Friday, February 18, 2005

Happy Friday!

Perhaps it's because I've been so busy, but this week seems to have flown by. Overall, things have gone pretty well for me.

Yesterday I went to a luncheon sponsored by the Women in Engineering Program, with a guest speaker from IBM. I would really like to work at IBM, so I talked to this woman afterwards, and she told me that she knew some people in the area I was interested in, and would be willing to forward my resume to them. So it seems good that I went to that luncheon, because I got more than just free food out of it.

And today I figured out some more about the performance modeling I have been doing. Specifically, I figured out, thanks to modeling, that something I had considered doing was actually a bad idea. I had thought of adding a fourth level of parallelization to my program, and it turns out to be a bad idea, at least if I try to do it the way that I thought of doing it.

Speaking of parallelization, there's something that has been bothering me for a while about the jargon in my field. In parallel computing, you have one processor that's in charge, and it's called the master, while the other processors are called slaves. While I know we are talking about inanimate objects here, it still offends and possibly alienates people who were historically enslaved.

Computer Science was obviously developed by white men, because there are plenty of examples of jargon that could be offensive to women. The trick is to understand that Computer Science was developed by white men with no social skills, who weren't setting out to be offensive to traditionally under-represented groups.

But still, in my work, I don't want to use that terminology. My parallelism is actually a three-level model, so I need another word for the "middle management" processors anyhow.

I think I have figured out what to do. I plan to rename the master as "Alpha." The middle ones will be "Beta," and the lowest-level ones will be "Gamma." This way, there is a hierarchy, but it doesn't invoke the legacy of hurt and hate that master/slave does.

3 comments:

Daniel Dunbar said...

Hi Rebecca, this is Daniel from your sis's coop in VA.

It's funny I wandered to your blog today from hers because I remember you talking about the naming issue when you visited and it has remained a nagging presence in my head and has made me reevaluate some other words.

I am curious about how you feel about other possibly charged words that show up commonly in certain areas. For example "kill" (graph theory, processes, etc) or "dominate" (graph theory, program analysis)... probably a lot more but those are the ones that come to mind.

Laura said...

Hey, Bec, you know, Alpha Beta and Gamma are the names of the castes in Brave New World. Luckily they're fictional people, so they probably won't be offended if you use their names.

Rebecca said...

Daniel, thanks very much for your comment. I think that this is a difficult issue, because on the one hand you don't want to offend anybody, but on the other hand, you shouldn't have to censor yourself. Computer Science and Math have some very colorful but apt terms that seem to really walk that line.

To me, the thing that differentiates "slave" from "dominate" in terms of offensiveness is the fact that slavery is never acceptable, whereas domination sometimes is. For example, if one basketball team has a lopsided victory over another, we say that they "dominated the scoreboard." I feel that way about kill too: it's perfectly acceptable to kill weeds, for example. But I can't think of a single time when slavery is acceptable, which is why I just try to avoid it.

And Laura, you know everything! I had no idea that the caste names in Brave New World were Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. I just picked those because they were ordered and sounded scientific.