Monday, August 31, 2009

My last post on steretypes (I hope)

I was not going to post on stereotypes anymore (my last two posts were on the topic) but three events that span 100 years have inspired me to do to.

Event ONE: I found a blog that I posted in Aug 1909 which asked if the Americans might catch up to Europe in Mathematics someday. One of the comments on it was
Look at the German Mathematics Tradition!. Look at the American one. The Americans are so weak my comparison that it must be something about their culture. It is clear that the Germans have always been better than the Americans in Mathematics, and always will be. Will there ever be a American Hilbert? I think not.
EVENT TWO: I found a blog entry from Aug 1960 which asked if Japan might catch up to American in Engineering and Car Building. One of the comments on it was
Don't be ridiculous. The fact that the phrase Made in Japan has come to mean that it is of bad quality shows that the Americans are better Manufacturers than the Japanese and always will be.
EVENT THREE: In Aug 2009 I co-ran a TA orientation with ***SORELLE*** and another grad student ***MAH***. As part of it, everyone was to give me their name, what course they are TAing, what field of CS they want to study, and their favorite TV show. For the TV shows I got the following (probably more that I forget)
  1. So you think you can dance dance dance dance dance.
  2. Friends
  3. The Big Bang Theory
  4. ST-TNG and Babylon 5
  5. Daria and Burn Notice (that was me)
  6. Numb3rs (that was ***SORELLE*** who I respect in everything except taste in TV shows.)
  7. Daily Show and the Colbert Report
  8. I don't' watch TV since its just a mechanism to deliver commercials. (Gee- he could get NETFLIX and get commercial free DVDs.)
  9. I don't watch TV.
There may have been a few more. However, the person who picked ST-TNG noted that I can't believe in a room full of CS Grad Students I'm the only one who mentioned a Science Fiction Show (READERS: picture this person in your mind.) The stereotype of CS people being Star Trek Fans is out of date. When the recent Star Trek Movie came out Lance posted an Obligatory Star Trek Post. I don't think it is obligatory.

Why has the link between Star Trek and CS been weakened? I think that both CS and Science Fiction have become more mainstream. Hence CS can overlap with non-Science Fiction and Science Fiction can overlap with NON-CS (actually it probably always did).

Back to stereotypes. The person who was the only CS Grad Student who mentioned a Science Fiction Show was a female. I suspect that is not the picture you had in your mind.


  1. Please stop posting on stereotypes

  2. That should be "stereotypes" not "steretypes". (Doesn't this violate some stereotype about computer scientists, typing, and creative orthography?

  3. You can indicate a proper noun by capitalizing only the first letter. For instance, "James". Not "JAMES" and certainly not "***JAMES***". On the internet, typing in all caps is like shouting, and that's just rude! NETFLIX!

  4. There is no successor to Philip K. Dick?

  5. Friends, House MD and 24 are my favorite shows and I am graduate student in CS too :)
    And, I hate meaningless science fiction shows. However if they make it meaningful like Matrix (Plato's allegory of cave) or GATTACA then I love them :)

  6. Numb3rs is a great TV show!

    Anonymous #3, I think stars are reserved for women. So GASARCH would write JAMES and ***SORELLE***.

  7. What's going on? One one level it's simple: SF books are being pushed off the shelves by hordes of vampire books & zombie books.

    ... and I for welcome our new vampire/zombie cultural overlords! :)

    Another genre that is finding immense popularity is what my sons call "tragedies disguised as comedies." The final season of Blackadder was an early example ... nowadays shows like The Office (aka "The tragedy of Michael Scott") are pretty much wholly based on comedic tragedy.

    To provide a technological perspective on this shift, we need only compare the (well-founded!) techno-optimism of Apr. 29 Time Magazine to the (well-founded?) techno-pessimism of today's BusinessWeek.

    What does all this mean? It partly is a symptom of having plenty of good technologies, while being sadly deficient in good narratives, whether technological or otherwise.

    This is a pretty serious problem (IMHO). As E. O. Wilson wrote of the Enlightenment: It launched the modern era for the whole world; we are all its legatees. Then it failed. Astonishingly, it failed.

    As much as anything else, what was lacking was a compelling and practicable narrative ... and this problem is nowadays more acute than ever.

  8. I got a reasonably good turn out of graduate students (including some men) for a showing of A&E's Pride and Prejudice at UC Berkeley. I don't think that's the stereotypical computer scientist. (Though maybe people only attended for the popcorn.)

  9. Event one makes sense nowadays. Germans are still much better than Americans (defined to be a person born in US) in math. There will never be a American hilbert.

  10. There will never be a American hilbert.

    Will there ever be another German Hilbert? How is Göttingen these days?

  11. As an exercise, I once checked Physical Review to see how much reading John von Neumann needed to do in the 1930s, to stay current in the literature on quantum measurement theory.

    The answer: one or two articles per month.

    Nowadays, the arxiv server provides that many articles per hour.

    Reasonable conclusion: there will never be another von Neumann, from any nation ... because everyone is drowning in a sea of literature.

  12. Mmmh... Big Bang Theory is quite a stereotype for CS scientists. It is full of insider jokes, quoting and retro
    pop culture.

  13. Aren't the people who are roughly grad-school aged about the last ones to grow up with a widely watched, generally popular Star Trek series on the air (i.e., TNG?) Speaking as an undergraduate, the sci-fi/fantasy shows my generation watches DVDs of tend to be Buffy, Babylon 5, Firefly, that sort of thing. (There are a fair number who watch BSG and New Who, but since New Who's still running and Galactica was up until a few months ago, those haven't yet qualified as "classics" to me.) Lost, Heroes. Supernatural in certain circles. I know very few people who watch Numbers regularly, and the biggest fans of Big Bang Theory are intelligent but relatively few do straight-up hard science.

  14. Anonymous #3 - why do you bother to read Bill's posts? He can shout if he wants to. You can go away if you don't like the way he writes.

  15. "Why has the link between Star Trek and CS been weakened?"

    Star Trek went downhill in serious ways. Computer Science programs have gone downhill in serious ways. They both allow lower quality scripts/students to bear their stamp.

  16. You posted to this blog in Aug 1909? It's a bit late, but happy centennial!

  17. You found a blog entry from Aug 1960?