Thursday 19 December 2013

Ho, Ho, Who?

No, Virginia, I'm Not Santa
Interior, Parents' bedroom, Christmas Eve. 

Dad: Do you think you got away with it?

Mum: Yep.  She went straight to sleep.  Though when she was putting out the mince pie and the sherry, we got uncomfortably close to the bone... 

Interior, Child's bedroom, Christmas Eve, Fifteen Minutes earlier.

Virginia: Mum, it's him, isn't it?  I know Santa is Dr Who. 

M: Yes Virginia, of course Santa is Dr Who.

V: I worked it out!  It has to be.  How else could one person deliver presents to all the children in the world in one night?

M: They couldn't.

V: It's the TARDIS! He can go all over the world, street by street, and get into the TARDIS and go back in time a few minutes to go to the next street.  That way he doesn't have to travel at faster than light speeds or anything, he just goes back in time.  It's brilliant!

M: Well dear, don't spoil it for everyone.  They like to believe in magic.

V: Oh of course not, you should hear some of the silly things people at school believe!  But it's the TARDIS!   Obviously, how could Santa get all those presents for everyone into one sleigh? Ridiculous!  But the TARDIS, he just keeps filling it up and up and it never fills up, and off he goes with everyone's present.

M: What about a flat without a chimney like ours?  

V: Oh Mum, have you even watched Dr Who?  It's the sonic screwdriver!  That can open any lock in the world.  He just waves it and the door and walks in. And I know something else, too.

M: What's that, Virginia?

V: At school somebody told me Santa wasn't real because the Santa I met at the store looked different to the one at the town's Christmas lights switch-on.  But I know why... 

M: Ah, yes, umm ... 

V: He regenerated in between!  Obviously!  Of course he didn't look the same.  He'd probably been through ten regenerations and thousands of trips back in time going to different towns talking to children.

M: Time for bed dear. You wouldn't want to be awake when the Doct.. I mean when Santa comes. 

V: Night mum, I love you.  Don't worry, I won't tell anyone what I've figured out. 

Mum switches light out.  Switch back to scene in Parent's bedroom.  Wrapping last few presents.

Dad: She's a smart cookie. Just one little thing she didn't figure out.  Nobody ever talked about Santa and his police box.  Santa's TARDIS is still working and can look like a sleigh. 

M: His entire lifetime and all his regenerations as a Time Lord spent delivering presents on Earth.

D: And just for Christmas this year.  More than a thousand years to deliver to every house that celebrates Christmas.  At one minute a house.  And working 16 hours a day, no days off.  

M: Next year they sacrifice some other poor Time Lord to do it all again.  Why are they so cruel?

M&D: Here's to you, Time Lord.  We're thinking of you. 

Exterior, urban street decorated for Christmas.  TARDIS sound effect as sleigh materialises. Santa climbs out of sleigh and opens door with sonic screwdriver and walks in.  There is no spring in his step.

Monday 28 October 2013

Gent's First Law of Putting Things Back

This is my small contribution to life.

When you can't find something, like say a pair of nail scissors or the widget that opens that thingy, you might look in ten different places before you find it.

If you are really organised, you put it away again after you've used it.

Where do you put it?

Not where you found it.

Not where you think the proper place is.

Put it back in the first place you looked for it.

Because that's where your mind tells you it will be, so the next time you lose it, that's where you'll look first.

That's Gent's First Law of Putting Things Back.

It's named immodestly because I'd like to be remembered for something.  And nobody's ever told me they heard this anywhere else.

Sunday 27 October 2013

How The Grunch Stole C.S.

It's obvious what Birmingham University thinks about people like me.  It thinks this:
People like me don't do Computer Science.
You're a mean one, Mr Grunch
That's the grunch.

It's also a bit of a surprise to me, because I've got some evidence I'm quite good at computer science. You know, what with me being a professor of Computer Science at a great university.

You know what a grunch is? Geekfeminism says a grunch is "the sensation a woman has when she ... is then reminded in some way that she is a woman first and a geek (or colleague, or writer, etc) a distant second."

I'm going to tell you some stuff I wanted never to tell you. Then I'm going to tell you why.

I didn't start puberty until I was 15.  

At some point around age 15 our English class had a debate on lowering the age of consent, so that people under 16 could have sex legally.  I felt I had a contribution to make, so I made it. It was pretty obvious the class thought it hilarious that somebody whose voice hadn't broken was talking about sex.

My voice broke sometime between about 15 to 17.  Being in sixth form (umm, grades 11-12 in US) with a breaking voice is not a barrel of laughs.  Though I don't remember my classmates being unduly unkind to me (not kind, you understand, but not cruel either.)

I didn't start shaving until I was about 17, after a year or more of ridiculous fuzzy face because I was too shy, embarrassed, scared, whatever, to find out how to shave.  

