Blogistan English

The Generalist Programmer

I have started writing essays (kind of like blog posts) in my new website The Generalist Programmer. I will probably not be writing much here in my old blog, so go check it out, if programming is interesting to you!  There is an RSS feed and possibility to subscribe by email.

Academic publications Education English

Fixed versus Growth Mindset Does not Seem to Matter Much In Late Bachelor Level

On Monday, I had the honor of presenting a paper that I coauthored with my colleague Ville Tirronen. We had wondered if our two problematic courses might benefit from mindset interventions – after all, we regularly run into student behaviors that are consistent with the mindset theory.

The mindset theory, as you may recall, sorts people into two rough categories at a particular point in time: people with a fixed mindset view their own intelligence as something they cannot change; they adopt behaviors that try to emphasize their brilliance and hide their stupidity, including choosing safe (not challenging) problem-solving tasks; they view effort as a proof of their own stupidity; and thus they tend to not reach their own full potential as problem solvers. People with a growth mindset view their own intelligence as growable by learning; they tend to choose challenging tasks as those give the best opportunities to learn, and they see effort as a sign of learning; they thus are able to reach their full potential in problem solving.

We ran an observational study in two of our courses last fall, where we used a questionnaire to measure student mindset and then we statistically estimated its effect on course outcomes (did the student pass, and if so, what grade they got). It turned out that observed mindset had nothing to do with student achievement on our two courses. This was not what we expected!

Another surprising finding was that there were relatively few students with a fixed mindset on these courses. This raises the question, whether students who are affected by their fixed mindset drop out of our bachelor program before they reach our courses; unfortunately, our data cannot answer it.

While I still believe in the compelling story that the mindset theory tells, and believe a causal connection exists between mindsets and achievement, this study makes me very skeptical about its practical relevance. At least in the context where our study was run, the effect was so small we could not measure it despite a decent sample size (n = 133).

The paper citation is

Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho and Ville Tirronen. 2018. Fixed versus Growth Mindset Does not Seem to Matter Much: A Prospective Observational Study in Two Late Bachelor level Computer Science Courses. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research (ICER ’18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 11-20. DOI:

While the publisher copy is behind a paywall, there are open access copies available from my work home page and from our institutional digital repository.

The reception at the conference was pretty good. I got some tough questions related to methodological weaknesses, but also some very encouraging comments. The presentation generated Twitter reactions, and Andy Ko has briefly reviewed it in his conference summary.

Now some background to the paper that I did not share in my presentation and that is not explicit in the paper. Neither of us have done much quantitative research with human participants, so the idea was originally to do a preliminary study that allows us to practice running these sorts of studies; we expected to find a clear association between mindset and outcomes, and with that confirmation that we are on the right track we would have then moved on to experiments with mindset interventions. Well, the data changed that plan.

I had hoped to present an even more rigorous statistical analysis of our data, based on Deborah Mayo’s notion of severe testing – it gives us conceptual tools to evaluate results like ours that are difficult to interpret using the traditional tools of significance testing. Unfortunately, while the conceptual basis of Mayo’s theory is well established, there is very little literature on how it is actually applied in practical research. I hope her forthcoming book Statistical Inference as Severe Testing: How to Get Beyond the Statistics Wars will contain some technical development of the practical kind beyond what has previously been published. But until that technical development, I really cannot use Mayo’s theory to argue for a particular statistical model in a particular paper. Thus, while our drafts contained discussions of Mayo’s conceptual ideas, they were too far removed from the rest of the paper without the technical developments, and thus were deleted before submission.

We sent this paper to ICER mostly because we wanted to offer something to a conference that is held in Finland, and this one was ready. While we were confident of our method and results, we did not think it very likely that it would be accepted, as it is notoriously difficult to publish null result papers. We were quite surprised – though very happy – to get positive reviews and an acceptance.

We should publish negative results – in cases where there is a plausible theoretical basis to expect a positive result, or a practical need for an answer either way – much more than we do. A bias for positive results increases risks for bad science significantly, from the file drawer effect to outright data manipulation and deliberate misanalysis of data. I am extremely happy that our negative result was published, and I hope it will help change the culture toward healthy reporting practices.

