Nonreferential this

This month's CACM contains articles by Jeffrey Ullman and Dave Patterson on how to advise PhD students. I particularly enjoyed the following aside from Ullman on a key writing skill:
While it sounds pedantic at first, you get a huge increase in clarity by chasing the "nonreferential this" from students' writing. Many students (and others) use "this" to refer to a whole concept rather than a noun. For example: "If you turn the sproggle left, it will jam, and the glorp will not be able to move. This is why we foo the bar." Now the writer of this prose fully understands about sproggles and glorps, so they know whether we foo the bar because glorps do not move, or because the sproggle jammed. It is important for students to put themselves in the place of their readers, who may be a little shaky on how sproggles and glorps work, and need a more carefully written paragraph. Today, it is not that hard to find a "this" that is nonreferential. Almost all begin sentences, so grepping for 'This' will find them.


Cafe Scientifique

I've been invited to give a talk for Cafe Scientifique, 8.30pm Mon 16 March at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. Title and abstract below. I've been asked to speak without using overheads or visuals, which should be an interesting challenge! The link above takes you to the Facebook page for the event.

Proofs are Programs: 19th Century Logic and 21st Century Computing

As the 19th century drew to a close, logicians formalized an ideal notion of proof. They were driven by nothing other than an abiding interest in truth, and their proofs were as ethereal as the mind of God. Yet within decades these mathematical abstractions were realized by the hand of man, in the digital stored-program computer. How it came to be recognized that proofs and programs are the same is a story that spans a century, a chase with as many twists and turns as a thriller. At the end of the story is a principle for designing programming languages that will guide computers into the 21st century.

Similar material is covered in this article.

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