Archive for English

stack explode

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2019 by xi'an

To say the least, most Stack Exchange communities have been quite active in the past days, not towards solving an unusual flow of questions from new or old users, but in protesting against the exclusion of a moderator who disputed on a moderator forum the relevance of a code of conduct change proposed or imposed by the private company behind Stack Exchange, now called Stack Overflow (like the honomym forum on Stack Exchange). A change about the use of gender pronouns in comments and answers (an announcement that attracted the second largest number of negative votes for the entire site). And an exclusion followed by a sequence of apologies from the company highest officers that did not seem to pacify anyone (first largest number of negative votes!) and that kept the excluded moderator excluded. And leading to close to one hundred moderators resigning or going AWOL. Including one of the most active members of X validated, Glen_b. Who posted a detailed description of the chain of events and a most rational explanation of why he was resigning from being a moderator. And then another major moderator, gung… A flak overflow as put by another report.

“We recognise that Stack Exchange is in no way obliged to take our input. We know that we are guests in the home of a private company. We don’t own the platform, and while we want to help to steer the ship, we don’t have the right to determine how it is governed. What built this network is a sense of community and common purpose, and a big part of that has always been the close relationship and communication between Stack Exchange and stakeholders, such as moderators and users. It’s a shame that we’ve lost something so fundamental.” dearstackexchange.com

What can be learned from this fiasco is that it is not a very good idea to let a technical Q&A forum such as Stack Exchange to be run by a private company. Even though many contributors may have never realised till now this is the case. And even when the company is using A/B tests, Bayesian GLMs, and Stan to decrease the number of “unfriendly comments” on the site. Companies are primarily there to make profit and report to stakeholders, rather than the millions of people contributing to the site for free, sometimes investing a considerable amount of time and energy towards making the questions answered in a constructive manner that benefits the entire audience. Despite the facade coolness as in the nerdy, geeky chatter on the company blog, the company  executives and employees obviously do not share the same goal as the volunteers in the numerous communities of the network. Dealing in public relations rather than sheer exchange and in public image rather than openness and in management rather than empowerment. And in advertising rather than sharing.

Another basic remark is that by growing into so many subjects beyond computer programming, and in particular non-technical topics, the SE platform has hit a stage where some communities goals will inevitably clash with others’. I deem it rather characteristic that the (one?) source of the crisis is the issue of using pronouns as stated by the OP (if any) or else using ungendered pronouns. (Pronouns like they which apparently works in English for both plural and singular—as does you—as early as the 14th century.) As some raised religious arguments against using one or several versions. As well as grammatical ones and further ones of being challenging for some non-native-English speakers. I do not think that a corporate imposition (with threats of exclusionary consequences) one single version of inclusion and tolerance is going to work and especially not within each and all of the communities constituting Stack Exchange, which is why working towards an alternative and decentralised network could be timely.

sent to Coventry!

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2016 by xi'an

Coventry city hall, Feb. 2016The other day, my wife came across the expression sent to Coventry and asked me what the reason was for this expression, which Wikitionary explains as

Verb

send to Coventry ‎(third-person singular simple present sends to Coventry, present participle sending to Coventry, simple past and past participle sent to Coventry)

  1. (transitive, idiomatic) To ostracise, or systematically ignore someone.
    The group decided to send the unpopular members to Coventry.

I had never heard this expression before, certainly not while in Coventry, so checked on Wikipedia to see whether or not it was related to the rather unappealing down-town postwar reconstruction. As it appears, the most likely connection is much more ancient as it relates to royalist troops being sent to Coventry, a parliamentarian town during the English Civil War,

teaching in English

Posted in Kids, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on May 20, 2013 by xi'an

ENSAE, Nov. 17, 2010A strange (if very French!) debate is taking place these days in the French main chamber, where some socialist deputies are contesting an incoming change in the regulation of university studies that would allow some courses to be taught in… English! Quelle horreur!!! Since this option has been implemented by many universities, incl. Dauphine, it means that we all are acting outside the law! I do not fear in the least being indicted for teaching R and Bayesian statistics in English… However, I find the action of these deputies missing the point: just like most other Western countries, we need to attract bright students from emerging countries in order to keep our departments open. It is unrealistic to think that those students will accept to learn French in addition to English, just because our universities are that attractive (and they are not!). Plus, our own students are asking for courses in English as they realise that their English level is not that great and that this training is more efficient than regular English courses… This position was better expressed in a Le Monde tribune a few days ago signed by several university professors, incl. Cédric Villani.