English Family Law and justice Life

Marriage and gift tax in Finland

TL;DR: A married couple in Finland should keep the spouses’ money and property separate.
A common household expenses account is probably fine, as is paying common expenses and personal expenses of the other spouse from one’s own money. Direct transfers of money or other property from one spouse to the other are likely to trigger gift tax, however.

Recently I have studied the law of marriage. As regards to money issues, I was naive to think that I could regard both spouses’ money as common property; in Finland, this is not so.

It is true that when a marriage ends (by death or by divorce), in the absence of specific prior restrictions, both spouses’ net worth is combined and distributed to each spouse (or their inheritors) 50-50. However, this does not say anything about how things are during a marriage.

In a marriage, under Finnish law, money and property held in the name of one spouse is generally the money and property of that spouse, and money and property held in joint ownership is (of course) jointly owned in the proportion specified. Interestingly, a court has held that a spouse transferring money to a joint bank account to which they have unilateral access retains ownership of that money until it is transferred out of their grasp (by being spent, for example); thus, money in that account is separately owned by each spouse to the extent of their net contributions, and no joint ownership is implied.

A spouse in a marriage has, in Finland, the legal duty, to the extent they are able, to take part in the common household economy and in fulfilling both spouses’ common and individual needs (see the Marriage Act, Section 46, Paragraph 1). This seems to mean that both spouses must take part in household chores and contribute what they can from personal income and assets to the family economy: the household must be maintained, and its needs must be met by appropriate purchases. Additionally, each spouse has a duty, in addition to meeting their own needs, to contribute in the fulfilling the needs of the other spouse. In many cases, this means that the spouse who makes more money spends money not only on their own needs and on common needs but also on the needs on the other spouse.

This duty does not mean, however, that a spouse can simply give money to the other spouse without tax effects. The gift tax enters the picture as soon as one spouse gives money or other assets freely to the other spouse. Just the intention of covering marital duties does not exempt the transfer from tax. What is needed is that the recipient must not be able to spend the money on other things. Thus, one can pay a grocery bill, but one cannot (without demanding an accounting) give money to pay for the groceries. As little as 150 euros per month is enough to trigger the tax within three years. See the inheritance and gift tax act Sections 19 and 19a.

It seems safe to use a joint debit card to be used for household and private expenses, so long as both spouses demand an accounting from the other on its use. The court decision I mentioned above seems to mean that simply putting money on such an account is not a taxable gift, and so long as both spouses actually account for their use of the joint card, their use of it in excess of their own contribution should be the exploitation of an untaxable marital duty. I am not certain of this interpretation, however.

Accumulating assets over what a spouse can afford by themself is very likely to involve taxable gifts, however. For example, if the couple uses the savings and future earnings of the higher earning spouse to buy a house under 50-50 joint ownership, this is very likely a taxable gift to the other spouse. Similarly, using both spouses’ income to accumulate retirement savings in one spouse’s name might be seen as a taxable gift (though it might be possible to explain it to the tax office as a joint savings in truth). Instead, both spouses should save independently, and at retirement, the higher savings of one can be used to discharge the marital duty to the other spouse.

My conclusion is that married spouses in Finland should keep their finances separate as much as possible. Avoid common bank accounts (apart possibly from household and private needs spending accounts), avoid joint savings. Undivisible property, like apartments and houses, should be listed in the ownership proportions corresponding to actual contributions: if one contributes 100 000 euros and the other 10 000 euros, the proportion should be listed as 90–10. If you do all this, you are unlikely to accidentally breach the gift tax act.

If you have a different opinion, or if you want to discuss this, feel free to use the comment box below. I ask that you substantiate any factual or legal propositions by reliable sources, however.