Some point around this time, I was the victim of a very mild sexual assault. I was riding home and some older boy somehow cornered me on my bike and touched my penis (umm, unless he made me touch his, I don't remember). 

At no time was I comfortable around girls, though this didn't matter very much because I never met any to speak of.   

How close did I get to "my first time" before I left Cambridge with a Maths degree at age 22? Well, let's see. If first base is mouth-to-mouth kissing, I can think of one time I nearly got to first base. That's it.

I literally thought I would never have sex, never get married. I learnt to live with that knowledge.

My entire romantic experience until I left university?  A very good friend of mine fell head over heels in love with me. He was a really nice guy but I was completely uninterested in men. Which meant it was a horrible experience for me, probably the most miserable time of my life. And it was worse for him, with his feelings unrequited. He tried to kill himself, which at least was some light relief for me.  Yes, I thought it was funny that I'd made somebody try to kill himself. Not who I wish I was, but that's where I was.  This whole episode made me borderline homophobic for some years, at least in my head - though I hope not in action.  (Now? I have wept tears of joy at same-sex couples I don't know getting married: I want others to have the joy I have in my heterosexual marriage.)

That's part of my life journey as a completely sexually inadequate teenager and young adult.

Why did I share this?

Because of this video from the University of Birmingham, aimed at recruiting students into Computer Science. Enjoy.

"Everyone remembers their first time, what was yours?"

The tag line for this video is "Everyone remembers their first time, what was yours?".  The opening title of the video is "My first time...".  Then we get people talking to camera saying things like "I was 16 or 17", "I was 15", "A very nervous 18", "I was primary school age, probably 9 or 10", "It was difficult at first but I soon got into it", "It was a lot harder than I first anticipated", "Well obviously I enjoyed it enough that I kept on doing it."  At the one minute mark some of the speakers giggle and they start talking about the first time they used computers or programmed them.

Oh, I get it, it's funny because they weren't talking about losing their virginity, they were talking about computers. Well, I'm not stupid, I knew all along they weren't talking about sex: it's a recruitment video.  But I'm meant to laugh along with them (remember the giggles?) that the apparent talk about first sex was just a joke.

I don't care if it's funny or not.

This is what I care about. Birmingam University thinks this:
People like me don't do Computer Science.
I don't think they consciously think that, but the following is what they must think (I'm using an amorphous "they" to mean the people responsible for making and releasing this video.)
  • We think equating first use of computers with first sex is funny
  • Everybody in computing is like us
  • Therefore  everybody thinks equating first use of computers with first sex is funny
Hey Birmingham, you know what? Not all of us are people like you. Not all of us had a good experience of first sex at an age before we are choosing a University.  Some people are like me: teenage sexuality was an embarrassment except when it was a cause of pain and misery. 

What if somebody is asexual, like maybe 1% of the population? What if somebody's first time was a criminal offence, maybe loving and consensual sex between a 16 year old and a 15 year old who are still together, and if anybody ever finds out the older partner faces being labelled a sex offender?  Oh, and you know that hilarious bit about being 9 or 10, to make us think it obviously is not about sex: today this card appeared on : "I was nine. It was rape. This will no longer haunt me." 

I was nine. It was rape. This will no longer haunt me. 

Birmingham University risks making people like the above think this:
People like me don't do Computer Science.
That's the grunch.

Let me tell you, the grunch hurts. Just going over the video again to extract the quotes hurt me. You can of course rationalise the hurt by thinking it shouldn't have hurt me, I'm oversensitive, I've got no sense of humour, whatever you want. Fine. But it still hurt me. But that doesn't matter. Something very very big does matter.
People like me don't do Computer Science.
Maybe there's somebody like me age 17 going to see that video and get the grunch. Get the hit in solar plexus that says Computer Science is not for people like them. If they don't do Computer Science at Birmingham, that's not my loss. But if they don't do Computer Science at all, that's a loss for me. There's somebody been marginalised out of the discipline I love, which is horrible, and somebody who might have been brilliant (or at least like me good enough to be a Professor) doesn't make the contributions to C.S. that they could have made.

You think I'm overstating how much the grunch matters? Nope.

You want the scientific evidence? It's there in this Scientific American blog post.

You want a deeply personal story? It's there in this amazing post from Tim Chevalier.

I probably am overstating how much this video matters. It's a recruitment video from one Computer Science department.

This video may not matter, but the grunch really really really matters.

The grunch is stealing C.S.  It's stealing C.S. right now.

Please stop causing people the grunch.  Stop thinking that something that you find funny is - just because of that - not going to put somebody off C.S.

Over the last few weeks I've been doing a few small things to try to support women and other disadvantaged groups in tech. My wife has very kindly said that I'm being brave. Nonsense. This is the brave post.  Because it's the first one I'm scared to write. A lot of stuff above I have never told anybody, and I thought I would never tell anybody. Also, a lot of my friends disagree with me that this video should never have been used for recruitment (some think it is brilliant.)  So I know for a fact that my opinion is unpopular.

