Older blog entries for hypatia (starting at number 345)

Gyms and personal training

So I have a dilemma with exercise that I suspect a lot of people share: I’d ultimately like to have access to the facilities that many gyms offer, both the weights and the exercise classes, but the whole surrounding consumer setup is completely offputting to me.

First of course is the price structure, where they take money whether or not I use the gym. Smooth, gyms, smooth. (Yes, I am aware that they make more money — I assume far more, given how bad it is for customer perceptions of their industry — that way. But I am not interested in gyms’ profitability, in capitalism I highly value my right to be an utterly selfish consumer in that respect.) So, yeah. Is my (realistically) once-a-week-with-occasional-skips use of a gym worth $30 a week to me? No.

Assuming I got past that, here’s what needs to happen, for example, for me to join Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre’s gym, which is most likely because I’d like access to their pool rather than paying for a gym and a pool. First, I need to go there with my husband, because it would be a joint membership. OK, there go about ninety-five percent of my trips there. Secondly, my husband must either not be in a hurry to get back to work, or we must not have our bored toddler fussing at us. So, that’s the remaining five percent of trips. Then, once I did sign up, there’s compulsory personal training sessions focusing on my fitness goals. I can’t think of anything I find less inspiring, than to discuss my fitness goal “I enjoy moving my body sometimes” with people who are trained to equate fitness goals with either “I want to achieve top percentile cardiovascular or strength performance” or “I want to lose a fair chunk of weight”. I rather suspect this mismatch is deliberate too, because there’s no better customer than one who has been persuaded that they really need to keep this gym membership… for the far-away day that the sense of being too inferior a body to use the gym goes away.

Syndicated 2012-08-26 22:54:47 from lecta

Sunday spam: French toast with bacon

The Myth of Looming Female Dominance

[One] should always be wary of raw numbers in the news. In fact, when you look at the trend as published by the Census Bureau, you see that the proportion of married couple families in which the father meets the stay-at-home criteria has doubled: from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.8% today. The larger estimate which includes fathers working part-time comes out to 2.8% of married couple families with children under 15. The father who used the phrase “the new normal” in [the NYT story] was presumably not speaking statistically.

Miley Cyrus haircut shocker: Short hair isn’t a cry for help

So just to remind you: A young woman changing her look in a way that doesn’t scream, “Please, world, love me because I am a Victoria’s Secret model,” right now, in the year of our Lord 2012, freaks people out. It actually makes them wonder if she’s lost her mind.

Scientists Claim To ‘Block’ Heroin, Morphine Addiction: One Skeptic’s Reaction

THe “one skeptic’s reaction” is actually along the lines of “this is very interesting research, that appears to have not much application to blocking existing addiction, but might to making opiates more effective for pain while being less addictive.”

Tribalism and locavorism

Why does the idea of “food miles” bug (some) freemarketeers while (some) environmentalists resist evidence that it’s not environmental friendly? This appears to be against both their stated ideological positions.

Why Aren’t Female Ski Jumpers Allowed in the Olympics?

Dating to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the women’s exclusion isn’t discrimination. President Jacques Rogge has insisted that the decision “was made strictly on a technical basis, and absolutely not on gender grounds.” But female would-be Olympic competitors say they don’t understand what that “technical basis” is. Their abilities? They point to American Lindsey Van, who holds the world record for the single longest jump by anyone, male or female.

The foibles of flexibility

Since the average age of those studying for a PhD is 37 most of you will have some kind of family commitment, and yes – pets count. I find it mystifying that so many of the ‘how to get a PhD’ books offer precious little advice on how to cope.

Am I Black Enough For You?

I watched this case unfold with particular interest. Why? Because I am married to an Aboriginal man and I have an Aboriginal daughter (they are of the Ngarigo people and the Gunditjmara people). And my daughter has fair skin, dark blond/light brown hair and very blue eyes. She is one of these “white Aboriginals” that Andrew Bolt decries.

