An anonymous commenter asked an insightful question, worthy of a real answer: "Hi Prof, Why are you so obsessed with ranking things?"*
Honestly, I don't think I am. I have 3 children, and I have thus far avoided assigning them a preference ordering.** If you asked me for my favorite TV shows (or movies, or songs, etc.) I could think of some off the top of my head, but I haven't ever thought hard about coming up with a list of favorites.*** Same with restaurants, food, vacation destinations, whatever. I don't spend my time giving rankings for Netflix or things like that. I could probably come up with rankings with some thought, but it's not like I go around ranking things constantly.
That is, I don't do that in my personal life. In my professional life, come to think about it, I spend an awful lot of my time ranking things. I serve on multiple program committees each year where I'm asked to rank papers. (And I send my papers to conferences, where they are in turn ranked, and my submission is, implicitly a ranking of sorts on the conference.) I serve on NSF panels to rank grants. I write letters of recommendation which, implicitly or explicitly, provide a ranking of students (and, occasionally, faculty). I interview and evaluate faculty candidates. I grade and assign grades in my classes, and similarly grade senior theses. I serve on a Harvard committee that decides undergraduate thesis prizes. And I'm sure if I thought it about some more, I could come up with even more examples.
My blog is meant to be a professional blog, about my professional life. If it seems that I'm obsessed about ranking, that is a reflection of my professional life. I am asked to rank a lot as part of my job.
So I think I can turn the question back -- why are all of you so obsessed with ranking, that I end up having to spend so much time doing it?
* This comment came up in my last post about the possibility of FOCS/STOC asymmetry, where ranking was at most a tangential concern. But my previous post was on ranking networking conferences, so I can understand where the comment comes from.
** That's meant to be humorous.
*** Well, that's perhaps not quite true. Any undergraduate who has taken my algorithms class can correctly tell you that my favorite TV show of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I'd best admit to it before it comes up in the comments.