But my unpopular opinion remains that this video is a shame and a disservice to C.S. And a small example of the How The Grunch Stole C.S.

If this is the last thing you see, hit the "read more" button for credits, a postscript, and the most important links above in a useful bullet list.

Thursday 24 October 2013

In which I am profoundly moved...

Two days ago I wrote about gender equality in constraint programming.

I am not joking when I say that I can't remember for some years being as excited about a work email as when I got the email from the CP 2014 organisers that they would institute an anti-harassment policy and look into childcare possibilities.  The very next day after my post.  I want to thank the CP conference organisers for their incredibly rapid and positive response.

Similarly I've been profoundly moved by the supportive comments made by others that I emailed. Not just supportive but coming up with other ideas of how we can improve, and reporting cases in the past where disadvantaged members of the community have been helped (which have not been publicised and for which I won't go into detail.)

As well as happy in itself, this makes me thrilled to part of such a welcoming community. I also hope we can be more open about some of these things, both so that people see how welcoming constraints is, and also so that people see that help might be available for them, who might otherwise not have thought to ask.

In terms of the harassment policy itself (of course still to be written), let me say right away that I absolutely agree that all forms of harassment are unacceptable, including based on gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, age, amongst others.  These should absolutely be included in the policy.

On facebook, a couple of people I respect criticised me for going public with my post instead of having this conversation in private.   (Obviously I won't be naming them here since they approached me in private, inasmuch as facebook is private.)  Certainly I would understand if the people I emailed felt hurt, though none of them have expressed this to me.

But here's the thing.  This is too important to do in private. I posted this in public because I wanted women to know that people in other communities would no longer stand by. Hence this twitter exchange:

But here's another thing.  I actually am approaching other people in private in other communities. I did feel however that I have to stand up in the community I'm in and say: yes, I am a part of a community which needs to be more publicly welcoming to everyone.   Part of my thrill over the last day has been in finding out just how welcoming constraints is, so there is less that needs to be changed and more that needs to be shouted about.

Obviously if anybody things anything I've said is wrong or unfair, or shares private information inappropriately, I do hope you will criticise me, either in public or private, and kudos to my friends for criticising me when that is what they felt.  

But finally, let me say one thing I completely agree with my friends about. It would be quite wrong if I got the credit for CP adopting policies.  At most I'd deserve credit for suggesting it. But anyone can suggest anything. Absolutely the relevant CP organisers deserve credit for making a move which will help women and other disadvantaged groups in our community.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

List of Invited Speakers at CP conferences

This list excludes talks by ACP award winners (e.g. by Jean-Charles Règin and Tias Guns in 2013, which are plenary but not in the choice of the programme chair and committee.

This list does include keynote talks given across colocated conferences, where additional constraints may have been made on the choice of speaker by demands of interesting two conferences.

I've compiled this list as best I can but may have made mistakes.


Peter Stuckey
Michela Milano
Pascal van Hentenryck
Torsten Schaub

[+ "invited system description", Pascal van Hentenryck and Laurent Michel]


Miguel F. Anjos
Laurent Michel
Barry O'Sullivan


Laurent Perron
Jean-Charles Règin
Leonardo de Moura


Edward Tsang
Robert Nieuwenhuis
Moshe Vardi


Barbara Smith
Carla Gomes
Philippe Baptiste


Alain Colmerauer
Adnan Darwiche 
John Hooker


Fahiem Bacchus
Matt Ginsberg
Sheila McIlraith


Giuseppe F. Italiano
Helmut Simonis
Jean-Pierre Merlet
Shabbir Ahmed


Hector Geffner 
Ian Horrocks
Francesca Rossi 
Peter Stuckey


Andreas Podelski
Jean-Francois Puget
Bart Selman
Helmut Simonis


Mark Wallace
Toby Walsh 
Tuomas Sandholm
Henry Kautz


Jean-Louis Lassez
George Nemhauser
Rina Dechter
Edmund Clarke
D. Shmoys


Moshe Y. Vardi
Eugene Freuder
Peter van Beek
Alain Colmerauer
Robert Kowalski


Alan K. Mackworth
Alan Borning
David A. McAllester

Krzysztof R. Apt 
Christian Bessière
Benjamin W. Wah, Zhe Wu


Joxan Jaffar
Patrick Prosser
Peter Jeavons


Pascal Van Hentenryck
Steven Minton

George L. Nemhauser, 
[+ 2 lectures in honour of Paris Kannelakis, who died in a plane crash]


Bruno Buchberger 
Vijay A. Saraswat 
Nikolaj Bjørner, Anca Browne, Zohar Manna

Every Tech Community Needs To Exclude Sexism, So Constraint Programming Should Exclude Sexism

Update 23 Oct: I am thrilled to say that the very next day after getting my email, the local organisers of CP 2014 (Christine Solnon and Yves Deville) have agreed to implement an anti-harassment policy, and to investigate child care possibilities for the conference. That's my points 1 and 3 immediately agreed to, and I couldn't be more thrilled.  Many thanks. 

