A high-level summary and interpretation of ACM finances

:: academia

I’m in the middle of liaising with the UBC library to attempt to negotiate joining ACM Open. It’s not going well. While US universities appear to see cost increases of 2x—3x, Canadian universities are seeing costs of 10x—20x. And our budgets run much tighter, and with far less research funding, particularly for article processing and other publication costs. A 10x—20x increase in publication costs is hard or impossible to swallow.

So, I’ve been forced to look at publishing—where should I publish, how much will it cost, etc—and one question I asked was: why does ACM Open cost so much? It’s a lot more than other open access journals. So I started looking at ACM finances and.. well…

Here’s my dive into ACM finances, and questioning fundamental claims surrounding ACM publishing costs.

UPDATE, March 1 2024 After discussions with other ACM members and feedback on this article, I’ve realized there are several errors in the analysis and the interpretation. I’ll publish an updated version eventually, but leave this version for transparency and as a record.

In short, here are a list of errors in the below facts and analysis:

  1. The data relied upon, FY 2022, is atypical due to including running conferences under COVID restritions. Conferences generally pay for themselves.
  2. The $700 average cost of an article is justified by the Form 990s, despite the profit. This can be seen by cross-referencing the ACM publications finances report with the Form 990s, which is somewhat difficult to do because of the difference in categorizations and granularity of the different reports.
  3. Eliminating membership fees would actually increase costs, since it would likely increase membership, and members receive various benefits which incur costs.
  4. The ACM is probably not as bad as it seems at investing. The calculated return on investment appears to be atypical or artificially low. Further, for very good reasons, the ACM has a conservative investment strategy.
  5. The assets, and income from assets, are at least partially restricted in various ways, both from donors (restricted or endowed funds), or because it is held for the SIGs, which limits how it could be spent down.

However, I still stand by my high-level interpretation of the high profit and high assets of the ACM.

What is a model?

:: notes, research, academia

What is a model, particularly of a programming language? I’ve been struggling with this question a bit for some time. The word “model” is used a lot in my research area, and although I have successfully (by some metrics) read papers whose topic is models, used other peoples’ research on models, built models, and trained others to do all of this, I don’t really understand what a model is.

Before I get into a philosophical digression on what it even means to understand something, let’s ignore all that and try to discover what a model is from first principles.

What is syntax?

:: notes, research, academia

I’m in the middle of confronting my lack of knowledge about denotational semantics. One of the things that has confused me for so long about denotational semantics, which I didn’t even realize was confusing me, was the use of the word “syntax” (and, consequently, “semantics”).

For context, the contents of this note will be obvious to perhaps half of programming languages (PL) researchers. Perhaps half enter PL through math. That is not how I entered PL. I entered PL through software engineering. I was very interested in building beautiful software and systems; I still am. Until recently, I ran my own cloud infrastructure—mail, calendars, reminders, contacts, file syncing, remote git syncing. I still run some of it. I run secondary spam filtering over university email for people in my department, because out department’s email system is garbage. I am way better at building systems and writing software than math, but I’m interested in PL and logic and math nonetheless. Unfortunately, I lack lot of background and constantly struggle with a huge part, perhaps half, of PL research. The most advanced math course I took was Calculus 1. (well, I took a graduate recursion theory course too, but I think I passed that course because it was a grad course, not because I did well.)

So when I hear “syntax”, I think “oh sure. I know what that is. It’s the grammar of a programming language. The string, or more often the tree structure, used to represent the program text.”. And that led me to misunderstand half of programming languages research.

What is logical relations?

:: research, notes, academia

I have long struggled to understand what a logical relation is. This may come as a surprise, since I have used logical relations a bunch in my research, apparently successfully. I am not afraid to admit that despite that success, I didn’t really know what I was doing—I’m just good at pattern recognition and replication. I’m basically a machine learning algorithm.

So I finally decided to dive deep and figure it out: what is a logical relation?

As with my previous note on realizability, this is a copy of my personal notebook on the subject, which is NOT AUTHORITATIVE, but maybe it will help you.

What is realizability?

:: research, notes, academia

I recently decided to confront the fact that I didn’t know what “realizability” meant. I see it in programming languages papers from time to time, and could see little rhyme or reason to how it was used. Any time I tried to look it up, I got some nonsense about constructive mathematics and Heyting arithmetic, which I also knew nothing about, and gave up.

This blog post is basically a copy of my personal notebook on the subject, which is NOT AUTHORITATIVE, but maybe it will help you.

The A Means A

:: research, academia

I have argued about the definition of “ANF” many times. I have looked at the history and origins, and studied the translation, and spoken to the authors. And yet people insist I’m “quacking” because I insist that “ANF” means “A-normal form”, where the “A” only means “A”.

Here, I write down the best version of my perspective so far, so I can just point people to it.

What is peer reviewing?

:: academia

I’ve been doing, and experiencing, a lot of peer reviewing lately. I’ve been ranting about it on Twitter as I get reviews that don’t help me and, in many ways, hurt me, and lauding reviews that provide useful constructive feedback (even if I disagree with it or the decisions). I’ve been trying to figure out how to provide good reviews and avoid negative aspects of reviewing.

I need to get the thoughts out of my head. These are not declarations of what peer reviewing is or should be, but my attempt to work through those questions.