Freitag, 22. Februar 2019

University Professors as "Gatekeepers"

<<The best piece of advice I received as a grad student was to think of my graduate school professors and advisors as nothing more than gatekeepers. These were people who had been given power by my department, university, and the profession to train me and award me with a PhD. On the surface, it is well known that I, as the student, had to demonstrate sufficient competency in order to advance: master’s thesis, graduate minor, qualifying exam, proposal defense, and then dissertation defense. And, I did so, hence the three letters behind my name since July 2013. They made the boxes that I successfully checked in a six-year period.

Such a utilitarian approach doesn’t sound so bad. Graduate school was simply a means to an end. All I needed to do was appease my grad school advisors’ conditions for advancing toward the PhD — nothing more, nothing less.

But, graduate training tends to be much more complex than that. The dropout rate would not be 50 percent, mental illness would not run so rampant, and there would probably be a lot fewer folks stuck in lifelong ABD purgatory. But, the utilitarian model, while helpful, has the unintended consequence of serving to blame those very students who do not advance in their training. [...]

First, I should highlight that the actual game of succeeding in graduate school demanded so much more than checking the boxes that my grad school advisors demanded. There seemed to be an infinite number of implied and sometimes explicitly stated expectations that were either 1) required to actually earn the PhD, 2) highly recommended in order to get a (tenure-track) job (at a Research I university), or 3) deemed central to what it means to be a (mainstream) sociologist. I cannot say that it was ever entirely clear which end a particular means achieved. Was the explicit effort to steer me away from gender and sexuality studies — the areas I expressed interest in in my grad school application — actually a matter of getting the PhD? Probably not. Was the explicit effort to “beat the activist” out of me a formal part of PhD training? Doubtful. [...]

A second, related concern is the strong seductive power of being in the “in” crowd. I was drawn to the game-playing approach, especially as it became a matter of survival. I did what I had to do to get the degree, but also pursued other things (usually secretly) that fed my spirit. But, I saw that others, usually privileged students, were invited into relationships with professors in ways that were not impersonal exchanges. Some were invited to babysit, catsit, and housesit for professors — I never was. Some remain lifelong friends and/or collaborators with their former advisors; some honor their former advisors by making them their children’s godparents. Across the board, many at least stay in touch with their advisors, occasionally leaning on them for professional advice (and sometimes personal support), drawing on their networks, and writing recommendation letters.

I (mostly) played the game, and what did I get? Strained professional and personal ties with my grad school advisors, generalized anxiety disorder, and an unhealthy dose of complex trauma to work through still years later from the awful experience of grad school. No, I do not actually want those kinds of relationships with my advisors; it seems unethical to ask students (who would fear saying no) to watch your children, pets, or house. But, that kind of intimacy was partially denied to me and resisted as a matter of my own survival. [...]

Perhaps that is where my naiveté shows. My professors — trained sociologists — were not my friends, or therapists, or confidants, and — as I learned the hard way — they were not to be collaborators or colleagues of equal status. A power-imbalanced relationship, in which my advancement and career depended upon them, is inherently fraught.>>

Donnerstag, 21. Februar 2019


<<Experience has taught me that I was right to trust my intuition: there is nothing to be gained by pretending that academic involvement is necessary, or even always desirable, in the quest for truth and knowledge. In fact, owing to the academic penchant for orthodoxy and political correctness, it can be a hindrance. [...]

As I’ve already mentioned, academia has all but monopolized gainful intellectual activity through its stranglehold on intellectual certification. The dependence of economic opportunity on academic certification is impossible to miss; it should be no less obvious that this dependency relationship extends to the intellectual advancement of mankind. Woe to any would-be contributor who parts ways with the academic machine, for intellectual commerce is governed by a “publish-or-perish” economy of publication and citation in academic journals, wherein the obstacles to publication and proper attribution are proportional to the obscurity of the author, the importance and controversiality of the topic, and the level and prominence of the periodical. As a result, important technical works by authors without academic credentials and affiliations are unlikely to be published or cited, and even if these authors beat the odds against them, they cannot benefit in any meaningful way from their effort. [...]

Historically, [academia] has always been subject to pressure by powerful economic and political interests. This pressure is generally directed toward the creation of a self-reinforcing arrangement: those in power tell academia how they want students to think; academia produces a constant supply of certified experts guaranteed to tell those in power what they want to hear; and those in power, having placed these experts in advisory positions, encourage them to uphold whatever consensus appears to justify their actions and desires.

Obviously, far from wanting to stimulate and empower their future competition, the socioeconomic elite would rather mold potential competitors into docile workers and consumers. Just as obviously, this has nothing to do with maximizing the intellectual potential of individual human beings, especially those with psychological traits that could make them “problematical”.>>

Samstag, 16. Februar 2019

Book Recommendation: Deep Learning

"Machine learning is basically applied statistics."
(Quote, page 107)

Today I have not only purchased books on philosophy, but also the 2018 standard work by Ian Goodfellow et al. on Deep Learning. And I have to say: Of all the Machine Learning books I've read so far (and I've already read some), it's by far the best. Absolute buy recommendation! A better introduction to the subject (with depth!) should not be possible at the moment.