It's not too often that syllogisms are useful in everyday life, but this is one occasion.
  • Every tech community must eliminate sexism.
  • Constraint programming is a tech community. 
  • Therefore constraint programming must eliminate sexism.
I've been in constraint programming for almost 20 years, but it's only recently that the necessity of the first point was brought home to me, because of what's been happening in the Ruby community.

Here's a tweet: 

    You know what? Women are seriously worrying if it's ethical to advise women to go into Ruby.  Here's a followup to that tweet, from spinnerin
    "We need allies to speak up and show their support for a Ruby community that is welcoming to all participants, not only the privileged majority."
    If you don't know why this has recently come to the fore in the Ruby community, lucky you.  Put it this way: somebody has deleted her blog post about her sexual assault at codemash, because she does not want her claim to fame to be the woman who was sexually assaulted at codemash

    I'm not in the Ruby community, but I am in the Constraint Programming community. It's a great community, and many of my best friends are in this community, men and women. But that doesn't mean we can't be better.  We can be better and we must be better.

    As a man in the constraint programming, it's time to stop worrying about appearing to be politically correct, and it's time to stop thinking that maybe sexism isn't a major problem in constraints because we are all nice people. It's time to start being the first line of defence for women.  It's time to start figuring out how to make women's time in constraints better, to the benefit of those women (because working on constraints is super-fun) and for everybody (because women do superb work in constraints.) 

    Here are some thoughts on how we can make constraints - and especially the constraint programming conference - a better place for women and other historically disadvantaged groups.  The next conference will be in Lyon, in 2014, and I have some specific suggestions. 

    Before I get to this, let me say that I don't think Constraints is a particularly bad research area for women.  Apart from anything else, the third winner of the ACP research excellence award was a woman (Rina Dechter), and the first winner of the ACP distinguished service award was a woman (Francesca Rossi). On the other hand, it's not that great either. This year, for example, the Programme Committee of CP 2013, counting Senior and Technical committees, comprised 61 people, if I counted right. The number of women in the world on this committee? 4.  The number of men on the committee who work on the same corridor as me in St Andrews?  4.  And this is from a programme chair (Christian Schulte) who ran a brilliant programme and who I would be astonished to find was sexist.

    1. Implement a Conference Anti Harassment Policy

    Honestly, this is a no brainer. We should have a conference anti-harassment policy. This is not just for the protection of women attendees. Conference volunteers need to know what to do if something bad happens.  But let the good people at geekfeminism make the case:

    "Why have an official anti-harassment policy for your conference? First, it is necessary (unfortunately). Harassment at conferences is incredibly common - for example, see this timeline of sexist incidents in geek communities. Second, it sets expectations for behavior at the conference. Simply having an anti-harassment policy can prevent harassment all by itself. Third, it encourages people to attend who have had bad experiences at other conferences. Finally, it gives conference staff instructions on how to handle harassment quickly, with the minimum amount of disruption or bad press for your conference."
    And it's not hard to write an anti-harassment policy, because you can copy and paste it

    We should make CP 2014 the first Artificial Intelligence conference on this page (though perhaps other confs have had a good policy but have not made it to that page yet.) 

    If we can't do this, we can't advise women to attend CP 2014 or any other future conference.  

    2. Make Sure At Least One Woman Is An Invited Speaker 

    At CP 2009, there were two female invited speakers out of three.  They were Barbara Smith and Carla Gomes.   In the four years since there have been thirteen invited talks, with one female speaker (Michela Milano in 2013).  One of 13 is not great is it, people?

    One invited speaker per year in a historically disadvantaged group is not a lot to ask. Yes, I know, this starts to sound like positive discrimination, doesn't it? Maybe you don't like positive discrimination. 

    But think about it this way.  Do we need to work to make sure at least one speaker is a man? No. Every single year in the history of CP, at least one invited speaker has been a man. (Believe it or not, I've checked this statement, even though it hardly needed checking.)  On the other hand, in three of the last four years there have been zero women.   And since 2009 is the only year there was more than one woman, that's the only year in history that women outnumbered men among invited speakers at the major constraint programming conference.  

    Oh, by the way, if you really really can't think of any other women to invite, ask some of the same ones again!  They're great.  Oh I know, we couldn't have the same ones again, could we? Well, not unless they were men like Moshe Vardi (2002 and 2010) or Peter Stuckey (2005 and 2013) or Pascal van Hentenryck (1997 and 2013) or Helmut Simonis (2004 and 2006) or Alain Colmerauer (2001 and 2008) or George Nemhauser (1996 and 2002).  That's twelve invited talks by men who have given two invited talks each. The same number of men have given two invited talks as women who have given any. Compared with six invited talks by women.  

