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Now hiring graduate students and postdocs at UC Davis

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Grad student

Funded graduate position in the CSS of OSS

We are hiring a graduate student in Communication or another science for an NSF-funded research position under Prof. Seth Frey, for a graduate training in computational social science (CSS). This interdisciplinary work is focused around open source software (OSS) project success, and integrates social network analysis (SNA) and computational policy analysis, via natural language processing techniques.  You will have an opportunity to receive training from several faculty specializing in OSS, CSS, SNA, machine learning, and the quantitative study of governance systems (Prof. Frey & Vladimir Filkov at UCD and Charlie Schweik & Brenda Bushouse at UMass Amherst). You will work closely with junior computer scientists also joining the project, and other partners
Applicants should obviously have an interest in committing their graduate training toward a CSS expertise and show enthusiasm, promise, or experience in programming, data science, or statistics. As the project is funded for at least two years, and up to five, you should be able to make a strong claim that the subject matter is in line with your desired long-term research direction. Ph.D. students are preferred but Master’s students may apply. Submit a resume/CV and graduate exam scores (unofficial/outdated are fine). You may also submit a cover letter and links to previous research or code. Women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities are encouraged to apply. For more information, review the project summary and contact Prof. Frey at sethfrey@ucdavis.edu.

Postdoc

Postdoc in OSS Sustainability

The Computer Science and Communication departments at the University of California Davis have an exciting opportunity for a postdoctoral fellow, funded by the NSF. This is for a 2-year research position at the intersection of computational social science, software engineering, and organizational governance.
The goal of the project is to study paths to sustainability that open source software projects can follow based on the experience of projects that have already become sustainable. The PIs, Prof. Vladimir Filkov and Prof. Seth Frey, are experts in software engineering data analysis, computational social science, and institutional analysis. In this project we are putting those backgrounds together to develop an infrastructure for understanding the paths to sustainability. Specifically, our goal is to gather development traces and governance/rules data from existing projects and build analytic tools to inform projects of how to improve their chances to be independent and sustainable. More information is available at https://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=2020751. The postdoc will be working in the Computer Science Department at UC Davis and will report to Prof. Filkov, but will be co-advised by both PIs.
A successful candidate will have strong background in programming and data science, and experience in machine learning and NLP. Other qualifications include interdisciplinary interests, a PhD in a computational field, and a strong track record of peer reviewed publications. The postdoctoral candidate will have an opportunity to learn techniques for the gathering, organization, and analysis of both structured and unstructured data, e.g. data from ASF Incubator and Linux Foundation projects. 
To apply contact Prof. Filkov at vfilkov@ucdavis.edu. Applications received by October 30 will be given full consideration. Women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities are encouraged to apply.
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luizirber
14 days ago
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Really cool project
Davis, CA
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JOIN NOW, SHIPPING SOON! HALLOWEEN ADABOX!

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JOIN NOW, SHIPPING SOON! https://www.adafruit.com/adabox Halloween edition!

The next ADABOX ships this month! There are a few openings for ADABOX 16 left! Curated Adafruit products, unique collectibles, and exclusive discounts. All delivered quarterly. Subscribe now or give AdaBox as a gift!

https://www.adafruit.com/adabox


Halloween plans have probably changed this year, Halloween is still going to happen, with an ADABOX – learn some new skills, make something fun, or give as a gift.

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luizirber
46 days ago
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Just ordered mine, thanks for the reminder =]
Davis, CA
jepler
46 days ago
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Of course this will be a good one
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
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Gabriel Marcondes Untitled Song Solo

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From: Gabriel Marcondes
Duration: 04:52

I've recently written this song that has a long outro section with a guitar solo and a lot of synth orchestra and keyboards. In this video I played some of the ideas of the recorded solo (not yet published) but it's all improvised, just for fun.

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luizirber
46 days ago
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Vai @gabrielgeraldo!
Davis, CA
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Rust after the honeymoon

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Two years ago, I had a blog entry describing falling in love with Rust. Of course, a relationship with a technology is like any other relationship: as novelty and infatuation wears off, it can get on a longer term (and often more realistic and subdued) footing — or it can begin to fray. So well one might ask: how is Rust after the honeymoon?

By way of answering that, I should note that about a year ago (and a year into my relationship with Rust) we started Oxide. On the one hand, the name was no accident — we saw Rust playing a large role in our future. But on the other, we hadn’t yet started to build in earnest, so it was really more pointed question than assertion: where might Rust fit in a stack that stretches from the bowels of firmware through a hypervisor and control plane and into the lofty heights of REST APIs?