English Family

Just Married! – There’s nothing just about it

Waiting for the Vietnamese wedding to start
We got married, twice, in March: once in Hà N?i, Vi?t Nam, on March 10, and another time in Jyväskylä, Finland, on March 29. Both ceremonies are happy memories for us, as we get on with the rest of our lives together. This post, however, is the first in a series about the details of actually having a legal and culturally respected marriage between two different countries.

My wife is, in Western style, called Hang (not pronounced like the English word). Officially, in Vi?t Nam, she is Nguy?n Th? Thu H?ng, and in Finland, she is Thi Thu Hang Nguyen. She was born in Hà N?i, Vi?t Nam, and is a Vietnamese citizen.

I was born in Jyväskylä, Finland, and am a Finnish citizen.

Waiting for the Vietnamese wedding to start
Now, as I understand it, wedding customs in Vietnam are quite formal, derived from arranged marriages. There are three major meetings of the bride’s and the groom’s families: once to allow the couple to meet each other, once for the formal betrothal, and once for the actual marriage. Nobody asks the couple anything: all talking is done by the parents. In addition, there are introductions to make across families and prayers (and chickens) to offer to dead ancestors. We asked for a simple ceremony, but it ballooned into something reasonably big, about 150 guests in the main event, so that our marriage looked respectable in the local custom.

After the Jyväskylä wedding, at Maistraatti
In Finland, in contrast, we were in charge ourselves and could choose something simple. We arranged for ourselves a small ceremony in the state registry office in town, maistraatti, followed by a very classy fine dining meal at the best restaurant in town. We entertained only ten guests. This happened a couple of weeks after the Vietnamese ceremony.

However, celebrating marriage does not make it official. In the Vietnamese custom, the state does not enter into weddings – the marriage is registered officially usually weeks, sometimes years, before or after the wedding. Similarly, our Vietnamese wedding did not have any official status recognized by the state. However, we did need to make ours official, and that required paperwork.

We first had to decide whether to create the official marriage in Vietnam or in Finland. In the end, we would need to register it in both, but the first country would be recorded as the place of marriage in both countries, and the date of the first official act would be the official date in both countries. In the end, it seemed simpler for us, as we both live in Finland, to do the official here.

So, paperwork. To get officially married in Finland we first needed to have our eligibility to marry to be officially determined. The key question is whether we both were unmarried. For me the answer was easily obtained, as it is recorded in the state population database. However, even though Hang is registered in the database, her marital status was not. Hence, we needed a document from Vietnamese officials. Being naive, I thought she could get one from the embassy in Helsinki. Turns out, the document she got from there only stated she had not married anyone while in Finland, as far as the embassy’s records showed; it said nothing about her time in Vietnam. So, we sent her father a power of attorney to get another paper from Vietnam itself.

Now, there are two main ways for a country to authenticate its official papers for use in official process in another country. If both countries are parties to the Apostille Convention, certain officials of the originating country can, on request, grant an apostille that certifies the signature of the paper, and the receiving country will accept that certification. Unfortunately, while Finland is a party, Vietnam is not.

The other possibility is grand legalization. Usually, the foreign ministry of the originating country certifies the signature of the paper, and the embassy of the receiving country will then certify the foreign ministry’s certification. In addition, there is often a required step of official translation from a language to another.

Thus: Hang’s father got her single certificate. Then it was given to an official translator to be translated into English. Then, both the certificate and its translations were brought into Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which certified both the certificate and its translation. Finally, both the certificate and the translation were brought into Finland’s embassy in Hanoi, where the foreign ministry’s certifications were certified. Complicated, no?

Eventually, we had two properly certified papers for Hang, saying that she had never married in Vietnam or Finland. We then went to the state registry office, who received our request for certification of marriage eligibility. They told us that we would hear from them if there was a problem, but we would get no confirmation of success until marriage day. A couple of months later, we got a bit nervous and sent email to ask; they confirmed all was good.

Another thing is surname. It is the Finnish custom for a couple to settle on a common surname, usually the husband’s, though the law recognizes the right of both spouses to keep their name, or for one to adopt a double-barreled name containing both spouse’s surnames, and many couples end up choosing one of these options. The Vietnamese custom is for both spouses to retain their names. We chose to respect the Vietnamese custom, and neither of us changed our official names.