We’re not here for your inspiration

And there’s another one of a little boy running on those same model legs with the caption, “Your excuse is invalid”. Yes, you can take a moment here to ponder the use of the word “invalid” in a disability context. Ahem.

Then there’s the one with the little girl with no hands drawing a picture holding the pencil in her mouth with the caption, “Before you quit. Try.”

I’d go on, but I might expunge the contents of my stomach.

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.

Syndicated 2012-08-26 00:30:24 from lecta

Sunday Spam: bagels, lox and smoked salmon

In belated honour of my breakfast in New York, Sunday July 8.

Baby Loss and the Pain Olympics

Warning for baby loss discussion.

I really have to question why seeing someone else processing their emotions is her pet peeve.

Do I believe a miscarriage and neonatal death is the same thing — of course not. If they were the same thing, they would share the same term. But just because I see them as apples and oranges doesn’t mean that I don’t also see them as fruit. They are both loss.

The deadly scandal in the building trade

Readers would not guess from the “national conversation” that the construction industry is sitting on a story as grave in its implications as the phone-hacking affair – graver I will argue. You are unlikely to have heard mention of it for a simple and disreputable reason: the victims are working-class men rather than celebrities… The construction companies could not be clearer that men who try to enforce minimum safety standards are their enemies. The files included formal letters notifying a company that a worker was the official safety rep on a site as evidence against him.

On Technical Entitlement

By most measures, I should have technical entitlement in spades… [and yet] I am very intimidated by the technically entitled.

You know the type. The one who was soldering when she was 6. The one who raises his hand to answer every question–and occasionally try to correct the professor. The one who scoffs at anyone who had a score below the median on that data structures exam (“idiots!”). The one who introduces himself by sharing his StackOverflow score.

Puzzling outcomes in A/B testing

A fun upcoming KDD 2012 paper out of Microsoft, “Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments: Five Puzzling Outcomes Explained” (PDF), has a lot of great insights into A/B testing and real issues you hit with A/B testing. It’s a light and easy read, definitely worthwhile.

Selected excerpts:

We present … puzzling outcomes of controlled experiments that we analyzed deeply to understand and explain … [requiring] months to properly analyze and get to the often surprising root cause … It [was] not uncommon to see experiments that impact annual revenue by millions of dollars … Reversing a single incorrect decision based on the results of an experiment can fund a whole team of analysts.

When Bing had a bug in an experiment, which resulted in very poor results being shown to users, two key organizational metrics improved significantly: distinct queries per user went up over 10%, and revenue per user went up over 30%! …. Degrading algorithmic results shown on a search engine result page gives users an obviously worse search experience but causes users to click more on ads, whose relative relevance increases, which increases short-term revenue … [This shows] it’s critical to understand that long-term goals do not always align with short-term metrics.

Angels & Demons

One of the various Longform collections, and like many of them, a crime piece:

On June 4, 1989, the bodies of Jo, Michelle and Christe were found floating in Tampa Bay. This is the story of the murders, their aftermath, and the handful of people who kept faith amid the unthinkable.

On Leaving Academia

As almost everybody knows at this point, I have resigned my position at the University of New Mexico. Effective this July, I am working for Google, in their Cambridge (MA) offices.

Countless people, from my friends to my (former) dean have asked “Why? Why give up an excellent [some say 'cushy'] tenured faculty position for the grind of corporate life?”

Honestly, the reasons are myriad and complex, and some of them are purely personal. But I wanted to lay out some of them that speak to larger trends at UNM, in New Mexico, in academia, and in the US in general. I haven’t made this move lightly, and I think it’s an important cautionary note to make: the factors that have made academia less appealing to me recently will also impact other professors.