The short answer from an Oxide perspective is that Rust has proven to be a really good fit — remarkably good, honestly — at more or less all layers of the stack. You can expect much, much more to come from Oxide on this (we intend to open source more or less everything we’re building), but for a teaser of the scope, you can see it in the work of Oxide engineers: see Cliff’s blog, Adam and Dave’s talk on Dropshot, Jess on using Dropshot within Oxide, Laura on Rust macros, and Steve Klabnik on why he joined Oxide. (Requisite aside: we’re hiring!)

So Rust is going really well for us at Oxide, but for the moment I want to focus on more personal things — reasons that I personally have enjoyed implementing in Rust. These run the gamut: some are tiny but beautiful details that allow me to indulge in the pleasure of the craft; some are much more profound features that represent important advances in the state of the art; and some are bodies of software developed by the Rust community, notable as much for their reflection of who is attracted to Rust (and why) as for the artifacts themselves. It should also be said that I stand by absolutely everything I said two years ago; this is not as a replacement for that list, but rather a supplement to it. Finally, this list is highly incomplete; there’s a lot to love about Rust and this shouldn’t be thought of as any way exhaustive!

1. no_std

When developing for embedded systems — and especially for the flotilla of microcontrollers that surround a host CPU on the kinds of servers we’re building at Oxide — memory use is critical. Historically, C has been the best fit for these applications just because it so lean: by providing essentially nothing other than the portable assembler that is the language itself, it avoids the implicit assumptions (and girth) of a complicated runtime. But the nothing that C provides reflects history more than minimalism; it is not an elegant nothing, but rather an ill-considered nothing that leaves those who build embedded systems building effectively everything themselves — and in a language that does little to help them write correct software.

Meanwhile, having been generally designed around modern machines with seemingly limitless resources, higher-level languages and environments are simply too full-featured to fit into (say) tens of kilobytes or into the (highly) constrained environment of a microcontroller. And even where one could cajole these other languages into the embedded use case, it has generally been as a reimplementation, leaving developers on a fork that isn’t necessarily benefiting from development in the underlying language.

Rust has taken a different approach: a rich, default standard library but also a first-class mechanism for programs to opt out of that standard library. By marking themselves as no_std, programs confine themselves to the functionality found in libcore. This functionality, in turn, makes no system assumptions — and in particular, performs no heap allocations. This is not easy for a system to do; it requires extraordinary discipline by those developing it (who must constantly differentiate between core functionality and standard functionality) and a broad empathy with the constraints of embedded software. Rust is blessed with both, and the upshot is remarkable: a safe, powerful language that can operate in the highly constrained environment of a microcontroller — with binaries every bit as small as those generated by C. This makes no_std — as Cliff has called it — the killer feature of embedded Rust, without real precedence or analogue.

2. {:#x?}

Two years ago, I mentioned that I love format!, and in particular the {:?} format specifier. What took me longer to discover was {:#?}, which formats a structure but also pretty-prints it (i.e., with newlines and indentation). This can be coupled with {:#x} to yield {:#x?} which pretty-prints a structure in hex. So this:

    println!("dumping {:#x?}", region);

Becomes this:

dumping Region {
    daddr: Some(
        0x4db8,
    ),
    base: 0x10000,
    size: 0x8000,
    attr: RegionAttr {
        read: true,
        write: false,
        execute: true,
        device: false,
        dma: false,
    },
    task: Task(
        0x0,
    ),
}

My fingers now type {:#x?} by default, and hot damn is it ever nice!

3. Integer literal syntax

Okay, another small one: I love the Rust integer literal syntax! In hardware-facing systems, we are often expressing things in terms of masks that ultimately map to binary. It is beyond me why C thought to introduce octal and hexadecimal but not binary in their literal syntax; Rust addresses this gap with the same “0b” prefix as found in some non-standard C compiler extensions. Additionally, Rust allows for integer literals to be arbitrarily intra-delimited with an underscore character. Taken together, this allows for a mask consisting of bits 8 through 10 and bit 12 (say) to be expressed as 0b0000_1011_1000_0000 — which to me is clearer as to its intent and less error prone than (say) 0xb80 or 0b101110000000.

And as long as we’re on the subject of integer literals: I also love that the types (and the suffix that denotes a literal’s type) explicitly encode bit width and signedness. Instead of dealing with the implicit signedness and width of char, short, long and long long, we have u8, u16, u32, u64, etc. Much clearer!

