Monday, September 24, 2007

Allerton Conference, Part I

This week I'll be headed to the 45th Annual Allerton Conference on Communication, Control, and Computing. For those who aren't familiar with it, the Allerton conference is held every year at an out-of-the-way spot nearby the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Yes, that's purposely redundant.) The focus is on what CS people think of as EE theory, but as I so often claim, that line is really quite blurry. Lots of information theory and control theory, but there are also sessions on network coding, networking games and algorithms, learning theory, distributed computing, scheduling and queueing, and so on. The organizers are actually very keen on getting CS people to come; offhand I notice that Tim Roughgarden, Vijay Vazirani, Andrew McGregor, and I'm sure several other "CS people" will have papers there. The conference is always extremely well organized, thanks to the fact that it's in the same place every year, and organized by the same people. (I personally have always found the UIUC staff that run the conference extremely helpful. They do an outstanding job.)

One of the interesting things about Allerton is that it's a mixed of invited and submitted papers. The understanding is that if you're invited to give a paper, you're supposed to go and give the talk, not a student. So there are a lot of big-name people giving talks at the conference. Also, invited papers have a lot more leeway. Sometimes, a talk will mostly be a survey, or a discussion of preliminary work on a problem. Some of the best talks I've seen there have been these kinds! Attendance the past few years has been over 300, so it's a nice-sized conference.

I've heard some complaints about Allerton. First, UIUC is out of the way, and the Allerton site is about 20-30 minutes from the main town. If you don't know the place, it's easy to get bored post-conference. Usually the various UIUC hosts have some sort of dinner, and the town is actually a nice small college town. So if you get to know the place and the people, it's not really a problem. (Also, it means the conference is a great place to start a new collaboration, after the talks.) Second, generally there are 6 parallel sessions going on. Many people don't enjoy that. I usually find I'm interested in 2 (coding something and network something) at the same time and have to hop around. Third, I've heard CS people say they don't know which talks they should go listen to -- who are the really good speakers and what are the interesting topics. CS and EE people don't really know each other as well as they should, and there is some cost in getting to know a slightly different area and group of researchers. Fourth, the quality of papers is mixed. Some blame this on the "invited papers", but I think it's just true anywhere, especially for large conferences. Fifth, they don't have a published proceedings in the way that other conferences do. I think that's changing from what I've heard, and these days people just post papers on arxiv or their web page anyway.

The biggest complaint that I would agree with is the conference has grown beyond its location. Some rooms are small and easily get too noisy, making it hard to hear the speaker. The conference has just proven too successful!

I really enjoy the Allerton conference. It's a different set of people than I usually see, but work I'm very interested in. It was at Allerton that I first heard about the coding problem for deletion channels, which I've since worked on quite a lot. I've had multiple collaborations come out of the Allerton conference. I'd really encourage people who don't know about it to take a look.

In the other posts this week, I'll talk about what I'm presenting there, and about interesting things I see at the conference.


Anonymous said...

do you plan to travel to uiuc?

Kurt said...

In light of your previous post, I would suggest that you make sure you don't have any loose wires or LEDs dangling from your clothing when you go.

(Actually, what I'm really thinking is that, as a sign of solidarity, we should all incorporate some kind of electronics into our clothing the next time we travel.)