Ethics, Culture, & Policy: Commercial surrogacy in India: A $2 billion industry

Since its legalization in 2002, commercial surrogacy in India has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry, drawing couples from around the world. IVF procedures in the unregulated Indian clinics generally cost a fraction of what they would in Europe or the U.S., with surrogacy as little as one-tenth the price. Mainstream press reports in English-language publications occasionally devote a line or two to the ethical implications of using poor women as surrogates, but with few exceptions, these women’s voices have not been heard.

Sociologist Amrita Pande of the University of Cape Town set out to speak directly with the “workers” to see how they are affected by such “work.”

Syndicated 2012-08-19 00:16:25 from lecta

Meet the Ada Initiative: supporters party, San Francisco, Mon July 16

I’m in the US for a couple of weeks. The Ada Initiative, my non-profit organisation supporting women in open technology and culture, is having a party while I am there:

We invite you to join us in downtown San Francisco for an informal meetup! Ada Initiative co-founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora will be there, along with many of our board members and advisors. Mary is visiting San Francisco on her way back from keynoting the Wikimania conference, and wants to meet as many Bay area Ada Initiative supporters as she can.

Date: Monday July 16
Time: 7:30pm to 9:00pm

This is a self-hosted gathering at Jillian’s, a restaurant and bar in the Metreon.

101 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Please register so we know how many people to expect.

We thank anyone who takes this opportunity to donate, but this gathering is open to everyone who supports women in open technology and culture in any manner.

Valerie and I are also having lunch on the Google Mountain View campus the following day (Tues Jul 17) in order to meet supporters there. It’s only open to Googlers and their invited guests though. Send an email to contact@adainitiative.org if that describes you, you want to come, and you haven’t yet heard about this.

If you know me personally, and you didn’t know that I am in DC all this week and San Francisco for half of next week, send me an email at the usual address and we might meet up.

Syndicated 2012-07-10 18:00:24 from lecta

On opting out

Captain Awkward has a thread on lateness and keeping in contact with people who are constantly late or no-shows. Her answer is worth reading, because she takes both sides seriously: the way being late feeds into anxiety or depression disorders sometimes (and has for her), and the way to structure social engagements with people who are in that place (whether due to mental health issues or not, it doesn’t require disclosure).

She’s specifically asked that people who are good with time and todo lists (I am, relatively) not drop in with “handy hints”, which is fair enough, but now I’m finding some of the”just loosen up, I have rejected our culture’s terrible clock ticking obsession, and I think that makes me a better person” (uh, paraphrased) comments irritating. I’m posting here rather than there because of the relative privilege of being good with my culture’s approach to time, though.

However, opting out is also a pretty privileged thing to do, honestly. Here’s the big clock related things I can’t opt out of, right now: my son’s childcare, who (like most) fine about $1 a minute for late pickups. Moreover, those people also have children to pick up and errands to run, so a significantly late arrival from me would ruin at least three families’ evenings. (Two staff members are required on premises at all times, so one late parent is two late workers.)

Parenting is by no means the only type of problem here too (look at some writings on spoon budgeting some time: what happens when you are an hour late for someone who set aside spoons to see you?) but it’s a pretty typical set of examples. So are people who work in a great number of jobs, especially low pay and insecure jobs.

You can be over-scheduled in a privileged way (racing from piano lessons to dinner parties), but you can be over-scheduled without that (racing from end of shift to the hard childcare deadline to the hospital’s visiting hours to the mechanics for the 6th car repair this season), too. So, I find it difficult to respond to a fairly simple analysis of “I figure that half an hour doesn’t matter that much, or shouldn’t! We all survived before mobile phones [or clocks]! Just say no!” When your needs are dictated by other people armed with clocks and mobile phones, there may not be an exit sign visible.

There are a lot of living cultures with looser time constraints than the one I live in. (People talk about a “polychronic-monochronic” axis of cultures, which Wikipedia tells me is due to the anthropologist Edward Hall.) There are ways to systemically structure things so that half an hour doesn’t matter that much. But, when you don’t live in such a culture or can’t stay in one, it’s just not that easy. But when is “just say no” ever the solution to anything serious?