4. DWARF support

Debugging software — and more generally, the debuggability of software systems — is in my marrow; it may come as no surprise that one of the things that I personally have been working on is the debugger for a de novo Rust operating system that we’re developing. To be useful, debuggers need help from the compiler in the way of type information — but this information has been historically excruciating to extract, especially in production systems. (Or as Robert phrased it concisely years ago: “the compiler is the enemy.”) And while DWARF is the de facto standard, it is only as good as the compiler’s willingness to supply it.

Given how much debuggability can (sadly) lag development, I wasn’t really sure what I would find with respect to Rust, but I have been delighted to discover thorough DWARF support. This is especially important for Rust because it (rightfully) makes extensive use of inlining; without DWARF support to make sense of this inlining, it can be hard to make any sense of the generated assembly. I have been able to use the DWARF information to build some pretty powerful Rust-based tooling — with much promise on the horizon. (You can see an early study for this work in Tockilator.)

5. Gimli and Goblin

Lest I sound like I am heaping too much praise on DWARF, let me be clear that DWARF is historically acutely painful to deal with. The specification (to the degree that one can call it that) is an elaborate mess, and the format itself seems to go out of its way to inflict pain on those who would consume it. Fortunately, the Gimli crate that consumes DWARF is really good, having made it easy to build DWARF-based tooling. (I have found that whenever I am frustrated with Gimli, I am, in fact, frustrated with some strange pedantry of DWARF — which Gimli rightfully refuses to paper over.)

In addition to Gimli, I have also enjoyed using Goblin to consume ELF. ELF — in stark contrast to DWARF — is tight and crisp (and the traditional C-based tooling for ELF is quite good), but it was nice nonetheless that Goblin makes it so easy to zing through an ELF binary.

6. Data-bearing enums

Enums — that is, the “sum” class of algebraic types — are core to Rust, and give it the beautiful error handling that I described falling in love with two years ago. Algebraic types allow much more than just beautiful error handling, e.g. Rust’s ubiquitous Option type, which allows for sentinel values to be eliminated from one’s code — and with it some significant fraction of defects. But it’s one thing to use these constructs, and another to begin to develop algebraic types for one’s own code, and I have found the ability for enums to optionally bear data to be incredibly useful. In particular, when parsing a protocol, one is often taking a stream of bytes and turning it into one of several different kinds of things; it is really, really nice to have the type system guide how software should consume the protocol. For example, here’s an enum that I defined when parsing data from ARM’s Embedded Trace Macrocell signal protocol:

#[derive(Copy, Clone, Debug)]
pub enum ETM3Header {
    BranchAddress { addr: u8, c: bool },
    ASync,
    CycleCount,
    ISync,
    Trigger,
    OutOfOrder { tag: u8, size: u8 },
    StoreFailed,
    ISyncCycleCount,
    OutOfOrderPlaceholder { a: bool, tag: u8 },
    VMID,
    NormalData { a: bool, size: u8 },
    Timestamp { r: bool },
    DataSuppressed,
    Ignore,
    ValueNotTraced { a: bool },
    ContextID,
    ExceptionExit,
    ExceptionEntry,
    PHeaderFormat1 { e: u8, n: u8 },
    PHeaderFormat2 { e0: bool, e1: bool },
}

That variants can have wildly different types (and that some can bear data while others don’t — and some can be structured, while others are tuples) allows for the type definition to closely match the specification, and helps higher-level software consume the protocol correctly.

7. Ternary operations

In C, the ternary operator allows for a terse conditional expression that can be used as an rvalue, e.g.:

	x = is_foo ? foo : bar;

This is equivalent to:

	if (is_foo) {
		x = foo;
	} else {
		x = bar;
	}

This construct is particularly valuable when not actually assigning to an lvalue, but when (for example) returning a value or passing a parameter. And indeed, I would estimate that a plurality — if not a majority — of my lifetime-use of the ternary operator has been in arguments to printf.

While Rust has no ternary operator per se, it is expression-oriented: statements have values. So the above example becomes:

	x = if is_foo { foo } else { bar };

That’s a bit more verbose than its C equivalent (though I personally like its explicitness), but it really starts to shine when things can marginally more complicated: nested ternary operators get gnarly in C, but they are easy to follow as simple nested if-then-else statements in Rust. And (of course) match is an expression as well — and I found that I often use match where I would have used a ternary operator in C, with the added benefit that I am forced to deal with every case. As a concrete example, take this code that is printing a slice of little-endian bytes as an 8-bit, 16-bit, or 32-bit quantity depending on a size parameter:

    print!("{:0width$x} ",
        match size {
            1 => line[i - offs] as u32,
            2 => u16::from_le_bytes(slice.try_into().unwrap()) as u32,
            4 => u32::from_le_bytes(slice.try_into().unwrap()) as u32,
            _ => {
                panic!("invalid size");
            }
        },
        width = size * 2
    );

For me, this is all of the power of the ternary operator, but without its pitfalls!

