September 26th, 2008

Prayer beads

Lindsey: So, um, I have a confession to make.
Will: Okay.
Lindsey: Uh, I might have cheated. I was working on the "write-factorial-without-using-define-or-letrec" problem, and I thought, "Huh, maybe this is that crazy Y-combinator thing that everyone's always talking about." And I pretty much found, um, almost exactly the code we were supposed to write.
Will: You Googled for the answer?!
Lindsey: No! Give me some credit! What I did was look up 'Y operator' in the index of SICP.
Will: *shakes head sadly* Even worse.
Lindsey: Wait! Don't be mad! To atone for my sins, I did the exercise that they want you to do, which is to do the analogous thing for computing Fibonacci numbers. And I understand it, I really do!
Will: Fine. Then do it for factorial, on the board, right now.
Lindsey: *turns pale*
Will: Here's the chalk.
Lindsey: Um. Okay, so this section of board here is my scratch paper. *starts to write some stuff on the board*
Will: No, no, no. Forget you ever heard of the Y combinator. I want you to start with regular, boring, first-day-of-class factorial and derive it from that, step by step.
Lindsey: Hmm. *starts over on another section of the board*
Ramana: *walks in; notices what I had been writing earlier* Who wrote that?
Will: Nobody.
Lindsey: Nobody.
Will: Actually, Sussman and Abelson wrote it.
Lindsey: *has to forcibly restrain self from making an obscene gesture at Will*

Twenty minutes later, with lots of help, I've figured out how to derive the self-application thing, and I'm like "I should go work on the next problem." And they're like "You better not look at SICP for that one."

Child care at women's events

Yesterday, I went to a reception for the Women in Science Program here at IU. It was a fairly standard, cookies-and-coffee, meet-people event. The two sentences on the invitation that jumped out at me the most, though, were 'Bring your children. Childcare will be provided.'

I have not seen child care mentioned on invitations for any other campus organization's event. I think it's awesome that the Women in Science Program is providing child care at their events. I also think that it's wrong to only provide child care at events for women. That's unfair to dads, and it reinforces the idea that child care is a woman's responsibility.

And yet, like it or not, in 2008 child care still usually is the responsibility of a woman. The ideal, it seems, would be if the gender of the expected attendees at an event had absolutely no bearing on whether or not there was child care provided at the event. But to make that vacuously true by saying "Men's events never seem to have child care, so, dammit, we won't have it at women's events, either!" would clearly be ridiculous.

So, I guess the question is: How do we help people who are trying to take care of their kids -- most of whom are probably going to be women -- without implicitly reinforcing the notion that child care must be a woman's responsibility?

I don't have the answer. And furthermore, I suspect that if I did have kids, I would be quite happy to get whatever child care help was available, regardless of whatever notions were being implicitly reinforced by its existence, and would probably be rolling my eyes at any hand-wringing taking place with regard to same. So, you know, maybe I should just drop it. You tell me.