A collage from the Jyväskylä ceremony, compiled by Hang.
The official ceremony in Finland did not quite go as planned. We forgot to bring one of our identity cards, so I had to make a quick drive to home to fetch it. Fortunately, we had rented a very nice car and we did not live very far, so it took me only about half an hour to make the trip. Still, that half an hour meant that we changed from being early to being very late. Fortunately, although we used a bit of the next couple’s time, the officials were understanding and allowed us to complete our ceremony and do some photography as well.

Later, I will write more about our Vietnam trip and our Vietnamese wedding, as well as the process of getting our Finnish official marriage recognized at the Vietnam embassy in Helsinki. For now, I will just say that we are very happy together, and look forward to the many decades to come.

[Edits May 7, 2018, to clarify the order of events.]

Academic publications English Programming

Discussing the future of the field: Do it on the record!

I came to the field of programming language research as an outsider. Though we had an active researcher in our faculty (he has since retired), for various reasons he was never my mentor, so I never got personal introductions nor did I receive much oral wisdom from an elder in the field. Instead, I immersed myself in the literature. Eventually, I got good enough to write a reasonably good licentiate thesis, which in turn led me to spend three months visiting one of the external examiners, Stefan Hanenberg. From him, I got some of the inside story, and the world looked much different. Of course, he is a minority voice in the field, but every participant has a unique point of view anyway. The thought I am writing about here crystallised for me immediately: too much of the field’s development happens off the record!

On Wednesday, I presented my essay “Concept analysis in programming language research: Done well it is all right” [ACM DL] [Author’s PDF] [presentation slides (PDF)] at SPLASH Onward here in Vancouver. I told some of my story there; the session chair Robert Biddle expanded on it and made a forceful point, which I am repeating and expanding on here now.

The discussions that lead to significant developments in the field must happen on the record! It is fine to talk with friends and colleagues in pubs and at lunch (or wherever), but if the discussion leads to a concrete proposal that would affect the field either substantially (in terms of, for example, conceptual developments), the issue should be written up and published in a publication of record, and sufficient time should be allowed (if possible) for contrary and refinement views to be similarly published on the record.

The reason for this is, on the one hand, the empowerment of the community fringe, who does not have the opportunity to participate in off the record discussions, and, on the other hand, the creation of a full record for the future generations of researchers so that they can read up and learn about why things are the way they are.

Concept analysis, as I proposed it in my essay, is one way of proceeding with this on-the-record development of the field in terms of conceptual issues. Too often it appears to an outsider that things just appear out of thin air. Instead, any conceptual developments should be argued for in the literature!

I think the field would benefit enormously if we stopped thinking of research publication as the accumulation of facts (or the completion of a grand theory), and instead took a page from the humanities and the social scientists: for them, scholarly publications form a grand – multicentennial – discussion where individual researchers listen for a while, then start participating for a couple of decades, and then go away, while others take their place. This viewpoint has a side-effect of creating a fuller historical record, but it also places more responsibility on the reader: you have to listen for a while to catch the import of what you are reading, instead of grabbing a paper here or a paper there and taking them to be the gospel.

It would also allow putting more of the development of the field on the record.

English Philosophy

I am emphatically not anti-empiricist

Yesterday, I gave a talk at SPLASH Onward in Vancouver introducing my essay “Concept analysis in programming language research: Done well it is all right” [ACM DL] [Author’s PDF] [presentation slides (PDF)]. Both reader comments earlier and some of the questions after my presentation leads me to think that I was not quite clear enough in my essay and my presentation:

I am not advocating abandoning empirical research. Quite the contrary! I believe it should be used wherever it makes sense. I just happen to think that conceptual questions cannot be resolved based on empirical stuff (alone – though empirical research can function as reasons in a philosophical argument quite fine).

A related question is, is nonempirical research science? I believe it is. If we restricted science to empirical stuff only, we would have to reject mathematics from the halls of science. I believe the key characteristic that separates science from non-science is intellectual honesty combined with the use of best available methodology. Concept analysis, done well, fits that bill.