An interesting footnote on this: Rust once had the C-like ternary operator, but removed it, as the additional syntax didn’t carry its weight. This pruning in Rust’s early days — the idea that syntax should carry its weight by bringing unique expressive power — has kept Rust from the fate of languages that suffered from debilitating addictions to new syntax and concomitant complexity overdose; when there is more than one way to do it for absolutely everything, a language becomes so baroque as to become write-only!

8. paste!

This is a small detail, but one that took me a little while to find. As I described in my blog entry two years ago, I have historically made heavy use of the C preprocessor. One (arcane) example of this is the ## token concatenation operator, which I have needed only rarely — but found essential in those moments. (Here’s a concrete example.) As part of a macro that I was developing, I found that I needed the equivalent for Rust, and was delighted to find David Tolnay’s paste crate. paste! was exactly what I needed — and more testament to both the singular power of Rust’s macro system and David’s knack for build singularly useful things with it!

9. unsafe

A great strength of Rust is its safety — but something I also appreciate about it is the escape hatch offered via unsafe, whereby certain actions are permitted that are otherwise disallowed. It should go without saying that one should not use unsafe without good reason — but such good reasons can and do exist, and I appreciate that Rust trusts the programmer enough to allow them to take their safety into their own hands. Speaking personally, most of my own uses of unsafe have boiled down to accesses to register blocks on a microcontroller: on the one hand, unsafe because they dereference arbitrary memory — but on the other, safe by inspection. That said, the one time I had to write unsafe code that actually felt dangerous (namely, in dealing with an outrageously unsafe C library), I was definitely in a heightened state of alert! Indeed, my extreme caution around unsafe code reflects how much Rust has changed my disposition: after nearly three decades working in C, I thought I appreciated its level of unsafety, but the truth is I had just become numb to it; to implement in Rust is to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of unsafe programs — and to go back to unsafe code is to realize that you were naked all along!

10. Multi-platform support

When Steve Klabnik joined Oxide, we got not only an important new addition to the team, but a new platform as well: Steve is using Windows as his daily driver, in part because of his own personal dedication to keeping Rust multi-platform. While I’m not sure that anything could drive me personally to use Windows (aside: MS-DOS robbed me of my childhood), I do strongly believe in platform heterogeneity. I love that Rust forces the programmer to really think about implicitly platform-specific issues: Rust refuses to paper over the cracks in computing’s foundation for sake of expediency. If this can feel unnecessarily pedantic (can’t I just have a timestamp?!), it is in multi-platform support where this shines: software that I wrote just… worked on Windows. (And where it didn’t, it was despite Rust’s best efforts: when a standard library gives you first-class support to abstract the path separator, you have no one to blame but yourself if you hard-code your own!)

Making and keeping Rust multi-platform is hard work for everyone involved; but as someone who is currently writing Rust for multiple operating systems (Linux, illumos and — thanks to Steve — Windows) and multiple ISAs (e.g., x86-64, ARM Thumb-2), I very much appreciate that this is valued by the Rust community!

11. anyhow! + RUST_BACKTRACE

In my original piece, I praised the error handling of Rust, and that is certainly truer than ever: I simply cannot imagine going back to a world without algebraic types for error handling. The challenge that remained was that there were several conflicting crates building different error types and supporting routines, resulting in some confusion as to best practice. All of this left me — like many — simply rolling my own via Box<dyn Error>, which works well enough, but it doesn’t really help a thorny question: when an error emerges deep within a stack of composed software, where did it actually come from?