Translated with

Buchempfehlung: Deep Learning

"Machine Learning ist im Grunde genommen angewandte Statistik."
(Zitat, Seite 107)

Nun habe ich heute nicht nur Bücher über Philosophie erstanden, sondern auch das 2018 erschienene Standardwerk von Ian Goodfellow et al. über Deep Learning. Und ich muss sagen: Von allen Büchern über Machine Learning, die ich bis jetzt gelesen habe (und das sind bereits einige gewesen), ist es mit Abstand das beste. Absolute Kaufempfehlung! Einen besseren Einstieg in die Materie (mit Tiefgang!) dürfte es derzeit nicht geben.

Geistige Nahrung

Ich war wieder mal shoppen und habe unter anderem folgende drei philosophische Schriften erstanden:
  1. Nick Bostrom: Die Zukunft der Menschheit
  2. Alexis de Tocqueville: Über die Demokratie in Amerika
  3. Jürgen Habermas: Diskursethik
Der Beruf des Philosophen wäre wohl der ideale Beruf für mich - da die Beschäftigungssituation für Philosophen aber als schlecht gilt, habe ich auf das Studium der Philosophie verzichtet und eigne mir lediglich autodidaktisch Wissen darüber an.

Donnerstag, 14. Februar 2019

Observations on Austrian society

Point one:

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that so-called National Socialism was simply a particularly radical form of socialism, that is, an ideology that elevates the worker and is hostile to the "rich", the possessor, and that even today's socialists still have much in common with the Nazis of yore in their way of thinking; Only terms like "Aryan" are no longer part of their active language use, but hatred of all those who have "more" and seem to be able to lead a luxury life without too much effort is still present in them.

I know that many people think differently about today's social democrats: they are seen as lazy people who allow themselves to be fed by the welfare state instead of going to work. But I think that is a cliché. In my life I have dealt much more often with people who were working and who, when I was still a student, accused me of just being a student without working.

Point two:

It was sometimes claimed about me that I had lived in seclusion. That has to be put into perspective: On the one hand, like almost everyone else, I attended school. On the other hand, I had a lot of letter friends and later Internet friends. But: I avoided people here in Austria. In my opinion, rightly so. Because wherever I went, there was somebody who made himself important and believed he was allowed to make rules for the others. And I don't like that. It was enough for me that I had to deal with teachers at school.

My elementary school teacher reproached me for being "stubborn".

Translated with

Betrachtungen zur österreichischen Gesellschaft

Punkt eins:

Je mehr ich darüber nachdenke, desto mehr gelange ich zu der Ansicht, dass der so genannte Nationalsozialismus einfach eine besonders radikale Form des Sozialismus war, also einer Ideologie, die den Arbeiter emporhebt und dem "Reichen", Besitzenden gegenüber feindlich eingestellt ist, und dass auch die heutigen Sozialisten noch viel in ihrer Denkweise mit den Nazis von einst gemein haben; lediglich Begriffe wie "Arier" gehören nicht mehr zu ihrem aktiven Sprachgebrauch, aber der Hass gegenüber all jenen, die "mehr" haben und scheinbar in der Lage sind, ein Luxusleben zu führen, ohne sich allzu sehr anzustrengen, ist bei ihnen nach wie vor vorhanden.

Ich weiß, dass viele über die heutigen Sozialdemokraten anders denken: Man hält sie für faule Menschen, die sich vom Sozialstaat ernähren lassen, anstatt arbeiten zu gehen. Ich halte das aber für ein Klischee. In meinem Leben habe ich viel öfter mit Menschen zu tun gehabt, die berufstätig waren und mir, als ich noch studiert habe, zum Vorwurf gemacht haben, dass ich eben nur Student war, ohne einer Erwerbstätigkeit nachzugehen.

Punkt zwei:

Über mich wurde manchmal behauptet, ich hätte zurückgezogen gelebt. Das ist zu relativieren: Zum einen habe ich, wie fast jeder, die Schule besucht. Zum anderen hatte ich viele Brief- und später Internetfreunde. Aber: Ich habe Menschen hier in Österreich gemieden. Meiner Meinung nach zurecht. Denn: Wo immer ich hin kam, gab es irgend jemanden, der sich wichtig machte und glaubte, den anderen Vorschriften machen zu dürfen. Und das mag ich nicht. Es hat mir schon gereicht, dass ich in der Schule mit Lehrern zu tun hatte.

Meine Volksschullehrerin machte mir zum Vorwurf, dass ich "eigensinnig" sei.

Samstag, 9. Februar 2019

Turing's Cathedral

A few days after Demobit 2019 in Bratislava, in which I participated with great pleasure, I suffered the fate of many party guests and was tied to my bed due to a cold.