Syndicated 2012-06-29 07:19:58 from lecta

Paul Offit’s Vaccines course

People in my research group have been understandably excited about, eg, Andrew Ng’s online machine learning course (you can also do Natural Language Processing with Dan Jurafsky and Chris Manning, respectively co-authors of Speech and Language Processing and Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing, so you need never choose between NLP textbook authors again).

Since submitting my PhD — I never mentioned that here, sorry, but if you follow me anywhere else you’ve probably heard! It’s under examination presently — I’ve zoned out some and eventually decided to head on over to Coursera and see what was on offer, in case I went two weeks without computer science and had withdrawal I guess. There’s nothing that exactly lines up with my desired enrollment dates right now, so instead, I’m in Paul Offit’s Vaccines course, starting June 25. Looking forward to it! Apparently there will be “challenging” assessment quizzes: I’m hoping to write up anything particularly interesting that comes up in the course, although I suspect that for people familiar with Offit’s various books and lectures (I’m not) it may be something of a repeat.

Note: never say never I guess, but anti-vax comments are unlikely to be published.

Syndicated 2012-06-13 23:00:53 from lecta

Useful LaTeX packages: linguistic examples

This is the conclusion of a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis.

Today’s entry is a package for displaying linguistic examples (ie, samples of text which you then want to discuss and analyse).  The LaTeX for Linguists Home Page is a good general resource for linguists and computational linguists using LaTeX. I discuss gb4e here because I had to do some messing around to get it to display example numbers the way I want (and the way my supervisor wanted: he likes in-text references to look like “example (4.1)” rather than “example 4.1″), and to get it to work with cleveref, and no one seems to have written that up to my knowledge.


gb4e is a linguistic examples package.


Input looks like:

\ex This is an example sentence\label{example}
\ex This is another example sentence.
This is a cleveref reference to \cref{example}.
This is a normal reference to example (\ref{example}).

You can mark sentences with * and ? and so on:

\ex[*] {This is an sentence ungrammatical.}
\ex[?] {This is an questionably grammatical sentence.}

You can do sub-examples:

\ex This is an example.
\ex This is a sub-example.
\ex This is another sub-example.

A few things to do to make gb4e play really nicely. First, some cleveref config. gb4e doesn’t yet automatically tell cleveref how to refer to examples, so you need to tell it that the term is “example”, and second, if you want braces around the number (“example (1.1)” rather than “example 1.1″ you need to tell it to use brackets:

% tell cleveref to use the word "example" to refer to examples,
% and to put example numbers in brackets

Also, by default, the gb4e numbering does not reset in chapters. That is, your examples will be numbered (1), (2), (3) etc right through a thesis. You probably want more like (1.1), (1.2), (2.1), (2.2), ie chapter.number. Change to this with the following in your preamble:

% Store the old chapter command so that
% our redefinition can still refer to it
% Redefine the chapter command so that it resets the
% 'exx' counter that gb4e uses on every new chapter.
% Redefine how example numbers are shown so that they are
% chapter number dot example number
You could also get it to reset in sections by replacing \chapter and \thechapter with \section and \thesection in the above.

Syndicated 2012-06-06 23:30:00 from lecta

Useful LaTeX packages: within document references

This is part of a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis.

Today’s entry is packages relevant to preparing within document references. These are both fairly new to me, although not absolutely now.


This package turns cross-references and bibliography references into clickable links in your output PDF (at least if you generate it with xelatex or pdflatex), without you having to do anything other than the \ref (or cleveref’s \cref) and \cite and so on commands.


You will probably want to modify its choice of colours to something more subtle:

    % Generates page numbers in your bibliography, ie will
    % list all the pages where you referred to that entry.

Use black if you want the links the same colour as your text.