Enter David Tolnay (again!) and his handy anyhow! crate, which pulls together best practices and ties that into the improvements in the std::error::Error trait to yield a crate that is powerful without being imposing. Now, when an error emerges from within a stack of software, we can get a crisp chain of causality, e.g.:

readmem failed: A core architecture specific error occurred

Caused by:
    0: Failed to read register CSW at address 0x00000000
    1: Didn't receive any answer during batch processing: [Read(AccessPort(0), 0)]

And we can set RUST_BACKTRACE to get a full backtrace where an error actually originates — which is especially useful when a failure emerges from a surprising place, like this one from a Drop implementation in probe-rs:

Stack backtrace:
   0: probe_rs::probe::daplink::DAPLink::process_batch
   1: probe_rs::probe::daplink::DAPLink::batch_add
   2: ::read_register
   3: probe_rs::architecture::arm::communication_interface::ArmCommunicationInterface::read_ap_register
   4: probe_rs::architecture::arm::memory::adi_v5_memory_interface::ADIMemoryInterface::read_word_32
   5: <probe_rs::architecture::arm::memory::adi_v5_memory_interface::ADIMemoryInterface as probe_rs::memory::MemoryInterface>::read_word_32
   6: ::get_available_breakpoint_units
   7: <core::iter::adapters::ResultShunt<I> as core::iter::traits::iterator::Iterator>::next
   8: <alloc::vec::Vec as alloc::vec::SpecFromIter>::from_iter
   9: ::drop
  10: core::ptr::drop_in_place
  11: main
  12: std::sys_common::backtrace::__rust_begin_short_backtrace
  13: std::rt::lang_start::{{closure}}
  14: core::ops::function::impls::<impl core::ops::function::FnOnce<A> for &F>::call_once
  15: main
  16: __libc_start_main
  17: _start) })

12. asm!

When writing software at the hardware/software interface, there is inevitably some degree of direct machine interaction that must be done via assembly. Historically, I have done this via dedicated .s files — which are inconvenient, but explicit.

Over the years, compilers added the capacity to drop assembly into C, but the verb here is apt: the resulting assembly was often dropped on its surrounding C like a Looney Tunes anvil, with the interface between the two often being ill-defined, compiler-dependent or both. Rust took this approach at first too, but it suffered from all of the historical problems of inline assembly — which in Rust’s case meant being highly dependent on LLVM implementation details. This in turn meant that it was unlikely to ever become stabilized, which would relegate those who need inline assembly to forever be on nightly Rust.

Fortunately, Amanieu d’Antras took on this gritty problem, and landed a new asm! syntax. The new syntax is a pleasure to work with, and frankly Rust has now leapfrogged C in terms of ease and robustness of integrating inline assembly!

13. String continuations

Okay, this is another tiny one, but meaningful for me and one that took me too long to discover. So first, something to know about me: I am an eighty column purist. For me, this has nothing to do with punchcards or whatnot, but rather with type readability, which tends to result in 50-100 characters per line — and generally about 70 or so. (I would redirect rebuttals to your bookshelf, where most any line of most any page of most any book will show this to be more or less correct.) So I personally embrace the “hard 80″, and have found that the rework that that can sometimes require results in more readable, better factored code. There is, however, one annoying exception to this: when programmatically printing a string that is itself long, one is left with much less horizontal real estate to work with! In C, this is a snap: string literals without intervening tokens are automatically concatenated, so the single literal can be made by multiple literals across multiple lines. But in Rust, string literals can span multiple lines (generally a feature!), so splitting the line will also embed the newline and any leading whitespace. e.g.:

    println!(
        "...government of the {p}, by the {p}, for the {p},
        shall not perish from the earth.",
        p = "people"
    );

Results in a newline and some leading whitespace that represent the structure of the program, not the desired structure of the string:

...government of the people, by the people, for the people,
        shall not perish from the earth.

I have historically worked around this by using the concat! macro to concatenate two (or more) static strings, which works well enough, but looks pretty clunky, e.g.:

    println!(
        concat!(
            "...government of the {p}, by the {p}, for the {p}, ",
            "shall not perish from the earth."
        ),
        p = "people"
    );

As it turns out, I was really overthinking it, though it took an embarrassingly long time to discover: Rust has support for continuation of string literals! If a line containing a string literal ends in a backslash, the literal continues on the next line, with the newline and any leading whitespace elided. This is one of those really nice things that Rust lets us have; the above example becomes:

    println!(
        "...government of the {p}, by the {p}, for the {p}, \
        shall not perish from the earth.",
        p = "people"
    );

So much cleaner!