    You really don't want the same ones again?  Still stuck?

    What about Zeynep Kiziltan? She'd be great.  Or Inês Lynce? She'd be great. Or Karen Petrie? She'd be great. None of these are junior people. You might have better ideas since I've only picked people I'm close to (written papers with Karen and 
    Inês, highly connected to Zeynep via Ian Miguel and others.) 

    Update 22 Oct 2013: What I've said here is stronger than what is recommended by this FAQ at "forgenderequityatconferences". I certainly agree with that FAQ that if good faith effort to invite women is made, that would be acceptable even if no woman eventually appears.  However I'm leaving the text above as it originally was because it's what I wrote and I do think that good faith efforts could be rewarded with success, at least for next year.

    Some disclosure: I was chair of CP 2009 and invited Barbara and Carla.  But I claim no credit for inviting women, only for inviting people who I thought would be the best.  Carla had just started up  Computational Sustainability, a very hot topic and was recommended by more than one member of the programme committee. And if I was biased towards Barbara, it was as an old friend who had (incomprehensibly to me) never been asked to give a keynote despite being the best constraint modeller in the world. 

    3. Make sure childcare is available

    Are you prevented from going to a conference because of childcare problems? No? Great! Let's make sure nobody else is either. If you have a child, they might love attending CP. But if you have to travel alone, maybe because you are a single parent, you need to know that childcare is available. This is a gender-blind problem but it is likely to differentially affect women.  

    I don't think CP 2014 needs to have a childcare centre on site. But I do think that we should make sure that proper childcare facilities are available and linked to.  What this means depends on the local organisers, so they might be a childcare centre, or there might be trustworthy carers who could do childcare for a fee.   

    Hey, you know what, I know most people don't need this.  And people could organise it themselves... but ... everybody could organise their own hotel.  It's still nice to have a bunch of conference hotels to make our lives easier.  Same thing with childcare. Though of course finding reliable childcare in a strange city in a foreign country is much harder than finding a decent hotel.  If childcare makes the difference between attending or not, having it linked to from the conference site could make the difference between attending or not, and then attending that inspirational talk or making that critical contact which changes your career.

    4. Make it affordable if you're disadvantaged

    What is one of the great successes of the CP community?  I would say it was the CP Doctoral Program. This has helped literally hundreds of people attend CP, people who were potentially disadvantaged by being junior people studying for a PhD and without their own funds. By reaching out to these people we have brought them into the community to meet other researchers.  The CP community has been happy to help them financially, by accepting larger conference fees for everybody else.

    What a great and wonderful thing! 

    Before you ask, no I don't want lower conference fees for women. 

    But financial help with childcare? Help for disabled people, like maybe paying for travel for a helper? Yes. Let's help them just like we have helped so many graduate students. It won't cost much, and if it did cost a lot it would be fantastic for the community.

    5. Let's celebrate the Petrie Multiplier

    I recently wrote about the Petrie Multiplier. This blog post has had about 25,000 page views (which I understand to be a lot for a noname blogger), and been tweeted about hundreds of times. It's a simple model which explains how sexism is magnified by the gender disparity in a field like tech (or subfield like constraints).  But you know what, it's an idea invented by a constraint programmer (Karen Petrie) and written about by a constraint programmer (me).  

    Let's understand that in constraints, where women are in the minority, just being in the minority can lead to dramatically more sexism per woman, and to men not seeing that sexism. 

    This is not a major contribution from constraints to eliminating sexism, but it is something.  Let's celebrate it, by making sure we are one of the communities that leads tech in getting rid of sexism.  

    6. Make a commitment to gender equity at conferences like Constraint Programming 

    I've signed the commitment to gender equity at conferences. Please do so too. There's an FAQ available.

    7. Let's not argue about whether sexism is a problem

    I'll be really happy to argue about how to fix the sexist problem we have. I don't even mind if you don't call it sexism (call it "gender imbalance" or "inclusiveness" or anything you like).  

    But please don't argue that we don't have a problem. Here's the best two ways I can put this point. 

    I started thinking I should write this post a week or two ago.  Or rather, I thought I should send a letter to the most relevant people (organisers of CP 2014.)  But it's too important for that, so I'm posting it here.

    Update: here is the letter I actually am sending to the relevant people: 

    Dear Yves, Christine, Barry, Pierre and Helmut 

    As local chairs and program chair of CP 2014, and conference coordinator and president of the Association for Constraint Programming.   

    I wish to propose that the Association for Constraint Programming commit to  moving towards gender equality at CP 2014 and all future conferences. 

    By far the most important point (in my opinion) is to adopt a strong anti-harassment policy, to prevent events such as have recently been tearing the Ruby community apart.   But there are other good things we could and should do.