Academic publications English Philosophy

Concept Analysis in Programming Language Research: Done Well It Is All Right (To appear in Onward’17)

I just submitted my camera ready version of Concept Analysis in
Programming Language Research: Done Well It Is All Right
, a methodology essay which has been accepted at Onward’2017. I will probably write about it more extensively later.

Here is the accepted version, for personal use (not for redistribution): PDF (copyright 2017 Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho, exclusively licensed to ACM).

Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho. 2017. Concept Analysis in Programming Language Research. In Proceedings of 2017 ACM SIGPLAN International Symposium on New Ideas, New Paradigms, and Reflections on Programming and Software (Onward!’17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 14 pages. (the DOI link will not work until October).

English Philosophy Theory

The positivism strawman

I have been burning my summer leave by giving finishing touches to an essay on research methodology (because of an impending deadline). I had now the occasion to read, for the first time, the qualitative research classic Naturalistic Inquiry by Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon G. Guba (SAGE 1985). It brought to my mind a puzzle I have been trying to solve for years: authors who defend qualitative research (or constructivist research, or critical theory, or whatever in each case it is) typically frame their discussion by defining a “positivist” way of doing research, arguing against it, and then bringing their own (post-positivist, or anti-positivist) alternative. Lincoln and Guba do that in many of their writings, but they are not alone in this.

Except! The positivism that they talk about does not exist, and never has.

Historically, there were two positivisms. The first was the political philosophy of Auguste Comte, which was not primarily a theory of research or of science. The second was the logical positivism of the early 20th Century, inspired by the young Wittgenstein and developed by the Vienna Circle. Logical positivists advocated a radical reassessment of philosophy and science: only propositions that can be proven mathematically or verified empirically are meaningful; everything else is literal nonsense (not just false but meaningless). It is widely held that logical positivism died in its own impossibility; certainly I know of no current philosopher of science who advocates verification as a criterion of meaning.

In their writings about positivism, Lincoln and Guba typically assert that positivism believes in objective reality, that there is a reality which is common to all accessible by the senses. But while Comte may have believed this, the logical positivists never did: for them, any claim about the nature of reality, including the claim of objective reality Lincoln and Guba ascribe to positivists, was unprovable and unverifiable and thus nonsense.

Further, I know of no practicing scientist who self-identifies as positivist. (Feel free to comment if you are one.)

I was also struck by how Lincoln and Guba never cite the primary sources. In their discussion of positivism, they do not engage with e.g. Comte, Ayer, or Carnap. To their credit, they do cite a lot of secondary sources (generally critical ones), but one wonders how much of a broken telephone effect there is in it.

What Lincoln and Guba are arguing against is not positivism but naïvete. The attitudes they ascribe to positivism are typical of scientists who have had methodological training and acquired research experience but have never studied philosophy in earnest.

For an interesting take on the misuse of the “positivist” label as a bogeyman, see Jim Mackenzie’s “Positivism and Constructivism, Truth and ‘Truth’”, Educational Philosophy and Theory 43(5), 534-546, 2011 (paywalled).

English Reviews

Star Trek Beyond

I was pleasantly surprised. I have been going into these reboot Trek showings with mixed feelings; there are many story elements in them that are extremely implausible (even by Trek standards), and the previous installments have been more generic action movies than either Star Trek or science fiction. But Star Trek Beyond (and I like how the titles have no colons!) is the most Trek of them all, and a fairly decent one at that.

I should note that I saw the 2D version; I’ve learned I get sick in 3D movies and so cannot comment on the third dimension.

What is Trek in this movie is an extensive acknowledgement of the Enterprise’s five-year mission of exploration, and the rescue nature of the mission that starts the main plotline of this movie. There is also an explicit and plot-relevant acknowledgment of Starfleet’s nonmilitary primary mission.