14. --pretty=expanded and cargo expand

In C — especially C that makes heavy use of the preprocessor — the -E option can be invaluable: it stops the compilation after the preprocessing phase and dumps the result to standard output. Rust, as it turns out has an equivalent in the --pretty=expanded unstable compiler option. The output out of this can be a little hard on the eyes, so you want to send it through rustfmt — but the result can be really enlightening as to how things actually work. Take, for example, the following program:

fn main() {
    println!("{} has been quite a year!", 2020);
}

Here is the --pretty=expanded output:

$ rustc -Z unstable-options --pretty=expanded year.rs | rustfmt --emit stdout
#![feature(prelude_import)]
#![no_std]
#[prelude_import]
use std::prelude::v1::*;
#[macro_use]
extern crate std;
fn main() {
    {
        ::std::io::_print(::core::fmt::Arguments::new_v1(
            &["", " has been quite a year!\n"],
            &match (&2020,) {
                (arg0,) => [::core::fmt::ArgumentV1::new(
                    arg0,
                    ::core::fmt::Display::fmt,
                )],
            },
        ));
    };
}

As an aside, format_args! is really magical — and a subject that really merits its own blog post from someone with more expertise on the subject. (Yes, this is the Rust blogging equivalent of Chekhov’s gun!)

With so many great David Tolnay crates, it’s fitting we end on one final piece of software from him: cargo expand is a pleasant wrapper around --pretty=expanded that (among other things) allows you to only dump a particular function.

The perfect marriage?

All of this is not to say that Rust is perfect; there are certainly some minor annoyances (rustfmt: looking at you!), and some forthcoming features that I eagerly await (e.g., safe transmutes, const generics). And in case it needs to be said: just because Rust makes it easier to write robust software doesn’t mean that it makes it impossible to write shoddy software!

Dwelling on the imperfections, though, would be a mistake. When getting into a long-term relationship with anything — be it a person, or a company, or a technology — it can be tempting to look at its surface characteristics: does this person, or company or technology have attributes that I do or don’t like? And those are important, but they can be overemphasized: because things change over time, we sometimes look too much at what things are rather than what guides them. And in this regard, my relationship with Rust feels particularly sound: it feels like my values and Rust’s values are a good fit for one another — and that my growing relationship with Rust will be one of the most important of my career!

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luizirber
47 days ago
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I still think this whole marriage analogy is creepy, but lots of good tips.
Davis, CA
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The 450 Movement

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I do peer review and I want you to pay me four hundred and fifty dollars. I’ll even say please.

Introduction

It’s amazing how quickly a perspective can change.

I thought I’d be an academic forever, maybe longer.

That was Plan A.

For all its ridiculous foibles, and the resulting incipient hair loss, and for my many, many attempts to kick its shins, it was still Plan A. I liked it well enough.

But I never wanted to be ‘an academic’.

I wanted to be ‘a scientist’.

And there are flavours of that.

Plan B was always working in wearable tech, wearable physiological data, wearable device design. I’ve been around things which go beep a lot, more than a decade. I’ve used everything, measured everything, broken everything, and generally gone from muddling my way through to being the full-stack equivalent of a wearables weirdo. Every conceivable way you can get data out of a person without puncturing them, I’ve used it.

The Plague didn’t help. Higher education institutions, research institutions, etc. — they’re in A Right State. They never saw this coming, and it blindsided them, utterly. Many of them will hit the rocks, and soon.

So, I got a job at a company building medical wearables for physical therapists.

(Side note: I work here, and my job is pretty great. I’ve always derived a tremendous amount of pleasure from building a physical object, and being able to build a wearable device is… well, it makes me wonder why it wasn’t Plan A. We’re hiring engineers right now and I have to resist the temptation to give people advice for life which consists of “Hey, stop vacillating and start work here.” If you’re an engineer in Denver, call us.)

Having a ‘corporate job’ hasn’t made me dress any better, but it has certainly has changed my perspective on things.

And yesterday, I had a very odd experience. I was clearing out my personal inbox, which has hundreds of unanswered emails, and I found a review request from a journal.

My first thought was: oh, I should hurry up and send them a contract.

That’s my world now.

We need advice? We find a consultant.

We like the consultant? We sign an NDA, so we can talk freely.

We have a productive conversation? We draw up a contract.

Or, maybe we do spec work for someone else? The other way around. But, again, it ends with contract.

We want something done, we pay for it. The rules apply to us. A little company in a big world. Maybe not a little company for very long, if I have anything to say about it, but we’ll see about that.

This is how commercial relationships are conducted. It is straightforward and ubiquitous. The result is often no more complicated or mysterious than a regular bank or wire transfer. You buy goods and services.

And then, contemplating drawing up a contract to perform a peer review, I realised simultaneously both the utter normality, and the astonishing weirdness of this thought.

And then I laughed myself sick, and had another cup of coffee.

… then I sat down,
wrote up a contract,
shined it up a bit to reflect the fact that it was for peer reviewing,
stuck my tongue firmly in my cheek,
and sent it to the accounting department of the journal group.

