rare, a few researchers include both theoretical and experimental work in the same
project. Insulting such combinations can be tricky because a researcher can escape unscathed by
pointing to one part of their work or the other as the answer. You can try to attack both parts
simultaneously:

I note that the systems aspect of this project seems quite complex. Do you think the cause
of the convoluted implementation can be attributed to the more-or-less ``simplistic''
mathematical analysis you used?

However, a clever insult can avoid talking about the work by suggesting sinister reasons for the
paradigm shift:
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I notice that you did something unusual by combining both theory and experiment. Did you
decide to try a second approach because you had insucient results from the rst?
You seem to have a little theory and a little experimental work combined into one project.
Isn't it true that if you had a suciently strong contribution in one or the other you would
have lectured about them separately?

A Final Plea

I certainly hope faculty will take this essay to heart and sharpen their insulting skills. In the future
please make all your thrusts count.

Translations:

A translation of this essay into Belorusian can be found at http://partsopen.com/blog/?


p=56

A translation of this essay into Bosnian can be found at http://the-


sciences.com/2017/01/26/kako-kritikuju-informaticara-ili-izbjegavanje-neekasan-
amortizacije-i-cineci-uvrede-vise-siljatim/

A translation of this essay into Czech can be found at


http://scienticachievements.com/jak-kritizovat-vedce-v-oblasti-pocitacu-nebo-vyhybani-
se-neucinnym-odpisum-a-ujistete-se/

A translation of this essay into Estonian can be found at


http://www.autoteilepro.ch/blog/2017/02/09/kuidas-kritiseerida-arvuti-teadlased-voi-
valtida-ebaefektiivne-taunimine-ja-tegemist-solvanguid-rohkem-pikad/

A translation of this essay into French can be found at http://www.teilestore.de/edu/?


p=10122

A translation of this essay into Finnish can be found at


http://mysciencefeel.com/2017/01/31/miten-arvostella-tietojenkasittelyasiantuntijat-tai-
valttaminen-tehoton-poistot-ja-tehden-loukkaukset-lisaa-terava/

A translation of this essay into Georgian can be found at http://animalia-


life.com/articles/essaycriticize.html

A translation of this essay into Hungarian can be found at http://sc-journal.com/hogyan-


kritizalni-szamitogepes-szakemberek-vagy-elkerulve-hatastalan-ertekcsokkenes-es-tesz-
serto-hegyesebb/

A translation of this essay into Kazakh can be found at


http://13motors.com/myblog/essaycriticize/

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2017-6-11 How To Criticize Computer Scientists

A translation of this essay into Latvian can be found at


https://www.espertoautoricambi.it/science/2017/05/15/ka-kritizet-datoru-zinatnieki-vai-
izvairoties-no-neefektivas-protests-un-pienemsanas-apvainojumiem-konkretaks/

A translation of this essay into Macedonian can be found at


http://sciencevobe.com/2016/09/26/httpswww-cs-purdue-eduhomesdecessay-criticize-
html/

A translation of this essay into Polish can be found at http://www.pkwteile.de/wissen/jak-


krytykowac-informatykow-lub-unikanie-nieskuteczne-amortyzacyjne-oraz-dokonywanie-
obelgi-wiecej-wskazal

A translation of this essay into Russian can be found at


http://www.couponmachine.in/socialwork/essay-criticize/

A second translation of this essay into Russian can be found at http://sci-tech-blog.com/?


p=53

A translation of this essay into Slovenian can be found at http://dreamicus.com/blog/essay-


criticize.html

A translation of this essay into Slovak can be found at http://elelur.com/essay-criticize/

A translation of this essay into Swedish can be found at http://masivy.com/essay-


criticize.html

A translation of this essay into Tamil can be found at http://www.ftxs8.com/essay-


criticize.html/

A translation of this essay into Ukranian can be found at http://softdroid.net/yak-do-


kritikuvati-ua

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