Book Review: The Death of Expertise

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_Expertise

“The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols is a timely piece to the ongoing information endemic, especially in America. Quoting Issac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just a good as your knowledge.”

The book describes the author’s view of why experts are so important in a democracy and the relationship between expertise the public. And it also goes on to decry the ongoing decay in this relationship, where citizens are increasingly losing trust in experts, and experts are increasingly finding it difficult to communicate with their audience.

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Reading Summary: 11/06/2020

Technology

Edsger Dijkstra: The Man Who Carried Computer Science on His Shoulders

The often untold story behind a mastermind of Computer Science: Dijkstra, whose name has been an important
algorithm widely used in GPS navigation.

The blog described a wise, hard-thinker, a great mind who made unparallel contributions to both Computer
Science as a mathematical and logical view, as well as Software Engineering which focuses on building
software and hardware components.

He’s most famous for his private reports, named “EWD”, and continued for more than forty years,
describing his views on Computer Science and Software Engineering in general, and sometimes worked
as reviews for others’ work. One of the most influencing “EWD” report was “Notes on Structured Programming,”
which argued programming as a serious form of skill that demands intellectual rigor.

In 1972, Dijkstra received the ACM Turing Award, he was recognized for:

contributions to programming as a high, intellectual challenge; for eloquent insistence and practical demonstration that programs should be composed correctly, not just debugged into correctness; for illuminating perception of problems at the foundations of program design.

He has great passion for his art, and his strong personality sometimes sparked controversies.
One of the most famous was the discussion on critiquing “GOTO” statements as harmful. It
brought widespread, heated debate, yet Dijkstra’s view finally prevailed, and his insistence
made a monumental change to programming paradigm.

There are much more interesting details around his personal and academic life in the original post,
too long to be summarized here. For example, his had a mini-van in Austin, which he often drove to
national parks with his wife, and it was named the “Touring Machine.” If you are passionate with computers and software,
have a long weekend afternoon, it’s worth a good read.

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Paper Reading: Julia: Dynamism and Performance Reconciled by Design

Link: https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/3276490

The paper outlines the Julia programming language’s some most important design choices, and explains how they build a bridge between user-friendliness and performance.

The paper provided with a few benchmarks, to compare its performance with a C baseline, along with other dynamic languages like Python, MATLAB, JavaScript, and so on. While other dynamic programming languages suffer great performance loss, due to its dynamism, Julia can compete relatively close with the C/C++ baseline, with up to native performance in a few cases, most of the benchmarks are within 2x of C or C++, while Python can suffer more than 70x slower performance than C++.

This is significant, as it may eliminate the “prototype in dynamic language, then reimplement in static language for faster performance” cycle, eliminating extra time on coding to achieve efficiency without sacrificing much performance.

Some key takeouts from this paper:

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