Now I had the following situation: While I spend most of these days with my girlfriend, I stayed at home during my cold because I didn't want to infect my girlfriend and her family. At home I have lots of books that I have not read or only partially read. So it was clear what I would spend my time with: As long as I wasn't too tired, I read diligently.

I don't want to say that these books were uninteresting. In recent years I have purchased numerous books on philosophy, world politics, natural sciences, medicine and other subjects. If I hadn't been interested, I wouldn't have bought these books.

But: I only had a real elation when I had the idea of reading on in George Dyson's book "Turing's Cathedral", which I had started several times but never finished. Because a light came on to me. The history of computer science, the beginnings with John Von Neumann, Alan Turing, Konrad Zuse and so on, the Z3, the ENIAC ... these are the things that have fascinated me since my childhood. More than anything.

And then I came to the conclusion that I was in the same room as I was more than 23 years ago when my father brought home my first edition of the "PC-Heimwerker". Until then I had read various computer magazines, such as the c´t or the PC-Magazin DOS, as well as print media specializing in computer games (Video Games, Power Play, Gamers, SEGA Magazin, ...). But it was the PC Heimwerker that opened the gate to the "scene" for me. Because it was the first magazine in which every reader could publish himself.

So it was clear early on what my real passion was. But: My parents were against me attending a school specialized in computer technology, because they were of the opinion that the other pupils there would not correspond to my social milieu. So I had to go to a grammar school for four more years. When I thought after my high school graduation that I could finally devote the whole day to "computer science", my hope was bitterly disappointed, because now my parents said: "If you are so intelligent, then you have to study medicine!

At least now, at the age of 35, it should finally be possible for me to shape my life according to my own ideas.

Translated with

Zu "Turings Kathedrale"

Wenige Tage nach der Demobit 2019 in Bratislava, an der ich mit großer Freude teilgenommen habe, habe auch ich das Schicksal vieler Partygäste erlitten und war, bedingt durch Erkältung, ans Bett gefesselt.

Nun lag folgende Situation vor: Während ich dieser Tage die meiste Zeit bei meiner Freundin verbringe, bin ich in der Zeit meiner Verkühlung zu Hause geblieben, weil ich meine Freundin und ihre Familie nicht anstecken wollte. Zu Hause habe ich jede Menge Bücher, die ich bisher nicht oder nur teilweise gelesen habe. Somit war klar, womit ich die Zeit verbringen würde: Solange ich nicht allzu müde war, las ich fleißig.

Ich möchte nicht etwa behaupten, dass diese Bücher uninteressant gewesen wären. In den vergangenen Jahren habe ich zahlreiche Bücher über Philosophie, Weltpolitik, Naturwissenschaften, Medizin und andere Themen erstanden. Wenn ich kein Interesse an der Sache gehabt hätte, hätte ich diese Bücher nicht gekauft.

Aber: Ein richtiges Hochgefühl hatte ich erst, als ich auf die Idee kam, im Buch "Turings Kathedrale" von George Dyson, das ich schon mehrere Male begonnen, aber noch nie zu Ende gelesen hatte, weiterzulesen. Denn da ging mir ein Licht auf. Die Geschichte der Computerei, die Anfänge mit John Von Neumann, Alan Turing, Konrad Zuse und so weiter, der Z3, der ENIAC ... das sind die Dinge, die mich schon seit meiner Kindheit faszinieren. Mehr als alles andere.

Und dann kam ich darauf, dass ich mich ja in demselben Zimmer befand wie vor mehr als 23 Jahren, als mein Vater meine erste Ausgabe des "PC-Heimwerker" heimbrachte. Bis dahin hatte ich verschiedene Computerzeitschriften gelesen, wie das c´t-Magazin für Computertechnik oder das PC-Magazin DOS sowie auch auf Computerspiele spezialisierte Printmedien (Video Games, Power Play, Gamers, SEGA Magazin,...). Doch erst der PC-Heimwerker war es, der mir das Tor zur "Szene" eröffnete. Denn bei ihm handelte es sich um die erste Zeitschrift, in der jeder Leser selbst publizieren konnte.

Es war somit schon früh klar, worin meine eigentliche Leidenschaft lag. Aber: Meine Eltern waren dagegen, dass ich eine auf Computertechnik spezialisierte Schule besuche, weil sie der Meinung waren, dass die anderen Schüler dort nicht meinem Sozialmilieu entsprechen würden. So musste ich also nach Absolvierung der AHS-Unterstufe vier weitere Jahre lang in einem allgemein bildenden Gymnasium die Schulbank drücken. Als ich dann nach der Matura glaubte, nun könne ich mich endlich den ganzen Tag über der "Computerei" widmen, wurde meine Hoffnung bitter enttäuscht, denn jetzt hieß es seitens meiner Eltern: "Wenn du schon so intelligent bist, dann musst du Medizin studieren!"

Wenigstens jetzt, im Alter von 35 Jahren, sollte es mir endlich möglich sein, mein Leben nach meinen eigenen Vorstellungen zu gestalten.