One note with hyperref: generally it should be the last package you load. There are occasional exceptions, see Which packages should be loaded after hyperref instead of before?


cleveref is a LaTeX package that automatically remembers how you refer to things. So instead of:

see chapter \ref{chapref}

you use the \cref command:

see \cref{chapref}

It handles multiple references nicely too:

see \cref{chapref,anotherchapref}

will generate output along the lines of “see chapters 1 and 2″.



to generate capitalised text, eg “Chapter 1″ rather than “chapter 1″

To use it:


It shortens the word “equation” to “eq.” by default, if you don’t like that, then:


For some packages that don’t yet tell cleveref how to refer to their counters, you will get output like “see ?? 1″ rather than “see example 1″. You use the \crefname command in the preamble to tell it what word to use for each unknown counter, examples of \crefname will be shown tomorrow for gb4e.

Syndicated 2012-06-05 23:30:08 from lecta

Useful LaTeX packages: tables and figures

This is part of a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis.

Today’s entry is packages relevant to preparing tables or figures. Again, some are pretty widely known and some aren’t.


If you have a big table or figure that should be rotated sideways onto its own page:


And then you can replace the table and figure commands with:

%Giant table goes here
%Giant figure goes here


The dcolumn package produces tabular columns that are perfectly aligned on a decimal point (ie all the decimal points in that column are exactly underneath each other), which is usually how you want to display decimal numbers.

% create a new column type, d, which takes the . out of numbers, replacing the .
% with a \cdot and aligning on it.

Now that you have defined the column type, you can use d in the tabular environment, where the numeric argument is the number of figures to expect after the decimal point. You don’t have to use exactly that number of figures in every entry, just that that’s how much room it will leave.

% a tabular enviroment with a 1 and 3 figures after the decimal point column
1.6 & 1.657
2.0 & 6.563
7 & 6.26

One annoying aspect of this package is that for the headers of that column, which probably aren’t numbers, you will need to use \multicolumn to get them to display nicely.

% a tabular enviroment with a 1 and 3 figures after the decimal point column
\multicolumn{1}{c}{Heading 1} & \multicolumn{1}{c}{Heading 2}\\
1.6 & 1.657
2.0 & 6.563
7 & 6.26

You can mix the d column type with the usual l, r and p column types.


You can’t use \footnote in a floating table. This is one of several packages that allow table footnotes in various ways.


threeparttable doesn’t cause tables to float on its own, so you usually want to wrap in a table command:

% Normal bits of your table go here, and use \tnote{a} and
% \tnote{b} and so to generate a note mark
\tnote General note
\tnote General note 2
\tnote[a] Note for mark a
\tnote[b] Note for mark b
\caption{Caption goes here}

Unfortunately you need to generate the a, b, c (or whatever) numbering manually.

The general \tnote entries are useful for things like “Bold entries are highest in the column”, so that they don’t need to go in the caption.

Syndicated 2012-06-04 23:30:44 from lecta

Useful LaTeX packages: bibliography

I’m going to post a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis. Largely this is just so that there’s a reference if my wiki page goes away, but also because I think many people use LaTeX the way I use it, that is, I got wedded to a bunch of packages 10 years ago and never really looked around for more recent stuff.

Today’s entry is a pretty slow start: the bibliography packages I used are pretty standard.


This is one of the most sophisticated and widely used packages for Harvard-style references (ie, “(Surname, Year)” rather than “[1]” style references).


Inside your text use \citep for a reference in parentheses “(Surname, Year)”, and \citet for a in-text reference “Surname (Year)”. Its important to note that the plain \cite command is equivalent to \citet, which you may not expect.

You can use \citeauthor to get just “Surname” and \citeyear to get just “Year”.


This is a useful add-on to natbib, which allows you to insert full bibliography entries into the body of your text. This is useful in the declaration portion of a thesis (where you say something like “this thesis incorporates revised versions of the following published articles”).


Then later on when you want to insert a full bibliography entry into the middle of your text:


Syndicated 2012-06-04 13:18:37 from lecta

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