What is not Trek in this movie is just about everything else. The main conflict is (with a nontrivial science fiction twist) standard fare for action thrillers. Despite Starfleet being nonmilitary, there is an awful amount of military action by and against Starfleet in this movie. The solutions to plot problems are (to the extent they are not just technobabbled away) physical action in nature; there is no deep thinking or diplomacy involved. There are no big ideas involving the human condition.

I liked how the movie made a plot point of the Enterprise’s military weaknesses in a way that all other Trek tends to ignore (though I fear they will forget the lesson in future movies). I liked the nature of the key antagonist. I liked how there was a tasteful acknowledgement of the death of Leonard Nimoy (and, doubtless added in the last minute during post-production, of the death of Anton Yelchin). I especially liked how they did not do any overt homages to the previous Trek incarnations (though I did notice several tiny nods). And I liked quite a bit how they portrayed the universal translator.

Yet, there was a lot of things wrong in the movie. The science was appalling (even by Star Trek standards). The career of James Kirk in this timeline remains ridiculously meteoric, and treating a vice-admiralship as a realistic notion at this stage of his career just compounds the error. I could go on, but that would be too depressing.

I am too immersed in Trek to be able to see whether this movie would work for the uninitiated, but I suspect it works better for a newcomer than for a Trek fan (as long as one does not expect anything more than a typical action movie). Speaking as a fan, I find this to be the strongest offering in a rather weak Trek series. I hereby rate Star Trek Beyond at 3/5.

English Politics

On BrExit and the European Union

Friday was one of the biggest holidays of the year for us Finns, juhannusaatto or the midsummer feast’s eve. It is traditional (don’t ask me why) to celebrate most feasts, including juhannus, on the eve and rest on the actual feast day. So, here I was, on the juhannusaatto morning, ready to begin celebrating (decidedly nontraditionally), and opened the news feeds for a routine check.

I did not celebrate that day. I spent it in the blackest of moods, mostly in my bed, listening to an audiobook and compulsively reading the feeds and sharing occasional items on Facebook and Twitter.

Now, the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is not, by itself, a huge thing, certainly not worth any emotional reaction from me. Any member state has the right to leave, and it is healthy for all organizations to have the occasional member go their own way.

It is also probably a good thing for the rest of the EU to be rid of a cantankerous member that constantly demanded special treatment.

It is also arguably a good thing that Brexit seems to be leading to the unraveling of the United Kingdom, with Scotland seeking independence (and membership in its own right in the EU) and politicians in the Northern Ireland raising the issue of reunifying Ireland: the history of that union is much bloodier and coercive than the EU’s ever has been.

In fact, while the United Kingdom is the last remnant of a decaying bloody empire dominated by the English, the European Union was founded to secure a peace, by fostering multinational economic cooperation, after the worst two wars of all history.

And here’s the big but.

With all its flaws (and I will admit that it has many), the European Union has, in the over 60 years it or its predecessors have existed, succeeded in its single most important goal: preventing another war between France and Germany. (If you did not know that, you should go read up on the International Authority for the Ruhr and on the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community.)

That single fact is the reason why I strongly support the European Union. It emphatically is in the interest of everyone in Europe, including the English, the Scottish, the Welsh, and the Irish, as wells us Finns, to keep those two nations cooperating instead of competing. If we dismantle the European Union, then we need something else.

Brexit, as well as the anti-EU sentiment in Finland, is predicated on the idea that European unification is per se a bad idea. As far as I understand it, the the Leave campaign emphasized the costs to the British of being an EU member, both monetary and otherwise, including the purported social costs of free immigration and emigration within the EU. These arguments are not markedly unique to the United Kingdom, and they have about equal force in many other EU members, including Finland.

Here is the reason for my funk on Friday: If Brexit, then why not Fixit, Sexit, Frexit? The EU can withstand Brexit, but if we get a mass exodus, then the EU will not be able to stand. And if EU falls by this process, I cannot see how we can build anything in its place in the near term.

The abyss I am looking at here is every European nation standing alone, minding its own business, and maybe some of them starting to look around their borders, thinking about getting some more breathing room.

We live in interesting times.