    You can read my reasons for suggesting this, and concrete suggestions on my blog at

    Very best wishes


    Sunday 20 October 2013

    The Computer Scientist and the Cleaner 2: Multimedia Extravaganza Edition

    The Computer Scientist and the Cleaner is a parable about gender in Computer Science. The story is this:
    "The computer scientist and the cleaner had a long and happy marriage. One of their few arguments was when she forgot their wedding anniversary. But their marriage was strong and he forgave her." 
    The point of the story is to think about gender preconceptions in CS, as an introduction to a talk to first year student computer scientists I planned to give on gender balance and inclusiveness. I wrote about it in this previous post  and got amazing feedback from... 

    ... many people at St Andrews, a historian at the University of Dundee, two Readers, a software engineer and a postdoc from Edinburgh University, the former chair of BCS Women, the first female professor at St Andrews, a New York Times bestselling children's author, an antiques dealer in Wales, the Oxford University Student's Union LGBT officer, a high school teacher in Denmark, a postdoc at Liverpool, a freelance photographer, a beer researcher from Heriot Watt, my wife and daughters, a rocket scientist from NASA, a developer at a startup in New York, and the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government. 

    This feedback came from the blog post, twitter, and facebook, as well as in person, so it's an example of social media really helping dramatically in my work. 

    Last friday I gave the talk to First Year Computer Scientists.  A video recording and the slides are below. 

    How did it go?  

    I annoyed myself by overrunning, which is a bad habit I have of not being able to shut up until slightly too late (though at least not very much too late).  

    A new Women in Computing group is being set up in the School and I invited the organiser (a student) to introduce it. She also sent me feedback which was really interesting, and amongst other things told me that the students were at least paying serious attention during the talk. I'd arranged three ways for students to discuss the issue afterwards. I set up a private blog post in the School of Computer Science, I sat in a tutorial room open to discussions, and I invited private emails to me. 

    There wasn't a lot of feedback.  I got three emails being very supportive, one negative comment on the blog post saying it was unnecessary and a waste of time, and one person came to talk to me. The person who I chatted with brought me a book to look at, Little Miss Geek, which looks good so I ordered my own copy. 

    I had wondered if there would be a lot of negative pushback from men, and there certainly wasn't. Indeed if my talk was a waste of time because everybody already gets it, that would be brilliant. I'm torn between being delighted that people were so accepting, and thinking that maybe people were not accepting but just didn't want to argue with somebody in a position of power (as first-year coordinator), and if that was the case it would be completely understandable. Finally, I expect I get less pushback for the simple fact of being a man, which I've called (very bad name) male geek feminist ally privilege.

    If you are considering giving a talk like this, the result is that there's not a lot of advice I can give you. However you are welcome to borrow my slides if you wish, and if you want the originals (keynote) do get in touch with me.

    Here's a playlist from youtube of the talk, of the slides and my speaking (no video of the room), with just one or two local references deleted. 

    Here are the slides, with a few of the animation slides deleted to help your sanity clicking through those.

    Tuesday 15 October 2013

    Male Geek Feminist Ally Privilege Checklist: Or a Different Kind of Ada Lovelace Day Post

    It's Ada Lovelace Day and I thought I would write a post about my favourite computer scientist, who is my wife, Judith Underwood. But I changed my mind.

    One of the things that changed my mind was reading this post, in which some man - quite incredibly in my view - suggests that a male, who acted totally inappropriately to a woman and who has since admitted it, should not be named.   There's a LOT of backstory to that, but apart the two things that struck me about this post was the combination of (1) saying that it's wrong to warn woman of facts about a man who sexually harrassed a woman, and (2) the writing of the post as anguished crie-de-couer about this poor sensitive soul's (who was neither the victim nor the harrasser) agonising about how rude to be about the sexually harrassed woman, and whether to do it in public or not.  I didn't change my mind because I don't understand where this guy is coming from - I do.  I changed my mind because I am starting to understand how this would make women feel who read about it.

    Recently I've written a couple of posts about gender equality and sexism in tech and computing:
    The Petrie Multiplier and The Computer Scientist and the Cleaner.  These have been very well received and I've been really gratified by the response.

    Some of the reaction has been wonderful: for example a facebook friend of a friend saying I should have a t-shirt saying "This is what a feminist looks like" was lovely.  Just like a tweet saying there should be a Geek Feminism Wiki page about the Petrie Multiplier.

    Worst moment?  Seeing my 13 year old daughter read the seven links about recent sexism events at the start of The Petrie Multiplier and knowing that I shouldn't stop her.

    Ten days ago I didn't know about the concept of a feminist ally, and very little about the notion of privilege in the  context of sexism.  I know a bit more, so here are a selected few of the privileges of being a geek feminist ally.  Selected because they are the few I've realised over the last week or so.
    • You discover more about women geek friend's experiences by them telling you for the first time in your life... instead of having lived them
    • People are interested instead of dismissive that you think gender equality is important 
    • When you get thousands of pageviews and hundred of tweets about your gender equality post, nobody calls you a bitch 
    • If you get depressed reading about sexism towards geek women, you can stop reading... and not get groped on the train home 
    And I'm going to finish with an Ada Lovelace Day themed bullet point:
    • If you didn't have a computer scientist heroine early in your career, you didn't notice at the time
    So Happy Ada Lovelace Day.