Money

A certain irony is: I don’t really need the money now.

But forget me. I don’t matter. This is about you.

This is about your rent, and your tenuous academic job, and your time taken out of your own workflow with increasingly rapid review requests, accommodated in an environment where you have to produce research even faster, and to teach more classes of increasingly anxious students.

Now, you can call this ‘exploitation’ or ‘efficiency’, that depends on your perspective. But the inarguable fact is that academia is a increasingly casualised, difficult, moribund place to work. It squeezes people into dust, and usually people far less able to defend themselves and headbutt circumstances than me.

This is, and I cannot overstress this, awful.

The only people who don’t understand this, and you can check their public resume because they’re usually very proud of it, are people who got tenure during the Taft administration.

These are the only people yammering on about ‘service’ and ‘values’. Everyone else needs the money, because they don’t have a stable full-time job to leverage against.

Ever met a homeless graduate student? I have.

What about someone who couldn’t ‘afford’ to be an academic any more? Yep.

An adjunct who got their classes cut then didn’t have an income? Again.

A pre-tenure professor worried about the debts that got them there? Course.

And now, The Plague. This will get a lot worse.

I’m going to repeat that. This will get a lot worse.

Now, there’s no call to arms here. I’m not going to make the claim that ‘people don’t deserve this’. They don’t, but that’s not the point. The universe is a smelly old thing which has plans for trampling ‘deserve’. We would wish it otherwise.

I am going to make the claim, however, that in our bold new astonishingly tenuous academic hellscape, this is a straightforward matter of commerce. Fiscal reality.

So let’s talk about that, and why I want four hundred and fifty dollars, and why I think you should have four hundred and fifty dollars too.

Cost

My corporate consulting rate is $250 USD per hour. In some circles, that’s unthinkably large. In others it’s embarrassingly small. Pick your poison.

My academic consulting rate is a lot lower, and if I’m being honest with you, I hardly ever charge it. Desperate people have turned up trying to get out of analytical holes, and I simply cannot bring myself to take their money. I just help them. Which is what I would have done if they had just asked, anyway.

So let’s bear in mind as well that while this is academic consulting, journal groups have more money than God. You can read the hundreds of articles about that have been published since… forever. It’s boilerplate. Everyone knows that.

So throw all that together and we can start from some estimate that’s… let’s say $50 to $150 ph. Ballpark.

(Bear in mind, you have to pay legit tax out of this — 15.3% self-employment, plus whatever it adds to your income, which means it’s adding to your highest bracket. For me, this means I’ll keep a hair over half of it. That’s one of the reasons contracting fees are often higher than you’d think.)

Now, I estimate I will spend three to nine hours reviewing a paper. I am quite annoyingly meticulous, actually. This includes responses and editions and wrangling with journal management systems, and everything.

So if we put the low with the high, and the high with the low we get… $450, actually, both ways.

Give me four hundred and fifty dollars.

Business

Universities, throughout every decision they’ve ever made in the last 30 years, have made it very clear that they are businesses. You work for a business. A university may claim to have higher values and they may blather on about them more often, but it is an institution run by professional business administrators. Often they used to work at large banks, hedge funds, higher levels of government, other financial institutions, et al.

Students are customers. Good staff who bring in grant money are assets. On and on it goes. They aren’t joking when they use this language.

Journals, as privately owned or publicly traded companies, have made it even clearer. They publish P&L statements. They have investors, and boards of directors, and they calculate revenue growth, and operating income. Part of their revenue growth and operating income is made out of your research.

So, you work for a business, and a journal is a business, and — under what is at the very least a quasi-commercial agreement — that business is asking for your time to ensure the quality of their core product?

Cool. We are all jolly and mercantile together then, aren’t we?

They can pay you four hundred and fifty dollars.

Conclusion

I have no call to arms, no banners to shake at the sky.

I am not ‘a radical’, I oscillate between poles of the maintenance of basic human dignity, and free speech (I need that one, I can be… Robustly Australian at times).

I don’t want to ‘change the world’.

I’m not the slightest bit upset writing this. I am not angry.

I’m not sticking it to the man.

I am a person with a set of skills, in a commercial market, skills that other people offer to pay for all the time.

I want to be compensated for my labor in the same way any other grinning fool in LITERALLY ANY OTHER COMMERCIAL CONTEXT ON THE ENTIRE PLANET WOULD BE.

I want four hundred and fifty dollars.

Give me four hundred and fifty dollars.

Q&A

Wait, aren’t you that open science guy?

