Friday, January 28, 2011

The Skeptical Blogger

Let me start with a quick message to all current readers of this blog:

Hi Mom!

Here's a longer message for all future readers, to explain our thought process behind creating this blog.

I have always been leery of the blogging phenomenon.  I am busy and allow myself the occasional visits to CNN and ESPN Golf, but I've never been compelled to navigate the blogosphere to get my computer architecture news.  How can I allocate time to read random technical or non-technical musings of fellow academics when I always have a tall stack of ISCA papers?  ISCA papers are peer-reviewed and almost guaranteed to be high quality and relevant, while blog posts are not!  Likewise, why are these bloggers wasting time producing frivolous never-read literature when they really should be writing ISCA papers?!  I haven't yet encountered an academic blog dedicated to computer architecture topics; I have no idea if my leery view is representative of the rest of the comp arch community.

That said, blogging seems to be much more common and accepted in other CS circles, especially in theory.  In spite of my pledged allegiance to peer-reviewed papers, I do find myself regularly visiting the blogs of my Utah colleagues, Suresh, Matt Might, and John Regehr.  I am curious to know what my colleagues think about their communities and they often have interesting discussions that I can relate to.  I really should be reading an ISCA paper, but I can't resist my innate curiosity.  The guilt goes away once I realize that most of my brain is used to store useless sports scores anyway.

In short, if there were an academic comp arch blog out there, I'd definitely read it.  I might get an honest technical opinion I might not find in a paper.  It might even be like a virtual ISCA Business Meeting (and we know how entertaining they are... no really, they are!).  Even if I can't justify spending time to read a blog, it turns out that there are many that can.  Students in my classes have asked if there are blogs that can help them stay in touch with comp arch even after they leave school.  Also, many people stumble on relevant blog articles via searches.  I have heard many examples from my colleagues about how their blogs have led to higher visibility, more networking opportunities, ideas for new projects, collaborations, effective grad recruiting, jobs/internships for students, etc.  More eyeballs = more impact.  While I continue to strongly believe that highest impact is made via peer-reviewed pubs at high-quality venues, the potential impact of a blog may no longer be in the noise.  In any case, this is an experiment I am willing to try.  Especially if it adds little overhead to an existing effort or forces us to organize our thoughts on some burning issue.  As an academic, I am obliged to take risks.  At worst, my mom will learn something about my work.

Having pooh-poohed the non-peer-reviewed content of the blogosphere... here's the spectacular content we plan to contribute :-).  For starters, this is not a case of me standing on a soapbox.  It'll be me and all other faculty and students of the Utah Arch research group.  This will hopefully provide multiple perspectives.  A study has shown that students surf the web 108 times faster than faculty to find interesting content (that's a great science fair project in case you're looking for one).  Besides, 93% of my students are smarter than me (yes, I'm singling you out, since you didn't get your paper draft ready a week before the deadline! :-).  A large fraction of the blog content will be technical.  For example, I certainly plan to write about my pet peeves when reviewing network-on-chip papers.  You won't find that in any conference proceedings.  The blog will also serve as a forum for ideas that we don't have the bandwidth to fully develop, negative results, selected lecture notes from my classes, synthesis of cache papers that may eventually be included in my book, or discussions on simulation/research methodologies.  We also hope to have non-technical discussions that pertain to life in our community (comp arch, CS, grad school, faculty).  I foresee a blog post titled "Who Reads Your Thesis Anyway?".  But no, you likely will not see posts on the number of energy drinks we consume on the night of the ISCA deadline.  Or maybe you will.