    But a p.s.: please do look at my only previous Ada Lovelace Day post about my mother.

    Sunday 13 October 2013

    The Petrie Multiplier: Why an Attack on Sexism in Tech is NOT an Attack on Men

    This image is explained below.
    Image links to large nonlooping animation.
    Looping version also available.
    If you don't think sexism in Tech and Computer Science is a major problem, you really have not been paying attention. The seven links in the last sentence are to seven different incidents displaying appalling sexism - or worse - in Tech, so may upset you. And in case you feel my selection does not include some of the "best", i.e. worst, incidents, that's because I have selected these seven just from the last two months.

    So it's everybody's responsibility to attack sexism in Tech. Unfortunately, this can often be viewed as an attack on men.  

    So we need a powerful argument that an attack on sexism in Tech is not an attack on men. 

    Here it is.  I call it the Petrie Multiplier. 

    The wonderful thing about the Petrie Multiplier is that there is nothing in it about men being worse people or more sexist than women. And still we get women experiencing dramatically more sexism than men. It's because of the gender disparity in Tech, and the fact that this multiplies up to the detriment of the minority group. 

    The Petrie Multiplier is the amazing effect that the amount of sexism experienced by women compared to men goes as the square of the gender ratio in Tech. And this is assuming that women are equally sexist towards men as men are towards women.  

    The Petrie Multiplier is not hard to explain, so I'll do it in this post.  It was invented by Karen Petrie, but named by me since she is not so immodest to call it after herself!  

    Let's say that we have 20% women and 80% men in Tech.  And that 20% of people make inappropriate remarks or other sexist moves towards people of the opposite gender.  So 20% of men make sexist remarks to women, and 20% of women make sexist remarks to men.  

    Let's start with 50 people.  Here's a picture, where the darker squares are people who make sexist remarks and the lighter circles are people who don't.  Pink is for men, and blue for women.  Given the 20% ratios, we have 40 men and 10 women, and 8 of the 40 men sometimes make sexist remarks towards women, while 2 of the 10 women make sexist remarks to men. I can't emphasise enough that there is no difference in sexism between the genders.  

    Women are blue and men are pink, of course, because those are the gender-appropriate colours. As has been said, "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." That was said in 1918, so think about that change over the last 100 years if you think that some other difference (e.g. gender ratio in Tech) cannot be changed.  

    But if you really hate dealing with pink=man, there's a pink=woman version at the end of this post.
    Now we'll let some sexist remarks start flowing. I'll indicate this by an arrow from one of the dark square boxes to one of the people of the opposite gender.

    The first one is a man (near the bottom), being sexist towards a woman (near the top).  The second is a woman on the right being sexist to a man.  The lengths of arrows have no significance, but are just chosen by the graph layout program. 

    Let's see what happens when we have had 70 sexist remarks made.  

    Let's look at the difference between the experience of men and women. It's pretty stark. 

    The luckiest man receives zero sexist remarks.  But in fact he doesn't need to be very lucky, because most men receive no remarks.  There is an unlucky guy (bottom right) who receives three sexist remarks, as it happens from the same woman. That is not acceptable, and she should stop. But that's the unluckiest guy out of 40.  

    The luckiest woman receives four sexist remarks.  So let's get this straight: the luckiest woman out of 10 experiences worse sexism than the unluckiest man out of 40. 

    Of course it gets worse. The unluckiest woman experiences nine incidents.  On average? The mean number of sexist remarks per man is 0.35, while for women it is 5.6.  There's a gender disparity of 4:1 but the disparity in experience is 16:1.

    Men are no more sexist than women in this thought experiment, but women's experience is sixteen times worse than the men's.

    The maths that explains this is simple. With 20% women the gender ratio is 1:4.  So there are 4 times as many men to make sexist remarks, so 4 times as many sexist remarks are made to women as to men. But there are 4 times fewer women to receive sexist remarks, so each individual woman is four times as likely to receive a given remark than an individual man is.  These effects multiply, so in this example the mean number of sexist remarks per woman is 16 times the number per man.  This holds in general, so with a gender ratio of 1:r, women will receive r2 times as many sexist remarks as men. 

    That is the Petrie Multiplier. An argument that an attack on sexism in Tech is NOT an attack on men. 

    Image links to larger animated gif without looping.

    Update: One of the first comments I got was that the pink/blue swap was confusing.  So here is a version with the colours swapped to the current gender-colour stereotypes instead of the ones from 95 years ago.