Yep.

But many, many journal groups obviously don’t want what I want.

They want to publish research within a closed environment, not building community resources, not making processes transparent, not sufficiently weeding out bad research, etc.

This is because they don’t care. Some combination of (a) they have no commercial pressure to do so (b) they don’t care (c) it’s too hard (d) they don’t know it’s a good idea.

They are companies. Their fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders. As far as they are concerned, they owe you nothing as a community resource.

So why would you demand anything from them except money? Clearly it doesn’t work very well, or something might have changed in the shinty-six years we’ve been talking about it.

Help people. Help the community. Bill companies.

What about community journals, not-for-profit journals, and society journals struggling to get by?

I will review their papers. Even now, in my often-dilapidated corporate state. Quickly, and well, and for nothing. It will not even occur to me to charge them money. That is unthinkable and unfair.

Aren’t you holding up the work of people who need the publications?

No. I am offering the journal group the chance to employ me. Wherever possible, I will tell the editor that this is happening. It should take no longer than a regular review acceptance. Either party is entirely entitled at any point to tell me to go fuck myself, and this is FINE. Contracts are often not established for a variety of reasons. This is just A-OK.

If *I* did this, wouldn’t I get in trouble?

From who? Who are they going to rat you out to, your mum? They just asked for a commercial arrangement, you provided one. And they’re going to complain if they don’t like it?

If we put on our Business Hats, let’s think of:

  • investment (reviewing papers takes ages and prevents you advancing your career, making money elsewhere, or sitting on the couch and staring happily at the ceiling) and
  • return (thankless task, where how many papers you reviewed and how well you did that job counts for nothing). And yes, I know about Publons, where you can see all the reviews I did for free.

Peer review has almost no determination over jobs, tenure, or promotion. Journal editors, especially fancy ones, will lie right to your face and tell you that it’ll ‘get your name in front of the right people’.

It won’t. Or, at least, if it does, it’s vanishingly uncommon.

Peer review has almost no immediate career benefit at all unless you literally steal the manuscript. (Don’t do that.)

The only reason you should do it is to support the community, right?

GOOD. DO THAT. Here are five ways you can do “service” right now:

  1. Write to an editor at a small community journal and offer to review manuscripts within an area of mutual interest.
  2. Come up with a sci comm seminar and teach it at a local school.
  3. Put a statement on your faculty website that says ‘I will help any graduate student, within reason, for free, with no questions asked’.
  4. Offer to read people’s resumes or conduct mock job interviews.
  5. Set up email alerts so you can capture and review preprints in your area.

But people don’t do this shit, because it’s work.

Or it isn’t fancy enough for them.

Perhaps they simply like the idea of their opinion being important in the right context. Their idea of service is somehow confined to reviewing for prestige journals only. And never replying to the emails I sent as a graduate student.

I’m an editor and you’re really pissing me off.

So write to someone within your journal’s organisational structure, someone that works for the publishing company that owns your journal and gets paid to do that work, and tell them to pay me.

If you don’t know who that is, I guess that’s a lesson in how utterly divorced they are from you — you’re working for a company for free, and you don’t know a paid representative of your employer?

You’re a stooge.

(Also, I can guarantee that reviews you pay me for will be superb. You’ll be so happy. Just, you know, when your overlords pay me four hundred and fifty dollars.)

Do I have to charge four hundred and fifty dollars?

No. It’s a contract under negotiation. That’s where it starts. You determine where it ends.

What will you do when you get four hundred and fifty dollars?

Probably buy a bottle of rye (I’m out) and give the rest to Rosie’s Place.

What happens when they don’t pay you?

… then I don’t get paid. You must be new at this.

They WON’T pay you, you know that, right?

OK, Mystic Meg. Glad you can read minds.

Seriously: business environments change. Why do you think they change? Magic? The waning of the season? No, you patronising div. Market pressure. I’m just some gink…

… but I wonder what would happen if I brought along several thousand of my best friends?

Anything else?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U

WHERE’S THE CONTRACT??

https://osf.io/tvdcg/ <- there.

Now, bear several things in mind.

(1) I’m so incredibly not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. It’s a sample or a template.

(2) This is very US specific. Sorry, I don’t work elsewhere.

(3) Let’s find someone with contract law experience to make sure it’s 100% kosher before handing it out willy-nilly. I can’t even remember where I got the stimulus material.

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luizirber
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Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for Sun, 30 Aug 2020

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Nancy by Olivia Jaimes on Sun, 30 Aug 2020

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iaravps
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