Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quitting Coffee

It has been four weeks since I quit*; it had been four years since my relationship with coffee began. I am glad to put that period of my life behind me.

After years of looking for more time in my day, I thought I had found the solution by including coffee in my morning routine and decreasing my quantity of sleep. My decision had been backed by some pop scientific research that coffee could be a health drink: the negative correlation between coffee and Alzheimer's, the negative correlation between coffee and gout, etc. (In fact, I have a blog post here about why I started drinking coffee.)

My decision to quit was driven by several reasons. I found that I sleep better (at the right times and more deeply) when I haven't had coffee, coffee is hard on my stomach, and that I had become quite addicted (in that I function significantly more poorly in the absence thereof). I had also developed an awareness of and distaste for how wound up coffee makes me.

Quitting has been difficult for the obvious alertness reasons. In addition, my concentration got worse and I felt hungry more often. My hypothesis is that as a stimulant, caffeine stimulates the part of my brain that helps me focus. The hunger can be explained by the "fact" (checked against the internet) that caffeine can be an appetite suppressant. Not being caffeinated has also made social interactions more difficult, perhaps because it has become more difficult to focus on conversations. The good news is that all of these issues have (slowly) been going away.

Despite the challenges, I have been enjoying my coffee-free existence. My quality of sleep has improved, which has helped me to be more naturally alert and focused. It has been a relief not to have to look for sources of caffeine on weekends and when out of town. In general, I have been feeling less wound up and more well.

For those of you thinking about quitting: don't be afraid to do it!

* Somewhat ironic is that it happened the day I arrived in Seattle. I have since had decaf twice, but that is it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

PLDI 2010 in Toronto, Canada!

I just returned from PLDI 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The papers, talks, and non-technical content were all great!

This year parallelism and concurrency seemed to be the hot topics, as there were two tracks for each of those. According to the program chair Alex Aiken (if I remember correctly), there were relatively high acceptance rates for papers on types, static analyses, and programming language designs. Some papers that I particularly liked include Viktor Kuncak et. al.'s Complete Functional Synthesis about using decision procedures at runtime for synthesizing program expressions, Khoo Yit Phang et. al.'s Mixing Type Checking and Symbolic Execution on a hybrid type-checker/static analyzer, and my adviser Armando Solar-Lezama's Smooth Interpretation with Swarat Chaudhury on smoothing program spaces for analysis/synthesis. The other papers in the verification session with me (Zach Tatlock's Bringing Extensibility to Verified Compilers, Adam Chlipala's paper on type computations and meta-programming with Ur, and Michael Emmi's Parameterized Verification of Transactional Memories) are also cool.

This year they reduced talk length to 15 minutes (instead of 20), which people seemed to have strong thoughts about. The general consensus seemed to be that people appreciated having the time limit for others' talks, as people who worked hard on their talks would take the effort to make a good 15-minute talk, and the short length kept people awake and even enticed people to attend talks on areas of marginal interest. People generally seemed unhappy/concerned about the shortened time for their own talk. Also, someone commented that having shorter talks made them more intense and left less (perhaps necessary) time for zoning out.

This year there was no PLDI-wide outing, but having everyone staying in a huge hotel (Fairmont Royal York) with its own bar, restaurants, shops, etc. promoted PLDI-wide unity. There were also many restaurants and tourist attractions within walking distance, which made it easy to embark on food and other excursions with fellow PLDI-ers. Being by the waterfront was also nice: Tom Ball led a running contingent along the waterfront path every morning at 7am. Before and after the conference, I managed to do a fair amount of sight-seeing: pictures here.
(Toronto is huge and has so many interesting neighborhoods! I loved Kensington Market and Old Cabbagetown. Toronto also apparently has multiple Sri Lankan restaurants!)

This was a big conference for me because not only did I give my first conference talk, but my paper with my MSR mentor Chris Hawblitzel (Safe to the Last Instruction: Automated Verification of a Type-Safe Operating System) won the best paper award!

Talk slides below:

Articles about Women and the Workplace

One week away and I've collected so many articles about women in my inbox!

Women in Science
  • Gender stop-gaps - a Nature article about the under-representation of women in academic science and the measures being taken/advised to address it, including growing the applicant pool, providing a more family-friendly environment, and increasing mentoring. This article also cites organizational changes as important: for instance, a researcher noticed that in smaller biotech startups with flat organization structures, women were as likely as men to hold a patent, while at universities and larger companies men patented significantly more.
  • NCWIT Report Examines Women's Declining Participating in Tech - a blog post describing a report about the attrition of women in IT careers compared to the past and compared to the numbers of women who pursue tech-related fields in college. The report also describes barriers to participation and how to address them, recommending an "ecosystem of reform."
  • Daring to Discuss Women's Potential in Science - a New York Times article about a proposed law that would require the White House science adviser to oversee workshops promoting gender equity. In this piece Tierney raises the question of whether bias exists. This point is not the most relevant to raise, as the existence of differences does not invalidate the need for equity. Rather, learning about differences can educate us about how to provide equal opportunities and make progress in a way that allows people with different cultural backgrounds and strengths to contribute. This Jezebel post makes some good criticisms of the article.
More general
  • Dressed to Distract - New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd discusses the firing of Debrahlee Lorezana from Citigroup, for the reason that her looks and dress were "too distracting" for her male coworkers and supervisors. Dowd points out that while this is usually the other way around (beautiful people get what they want), women are often punished professionally for being too beautiful. Dowd writes, "A male friend once told me he was looking for an unattractive personal assistant so he wouldn’t be tempted. And when I was hiring a Grace Kelly blonde as a researcher a few years ago, a male colleague asked me not to because it would be 'too distracting' to him; two girlfriends cautioned me not to because it would be depressing... for me to work with someone so good looking."
  • In Sweden, the Men Can Have It All - a New York Times pieces about gender equity in Sweden, where women have equal rights at work and men have equal rights at home--85% of Swedish men take parental leave. This is part of the women around the world series.
  • A short history of "feminist" anti-feminists - a nice Slate piece about "the early sisters of Sarah Palin," women who claim to be feminists but organize in opposition to the feminist movement. And (yes!) the article cites Camille Paglia ("I'm not soft and silly like all the other women") as the "iconic leader" of a group of contemporary anti-feminists including Christina Hoff-Summers ("why can't a woman be more like a man?").