    Update 20 October 2013.  Here's a video of me talking about the Petrie Multiplier to our students, part of a longer talk

    Update 20 October 2013: One of the most common remarks on the Petrie Multiplier is that men have a quota of sexist remarks to make, so have to seek out women to make them to.  David Chart has run a model which eliminates that problem, but gets similar results.  Blog Post here

    p.s. In case you're wondering about who Karen Petrie is, she's a senior lecturer in Computer Science at Dundee University.  Is she a geek? These photos might help you decide.

    Karen Petrie in St Andrews on her wedding day, flanked by her wedding cakes, or more properly wedding pixels. Karen is blonde and wore a light dress, but has never needed rescuing from a castle. Her husband is indeed dark haired but does not wear a moustache and has been known to pay other people to do plumbing.Images © Ian Gent, 2008.
    Reusable under a Creative Commons License
    Creative Commons Licence

    Credits: Thanks to Karen for the effect of course, plus Chris Jefferson for helping with a python script to generate the random graphs.  

    Copyright: All images are created by me, but I am putting all images of the Petrie Multiplier into the public domain so they can be used freely, while the photos on this page are licensed CC.

    If somebody has come across the Petrie Multiplier under a different name, i.e. if somebody invented it before Karen, please let me know so I can give them credit.

    Sunday 6 October 2013

    The Computer Scientist and The Cleaner

    Let me tell you a story
    The computer scientist and the cleaner had a long and happy marriage. One of their few arguments was when she forgot their wedding anniversary.  But their marriage was strong and he forgave her.
    It's not a great story, but it's a story.

    Now let me ask you a question.

    Who forgot the anniversary?  Was it the computer scientist or the cleaner?

    The answer doesn't matter.  What matters is: when you read it did your brain make you think that the computer scientist was male and the cleaner was female? 

    For an unbiased view, let's ask Google Images about computer scientists and cleaners. The answer is clear: computer scientists are men, and cleaners are women. 

    We've got a problem: we, meaning everyone in computer science.  The problem is twofold. There's a major gender imbalance in computer science. And that women are often not treated right. It's a very widely known problem, and in fact I think it's the most important problem for computer science.  (Not the most important problem in computer science, but for it.)

    I've been thinking about gender issues in computing because I am first year co-ordinator in the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews. It suddenly occurred to me that I have a responsibility to new students to tell them about the most important problem for computer science. 

    So I decided I should prepare a talk to give to first year students, both men and women, to tell them about this major problem, and some small pointers on what to do about it.

    A draft talk is below, but here are a few of the key points.
    I know of only two good reasons we need more women in computer science
    • It’s right
    • Computer Science would be better
    • this point being that since some women don't get into CS or leave early, the average quality of CS would go up with more women in it. 
    What should people in CS do about it?
    1. Don't be a jerk to women 
    2. Don't use sexist language 
    3. Understand it's not you who decides if you are doing 1 or 2
    We need males in CS to be Allies
    Allies?  Basically an ally is a non-female who thinks that both men and women should be treated right in CS. See the geekfeminism wiki for some pointers. 
    Don't get me wrong. 
    I want all our male students to have fun and do brilliantly in their CS degrees and afterwards.  It's just that I want the same for female students and other disadvantaged groups.  And I want us to work together to reduce those disadvantages.
    So here is my talk, embedded below or direct at SlideShare.  

    If you want to comment, please do comment here, or by email to me, whatever you want.  I'm obviously especially interested in any ways I can improve the talk (apart from making it shorter, which I know it needs to be).  Given this topic can be sensitive, I will remove what I regard as offensive comments without hesitation.

    Credits: This is my own work and I take full responsibility but helpful comments have been received from: Kate Cross (special credit for suggesting anniversary instead of a car crash in the story), Perdita Stevens, Vicky Larmour, Karen Petrie, Ursula Martin, Louise Dennis, Julian Bradfield, Dave Berry, Judith Underwood, Chris Jefferson, Jeremy Frank, Juliana Bowles.   (There are actually many others who have commented usefully, and I will add you here happily if I've omitted you.)

    [Update: 6 Oct 2013: following comments from two friends, I have made some changes to this post and the draft talk.  This was removing some of the more personal material and changing the story from a car crash to an anniversary.

    Update 2: 7 Oct 2013.  Changed "in computer science" to "for computer science"

    Update 3: 7 Oct 2013.  To my horror realised that I was guilty of cissexism since the FLORIN slide implied gender was binary.  Have removed this.   There are also many other changes I want to make in this based on other comments but this was the most urgent.

    Update 4: 9 Oct 2013.  Quite a number of changes.

    Update 5: 12 Oct 2013. Added many slides about the Petrie Multiplier.

    Update 6: 20 Oct 2013. Slides as delivered to students at St Andrews, with one or two minor deletions of local information.

    As I am changing this talk and it's in the open, I thought I would make available earlier versions.  Here are version 1version 2, version 3version 4, version 5, and version 6 (the version delivered to students in Oct 2013.]