While listening to a colleague’s talk the other day, I got an idea for a Ph.D. thesis (grant proposal). I wrote up a short summary and sent it to him. He thought it was fine but commented that it might be a bit “thin”. This made me wonder: How do we determine sufficient size of a dissertation, to stay with the metaphor of thin, so that we can conclude some research work is worth a Ph.D. title? Most university regulations require “significant” (read: non-trivial) scientific progress and then leave it to the advisor and the reading committee to determine whether a submitted dissertation fits the bill.
Just before my inaugural lecture at University of Erlangen, a broad panel of scientists was debating the merits of computer games. Except for a computer games researcher and a games professional, all participants thought that computer games are of no particular interest. When I asked: “But isn’t there anything to learn from computer games?” I got a full rebuke by the M.D. on the panel: “No, there is no recognizable value whatsoever.”
Last Saturday I visited the Computer History Museum’s new exhibition “R|Evolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing”. The exhibition is fantastic, and they’ve come a long way from the early days of their “visible storage” exhibition. If you live in or visit the Silicon Valley, I highly recommend you pay it a visit.
That said, every time I visit the museum, I ask about the state of curating, preserving, and showing not only hardware, but also software. Like most exhibitions, the R|Evolution exhibition focusses on physical objects and complements them with textual explanations on plates as well as videos. Software is being discussed in the Software Theatre and in some smaller videos. However, these videos are about software and programming in general, not about actual software artifacts. Software is mostly shown through physical objects, i.e. the boxes they came in as packaged software.
Packaged Software Box Arc
Last Saturday I visited the “R|Evolution” exhibition at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum (more on that later). One reason why I went there was to see the “community wall” of plaques sponsored by small-time donors. I had sponsored one and my saying on it was:
In honor of Peter Naur: To program is to learn.
I’m sure Peter Naur is being honored by the CHM elsewhere and in a more appropriate style than my whimsical plaque, but I wanted to use this blog post to explain the plaque and the meaning of the saying on it.
Like every non-profit, the CHM is always looking for support and donations, and so they had called for financial support in late 2009 and promised a plaque on a community wall as a way of saying thanks for the support.
Community wall (of small-time donors) at the CHM, Feb 2011
The German Enquete commission “Internet and Digital Society” is a multilateral commission instituted by the German parliament to discuss and make recommendations on, well, Internet and digital society. I’m a member of an expert advisory council for one of the parties involved in the commission. I received the following catalog of questions and thought I’d share the questions here and maybe we can have a good discussion. For international readers, it may be helpful to read Wikipedia on German copyright law. So, here are the questions.
A recent article in the CACM complained about the dominance of reductionists’ views in computer science research.
“We are sorry to inform you that your paper has been rejected, due to the lack of empirical evidence supporting it.” 
You may be surprised to hear that the dominant public Internet wiki engine, MediaWiki, only plays a minor role in the enterprise. Within the corporate firewalls, TWiki, Confluence, DokuWiki, TikiWiki, and others are running the show. Why is that? It is certainly not the lack of commercial customer interest in MediaWiki, which everyone already knows as the software running Wikipedia. It is also not an anti-commercial stance by the creators of MediaWiki (and its effective owner, the Wikimedia Foundation).
I guess everybody knows it but nobody ever named it, as far as I know, so I’m doing it here:
The Intellectual Property Rights Imperative of Single-Vendor Commercial Open Source Always act in such a way that you, and only you, possess the right to provide the open source project under a license of your choice.